3 counties brace for possible cuts in school funding Assembly move could be costly for Howard, Arundel, Carroll

April 03, 1991|By Michael J. Clark | Michael J. Clark,Howard County Bureau of The Sun Sandra Crockett, Joel McCord and Lynda Robinson of The Sun's metropolitan staff contributed to this article.

State legislators have paved the way for reductions in local school budgets, and some school officials are bracing for deep cuts.

Howard County Superintendent Michael E. Hickey said yesterday that County Executive Charles I. Ecker has told him that $8 million -- earmarked for teacher pay raises -- would be cut if the General Assembly suspended a requirement that localities boost school funding to keep pace with rising enrollments.

The legislature did just that earlier this week, approving a one-year suspension of the school funding formula in an amendment to the $11.6 billion budget package. Gov. William Donald Schaefer's approval is expected.

County Executive Ecker, however, would not indicate yesterday whether he would cut the $8 million and block the teachers' already negotiated 6 percent raise.

Mr. Ecker's chief aide, Beverly Wilhide, challenged Mr. Hickey's version. She said the executive denied that he told Mr. Hickey he planned to cut the $8 million.

"He is adamant it is not a done deal," Ms. Wilhide said.

She said Mr. Ecker plans to evaluate the results of the Assembly session to determine the county's "bottom line" before deciding what to cut. Mr. Ecker will make his budget recommendations public April 16, she said.

In Anne Arundel County, schools budget officer Jack White said the legislative action could mean a $3 million cut in the school budget for the year beginning July 1.

Under the state's formula -- which prohibited cuts in per-pupil spending -- the county would have had to spend $2.5 million more next fiscal year on schools because of increasing enrollments. And County Executive Robert R. Neall has already proposed cutting the local effort by $500,000, he said.

"That's a $3 million swing," Mr. White said. "Based on average salaries, that equates to approximately 100 teaching positions. It's a real hit. We could use the money."

It is not certain, Mr. White noted, that school officials would cut teachers. "It could be maintenance or transportation," he said.

Carroll County schools could lose about $1.3 million, if the county commissioners decide to withhold the money the state formula would have required them to spend on schools. That is enough to hire 30 new teachers, at a time when the system plans to open two new schools and accommodate 525 more students, said James Reter, director of budget and finance.

"You've got to have a principal for a new school; you've got to have secretaries and custodians in addition to teachers," he said. "There are all kinds of things it could affect.

"Of course, the [county] commissioners could still give us the money," Mr. Reter added. "We're hoping for that."

School budgets in Harford and Baltimore counties and Baltimore City did not appear likely to be cut as a resultof the legislation, officials said.

Larry Klimovitz, Harford County director of administration, said the county was "committed" to putting up $2.8 million more for schools, primarily to hire 86 teachers needed to handle an expected influx of 1,600 new students.

Baltimore County budget officials could not be reached, but County Executive Roger B. Hayden has said he is committed to keeping class size the same. Schools Superintendent Robert Y. Dubel, expecting 4,000 more students in the system next year, has asked for a 12 percent increase in the school budget.

Judson Porter, director of fiscal management for the city schools, expressed confidence that Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke would not cut per-pupil spending below last year's level, regardless of whether state law would allow it.

The city already has one of the lowest per-pupil expenditures in the state, about $1,200 less per student than neighboring Baltimore County.

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