The amount of the budget deficit forecast this year for Montgomery County was incorrectly reported yesterday. Montgomery is projecting a deficit of $65 million. (Published 1/5/91)

Montgomery County School Superintendent Harry Pitt yesterday recommended increasing school spending by 11 percent next year, a request that county officials said is out of step with Montgomery's grim financial situation.

Pitt's $782.2 million budget proposal is designed to accommodate the biggest enrollment spurt since the late 1960s and give teachers a pay raise of 6.5 percent.

The plan would devote $4 million, the smallest sum in several years, to school initiatives, emphasizing more help for the system's youngest children and for students in danger of dropping out of school.

"What you have here is a pretty much hold-the-line budget," Pitt said as he issued his last spending plan before he retires in June. "This is a tough budget to cut."

Nevertheless, his proposal drew a skeptical response from County Executive Neal Potter, who, after a month in office, is trying to come to terms with Montgomery's severe financial strains.

Potter said he doubted the county could afford any school improvements next year. "We probably can't maintain the current level," he added.

Potter said he did not dispute that the 103,700-student system needs what Pitt's proposal would provide. But the county executive said, "There is not a current expectation of that much money to fund the budget."

At the same time, the school board's new president, Blair Ewing, said yesterday that he believes the superintendent's proposal is not ambitious enough. "There is a very large number of unmet needs, and this budget barely touches on them," said Ewing, who has often criticized Pitt for relatively conservative spending plans.

Caught among an aggressive school board, rapid enrollment growth and an eroding economy, Pitt's proposal is likely to ignite the sharpest debate in the county's budget deliberations during the next several months. Potter is scheduled to propose an operating budget in March, and the County Council must adopt a final version by mid-May.

"This is going to be the hardest budget {question} we are going to have to deal with this year," said County Council member Michael L. Subin, chairman of the council's Education Committee. "This is probably the most conservative budget request I have seen coming out of the school system. It still is of such great proportions and our problems are so large, it is going to be difficult to meet what's there."

Traditionally, school budgets have been sacrosanct in Montgomery, where good schools have been a central feature of the county's identity. But county officials project a deficit for next year of more than $150 million, and the schools' constituency has been shrinking, as families with school-age children have become a smaller portion of the county population.

This week, Potter ordered all county agencies to study how their services would be affected by a 12 percent budget cut. He did not formally include the school system in his directive, but he said yesterday that he expected the schools to consider similar measures.

Mindful of the county's financial problems, the school board last month asked for a quick study of ways the school system could save money. The analysis, by school system researchers and a community task force, is not finished.

Yesterday, Pitt acknowledged that his budget is unlikely to remain intact. "I realize this is not a year when we are going to be able to do much," he said at a morning news briefing.

But he said that he did not want to make early cuts in case the county's economic health improves, or county officials find new ways of raising money. "I have an obligation as superintendent to ask for what I think the school system needs," he said.

The plan represents a $77.4 million increase over the schools' current budget. More than half the extra money is for salaries, primarily a raise of 6.5 percent for teachers and 5.5 percent for support workers negotiated in union contracts last year.

Pitt's proposal does not contain the cost of administrators' raises, which are under negotiation.

The budget also covers the expense of educating a projected 4,000 additional students, the biggest enrollment boom in more than two decades. In addition, the school system expects higher costs for employee benefits, disabled students and utilities.

Among the improvements, Pitt is proposing slight reductions in the size of elementary school and middle-school classes, additional curriculum specialists, and a new environmental education program at Poolesville Junior-Senior High intended to draw students countywide to the small school in northern Montgomery.

Pitt also has recommended more all-day kindergarten classes and additional teachers' aides for first and second grades, reflecting his priority on the education of young children. And he has proposed more English teachers for immigrant children, extra elementary school counselors, and a new alternative pro-

gram for disruptive middle-school youngsters.

"I felt it was important to try to keep some impetus out there," he said. But he added, "I don't think anyone can honestly say I've just ignored fiscal times. I haven't."

Total: Proposed 1991-92 budget is $782.2 million. This would be an 11 percent increase over the 1990-91 budget.of $704.8 million.

Increase: $73.4 million of the increase would be used to maintain current services. The remaining $4 million would pay for improvements and initiatives. FOR CURRENT SERVICES

Salaries: Includes previously negotiated 6.5 percent increase for teachers and 5.5 percent raise for school support workers; continuing salary costs, and negotiated benefits. Cost: $43.4 million.

Growth: Includes additional 4,000 students and money to open two elementary schools and one middle school. Cost: $14.4 million.

Employee Benefits: Includes Social Security and retirement and employee benefit plan. Cost: $9.8 million.

Other Costs: Includes tuition for disabled students, utilities and inflation. Cost: $5.8 million. PROGRAM IMPROVEMENTS

Early Childhood: Hire more teachers' aides for first and second grades, expand all-day kindergarten. Cost: $1.04 million.

Language Minorities: Hire four more teachers for English for speakers of other languages, expand bilingual counseling, expand bilingual testing services. Cost: $218,195.

At-Risk Students: Hire more elementary counselors, create middle-school alternative program, expand in-school suspension for middle school and senior high students, help improve attendance of at-risk high school students, help senior high students pass state competency tests, and hire four more pupil personnel workers. Cost: $1.08 million.

Other School Support: $531,607. AND $1.15 MILLION FOR . . .

Elementary Schools: Reduce class sizes, add six curriculum specialists and prepare students for Maryland School Performance Program.

Middle Schools: Reduce maximum class size from 32 to 30, improve school security, add lunchroom aides.

High Schools: Add a math resource teacher, improve computer coordination and create a countywide environmental education program at Poolesville Junior-Senior High.

SOURCE: Superintendent's Proposed Fiscal 1992 Budget.