Editorial: Vocal groups get attention on school policy issues

Representing the teachers union perspective on a range of issues related to the function of Harford County Public Schools and Maryland public schools in general, the leaders of the county and state teachers' union organizations made many salient points about the state of education funding in Maryland and in Harford County, when they met recently with Aegis news staff member Marissa Gallo.

Ryan Burbey, the president of the Harford County Education Association, probably came up with a most accurate assessment of the state of the education system in the county and across the state, when he said: "The squeaky wheel gets the grease."

Burbey's comment came when he was asked for an opinion on why a renovation project at William Paca / Old Post Road Elementary School was placed behind similar projects for other schools, arguably in better shape. It's become clear that other communities have been more vocal about projects for their schools, and Burbey was acknowledging the way of the world.

For better or worse, this is the case today, but it also is important to note that such as been the case all along. Never has there been an era when sage administrators and board members, let alone county officials and legislators, have acted in what was universally accepted as the best interests of the students and teachers. An important part of the reason, of course, is that what is in the best interests of students, teachers and the school system as a whole is a matter of opinion – usually the opinions of those with the political muscle.

Burbey, accompanied by Maryland State Education Association President Betty Weller, made a case that Havre de Grace High School, high on the list these days for a major renovation or rebuild, may not be the school most in need of such work. He pointed out, rightly, that the school's auditorium is an asset not only for the school, but also for the community. The auditorium was built not that many years ago with exactly that goal in mind.

By contrast, the county executive, himself a Havre de Grace High School graduate, has been pushing for a completely new school at a location where there will be one building, not two as is the case now. He has maintained that there are enough old parts to the facilities that a full makeover is due, if not overdue.

Similarly, Weller pointed out that a recent move on the part of the state to shift the cost of teacher pensions from being a state financial responsibility to being a county expense, it was the state's way of making it clear teacher pensions are the responsibly of everyone, not just the state government.

True enough, but it also must be remembered that the state is shifting only the teacher pension costs to the counties, not the revenue streams it had used for years to pay those costs. That money is going for other state projects, even as the counties end up paying the added pension expenses. The only way the counties can do that is to cut other county programs or increase county taxes.

On the whole, the two teachers' union leaders covered an array of important school system issues that need to be addressed, including not only the issues of teacher pensions and school construction priorities, but also state funding of public schools, and, as would be expected, teacher pay. They pointed out the state's level of funding for counties, Harford in particular, could be a lot better.

Their measured comments constitute a rational presentation of the teachers' union's perspective on a variety of issues, and represents a good starting point for public discussions on the issues. On many of the issues, including but not limited to teacher salaries, they will have the same advantage in presenting their case as members of vocal communities who have secured backing for school construction issues.

In short, the teachers hope they're the squeaky wheels that get some of the grease, also spelled: M-O-N-E-Y.

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