Schools chief braces Howard for budget ax Layoffs, furloughs loom

small class sizes must grow

November 12, 1991|By Michael J. Clark | Michael J. Clark,Howard County Bureau of The Sun

Howard County schools can expect layoffs, furloughs and the elimination of non-classroom positions in next fiscal year's budget because of a state budget shortfall, Superintendent of Schools Michael E. Hickey said yesterday.

Citing a projected $700 million deficit in the state's budget next fiscal year that could reduce aid to local school districts, Mr. Hickey said the staff cuts will be in his fiscal 1993 budget recommendations, which will be released Jan. 21, 1992.

He pledged to "do everything I can" to avoid increasing class sizes by trying to avoid trimming teaching positions. "I feel so strongly about the importance of that. It is one of last cuts I would make. Anything else short of that is fair game."

Mr. Hickey said he could "not give any details" about budget cuts, "but I don't see how we can deal with the magnitude of the reductions that will occur without taking staff positions. I think we have cut all the non-staff items we can cut."

Student-teacher ratios in the county are 22-1 in kindergarten, 25-1 in elementary schools, 20.5-1 in middle schools and 23.5-1 in high schools. Reducing class sizes has been one of Mr. Hickey's major accomplishments in his eight years as superintendent.

Mr. Hickey said he was concerned that the county would "pay a price" in educational quality if more budget cuts are necessary.

"It may even be another year or so before it is evident. We have tried to cut things instead of people and all are replaceable, but as we start cutting people, that is where we will start paying a real price for educational quality in such areas as curriculum and staff development."

The school system also is developing an early retirement incentive program for veteran teachers and employees, which could take effect at the end of the current fiscal year, June 30, 1992. The Howard County Education Association, which represents the district's teachers, has recommended such a plan.

The system is trimming $4 million from its $180 million operating budget for the current fiscal year.

Mr. Hickey said the school system will not be able to finance a 16 percent raise for teachers he said he would propose for next fiscal year's budget.

Under a three-year contract which began in fiscal 1991, county teachers were supposed to receive a 6 percent cost of living increase and an increment averaging 2 percent for a combined yearly raise in salary of 8 percent for each of the three years of the agreement.

In the first year of the agreement, they received the raise, but this year, the agreement's second, they received no raise because of the county and state budget crises.

Initially, the superintendent said he was going to honor the negotiated agreement, which would have meant that teacher's would have received a 16 percent pay raise in the third year of the contract, starting July 1, 1992, the beginning of fiscal 1993.

"We are going to have to address the salary portion of next fiscal year's budget because there is no way we could fully fund 16 percent despite everybody's wish it could be," Mr. Hickey said. He said he hopes to reopen negotiations with the teachers' union soon.

James R. Swab, president of the union, said "any discussion of the 16 percent increase would have to be conducted in formal negotiations" with the board. He said he would have no comment until he receives a formal request from Mr. Hickey.

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