Culleton on Carroll: Teacher pension issue forces tough choices to maintain quality education

Education costs us.

Poor education costs us much more.


The United States lags most industrial nations in the quality of our primary and secondary education.

True, Maryland ranks highest in the 50 states in quality of education by some measures (as low as ninth by others), and ranks about ninth in per-pupil expenditures.


In education quality, Carroll County ranks about fourth among Maryland jurisdictions. Carroll achieves this because the bulk of the families with school-age children are educated, well off and stress the value of a good education.

However, Carroll ranks 14th in per-pupil expenditures. So it would seem there's not much stretch in the educational budget. The money is stretched already.

Originally, education was a community responsibility. Then in the 19th century the states took over partial responsibility and paid part of the cost.

The federal government has had a Department of Education, under various names, since 1867.

Still, the bulk of the funding has always been at the state and local level. The feds provide about 10 percent.

In Maryland, part of the state's contribution to the essential function of education has been payment of teacher pension costs and FICA taxes. Now, with revenues declining and costs increasing, the state is seeking to balance its budget by pushing these costs back on the counties.

On the other end of the equation, Carroll's Board of County Commissioners cut the property tax rate by 2 percent in the face of rapidly declining assessed values — so county coffers faced a double reduction to start with.

So, how do we fill the gap?


Well, positions have already been cut by the Board of Education. With the additional burden of teacher pension and FICA funding, we are faced with a stark choice — increase local property taxes by a significant amount or cut the quality of education.

Which would you choose?

Sad to say, but one area where the school budget could be cut without damaging the quality of education is interscholastic sports.

In Vermont in the 1940s, I went to a parochial high school where the only sport was boys basketball, varsity and junior varsity. The quality of education was high.

I went to a university which fielded a football team that should have been ranked as the national champion. Of the starting 11, nine went to the pros. Some are now in the NFL Hall of Fame. Gino Marchetti was on that team, as well as Ollie Matson and Bob St. Clair. The coach was Joe Kuharich, and the director of publicity was Pete Rozelle.

But the university looked at the cost of maintaining a national caliber program, and dropped intercollegiate football. It's painful, but sports can be cut when finances are tight.


Now, sports are popular among parents and students, and there would be howls of protest if, for example, freshman teams were eliminated or less popular sports were cut.

But the alternatives may be to cut the education budget or raise taxes.

This is a local issue with international implications. On a recent battery of tests, the U.S. ranked 14th in reading, 25th in math, and 17th in science compared with mother countries. (More worrisome, economic competitors China, Taiwan and India weren't included in the rankings.)

In higher education, the USA does better, but China is graduating 20 times the mechanical engineers compared to our nation.

Maintaining a high level of education in Carroll County isn't just best for our children, it is best for our nation. It is a patriotic duty.

If you want the product, though, you have to pay the bill. Political posturing and hand waving won't change facts.


For years I have been predicting the need for increased taxes to maintain an acceptable level of education.

I believe that day has come.