Already hard-pressed to make reductions in what many consider an austere budget, the Prince George's County school board last week faced new financial problems.
Early in the week, the board got word that President Carter's proposed fiscal 1981 budget would eliminate all the county's federal impact aid to schools -- which now amounts to some $6 million.
Later, Superintendent Edward J. Feeney announced that budget projection showed the schools would need an additional $2.3 million this year and $3 million next year to cover soaring fuel and utility cost.
Although the added energy costs present some problems for board members as they prepare the fiscal 1981 budget, the news of proposed cuts in federal impact aid has been far more devastating.
The superintendent's proposed $287.6 million budget for fiscal 1981, as drafed back in December has already $7 million above the amount County Executive Lawrence J. Hogan said the schools could expect to receive. Now, faced with the prospect of losing $6 million in federal impact aid and forced to pay and additional $3 million in energy costs, the board may find itself $16 million in the hole.
"We feel as if all the wind has been knocked out of our sails," said school board chairman JoAnn Bell. "Help will have to come from somewhere because that $6 million in impact aid had already been put in the budget."
Since the days of Harry Truman, federal impact aid has been a target of presidents seeking to cut the federal budget. The money is used to compensate localities for revenue lost in educating the children of federal employes who live on government facilities and thus do not pay local property taxes.
In the past, Congress frequently has restored much of the impact aid cut from the federal budget by the president.
"Sure, we've faced the threat of cuts before, but this is the first time that the threat of a total cutoff of funds has been proposed," said Elliott Robertson, assistant superintendent for business and facilities in the county schools: "Congress may restore some of the money, but a lot of it we'll probably lose.
In a budget work session and school board meeting later in the week, Robertson told the board that high energy costs would further aggravate budget difficulties, costing the board an additional $2.3 million this year and an additional $3 million next year.
He said that while approximately $1.2 million could be transferred from other parts of the budget to compensate for this year's deficit, the board would have to ask the County Council for another $1.1 million.
For fiscal year 1980, the board had budgeted about $3.8 million for fuel oil, but projections made by school officials now show that actual expenditures for oil will be closer to $6 million.
Last week the board voted to seek authorization from the council to transfer surplus funds from other parts of its budget to the shcool plant and pupil personnel sections to pay the added utility costs.
In addition, the board has asked the county executive and the council for a $1.1 million supplemental appropriation to cover the remainder of the deficit.
"We don't expect. . . any problems in getting the money," said school budget office directior George Ridler. According to Ridler, the schools have about $900,000 in additional tax revenue and in reality will be asking the county for only about $260,000 in new money.
At a work session last week, Superintendent Feeney also asked the school board to add $2 million to his proposed fiscal 1981 budget because of rising fuel oil costs and $1 to cover higher gasoline costs.
School officials now estimate that in the next fiscal year, which begins in Oct. 1, heating bills will exceed those of fiscal 1980 by 35 percent and gasoline costs will increase 30 percent.
The school board will not make a final decision on his request until it takes the final vote on the budget Feb. 11. Between now and then board members must concentrate its energies on holding together an already fragile budget.
"If we don't get some help from the federal, state, or county government, we may be facing a real crisis," said Robertson, who has directed the county budget process for the past eight years. "We've never faced this kind of situation in Prince George's County. This is the kind of thing you read about happening in other systems in the country."