Ecker Warns Of Further $1.1 Million Cut In School Budget

March 15, 1992|By James M. Coram | James M. Coram,Staff writer

County Executive Charles I. Ecker said last week he may have to trimanother $1.1 million from the current education budget.

"I hope Idon't have to cut the school budget (again), but I may have to" if the next round of cuts in state aid are worse than expected, he said.

Ecker said he hopes the General Assembly will reach a middle ground on two versions of a bill aimed at another reduction in state aid to counties.

The House version would trim Howard County's remaining aid by $5.2 million; the Senate version would reduce it by $2.8 million. In anticipation of the cut, Ecker slashed $4 million from the county budget in late January, including $2.5 million for education.

He said Thursday he is hoping the House and Senate will compromise at $4 million or less. If not, he will have to again cut education, he said.

No matter what the General Assembly decides, the budget trimming will be less than the $141 million that Gov. William Donald Schaefer proposed in December. Howard County's portion of that cut would have been $8.2 million.

Getting through the current budget without further reductions is only half the battle. School Superintendent Michael E. Hickey and members of the school board met with the CountyCouncil Thursday to talk about their $143 million request for the coming fiscal year. The request, which does not include salary increases, asks for money from the county without any state help whatsoever.

Councilman C. Vernon Gray, D-3rd, said the General Assembly is considering a proposal that would take state aid away from school systems that include pay raises in their fiscal 1993 budgets.

He said hetold the governor that if that provision is enacted, Howard County should be exempt. Howard County stripped teachers and school employeesof negotiated raises in the current budget while other counties did not, Gray told the governor.

The county is going to lose good teachers if it goes two years without providing a cost-of-living increase, Gray said. "I'm hoping we will be able to provide an increase. It'sin our hands. In the final analysis, we control what happens with our budget."

Hickey told the council that the Howard County Education Association, a teacher bargaining unit, views a salary increase as its highest priority. A 1 percent salary increase for all school employees would add another $1.2 million to the budget request, school officials said.

The council asked the officials to provide comparisons with other counties as to teacher salaries, raises, and unpaid furloughs in the past five years.

Council Chairman Paul R. Farragut, D-4th, said he was concerned about the possibility of the legislatureputting strings on state aid.

"I'm bothered by the General Assembly telling us what we should do and how we should fund our programs,"he said.

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