Hundreds rally at State House against school cuts Teachers, parents and workers oppose $27 million in cuts.

October 16, 1991|By Thomas W. Waldron and Marina Sarris | Thomas W. Waldron and Marina Sarris,Evening Sun Staff Larry Carson, Bruce Reid and Jay Merwin contributed to this story.

First came State Police. Then it was rape victims and drug addicts. Last night, it was students and teachers who rallied in front of the State House to protest state budget cuts.

Several thousand parents, teachers, students and school workers -- a large crowd by Annapolis standards -- gathered to complain about $27 million in state budget cuts that they say will cripple education.

"The state legislature dumped the problems of the state budget on the public school students of this state," Tom Paolino, president of the Teachers Association of Anne Arundel County, said shortly before the State House rally.

Jane Stern, president of the Maryland State Teachers Association, said the legislature was forcing people to make unacceptable choices between schools and social programs. She called on legislators to raise taxes to pay for necessary programs properly.

The governor and most state legislators were not in Annapolis last night, but the crowd made its opinions known to reporters and television crews.

Some protesters waved signs reading, "Save our Schools." A maintenance man from Anne Arundel County carried one that read, "Kids need a clean environment! No layoffs."

"I feel it's an important enough issue that teachers should take a stand. They've been dumped on enough," said Curt Boushell, a health and physical education teacher at Pikesville High School in Baltimore County.

Boushell, the coach of the Pikesville football team, left practice early to go to the rally. He said he told his players, "I'm going down to make sure you still have a basketball team in the winter."

The legislature last Friday agreed to cut state aid to education by $27 million -- less than 1 percent of total state and local school spending across Maryland.

Still, that does not mean that school systems will receive less money from the state than they did during last fiscal year.

"The funding for [fiscal year] 1992 for kindergarten through 12th grade is above the funding level for [fiscal year] 1991, even with the reductions," said Del. Charles J. Ryan, D-Prince George's, who chairs the House Appropriations Committee.

The 1992 fiscal year began July 1 and ends next June 30.

The cuts aside, state aid to education grew by $101 million, or 8 percent, this fiscal year, according to the Schaefer administration.

The reduction in school funds is part of a plan to balance the recession-plagued budget. Gov. William Donald Schaefer has proposed $450 million in cuts to social programs, state agencies and local governments. He is expected to make the reductions final by Friday.

While most of yesterday's rhetoric was about dollars and cents, the budget crisis also revived an old debate over who should control local school budgets -- elected politicians or school boards.

State lawmakers voted to give county councils and executives limited power to decide where education cuts would be made -- power that now generally rests with school boards. In some counties, board members are appointed to their seats, rather than elected.

The bill prohibits subdivisions from eliminating teachers' jobs and cutting money designated for instructional materials and equipment. The plan would apply only to the current fiscal year.

The proposal was first floated by Anne Arundel County Executive Robert R. Neall, who said he needed the flexibility to cope with budget shortfalls.

"As if running government isn't enough, County Executive Neall will now run the school system," Paolino said.

Baltimore County Executive Roger B. Hayden said he enthusiastically endorses the proposal to expand his budget-cutting power.

Hayden said the new power would not affect educational policy, but he admitted that school officials "won't like it."

Hayden, who had served as school board president for seven years, ran for county executive last year in part due to his anger at former Executive Dennis F. Rasmussen for trying to obtain the power to appoint school board members. That, Hayden had said, was a political assault on the board's autonomy.

Rosalie Hellman, president of the Baltimore County school board, opposes the proposal because it "sets a precedent of interfering in our budget process."

Hellman said she regards the power given to Hayden as "political influence on the schools." It is just as intrusive a move by Hayden as was Rasmussen's earlier attempt to gain appointment power over school board members, she said.

Ray R. Keech, school superintendent in Harford County, said yesterday that neither he nor members of the county school board had met with County Executive Eileen M. Rehrmann or the County Council todiscuss the spending authority proposal.

Keech said the board would not want to give up its traditional power over spending. It is best qualified to make such decisions, he said.

In Carroll County, school Superintendent Edward Shilling is confident that the school board will retain its power over budgets. The county commissioners may ask for a lower bottom line figure, but currently have no power to tell the board how to reach it.

"I'm not worried about that," Shilling said.

Carroll Commissioner Elmer Lippy said he hoped to keep the current spirit of cooperation with the school board but would welcome more authority over school spending as "an extra weapon to make ends meet."

As the commissioners consider cuts across the board in county spending, Lippy was interested in scrutinizing education spending as well.

"Just look into," he said. Whether that would mean wielding the commissioners' new "weapon," Lippy said, "if we have to, we'll use it. Heaven forfend we have to use it."

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