Hundreds of Montgomery school employees rally in Rockville against possible education cuts
Union leaders decry talk of less money as shortsighted
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Jinru Lin never thought a few years ago that she would be marching to save her job. But on Tuesday, Lin, a media assistant at Seneca Valley High School for four years, said she was in danger of becoming a victim of potential cuts to Montgomery County Public Schools.
Lin, along with hundreds of other school system employees, held a rally to protest budget decisions by County Executive Isiah Leggett (D) and discussions among County Council members that involve possible cuts to the school system's existing budget.
Lin said that she had been told by her principal that her position would be eliminated next year, and she hoped she could find another job in the school system.
"By cutting the people, human resources, it's hurtful to our students," Lin said.
Employees from the teachers, staff and administrators unions marched from school system headquarters on Hungerford Drive south along Rockville Pike and gathered in front of the Stella B. Werner Council Office Building. They held signs with a twist on the school system's acronym, MCPS: "More Cuts Punish Students." Some signs displayed the names of all three unions. A few chanted, "They say cut back! We say fight back!"
They demanded that the county preserve education funding unless they want to see the quality of student performance decline, along with the quality of life for all county residents.
"You think education is expensive? Try ignorance," Doug Prouty, president of the Montgomery County Education Association, the teachers union, told the assembled crowd to loud applause.
The Board of Education has requested a $2.2 billion budget for 2012, an increase of just more than $100 million from this year, with $1.5 billion coming from the county. Board members said the increase is necessary to deal with rising student enrollment, which this year is more than 144,000 and is expected to top 146,000 next year.
Leggett, however, has countered with a county budget proposal of about $1.4 billion for the school system, the same funding level that was approved last year. His proposal does as little damage as possible to public schools while still helping to close the county's budget gap, he said.
County Council members have said they might not vote to support Leggett's proposal and might lower the school system's funding below its level this year. Council members have argued that school system employees should share in the some budget sacrifices that other county government workers are likely to face. Leggett has proposed increasing the share of health care premiums paid by non-school government workers.
But at MCPS headquarters, Poolesville High School teacher Jan Maloney blamed the national political climate that led elected officials like those in Montgomery County to starve public schools of the funds they needed, even though the money was readily available.
"They've got to blame someone, and teachers are an easy target," Maloney said.
SEIU Local 500 President Merle Cutitta also stressed the solidarity of the school unions to the people in front of the County Council building, saying, "We come together as one, supporting services, teachers, and administrators, and that's what makes the difference."