About 200 Howard County teachers, parents and school board members packed a budget hearing last night to warn that without raises for county teachers, Howard's coveted education system -- and even the local economy -- could deteriorate.
Steve Granek, president of the Stevens Forest Elementary PTA, said salaries that are declining compared with neighboring counties could cost Howard its best teachers, making Howard less attractive to residents and businesses.
He compared the possibility to an infamous decision in baseball history: trading Babe Ruth from the Red Sox to the Yankees in 1919. The Red Sox haven't won a World Series since.
"Our teachers are Howard County's Babe Ruth," Granek said. "The question is not whether we can find the money, but whether we can afford not to find the money."
The hearing at the county office building in Ellicott City was the last before County Executive Charles I. Ecker submits his budget request to the County Council in April.
Ecker did not attend the hearing because his sister died yesterday afternoon. In his place were Chief Administrative Officer Raquel Sanudo and Budget Administrator Raymond Wacks. They said Ecker would watch the hearing later on videotape.
But as the hearing began, Sanudo warned that Ecker had received budget requests from all departments totaling $352 million -- nearly 5 percent more than approved for this year. "Cuts, in all likelihood, will have to happen," she said.
Speakers urged Ecker to build athletic fields, erect a new sound wall to protect a community near Interstate 70 and upgrade the intersection of Snowden River Parkway and Route 175.
But the hearing focused overwhelmingly on the schools budget, particularly raises for teachers.
For the fiscal year beginning July 1, the school board has proposed a $255 million operating budget, with $186 million of that coming from direct county support -- 4.8 percent more than this year.
More important, it would be 1.1 percent more than the state-required minimum increase, a formula tied to growing school enrollment called "maintenance of effort."
"Every maintenance-of-effort budget causes us to lose ground, and not just in salaries," said Karen Dunlop, president of the teachers' union.
School board members have agreed to a new contract giving the county's 3,000 teachers and other instructional employees raises ranging from 4 percent to 7 percent, depending on experience.
Board Chairwoman Sandra H. French said, "After so many years on the maintenance-of-effort level, programs, services and especially employee morale need a definite revival."
Ecker also is preparing his capital budget proposal. Departments have requested $94 million worth of projects. He has said the $35.6 million requested by the school board is likely to face cuts.
But parents and teachers said the renovations and additions proposed for several schools are badly needed.
"In some schools, leaking roofs and skylights, ancient plumbing and makeshift science laboratories pose health or safety hazards to students," said Kevin O'Neill of the Bushy Park Elementary PTA.
Columbia officials also were adamant in asking Ecker to spend $16 million to build a cloverleaf intersection at Route 175 and Snowden River Parkway. Ecker has changed his position several times on the project.
Cecilia Januszkiewicz, chairwoman of the Long Reach Village Board, said the county's Planning Board approved the huge Columbia Crossing project at the intersection only after administration officials agreed to rebuild it.
"All that the community association now asks is that now that the commercial development is under way, you remember your commitment and honor it," said Januszkiewicz. "It is a simple request and, for a man of honor, a simple choice."
Pub Date: 3/05/97