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From Marsalis, a Master Class in 'That Swing' and an Ellington Exhortation

Rallying Against Funds Cut

The school board has requested a budget increase of $136 million in the fiscal year that begins July 1. County Executive Isiah Leggett has proposed a $117 million increase, nearly $20 million less.

This proposed 1 percent reduction in the $2 billion school system budget has prompted the largest mobilization of teachers, parents and education leaders in Jerry D. Weast's eight years as superintendent.

"It's been a long time since I've been asked to hit the streets," said Chris Sneeringer, a staff development teacher at Cannon Road Elementary in Silver Spring, who turned out last week with several hundred other public school employees and a smaller number of parents to attend a budget hearing in the County Council chambers.

Veteran teachers compared notes: When had they seen so many of their colleagues holding signs and storming the gates of county government?

"The last time I saw it this big was right after I started, in '92," recalled David Cochran, a world studies teacher at Gaithersburg Middle School, who also attended the April 11 hearing.

Leggett has reasoned that the school system should be able to absorb a 1 percent budget cut. County Council members reminded a somewhat hostile audience at the hearing last week that it was not the first time Weast had been asked to make cutbacks.

Weast and school system advocates see it differently. Weast, in an interview last week, said he, the school board and the administration of former county executive Douglas M. Duncan enjoyed an open-book budget process: The school board would request only what it really needed, and the council would do its best to oblige.

Here's what the numbers show:

In three of the past eight years, fiscal 2003, 2005 and 2007, the County Council has approved 100 percent or more of what the school board has requested. In four other years, the council approved between 99 and 100 percent. In one year, fiscal 2004, the school board received 98.7 percent of the funds it sought.

Duncan blamed the shortfall on a stagnant economy. Weast did not take it lightly. In a report to the school board that spring, he wrote, "The effective loss of that much funding would mean the elimination of entire programs or services, entire categories of positions or the elimination of a sizable portion of current classroom personnel, meaning literally hundreds of teachers and instructional specialists."

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