The superintendent of schools in Montgomery County, reflecting the budget-cutting mood of the conservative school board, yesterday recommended only a small increase in school spending for the next fiscal year.
Superintendent Edward Andrews proposed that the county government spend a total of $338 million on schools, an increase of $3.6 million over the current year. The increase, which must be approved by the school board and the county council, would come in spite of $2.6 million in savings expected from the school board's controversial decisions to close 17 schools next year. Another $4.1 million should be saved due to declining enrollments in the schools, Andrews said.
Although Andrews' budget appears lean in comparison to previous years--it is the smallest increase in school spending in the past decade--it does not take into account substantial salary increases that could result when disputes between employe unions and the school board are worked out.
Negotiations between the three unions representing teachers, administrators and other school employes and the school board are deadlocked. The state superintendent of schools must determine whether to appoint a mediator in the case.
The Andrews budget also omits potential savings or costs related to the future of Montgomery Blair High School in Silver Spring. Although there has been no formal motion to close the school, several options, including its closing, are under study by the board.
In most respects, the Andrews budget is likely to win support from both the conservative majority and the liberals on the school board.
The areas of real controversy center on the addition of full-day kindergarten programs at one-third of the county's elementary schools, the restoration of a seven-period school day at the high schools, and the cutting of some school system staff.
Board president Eleanor D. Zappone, who has advocated budget trimming in her three years on the board, said yesterday she has reservations about mandatory all-day kindergarten and that such a program should be optional. Many critics of all-day kindergarten charge that such a program amounts to county-subsidized day care.
Supporters of all-day kindergarten, however, argue that the program would provide a needed service to the county's growing number of working and single parents, as well as to their children. They add that it would be difficult for schools to make the program optional.
Andrews also recommends cutting a total of 282 staff positions, most of which are administrative.
The real financial value of the Andrews budget will not be measured until the salary issue is resolved. Sources close to the school board report that the two principal unions originally sought as much as a 15 percent cost-of-living increase in salaries, but that the figure was lowered after debate with the board. Each percentage increase allowed by the board costs the county roughly $2.7 million.
Area figures set the annual cost-of-living increase at roughly eight to nine percent. If this amount is granted by the board, it would mean additional spending of more than $20 million on school salaries.