Freeman's education bill draws fire from council Panel no longer could raise budget

January 17, 1993|By Carol L. Bowers and Sherrie Ruhl | Carol L. Bowers and Sherrie Ruhl,Staff Writers Karin Remesch contributed to this story.

Harford's County Council would lose significant power over county education spending under a bill introduced in the General Assembly by Sen. Habern W. Freeman Jr.

For more than a decade the council has voted annually to give the county Board of Education more money than the county executive has allotted in the original budget request. It is the only agency whose budget the council can legally increase.

But Mr. Freeman's bill would revoke that power, leaving the council only the ability to cut money from all county agencies.

Mr. Freeman said the council must take money from other agencies to increase education spending.

"That's bad policy and creates a lot of turmoil at budget time," he said, "and since the majority of money to support the education budget comes locally, you have to give the executive a stronger position."

Most other counties, he said, allow local legislatures to cut education spending but not increase it.

Council members say they oppose the bill, which Mr. Freeman introduced without success last year.

"I think I have always restored money [to the Board of Education] prudently," said Councilwoman Joanne S. Parrott, R-District B, a two-term council member. "The problem is where the executive cuts the budget. I mean that's one person making the decision."

The Board of Education had requested $81.2 million from the county, but would get $76.3 million under County Executive Eileen M. Rehrmann's budget proposal.

Council members voted to increase the amount given to the school board to $77.3 million with some of the additional money going for school roof repairs.

"If Senator Freeman's bill had passed last year, that would have been almost $2 million the schools wouldn't have received this year," said Councilwoman Theresa M. Pierno, D-District C.

"It would leave us with no leverage at all to deal with the administration. I think it's very interesting that a former county executive would want to limit the council's authority. It's not as if the council has a tremendous amount of authority over the budget anyway."

Another bill proposed by Mr. Freeman would change how the Board of Education is chosen.

School board members are nominated by a Permanent Nominating Caucus, composed of representatives of 80 community groups, which interviews candidates and sends its recommendations to the governor, who makes the final appointments.

Mr. Freeman wants to have the Permanent Nominating Caucus send its nominations to a seven-member executive committee that would make final choices, removing the governor from the process.

The executive committee -- made up of representatives from seven groups including the council, the Harford County Farm Bureau andthe county teachers union -- would then make the final appointments.

"The bill would create an absence of political appointments on the school board and replace them with people of all walks of life who would bring with them fresh and independent ideas," Mr. Freeman said.

"A mix of a variety of philosophies will improve an education system, which I think has deteriorated."

Keith Williams, a school board member, said: "His intention is worthwhile but a politically appointed executive committee won't take the politics out of the school board."

Andre A. Fournier, president of the Harford County Council of PTAs, said the PTA's executive board voted to reject the school-board-appointment idea at its meeting Thursday.

"We feel that would put politics into the school board appointments," he said.

Mr. Fournier said his biggest concern was how the executive committee of the nominating caucus would be chosen.

"Whoever appoints the executive committee would have the power to influence school board choices," he said.

An alternative selection process has been supported by other civic and community leaders as well, including Council President Jeffrey D. Wilson, who has advocated an elected school board.

Albert F. Seymour, spokesman for school system, said the proposed legislation was too new to comment on.

"We normally develop legislation position papers, and we have not had an opportunity to develop a position on this issue," he said.

Karin Remesch contributed to this story.

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