Baltimore-area school superintendents called into question Wednesday a suggestion by Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller that they cut administrators and public relations staffs to help ease the state's budget woes.
Miller's comments were made in a Tuesday forum previewing the General Assembly session, as he referred to the more than $1.5 billion budget deficit anticipated next year - a shortfall that Maryland will not resolve by cutting teachers, unlike other states, he said.
"We don't want to cut public education, so we're going to have to go to superintendents of schools and say: 'Listen, you've got to find us some administrators, some bureaucrats, some public relations people that we can cut, because we're not going to furlough teachers,' " Miller said.
But several area superintendents contend that those employees are essential to running their districts and that removing them won't bring the kind of reductions legislators seek.
"The money in school systems is in teachers and programs for kids and operations," city schools CEO Andrés A. Alonso said in an e-mail, adding that city school budgets have been "protected" in part because of cuts in the central office during the past couple of years. "Unfortunately, this has represented a drop in the bucket in terms of how we have had to approach and shape our budgets."
Many area districts already started this school year cutting corners with furloughs, larger class sizes and delayed construction projects because of their tight budgets.
Carroll school officials have reduced positions in the central office this year, in addition to 20 teaching jobs at the middle and high school levels, Superintendent Charles I. Ecker said.
"There's a common misperception that you don't need some central office positions, like supervisors," Ecker said. "We need administrators in schools and countywide, too. ... You need some coordination, and to provide staff development and work on curriculum."
Many administrative and other staff members perform jobs integral to the success of the school system, said Anne Arundel Superintendent Kevin M. Maxwell, who was forced to contend with a $44 million budget deficit last year and had to furlough staff.
"With the budget deficits that we've been seeing, we could cut our entire staff and we couldn't meet their needs," he said. "It's challenging in this fiscal environment, and I understand Senator Miller's concern and the legislature's and Governor [Martin] O'Malley's concern, but I believe that education is one of the important roles that we possess as a society."
Howard schools Superintendent Sydney L. Cousin said he was surprised at the news from Annapolis and the singling out of public relations personnel.
"We have these positions for a reason," he said. "They are central to what we do."
How the state money is spent is largely a function of local governments, said Carl D. Roberts, executive director of the Public School Superintendents Association of Maryland. "With all due respect to everyone, local superintendents and school boards have to decide how to apply the revenue to meet the needs of the students."
It will be difficult to reduce budgets without having some effect on teachers, Roberts said. Teacher salaries and benefits represent between 65 percent and 70 percent of school budgets.
Baltimore Sun reporters Liz Bowie, Nicole Fuller and John- John Williams IV and the Associated Press contributed to this article.