It's Back to School for the Officials


You knew that new math was bound to cause problems sooner or later.

How else can you explain the problems the Anne Arundel County Board of Education and school administrators have had lately with basic addition, subtraction and geometry?

I want to do my civic duty, so I'll offer this mathematics refresher course free of charge and throw in a couple lessons on government and social studies to boot.

Class, today we will start by reviewing negative numbers.

Carlesa, Dottie, Maureen, can you tell me what a negative number is?

No? OK, Tom, can you tell me what a negative number is?

"It's a number less than zero."

That's right. You must know that from your computer work at NSA. Who can give an example? Mike?

"Say the county budget planners tell us that we can spend $422 million for school operations next year, but instead we approve a budget of $433 million. If we spent that much, we'd have minus $11 million. That would be a negative number."

Excellent, Mike. No wonder you're the school board president.

Maureen, you had a question?

"But maybe the county would give us more than the $422 million."

Well, maybe. But we'll talk about that later when we get to government.

Now, let's move on to geometry. Who can tell me how we figure the area of a rectangle?

No one?

Well let's ask the administrators in charge of school construction. I believe we have a couple of engineers who work there.

Rodell? Do you know how to calculate the area of a rectangle?

"You multiply the length times the width."

Excellent, Rodell. Now let's say you are building an elementary school in the Solley Road community. Of course, you'd want to put a roof on it, right? The PTA probably would complain if the wind blew away the notices on the bulletin board about the coming bake sale.

So, Rodell, how would you figure the size of the roof?

"You'd figure how long the school is and then how wide it is, multiply those two numbers and that would give you the square footage of the roof."

Is that all? Didn't you forget something?


Didn't you forget to leave room for the air conditioning and heating ducts?


Now class, you must remember, when you are calculating the size of a roof for a new elementary school, make sure you leave room for all of those messy tubes and wires. If you don't, you might have to pay the builders something extra to finish the project on time, and we wouldn't want that, would we?

Now, I want to move on to another subject. Let's talk about government. Can you say "politics"?

Now, Dottie, what do you think politics means?

"If you want the County Council to give you more money, you just figure it in your budget?"

No, Dottie, that's not right. How about you, Ron? You're associate superintendent for support services, do you know?

"You tell the County Council not to worry about cost overruns. When we spend more than our budget, we tell them it's a 'projected shortfall.' "

Well, Ron, that might not make them too happy. How about you, Rodell. Any idea what politics means?

"If you want $850,000 for media centers, you only ask the board for $350,000 at first. Then after you get that, you come back and tell them they counted wrong and you need an extra $500,000."

Well, Rodell, that might work for the first $350,000, but it probably would be tough getting the rest.

How about you, Carol? I bet you know.

"Give the politicians what they want. They say they want less bureaucracy, so you fire administrators. They want you to stop wasting money, you cut the drown-proofing program. You want money for new computers, you tell the county executive you'll work with him any way you can to make him look good."

Excellent, Carol. I can see you've learned a lot in just the couple years you've been superintendent.

Now, let's talk about one more subject, social studies. Suppose you have a teacher who has been accused of having sexual relations with a student, but she denies it and a court rules she is not guilty of criminal charges. What do you do?

"Fire her."

No, you can't fire her.


"Appoint a special hearing examiner to hear the case."

Great. Then what?

"Let the lawyers call witnesses and let the hearing officer listen to their testimony and then let him give the Board of Education a recommendation on what to do."

Right. And suppose this officer recommends putting the teacher back in the classroom?

"Fire her."

No, Carol, you can't fire her.

Class, can you say "lawsuit"?

You'll have to put her back in the classroom.

Any questions, class? Yes, Maureen?

"When do we learn how to spend negative numbers?"

We'll talk about that next time. Class dismissed.

Liz Atwood is The Baltimore Sun's editorial writer in Anne Arundel County.

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