Seeming to ignore talk of austerity by Harford County Executive Eileen M. Rehrmann, county schools Superintendent Ray R. Keech is seeking a 20 percent increase in operating funds for the coming budget year.
Keech presented his $153 million budget request to the school board last night. About 65 percent of the requested increase, or nearly $17 million, would go toward honoring negotiated raises with teachers and other employees and the hiring of 242 new staffers, including 158 teachers.
The remaining $9 million in new money would go toward more buses; benefits, energy and other fixed costs; and computers and other supplies.
Rehrmann, who has not yet seen Keech's request, declined comment.
Under the administration of County Executive Habern W. Freeman Jr., who left office last month, other county departments were told to plan for no budget increases. George F. Harrison Jr., a Rehrmann spokesman, said Rehrmann is maintaining that policy, considering the expected drop in revenue.
When asked whether Keech's budget request was out of line with Rehrmann's calls for austerity, Harrison said, "That does seem to be the case."
But, in written budget objectives adopted by the board last month, Keech said that staffing levels and per-pupil allotments were among the lowest in the state. "It is evident that the priority given to public education in Harford County must be improved to prevent serious consequences in the education of its youth," Keech wrote.
In addition, enrollment was expected to increase by about 1,600 students next fall, Keech said at last night's meeting.
The school board is expected to vote on the proposed budget next month before sending it to Rehrmann. The board also is to hold a public work session on the budget at 7 p.m. Jan. 28 at Southampton Middle School near Bel Air.
In the last two years, relatively large salary increases sought for school employees were the subject of tension between Keech and Freeman. A three-year wage pact with teachers and other school workers had been negotiated by Keech, and the last year of the pact, covering the budget that begins July 1, calls for 8 percent raises for teachers and all other workers.
Meanwhile, the school board received an 11 percent increase in operating money for the current budget year, after seeking more than a 20 percent increase. In the end, the board received enough money to provide 7.8 percent raises for the more than 3,000 teachers and others, but it was was not able to hire any new teachers.
School officials have not provided a breakdown yet of how much of the new operating money would come from the county budget and how much would come from state and federal sources. In recent years, as much as 55 percent of the school budget has come from county taxpayers.