Danene Whitener braved a chilly wind Monday night along with about 500 other county teachers to send placard-borne messages to County Executive Charles I. Ecker protesting his cuts to the school budget.
Teachers waved signs outside the county office building with such sentiments as:
There once was a county exec
Who for children had no respect.
He slashed their school funds,
Teachers contract he shunned,
Then said, 'Where's my fat pension paycheck?'
Ecker, who retired as deputy superintendent of schools in 1989, is eligible for a $40,000 annual pension.
Angered by the executive's $8.8 million budget cut, which leaves no money for school employee raises in 1991-1992, teachers are expected to turn out in even greater numbers Saturday morning at the County Council budget hearing.
They hope to persuade the council to restore the $8.8 million, which would cover $7.6 millionfor longevity raises and the 6 percent salary increase called for inthe teacher contract, $232,000 for longevity raises and a 3 percent raise for 97 top school system administrators and technical workers, and $694,000 for a 6 percent increase for the 363 custodial and maintenance workers. The total: $8.5 million.
The executive does not have the authority to ban raises to school employees, but Ecker has been publicly urging the board to eliminate pay increases for several months. His budget calls for the layoff of 40 county government employees and no raises for the remaining 1,685 workers.
Whitener, a second-grade teacher at Laurel Woods Elementary School, said she has botha personal and professional stake in trying to get the budget cuts restored.
The image of teachers as dual-wage earners with $40,000 average salaries doesn't apply to her, Whitener said. A second-year teacher with car and college payments, she has shared an apartment in Howard County this year. When her roommate leaves this summer, Whitener said, unless she receives a raise, she doubts she can afford to live here.
"People think we're just whining about our salary increases, but we're the ones who are speaking out for the children," she said. Teachers are concerned about supplies and materials for class projects in addition to raises, she said. "The children are going to suffer. They're just not going to have things as nice next year."
Thecounty executive, who watched part of the rally from the hall of theGeorge Howard Building, said he thought the teachers were "well behaved," but was not influenced to change his budget stance.
Ecker said he understands the teachers' point and has been receiving letters and phone calls urging him not to cut the school budget. "But I also get letters and phone calls from the general citizenry, people who say, 'I haven't had a raise in three years,' people who have been laid off, and people who say, 'I can't afford a tax increase.' "
The county executive has insisted that his education budget cut will affectonly employee raises, but teachers' union leaders say class sizes will be larger and special programs will be hurt in the next school year.
"To get at the teachers, he went to the bone and he cut programs," said Marius Ambrose, Maryland State Teachers Association representative for Howard County.
Ambrose said Ecker's effort to compel the school board to abrogate the teacher contract is out of character. "I've known Chuck for 12 years across the table and he always said, 'Whatever the board agrees to, they're going to fund.' " Ecker represented the school board in teacher contract negotiations in the 1970s and 1980s.
James R. Swab, president of the Howard County Education Association, predicted that class sizes will be larger next year. Swab said he based the assessment on teaching positions eliminated when the board cut $12.4 million from a $200.8 million budget proposal before sending it to Ecker.