The Montgomery County School Board last week added nearly three-quarters of a million dollars to Superintendant Charles M. Bernardo's recommended budget of $270, 827, 940, which was already drawing frowns from the county budget office.
"We'll be severely criticized for not cutting it." said board member Verna Fletcher, who said she dreamed about the budget for four consecutive nights after the board made its decision. "But you have to do what you want to do. So much was lost last year. We're just trying to restore it."
The board added $772,775 to Bernardo's budget, bringing the total to $271,600,715.
Among the programs the board wants to restore for the fiscal year 1979 - which runs from July 1 to June 30. 1979 - are inter scholastic sports for seventh, eight and ninth grade students. The program was cut from the budget for the current school year, drawing protests from parents and students and thousands of signatures on petition asking for its reinstatement.
The superintendent recommended taht interscholastic sports be restored for ninth graders. The board added seventh and eighth graders to the program, "even though the board doesn't agree with the idea of seventh and eight graders competing among schools," said Fletcher. However, the school employes' contract, which covers the teachers who receive stipends for coaching sports, stipulates that they will coach seventh, eigth and ninth graders, said Fletcher, "so we have to budget the necessary money."
The actual money needed is small because seventh and eigth graders are coached along with ninth graders at schools containing ninth grade. A sum of $52,500 was added for interscholastic sports in middle schools, where there are no ninth graders, and for two extra basketball coaches.
The board approved the superintendant's recommendation to return the average class sizes to smaller figures of previous years. By keeping some of the teachers who would have been fired due to low enrollment and closing of schools, the board and the superintendent intend to lower the average class size in elementary grades from 27.7 students to 26.6 and in middle and junior high grades from 27.1 to 26.9. Senior high classes could be reduced slightly, they said.
In addition, $80,000 extra was approved by the board to increase the number of days that counselors can work in the summer to about 21 1/2 . "We wanted 25 days like it used to be./. But that motion failed," said board member Blair Ewing, who proposed the $80,000 extra. The suprintendent had proposed 18 days in his version of the budget.
Counselors are on duty in summer months to help students working on college applications, for orientation programs for junior high students working and for other activities. All high schools will have at least one counselor during the summer, said Ewing.
For gifted and talented children, whom some parents and school administrators feel are often overlooked when the system is doling out resources, the board recommended 10 special teachers, five more than requested by the superintendent. They would be allocated as needed, according to Ewing.
The board added $208,000 to the budget to fund 750 Head Start teachers, the number currently in the system, after Bernardo had recommended the number be cut.
"The superintendent had been looking for places to cuts so what could he do? It's a lot of money, but it's a question of the loss of the services," said Fletcher.
The board also raised Bernardo's salary from $50,000 to $53,500 and added $100,000, on the superintendent's recommendation, to upgrade middle-management jobs in central and area school offices.
"This is to make them more competitive," said Ewing. "The county government generally pays more money (for comparable jobs.)"
The board cut $15,000 from the funds for the controversial black culture course that has been taught for school employes who can take it voluntarily. "The classes weren't being used to capacity," said Fletcher. Other cuts included $30,000 from the equipment and maintenance budget.
Approximately $1.6 million had been earmarked for insurance to cover workmen's compensation payments. However, the school board decided this year that instead of paying the private insurance company it has been using, it will set aside money in a fund of its own for workmen's compensation. The system will save $200,00 because since the board will need to set aside only $1.4 million for its own fund.
Montgomery County executive James P. Gleason will recommend a budget for the school system and the County Council will make the final decision.
The council "will probably feel they have to cut," said Fletcher. "But they'll be cutting programs and that's going to upset citizens."
Last year, the county council cut the board's recommended budget of $262 million to $255 million. Among the things they refused to fund was a 6 percent salary increase school employes had negotiated with the school board. This year, the school board's recommended budget includes $10 million for negotiated 5 percent increase in salaries.