Comparison of Catholic, public schools is flawedAs...

THE BALTIMORE SUN

Comparison of Catholic, public schools is flawed

As a public school teacher, I have followed with interest your paper's recent educational articles. While informative, I feel they leave the wrong impression in several areas.

On several occasions, the articles quote state school Superintendent Nancy Grasmick as saying that the Harford County Public Schools "get a lot of bang for their buck." This is true, but it is never stated as to why this is so.

The only reason that students in Harford County do as well as they do is because of the dedication and hard work of teachers and support staff. The eighth wealthiest county in the state ranks 20th out of 24th in per pupil expenditure. This has been typical for the 27 years I have taught in Harford County. Only a dedicated staff could buttress such a system.

Education writer Mike Bowler's comparison between public and Catholic schools also has several important items open to misrepresentation. Once again we see an apple vs. oranges comparison.

Public schools are required by law to educate any student regardless of ability or behavior. Teachers want discipline and standards in the schools, but are often thwarted. Parents often use the "not my child" approach when a student is disciplined. Many special needs students cannot be removed from school -- even if violent -- because they are protected by federal law. The state education department under Dr. Grasmick has made suspension from school a legal absence, reasoning that the school put the student out! Private and parochial schools do not worry about such things. They expel such students and ship them off to the public schools. A similar situation exists when it comes to students who are low achievers.

The comparison made between Catholic school and Harford County teacher salaries left the impression that the public school teacher is overpaid. In fact, both sets of teachers are underpaid. A Harford County public school teacher, when compared to counties of similar wealth and size as well as some smaller counties, is paid from $2,000 to $5,000 a year less at the top of the pay scale.

Second, with all the new requirements handed down by the state and county, for which little if any money was allocated, teachers in public schools have more to do than the public realizes. Further, if one were to calculate the value of sponsoring clubs, extra help, chaperoning, etc. which teachers do for free, one would have to conclude that a public school teacher is one of society's bargains.

Even paid assignments are a "best buy." The average coaching salary, if calculated by the hour, is less than minimum wage. The oft-heard statement that teachers are paid a lot of money for 10 months is misleading. Public school teachers are required by law to earn master's degrees and then a certain amount of credits to stay certified. This is often done during the so-called vacation. Curriculum work needs to be done often to stay current. This and similar initiatives are very labor-intensive and not easily done during the school year. No one could realistically expect a teacher to do course work or curriculum work, plan lessons or grade papers, chaperon or coach and then walk into a class of 30 or more students and perform adequately. There are problems in public education. Schools can do better. I see a student for less than an hour a day. Why does the public make me more responsible than the students or their parents for motivating and behavior? Much educational policy is crafted by non-educators. These policies often hinder schools from doing better. The bureaucrats trust teachers with students, but not with policy-making. Public school teachers do a great job in spite of the many handicaps put on them. We have tried to educate every child. Our successes have far outnumbered our failures. The result of this has been nothing less than educating the millions of students from all cultures and circumstances who became adults who created the most powerful and successful nation in history.

Anthony F. Sarcone

Bel Air

The writer chairs the social studies department at Fallston High School.

'Shadow' government of special interests

State and local laws prohibit the placing of signs in the right-of-way along our roads. Yet every week we see hundreds of violations along Harford County's roads. These laws have been in place for years, yet they are not enforced.

Donald Sample, president of the Harford County Homebuilders Association, says that an "understanding" exists between Harford County officials and homebuilders about the signs being up. Who is the official or officials the homebuilders have an understanding with?

Based on 1994 campaign fund reports, it is obvious why our current elected officials do not demand enforcement of the signage law. Five of the seven County Council members (one being a homebuilder herself) and the county executive received significant funding from interests directly tied to homebuilding. Despite their assertions to the contrary, I cannot believe they will bite the hand that feeds them.

While I believe this situation demands an investigation, it is indicative of a much larger issue. Who is really in charge in Harford County? We are held in check by a "shadow" government of special interests. We need public officials who will balance the scales between the needs of all the citizens and the special interests. Until we do, situations like the one described above will continue to be the norm.

These comments I have just made could very well jeopardize my position on the Abingdon/Emmorton Community Planning Council, but my conscience will not allow me to keep silent about such a flagrant abuse of power.

Bruce Wells

Abingdon

Hooray for real estate sign-fighter

Three cheers for Rommel Crabtree, the gentleman written about in The Sun on Sept. 22.

It's gratifying to see that we still have citizens willing to fight back against the "uglification" of our once-beautiful Harford County countryside. Unfortunately, Mr. Crabtree has learned the FTC hard way that the real estate/developer industry in Harford is being well-rewarded for past political contributions. If ever a situation warranted investigation by an outside agency, or The Sun, surely this qualifies.

Louis F. Storm

Bel Air

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