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With less than a week to go until he submits his proposed 2010-11 budget to the Harford County Council Thursday, County Executive David Craig is seeking a financial commitment from the school system to fund salaries at current levels for teachers and other employees.

Craig also says a modest property tax rate cut of up to a few cents “is on the table.”

The county government, Craig said, is willing to fund up to half of the $4 million that Schools Superintendent Robert Tomback’s proposed 2010-11 budget deleted from current salary expenses in order to balance increases in employee health insurance and other costs over which the superintendent said the system has no control. Craig said he expects the school system to find the other $2 million by cutting spending elsewhere in its new budget.

“The Board President and Superintendent are currently engaged in a dialogue with the County Executive and Council President regarding the budget,” Teri Kranefeld, manager of communications for the school system, wrote in an e-mail Wednesday.

Tomback has proposed a $417.5 million operating budget for the new fiscal year, the same level of spending as in the current fiscal year; however, the new budget reduces overall spending on salaries by 2 percent. Although school officials have been careful to say that the salaries of all teachers and employees will be reduced by that amount, leaders of unions representing the employees are fearful a salary reduction is in the offing. Negotiations between the school system and its unions are in progress.

If the county agrees to increase its funding for the school system over the $211 million requested in Tomback’s budget, Craig said he wants it in writing that the money will be used to make salaries whole.

It is questionable, however, that any such agreement would be binding on the school system because state law doesn’t give the county government direct control over where the school system spends its money within broad categories, such as instructional salaries.

The president of the Harford County Education Association, the largest union in the school system, which represents more than 3,000 teachers, isn’t confident the school system will use the funds as Craig dictates.

“There is no guarantee,” Randy Cerveny, president of HCEA, said. “I wish that weren’t the case. I know the county executive and the county council would really like to designate how the money is used by the board of education, but that power doesn’t exist at this time.”

Craig plans to meet with Tomback early next week to discuss the salary and other budget issues. The school board has scheduled a public meeting for the evening of April 1 to go over “budget decisions.”

Craig said Monday he expects to fund about $180,000 in additional maintenance of effort for the school system, which is required by state law. He said his new budget will also contain money toward starting an agricultural education magnet program at North Harford High School.

The additional money the county would give the school system toward salaries would come in part from the savings Craig expects to realize from his buyout program for senior county employees who are eligible to retire. Approximately 40 county employees and 10 employees from the sheriff’s office are expected to take the buyout, Craig said. The executive said he is also considering saving money by making county employees take off five days without pay in the 2010-2011 fiscal year, something he did in the current fiscal year. Five furlough days roughly amount to a 2 percent annual pay cut for the affected employees.

Increasing the school system’s county funding allotment over what it requested would be an unprecedented move, but Craig has support for it from members of the county council, who are concerned about the repercussions of a salary cut for so many employees in an election year.

“I know it’s an objective of my colleagues to try to at least keep the teachers’ salaries at the same level this year hopefully,” Council President Billy Boniface said earlier this month. “I know I conveyed to him [Craig] that we would be supportive of him finding money to do that.”

The Harford school system has about 5,400 employees, more than 3,000 of whom are teachers. The pay of most administrators in the system also is tied to what teachers make.

Aegis staff writer Rachel Konopacki contributed to this article.


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