Teachers' Pet in Harford

February 29, 1992

Does Jeffrey D. Wilson, the ambitious president of the Harford County Council, want to run the school board, too? It appears that way after he admonished the Board of Education for rejecting a proposed budget that included raises of 10 percent for about half the school employees. With this unseemly pressure from Mr. Wilson and the county teachers union, the school board lost the courage to face fiscal realities and instead approved the 10 percent pay raise as part of the budget it will send to County Executive Eileen Rehrmann.

Bear in mind that Ms. Rehrmann has said she won't include raises for any employees, teachers included, in next year's budget. The county, which has weathered the recession better than its neighbors, can't afford it.

It is unfortunate that Harford's school board backed down. Unlike other school boards in the region, it first took the responsible route. It decided not to act as a rubber stamp for school administrators or teacher unions. Instead, it held the line on budget increases. School Board President George Lisby, at whom the teachers union president tossed a bag of "silver" for being a Judas-like figure in the debate, was being frank in telling teachers they will have to accept the bad news now -- or in June when the county budget is finalized. The revenue just isn't there for any pay raises, much less 10 percent hikes, for teachers.

But Mr. Wilson rose to admonish the board for attempting fiscal prudence. The board should propose the best education system possible; let the council fret about paying the bills, Mr. Wilson implied. With that reasoning, who needs a school board? Let the superintendent send his plan straight to the executive.

Whether Harford's 2,000 teachers deserve more pay isn't at issue. Indeed, Harford does not pay its veteran teachers well -- ranking 15th among the state's 24 jurisdictions for teachers with 10 years experience. (It ranks 7th in beginning salaries.) But recession is the wrong time to make amends.

Many Harford teachers may see Mr. Wilson as their hero. More accurately, he should be viewed in this matter as a grandstander. We hope any gains he makes prove hollow. These tough economic times call for courageous leadership from our elected officials, not political demagogy.

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