The school system's proposed $168.1 million operating budget for next year is $3 million to $4 million more than the county probably can afford, Ray R. Keech, school superintendent, told the Harford County Council of PTAs Thursday night.
The county's share of the proposed budget, about $90.6 million, includes $3 million that would pay for a tentatively negotiated 3 percent pay raise for all school system employees. It would be the first raise for teachers in two years.
The county's $90.6 million share also includes $5.6 million for teacher's Social Security. Starting this year the state, which used to pay that amount, has shifted that burden to local school systems.
Subtracting the Social Security, the county's share is about $85 million, a 12 percent increase over the current $75.7 million. The current budget, however, does not include Social Security contributions. That's because the county picked up the tab by reducing most departmental budgets, including the school system, by 2.5 percent.
Anne D. Sterling, the school board president, said County Executive Eileen M. Rehrmann has assured her that the school system will be held "harmless" for the Social Security increase -- suggesting the county would absorb the levy without the school having to tap its operating budget.
Under the proposed budget, the county would be asked to contribute about 55 percent, and the state 43 percent or about $73.4 million. The rest would come from federal and other sources, such as box office receipts from sporting events.
Mrs. Sterling said she is not unduly worried about cuts Mrs. Rehrmann might make because of the "trust factor" between the county executive and the schools.
"Mrs. Rehrmann has been very dedicated to education and we have a good working relationship with her. If she has to make cuts then she will make that decision, but in the past she has consulted with us," Mrs. Sterling said.
Mrs. Sterling declined to speculate on what action the school board would take on the budget at its Feb. 8 meeting. However, she said cutting $3 million, or about 2 percent of the overall proposed budget, would not be "too difficult."
"The board typically does not cut money because we need everything in the budget," she said. The school budget must be submitted to the county by April 1.
Last year, the school board asked the county for $81.2 million for this year's operating budget. Mrs. Rehrmann cut the budget to $76.3 million but the council overrode her decision and gave the school system $77.3 million.
The school board made its initial request, which included money for teacher's raises, after a public tongue-lashing from County Council President Jeffrey D. Wilson. Mr. Wilson criticized the school system as a poor advocate for education because it hesitated to request what it saw as an unrealistic amount of money.
"I think there is more support for the schools from the county than there has been in the past. We have had some very lean years and that is
catching up with us," said school board member George Lisby, at the school board's meeting Tuesday.
He said priorities include staffing, books and equipment for three new schools opening in September: Fallston Middle School, Fountain Green and Church Creek Elementary schools.
The school system is anticipating about 1,120 new students next year as well, he said.
The proposed budget also includes $900,000 for school maintenance, money the school board says is long overdue.
"There are buildings which are going to fall down on our heads if we don't act quickly," said school board member Keith Williams. The proposed budget includes $500,000 to replace worn-out equipment; that compares with $84,700 this year.
The proposed budget calls for hiring 180 teachers and other full-time personnel.
It would convert the 11 part-time assistant principals in elementary schools to full-time assistant principals.
It includes hiring teachers and instructional assistants to implement the first year of the five-year special education plan.
The plan, which would make each school capable of teaching students with disabilities, was approved by the school board in November.