Never mind table manners. The Montgomery County Council last week approached the proposed $314 million "bare bones" school budget as if it were a rack of spare ribs, and managed to gnaw off $5 million without chipping a tooth.
Among the morsels the council recommended for the knife were 63 teaching positions.
If the board agrees, that would bring to more than 300 the number of teaching jobs eliminated from the system in the 1981 budget. The loss would bring to a virtual halt efforts to further reduce class sizes, said school Superintendent Edward Andrews, and would raise for the first time the possibility of teacher layoffs in Montgomery County.
"It looks to me like there may very well have to be some," said Andrews, who called the school system's $314 million proposal a "bare-bones" budget when it was submitted initially.
Andrews' staff has been working since late last week on the recommendations and on developing alternatives. Although the County Council will decide the size of the school budget, it is up to the school board to determine where cuts will be made.
Among the other possibilities, Andrews said, is a further reduction of staffing at the schools' area offices, beyond the eight positions recommended for elimination by the County Council.
In any case, said Andrews, "We won't have as good a staffing pattern as we did last year. We will have very slightly larger class sizes."
Andrews hastened to add that the proposed budget reduction is "less than 1 percent of the entire budget." The council's proposal cuts are based on projected declines in enrollment that are slightly greater than those of the school board.
"I think they (the council) made a very sincere effort to be fair," Andrews said.
A $6 million trimming of the school budget had been forecast. Loss of county revenue as a result of low turnover in real estate threatened to push the figure even higher. Approximately $1 million in state aid to the schools, plus a $2 million surplus remaining from last year's budget, however, kept the figure at $4.9 million, said Ken Hill, the school system's budget director.
A large share of that should have no effect on educational programs. More than $2 million was cut from the employe benefit plan by substituting a portion of its "unusually large" earnings from investments last year.
Still, the possibility of even less money for teaching positions represents a setback for board members who have made reduced class sizes a cornerstone of their programs for the last two years. Commensurate with an expected drop in enrollment of 5,000 pupils next year, the board has already scheduled cutting nine kindergarten teachers, 81 positions in grades one through six, 6 in the middle schools, 39 in junior highs and more than 100 in the country's high schools.
In one fell swoop, the school board eliminated 50 teaching jobs by eliminating the seventh period from smaller high schools.
Outgoing teachers would be accompanied by a number of teaching assistants. The board had elected to cut four teaching aide positions in the elementary schools. The county has proposed eliminating an additional 10.
Inflation and the rapidly rising cost of fuel continue to vex school administrators. The 1981 budget represents a 10 percent increase in expenditures over the $284 million allotted for last year, although many essential services may remain the same.
The closing of four schools this year is expected to save about $500,000, for instance. Such measures are counter-balanced, however, by rising prices for the fuel needed to bus students to neighboring schools. The administration is also figuring an additional $1.3 million for heating fuel for the coming year, an increase of more than 30 percent over last year.
The bill for utilities is expected to be $12.4 million next year, nearly $2 million more than last.
And while enrollment continues to decline -- 97,134 students are expected this fall, compared with 102,380 the year before -- the proportion of students requiring special education rapidly increases.
Special education enrollment in the primary grades is expected to grow by 17 percent in September. That figure is 13 percent in the junior highs and 26 percent in the senior highs.
Such students require smaller class sizes and often need long-distance transportation.
The per-student allotment for textbooks will remain $5 in kindergarten, $15 in grades one through six, and $20 in junior and senior highs. In some areas, teaching jobs will be eliminated from Head Start, the federally and county-sponsored program for pre-school children, and those classes will be allowed to increase in size.