- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 27, 2000

Half of Prince George's County (Md.) principals, some in tears, collided again with school chief Iris T. Metts, who they say slashed their budgets and told them only one month before school starts.
As a result, some administrators say they will have to lay off new teachers they have hired and return already ordered books and supplies.
"In 35 years in this school system, I have never had anything like this pulled on me," said a tearful principal Tuesday night at a community meeting in Beltsville. "I have spent the summer getting this school ready to open. I have made commitments to teachers I've hired that I can't pay for now."
The Beltsville principal's budget was cut in half, to $165,000. The principal, who said she has been reprimanded by two administrators for speaking out during the forum, asked not to be named.
Meanwhile, state and county officials and some school board members expressed shock over the school system's actions.
"This is unconscionable," said state Sen. Arthur Dorman, Beltsville Democrat, who attended the meeting. "It is ridiculous to let schools know about such serious cuts with such a short period of time left before opening. I am definitely checking into it."
"I am just shocked," said County Council member Walter H. Maloney, Beltsville Democrat. "I can't imagine why they are making budget decisions so late."
At issue are the comprehensive school improvement funds, supplemental money given to schools to help hire additional staff, textbooks and supplies. This year, Mrs. Metts cut the fund from $24 million to $20 to divert money to teachers' raises and a full-day kindergarten initiative.
As a result, the school board mandated budget cuts across the board and a more equitable distribution of money to the schools, said school spokeswoman Athena Ware.
"Before, some schools were getting the money while others were not," she said. "Now the formula has been changed to make sure the funds are equitably distributed while incorporating the cuts. I'm sure the schools that received more money aren't complaining."
The new formula will be phased in over two years, she added.
As for the late notice, Ms. Ware said the budget process was delayed this year. Usually, schools have their budgets by the beginning of July.
"Funding issues are an emotional and touchy subject," she said. "But this is what the board said they wanted."
Some board members called the new funding formula "devastating."
"My district is taking a 43 percent cut while the cut overall is 17 percent," said board member Robert J. Callahan, District 5. "The plan is shifting the most money from comprehensive schools when those are the schools it is intended for, not magnet and vocational schools. That doesn't make sense."
"The timing is terrible, he added. "One principal called me and said, 'That's it, I'm going to Montgomery County next year. I have to lay off 10 people because of this.' "
The biggest increases were in Districts 2 and 3, while the biggest cuts were in Districts 1, 5 and 9. Ninety schools lost $3,000 to $250,000. Ninety-three schools received increases in the same range.
District 5 board member Angie Como, who hosted Tuesday's meeting, expressed concern. "Something is very wrong here," said Mrs. Como. "This isn't a way to improve education. Basically, the administration created a initiative without a thorough review of its impact on the community."
Meanwhile, principals scramble to get more information and adjust their budgets.
"They don't know what they are going to do," said Doris Reed, director of the principals' union. "They were told to go ahead and make plans with a 10 percent reduction. This is much more."
One principal contacted by The Washington Times commented that it was "interesting" that he had to find out about his budget from a reporter.
And parents were outraged. "This is totally reckless and irresponsible," said parent activist Donna Hathaway Beck. "Dr. Metts wants to do too much too fast, not taking into account reality. People are just panic stricken."
Mrs. Beck called the initiative "one way to get rid of people. But then who is going to want to come to such an unstable school system to replace them?"
"People don't seem to get it," she added. "Imagine if you were told that your salary was going to be cut by two-thirds in four weeks and then told to adjust."
Mrs. Metts, who was out of town, was not available for comment.

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