State workers get layoff notices Hundreds learn news after governor submits lean budget

January 23, 1996|By Peter Jensen | Peter Jensen,SUN STAFF

In a sign of the leaner times ahead in Annapolis, a veritable rain of pink slips has begun falling across state government as jobs and services provided Maryland residents in the past are scaled back or eliminated entirely.

Late last week, 49 people who taught prison inmates vocational skills or how to pass high school equivalency examinations were told they would no longer be needed. The program, which resulted in nearly 1,000 inmates receiving diplomas last year, is being reduced to the minimum level required by federal law.

As a result, prisoners will be taught for up to 90 days only if they fall below an eighth-grade reading level, and hundreds will be dropped from vocational training.

From Centreville to Cumberland, there were many similar stories: 228 people who provided in-home care to low-income disabled people were given the ax, as were 82 people who processed applications for child care subsidies.

About a sixth of the Department of General Services staff of 755 will lose their jobs, including 40 of the department police officers who patrol state buildings.

The pink slips, many of which won't go into effect until the end of the state's fiscal year June 30, arrived hours after Gov. Parris N. Glendening submitted a $14.7 billion budget proposal with the smallest percentage increase in state government spending since World War II.

In his State of the State message Wednesday, Mr. Glendening warned that he would be eliminating more than 1,000 positions from the state's 72,000-person work force. The pink slips, which bTC began arriving one day later, were a reminder that many real people, not just unfilled slots, would be affected.

And with each job that the governor proposed to discontinue, a function of government often went with it -- whether that meant less frequent inspections of day care centers or state buildings that will be locked earlier.

"This budget harms children, the poor, the weak, and the homeless," said Susan P. Leviton, a professor at the University of Maryland law school and founder of Advocates for Children and Youth. "He's cutting things we fought to get into the budget piece by piece. It's really discouraging."

Maxine G. Hurley, who has taught Maryland inmates for 16 years, received a layoff notice last week. She called the decision "shortsighted."

"Parris Glendening says he's for education, but he does not realize that a lot of these guys are going to go through the system and get out," said Ms. Hurley, a teacher at the Maryland Penitentiary in Baltimore. "They want to get a GED [General Educational Development diploma]. The judges are telling them to get a GED. This is crazy."

Advocates for prisoners reacted angrily to the decision. Pointing to studies that indicate educated inmates are less likely to commit new crimes once released, they say cutting prison teachers eventually will cost the state money to house repeat offenders.

"This is a pro-crime policy," said Frank M. Dunbaugh, an attorney who advocates alternatives to incarceration. "If you're trying to look at it as to whether this is a policy that saves us money or costs us money in the long run, it's probably going to cost money."

Sen. Donald F. Munson, a Washington County Republican, said the cut in prison education made no sense when the governor is proposing spending more on local schools and higher education. Voters may have asked for a downsized government, he said, but the loss of state jobs will hurt his Western Maryland district.

"I'm hearing from people who are devastated," said Senator Munson, a member of the Senate's budget oversight committee. "The message in the last election was to cut state government, but the governor got it wrong. You cut prison education and these people will have a chip on their shoulders when they leave."

In-home aides visit the disabled poor in their homes and perform such services as dressing, feeding, cleaning, shopping and other household chores. Mr. Glendening has proposed saving $500,000 by serving about 175 fewer clients and putting the program in the hands of private companies.

But some of the 1,900 people who benefit from the program said they are worried about the new workers who might be coming to their homes. What kind of service will they get from someone who earns less money and receives less training and fewer benefits?

"I'm terrified they won't check these people out and they won't be reliable," said Brenda Rickard, 44, of West Baltimore, who was left quadriplegic by a 1990 car accident. "I'm scared about safety and strange people who aren't trained."

James Sturdivant of the Maryland Center for Independent Living said he is hearing many of the same concerns from other disabled clients.

"It's my gut feeling that the in-home aides that work for the state now won't go to work for private agencies because they won't get the same pay and benefits," said Mr. Sturdivant, who trains aides for the Baltimore-based nonprofit agency.

The decision to eliminate the 83 people within the state Department of Human Resources who process applications for day care subsidies also concerns lawmakers. Without them, the responsibility will fall on other workers who handle welfare grants. The same agency is losing seven of its 157 day care inspectors.

Still, legislators said they hope to cut enough spending from other parts of the governor's proposed budget to allow him to restore some of the jobs and programs. That could come in a supplemental spending plan the governor submits later in the 90-day legislative session.

"I think the governor made choices," said Sen. Barbara A. Hoffman, a Baltimore Democrat and chairman of the Senate Budget and Taxation Committee. "We may decide that we would not make some of those choices."

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