Schools in Arundel begin hiring freeze

Savings to pay for raises if extra funds unavailable

$1.8 million needed

November 27, 2003|By Laura Loh | Laura Loh,SUN STAFF

The Anne Arundel school system began a strict hiring and spending freeze this week, saying it needs to start saving money to give teachers a 1 percent pay raise because the county might not allow it to dip into a schools reserve fund.

Superintendent Eric J. Smith warned that "more aggressive" budget cuts loom unless the county authorizes the system to pay for the $1.8 million in pay raises using a reserve fund it amassed last school year through spending reductions.

"We have the money available," Smith said. "It's just whether or not the county executive is going to allow us to access that money."

County Executive Janet S. Owens, who last spring eliminated cost-of-living raises for most county employees to balance the budget, has said she opposes giving teachers the raises because it would increase the school budget.

Jody Couser, a spokeswoman for Owens, said in a statement that the hiring freeze seems "fiscally responsible."

The freeze was imposed as local school systems face budget issues. This week, Baltimore school officials laid off hundreds of workers, including administrative staff members, in an effort to cope with a $52 million budget deficit.

The Arundel school board, which negotiates with the teachers union but relies on the county for funding, recently approved the 1 percent pay raises.

Owens eliminated a 3 percent cost-of-living raise that teachers had been expecting.

On Monday, school officials plan to ask Owens and County Council members to introduce legislation that would allow them to tap into the school system's $6 million reserve fund.

For now, the school system has frozen hiring for nonclass- room vacancies, stopped accepting requests for salary reclassifications, and frozen spending on equipment and overnight travel by employees.

Smith projects that the school system could save $1 million by the end of the school year through the current freeze, but he said it is difficult to make an accurate prediction.

To come up with the rest of the money for the raises, Smith said, he next would consider a freeze on the use of new hires to fill classroom vacancies.

Administrators with teaching credentials would replace teachers who left during the school year, a move that would have a negative impact on the services of the central administration, Smith said.

Sheila Finlayson, teachers union president, said she hopes the hiring freeze won't reach the classroom.

"Enough with ... fighting for every nickel and dime," she said. "Enough with cutting teachers, cutting classroom positions.

"Citizens have to step up and tell the county they care about education," Finlayson said.

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