FIVE HUNDRED PEOPLE — almost all of them school spending advocates -- showed up at a county budget hearing Tuesday night, exhorting County Executive Robert R. Neall to give the Board of Education everything it wants.
"The recession is temporary. Education is permanent," said Lee Amoss of Linthicum Heights, a graduate of the county's Adult Basic Education program. He was one of about 100 residents who spoke to Neall at the hearing, the first of three Neall is sponsoring this week before releasing his fiscal 1993 budget May 1.
Neall also heard from opponents and supporters of the proposed East-West Boulevard, which the county wants to start building this year. He heard scattered comments about the 650-bed, $80 million detention center he wants to build on New Ordnance Road in Glen Burnie.
But even those who came to speak on other issues brought the conversation back to schools.
"If we can't pay teachers' salaries, why are we using scarce money to build additional unimportant roads?" asked Deborah Wells, a Shipley's Choice resident and opponent of the controversial road designed to link Ritchie and Veterans highways.
"I'm told East-West Boulevard is your No. 1 priority," said Jeff DeCaro of Millersville. "Let's get our priorities straight and make schools and children and our quality of life the No. 1 priority."
Although Tuesday's turnout was unexpectedly large -- last year, no more than 20 people showed up at Neall's budget hearings -- the emphasis on school spending came as no surprise, said Louise Hayman, Neall's press secretary.
A spending advisory group advised Neall not to increase his budget by more than 1.4 percent, but Neall said he is considering "modestly exceeding" that cap. The Spending Affordability Committee recommended that the county pay for $342 million of the school board's $365.8 million proposed budget.
Parents and education leaders who spoke Tuesday night objected to that proposal.
"Leave the education budget intact. Leave teachers in the schools and do not cut classes,"said Wanda Harding of Glen Burnie. "If there's going to be overcrowding, I prefer it to remain in the prison system, not in our classrooms."
Money for the prison, the East-West Boulevard and other unpopular projects ought to be channeled into schools instead, said citizens who complained of overcrowding, leaky school roofs, inadequate media centers and open-space classrooms that have yet to be walled off into separate units. Parents of special-education students turned out in force, asking that those services not be cut.
"This was a very one-sided presentation of priorities in the county," Hayman said afterthe hearing.
School board figures show that only 30 percent of county households have school-age children, she said.
"There seems to be a lack of perspective of how much money is available," she said."Everyone has all these needs that are so important to them personally, but no one is willing to sit in the county executive's seat and see that there are lots of other people with lots of other needs, too."
County officials are waiting for the results of a random poll ofresidents into the needs and wants of those who are less organized than the education lobby and less likely to attend public hearings.
A second budget hearing was to take place last night in Crofton. Thefinal hearing is scheduled for 7:30 tonight at Annapolis High School.