May 5, 2010

Schoolyard fight brewing over furloughs in Montgomery County

ROCKVILLE, Md. - Will there be an education armageddon in Montgomery County if schools have to accept furloughs? Maybe not, but there could be a lawsuit. School Superintendent Dr. Jerry Weast says he's balking over furloughs because of the impact it would have on the education process.

"My major concern is the children."

But Councilmember Phil Andrews doesn't buy it. "It's not about the kids -- it's about protecting staff."

Weast says it's about a number of things. He insists that furlough days would hit teacher preparation and school operations. "We only have seven non-instructional days," Weast says. "You take five {days} away from our teachers -- you're going to have a lot of big glitches."

And Weast says the county's spending plan is below a state funding formula. If that's the case, it would be the second year in a row the school system risked a multi-million dollar fine. This time the fine could be as much as $51 million.

"If the school system did something to cause the county to have to pay a $51 million fine, I suspect there would be a lot of hullabaloo over that."

Weast says the schools are already losing roughly 400 positions, taking on 2,800 more students and have agreed to a budget cut of $137 million from the school system's request. Any more cuts this late would do what he calls "irreparable harm."

County Council President Nancy Floreen says taking furloughs is about fundamental fairness. "I'm taking a furlough, my staff is taking a furlough, bus drivers are being furloughed, the people who give shots to the children in the schools are going to be furloughed. We are in this together." Floreen also takes issue with the school system's take on state law regarding school funding. "They're wrong on their law. I don't think this is the time to talk about law, I think it's time to talk about service."

Weast says he's talking about the same thing.

"We're all trying to do the best we can. I just don't want to show up in the fall and not be able to deliver to the children what we promised them we'd deliver." SOURCE: WTOP

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