Oversight costs Patuxent teachers their jobs Bill to restore funds left out Jessup program

November 06, 1991|By John W. Frece | John W. Frece,Annapolis Bureau of The Sun

ANNAPOLIS -- Leonard Finkelstein has been a teacher for 27 years. He holds a master's degree, has completed 30 hours toward a Ph.D., is the father of seven, and until yesterday he held a $60,000-a-year job teaching inmates with learning disabilities at the Patuxent Institution.

Now the 49-year-old Mr. Finkelstein is about to become a prison guard, working the night shift at a salary of about $29,000 a year.

He is a victim of state budget cuts and a bill-drafting oversight. Mr. Finkelstein's job and those of 18 of his colleagues in the inmate education unit at Patuxent were abolished yesterday as the result of a mistake.

"I'm numb. I'm bitter. Anything you can say, I'm all of the above," Mr. Finkelstein said as he and the other teachers at Patuxent spent one final day exchanging goodbyes before moving on to other jobs or onto the rolls of the state's unemployed.

The education unit at Patuxent got caught in switches. When Gov. William Donald Schaefer announced a plan to eliminate a $446 million budget deficit, he proposed elimination of all education programs for state prison inmates. But the legislative leaders thought that was foolish, and said it would provoke lawsuits against the state. So they asked the governor to cut the budget elsewhere and restore the programs, and the governor agreed.

But when the bill was drafted to implement the restoration, Patuxent's unit was inadvertently omitted because the Jessup institution is budgeted separately from all other state prisons.

In some ways, Mr. Finkelstein is one of the lucky ones. He found another state job. Even though it pays less than half of what he was making, he will be able to retain his health and pension benefits while he spends days searching for a better job, either with the state or in the private sector.

At least five of the 19 at Patuxent who lost their jobs yesterday still have not found work, said Martin E. Salisbury, director of the education department there. Mr. Salisbury himself is jobless after 23 1/2 years working for the state.

"I'm looking. I'm in the job market. I have six kids living at home. My wife had to take a job, and I'm going to be looking," he said.

Mr. Salisbury said he was offered a job as a correctional officer but refused to take it.

Others in the unit, he said, have signed up as maintenance men for the state, or in jobs monitoring drunken drivers, or as prison guards -- all at about half the salaries they were earning.

Legislators belatedly asked the governor to find the money to save at least part of the Patuxent unit, but those efforts were --ed when budget advisers announced last week that an additional $150 million deficit had suddenly developed.

Deputy Budget Secretary Frederick W. Puddester said Bishop L. Robinson, the secretary of public safety and correctional services, tried to find a way to save some of the Patuxent jobs when the latest deficit problem surfaced.

"They recognized the futility in the exercise of saving something that may have to be given up" after new official revenue estimates are presented in December, he said. "We were waiting to hear from Bishop on an alternative we could look at and recommend to the governor, but he never presented anything formally."

Sgt. Gregory M. Shipley, spokesman for Mr. Robinson, said, "The secretary certainly wanted to have the program restored, but the money never materialized, either from a departmental or legislative source."

In all, 22 positions were eliminated at Patuxent, three of them currently vacant. The program, begun when Patuxent was established as an experimental rehabilitation prison in 1955, offered 30 to 40 different types of programs, ranging from high school equivalency programs to college courses and job training in a dozen skills, Mr. Salisbury said.

Mr. Finkelstein said he lost a similar job during a reduction in force at the Rosewood Center hospital.

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