I'll be truthful. When I heard all this brouhaha over the busing cuts for magnet school students, I couldn't muster much sympathy.

The school board said the cuts were needed to help pay for teacher salaries. That decision sounded pretty fiscally sound, considering that a lot of our good teachers are leaving for better-paying jobs.

It made sense that if board members had to choose between eliminating door-to-door special service for magnet students and raising salaries of teachers, they would choose to give the teachers a raise.

Well, that's what I thought, anyway. But at a recent school board meeting, angry parents argued, some louder than others, that the plan to eliminate the current busing system for magnet schools would create chaos and put their children in harm's way.

Try as I might, I just couldn't get carried away by complaints from the lucky souls who have been able to get their children into Prince George's County schools' elite magnet program. But you know what, I have come around.

I'm still steaming from the spring magnet lottery. I applied for my daughter to attend one of the Montessori schools. I prayed. I hoped. I wanted to be one of the lucky ones.

When the letter came, I ripped it open. My heart was pounding. This was our shot. Then I saw the words. My baby was number 70 on the waiting list of 286 children for 16 slots. All hope was gone.

So, when the school board voted to save $2 million by cutting what auditors have characterized as taxicab-like service for the privileged parents who get to send their child to a magnet, I wasn't pressed.

I know I'm being petty, but that's what happens when you live in a county that has a school system of the haves and the have nots.

The haves get lucky and can send their children to one of the "good schools."

If you're not lucky, you have to take a chance on your neighborhood school or pack up and move your family to one of the few neighborhoods where there is a good school or rob your savings to send you child to a private school.

A parade of parents who testified at the school board meeting said that one of the primary reasons they continue to live in the county is that they are fortunate enough to send their children to a magnet school.

If only we had a school system where all the schools were good. If only we had a school system where there was a commitment from our leaders to provide us with schools where every child had a chance at being exposed to good academic programs. Wouldn't it be nice to have a school system that didn't rely on a lottery to hand out the goodies?

But no, I live in a county where you have to pray that the lottery gods are looking favorably down on you. I live in a county where for a split second--for the first time in my life--I wished I weren't black so my child could have a better chance of getting a slot in a magnet program.

The ugly truth about the magnet selection system is that--because of the county's quest for racial balance--you have a greater chance of being accepted if your child is white or Asian or something other than black.

That is what we've come to. Black parents wishing to live in a majority-black county now wishing that their children were white if only to improve their lottery position. It's sad.

This angst over the county school system has got to end. Why must we choose between safe pickups for our children and salary increases for our teachers? Not all the parents who send their children to a magnet program can afford to reshuffle their work schedules to shuttle their children back and forth to school.

Why must we put up with a system that penalizes you if you aren't lucky enough to get into the elite magnet program?

County Executive Wayne K. Curry (D) continues to argue that if the residents would just eliminate TRIM, the tax cap, then he could devote more funds to fixing what's wrong with our schools.

If the residents would just pony up more money, the argument goes, we might not have to put up with the kind of cuts that resulted in the ire of magnet parents. We wouldn't have parents like me feeling jealous of those who get their children in the "good schools."

Curry might be right about TRIM, but it's not happening any time soon, and he's certainly not out leading a bandwagon to overturn it. So he should get over it and help provide leadership in fixing what's wrong with our schools.

After listening for more than two hours to the magnet parents, I did come to understand their concerns. I could sympathize with their fear and frustrations over what havoc the busing cuts likely will cause in their lives.

Overall, I got the feeling that the parents hollering at school board members were expressing anger about more than the busing cut. To them this was just another slap in the face.

This time, it was the magnet program getting slapped. We all know--based on the way the school system is working--that somebody else's child will be shortchanged next go around. On this issue, we all should care, even if this time it doesn't directly affect our child.

In the end, I found myself saying "Amen" to one parent who very succinctly summed up the recent controversy. Said Ann Davidson, a Berwyn Heights parent, "Once again, the board had acted in a way to guarantee negative publicity and a loss of confidence by its constituents."

Talkin' Money appears every other Wednesday in the Prince George's Extra. If you have comments or column ideas, send me a letter or e-mail. You can write to me in c/o Talkin' Money 14402 Old Mill Rd., Suite 201, Upper Marlboro, Md. My e-mail address is singletarym@washpost.com.