County teachers, faced with the prospect of more school budget cuts and what they see as attacks on the school board's autonomy, plan an April protest aimed at the state government and County Executive Charles I. Ecker.
The protest is scheduled for April 15-19. It could include letters and telephone calls to Ecker and state legislators, rallies, wearing "protest colors" and "work-to-rule" job actions in which teachers do not volunteer time beyond the work day in their contract, said James. R. Swab, president of the Howard County Education Association.
Union representatives will meet Tuesday to decide on actions. The2,700-member union also includes principals, supervisors, secretaries and instructional assistants.
In addition to the budget cuts, Swab said teachers are protesting state-mandated tests and report cardsfor students along with efforts to shift money that has been going to local school systems into the Maryland State Department of Education coffers.
School board Chairman Deborah D. Kendig said she did not foresee any adverse impact on the school system. "I'm not sure how productive work-to-rule might be," she said. "That seems to be aimed at the school system rather than the county executive."
A state attorney general's opinion issued last week gave Ecker part of the authority he sought for more school budget cuts. A bill now before the House of Delegates would allow Maryland counties to cut even deeper into local school budgets for 1991-1992.
Kendig also sees an attack on the school board's power in Ecker's statement that the board shouldnot finance the teachers' 6 percent negotiated salary increase next year. The county is negotiating contracts with municipal unions this year, but Ecker has not put raises for those workers in his budget proposal.
"His discussion doesn't recognize that school system employees are not county employees," Kendig said. "They shouldn't be pitted against each other."
Ecker, who retired as deputy superintendentof Howard County schools in 1989 after a 33-year career in education, denied that his budget moves are an attempt to undercut the school board's power.
"It sure is not," he said. "It's an attack on the economy and the fact that we don't have the money. I haven't done a good job to let the public know how bad it is. People don't seem to understand yet. I don't want to do this. I don't want to lay off people,I don't want to cut the school budget."
The planned protest couldpit Ecker's son, a Glenwood Middle School teacher, against his father's policies. C. Daniel Ecker did not respond to a reporter's phone calls, but the county executive said his son is upset over his suggestion that the school board abrogate the teacher pay raise for 1991-1992.
School board members have held firm in their determination to finance the raise, but Kendig said the attorney general's opinion or the pending state law could alter their stance.
"Depending on how much is cut, I guess we'd be forced to look at renegotiation," the board chairman said.
The attorney general's opinion allows Ecker to cut $2.9 million from the $146 million in county support sought by theschool board for its 1991-1992 operating budget. The school budget request is about $500,000 over the minimum that the county government would be required to provide to the school system under former interpretations of state law.
The county executive had sought the right to cut about $7 million.
The knife could cut into the school budget more deeply if the House of Delegates passes a bill that would allow local governments to forget the "maintenance of effort" part of state law for 1991-1992. That section bars county governments from cutting school budgets below the previous year's per-pupil allocation.
In Howard County, maintenance of effort before the attorney general'sopinion would have required a county allocation of about $145.7 million for 1991-1992, based on the current $140.5 million plus $5.2 million for enrollment growth.
County failure to meet the maintenance of effort minimum could cost the local school system another $1.5 million in state aid that is tied to the local government's compliance with the financing law.
Union president Swab claims Ecker had a hand in the bill, which Ecker denies.
The county executive said he will wait to see if the General Assembly passes the bill before cuttingthe school budget request. If the bill fails, he said he will cut onthe basis of the attorney general's opinion.
The opinion agreed with County Solicitor Barbara M. Cook that one-time capital expenses and costs unrelated to public school activities can be excluded from the budget total used to calculate maintenance of effort.
The attorney general said the county government can exclude one-time capital costs such as library books for new school libraries; bus transportation for private school students; and costs of community groups using school facilities.