Montgomery County schools Superintendent Edward Andrews yesterday recommended a $372.7 million school budget for next year. This represents an increase of $18.6 million over this year's budget and an increase of $8.7 million more than proposed by the county executive this month.
Andrews said the $18.6 million increase is necessary to finance a 5 percent cost-of-living increase in school employes' salaries that was negotiated last year in a two-year contract. That contract may have to be renegotiated if the county does not approve his recommended increase, Andrews said.
Andrews' proposal, which includes few program improvements, represents a 5.2 percent budget increase. It comes on the heels of budget guidelines by county Executive Charles Gilchrist in which he told school officials to limit their increase to $9.9 million, 2.8 percent more than the current $354.1 million budget.
The increase Gilchrist allowed schools is nearly three times that allowed other county departments. Yesterday, Gilchrist's deadline for submitting budgets within the guidelines, two departmental budgets, which county officials would not identify, were returned because they exceeded the proposed limits.
Andrews' recommendations, which require school board approval by March 1 before they are sent to the council for approval, are certain to start a major battle between the County Council and the four newly elected members of the school board who were heavily supported by the school system's main teachers' union last fall.
School board members contacted yesterday questioned Gilchrist's guidelines and insisted that any reconsideration of the employes' contracts was not feasible. Andrews was not so sure.
"It may be impossible to avoid renegotiation to a lower figure," Andrews said yesterday.
Gilchrist could not be reached for comment yesterday. A spokesman for Gilchrist, however, said it was not the county executive's intention to reduce salaries, but to require the school system to operate within the new limits by cutting back in other areas. Ed Rovner, a Gilchrist aide, said the school system should be able to meet the salary increases with the county executive's proposed increase.
David Scull, new council president, called the 5 percent salary increases for 12,000 school employes excessive and said that if the board did not submit a reduced budget to the council he would call for a review of the negotiated contract. Under state law, the council cannot refuse to finance a particular item but can direct the board to reduce areas such as instruction, which includes the bulk of teachers' salaries.
"I'm very disappointed," Scull said. "We have already given the school system extra special treatment by allowing them a larger increase than most county agencies."