School budget proposal in trouble

May 06, 1994|By James M. Coram | James M. Coram,Sun Staff Writer

A proposed compromise aimed at salvaging most of the school board's $167 million request for local funding in fiscal 1995 started unraveling last night at a County Council work session.

The board's request is $4.3 million more than County Executive Charles I. Ecker included for public education in his proposed $315 million operating budget for the fiscal year that begins July 1.

School Superintendent Michael E. Hickey suggested last week that most of the difference could be made up if Mr. Ecker added $589,000 to the budget for school employee Social Security payments and the county issued five-year bonds to buy computer equipment for older schools to bring them up to the level of newer ones.

Mr. Hickey also said the board would defer $1.1 million in projects until January. Mr. Ecker said in his budget message that he would add that amount to the education budget next winter if local income tax revenues exceeded current revenues by 10 percent.

If those things happened, the board would reduce its request by $1 million, Mr. Hickey said.

Last night, however, Mr. Ecker responded to a note from Councilwoman Shane Pendergrass, D-1st, by saying that he did not plan to add the $589,000 for additional Social Security payments to the budget.

Mr. Ecker was not at the work session, but when Ms. Pendergrass asked for clarification, Budget Director Raymond S. Wacks told her, "I think we have to deal with the funds that are on the table."

As for issuing the bonds, Ms. Pendergrass and Council Chairman C. Vernon Gray, D-3rd, proposed cutting Mr. Ecker's $3 million road-resurfacing proposal in half and giving $1.5 million to the schools.

That did not sit well with Councilman Paul R. Farragut, D-4th, who said the county needs the money for road resurfacing and the money for technological improvements in the schools. Both projects are at "critical junctures" and need to be fully funded, Mr. Farragut said.

He also expressed concern about how the board's request could be so large -- it is more than half the entire proposed county budget -- yet be short on proposed funds for textbooks and supplies and not include enough money to make copies of material for students.

Mr. Hickey said most of the proposed budget increase is for spending on people -- teachers, students and staff -- and that when the board was forced to make cuts over the past three years, it cut in areas other than personnel. Funding for textbooks and supplies has not returned to 1991 levels, he said.

The council may restore what the executive cut from the education part of the proposed budget, but to do so it must raise taxes or cut other departments' spending requests.

Council members will meet in a work session with department heads today to discuss the noneducation portion of the budget. The council will set the tax rate and vote on the budget May 23.

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