Howard County Councilman Darrel Drown and County Executive Charles I. Ecker have decided it's time to deal head-on with teacher pay raises, the divisive issue underlying Mr. Ecker's $289 million proposed budget.
The council resumes work sessions on the proposed budget at 9 a.m. today.
Mr. Drown, R-2nd, and Mr. Ecker -- both of whom are former budget gurus for the school system -- think it is unfair for school employees to have a higher raise than other county employees.
bTC "I know I'm going to catch flak from my education friends, but there's got to be some equity around here," said Mr. Drown Friday.
Mr. Ecker agrees. When the school board amended its $149.5 million budget request to include $4.4 million more for salary increases, Mr. Ecker refused to fund it. School system employees have already gotten more than their fair share, he believes.
To underscore that point, Mr. Ecker sent a letter Friday to Council Chairwoman Shane Pendergrass, D-1st, indicating that since 1991, teachers have received percentage increases nearly three times greater than other county employees received.
Mr. Ecker's proposed budget would give school system and nonschool system employees a 1 percent raise on the anniversary of their employment. Everyone would receive an additional 3 percent raise Jan. 1 if local income tax revenue from the current fiscal year increases by 10 percent over last year.
The county won't know how much income tax revenues have increased until late September. Mr. Ecker wants to wait until then before committing additional money to salaries because he is afraid the county may not have enough revenue to support the raises.
Mr. Drown is worried that the tax revenue could come in just under 10 percent, in which case the raises would not be funded. He wants to amend Mr. Ecker's proposed budget and pay the Jan. 1 raises regardless. If income tax revenues are less than hoped for, the nonsalary portion of the budget could be reduced accordingly, Mr. Drown says.
Council Chairwoman Shane Pendergrass, D-1st, is also looking to make sure that employees will receive some sort of raise in January. Her proposal would tie the raises to the rate of growth of income tax revenue -- the lower the rate the lower the raises.
The school board, meanwhile, says teacher salaries are sacrosanct. In accordance with their contract, most school system employees would receive a 2.5 percent raise on June 30 and a 3 percent raise the next day, the start of the new fiscal year
If the council refuses to restore the amount Mr. Ecker cut from the board's amended budget, the board says it will pay the raises and cut elsewhere.
Superintendent Michael E. Hickey has prepared a list of possible cuts should the council not restore the money cut by Mr. Ecker. The list includes such things as a one-year moratorium on new textbooks, elimination of interscholastic golf and gymnastics, and fewer instructors in the teacher pool. The cuts could also mean earlier starting times and increased walking distances because of shortened bus routes.
Mr. Drown and Mr. Ecker say none of those things would have to happen if the council decides which categories to cut rather than leaving it up to the school board. By determining the amount of funding in each category, the council could force the school board to give its employees the same raise other county employees are getting.
"My proposal makes no cuts at all from the school board budget" sent to the county executive before the salary increases were added, Mr. Drown said. "I haven't got three votes [on the five-member council in support of the measure] yet, but I am not willing to sacrifice the salaries for police, fire and countless other government workers so that one employee group can get more than double the other employee group."
The council will vote on the capital and operating budgets and set the property tax rate May 20.