County Executive Charles I. Ecker is playing politics with a "no newtaxes" budget that cuts $3.5 million from the school system's budgetrequest, the president of the county teachers union said yesterday.
Ecker's action puts pressure on the Democratic majority of the County Council to raise taxes, an initiative the Republican county executive should have taken, said James R. Swab, president of the Howard County Education Association, which also represents secretaries and instructional assistants.
"What we had hoped for in Chuck Ecker's budget was a bipartisan effort to give county and school employees cost-of-living increases. Unfortunately, politics is being played again," Swab said.
He said teachers and other school employees represented by the union will tryto persuade the council to:
* Restore $3.5 million that Ecker cutfrom the school system's budget request for 1992-1993.
* Provide money to cover cost-of-living increases for school board employees, to be requested in a budget supplement that Superintendent Michael E. Hickey is expected to submit next week.
Ecker sent the council a "no new taxes" budget Monday that contained $139.5 million in county support for the public schools, $3.5 million less than the Board of Education asked. To restore the executive's cuts, the council would have to cut other county departments or raise taxes.
The executive's budget contains money for 2 percent longevity pay raises for school employees who are not at the top of their salary scales, but provides no cost-of-living increases for them.
Neither school system nor county government employees received pay raises or longevity increases in 1991-1992. County support for the school budget, which edged up from $137.7 million in 1990-1991 to $138.5 million this year, left the school board without enough money to cover the 6 percent raises and 2percent increments called for in the teacher contract. The board also lacked the money to give raises to other school employees.
The county had to ask the school board to cut $3.5 million from the $137.7million it had pledged for this year when the state, facing a financial crisis in the fall of 1991, reduced aid to counties.
School board Chairman Deborah D. Kendig saw the executive's budget as "basically, supplanting local money with state money," but added that she wasgrateful to the General Assembly for coming through with additional state aid to education.
Superintendent Michael E. Hickey did not respond to a request for comment. Sydney L. Cousin, associate superintendent for finance and operations, was reported attending a meeting Tuesday and could not be reached.
Swab said negotiators for the teachers, secretaries and instructional assistants hope to reach agreement on salary increases in bargaining talks next week. Hickey will then submit a supplemental budget request to the county executive.
The union president cited 1990 census results released this week which show that Howard County has the highest median household income in the state, $54,348 a year.
"Howard County is wealthy enough to give the people who serve it cost-of-living increases," Swab said. "We want to be able to live in Howard County as well as work here."
The council has the right to restore cuts in the education budget made by the executive, but cannot appropriate more than he requests for othercounty departments.
The $3.5 million cut made by Ecker is offset by $4 million in additional state aid that school officials didn't count on when they put together a $184.5 million budget, excluding salaries. The board, following past practice, included no estimate for employee raises in its budget request, opting to submit a supplemental request when contract agreements are reached.