Howard Co. teachers rally as Ecker presents budget

April 23, 1991|By Michael J. Clark | Michael J. Clark,Howard County Bureau of The Sun

About 200 Howard County teachers sang union songs and waved signs last night outside the George Howard Office Building in Ellicott City, as their association leaders urged pressure on the County Council to restore an $8.9 million cut in the education budget.

County Executive Charles I. Ecker, who had made the cut,

walked through the group of demonstrators, smiling and shaking hands on a chilly night.

The teachers clapped and shouted, "Honor our contract!"

The executive, a former deputy superintendent of county schools, also came in for a chorus of boos at various times indoors during his budget presentation to the council. On several occasions, the council chairman had to bang his gavel to silence the audience.

Signs saying "Honor thy Contract" and "3 reasons for not becoming a teacher . . . Ecker, Ecker, Ecker" reflected the teachers' disapproval of Mr. Ecker's reduction in the school board budget. His action eliminated a negotiated 6 percent pay raise and step increases for teachers.

"Howard County has the worst short-term fiscal crisis of any county in the state," Mr. Ecker told the council in introducing his $270.3 million operating proposal, which would raise the property tax 14 cents to $2.59 per $100 of assessed value while cutting costs in most areas of the budget.

Jim Swab, president of the Howard County Education Association, told the outdoor rally that teachers need to show up in large numbers for the council's public hearing on the education budget at 9 a.m. Saturday at the George Howard Office Building. They also were urged to recruit public support for their cause. He said they would organize a political effort in 1994 to defeat Mr. Ecker and those council members who do not restore funds to the education budget.

He also told the teachers that they should concentrate on persuading Council Chairman C. Vernon Gray, D-3rd, and Councilman Paul Farragut, D-4th, to support them, indicating that both members from Columbia were thought to be uncommitted on the issue. Councilwoman Shane Pendergrass, D-1st, drew a standing ovation from some 450 teachers and supporters jammed inside the council room because she endorsed the teachers' raises.

The two Republican council members, Darrel Drown of the 2nd District and Charles Feaga of the 5th District, were written off by the teachers' leaders as opponents.

Testimony last night showed that the three Democrats on the five-member council want to restore some of the cuts to the school board budget.

Mr. Farragut drew two standing ovations for expressing concern to Mr. Ecker about cuts that he said would adversely affect the availability of books and supplies, resource teachers and the gifted and talented program.

"It is very difficult for me to see the drastic cuts to education," the councilman said.

Council Chairman Gray indicated that he and the two other Democrats had talked with school board members about shifting funds in the education budget, and he drew cheers when he told the executive that the $1 million in his proposed "Rainy Day Fund" would likely be spent in the upcoming fiscal year because "the rainy day is here."

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