There’s no doubt that we’re going to suffer from painful cuts in school spending next year. No one knows yet just how much the Montgomery County Board of Education will have to cut, although school officials have already begun reducing school staffing allocations because they don’t have time to wait for the County Council to determine the final numbers.
But there is one place that’s always an easy target when parents start worrying about losing classroom teachers, music, art and other essentials. And that’s the MCPS’s central administrative offices. Let’s cut the fat out of the budget, people say, and get rid of those bureaucrats in the Carver building.
But is central office really where the fat is, if there is any fat left in a school budget that’s been battered by a recession?
Last week, Montgomery County Public Schools Superintendent Jerry Weast sent the school board his latest proposed cuts, revised from a list released in January. The list calls for eliminating 38 central office administrative jobs, plus other reductions that would total slightly more than $5 million in savings.
That’s on top of the $3.8 million in central office reductions that already were included in the budget. All of those reductions would leave MCPS spending about 1.8 percent of its proposed $2.2 billion budget on central administration services, Weast says.
In fact, MCPS central office cuts over the last three years total 174 jobs and $28 million, which Weast says is a 20 percent reduction.
And then there’s this from the U.S. Department of Education’s National Center for Education Statistics: Among the 27 districts in the country with more than 100,000 students, MCPS was the fourth smallest in percent spent on central administrative services in fiscal year 2008. That’s according to the most recent financial survey.
It’s about time, some people might say.
And surely many of us would rather see those jobs cut than lose more teachers at our schools. But we should realize that the central office cuts also will affect what happens in those schools.
“The vast majority of what happens in central administration services is direct support to the schools,” MCPS spokesman Dana Tofig says.
That means that there may be fewer people focusing on curriculum, school technology or special education services, among other vital services.
Yes, budget cuts are going to be painful, leaving our schools less than we want them to be. But let’s remember that not all of the scars will be visible in the classroom.