LET'S GIVE Howard County teachers a round of applause. They are letting the public know they won't be bought off by the pay raise they expect to receive in next fiscal year's budget. Teachers are among the growing throng criticizing the amount that County Executive Charles I. Ecker wants to spend on schools as inadequate to address existing classroom problems.
The best-paid teachers in the world won't be able to do a good job if these problems -- disruptive students, struggling readers, outdated textbooks -- are allowed to persist. But even with their raise (2.5 percent across the board, plus individual increases based on longevity and college degree), Howard teachers won't be among the best paid in the state.
Beginning teachers' salaries in Howard rank eighth in Maryland. That is significant when the school system is competing for the best college graduates with education degrees. But Howard teachers are not complaining about that. Teachers union President Karen Dunlop says her members are more concerned about program cuts that may have to occur because of Mr. Ecker's budget.
It's hard to believe the County Council may approve the spending plan. But only Councilman C. Vernon Gray has been outspoken about increasing the education allotment. Mr. Ecker does propose $11 million more for schools next year. However, $8.8 million is needed to cover the negotiated teacher raise, and it will take another $7 million to achieve the minimum level of funding for schools that the state requires.
No funds will remain for new programs. In fact, the school board Tuesday night discussed cuts it will have to make if the council doesn't improve the budget.
It would be unconscionable for that to occur at the same time Mr. Ecker has proposed a tax cut because of mushrooming revenue collections. People move to Howard County for its schools as much as anything else. The budget ought to reflect the importance of education in making Howard County a great place to live.
Pub Date: 5/01/98