Council offers few changes to 1993 school budget


The school board's 1992-1993 budget request has sailed through a County Council hearing and work session. Council members proposed few cuts and may restore others made by County Executive Charles I. Ecker.

The council held a public hearing Saturday and a work session yesterday on the school portion of the budget.

C. Vernon Gray, D-3rd, suggested yesterday that the council could restore the school budget and have money left over to create a "rainy day" fund by passing a 2 percent increase in the piggyback tax. He and Shane Pendergrass, D-1st, are co-sponsoring a resolution that would raise the county income tax from 50 percent to 52 percent of the state tax. The measure would raise an estimated $4.4 million.

Darrel E. Drown, R-2nd, a former school system budget officer, ++ said he had identified $2.3 million in education budget cuts "that could be done without reducing any of the instructional programs or reducing the [number of] teachers." But none of his colleagues suggested cuts even close to that sum.

The school board's request stands at $141.6 million of county money toward a total $188.3 million budget. The budget is $3.8 million higher than the figure approved by the board in February because of salary increases negotiated for school employees.

School officials plan to cover part of the salary increases with $5.2 million in additional state aid authorized by the General Assembly after the school budget was put together. The board wants the council to restore $2.1 million, the difference between the $141.6 million request and the $139.5 million Ecker allocated.

Charles C. Feaga, R-5th, and Drown oppose the piggyback tax increase. Pendergrass and Council Chairman Paul R. Farragut have not indicated how they plan to vote. Farragut called the piggyback tax increase "a good idea to have as an option." He planned to look at cuts in the county's operating budget and the education budget, but he said that in his review of the school budget request, "Nothing popped out at me."

Superintendent Michael E. Hickey, asked by Farragut to identify where he would cut if the school budget is reduced, targeted supplies and materials, maintenance and a hiring freeze.

However, school advocates pleaded that supplies and materials and building maintenance have already taken cuts in the current year's budget. No painting and no carpet replacement will be done in 1991-1992, Associate Superintendent Sydney L. Cousin pointed out.

"You can do that [defer maintenance] for one year, but when you do it for a number of years it starts to pile up," he said.

Drown said his home has some rooms that need painting, but it will have to be deferred because the family budget doesn't allow for it this year. He said the school system could do without the $2.1 million by taking $1 million from the $7.2 million proposed maintenance budget and by cutting the 34 staff positions Hickey proposed eliminating in his budget proposal, saving $1.6 million.

The school board restored 16.5 of the positions Hickey proposed for elimination, including resource teachers, psychologists, pupil personnel workers and a Black Student Achievement Program staff position. All those positions drew heavy community support.

Pendergrass pressed a point she had made earlier about building schools less expensively, but suggested no cuts in the education operating budget.

County residents who testified at the council's education budget hearing Saturday morning generally favored increasing the piggyback tax rather than the property tax to meet the education budget.

One exception was Glenelg High School student Brian Meshkin, who organized a budget study committee at his school. Meshkin said he would prefer "a very small increase in the property tax" to cover the cost of restoring the budget cuts.

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