School program shifts urged


The state Department of Education could be dramatically scaled back to focus more intensely on elementary and secondary education, under a scenario outlined at the state Board of Education meeting today.

If carried out, the reorganization could result in some 1,000 of the department's 1,400 employees being shifted to other state agencies.

The options outlined by state Superintendent Joseph L. Shilling would affect such programs as vocational rehabilitation, adult and continuing education and education for prisoners.

Shilling said those programs could be shifted out of the education department and put under the control of other agencies.

Vocational rehabilitation could become part of the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, for example. Prisoner education could be shifted to the Division of Corrections. And adult and continuing education programs could be put under the jurisdiction of the state's community college system.

Shilling did not raise the possibility of layoffs as a result of such a move, however.

The board gave Shilling the go-ahead to discuss those possibilities -- some of which would require legislation -- with Gov. William Donald Schaefer.

The discussions would come at a time when the education department is scrambling to find places to cut its current year's budget to cope with the state's massive budget deficit.

Just a day earlier, Shilling had told the board that the department would have to look at some existing programs as a way of curtailing expenses.

In a first round of cuts, the department trimmed about $2 million in aid from fiscal 1991 programs, and about $1.3 million from its headquarters budget.

But much of the department's multi-billion-dollar budget consists of mandated programs, such as special education, vocational education and some local aid, which are off limits to cuts.

As a result, programs for adults, prisoners and disruptive youth were included on the list of programs that could be cut in the current fiscal year.

In his presentation today, Shilling said that the state's education department should concentrate mainly on elementary and secondary education.

He praised the state's vocational rehabilitation, prisoner education and adult continuing education programs, but suggested that they would fit more logically within other departments.

"The appropriate place of correctional education is with the secretary of public safety," he said as one example.

Shilling also suggested passing along the department's responsibility for public library programs and for accrediting non-public schools.

"I think that the mission of the Maryland State Department of Education ought to focus on elementary and secondary education," he said after today's meeting. The department should "devote every ounce of energy we have on that."

State board members were generally supportive, but voiced some concern about whether educational programs would be given enough support in departments that traditionally are not involved with education.

Shilling conceded that there could be some problems, especially if an education program were forced to compete for scarce funds within another department.

The superintendent also said that he has not yet broached the proposals with the governor. "Obviously, the governor may decide he does not want to pursue this," he told board members.

Shilling said that he would return at a later date to discuss possible reorganizations of elementary and secondary education.

Copyright © 2019, The Baltimore Sun, a Baltimore Sun Media Group publication | Place an Ad