About 600 Prince George's teachers, parents and public school students marched to the county administration building in Upper Marlboro yesterday, waving signs protesting last week's layoff of 507 teachers.
As 20 cheerleaders from Friendly High school screamed, "We're fired up--we won't take no more" and "Vote for education--not prisoners' recreation" in a rhythmic chant, speakers representing teachers, parents and students addressed the crowd from the second-floor balcony. The speeches were the bitterest yet in the two-week-old school budget battle and they were aimed mostly at County Executive Lawrence J. Hogan.
A laid-off teacher drove three nails into a 7-foot cross representing the trinity he blamed for the school systems' woes--the school board, the County Council, "and at the top of the list it would have to be Mr. Hogan," unemployed physical education teacher Chuck Schilling shouted through a bullhorn to cheers of the crowd.
"He'll never make it to the Senate," yelled a voice from the back of the crowd, drawing the wildest ovation of the warm, sunny afternoon. Hogan, on the stump for the U.S. Senate, was in transit between a firefighters' convention in Ocean City and a fund-raiser in Rockville.
Last March, Hogan cut $37 million from school superintendent Edward J. Feeney's budget request, citing the county's limited revenues and a need for the school board to cut costs. The County Council's budget, passed two weeks ago, restored only $5.3 million, forcing the school board to issue 827 layoff notices last week and institute a wide range of cuts in school programs.
Last-minute efforts to stall the layoffs included proposals that education employe unions postpone their negotiated wage increases and accept unpaid furloughs. Hogan also offered to give the schools $6 million more in exchange for County Council approval of his once-rejected plan to lease the county hospitals to a private firm.
So far, these efforts have been unsuccessful. Hogan has not bothered to draft the lease legislation after a majority of County Council members said they would not approve it. Although two smaller unions representing non-teaching personnel agreed to contract givebacks to save jobs, the teachers have refused to go along.
John Sisson, president of the Prince George's County Educators' Association, said that the teachers were rallying now because, "We believe that there is $12 million in excess revenue that the executive could provide . . . ."
But Hogan spokesman Carl Gagliardi disputed the union leaders' claims of hidden money.
"First of all, you can't tell what's left over until there is an independent audit, and that doesn't happen until the end of the fiscal year July 1 ," Gagliardi said. "Second, they've said that every year, and every year there is less than the teachers' union says." Gagliardi said that in the first three years Hogan was in office--1979, 80 and 81--the county had budget surpluses of $8.8 million, $7.1 million and $10.1 million, respectively.
Buttressed by members of the Maryland State Teachers Association and several PTA groups, Sisson had hoped for at least 1,000 marchers yesterday, given the 6,000-plus membership of his own union. Some teachers at the march blamed apathy for the low turnout.
Jennie Jones, a teacher at Riverdale Hills Elementary, said it was hard to convince her colleagues to come "even when they are looking at a classroom size of 35. I guess they veteran teachers feel that 'I have mine, why bother?' "
But the students at Friendly High school turned out, "because kids never get a chance to say anything," said Debbie Duckett, a sophomore from Fort Washington. "Hogan is affecting my future." Last week the teachers at Friendly voted not to advise any student activities next year, including varsity sports, and the student government voted to support them. "If I had a choice between learning something or going to a basketball game," said junior Nikki Pinner, "I'd rather have a teacher."