Over the objections of the superintendent of schools, Robert Y. Dubel, the Baltimore County Board of Education has put off approving contracts negotiated with teachers and other employees while it looks for ways to trim the education budget.
The board voted 7-1 late Thursday to table the contracts with the Teachers Association of Baltimore County and the Baltimore County Aides and Clerical Workers. No one could remember a similar board action in the past.
Rosalie Hellman, board president, said the members wanted to take more time to study the contracts as it looked at ways to cut the proposed $518.5 million budget in the face of a slumping economy.
"In no way is this a rejection of the negotiated agreements," Mrs. Hellman said. "The board wants to sit back and look at the entire budget and put everything into perspective."
The contract provides a 3 percent pay raise for teachers and other employees, and it restructures salaries for veteran teachers.
The budget Dr. Dubel unveiled Jan. 24 called for increasing spending by about $55 million to keep pace with an expected enrollment increase of about 4,000 students.
It included money for increased staffing in the school systems' central office, continuing a $1 million teacher incentive program and expanding the prekindergarten program.
Dr. Dubel took a wait-and-see attitude toward the board's decision. "I was surprised," he said. "But I don't attach a great deal of significance to this."
Ed Veit, president of the 5,700-member teachers union, said he was not sure what to make of the board's action. "It's never been done before," said Mr. Veit, who added that he was not disappointed but was "curious."
Privately, others said the board did not want to give the impression of being a rubber stamp, particularly in light of a negative editorial in The Sun that criticized the proposed budget.
Gwendolyn Tisdale, the only board member to vote for ratifying the contract, said, "I thought we should go ahead and honor the negotiations process. I'm not sure why a two-week delay would do anything for us."
The board is scheduled to hold a work session Thursday to discuss the contract and the budget. It plans to convene a regular board meeting Feb. 21, at which it is scheduled to vote on the budget and, presumably, the contracts.