Montgomery County School Superintendent Charles M. Bernardo yesterday proposed a $287.1 million operating budget for the 1979-80 school year that drops 65 administrative and instructional positions from the school payroll.
Bernardo said the proposed budget, which represents a $16.2 million or 6 percent increase over this year's budget, is "tight and entirely responsible." While no major new academic programs were included in the budget, no existing programs have been eliminated.
At a press conference yesterday Bernardo said the increase was primarily due to inflation. A 5 percent cost-of-living increase for school employes agreed to by the board last year, and escalating costs for everything from utilities to employe fringe benefits, were major factors in the increase.
"Our goal is to strengthen and preserve already existing programs," Bernardo said yesterday when he released the budget. "We have to economize in the face of inflation."
For the past several years, the size of the county's proposed school budgets have provoked angry reactions from the County Council and the county executive, who said they could not understand the need for large budget increases while the countywide enrollment was declining. Currently 50 percent of the entire county budget is earmarked for education.
During this fall's election, the school budget was a favorite target for taxpayers' groups that pushed for a tax-cutting referendum, which failed to win approval.
One of the chief complaints of these groups, however, is dealt with in the budget released yesterday: a total of $1 million in revenues expected in tuition payments from diplomats whose children attend county schools.
Last year, the County Councl asked all agencies to hold down their budgets enough to keep the county's total budget increase down to 3 percent.
Because the school system gets revenues from the county, the state and the federal government, and because state revenues are expected to increase next year, Bernardo's proposed budget asks for only 3.3 percent more county funds than last year's.
The expected $2.3 million boost in state aid would come if the Maryland General Assembly adopts a revision in the state aid-to-education formula that was recommended last week by the Barnes commission.
Bernardo said he had saved $5.2 million in the past year by two schools and eliminating positions in schools with declining enrollments. About one-fifth of the money will be used to upgrade the system's program for handicapped students.
A total of 292 instructional and supportive positions will be dropped because of the enrollment decline (5,600 fewer students are expected next year), but another 228 posts will be created to improve various programs in the system.
The proposed improvements include:
Establishing the seven-period dau in three high schools with enrollments of about 1,300 students or less meaning 11 of the county's 14 high schools will be operating with seven periods.
Adding 30 new instructors in secondary schools that have classes with over 35 students, thus reducing class size.
Expanding the art, music and physical education program by adding 22 new instructors.
Raising by nearly $1 million the amount budgeted for the purchase of equipment, text books, library books and instructional material.
Despite the highly publicized series of police raids on school grounds, which resulted in more than 300 arrests of young people on drug charges this fall, there were no provisions in the proposed budget for specialized drug rehabilitation programs.
Bernardo said, supplementary appropriations from the county would be included in this year's budget if the school board chooses to adopt one or several new drug-related programs already proposed.
"Our primary concern was to continue our support of the drug education program that already exists," Bernardo said.
Several school board members, teachers union representatives and County Council members reached yesterday declined to comment on Bernardo's proposed budget, because they hadn't seen copies of it yet.
During their recent political campaign, the school board's new conservative majority-Marian Greenblatt, Eleanor Zappone, Joseph Barse, and Carol Wallace - committed themselves to redistributing the budget from administration to the classroom. They called Bernardo's three previous budgets "top-heavy" in administrative supportive staff.
The number of strictly administrative positions will drop from 222 to 218, accroding to next year's proposed budget.
After a series of work sessions and public hearings that began last night, the board will act on the proposed budget of Feb. 7 and 8.The County Council and county executive must take final action on it by May 15, and the budget will become effective on July 1.