As deputy superintendent of Howard County public schools, he fought for large budget increases. As county executive-elect, Charles I. Ecker is trying to hold the line on government spending -- even for schools.
Ecker, citing the county's bleak fiscal picture, yesterday said everyone "would have to tighten their belts" to offset a projected budget shortfall this year and to draft a budget next year that has smaller spending increases.
"I think teachers are reasonable, intelligent people. They realize that we're going into a financial situation which is not good and will accept that," said Ecker, who defeated Democratic incumbent Elizabeth Bobo on Election Day last week.
The school system has received funding increases from the county of 18.4 percent in fiscal 1990 and 16.3 percent for the current fiscal year. The county contribution to the school budget this year is $140.4 million. With money from the state and federal government and other sources, its budget is $179.6 million.
The system is to release its proposed operating budget in January.
Public schools Superintendent Michael Hickey said he realized the system would not be able to continue to receive the budget increases it has in recent years because of a projected $3 million shortfall in county revenues and a worsening local economy.
But he said because he doesn't expect major funding increases from the state or federal governments, schools would need an increase of 15 percent next year just to accommodate a projected increase in students and to pay for a 6 percent increase in teacher salaries.
Hickey said the system currently is trying to save money by deferring some expenses and leaving some non-teaching positions vacant for as long as it can, and that the 15 percent increase does not include any new programs, such as an additional class period in high schools being sought by some parents.
Ecker declined to say how much the county would provide to the schools, but "based on what I understand about county finances, I don't think we can afford a 15 percent increase," he said.
Rosemary Mortimer, president of the Howard County PTA, said she wants to ensure that any savings in the schools budget would not affect the quality of education that has become a key selling point for the county. She said she would be concerned if the schools would have to drop plans to add a seventh period to high school classes.
"That's our No. 1 priority," she said. "We know it's a big ticket item, but we need it in all the schools."
James Swab, president of the Howard County Teachers Association, said there may be areas in the budget that can be cut, but that he doesn't expect teachers to suffer.