Sharing the Pain in Montgomery

April 01, 1991

It's time for local legislators to step up to the plate in Montgomery County. Members of the county school board have come up with more than $60 million in possible budget cuts. Among other things, they would eliminate raises for teachers and high school sports, trim 440 positions through layoffs and attrition, inflate class sizes and shorten the school year. "These are the most significant cuts I've seen in 30 years," said School Superintendent Harry Pitt. They follow $20 million trimmed from Mr. Pitt's original spending plan.

The latest cuts, which are only tentative at this stage, are mostly "unrecommended" and are being proffered with an air of unreality. The superintendent flatly states that they are simply too draconian and would "severely damage" the school system. Those comments are being echoed by parents and teachers who are alarmed at the prospect of a significant and systematic downsizing of education in a county that counts superior schools among its key drawing cards. "These cuts would be clearly devastating and are unacceptable," said Richard Bank, executive director of the Montgomery County Education Association, the union representing 7,000 teachers and school professionals.

It's hard to see how any jurisdiction, even Montgomery, could swallow such voluminous cuts. Even after jettisoning $34 million in teacher raises, the board would be forced to slash programs by another $31 million. Clearly, the time for compromise has arrived. A growing number of school leaders are privately conceding that teacher raises may simply not be realistic in light of the county's $195 million projected shortfall. But they want to see some evidence that legislators are willing to do more than pay lip service to raising revenue.

So far, at least, the County Council has not obliged. There has been much talk but little action on a raft of tax proposals. And the council has refused to override a limit on property taxes. Montgomery's Annapolis delegation has been equally reluctant to push for state authorization to increase the county's "piggyback" income tax rate from 50 percent to 60 percent. Now, with this year's General Assembly session coming to a close, such an increase is virtually impossible.

That's one lost opportunity too many. The answer to Montgomery's financial plight is a mosaic of budget cuts and higher taxes. Neither can do the job alone.

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