Prince George's School Superintendent Edward J. Feeney went on the road yesterday in an effort to bring the county's politically potent senior citizens closer to the financially troubled public schools.
His address at the regular meeting of a Beltsville seniors group was the first of 90 such presentations the superintendent plans to make by May to similar groups. His choice of audience was not coincidental: Senior citizens voted overwhelmingly in November against lifting the county's strict property tax cap, called TRIM, a measure that, if passed, would have provided several million dollars in revenue to the county schools. Revenue shortages forced the schools to lay off 507 teachers this year.
The silver-haired superintendent, whose presentation was wedged between an appearance by a popular local podiatrist and announcements about upcoming trips to Atlantic City, was a personal hit with his audience as he praised the schools and asked people to get involved as volunteers. He made no mention of votes or taxes.
His speech drew a little applause, but few questions. Some members had trouble distinguishing the narration from the background music during the special 10-minute slide show that school officials had labored over for two weeks, including nights and weekends. Others said the superintendent cut deep into their socializing time and promptly jumped into their cars and left after the meeting.
"I thought he was long-winded. Really, I'd rather play Scrabble," said 77-year-old John Smith of Beltsville.
Some were impressed with the heartfelt plea from the superintendent who, at 54, could almost qualify for membership in their group.
"I thought he gave a very good presentation. He seems like a very intelligent, dedicated man," said one senior.
Feeney said he first thought of reaching out to seniors last October, when proschool groups were desperately seeking support for the TRIM modification, but he feared his intentions would seem political.
He wrapped up his presentation yesterday assuring the seniors he knew their hearts were in the right place. "I know you won't let me down," he said. "Some people said that you would but I told them no."
Walter Skruch, a retired pharmacist and past president of the group, said afterward he's sure Feeney "will get a lot of feedback."
But Skruch, 71, was less sanguine about seniors voting to raise taxes for the schools, as they will likely be called upon to do in November 1984 when another amendment to TRIM is expected.
"These seniors have their own homes," he said. "Anything that's going to cost them money they are against."
Added Skruch, " Former county executive Lawrence J. Hogan got through his years with TRIM all right."