For much of his tenure, Baltimore County School Superintendent Robert Dubel has been the golden boy of the teachers union -- submitting budget proposals to the county executive that were, in effect, wish lists. Time after time, most of the items on these lists were turned down. Teachers frequently received a portion of the raises the school chief asked for, but invariably it was the county executive who took the heat when every dollar the union wanted wasn't delivered. And Dr. Dubel was a hero.
Now, for the first time in 16 years, the school superintendent's proposed budget for the next academic year does not include a penny in pay raises for teachers. His rationale is ostensibly fiscal. The recession is wreaking havoc on the local economy as round after round of state budget cuts, coupled with declining local tax revenue, eats into an already pared-down budget. No matter what the superintendent requests, or what the school board approves, County Executive Roger Hayden undoubtedly would cut pay raises out of the budget anyway. Mr. Hayden, presiding over an administration that has been forced to slash funding for such essential services as police and fire protection, could hardly hand out raises to teachers.
Nonetheless, there is little disagreement that county teachers have taken it on the chin. This will be their second straight year without a salary increase. Even in the current happy-just-to-have-a-job recession mentality, there is animosity on the part of the men and women who work in the trenches of the education system. Dr. Dubel does not minimize the problem: Teachers have received "wretched salary treatment," he admits.
The recession has forced an across-the-board evaluation of the spending patterns of the 1980s, and the school superintendent is responding. Instead of taking the easy way out and being an advocate for the union, whether or not it would have been realistic to do so, Dr. Dubel has apparently taken his cue from the economy. That is a responsible course. Like it or not, every department manager is going to have to walk down this road unless state lawmakers, bolstered by public support, find ways to raise new revenue.