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Ecker calls increase for Howard teachers untimely, unfair


Howard County Executive Charles I. Ecker, who plans no pay raises for government workers next year, wants the school superintendent to eliminate the 6 percent wage increase negotiated for teachers.

"I don't think they should get a raise when county employees don't," said Mr. Ecker, who can limit school spending but, unlike some area executives, lacks authority to reduce pay raises negotiated for teachers.

Mr. Ecker had taken the opposite position as a deputy school superintendent, when he was a vigorous advocate of honoring contracts and helped negotiate with the union representing the county's 2,200 teachers.

"I was always in favor of the negotiated agreement," Mr. Ecker conceded. "But we have never been faced with a financial crisis like we are in now. The crisis is severe enough that we have to take drastic action."

However, school officials are unwilling to reopen negotiations with teachers.

"It seems to me a matter of honor," said Superintendent Michael E. Hickey, who intends to give teachers the raise they are due in the final year of a three-year pact. "The contract was a give-and-take process. I am not going to reopen the agreement."

Mr. Ecker has said he will have to cut services and raise the property tax rate above the current level of $2.45 for each $100 of assessed value because of an $18 million shortfall in the current budget and a grim revenue picture for the coming year.

With no raises in sight for the county's 1,750 employees, administration officials fear that employees may become disgruntled if teachers receive their increase.

"County employees are looking at the 6 percent raise the teachers are getting, and it is creating a great deal of resentment," said County Administrator Buddy Roogow, who is negotiating with four unions.

Dr. Hickey took a different approach in cutting $10.5 million from his $200.8 million spending request, which still leaves him asking for $1 million to $1.5 million more than Mr. Ecker says he will approve.

Rather than touch raises for teachers, Dr. Hickey scrapped a plan to add a seventh period to the high school day, delayed purchases of new equipment and trimmed 59 positions, including resource teachers and various central office workers. He said he hoped to avoid layoffs through attrition and reassignment.

Deborah D. Kendig, chairwoman of the Board of Education, said she supported Dr. Hickey's decision to honor the contract and believed the full board would support him when it passes the budget Feb. 19.

"Howard County never has gone back and renegotiated the teachers' contract," said Ms. Kendig.

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