The punk rocker looked a bit confused behind the microphone, all 2 feet of him, while the extraterrestrial's big round yellow eyes poppedright out of his head.
The subject was art and children.
Collen Nowick, proudly displaying her two sons' handmade wooden creations, reminded County Council members Thursday night that art, too, forms an essential part of a child's education.
But not in mostHarford County elementary schools.
Nowick, whose sons attend Havre de
Grace Elementary, enrolled them in private art classes last summer because their school has no art teachers and no art classes.
Like many among the estimated 100 people who attended the first of two public hearings on County Executive Eileen M. Rehrmann's $174.6 million budget for day-to-day expenses, Nowick said it's time her tax dollars went toward providing her kids a taste of art.
"My childrencan't wait," she said. "There are roads and buildings that can be delayed."
As council members began scrutinizing the budget at the Bel Air High School hear ing, they heard more about the need for art teachers in elementary schools than any other single budget item.
While surrounding counties and Baltimore City offer art classes in almost all elementary schools, only four of Harford's 30 elementary schools employ art teachers.
Parents, teachers and their representatives, calling art essential to building self-esteem and fostering creativity, turned out in force to lobby for a school board proposal to addsix more art teachers.
The shortage of art teachers provides but one example of the county's lack of commitment to the costly but imperative function of educating its youth, the head of the county teachers union suggested.
Christine Haggett, president of the Harford County Education Association, told council members Harford ranks 21st among Maryland school systems in per-pupil spending.
She urged council members to spend more to increase salaries, add teachers and staff, buy new materials, reduce class sizes and eliminate severe overcrowding. Otherwise, she said, the best teachers will choose schools elsewhere.
"If we're to recruit the best and the brightest, we must be competitive in class size, in materials and in salaries," Haggett said. "If you were a teacher, would you choose Harford County? I doubtit. There are too many places that offer better pay and more support."
Rehrmann, a Democrat, wants to slice $16 million from the school board's request, which would bring the county's share of education spending to $72.7 million, from $69.9 million.
The spending blueprint for the budget year beginning July 1 includes no pay increase forcounty teachers or any other county workers. But more than $300,000 in unexpected money could help pay for slight salary increases, the executive says.
Rehrmann's first operating budget would cut spending 4 percent. The plan would retain the county's property tax rate of $2.73 per $100 of assessed value and $2.34 for the county's three municipalities. But the executive has proposed raising county recordation taxes and water and sewer fees.
The council has scheduled a final public hearing on the budget for 8 p.m. Thursday at Havre de Grace High School. The council adopts a budget and sets the tax rate May 28.