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Schools accept money deal


After repeatedly telling county lawmakers it needed about $2 million more to hire 60 new teachers and pay other expenses, Harford's school system now says it's content with much less.

A deal between County Executive Eileen M. Rehrmann and Superintendent Ray R. Keech would restore about $700,000 to pay for benefits and salary for only 20 new elementary teachers, Mrs. Rehrmann said.

She said the county would provide its share of the money, about $300,000, in part by cutting about $200,000 from other departments. The remaining $100,000 is available, she said, because the county is getting more than originally thought this ,, year from income taxes and corporate property taxes.

The school system would come up with the other $400,000 mostly by trimming expenses this year and using its estimated $250,000 surplus, Mrs. Rehrmann said.

Any changes in the budget are subject to council approval.

"I think it's very significant that we were able to work with the school system and come to this agreement," she said. She said the agreement allows the county to retain an $8.2 million budget surplus and eliminates the need to cut spending for other county departments.

Mrs. Rehrmann sent her original $162.8 million spending plan, including $87 million for schools, to the County Council in April.

The school system had repeatedly asked the council to restore more than $2 million cut from the schools' budget request to fund its top priorities: about $1.8 million for 60 teachers, $250,000 to upgrade at least some part-time assistant principals to full-time and $180,000 to expand an alternative program for pregnant students and others.

The new agreement has the council president, Jeffrey D. Wilson, fuming that the school system should not have asked him to find $2 million if the money wasn't needed.

"Any school board member or school official who will not support their budget should be ashamed of themselves and resign," he snapped at a council meeting Tuesday. He said school officials were sacrificing the needs of the school system's 34,000 students and supporting the deal for "political gain."

"When the school system and school board members came to the council and asked us to restore the funds [that Mrs. Rehrmann had cut], I believed them, that they needed that money," Mr. Wilson said. "But now they are backtracking."

Mr. Keech said at the school system's work session with the council last week that the schools could not afford their top priority programs because Mrs. Rehrmann had given the schools about $4.4 million less than requested. The council is permitted to add but not cut money for education and may cut but not add to the county's other departments.

At the council meeting Tuesday, Mr. Wilson, Theresa M. Pierno, D-District C, and Barry T. Glassman, R-District D, tried to force Mrs. Rehrmann to dip into her $8.2 million budget surplus to provide more money for schools.

The three council members sought to amend the budget to give schools $650,000 more by trimming spending for supplies and maintenance, contractual services and travel in some other departments by 12 percent. But the other four council members voted to postpone a vote on the amendment until the next council meeting, scheduled for Tuesday.

Mr. Wilson said an additional $350,000 could be cut from the budget from other departments, bringing to $1 million money that could be shifted to education.

"It's not about dollars. It's a control thing. The county executive could restore those dollars tomorrow," Mr. Glassman said. "It's time the County Council stood up to the county executive."

The threatened cuts threw many county departments into an uproar. The Health Department said it would be forced to close either its Havre de Grace or Edgewood clinic for up to four months.

Anne D. Sterling, school board president, said the board accepted Mrs. Rehrmann's deal because it did not want to receive money at the expense of other departments.

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