Glenelg High School parents who brought a 1,000-signature petition from western county residents to a panel discussion on the school budget crisis last week provided fuel for both sides of the "no new taxes" debate.
Residents who signed the petition urged state and countygovernments to make education financing a top priority, specificallyfor teachers' salaries, student programs and activities. But the petition did not call for increased taxes to cover education costs.
"People said, 'Tax -- that's a dirty word,' " said Glenelg PTSA Vice President Chuck Guerra, who organized the petition. He said the community consensus was to look at restructuring the school system budget and find out whether it is top-heavy with administrators.
"Cutthe fat where it is, and then we'll look at taxes," Guerra said. Conversations with residents persuaded him that if people are convinced fat has been eliminated from the school budget, they will support taxincreases to give teachers raises and restore cuts in extracurricular activities budgets.
Teachers did not receive the 6 percent salary increase or 2 percent experience increases called for in their contract this year. The $3.9 million cut from the school budget last month to help meet an anticipated county budget shortfall has reduced sports equipment-replacement budgets, sent school officials looking for volunteers to time basketball games, and could jeopardize Saturday practice sessions.
Petition-drive leaders brought the document to the budget discussion sponsored by Running Brook Elementary School PTA Wednesday night after learning that the public would not be allowed to comment during a work session of the local General Assembly delegation that night. They had planned to give the petition to legislators.
Guerra said he also wanted County Executive Charles I. Ecker to know about the petition. Panelist Ecker told the audience of parents, teachers and a few students that he learned two things during his 1990 election campaign: Citizens are apathetic about local government, and "people are fed up with taxes."
One thousand signatures gathered in one night from an area whose houses are spread out on 3-acre lots is not apathy, Guerra said. The canvass included residents who havechildren in schools and those who do not, he said.
In the audience were four Oakland Mills High students who came to sort out the facts about the budget crisis for themselves, at the suggestion of socialstudies teacher Joseph Staub.
Rumors had circulated in the schoolthat teachers would be furloughed and schools would close for several days in January, Staub reported. Students began talking about a walkout to protest budget cuts, an idea that has also surfaced in other county high schools.
"I told them their hearts were in the right place" but a walkout was not the answer, Staub said.
The five panelists -- Ecker, Superintendent Michael E. Hickey, School Board Chairwoman Deborah D. Kendig, teacher union President James R. Swab and PTA Council President Rosemary E. S. Mortimer -- agreed that the next move in the budget crisis will come as the General Assembly grapples with a projected $800 million shortfall in the state's 1991-1992 budget.