Singing those tax-cut blues in Anne Arundel Furlough would cause hardship, workers say

December 18, 1991|By Monica Norton | Monica Norton,Evening Sun Staff

By day, Linda Abey is a secretary at the Ruth Parker Eason Special Education Center in Anne Arundel County, where she earns $51.74 a day.

When the school day ends, Abey, a single mother of two teen-age daughters, rushes off to her second job, which she needs to make ends meet.

Now Abey faces the possible loss of $206.96 of her school system salary this year because she and other Education Department employees may have to take an unpaid fur

lough of four days.

County Executive Robert R. Neall proposed the furlough last month in an effort to cut the county's operating budget. School officials opted for the measure as part of their cost containment measures. However, the board agreed earlier this week not to take any furlough days until after the General Assembly ends in April. School officials are hoping the legislature will not support further cuts to the county.

The county executive, who is opposed to school officials delaying the furlough, said it is highly unlikely the county's budget situation will improve enough to enable him to cancel wage concessions by the various unions.

The school system furlough plan affects 7,000 school employees, including 3,600 teachers and 2,000 secretaries, teaching assistants, custodial and cafeteria workers. Members of the latter groups earn far less than teachers.

"A school secretary's pay is not that generous," Abey said. "I feel that the public perceives that everyone in the school system is being paid on the same scale as our teachers.

"An Anne Arundel County public school secretary's starting salary is only $12,943. This secretary is only making $51.74 per day," Abey said of herself. "Do we need to add insult to injury by having her sacrifice $206.96 to help balance the budget? Why should just a chosen few be expected to reduce the deficit for all of Anne Arundel County?"

Neall said he believes the budget cut will not affect students. He said school employees will have to do their part to cut costs just as other county employees. Neall has pointed out that some county employees have been asked to take five days off and others are taking a 3 percent wage cut.

Lower-paid school employees say it is not reasonable to compare a five-day furlough for an employee making $40,000 a year to a four-day furlough for those making $12,000.

"My property tax is $2,000 a year," said Claudia Bullock, another teaching assistant who makes about $12,500 a year. "You take that out of my salary and what have you got left?"

A single mother, Bullock said her daughter had to drop out of college and work two jobs to save money for her schooling because Bullock could no longer afford to pay the tuition and other costs.

"I need my salary," said Darlene Conley, a teaching assistant at the Eason Center. "The economy is affecting all of us. But I think we need to look at each other as individuals. To take four days pay out of my salary is a lot."

Conley's job often involves feeding and changing the diapers of the students who range in age from 3 to 20 years, some of whom have multiple handicaps. After four years at the school, she makes about $14,000.

Conley said she and her husband, a self-employed painting contractor whose work is seasonal, have told their son that he may not be able to go to college when he graduates in 1993.

"My son already knows that if he wants to go to college, he will have to go to community college at least a year," Conley said. "We're not able to do any better than that right now."

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