Sauerbrey Answers Education Questions
Q: In 1994, [the tax cut] issue attained top priority in voters' minds. When they came to assessing your campaign, that was the one thing everyone knew about your candidacy was that you were promising a 24 percent tax cut. Do you expect that issue to have the same priority in this election in your campaign and, if not, what else is going to be up there?
Ellen R. Sauerbrey: I think that while taxes and economic development to me are still extremely important, I think that there are other issues that the voters are a lot more focused on and clearly your poll shows exactly what I find every day when I'm out speaking to groups around the state. What people are very focused on right now is the deterioriation of the quality of education in Maryland, or the failure of Maryland public schools to be providing people a safe and effective education.
I am, as you know, a former high school science teacher, public school teacher, and I have very, very strong beliefs about what I see and I have spent the last four years traveling Maryland and listening to people, and particularly visiting a lot of schools. And I think that focusing on some of the key problems in education is going to be a big part of my campaign. And I'm talking about dealing with disruption, which is not an urban problem, and I have learned a great deal over the last four years about how widespread the breakdown of just basic civility discipline in the classroom has become.
The couple of issues in education that are going to really be the focus of my attention are testing children in the first grade, identifying learning disabilities, reading problems, attempting to remediate them promptly, putting reading specialists in our schools and focusing on phonics. Your competitor newspaper has picked up on something that I've been banging the drum on for a long time which is that we don't teach children to read properly.
Trying to end social promotion, which is pushing kids through the grades before they have the basic skills, I think is essential.
And that is a national study and I can't prove it because we haven't done that kind of a study of Baltimore City specifically, but nationally that's about what is the case. That most of the children in special education are perfectly capable of learning but they weren't taught and they end up in special education costing us twice as much to educate. We would be much better off to put the money into reading specialists, proper testing, a phonics based structured curriculum like the Calvert school curriculum in troubled elementary schools and trying to channel those kids into a successful future rather than passing them on with social promotion and allowing them to become frustrated, angry, hostile, acting out, becoming disruptive kids and probably ending up dropping out of school.
Q: Does this mean that [State Superintendent of Schools Nancy] Grasmick has failed? Would you replace here as school superintendent or is it somebody else's fault?
Sauerbrey: I'm not trying to point the finger of blame at Mrs. Grasmick. I think she has tried diligently to make improvements, but I believe that there are serious, serious shortcomings. We do not have an effective program to deal with disruption. We are not putting the money into the classrooms in the large measure that I think it should be. Too much money is still going into administration and bureaucracy in the school system and I've proposed what I've called the 90-10 rule that would suggest that 90 percent of new state money under my administration I would be trying to put in the classroom.
And I would also give local governments the ability to do something that they can't do today, which is audit and have more control over the spending of the money. You talk to a county executive who says you know I put the money in the budget and I have absolutely no control what the school system does with the money.
If we could put the money where it belongs, I think we would be able to reduce class size. I think you could pay teachers better salaries and you could have books to take home. It astounds me, as a high school science teacher taught in an era when the per pupil spending in real dollars was far less than it is today, and I was the science department chairman and I know that every four years or so we were updating and buying new books. And every child had a reasonably up to date textbook that they could take home. With the amount of money that is being spent today, the books aren't there.
Q: Where would you fault the governor in this regard because obviously a lot of education in the state is run by county school boards, beyond the power of the purse in terms of how much money he puts into this budget, or she, and school construction and who here she appoints to be on the Board of Education. There doesn't seem to be a lot more the governor can do. Where would you fault Gov. Glendening's handling of education? And if you were governor are there bills that you'd introduce? What types of things specifically would you try to do to realize this vision that you're talking about?
Sauerbrey: Well, I'll give you one very concrete example. When that very large allocation of funds was made to Baltimore City to try to begin to address the problems in Baltimore City, I would not have done that without having very clear criteria that I thought were essential to the improvement of the school system.
And I've just named some of those criteria. Testing children in the first grade and kindergarten level and identifying the problems and putting reading instructors into schools. There should have been strings tied to that money; the only string that was tied to that money was that the governor was going to have the ability to appoint jointly with the mayor the new members of the new school board. And, quite frankly, since Parris Glendening had presided over the second worst school system in the state of Maryland while he was county executive, that didn't give me a whole lot of confidence that we were going to see major improvements in Baltimore.
I think there do need to be changes made in the law. I think that local governments ought to, as I said, be able to audit and be held accountable. They're the ones that are accountable to the voters and they ought to be accountable for how the money is being spent by the local school system.
I think that there should be more control at the local level in terms of being able to appoint principals and get rid of bad principals who I think are the most important people in the school system, and that that is something that every local superintendent ought to really have full control over.
I think it should be easier to remove incompetent teachers and would work towards legislation to try to allow that process to be more streamlined.
The 90-10 rule would require some sort of legislative action to make it happen that would force new money, new education money to be used in the classroom. So yeah, I think there are things that the governor needs to do.
