Irate parents push council to increase school funding Police, fire agencies oppose budget cuts

May 09, 1993|By Sherrie Ruhl | Sherrie Ruhl,Staff Writer

Irate parents besieged Harford lawmakers with demands for more money for schools, while law enforcement officers and representatives of volunteer fire departments asked that their budgets be spared cuts.

"We need money for renovations now," said Richard W. Daub Jr., president of the PTA at Havre de Grace Elementary School.

"We can't wait for the next budget or the one after that," he said, drawing applause at a hearing Thursday night before the County Council.

Listing the 42-year-old school's many flaws, which include an electrical system so outdated it can't handle fans or air conditioners, he demanded that the council stop all renovation and new construction until Havre de Grace Elementary gets overdue renovations.

The school administration has said it can't afford the renovations until at least 1996.

At the council's first public hearing on the fiscal 1994 budget, Mr. Daub said: "You have a moral obligation to ensure that the basic needs of all of the county's school children, including our children, take priority in the allocation of county funds."

About 150 people -- parents, school administrators, law enforcement officers and representatives of the county's volunteer fire departments -- attended the meeting at Havre de Grace High School.

County Executive Eileen M. Rehrmann, who presented her budget to the council April 1, proposed to give the school system $87 million, an $11 million increase over current funding, but $4.4 million less than the school system requested.

Because of the cut, up to 75 professional positions, mostly for teachers, may not be filled next year.

Council President Jeffrey D. Wilson said in his opening remarks that the school budget needed to be increased by $2.1 million so that at least 60 more teachers could be hired to keep class sizes down.

Mr. Daub said Havre de Grace Elementary, where more than half the students come from families with incomes low enough that the children qualify for free or reduced-price lunches, will lose at least two teachers next school year if the council doesn't provide more money.

Alden H. Halsey, deputy superintendent, said some other schools also could lose teachers.

This year, the average elementary class size is 23.6 students.

Staffing rises or falls depending on enrollment and the number of teachers available, Mr. Halsey said.

He said U.S. 40 schools, like those in Havre de Grace, actually get more

teachers than schools in Bel Air and Fallston.

"We recognize the socioeconomic needs of that community and the special needs [physical and learning disabilities] of some of the children, so those schools get a somewhat higher number of teachers," he said.

A dozen parents urged the council to provide more funding, and some accused the school system of spending more on new schools than old ones.

Mr. Daub asked the council to oversee the way the school system spends its money.

"The problems at our school have existed for years," he said. "The school system has promised us renovations and extra funding to solve these problems and then broken these promises."

Mr. Wilson dangled the prospect of some relief. He said a new tax on real estate transfers is expected to generate about $750,000 for school construction during the last six months of 1993. The money has not been included in the school budget.

"Maybe adding this money to the school budget, we can move funds around to see that Havre de Grace Elementary gets electrical improvements," he said.

Mr. Wilson also pointed out that Mrs. Rehrmann has kept $8.2 million for a reserve fund.

"That's money that could be spent. That may be something you want to take up with the county executive," he said.

Mrs. Rehrmann has said she needs that money in reserve to maintain the county's bond rating.

The council, which has until May 31 to pass a budget for the fiscal year beginning July 1, can siphon money from other departments and agencies to increase school spending. But other groups, such as the local deputies union, which wants the sheriff's office's $15.9 million budget left alone, have fought cutting their funds to give schools more.

Leaving the executive's budget intact would virtually ensure substantial pay increases for the 143 sheriff's deputies.

John J. Miner, president of Harford's Deputy Sheriffs Union Local 838, called on the council to support the deputies.

"We work 24 hours a day, seven days a week looking after your interests, and now it is time for the council to show us your support," he said.

William Giles, president of the Susquehanna Hose Co. in Havre de Grace, urged the council to leave intact the $5 million budget for emergency services, which includes $3 million for volunteer fire departments.

Mrs. Rehrmann also has allocated $2.3 million of a $96.3 million capital budget for construction projects, among them firehouses Abingdon and Havre de Grace, expansion of the firehouse in Fallston and renovation of the Fawn Grove station.

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