Prince George's County school board members and school administrators angrily refuted charges in a scathing report by a citizen's committee that they have "grossly mismanaged our schools at the taxpayers' expense."
The board's reaction was in response to a 99-page report called "Education in Decay," written by the TRIM committee that authored the country's 1978 property tax limiting measure.
Board member Al Golato, responding to press accounts of the report during last week's school board meeting, called the authors "self-appointed spokesmen" who "recklessly seek ego-satisfying publicity."
Only one copy of the report was given to the board of education and most board members had not had a chance to read it at the time of the school board meeting.
The report cites the declining test scores of public school students on the Iowa Tests of Basic Skills and on the Scholastic Aptitude Test (Sat) as proof that "academic achievement" has declined steadily over the last 13 years. It goes on to point out that despite the decline in scores, expenditures per pupil have climed over the same period.
The report then attempts to refute the standard explanations for poor test performance, including changing socio-economic factors, poor student-teacher ratios and a lack of parental involvement.
Instead it charges that, among other things, the county has too many administrators and non-instructional personnel, that a small percentage of high school teachers are teaching "the basics" and that some textbooks teach down to students.
The TRIM committee made similar assertions in another report issued last March.
Edward Felegy, an assistant school superintendent in charge of administration, countered that a study last summer found that Prince George's public schools had the lowest administrative overhead per student of any Washington-area school system. He called the assertion that only 26 percent of secondary school teachers were teaching the basics "an absolutely ridiculous statistic."
The TRIM committee rfeport also charged that Prince George's County would rather lower the readability of its textbooks than challenge its students," citing a special text designed by the school system for seventh graders reading significantly below grade level.
Reading Director Jack Cole countered that such texts are necessary for the instruction of some students.
"If we were to take those seventh graders and give them material written on the seventh-grade level it will frustrate them and make them less likely to read anything in the future," he said.
William Goodman, a former state legislator and spokesman for the TRIM committee, said that in preparing the report his group was seeking to analyze the "cost-effectiveness" of county government. He said he would like to see an "educational performance audit" performed on the school system and that "there are major CPSs (certified public accountants) that do this."
Goodman added that the school administration should not use TRIM as a scapegoat for poor performance.
School spokesman Brian Porter said the intent of the report was tarnished by politics.
"It's very hard for me to see the Trim committee as anything other than a political body. For them to make this abrupt turn and dive into educational subjects, I think it puts them in over their heads," he said.
Board member Chester Whiting called the report merely "a vicious attack" with no positive suggestions. He added that it is "just as well. Any plan devised by Mr. Goodman would be tantamount to asking Mr. Fox to submit a security plan for the chicken coop."