I'll give you another example. Northern High School in Baltimore has been one of the most prominent examples of a school that was completely out of control. Dr. Brown moved in when she had kids who just absolutely refused to obey instructions and suspended a third of the students at Northern High School. I thought it would have been a perfect time for both the mayor and the governor to have been demonstrating their concern and leadership and supporting Dr. Brown. Dr. Brown would probably have lost her job if it hadn't been for talk radio because the reaction from up above was she hadn't followed the rules. She had failed to hold individual parent conferences before 1,200 kids could be suspended for being totally insubordinate.
I went to Northern High School and visited with Dr. Brown and gave her at least my full support for what she was trying to do.
Q: How much more money roughly would your educational proposals cost? You're talking about more reading instructors, more testing. Roughly how much more money would it cost, your education program? And where are you going to get that money if you want to cut taxes?
Sauerbrey: Well, the testing program is very inexpensive. We've got a national figure in that movement right here in Maryland in former senator Bill Brock who has been a prominent national voice in education reform. And he has one of a variety of different programs that are happening around the country. But I happen to know from his program how inexpensive it is to test kids. Ending social promotion is not something that necessitates spending more money, because you're better off to keep those kids at the second grade level until they've learned to read than to pass them on and have them end up in special education.
The tradeoff, and I understand that this doesn't happen immediately, but I think the tradeoff is trying to prevent children from ending up in special ed where they are ultimately going to be a tremendous burden on the school system and if you can achieve that by putting some additional focus on reading instructors in our elementary schools and a curriculum, something that I am really high on is the Calvert school curriculum.
I've been in several of the schools, very troubled schools in very poor neighborhoods that have put the Calvert school curriculum and yeah it costs a little bit more but it isn't all that much more expensive. It holds people accountable. It holds the students accountable. It gets the parents more involved. It holds the teachers accountable.
And it was very exciting to me to see the progress in Cherry Hill at the Carter Woodson School, one of the poorest communities in Baltimore City, to see the progress that those children were making. They have the clipboards hanging on the back of the room and you can go from the 1st grade to the 2nd grade to the 3rd grade and see the advances in composition skills. And these kids learn to write. And they don't allow a piece of paper to go on that clipboard until it's punctuated properly. No creative spelling.
That doesn't cost more. That's just holding people accountable and not putting up with nonsense.
Q: But if your 24 percent tax cut had gone into effect, there wouldn't have been money for the extra school construction, for even the programs we're doing now. At least that's the argument that the governor made four years ago. What do you make of that?
Sauerbrey: Well I make of it that he doesn't understand basic economics. And I will explain it this way. [Michigan] Gov. [John] Engler, I think, was one of the best examples, but there are many examples. Gov. Engler had a $1.8 billion dollar shortfall when he was elected. He did not close it by increasing taxes. He's now cut taxes a total of at least 24, maybe it's more by now. The last figure I heard was he had left about $12 billion in the pockets of Michigan families and he has now a $1.2 billion surplus. And the reason it happened was because Michigan's economy took off like a rocket.
I think there are multiple examples around the country where governors who have reduced the tax burden, have reduced the regulatory overkill, and I'm not talking about clean water and clean air, I'm talking about strangling small businesses in paperwork that nobody reads and forms and the inability to get permits. Engler did two things that I would intend to do: Reduce Maryland's tax burden to make us competitive and deal in a realistic way with regulatory overkill and the Michigan economy which had been a poster child of the Rust Belt took off like a rocket and large numbers of people who were on unemployment roles and on welfare roles ended up on pay rolls and they put more money into state coffers.
Now I know that's a philosophical thing that everybody doesn't agree with, but I really believe that if you make an economy more competitive, instead of the MCIs and the, look at Maryland today and compare what we are seeing in Maryland with what has happened in Virginia in recent years.
Our big economic development strategy of Parris Glendening was to build a football stadium with $300 million of public funds, because a lot of these are public funds, as you all know, invested in a football stadium. George Allen, with about half that amount of investment, did job training, infrastructure and tax credits. You create a job and we'll give you a tax credit. And he got Toshiba, IBM and Motorola computer chip factories around Manassas, Va., employing--the last numbers I saw--over 10,000 people with salaries of over $35,000 average a year.
So when Oracle Software looks at Maryland and looks at Virginia, he's created a critical mass of high tech in Virginia and there's a sucking sound of businesses locating around that critical mass. My idea is to make Maryland highly competitive, economically competitive and bring the good paying jobs here to Maryland not see them continuing to go to Virginia.
Q: But you don't see the need for serious budget cuts to accommodate the tax, either in education or other areas?
Sauerbrey: Well I certainly don't see any budget cuts in education or public safety because those are the two highest priorities to me. I do think that there are things that ought to be looked at. I think that we ought to be looking seriously at the amount of money that we're putting into public housing programs that is being ripped off every day to politically well connected people. When I read the papers and I see the stories just coming out, the stories keep coming and nothing gets done about it and it infuriates me.
A judge who owns a row house and gets a couple of hundred thousand dollars to rehabilitate a row house that he can rent and if at the end of five years he's rented it, he gets to write it off as a grant. Three hundred and ten thousand dollars ($310,000) being put into low-income housing in Baltimore City, which is megatimes the amount that the average house value is in Baltimore City. There's tremendous abuse in that program.
Sunny Day funds being given to in too many cases well connected people who in turn make political contributions. These kinds of things I think really, everybody ought to be concerned about.
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