Employees of the Harford County schools system would face a 2 percent cut in salary for the coming fiscal year if a budget proposed by Superintendent Robert Tomback is approved - a prospect the public will have a chance to discuss at an open hearing tonight in Bel Air.
Tomback, in his first year as the county's schools chief, recommended a 2 percent cut in the school system's total salary budget as part of his overall funding proposal for the 2011 fiscal year.
He unveiled the plan at a Board of Education meeting Dec. 21.
If the proposed cuts survive collective bargaining, they could take the form of a 2 percent salary decrease for every employee in the system. Other options would be to implement the cuts through furloughs or elimination of staff positions.
In remarks at the meeting last month, Tomback stressed that he was seeking no increase in the school system's budget, which totals $417.5 million this fiscal year. He did not mention the proposed salary cutbacks and omitted them from a 24-page narrative that summarizes the more than 500-page document.
Officials of the union representing county teachers, the Harford County Education Association, said they knew nothing of the cuts until this month, when a reporter from an online news site, The Dagger, asked them about a reduction that was listed as a line item.
"I was going through the budget line by line, but it takes time, and I'd only gotten through the first 100 pages or so," said association President Randy Cerveny. "You have to be concerned when something this important is not addressed more clearly."
Tomback has said he declined to mention the proposed cuts because they are part of a collective bargaining process that is just getting under way.
"We have to bargain in good faith," said Teri Kranefeld, a spokeswoman for Harford County schools. "Wages and benefits are part of collective bargaining, and we can't discuss that."
Kranefeld said budget managers expect the weak economy to trigger a significant drop in revenues. She called the proposed 2 percent cut - which amounts to about $4 million - a "place marker" at a very early stage in a budget process that will take months.
Kranefeld said rising fixed costs, including an expansion in retirement benefits, and the volatility of fuel and utility prices also contributed to the decision to propose the cuts.
Cerveny said his organization would be unlikely to sign off on reductions, whatever form they might take, in part because the county has already seen a drop-off in the average beginning salaries of its teachers. "Not without fighting it to the last breath," he said of agreeing to reductions.
The budget is a long way from being finalized. County residents will get their chance to discuss it at two public hearings - tonight's, which is scheduled for 6:30 at the county schools administration building in Bel Air, and a second slated for 6:30 p.m. Saturday at the same location.
Each meeting will be followed by a closed work session at which board members may consider changes. The budget, including any amendments, will then make its way to County Executive David R. Craig, the Board of Education and the County Council before the council votes on a final version in June.