Teachers Reject All Concessions Of Reduced Budget

November 22, 1991|By Elise Armacost | Elise Armacost,Staff writer

Raid money for capital projects. Spend the county's fund balance down to zero. Bill every Anne Arundel resident for $20. Just don't touchour paychecks.

That was what teachers had to say to the County Council at Wednesday night's public hearing on County Executive Robert R. Neall's new, reduced fiscal 1992 budget.

"If we need to get the money, you ought to hit up every wage earner in this county according to their ability to pay, but it shouldn'tcome from education," said Arnold teacher Gail Lee, one of about 200teachers who showed up at the hearing at Old Mill High School.

The crowd criticized Neall for asking teachers and other school employees to take wage concessions and for restoring $1.8 million the Board of Education had cut in teaching materials and supplies instead of giving the money back to county workers. Teachers want the council to put the money into salaries.

But there is some question whether thecouncil has authority to touch that $1.8 million.

At a budget work session yesterday, County Attorney Jud Garrett and Council AttorneyAtwood B. Tate debated whether Senate Bill 34, which gives local governments broad power to reduce their budgets through the end of the fiscal year, allows the council to take away money earmarked for instructional materials.

The so-called Neall amendment, which gives local jurisdictions temporary power to cut education budgets, specifies that instructional materials and supplies cannot be touched.

But the school board cut its materials budget before Senate Bill 34 was approved, suggesting that the state law does not apply to this situation, Council Chairwoman Virginia P. Clagett, D-West River, pointed out.

Garrett, who is studying the issue, said the question revolves around whether the board had the right to reduce the materials budget. If it did, then Neall may have erred in restoring it and the council may, in fact, reduce it again.

Such legal questions were far from the minds of the teachers who spoke Wednesday. Their message was simple: people are more important than things, therefore they should get the $1.8 million, they said.

Faced with Neall's ultimatum that school employees take a 3 percent wage cut or layoffs, the Board of Education has agreed to four-day furloughs for all education workers. Unionized school workers, however, continue to resist any concessions, aprospect that has sent teacher morale plummeting to "an all-time low," several educators testified.

Former teachers union president Susie Jablinske called wage concessions a "vindictive, mean-spirited action that's a direct slap in the face to Board of Education employees, because (Neall) will do anything to keep us from getting the salarywe negotiated . . .

"I don't need a high-speed copier in my elementary school," Jablinske said. "I need money to pay the bills."

Tom Paolino, president of the 3,700-member Teacher Association of Anne Arundel County, said the union's auditor has found a way the county can meet its deficit without affecting employees.

TAAAC recommends raiding $5.9 million worth of pay-as-you-go money for capital projects (Neall's new budget slices $1.5 million out of pay-as-you-go); using the county's $1.2 million contingency fund; and spending its $2.7 million fund balance down to zero.

The fund balance, also called a rainy-day fund, is insurance against emergencies and one of the chiefcriteria used by bond-rating agencies in deciding whether the countyis a good investment. The fund balance is the lowest it has been in years.

Ironically, though teachers want the council to take the $1.8 million Neall put back into instructional materials and use it to help restore their salaries, they complained that there is too littlemoney for supplies and materials.

Some testified that they have to reach into their own pockets to buy glue, paper and other supplies.One teacher complained that she won't be able to make any holiday bulletin boards because construction paper is hard to come by.

A lone dissenting voice came from Millersville teacher Robert Widra, who is not a member of TAAAC. "To cry about four days when we just received a 30 percent increase the last three years seems a little greedy," Widra said.

Council members said they want more information beforetaking a position on education issues.

A second public hearing was scheduled last night. A third and final hearing will be conducted 7:30 p.m. Monday at Southern High School in Harwood.

*

In other action at yesterday's budget work session, some council members expressed concern about the police department's plans to hire 15 new officers during the second half of the fiscal year, even though existing officers have agreed to furloughs to avoid layoffs.

"I worry about the signal we're sending to county employees," said Councilman David.G. Boschert, D-Crownsville.

Twenty-four of 39 police positions are being held vacant through June 30, the end of the fiscal year. Police Chief Robert Russell said he's "not comfortable" with more than 24vacancies.

Russell cannot hire the 15 officers without Neall's approval, which Russell said the executive has not granted. However, County Budget Officer Steve Welkos noted, "The county executive has made it clear he will not permit certain levels of services to fall below certain standards."

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