ANNAPOLIS – Prince George’s County parents and school board members told state lawmakers Monday that County Executive Wayne Curry’s proposed school cuts would be devastating to public education in the county.
“There is no fat to trim in our budget,” School Board Chairman Frederick C. Hutchinson said to the standing room only crowd in the Joint Hearing Room.
Curry, faced with an overall deficit of $131 million, wants to cut $33 million from the schools’ budget and abolish 500 school system jobs, moves some said would increase class sizes and diminish the quality of education.
State lawmakers reacted with assurances that they are doing everything to get money into the county for education.
“We’re not in the business of touching your budget,” said Sen. Leo Green, D-Prince George’s. “We’re in the business of trying to bring more money back to you.”
Gov. Parris N. Glendening’s budget would bring $13.1 million to county schools, Green said. He added that lawmakers will request even more money in the supplemental budget.
Green also pointed to bills that would tax casino nights, transfer money from the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission and make the piggyback tax retroactive – measures he said could result in more than $20 million for county schools.
Curry has also asked state legislators for line item veto power over the school board’s budget. But board members said they should be trusted to handle their own affairs.
“This board is opposed to any other elected body taking over control of the school board with line item veto,” said Suzanne M. Plogman, a member of the board.
Green said he doesn’t believe state lawmakers will approve the measure.
Parents and school board members also said they would not object to tax increases if they knew the money was sure to go to education.
But Green said the voters, not the lawmakers, should make any decisions affecting TRIM – short for Tax Reform Initiative by Marylanders, the property tax cap enacted by referendum in 1984. And in fact, the delegation’s County Affairs Committee on Tuesday gave an unfavorable recommendation to a bill that would overturn TRIM.
Laurel residents were hopeful after the meeting.
“The legislators were very honest and very realistic,” said Dorothy Christofferson, PTA president at Deerfield Run Elementary and mother of a fourth grader.
Christofferson said she was glad the delegation opposed the line item veto.
“Unfortunately, Wayne Curry gives the impression that he has the ability to dictate school board policy,” she said, adding that this is what school board members are elected to do.
Ellen Stewart, a pupil personnel worker who has lived in Laurel for nine years, said she came to the meeting because she needed to hear from state lawmakers first hand.
“They have always been friends of education” and sound like they still are, Stewart said.
Curry’s budget proposal would also eliminate the French immersion magnet program at Roger’s Heights and Shadyside Elementary schools and Andrew Jackson Middle School. Students from the three schools packed the hearing room, singing in French to support the program.
School board member Beverly Beander said she is not sure why certain programs were targeted over others. Although encouraged by what the lawmakers had to say, Beander remained concerned that the county’s deficit will result in some belt tightening for everyone. -30-