Nearly 80 administrators in the Prince George's County school system would return to the classroom as full-time teachers under a cost-reduction plan proposed to the school board last night by Superintendent John A. Murphy.
Murphy, searching for ways to avert a projected $9.8 million deficit in the county's $552 million education budget, said the school system would suspend hiring new teachers for the remainder of the school year under his plan.
Program coordinators, curriculum specialists and other qualified administrators would be asked to fill teaching vacancies as they become open, while retaining their current salaries.
The redeployment plan, which budget analysts estimate would save $862,000 in payroll costs, is one of 29 spending cuts that Murphy recommended to the school board as part of his strategy for averting the budget shortfall.
Other major components of his proposal include requiring assistant principals and other school-based, non-teaching professionals to fulfill a set amount of duty as substitute teachers, reducing the number of school buses that carry students home from extracurricular activities, and delaying the purchase of textbooks and other classroom materials.
He has also recommended deferring building renovations and equipment replacements, freezing travel and consultant expenditures, increasing the tuition for evening high school courses from $125 to $150 per course, and imposing an indefinite hiring freeze on filling an estimated 32 administrative vacancies.
"I'm not saying there won't be hardships. There certainly will be. But creative people will be able to overcome them," Murphy said. He added that he expects next year's budget situation to be even more bleak, and is preparing to make "major" reductions in administrative offices.
One category that is mostly spared from cuts this year under Murphy's plan is a program for improving achievement among black male students. The board last night approved spending $2 million for the program.
A committee that Murphy appointed last year to develop strategies for improving black male achievement had been hoping for $2 million to purchase multicultural library materials, create a new administrative department of "equity assurance," and recruit minority teachers.
Murphy has salvaged the majority of the committee's recommendations while proposing to save $311,000 by using two current employees to staff the new department and delaying its starting date until Jan. 1. Murphy said that in fashioning his cuts, his primary goals were to maintain student-teacher ratios at their current levels and to minimize the impacts on school system employees.
Reassigning non-teaching professionals as teachers would help meet both goals, he said.
Murphy said that while administrators may not like some of their new duties, he expects them to prefer teaching assignments over mandatory furloughs or permanent layoffs, two options that he considered, but dismissed.
"I think the vast majority of principals realize it doesn't do any good to sulk," Murphy said.
After meeting with Murphy and other principals today, Frank Stetson, principal of Duval High School and president of the labor union that represents 500 administrators, said, "We're obviously not thrilled with the proposal for stretching our folks, but we want to see programs maintained. We may have to live with it."
Of the plan to require librarians, guidance counselors and reading specialists to do substitute teaching, Marjorie Spirer, president of the Prince George's County Educators Association, said, "I can't say I'm happy or supportive, but we recognize the effort that was made to keep the burden off of teachers."
The school board's 10 members are expected to act on Murphy's recommendations on Monday. But several members said today they expected the plan to meet little resistance.
"Personally, I don't think it's such a terrible thing to have administrators spend some time in the classroom," said school board member Marcie C. Canavan. But she added that she is worried about delays in textbook purchases, noting that in some elementary schools, students already have to share history books.
To save money on heating, the board voted last night to keep the temperature in school buildings at 55 degrees through the three work days for school employees between Christmas and New Year's.