The Capital has turned off commenting. But I didn’t know that when I wrote this comment.  I am publishing it here rather than discard it.

Capital Commentary

Brandenburg, Amalie, Anne Arundel’s commitment to schools is stronger than ever, Capital Gazette, August 9, 2018.

Snider Comment

“[A] serious concern in Anne Arundel County’s Pre-K through 12 system: unacceptable student-teacher ratios. This year’s budget includes funding for nearly 130 additional educators to reduce student-teacher ratios….”

There is a remarkable professional wrestling style of conflict in Anne Arundel County school politics between the Schuh and Arlotto administrations. Both sides need to be in some conflict if they are to preserve and enhance their reputations as champions of their respective constituencies. But there is also much agreement about issues that they don’t want to talk about and that are adverse to the interests of the public.

For example, both like to be perceived as champions of small class sizes (a universally popular issue). But they are also both equally adamant behind the scenes that the raw class size information on which they base their respective arguments should not be made meaningfully public because such disclosure would result in needless public dissatisfaction that neither side would benefit from.

In theory, class size is a major driver of school budgets and so should be an essential part of any public budget disclosure (it is also nominally public information under the Public Information Act). But it is also the largest off-budget slush fund from which to solve inconvenient budget problems (e.g., raising average class size by even one student can raise tens of millions of dollars for other budget priorities). And it is one of the easiest statistics that opponent can use to rile up public dissatisfaction for whomever is in power.

A similar professional wrestling attitude exists toward public disclosure of actual employee compensation, which represents more than 80% of the school budget and is arguably the key driver of education politics. The statistics generated by both sides are routinely misleading–either because of incompetence, a desire to mislead, or the inherently controversial nature of the assumptions used to generate the statistics. But the public disclosure system has been designed to make it extraordinarily difficult, if not impossible, for the public to verify the various statistical claims.

Amalie Brandenburg is a master of these professional wrestling games, which should serve her in good stead in her new position with the Maryland State Board of Education.