A Teacher's Perspective

Readers write

March 31, 1991

From: Patricia Anderson

Bel Air

The punch line of an old teaching joke is, "Teachers keep doing it until they get it right." I have written many times about teachers'salaries. I will try again, hopefully, to get it right.

Teachers are unemployed in the summers. They do not have paid vacations. They do not collect unemployment. Instead, they collect money the board ofeducation has withheld from their paychecks for 10 months -- money whose interest the board of education has used to supplement the education budget during the school year.

The average teacher's salary may very well be $36,072 because the "average" teacher in Harford County has 15 to 20 years experience on the job and five to six years of college education. We are not attracting new teachers into this profession who are going to be lifers.

Although the State Board of Education requires Maryland teachers to continue their eduction, they do not pay for it. I have spent over $4,000 in this endeavor. I call this another supplement.

I, like the "average" teacher, do not work banker's hours. I put in at least 50 hours a week. To do the job right, you cannot be teaching, planning, and doing paperwork at the same time. A fifth of my working hours supplements the education budget.

This year, in my school, there are four classrooms whose class size ranges from 29 to 35. This is something I have not experienced sincethe early 1970s. One hundred thirty-one children in an elementary school is a job for five teachers, not four. My quarter of this extra load is supplementing the education budget by about $10,000.

Let's be fair about all this. If I were paid by the hour, paid by the number of children I teach, given unemployment benefits for 10 weeks, paidfor required continuing education, reimbursed for money spent on my classroom, and given interest on my withheld paycheck, I'd be gettinganother $20,000 a year. I'd say I'm worth a 50 percent raise.

Butsine I'll probably get nothing, at least get the story straight for the general public. Try spending a day with a classroom teacher before you write about them.

AVOIDING RED INK

From: Jeffrey D. Wilson, president

Harford County Council

Bel Air

Confusion continuesregarding the county budget process with respect to so-called surpluses and the county's bond rating.

Carol L. Bowers stated in her March 10 Harford County Sun article ("Key revenue sources to drop") that "1.5 million is all that is left of $16.5 million surplus carried from last year's budget." A budget surplus is not carried; therefore, there is nothing left of the previous year's surplus because it is illegal for anything to be left of it.

The surplus is actually the general fund balance at the end of the fiscal year. This fund balancehas a Cinderella-like existence of one night only, after the closingof the county books on June 30. The next morning, the first day of the new fiscal year, that previous year's balance is gone. Why? Because the fund balance had already been built into the ensuing year's budget.

The surplus becomes, on July 1, a revenue source -- like income and property tax revenue -- to be applied within the budget. Sen. (Habern W.) Freeman, while county executive, prudently chose to applyfund balances to one-time, non-repeating capital projects. Revenue surpluses may not be carried over from year to year because the budgetmust be balanced (Charter Section 515a).

The Rehrmann administration has, from its first week in office, talked about the surplus as if it were a savings account. It is not that. It cannot be that. It isillegal to treat a surplus like that.

The surplus must be appliedto the subsequent fiscal budget. That is law (Charter Section 503a),and it is good law because it prevents an executive or council from operating an extra-budget slush fund.

There is a provision in the charter for a kind of savings account within the budget called Contingency Reserve (Charter Section 506.1) for up to 3 percent of the budget. One reason County Executive Freeman put only nominal sums in Contingency Reserve was that the previous council would have surely movedthat money into the education budget.

In early meetings with County Executive Rehrmann, I encouraged her repeatedly to discuss with the current council a policy decision to commit 1, 2 or 3 percent of the budget to Contingency Reserve. I emphasized that such a policy decision, if it were to be made, should take place prior to the introduction of the budget. The county executive has not seen fit to initiate that discussion but has, rather, pursued a policy of creating the illusion of an extra-budget savings account, thereby compromising the integrity of the budget process.

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