Ecker Wants Education Amendment Vetoed, Aide Says

October 16, 1991|By James M. Coram | James M. Coram,Staff writer

County Executive Charles I. Ecker plans to "work cooperatively" withthe Board of Education in seeking reductions in this year's budget, according to an Ecker aide.

Beverly M. Wilhide, Ecker's chief administrative assistant, said Ecker hopes the governor will veto a bill giving county executives unilateral power to cut non-classroom educational expenditures.

A veto tomorrow would also prevent the county from having to suffer a $4.1 million cut in state aid that the legislature voted Friday night as part of a $68 million reduction in county aid statewide.

To cover the county portion of the state deficit, Ecker thinks education funding will have to be cut along with everything else, but he wants the school board to recommend any reductions.

Even before the legislature voted the cuts, the county faced an $11 million deficit in a budget already slashed $16 million over the previous year. To cover the deficit, Ecker asked department heads to cut their budgets by 5 percent without cutting personnel.

In light of the expected $4.1million reduction in state aid, department heads are being asked to submit two more plans, one which would cut an extra 5 percent from their budgets and the other to cut an extra 10 percent.

The administration is also drafting furlough legislation.

School Superintendent Michael E. Hickey said he met with the county administrator and thecounty budget officer two weeks ago and was asked to voluntarily trim $2 million from the $148 million allocated to the Board of Education.

Hickey said the board returned $2.6 million to the county from the fiscal 1991 budget.

He said he assumed the $2 million the administration asked for earlier will probably be sought now in addition to $970,000 in retirement and Social Security payments that the stateplans to pass on to the county.

Like Ecker, Hickey opposed the amendment to the budget-reduction bill. The amendment gives county executives power to dip into education funds. Hickey went to Annapolis last night to take part in a rally asking for a veto.

"I'm definitely urging the governor to veto it," he said. "It gives to county government an authority it never had" and should not have, Hickey believes.

On its own, the school board "cut $13 million (from its proposedbudget) and returned $2.6 million to the county," Hickey said. "It is important to keep in mind that board members are elected officials as well (as county executives), and provide assurance and accountability to the public."

Hickey charged that the education amendment, requested by Anne Arundel County Executive Robert R. Neall, was handled "really wrong, very surreptitiously."

"It occurred late Friday between 7 and 8 with no hearing and was greased by county executives,"he said. "I'm glad to see most of our delegation voted against it."

Hickey saw passage of the Neall amendment as a fulfillment of a prediction the superintendent made last spring.

It came when Ecker succeeded in getting a new interpretation of a state requirement that counties spend as much money on education as the year before. The newinterpretation was that counties could spend less if they spent the same amount or more on classroom instruction.

"I made the prediction that once they waived the maintenance of effort requirement, they would open up everything," Hickey said.

Locally, Hickey said that while he could not say yet what cuts the board would make in its budget, he intends to "hold on at all costs to basic classroom instruction."

He said the board must make any cuts cautiously. In light of the state's financial crisis, the General Assembly could cut another $2 million or $3 million from the county's share of state educational aid when the legislature reconvenes in January, he said.

Ecker, who was deputy school superintendent and its chief financial officer before becoming county executive, "feels it would be wrong to mandate specific cuts" in the education budget -- especially since he opposed the Neall amendment, Wilhide said.

Ecker could not be reached directly because he was in New York to work out details on a bond refinancing that could raise an extra $1.2 million in county revenue.

Wilhide said that since she had not been a party to the earlier negotiations with Hickey, she did not know if cuts made by the board would approximate those being demanded of other departments.

"We haven't been given any assurances" about budget reductions, she said. "But whatever the board can do to reduce its budget will make it easier on county government and make the rest of our cuts a lot easier."

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