This year, according to Prince George's County school administrators, 25 of the 586 microscopes in the county's 229 schools don't work. Twenty basketball backboards are broken, 11 climbing ropes are frayed, and 37 of 1,519 cafeteria tables have been ruined.
Next year the school system would like to replace 20 of those microscopes six ropes, 20 backboards and 10 tables. There are proposed expenditures for all of them in the school budget now being reviewed by the school board -- along with allocations for hundreds of other machines and materials great and small that have been smashed, fallen apart, or simply died of old age in the last year.
But the school board members and budget analysts who assembled Wednesday night for the first of several work sessions on the budget quckly resigned themselves to the fact that most of those microscopes and backboards probably never will be replaced.
In a year when an already tight school board budget is likely to be subject to millions of dollars in cuts by a county council trying to live within the voter-imposed TRIM ceiling on revenues, purchases and replacement of supplies, school officials say, are going to b the first thing to go.
"They always cry," Superintendent Edward J. Peeney told the board. "But they always cut these things anyway."
This year, Feeney has submitted a budget that asks for $1,026,243 to spend on replacing what has broken in the county's $50 million worth of school equipment.
According to budget director Frank Platt, every item the schools owned was inventoried this year and equipment included for replacement in the current budget has been itemized piece by piece by an auditor.
Anticipating the cost-cutting ahead, school officials have not asked for funds to replace all of the unusable equipment. Of the 38 tumbling mats certified as unusable this year -- out of 1,142 in the county -- the budget asks to replace only 23, at a total cost of $1,357.
But even modest replacements of equipment are likely to be slashed, if history is any indication.
Last year, according to Platt, the school board asked for $1,055,000 to replace equipment.
In the end, a budget-conscious council cut $446,687, or 42.3 percent, from that figure. And that was in a year when the school budget was allowed to grow by $17 million, far more than will be possible this year under TRIM.
This year the replacement funds are further endangered because of last year's cuts and the efforts of the school staff to make up for them. In secondary physical education, for example, Feeney has asked for an increase of 46.2 percent for expenditures on equipment.
"They'll see increases like that and will cut it automatically," complained board member Doris Eugene at the session.
"It will be easy for them to do," said schools spokesman John Aubuchon later. "But how do you explain it to the parents whose kids are missing a basketball hoop in the school gym?"