Montgomery County Board of Education members said this week that there were two basic reasons for their decision to defy the county executive and County Council and give school employees a previously negotiated 6 per cent cost-of-living raise. The council recently cut the increase to 4.2 per cent.
The reason were:
They felt the contract was fair because teachers' salaries in the county have fallen behind other such salaries in the metopolitan area.
They saw the three-year contract as a hedge against inflation. The contract provides for a 5 per cent limit on cost-of-living raises in its second and third years and if they had reopened negotiations with employees, future settlements might have been higher.
"The board did not want to be tarnished as a group that did not bargain in good faith," commented board member Roscoe Nix.
In one of the toughest decisions the board has had to make, the members unanimously voted to fully fund the contracts for the 12,000 employees at a cost of $3.4 million. The decisiion meant closing three elementary schools, reducing bus service for some pupils and stife for County Executive James P. Gleason and the Council, who were left to deal with protests from other county employees who only received 4.2 per cent raises.
"When the dust settles from this year's budget, exactly the same issues will be before us again next year," said Council President John Menke. The Council and Gleason agreed that a cost-of-living increase next year would be impossible without a tax increase but since 1978 is local election year, a tax increase is viewed as a dim possibility.
In addition, federal and state funds for the school system are expecged to continue declining next year while inflation continues to increase costs.
Of the $3.4 million it will take to make up the difference in the pay increase, $1 million depends upon the council's agreeing to transfer school funds from one category to another. If the Council approves, schooladministrationsa re hopeful that no layoffs will result from the cuts they made.
But if the Council refuses to transfer the funds, all of the money needed for paying the 6 per cent cost-of-living raises will have to come from the salary category, administrators say. Particularly vulnerable ot layoffs would be teachers' assitants, special education teachers and maintenance workers.
School Superintendent Charles M. Bernardo and the seven-member school board spent a week studying which areas of the budget to cut.
According to Bernardo, they wished to find cuts that would not create a budget deficit, not be subjecte to legal challenge and minimize long-term adverse impact on educational programs.
Among the cuts were:
The board agreed to close to close three additional elementary schools next month, saving $240,000. Bernardo recommended that the closing of Hillandale be accelerated by one year and that Park Street and either McKenney Hills or Oakland Terrace be closed.
Funds for the community school program, in which nonstudents can take courses and use facilities at public schools throughout the county, were almost eliminated. Of $231,000 for the program, all but $30,000 was cut.
Fifty teacher assistant positions would be eliminated for a saving of $227,000.
Funding for sunstitutes would be of $494,000. This would affect an estimated 3,000 substitutes
Local funding for Head Start would be reduced by $250,000. This expected to decrease the number of classes but administrators were not sure how large the reduction would be.
An estimated 6,000 more junior and senior high school students would have to walk to school because the board of education extended the walking distance by a quater of a mile - to 1 3/4 miles. This would save $254,000.
The Council, howere, can prohibit any cuts which do not pertain to salaries or positions. The Council has about a month to make a decision on whether to approve those cuts.
All of the seven school board memebers are serving their first terms. The four who have been on the board the longest are only entering the third year of four-year terms. The three junior members joined last December, more than a month after budget discussions began.
Member Roscoe Nix said, "I feel that there is a sense of cohesion that was probably felt by some of us in a way in which wer may not have felt it before . . . I suspect it is possinle to build on that in a very contructive way."
One administrator who said he attended a least 20 hours of meetings with the board last week said, "I's like fighting in World War II with your buddy. It brings you closer."
Howere, some observers said that even the closeness will not be able to prevent the board from having to break the negotiated contract next year for lack of money to fund the raises.