Executive, Council President Foresee Cutting School Budget

February 17, 1991|By Angela Gambill | Angela Gambill,Staff writer

The school board will send the County Council a proposed $151.6 million budget this week, but the proposal already seems headed for trouble.

County Council President Jeffrey Wilson and County Executive Eileen M. Rehrmann say the proposal is too costly and will have to be trimmed.

"I don't think there's any way their budget can be fully funded. We didn't have the money to fully fund the budget last year, and there's less money this year," Wilson said.

Rehrmann said, "These are the slowest revenues in a substantial period of time. I think a few board members realize -- but everybody has to realize -- we're in tough times."

Rehrmann said the council is waiting for the next incometax distribution before they'll know how what kind of cut is needed in the proposed school budget.

The school board trimmed the schoolsuperintendent's proposal $1.4 million, before sending the executiveand council a budget that represents a 19 percent increase over current spending.

At Monday's board meeting, the school board voted onits last budget cut, axing 22 of 94 new elementary school teaching jobs, which will save about $800,000.

Wilson didn't criticize the

school board for not cutting enough; he blamed the state for sending thecounty mandates without money to implement them.

"The primary fault is with the state. The state funding has decreased the past three years, and I feel confident it will decrease this year," he said.

"It isn't just that they are adding new programs that we're supposed to fund, they're also not even funding at the same level for existingprograms."

That leaves the school board in an awkward position, Wilson said.

"There are so many things (the board is) bound by," Wilson said. "They have state-mandated transportation obligations, contractualobligations, performance mandates from the state. . . . the amount of discretionary money they have is extremely limited."

But if he has "some sympathy" for the board's job, Wilson had harsh words over the issue of the negotiated 8 percent increase for school employees that must be left in the school budget. That raise was agreed to two years ago in a contract that expires in 1992.

"What I resent is that the board makes an official statement in support of their contract with the teacher's union, and yet individual members come aroundto me on the side and tell me they understand we won't be able to fund that 8 percent," Wilson said.

"That is hypocritical and deceit ful, and the board either has to have the moral courage to stand by their official position, or change that official position."

Callingthe maneuver "unconscionable," Wilson added, "A difficult situation is made impossible when the board takes an official position and individuals undermine that with elected officials. I'm extremely upset about that."

However, school board President Richard Molinaro said the board had no choice but to submit the budget with the negotiated teacher salaries.

"We negotiated with them; we have a binding agreement," he said. Failure to uphold the negotiation would open up the board to a grievance.

But that doesn't mean the board is certain the increase -- negotiated two years ago -- will be funded, Molinaro explained.

"Every board member has gone on record as supporting the 8 percent salary increase as submitted by our budget," he said. "If the county executive cuts the budget with regard to the line item of salary and wages, then we will revisit it and reopen negotiations withthe teachers. It's a whole new ballgame."

"But I'd be the first to say from a realistic standpoint, the prospects are very slim that the 8 percent increase will be supported and maintained by the county executive and the County Council. We still have to submit the salary increase as negotiated."

The board president said he was relieved that after weeks of discussion, the board's budget is completed.

"I would truly welcome a better budget process. I think there's a lot of wasted energy and time. There's gotta be a better system," Molinaro said.

Molinaro and board member Violet Merryman opposed cutting 22 of the 98.5 new elementary teaching jobs.

Merryman pointed out that a priority goal of the board is to reduce class sizes. "We have 200elementary school classes over 25. I think we're getting far afield from our goal," she said. "It does make a difference if we're talkingabout quality education."

The only other new cut the board made Monday was $12,000 from a recommended $70,550 for training institutes and conferences.

The board previously had cut about $700,000 in transportation, career development for teachers and administrative salaries.

They froze School Superintendent Ray R. Keech's salary at $93,000 and limited other executive salaries to a 2 percent increase.

Wilson said the money crunch reflects a need for better long-range planning. For example, "when we're developing communities we should do that in conjunction with a school site, to reduce the need for school buses," he said. "I hope we'll learn something when planning for the future."

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