Montgomery County school officials are near agreement on a $314 million budget request -- $16 million more than a spending ceiling suggested by the County Council -- and some council members are voicing alarm.
"That's the worst gap I've seen," said council member Neal Potter. "I don't know how it go that high."
By Potter's calculation such a large expenditure for schools would require a real estate tax rate increase that would boost the average homeowner's tax bill $50 to $60 unless cuts were made in other parts of the county budget.
The County Board of Education gave preliminary approval Wednesday night to a basic $290 million spending program for the 1980-81 year making few dents in the budget proposal of Superintendent J. Edward Andrews.
Negotiators for the board and the county teachers union have tentatively approved a new teachers contract containing pay raises that is expected to swell the total to $314 million.
School board President Daryl Shaw described the budget as "bare bones . . . You can't cut bone from bone."
But Council President Scott Fosler said he would push for a detailed scrutiny of the school budget. School officials "may have to reset their priorities," he said.
Potter said the council could make cuts in other departments of the county government, like parks or police, but, "we can't take it all out of the taxpayers."
The council had suggested a $298 million school budget that would increase spending 5.9 percent above the current $283.3 million budget. Council members said they expected that higher costs would be offset by declining enrollment and school closings.
But in a letter the council last month, Superintendent Andrews called the suggested total "unrealistic and discriminatory," especially in view of a 12.5 percent spending increase the council set for county government.
Andrews said it is incorrect to assume that school costs drop with falling enrollment and pointed to raising utility and transportation costs as well as an increase in the number of special education programs that have been mandated.
"To cut further in any substantial way will greatly impair our ability to manage the public schools in an effective and efficient manner," Andrews said in his letter.
The proposed budget makes few changes in the classroom. The only sizable cut would abolish an extra classroom period in 12 of the county's smallest high schools to eliminate 50 teaching positions at a saving of $750,000.
Most of that saving is balanced by added expenditure for drug abuse education, billingual and special education programs as well as some extracurricular expenses such as cheerleader uniforms and drama programs.
A majority of the board defeated a proposal by board member Marian Greenblatt to eliminate at least one of the school system's five administrative officers.
The completed budget request got a negative vote only from board member Joseph Barse, who said he thinks the total is too high and that he is not convinced it can't be cut.