Teachers urge council to find money for raises


County government should find a way to give teachers and other county employees pay raises and make needed repairs to public school buildings, residents told the County Council Thursday.

"As a teacher, I'm here to tell you I deserve a raise," said Anne Marie Lane, a special education teacher from Bel Air.

Lane was one of 34 speakers, most of them teachers, to testify on County Executive Eileen M. Rehrmann's proposed $188.6 million operating budget.

"Last year Eileen Rehrmann had a $10.4 million surplus, just in case," Lane said. "Last year no one got raises, the state cuts came, and the state cuts went, and Harford still has a surplus of $7 million."

"Harford is in better financial shape than many other counties. We can afford to give raises for all employees and still have money left over just in case."

About 250 people attended the budget hearing at C. Milton Wright High School. The council, which must adopt a budget by May 31, has scheduled a work session tomorrow beginning at 9 a.m. at the County Courthouse in Bel Air. The council is scheduled to vote on the budget May 26.

Testimony at the hearing focused on how much county money the Board of Education will receive. Rehrmann has proposed spending $76.3 million; the school board has requested $81.2 million. The board's original request included a $5 million salary package to give all its employees a 3 percent raise and eligible employees two step increases.

Christine Haggett, president of the the Harford County Education Association, which represents about 1,500 teachers, said an independent accountant the union hired contends the budget proposal includes enough money to allow for the negotiated raises. The accountant has recommended that money in the planned $7 million surplus be used for the raises.

Rehrmann has said a surplus of less than 5 percent of the county's operating budget would jeopardize the county's bond rating.

The executive, who says $2.5 million is needed to grant step raises to all county employees, has offered to give the raises if the council enacts a bill to raise licensing fees aimed at generating $500,000 and if county department chiefs can save money [See story, Page 6]. One teacher, Sheron Rupert from Edgewood Middle School, told the council that teachers are taking heat fighting for raises for all county employees "because we are the ones educated in 'Begging 101.' "

Other testimony Thursday focused on the condition of public school buildings.

"I read about leaky roofs at schools in Essex and I laugh. We have roofers who patch our school roofs. We've graduated to the second phase of school abuse and neglect: termites," said Pat Anderson, a teacher at Churchville Elementary School.

"This county is doing a good job of ignoring problems hoping they'll go away. If the rain doesn't rot our buildings from the top down, termites will chew them from the bottom up. We won't have to fund education at all if the buildings self-destruct."

Several speakers at the hearing also asked for support for county grants to cultural institutions and groups, such as the Walters Art Gallery in Baltimore and the Baltimore Museum of Art. They argued that Harford students' field trips to those museums make up for the gap in art education created by a lack of elementary school art teachers.

A few speakers also testified about the need to create a full-time position for a coordinator of volunteer services. The state grants that helped pay for that position have been cut. The position would have a salary of about $21,000.

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