As a civic-minded person who participates in the democratic process, I have some concerns.
It is the duty of taxpayers and voters to question elected officials, which includes asking for the figures to back up the claims of a shortfall. In fact, it is my understanding that the county had an audit done after June 30, but that audit is still unavailable. However, the documents that were presented to the auditor are a matter of public record, and any taxpayer has the right to ask to see these documents.
That is exactly what the Education Association of Charles County has done. Bill Fisher, the president of the teachers union, along with other leaders of the organization, attended the commissioners' meeting and later asked questions about the figures. This is what teachers pay them to do as advocates for students and teachers.
However, when a letter was written by Barbara Allen, asking how much money was being spent on the baseball stadium, the Capital Clubhouse and other projects, it was met with a poorly researched response. The letter, written by Joe Richard, was full of errors.
First, Mr. Richard stated that taxpayer money is paying the salary of Mr. Fisher. This is false. EACC member dues pay Mr. Fisher's salary. He is, an employee on leave (just as Mr. Richard's letter suggested he "should be"), and the EACC reimburses the board not only the cost of his salary but also other costs incurred by the board on his behalf, like retirement and Social Security. A copy of the board of education's payroll records will confirm this.
Also, while Mr. Fisher lives in St. Mary's County, the simple fact is teachers belong to a given association based upon where they work and not where they live. Considering Mr. Fisher has devoted 35 years to teaching in Charles County, it's wrong to question his commitment to this county's students and educators. As Mr. Richard is not an educator, nor does he work in the education field, does he really have the right to question the president who was elected by the educators in this county?
Yet another inaccuracy in Mr. Richard's letter is his claim that the board of education pays our superintendent $375,000. While I am sure Mr. Richmond deserves to receive that much financial reimbursement for the very difficult job he does (compare his compensation to that of a Fortune 500 executive with that much responsibility), the figure quoted is incorrect. His actual salary, which is posted on the board's Web site, is $245,000.
A third inaccuracy in Joe Richard's letter is that, although the superintendent may wish he drove a Mercedes, that is not true, and in any case, the taxpayers did not purchase the car for him. Can the commissioners say the same thing? Mr. Richmond has a vehicle allowance by state law, as does every other superintendent in the state.
Now that those inaccuracies are cleared up, I would like to address the question of budget cuts at the board. Thirty-two positions in the county have been frozen; 27 of those are at central office. They have been vacant this school year, and many employees are taking on the jobs of two or three people without a raise and without overtime. They are more than earning their salaries.
Mr. Richard scoffs about the new high school and asks if it's necessary. Just ask any high school teacher if it's needed. I can tell you that at one point in the year, some high school teachers were struggling to get enough desks to fit in their classrooms. Class sizes have grown tremendously on every level. This is especially true of the inclusion classroom, where co-teaching, and specifically tailored instruction is delivered to students who are struggling with skills and concepts. Where I could once tell a parent that his or her child was in an environment with small groups, with more individualized attention, this is becoming less and less of a reality.
As a dues-paying member of the EACC, I applaud the responsible use of member dues to hire a fiscal consultant to analyze the county's budget. This is very important, considering the lack of information being provided by the county at this time. The lack of data is very frustrating and seems to indicate either a lack of preparedness or a need to hide something. In either case, an independent third party needs to take a look at what is really going on here. An article ran in the Independent ["Officials calm in face of economic jitters," Oct. 10] in which all five county commissioners said they were not worried about the financial crisis facing the nation because it had yet to hit home for them. A mere few weeks later, they changed their tune. Why?
The superintendent does a fantastic job of budgeting and cutting corners when needed. The administrators, teachers and school staff in this county are doing a fine job, staying until all hours of the night, coming in early, donating time, money and energy to the cause of educating our youth. Ask any teacher to show you his or her lesson plans, or grade book, and it is readily available. Where is the audit?
The board of education presented its audit over a month ago and posted it on its Web site. Isn't it time the county tells citizens what has been done with our tax dollars? Tell the teachers who spend thousands of dollars from our own pockets to purchase supplies, rewards and instructional materials. Explain it to the parents who send their children to our public schools.
Teachers work too hard to have someone make a mockery of our profession and of our professional association leaders, who are only asking for answers to reasonable questions. Mr. Richard's letter was a cheap shot at our school system and the educators who make it work.
Jennifer M. Kelley, Waldorf