In an attempt to restore what he termed damaging cuts in the current Montgomery County school budget, Superintendent Charles M. Bernardo is seeking a net increase of 103 staff positions for the fiscal year beginning July 1.
Despite a projected enrollment drop of 3,568, to 108,418 students by next fall, Bernardo urged the board of education "to plow (any savings) back into program improvements for students."
By most standards of measurement - college board scores, National Merit Scholarship semi-finalists, standardized test scores - "a fair-minded observer must conlude that Montgomer County students perform better than those in any other Maryland county," Bernardo said in a document called Choices for Our Children, which accompanied his budget message.
"But however good these indicators are, they don't necessarily mean that we couldn't or shouldn't do better, or that we are even doing an adequate job for all students," he added.
Because of expected enrollment decrease, Bernardo said he was able to eliminate 230 positions, estimated to save $2,581,000. As in past years, some teachers may face layoffs, although most laid off have been rehired.
Despite those cuts, Bernardo is seeking the addition of 333 other positions, the bulk of them, 178, for programs for students with special learning needs.
Other budget proposals ask for additional teachers to reduce class sizes slightly in elementary, junior and senior high schools, to restore an interscholastic athletic program for ninth graders and to increase thenumber of counselors and teacher aides. Class sizes are currently in the range of 27 students per teachers.
These were among the items eliminated when $9.5 million was slashed from the current budget a year ago. This year's budget document and the accompanying Choices for Our Children include strong pleas against further cuts.
"It used to be that parents of public school students were a majority of the adult residents of Montgomery County," Bernardo said. "No longer. Now single persons, couples without children, couples with children in now-public schools and persons whose children have graduated from school make up the majority of Montgomery County's adult population.
"For taxpayers who do not have children in school, their concern about taxes is likely to override their concern for improvements in public education and some of them have become politically active to urge property tax reductions."
Arguing that income levels in Montgomery County have risen at a faster rate than local and state taxes, Bernardo asserted that "our per capita spending on education today is 5.4 per cent less than it was five years ago when expressed in constant dollar terms."
Tax reductions, he said, would eliminate improvements he is seeking, and he urged parents and others who support increased school spending to express their views before the board of education and the county council.
The lion's share of the proposed budget increases is $10.3 million, allocated for a 5 per cent cost-of-living pay increase already negotiated with the Montgomery County Education Association. Additionally, Bernardo said, there will be an increase of $2.1 million in employee benefits; utility costs are up by $544,000, and pay raises for years of service will amount to $2.9 million.
He said he expects to save money in several areas. About 200 children now enrolled in private schools for the handicapped are to transfer to special education classes in the public schools next year, saving about $1.3 million the county now spends for private school tuitions.
Another $500,00 is expected to be saved through an administrative reorganization in which Bernardo says he is eliminating 30 central office positions and transferring 40 others to area administrative offices.
The budget documents directs that efforts be made to find comparable jobs for employees whose posts are eliminated, but the reorganization nevertheless has brought rumblings of discontent from the county education association, which contends that favorite administrators face being eased out of key jobs.
The budget document also recommends that six schools be closed at the end of this academic year, although the specific school are not identified. Such a decision would have to be made later by the board of education.