Members of the Prince George's County Council, who start wrestling later this month with next year's proposed $601.9 million budget, will have to balance their desire to add money to school programs against the reality of a spending plan that county budget analysts have said is already underfunded by more than $5 million.
Council members traditionally make some changes in the county executive's budget, which covers the fiscal year beginning in July, by shifting funds to accommodate their own priorities. The council can delete but not add to a proposed budget, unless it finds revenues to support the additions.
Most council members interviewed recently said that they would like to add to County Executive Parris Glendening's $348 million school-funding proposal, which school administrators have described as "bare bones."
About 60 percent of the county's budget goes to the Board of Education, and an approximately equal amount in new revenues generated from taxes and other resources would be spent on schools under the Glendening proposal.
Council member Hilda Pemberton said that the fiscal stability the executive says is the hallmark of his proposed budget still shortchanges the schools.
As the county tries to upgrade its educational system, "we are winning a battle here and there, but not really doing anything about the war . . ." she said. Pemberton said the county remains below par on the starting salary it pays teachers -- $14,708 a year, the lowest in the metropolitan area.
Teacher salaries and other county employe wages were set in negotiations last year and must be incorporated in the operating budget.
Prince George's Educators' Association President Paul Pinsky said that any real improvement in school funding could only be made at the expense of other county services, such as police and fire department operations.
"It may take more drastic measures than shifting a half million dollars from here to there," he said.
Even Glendening says his proposed budget would put the school system in a "holding pattern," but not every council member agrees that the school board should be given additional funding next year.
Council member Floyd Wilson complained specifically about the 7 percent pay increase negotiated for county teachers.
"I just have a very difficult time expending the major portion of our budget for education and having nothing to show for it," Wilson said. The school system should be held accountable for scholastic improvement when it receives added funds, Wilson said.
Pinsky said that because the teacher raises do not go into effect until October, they will average only 5 to 6 percent over the rest of of the fiscal year.
"Even with a great raise, that would still leave us a couple of thousand dollars less than the starting and average teacher salaries in the metropolitan area," he said.
But any debate arising out of this year's budget has to be carried out with the constraints already imposed by the state and other funding sources. Officials acknowledge that no new state funding is expected and say the county may even have to face the loss of federal general revenue sharing funds if President Reagan's proposal for such cuts wins congressional approval.
"I don't think there is going to be that much movement in this year's budget," said Council Chairman William B. Amonett.
Council member Jo Ann T. Bell acknowledged that there are limited funding alternatives, but said the schools will continue to be shortchanged in their ability to pay teachers higher salaries or purchase new materials.
"We are barely giving the essentials," said Bell, a former school board member.
Glendening said that, despite council members' talk about reshuffling allocations, he does not expect much conflict over the budget to emerge from the council deliberations. In previous years, Glendening said, his recommendations have been adopted "pretty much intact."
Council member Sue V. Mills disagreed. "There's always room to shift around," she said of the administration's outlined budget priorities. She said that "the sentiment exists," for example, to fund the purchase of a new paramedic unit for the southern portion of the county she represents. It was not included in Glendening's budget.
Council budget work sessions are expected to begin April 17 and adoption is scheduled for May 28.