School officials say they won't be able to meet the county's requestto trim an additional $5.5 million from their $341 million budget without furloughs, pay cuts or laying off 450 employees.
The head ofthe school system's budget office said Monday that an alternate plan, which would put kindergarten students in school only every other day and jeopardize extracurricular activities -- including sports -- byeliminating money for coaches and moderators, would save only $2 million.
Budget concerns were on the lips of approximately 150 parents andboard members during a school board meeting Monday night. While noting the board dealt with an $8 million budget last year by initiating a hiring freeze, turning down thermostats and cutting activity buses,school Budget Officer Jack White warned that more drastic measures will be necessary this time.
"The game has changed and the numbers are much bigger," White said. "The board is going to have to do something in the personnel area. We have three possibilities as far as I can tell -- salary reductions, furloughs or layoffs."
School officials need to trim $5.5 million from their budget -- $4.5 million to satisfy county budget demands and $1 million to pay for contracted teacher sabbaticals.
White recommended leaving kindergarten students at home every other day. Currently, those students attend school dailyfor a few hours. Under the plan, kindergarten students would attend all day on alternate days.
That, plus eliminating extracurricular pay, custodial overtime and activity buses, would yield only about $2million in savings, White told board members. He estimated savings of $5 million if employees are furloughed for five days. Salary reductions would yield $1.5 million for every percent cut.
Board memberscalled a special meeting with union and parent group representativesfor 5 p.m. today at board headquarters on Riva Road. Assistant Superintendent for Administration William Scott will meet with union leaders before the start of that meeting. Neall met with those same leaders last night.
Board President Jo Ann Tollenger said everyone in the school system will be affected by budget cuts in some way.
"We have to look at everybody," Tollenger said after the meeting. "We don't want it to be disruptive to the classroom, but a critical part of it is employee groups. That's why we called the meeting. We want to hear from them. If further cuts must be made to salaries, it will be from the superintendent down, not just one employee group."
At the end of the meeting, as board members learned of the county intent to hold budget hearings in December, they questioned why County ExecutiveRobert R. Neall has never given them formal notification of his plans.
"We're just hearing about it," Tollenger said of the budget hearings. "The board recognizes the difficulty the county faces. The school system will do what needs to be done, even though they are thingswe do not want to do. Still, I believe in separation of the school system from county government. It's the board's responsibilities to make the cuts."
In other business Monday, parents carrying signs like "We Care, Don't You?" and "Let's Keep Our Children In Quality Pre-K" asked board members to save the pre-kindergarten program at four schools.
Those programs are slated to close by Nov. 1, unless more money is provided by the state.
Parents from Germantown, Harman, Glendale and Marley elementary schools presented board members with petition signed by more than 200 parents willing to pay $40 a month to help keep the programs running.
"We parents feel so strongly about this, we would be willing to pay," Harman PTA Vice President Renee Whitmore said. "We are not begging to have the pre-K saved for selfish reasons. We want the littlest learners to have a leg up."
Assistant Superintendent for Instruction Cheryl Wilhoyte said the 10 pre-K schools were chosen based on the percentage of students receiving reduced-cost and free lunches.
Wilhoyte asked parents to be patient as she awaited word from the state Department of Education on how much of the $135,000 cut from the program will be restored.
Meanwhile, board Legal Counsel P. Tyson Bennett was asked to give a legal opinionon whether parents would be able to make contributions to keep the program running. The pre-kindergarten program is operated completely through money from state grants. It has existed in the county for morethan 10 years.