Neither protests nor petitions kept the Board of Education from approving mandatory four-day furloughs for all school system employees yesterday.
Reluctantly and apologetically -- and amid threats of a lawsuit by school unions -- board members voted to require everyone, including School Superintendent Larry L. Lorton, to share the burden of budget cuts requested by County Executive Robert R. Neall.
Board members had been told to trim $10.2 million from the schoolsystem's $341 million budget. The vote yesterday was unanimous, but board members took exception to a letter from Neall insisting that the board's cost-containment package include wage concessions.
However, because of a previous 20 percent cut in supplies and materials, along with a hiring freeze and cuts to maintenance and school-based mini-grants, board members said cuts affecting employees were unavoidable.
"It doesn't stop here," Board of Education President Jo Ann Tollenger promised union leaders, who continued to make last-minute appeals to the board during yesterday's meeting. "We will continue to press the County Council about the $1.4 million available in our insurance fund that may be used to eliminate one furlough day. But we do have the responsibility to strike the budget.
"The furlough option was to mitigate loss to employees," Tollenger said. "When this fiscal crisis is over -- and it will be over -- we will need all our employees. Furloughs was the only way the board could retain all employees."
Besides the furloughs, 12-month school system employees will be required to take an additional two days off, either as unpaid or annual leave.
The news didn't come as a total surprise to union members, who have lobbied the board on several occasions and who pleaded with the County Council during a public hearing Monday night. The idea of wage concessions had been discussed by the school board during its last few board meetings. A special meeting was held with union representatives to consider their suggestions.
"It's what I anticipated," AFSCME member Ray Rankin said after the meeting. "I'm not surprised. My feeling is that if they can't get any more money, I'd rather seefurloughs than layoffs."
But even as Association of Education Leaders Executive Director Richard Kovelant shook hands with Tollenger after the meeting, he and other union leaders made it clear the battleis far from over.
"If I were on the board, I would go to war now with the county," Kovelant said. "The board is a distinct, separate department. They (the county) have no right to dictate anything that is done here."
Union representatives are threatening legal action against the county, challenging recent legislation giving control of the board's budget to the County Council and to Neall.
"The battle has just begun," said Tom Paolino, president of the Teachers' Association of Anne Arundel County. "I am extremely disappointed. I still believe there is money in the budget that can be cut."
County-wide PTA President Carolyn Roeding warned board members that they may have acted prematurely, reminding them of another round of possible cuts predicted for January.
"If additional cuts need to be made, will they come from wages?" Roeding asked. "Why not wait until the bitter end?"
Members of the Secretaries and Assistants Association of Anne Arundel County sat in the front row, calculating their losses even before the final vote.
SAAAC President Dee Zepp said teachers' assistants who only earn $11,000 a year would lose about $58 a day, which she said some of the single heads of households scarcely can afford.
"I'd like the board to continue to look and Mr. Neall to continue to look before you cut people's salaries," Zepp said. "The three options for wage concessions came from Neall and none of them were acceptable. The battle now is with the County Council."
Furloughs for teachers, 10-month employees and school-based secretaries are scheduledfor Jan. 2, Jan. 3, Jan. 27 and April 6. Employees working year-round will be furloughed Dec. 27, Dec. 30, and Jan. 2 and 3.
In addition, the board is hoping to save $25,000 per day in energy costs by leaving school buildings closed on furlough days.
The two unpaid holidays required of 12-month employees fall on Dec. 23 and Dec. 26.
The revised $331 million budget will be submitted to Neall today.