Several County Council members urged the Board of Education to consider redistricting students as an alternative to an aggressive school construction plan.
"There have not been that many discussions heldon that dangerous word, 'redistricting,' " said Councilwoman Joanne S. Parrott, R-District B. "The Board of Education is being timid in addressing boundary changes."
The comments came Thursday as the council reviewed County Executive Eileen M. Rehrmann's proposal for the county's contribution to theeducation budget.
Parrott questioned Keech about the approximately 1,000 vacant student seats in schools along the U.S. 40 corridor, and asked why students could not be transferred to them.
Keech did not dispute the number of vacancies but said redistricting would be impractical.
"We can redistrict and transfer students, but we'd just have to pull them back out again in a few years because those schools would be full even without them in just a few years. Then, you'd be building schools you've just delayed," said Keech.
Keech also noted that the idea of redistricting is unpopular.
Last summer, the school board dropped a proposal to transfer Bel Air area students into Edgewood schools after parents protested.
Schools were last redistricted in February 1991, when the Board of Education drafted a planto create a new school attendance area to fill the Fallston Middle School, scheduled to open in the fall of 1993.
The Education Board's program calls for construction of a new school, an addition, or a major renovation of a school every year for the next five years.
Two new schools will be built when the new budget year begins July 1.
The board's plan calls for spending $108 million on school construction between now and 1997.
Rehrmann has proposed giving the Board of Education $10.4 million in county money to help pay for capital projects.
The state contributes some money to construction projects that it approves.
The council has approved the sale of bonds to borrow $6.9 million of the $10.4 million so that construction can beginon Fallston Middle School, which would house 900 students, and Fountain Green Elementary, which would accommodate about 600.
Rehrmann also has proposed giving the schools $76.3 million in operating money.
The Board of Education is asking for $5.9 million more than that. It has asked the council to provide it, which would enable the board to give teachers a 3 percent across-the-board raise and two step-uppay raises for employees who qualify.
The remainder of the Board of Education's operating budget comes from the state and federal governments.
This year, the state's contribution to Harford's school operating budget is uncertain.
At the budget hearing Thursday, council members questioned Harford County School Superintendent Ray R. Keech about the school construction program, leaky roofs on existing schools and the number of new teachers who could be hired.
"We keep building schools, and that means there are more and more to take careof," said Philip J. Barker, D-District F. "Maybe we should consider discontinuing building new schools and bring the facilities we have up to par."
Parrott cited the 40-year-old Hickory Elementary Schoolas a prime example of a building that needs help.
"There are buckets everywhere. When it rains they have to move the desks, and they're not even on your list" for repairs, said Parrott.
Rehrmann has budgeted $400,000 to pay for roof replacements.
Board of Education estimates show the cost of all the roof replacements needed is $2.2 million.
Council members also probed school administrators about teacher hiring.
Last year, the Board of Education hired about 132 new teachers.
This year, Keech said, the school system must hire about 80 teachers, at an estimated cost of $2.5 million, to keep up withnew student growth.
Rehrmann's proposed budget would give the school board about $1.9 million to hire approximately 34 new teachers and 11 special education teachers.
Keech said the Board of Educationcould afford to hire 24 more classroom teachers, bringing the total number of new hires to 68.8, if the council approves a plan to lease-purchase 24 new buses.
Buses must be replaced every 12 years understate law. Each new bus costs about $30,000; 19 of the new buses would be replacements, and five would be for special education.
Rehrmann has proposed spreading the payments over five years.
But Council President Jeffrey D. Wilson said a lease-purchase agreement would "just be pushing the bad news off," instead of paying for the buses up front.
Wilson said the administration, in preparing the budget, seemed to rely on the premise that the economy will improve soon.
"I would operate under the premise that things are pretty good right now and they're going to get worse," said Wilson.
1993 BOARD OF EDUCATION BUDGET
Major expenses the board can afford under executive' proposal
AMOUNT.. .. .. ..WHAT FOR.. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. ..
$1.5 million.. ..Hire 34* new classroom teachers, 2 librarians