ANNAPOLIS -- Chanting "No more cuts" and "Save our schools," thousands of teachers, administrators, parents and students swarmed to the State House last night, criticizing a budget deal that trims state aid to counties and grants local governments more power over school spending.
Wielding signs that read "Stop Passing the Buck" and "Kill the Bill," speaker after speaker urged Gov. William Donald Schaefer not to sign the measure passed by the legislature that would cut $68 million in aid to Baltimore and 23 counties in addition to the $115 million in cuts previously approved.
"They want us to choose between pre-school and prison. They want us to choose between police and education," Jane R. Stern, president of the Maryland State Teachers Association, told the cheering crowd. She referred to programs partially reinstated after budget protests.
"How many children can we lay off?" she asked.
The crowd, which converged from many parts of Maryland on the State House grounds and spilled along Rowe Boulevard, dwarfed the turnouts for budget protests during the past two weeks by groups ranging from state police to human services advocates.
Police estimated last night's crowd at 8,000, leading some observers to compare the rally to the protests over abortion legislation two years ago.
Ms. Stern said legislators should consider raising taxes to prevent the cuts. But legislators have said they do not plan to consider any tax increases before the 1992 General Assembly begins in January.
"They need to keep in mind that education's a priority," declared Jodi Harmon, 17-year-old president of the Maryland Association of Student Councils and a senior at South River High School in Anne Arundel County.
The protesters criticized one part of the bill -- advocated by Anne Arundel County Executive Robert R. Neall -- that would grant county executives rather than school boards the power to reduce spending in education. This authority would last only until next June, the end of the fiscal year.
Cuts could be made to any specific item from a school budget except for classroom personnel and instructional materials.
Page Boinest, a spokeswoman for Governor Schaefer, said the governor intended to sign the budget reconciliation bill Friday morning and supports the Neall amendment. "It gives the locals the flexibility they need," Ms. Boinest said. "We are in unusual times."
Budget cuts are needed to meet a projected state deficit of $450 million in this fiscal year.
"We've got to rework the budget based on new realities," said Mr. Neall, noting his county will lose $18 million in state aid.
The county executive is looking at salary cuts for all county workers -- a move he says is preferable to layoffs.
But many people at the rally dismissed even the partial transfer of power over education, holding signs that read "Keep politics out of education," and "Repeal the Neall Deal."
"No cuts in education, it's not right," said Patty Hannon. Her sign said, "Let's start cutting at the top -- Gov. Schaefer, County Exec. Neall."
Her 4-year-old daughter's pre-kindergarten class at Germantown School is slated to be sacrificed. "I can't afford private school," she said. "The kids lose out all the way around."
PD "I think we've taken enough cuts," said Al Cicere, a third-grade
teacher who earns $42,900 at Overlook Elementary School in North Linthicum, noting he has not received a raise this year.
Higher taxes "may be the best solution," he said. "I can deal with that a lot easier than my salary being cut."