County school officials are passing the hat to pay for last week's nine-bus convoy to Annapolis to attend a demonstration against cuts ineducation and social spending.
The use of Harford public school buses was attacked by state Sen. Habern Freeman as a poorly timed political move, given that School Superintendent Ray Keech will ask the Board of Education on Monday for money to hire 100 or so teachers and other staff when fiscal 1993 begins July 1.
The school board originally planned to pick up the $1,200 to $1,300 cost for the trip.
"That's absolutely wrong," said Freeman, D-District 34, who has introduced three bills to curb school board independence (see related article, Page 5). "That points out the extent towhich they go in not wanting to take the cuts like everybody else."
Responding to complaints about misuse of taxpayers' money, the board backed off, school system spokesman Al Seymour said Wednesday. Administrators then turned to the Harford County Education Association, the teachers union, to help repay the cost of using the buses. Union bus captains sought $3 contributions from school employees, parents, students and other bus passengers.
If the contributions don't cover bus fuel and overtime salaries for the drivers, the school board will take donations from the HCEA and the county Council of PTAs.
"Should there be any (balance) remaining from that, we will ask businesses to make donations," Seymour said. "So this won't cost the school system anything."
Keech and school board President George Lisby sent a letter to principals last month urging support for the rally andsetting a goal of recruiting 25 people from each of the county's 44 schools. Students took notices home asking families to attend the rally and inviting them to board buses provided by the school system.
HCEA President Christine Haggett said use of the school buses was legitimate support of official county policy.
"Since the purpose of the rally was to maintain funding to Harford County, then really the County Council, the county executive and everybody else should have been on the buses," she said. "It doesn't have anything to do with commingling anything. On things that are of mutual concern, we should cooperate."
Freeman, who complained that the school board annually passed "unrealistic" budgets when he was county executive, from 1982 to 1990, said public employees shouldn't get involved with raising money to pay for the trip.
Lisby defended giving official support to the rally as long as the school system doesn't pay for the trip.
"The approach of using PTA and HCEA funds is a legitimate use of organizations in support of education," he said.
Across the state, the rally, supported by the League of Women Voters, social services advocates and other civic groups, brought out more than 20,000 supporters.
But the demonstration was dismissed by the Maryland Taxpayers Association, which advocates limits on taxation.
MTA is active in 15 counties and Baltimore, but its only Harford member declined to comment on the use of school buses last week because he serves on a budgetcommittee advising County Executive Eileen M. Rehrmann.