1. What is your position on efforts to meet or exceed the goals of the Thornton Commission when it comes to state aid for education?
_____ Increase funding beyond Thornton formulas
_____ Maintain funding at Thornton levels
_____ Decrease funding
In 2002, the State passed the Thornton Plan (Bridge to Excellence) in what was no doubt the largest "unfunded mandate" ever passed. Governors had to raid the Transportation Trust Fund, among other dedicated sources of funds in order to fund Thornton, year after year.
Decisions about education are almost always best made at the local level - particularly here in Howard County. Thornton literally changed the state/local dynamic. [As you point out in question #3], Prior to Thornton, education funding was provided 51.8% by local governments, and 39.8% by the State (the balance by the Federal government). Today, 13 years later, the State's percentage has jumped to 48.7% -- more than the 46.5% provided by local governments.
This change in funding percentage was accompanied by a change in power, best illustrated by the State passing legislation requiring county education budgets to be at least as large or larger than they were the year before "maintenance of effort"). Counties generally want to maximize education funding, but there are times when this blanket one-size-fits-all approach makes no sense. Moreover, counties like Howard where education funding currently comprises about 70% of the county budget have very little room to cut budgets in the remaining 30% of the budget when times are tight. (See answer to question # 4 below for additional comments on Maintenance of Effort)
The sixth bullet in the background points in question #1 (There is also considerable room for improvement in addressing educator salaries (flat for the last four years) and reducing class sizes (layoffs/retirements have a direct impact on a slow and steady increase in the number of students per classroom) raises an issue that concerned me when I ran for county executive in 2010. I spent hours trying to understand and compare classroom teachers' salaries vis a vis the salaries of central office staff. Unfortunately, it has proven difficult to get the data on central office salaries -- even for Board of Education members.
From my analysis of the data I had, it looked to me like central office positions (including every central office classification, including clerks and other clerical jobs) were generally higher than the salaries of classroom teachers, even after taking into account the 10-month v. 12-month differential. I did extensive number crunching with what I had, but it was impossible to come to any valid conclusion, absent numbers fromCentral Office.
While I believe that teachers in Howard County are not necessarily underpaid, the budget allocations seem to have their priorities backward. Teachers are the single most important element of a child's education, and we want the good ones in the classrooms, making a difference. If jobs in the central office have comparably higher salaries, teachers will be lured out of the classroom, at the expense of our children's education.
Friends of Trent Kittleman
3000 Kittleman Lane • West Friendship, Maryland 21794