Spurred by budget defeat, PTAs vow to become more involved in process

June 13, 1993|By Sherrie Ruhl | Sherrie Ruhl,Staff Writer

Saying "political football" took precedence over children' needs when the Harford school system doled out money this spring, a countywide PTA group vowed to lobby much more aggressively next year.

The Harford County Council of PTAs is still smarting from a

school system decision to upgrade part-time assistant principals, who teach half time, to full-time administrators at eight or nine elementary schools instead of at 11, as promised.

"In the future, we will get more closely involved in the budget process from the beginning. That is imperative," said Andre A. Fournier, the group's president. "We should not have been put into the middle of what turned into a political football."

The PTAs, which vigorously lobbied the school system, the County Council and the county executive, made the upgrades their second-highest priority, after the hiring of 16 art teachers, for the budget year beginning July 1. The art teachers were approved, enabling each elementary school to offer art classes.

The part-time assistant principals, working a half-day in the classroom and a half-day in the front office, face impossible demands, Mr. Fournier said.

Students in the classroom suffer because the part-time assistant principals are frequently pulled from the class to deal with administrative duties, he said. Students throughout the school suffer because part-time assistant principals have to prepare lessons and grade papers at the same time they deal with day-to-day challenges of running a school.

The school system said it supported the PTAs' proposal, but placed upgrading the positions near the bottom of its wish list.

The PTAs persuaded the County Council to amend the county's $163 million operating budget to give the school system $250,000 to upgrade 11 principals' slots.

But County Executive Eileen M. Rehrmann vetoed those amendments. She said the council illegally shifted $200,000 to education from a solid-waste fund and endangered state funding for the expansion of the Harford County Detention Center by shifting to education $50,000 earmarked for the project. The council lacked the necessary five votes to override the veto.

The school system still will get the $200,000, Mrs. Rehrmann said, because when the council cut the solid-waste appropriations by that amount, it also cut the solid-waste fund's expenses to keep the budget balanced.

Superintendent Ray R. Keech said the school system might be able to stretch the $200,000 to upgrade nine part-time assistant principals. But he said the system should not be expected to go back through its budget and make cuts to find the additional $50,000.

Mr. Fournier, other PTA members and some County Council members said the school system could offset the loss of $50,000 by eliminating a controversial new position -- the parent-volunteer coordinator.

The job, with an annual minimum salary of $44,000, came under fire when the school system began lobbying the County Council for more money in April.

Council members Joanne S. Parrott, R-District B, and Robert S. Wagner, R-District E, said they were outraged that the school system would spend so much money for a new job.

Mr. Keech called the position vital to the school system, saying it could increase the number of volunteers.

"We could have 10 times the number of parents we have now become actively involved," he said. "Think what we could do if we could get a parent to act as a tutor for every kid who is behind in reading or mathematics."

Anne Sterling, school board president, said the school system has been talking about hiring a parent volunteer coordinator for over five years.

But, she added, "When the PTAs object to something, I am willing to take a closer look."

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