Solid school performance numbers [Editorial]

While it hasn't been hard to be critical of the leadership of the Harford County public school system for often being out of touch with financial realities, the school system has its bright spots, as shown by a recent review of the performance of its high school students in particular.

In 2014, HCPS had a high school graduation rate of 89.9 percent, and nearly 80 percent of those graduates went on to college. In an era of more stringent graduation requirements, that 89.9 percent was not only a record for HCPS, it's downright impressive.


Attendance rates for the county's public schools also are high, hovering right around 95 percent.

Harford's 2014 seniors who took the College Board's SAT tests scored, on average, 20 points higher than the statewide average and eight points higher than the national average.

All in all, the numbers look pretty good, which is an indication that it is possible to provide a quality education without an ever-expanding budget, and that the people who have sought those ever-expanding budgets also appear to have figured out how to educate students in the county's public schools efficiently, even as those allocations haven't been granted.

Years ago, this was a point of pride within the school system. School system leaders characterized the operation as one that was able to take advantage of some of the scale efficiencies of being a large system, while also being able to operate in a small system model that required relatively few mid-level, non-teaching management positions.

The system began to see growth in non-teaching management positions under the previous superintendent. The school system's website reports a total of 5,256 people are employed by the school system with 57 percent being teachers and 93 percent providing "direct services to students." By contrast, in 1990, the school system reported having 3,350 employees (as reported in the 25 years ago column on page AA2 of today's paper).

Meanwhile, enrollment peaked in the mid-2000s right around 40,000 students, and has been declining since then to about 37,500 this year, which is right around where it was in the late 1980s and early 1990s.

Why so many more staff? New schools have been built since then and there's no way around having a central office staff for each. And positions have been added elsewhere in the school system. School leaders say many positions result from state and federal mandates, but are they totally to blame?

Even so, and we've said this ad nauseam, with projections that show enrollment declines continuing, HCPS leadership needs to start paying closer attention to the practicalities of running the system.

The performance of students, graduation rates, rates of matriculation to college and other numbers reflect that the school system has plenty of talent when it comes to providing students with a solid education.

Some of these same talents now need to be directed toward more carefully managing of the resources allocated to the school system.