Bill plans teacher raises

Owens sends legislation to allow transfer of funds

Schools want to use old surplus

Superintendent will lobby County Council for passage

Anne Arundel

January 09, 2004|By Laura Loh and Ryan Davis | Laura Loh and Ryan Davis,SUN STAFF

Anne Arundel County Executive Janet S. Owens has removed a major obstacle to the school system's plan to use past budget savings for teacher raises - even as she continues to oppose the move as "fiscally unwise."

Owens announced that she has sent legislation to the County Council that would authorize a transfer from a reserve account to pay for the raises, and schools Superintendent Eric J. Smith applauded the move.

Smith said he was contractually bound to give about $1.8 million in salary increases to school employees, who have worked hard to implement several major academic initiatives. He said he plans to lobby council members to approve the bill.

Owens said in a statement Wednesday that she introduced the bill "in the interest of public debate and ... after an impassioned plea by [Smith] and the leadership of the school board."

She also sent a letter to council members, saying the 1 percent raise for school employees would snowball into a $4.3 million cost in the budget for next fiscal year, which begins July 1.

The County Council's approval would allow Smith to use some of the school system's $5.9 million budget savings from last fiscal year.

To fulfill a promise to teachers and other employees, Smith began paying the 1 percent raises this month.

Because he did not know whether he would gain access to the reserve accounts, he instituted a hiring freeze to save enough money for the wage increases.

In addition, Smith had told the county executive that he would have to make more harmful cuts during the second half of the school year to save enough for the raises - unless this legislation passes.

By sending the legislation to the council, Owens removed herself from the debate.

She made the proposal into emergency legislation, meaning that, if passed, it would take effect immediately after she signed it.

Typically, it takes 45 days for signed legislation to become law.

The "emergency" status would allow Smith to get access to the reserve account more quickly, but it also means that five of the seven council members must vote for the bill for it to pass.

Passage would be veto-proof because it takes five votes for the council to override a veto by the county executive.

County Council Vice Chairman Ronald C. Dillon Jr. said, after some questioning of Smith, that he expects the measure to pass.

He said Owens' decision to turn the matter over to the council "doesn't give me too much heartburn."

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