Reality malady

March 11, 1992

This recession demands that people in government confront reality, prevailing thought says. A couple of recent cases involving the Baltimore County schools, however, indicate an unwillingness to acknowledge reality, much less confront it.

In one case, the president of the county teachers' union was livid over the superintendent's plans to furlough all employees for four or five days. Virtually every jurisdiction in the region, weakened by state government budget cuts and less local tax revenue, has had to impose furloughs. Baltimore County Superintendent Robert Y. Dubel, in fact, held out for months in the hope something would save his employees from the furloughs begun by other Baltimore County workers. With another state cut pending and tax revenues still down, Dr. Dubel felt he could hold out no longer.

"Just because Dr. Dubel gave up, doesn't mean I have," said an embittered Ed Veit, president of the Baltimore County Teachers Association. "When school opens again in September, things will never be the same." No one wants a pay cut, but the point is, Baltimore County, and its school administration in particular, held out much longer than most of their neighbors in inflicting budget pain on workers. Saber-rattling is pointless.

That same reality malady infected Dr. Dubel's own administration in recent capital budget discussions. School officials were incredulous that county planners had sliced their request for money for new schools, maintenance and equipment from $92 million to $31 million, admittedly an enormous cut. Still, what time warp is the school administration operating in? Capital budgets for education over the years typically fell in the $10-$20 million range. The most recent two-year bond issue was for $39 million. School officials learned as early as last fall that county finances were falling fast. Why submit a budget so thick and out of touch that non-education bean counters couldn't help but lose their way in trying to locate the priorities?

Educators are correct in reminding county officials that long-term budget decisions, say on new schools or classroom computers, can't solely be based on the financial forecasts for 1992 or '93. But they're going to have to do a better job of helping county government distinguish between the real and the mirage in a desert of resources.

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