The detractors of the TRIM initiative, who are now leading an effort to have it modified, present the citizens of our county with little that is new in the way of criticisms and dire predictions. Before the measure was passed by the voters in November 1978, they were sounding an alarm. But over the past three years, property owners have seen how self-serving and hollow their predictions were. The benefits of TRIM have been widely accepted and acclaimed. Our property tax burden has been eased considerably, and the sprawl development of the 1960s has been contained. Part of TRIM's success is due to a county executive who has supported the mandate of the initiative and made a concerted effort to restrain the growth of local government, including agencies not under TRIM's mandate.
By contrast, the majority of our county council has failed miserably to live up to the responsibilities mandated by TRIM. Instead of conducting cost-benefit analyses of programs and agencies and then setting priorities, it spent four years using the initiative as a "whipping boy" and encouraging special interest groups to work for TRIM's amendment or repeal. The best example of the council's attitude is the marriage that has developed between some county council members and local educators. It should come as no great surprise that, while the growth of other agencies was held below 5 percent annually, the school budget grew in excess of 10 percent each year despite a substantial and continuing decline in student enrollment.
The TRIM Committee has absolutely no quarrel with competent professional educators receiving adequate salaries. However, we do question the professionalism of a teaching staff that is out on sick leave an average of 14 days in a nine-month school year. We also take issue with a school board and an administration that perpetuate a system with a weak curriculum and low student academic standards and achievement levels. This has been demonstrated by their willingness to shop around for, and to put into effect, a less stringent testing program that obscured the actual decline in student achievement that has characterized our system for nearly a decade.
Our current academic malaise will not be cured by additional dollars through the repeal of TRIM. The remedy is increased teacher competency and greater accountability, and higher student expectations.
Despite the protests of educators over the reduction in size of the school budget this year, there are many areas where reductions could reasonably be made. One of TRIM's recommendations has been to close all middle and junior high schools and to reassign seventh- and eighth-grade students to their neighborhood schools. We have estimated an immediate net savings on transportation, administration, maintenance and energy costs of several million dollars annually. Also, we have urged that all children living in urban areas use public transportation. This would eliminate the burden of supporting a competitive and duplicative bus system. Other savings would occur with the elimination of regional administrative staffs. Their responsibilities could be consolidated into the central office, now that student enrollment has fallen by 40 percent.
The TRIM Committee and its supporters believe there is enough waste in the education budget (for example, the school board proposed the construction of an additional and unnecessary senior high school in the face of the declining student enrollment) to permit TRIM to remain in existence for at least two more years.
We are eager to engage in a dialogue with representatives of the school system on the merits of their proposed TRIM amendment. This would be preferable to the censorship the school board and the PTA leadership have imposed by refusing to permit TRIM representatives to present the opposing side of the TRIM issue to their membership.
Only one-third of county income sources were capped in 1979 by the 80 percent of the voters who approved TRIM. With more than $50 million more in income today than in 1979, a sharply declining school population, and plenty of opportunities for cost- saving management, the county council and school board need to listen to the voters. The voters said, "Learn to live with less spending."