Pay raises supported in Balto. Co.

The Baltimore Sun

Several dozen residents turned out at a Baltimore County Council budget hearing last night to support raises for police and teachers and to oppose portable classrooms and building expansions as a solution to crowded schools.

Amid tough financial times and cuts in state aid, County Executive James T. Smith Jr. has proposed a lean 2009 budget that avoids tax increases. Cost-of-living raises for most county employees, including teachers, are not included in Smith's $2.58 billion operating budget proposal for the fiscal year that begins in July.

About 25 residents spoke, including teachers union President Cheryl Bost, who said 1,800 educators will receive no raise.

Bost presented the board with data that project a $28 million general fund surplus in fiscal 2009, and she said $9.5 million could go toward a 2 percent across-the-board salary increase.

At the meeting's outset, Chairman Kevin Kamenetz said the council cannot shift funds or add to Smith's budget. He said the council cannot approve a cost-of-living increase if the executive did not put it in the budget.

"You can ask, but the county charter does not authorize it," Kamenetz said. "We're stuck with what was submitted."

But Barbara Tyler, a veteran teacher, told the council to send the budget back to Smith until it includes increases. "Please don't hide behind what you can't do," she said. "Let's work together to see what we can do."

Smith is required by binding arbitration rules to include a $4 million cost-of-living raise for some police officers, but council members do not have to approve the raises.

David Rose, vice president of the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 4, asked the council to keep the police raises in the budget.

In arguing his case, Rose added that if the FOP had lost the arbitration case, the organization would not be lobbying the board for salary increases.

Residents also criticized plans to relieve crowding by adding portable classrooms at Loch Raven High School and Hampton Elementary School, one of several Towson-area elementaries over capacity.

Claire Ricci, who has two children at Hampton, said that adding portables is nothing more than a short-term solution. "Parents and children deserve a long-term solution," she said.

The administration maintains that building a school is not financially feasible now and has proposed putting additions onto several schools.

But Cathi Forbes, chairwoman of the grass-roots group Towson Families United, said a school should have been built years ago, "when times were good."

Some speakers were also angry over what they called Smith's lack of transparency with the budget.

Joshua Gliken, who has a daughter at crowded Rodgers Forge Elementary School, said people felt left out of the process and that concerns weren't being addressed. He urged the board to approve the budget with amendments and then make their opinions known.

"Try to create change with your voices and with your pens. You have power," Gliken said.

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