Layoff slips sent to 15 in schools office Action is first sign of severe budget cuts expected next year

'This is very painful'

Affected employees may have chance at job openings next fall

November 30, 1995|By Howard Libit | Howard Libit,SUN STAFF

In the first sign of severe education budget cuts expected next year, the Howard County school system has issued layoff notices to 15 employees in the central administration office.

The notices went out as Superintendent Michael E. Hickey is preparing a plan to restructure and streamline the central administration, which could reduce further the number of central office employees.

School officials said the notices were the first sizable set since the county's 1991 budget crisis -- when revenue shortfalls resulted in cutbacks that included canceling negotiated teacher raises.

The 15 central office employees were notified quietly last week that their positions would not be included in Dr. Hickey's proposed operating budget for fiscal 1997, which begins July 1. The superintendent did not return phone calls this week seeking comment.

But school officials said they didn't expect many actual layoffs because the 15 may be able to fill new positions expected to open up next fall. The school system will need to staff three new schools and replace employees who choose an early retirement incentive program being offered now.

The 15 workers, who include supervisors, secretaries and technicians, were told they could apply for jobs elsewhere in the school system.

Essentially, the move will shift some positions from central administration to the schools -- an action repeatedly called for by the county government and now praised by the county teachers union.

"I don't like the idea of eliminating positions, and I don't like the idea of some people maybe not being able to find other positions," said Susan Cook, chairwoman of the school board.

"But we were given a directive by the County Council and county executive to reduce the central administration, and we are responding."

The president of the Howard County Education Association, which represents teachers and some other schools employees, lauded the move to streamline the system's administration.

"We sincerely hope no one actually loses their job," said President Karen Dunlop.

"We're all taking hits, and certainly the teachers are feeling it. Everybody -- the union included -- wants what's happening in the classroom to be the primary focus."

Although the reduction in central administrative staff had been expected since Dr. Hickey announced his plans to streamline, the layoff notices still were a shock to the those working in the central office, on Route 108 in Ellicott City.

The school system has more than 4,000 employees, and officials estimate that more than 150 are based in the central office.

"This is very painful," said one person who received a layoff notice and asked not to be named. "It's a very hard way to end it all."

The possibility of more staff cuts from Dr. Hickey's restructuring plan have left other school employees fearful for their jobs.

"A lot of us breathed a sigh of relief when we didn't receive the notices, but now we're wondering about who is next," said one administrator who also asked not be named.

"It's going to be a long winter waiting for all of this to shake out."

During last spring's budget process, Dr. Hickey promised the County Council that he would restructure -- and reduce -- the central administration this year as part of the school system's strategic planning efforts, known as Beyond the Year 2000.

An announcement of that plan was expected this month, but apparently has been delayed.

Nevertheless, the 15-employee reduction in central administration marks the beginning of what school officials have said will be a very painful budget process next year.

County Executive Charles I. Ecker has told the school system that the largest increase it might receive will be $6.5 million -- less than 3 percent of this fiscal year's $230 million education budget.

That additional money will need to be stretched to cover existing educational programs, 1,800 more students and three new schools.

Yesterday, Mr. Ecker described the reduction in central administration as a "positive step." He also said he would let the school board decide how to allocate its budget.

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