- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 14, 2002

Superintendent Iris T. Metts' proposal to cut funding for 52 teacher jobs next year has outraged some parents and principals in Prince George's County who say the move could send class sizes shooting up to 36 students in some grades.
"She cut the positions out of the budget in the early stages, and no one realized it," said board member Robert Callahan. Mr. Callahan represents Bowie, which, along with Laurel, is one of the areas hit hardest by the proposed cuts in funding for "transitional" teachers positions created to alleviate the effect of drastic funding cuts for some schools in 2000.
Mr. Callahan has written to the County Council detailing the superintendent's plan, which proposes cutting 15 teacher jobs in Bowie, eight in Laurel, 10 from the south county and the rest from each of the other districts.
Mrs. Metts said yesterday that she had to end transitional funding because the system was $52 million short in the current year's budget, despite additional funds from recently passed legislation.
"We simply do not have enough money," she said. "We are trying to find the least disruptive way to reduce the budget deficit."
She said there had been several additional demands on the budget this year, including raises in teachers' salaries and the opening of nine new schools, among other things.
Parents and principals say, however, that their schools, already teetering from the cuts in 2000, will suffer more.
Board member Angie Como, Laurel, said after the cuts, schools in her district had registered a drop in scores on the Maryland School Performance Assessment Program tests.
John Ceschini, principal of Rockledge Elementary in Bowie, said his school would lose two teacher positions, taking class sizes to 36 in some grades. "I don't understand why we are losing teachers when there is new money coming in," he said.
Mrs. Metts cut money for comprehensive schools in 2000 to give to poorer schools under a new funding formula she implemented after taking office. Schools were forced to cut teacher jobs, some of which the board restored during the reconciliation process in 2001 and again in 2002.
Board member Doyle Niemann, Mount Rainier, said affected schools had been receiving "misallocated poverty money" before 2000. He said no formula had existed in the past that would correctly distribute this money to schools based on need, and Mrs. Metts had remedied that problem.
He said the cuts had also affected some poorer schools that had been receiving the misallocated money. "There is a misperception that we are taking away from affluent schools to give to the poor," he said.
But Mrs. Como denied this wasever the case. She said it appearedas if schools that were doing wellwere being punished. "That is not the right philosophy. Don't take away from schools that are working well," she said.
What also is causing concern in affected schools is that the new board, which takes office on June 1, will have less than a month's time to reconcile the budget.
Administrators and parents said they are worried the new board might end up accepting Mrs. Metts' proposal, causing them to lose teacher positions and funds.
"We don't know who to go to now that we have no elected board," Mr. Ceschini said.
"Hopefully the new board won't just rubber-stamp the budget, but will review it carefully," said Howard Tutman, president of the PTA at Woodmore Elementary in Mitchellville, which could also lose teachers.
Parents have been lobbying the council to prevent the cuts. Last week, some parents from Bowie and Laurel wrote to council members expressing concern.
"The issue is not necessarily that of cutting funds from some schools, but of equity," Mr. Tutman said. "The same amount of money should go to the same number of students."
Council President Peter Shapiro, District 2 Democrat, said while he understands the concerns among the schools over losing teachers, the superintendent was trying to channel resources to schools with the greatest need.
"The flip side with limited resources is that you have to make tough funding decisions," he said.


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