Council Struggles To Find More Money For The Schools

But Only Farragut Favors Hike In Taxes

May 01, 1991|By Donna E. Boller | Donna E. Boller,Staff writer

A majority of the County Council goes into tonight's budget work session committed to finding more money for public schools, but only Councilman Paul R. Farragut, D-4th, is backing a higher property tax increase to cover longevity pay raises for school and county government employees.

Council members C. Vernon Gray, D-3rd, and Shane E.R. Pendergrass, D-1st, also emerged from Saturday's 4 1/2-hour school budget hearing pledging to restore at least some of the $8.8 million that County Executive Charles I. Ecker cut from the school budget.

Gray, the council president, left school and county employee pay raises off his list of priorities. Pendergrass remained undecided Tuesday.

Farragut, who represents western Columbia, said he hasn't decided whether to support the 6 percent raise called for in the teacher contract, but "I think we have to look at (longevity) step increases, not just for teachers but for everyone."

Longevity increases for school workers would cost $2.4 million, excluding step increases for secretaries and instructional aides whose contract talks hit an impasse. The step increases for county government workers would cost $800,000.

To obtain money for those increases and his other priorities -- supplies and textbooks, restoration of 12 teachers to the middleschool gifted and talented program and restoration of 26 positions cutfrom a pool of teachers for low-enrollment courses and last-minute staffing needs -- Farragut said he would look at several sources.

Farragut said a $1 million "rainy day" fund and a $1.5 million contingency reserve fund in Ecker's budget are obvious possible sources of additional money for the school budget, "or maybe some increase in taxes. I suspect we may need to do both."

The councilman said he hadnot determined the maximum tax increase he could support.

Ecker took criticism from several speakers at Saturday's public hearing for holding the proposed tax increase to 14 cents. His own advisory committee recommended a tax hike of no more than 26 cents.

The school board earlier cut $3 million from books, supplies and materials, $370,000 for the 12 middle school gifted and talented science and social studies teaching jobs and $701,000 to reduce the teacher pool from 38 to 12.

The cuts were part of a $12.4 million reduction, which leftthe school system's 1991-1992 operating budget request at $188.4 million, with the county to provide $146 million.

Pendergrass said she thinks $2 million to $3 million is "findable"in budget categories such as the rainy day and contingency funds, which she would use to restore programs that affect class sizes.

The middle school gifted and talented positions affect class sizes; elimination of the advancedsocial studies and science courses will mean those students attend regular classes.

Reduction of the teacher pool from 38 to 12 for 1991-1992 could mean canceling some low-enrollment courses and channeling

those students into other classes.

Pendergrass expressed willingness to consider longevity steps for school employees, "but that has implications. If we do that, do we go back and revisit all the county employees for increments?"

If the council provides step increases, some teachers will get larger paychecks next year and some won't, Marius Ambrose, Maryland State Teachers Association representativefor Howard County, pointed out.

The teacher contract has 16 step increases, then an increment at 21 years of service and another at 25years.

Ambrose estimated that 37 percent of county public school teachers are at experience levels where they would not get increases next year even if the council provides step increases.

Even the step increases seem unlikely now. Council Chairman Gray called it "veryunlikely" that he would support an addition to the proposed propertytax hike for employee salaries.

"My position is, I'm not even sure I'm going to support the 14 cents" increase that Ecker proposed, Gray said Tuesday.

Councilman Darrel E. Drown, R-2nd, is seeking ways to pare another penny or two off the property tax increase, and Councilman Charles C. Feaga, R-5th, invited Superintendent Michael E. Hickey to go with him to knock on 100 doors to see how many county residents would pay higher taxes to increase the school budget.

Gray proposes to shift money from other county budget categories to increase the education budget for the teacher pool, the middle school giftedand talented program, resource teachers and building maintenance.

The school board took $1.5 million out of its proposed $7.8 million maintenance budget, cutting building repairs and painting.

Drown said he would like the 12 middle school gifted and talented positions restored but would prefer to take the money out of other categories of the school budget rather than touch Ecker's rainy day fund.

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