LOADED TOGETHER in a tight front-page sentence yesterday, the list of cuts in the D.C. school budget proposed by Superintendent Vincent E. Reed couldn't help tripping parental alarms all over the city. Immediate protests are understandable when the official word is of "layoffs of hundreds of teachers and other school personnel, increases in the number of pupils per class and reductions in the pre-kindergarten and adult education programs." But Mr. Reed is neither heartless nor reckless when it comes to the education of this city's children -- and upon closer examination, the fiscal medicine he is prescribing, though distasteful, is right.
First, there is the fundamental grim reality of a money shortage that will leave no agency of the District untouched by harsh budget-cutting. And when 88 percent of the school system's spending is for salaries, what must give? Jobs -- and the superintendent's plan would cut 893 of them, a distressing total, but one that needs breaking down to be properly absorbed. With a total of 6,600 teachers in the system now, the proposed cuts of some 700 teaching positions would raise the 26-to-1 pupil-teacher ratio in grades 1 through 6 modestly, to 28 to 1. Some of these and other job reductions would be accomplished by attrition.
There would be stiff cuts in two cherished programs, but each can be justifiably trimmed.One is adult education, which though successful, is less crucial now that the University of the District of Columbia offers many similar and even better courses. The other is the all-day pre-kindergarten program for 4-year-olds. The District is the only local government that provides such a service and, marvelous though it may be, reduction to a half-day -- with other day-care programs perhaps answering the needs of the working poor -- is not too severe.
There are other noteworthy proposals that Superintendent Reed, School Board President R. Calvin Lockridge and other board members are considering -- including cuts in their own staffs and the politically difficult but absolutely necessary closing of underused school facilities. Seven building closings have been suggested for this June and another 15 by July 1981.
There's no telling what all these proposals will look like when the school board finishes with them -- for the temptations to posture, duck and demagogue are all there. But with strong and reasoned leadership from Superintendent Reed and President Lockridge, the hardships of belt-tightening can be minimal.