Squeezing more for schools Howard County: Council increased budget, but students may pay for extracurricular activities.

May 21, 1998

THEY WON'T agree, but members of the Howard County Council let politics get in the way of some difficult budget decisions. In a year when the coffers are so full that an income tax cut has been proposed, the council balked at finding an additional $9.2 million that the school system said it needs.

The council did agree Tuesday to raise the schools' budget by another $3.46 million. But figuring out how to pay for the compromise proved every bit as difficult.

It was surprising that each of the five council members offered a different proposal to increase school funding beyond the $195.6 million in County Executive Charles I. Ecker's budget.

The three Republicans' lack of agreement seemed to reflect the rivalry of Charles Feaga and Dennis Schrader, both running for the GOP nomination to succeed Mr. Ecker. But Mr. Schrader, who proposed a $4.2 million increase, also voted against the suggestion most like his -- for $5 million -- moved by Democrat C. Vernon Gray.

Reaching the $3.46 million compromise came after hours of discussion of where to get the extra money for schools. Council members earnestly discussed priorities and the need to proceed with road and other infrastructure improvements. But, in the current political climate, their reluctance to even consider tapping $1.7 million appropriated for job performance awards suggested fear of retaliation by employee unions.

Most of the new money for schools, $2.7 million, will come from delaying a change in the way Howard pays salaries. It should be painless, basically taking money that Mr. Ecker wanted set aside for the year 2011 -- yes, 2011 -- to prepare for a rare accounting quirk based on the amount of pay periods in a given year.

The board won't get enough to pay for every program and tool it said it needs. Making children pay fees to participate in extracurricular activities is still a possibility. That could be onerous for children from low-income households or those involved in numerous after-school activities and sports.

Pub Date: 5/21/98

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