Howard council may restore part of education funds


A majority of the Howard County Council appears ready to restore up to $3 million to the education budget, but the money would pay for jobs and supplies not pay raises for teachers.

But despite the shifting of funds, the majority predicts there will be little change in the proposed property tax rate of $2.59, an increase of 14 cents, or the bottom line of the $270.4 million spending plan.

"I don't see an addition or any real change to the $2.59 property tax rate," said C. Vernon Gray, D-3rd, the council chairman. Shane Pendergrass, D-1st, and Charles C. Feaga, R-5th, took similar positions.

Paul R. Farragut, D-4th, said he has not reached a decision on the property tax rate and Darrel E. Drown, R-2nd, said he wants to trim 2 to 3 cents off the tax rate proposed by County Executive Charles I. Ecker.

The council's decision not to restore either the $8.9 million for a previously negotiated 6 percent pay raise for teachers or the the $2.7 million to cover step or incremental increases angered the Howard County Education Association.

"Our members are slowly finding it out, and they are enraged," said Jim Swab, president of the association, which had been counting on the three council Democrats to restore the cuts made by the Republican executive.

Marius Ambrose, the Maryland State Teachers Association representative in the county, said he considered the three Democrats on the council "turncoats," adding that Howard would be the only Maryland county whose teachers are not receiving an incremental increase.

Mr. Gray responded that, "It would be difficult to raise the property tax rate to give salary increases to teachers at a time when county and state employees or not getting any increase." To come up with money for the education budget, the council is considering tapping all or part of the $1 million rainy day fund set up by Mr. Ecker. Some members also are considering trimming some of the $1.5 million contingency fund, shifting $600,000 for boilers and ventilation equipment to the capital budget, and allowing the school system to use $900,000 originally set aside for anticipated fringe benefits.

The items expected to be restored to the education budget include:

* Twenty-six "pool" teacher positions, which are not filled until they are needed. These teachers are assigned to schools if more students show up than anticipated and are added to the staffs of smaller secondary schools to offer special and advanced

courses. Price: $771,000.

* Seven resource teachers or master teachers, who are assigned out of the central office to work with individual classroom teachers in the schools. Price: $334,400.

* Twelve middle-school gifted and talented teachers of science and social studies. Price: $407,000.

* Additional supplies and textbooks. Price: $750,000.

* Seven custodial positions for two new schools, Mayfield Woods Middle School in Waterloo and Pointers Run Elementary in Clarksville. Price: $157,300.

* Grounds and building maintenance improvements. Price: $431,000.

Also under consideration is a proposal to restore some money to the school system's staff development center for workshops and possibly pay for substitute teachers. That carries a price tag of $250,000.

Michael E. Hickey, the school superintendent, said he was "glad the council is going to reinstate some of the funds, when I know times are tough." He added, "I am glad to get those positions back, but I think the decision to scrap teacher raises is wrong, because it was a negotiated union contract. The county is not declaring bankruptcy, and short of doing that, the contract should be honored."

If the council restores the $3.1 million to the Board of Education, the school system will receive a total of $140.5 million in local money -- the same amount as this year. The school system expects 1,300 new students next school year, however.

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