About 400 persons attended a public hearing on the Prince George's County school budget last night, almost all backing pleas for more money for the schools.
The pleas to the County Council took three hours, but the size of the crowd--smaller than the one that turned out for the same hearing last year--prompted some comment.
"People are just discouraged. They feel it the hearing has no value," Board of Education Member Leslie Kreimer remarked to a reporter.
The auditorium of High Point High School in Beltsville "was filled to overflow last year" when the council held its school spending hearing there, said John Sisson, president of the teachers' union. "There's a sense of desperation. People have just given up." Union members distributed badges saying "Stop the Cuts."
County Executive Parris Glendening has proposed a $528 million county budget that would cut $10 million from Superintendent Edward J. Feeney's $316 million school budget request. Glendening's budget, constrained by the TRIM property tax amendment in the county charter, will prevent the school board from rehiring 150 teachers laid off last year. The additional teachers are needed to relieve growing class sizes, according to the school board.
Glendening's budget also allows no cost-of-living raises for county teachers, who made up a large portion of last night's crowd.
"Despite all the cajoling some of you may have done, we will not give up our demand for a salary increase," Sisson told the council members to a loud chorus of cheers and applause from the audience.
"We've heard so much about discipline problems in the schools," Council Chairman Frank Casula immediately responded. "Well, we're having discipline problems with the teachers right here."
The most applause went to four students from Suitland High who brought in a tattered effigy on crutches wearing dark glasses--Mr. Education.
Mr. Education suffered from clogged arteries, like the clogged classrooms at Suitland, a broken back like "the disregarded teachers who are the backbone of education," and blindness, a student declared.
Suitland 10th grader Doug Ealey told the council that textbooks are worn out and outdated and said, "Imagine having to strain your eyes past 35 or 40 heads to see what the teacher is trying to illustrate."
With that, the students strapped Mr. Education to a stretcher and bore him from the auditorium.
"Terrific," commented County Council of PTAs President Diana McCusker, who herself was carried into a school board hearing on a stretcher to make a point two years ago.