Council Budget Testimony by Gordie Brenne – April 12, 2012

MOE + MCPS = Fat, Dumb and Reckless
Council Budget Testimony by Gordie Brenne – April 12, 2012
My name is Gordie Brenne, and my daughters graduated from a high school with some of the County’s poorest families (AEHS).  I served as Vice President of the PTA and President of the Booster Club and got to observe first-hand what works (interventions), and what doesn’t (Algebra II for all kids) over a ten year period.  I urge you to stand up to the bullies in Annapolis, and say no to the recommended Maintenance of Effort (MOE) budget.  Use performance criteria and common sense to allocate County resources to public safety, safety net and other vital services before giving an additional dime to MCPS, or raising taxes.  Work with MCPS to strategically allocate resources to under performing kids first, and scale back other spending.
It isn’t that MCPS doesn’t have enough money; they just don’t spend it wisely.  They’ve become fat, dumb and reckless over the last decade.  MOE treats MCPS’s budget like a cost-plus contract between taxpayers and educators, baking in prior year inefficiencies and ignoring performance shortfalls.  A lack of benchmarking and performance standards mask a bloated overhead budget that has to be the highest in the nation and average teachers salaries that are 15% higher than those of Howard and Fairfax counties, which also have outstanding schools.  A slow response to demographic shifts in poorer schools ignores key performance problems like drop-out rates that are double those of Fairfax and Howard counties, a cohort graduation rate that is 5% below that of Fairfax and an inflated SAT average that excludes about 1,000 kids told to take the ACT exam instead.
MCPS’s undifferentiated approach to spending results in Career and Technology Education programs that go largely to the wealthiest schools, leaving poorer schools with little to offer kids other than remedial solutions.  The proposed pay raise is unjustified and will result in fewer teachers and lower performance.
When Senator Madaleno outlined plans for the new MOE law last fall, I told him my oldest daughter could have come up with a better formula for allocating resources based on performance needs, not costs, when she was 6.  She’s 25 now and finishing her PhD in biostatistics. I know she and her sister would agree that performance, not costs, is how the real world picks winners and losers.
My kids got the best education that MCPS offers. But, what about the other kids in their high school?  Did MCPS strategies give them the best, or just what was left over for “on-grade” students after piling money into programs for our best students with diminishing returns, increasing teacher salaries and benefits at unprecedented rates and larding overhead well beyondwhat’s reasonable or sustainable?
The new MOE law provides waivers for jointly agreed upon reductions in “recurring costs”.  I urge the Council to direct studies of how these costs can be cut by eliminating inefficient and ineffective programs, and redirecting resources to the kids that need the most help.