School board seeks time to absorb cuts County delegates see no such option

November 01, 1992|By Sherrie Ruhl | Sherrie Ruhl,Staff Writer

Expected cuts in state aid to Harford County schools should be spread over a year or two to give the school system time to absorb them, school board member Ronald Eaton told the county's General Assembly delegation.

"Give us time to make adjustments so the cuts are not traumatic," Mr. Eaton said at a Monday night meeting of the school board and the delegation. "We want to make some smart decisions on what will have the least impact on the school system."

But phasing in the cuts gradually isn't an option, said Del. Donald C. Fry, the District 35A Democrat who heads the Harford delegation.

"There is $147 million that has got to be absorbed by local governments this year," he said.

The school system, which accounts for about half of Harford's budget, expects to lose $2.3 million in state aid this year -- the same amount it lost last year.

The school system's budget is $141 million.

State Sen. William H. Amoss, D-District 35A, said the delegation was trying to be candid with the school system.

"We are here to tell you we support you. We want to make the cuts to you as painless as possible," Mr. Amoss said.

But while lawmakers in the General Assembly agree that cuts in state aid will come, no consensus exists on how the cuts will be made.

The state's budget deficit this year is about $450 million but could reach $750 million next year, budget analysts predict.

"We are taking the stand that we want what is less detrimental to the school system and the county. We are a team player," said Ray R. Keech, Harford schools superintendent.

Mr. Keech said County Executive Eileen M. Rehrmann has assured him that she will work with the school system in handling anticipated cuts.

Harford stands to lose about $6 million in state aid, including aid to the schools.

"If we have to see state cuts, I would like to see an 'equalizer,' where richer school systems would take a bigger hit than folks like us," Mr. Keech said.

The superintendent said he supports a proposal in the General Assembly that would eliminate a state program that pays the Social Security costs for teachers, librarians and community college employees.

That plan faces opposition in subdivisions such as Montgomery County, where teacher salaries -- and therefore Social Security -- are higher than in Harford.

This year's starting salary for teachers in Harford is about $24,583, compared with $29,271 in Montgomery County.

The maximum salary for a teacher in Harford County is $46,000, compared with $60,414 in Montgomery County.

Harford County ranks 14th in wealth out of the 23 subdivisions and 22nd out of 24 in per-pupil spending, according to the State Department of Education.

Mr. Amoss said he also supported cuts based on the amount of revenue a county receives, rather than on a per-student basis.

In addition to keeping state cuts to a minimum, Mr. Keech asked the delegation to maintain state funding for the two projects it wants to begin next year, Country Walk Elementary in Bel Air and a 300-student addition to Bel Air Middle School.

The state pays 65 percent of construction projects, and the county pays the rest. However, the county must also equip and furnish schools.

The county population is growing so quickly that the system will also need money to build additional schools, Mr. Keech said.

He said the county will need a new high school and middle school in the Abingdon area before the end of the decade for children now in elementaries.

School officials had predicted 1,336 new students for this school year, but have 985, bringing the system's total to 34,000. The school board predicts 40,840 students will be in Harford's classrooms by 1997 -- an increase of 12,840, or nearly 46 percent, over the student population of 28,000 in 1987.

Recently, the school system decided to hold off on two projects, Forest Lake Elementary for 600 students in Fallston and a 300-student addition to C. Milton Wright High in Bel Air.

Both projects, which were scheduled to open in 1995, will have to be built eventually.

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