The state's teachers are in "over their heads" and should be compensated at a higher level, says the Maryland State Education Association's president.
Betty Weller, the MSEA president, and Harford County Education Association President Ryan Burbey, both say that while the county, state and nation as a whole are facing economic challenges, education priorities shouldn't be placed on the back burner.
The state and Harford teachers unions leaders met last week in Bel Air with a reporter from The Aegis to discuss the state of education in Maryland and where their members stand on such issues as salaries, working conditions and professional standards and new school buildings.
With the new Common Core State Standards initiative, new teacher evaluations and professional development teachers are required to attend, Weller feels "our educators are under water."
"They are working their little hearts out to try to accomplish what they're being asked to do," she said.
Weller commented that teachers in other counties who have worked in their respective school systems for decades have said they are staying up late working "like a first year teacher trying to balance everything."
On the hot topic of building a new Havre de Grace High School, Burbey said spending millions to build a completely new school may not be "the best choice."
"You have two completely functional buildings," he said. "And you're going to bulldoze those for a new school?"
Burbey said HHS has a "great auditorium" and it doesn't seem logical to destroy it just to build another one.
"Why are you going to dismantle something you've already got?" he asked. "The auditorium is an asset, so why are you going to destroy an asset to build a baseball field?"
Other schools may be in more need of renovations, Burbey continued, such as the alternative education building called the Center for Educational Opportunity, Youth's Benefit Elementary School or William Paca/Old Post Road Elementary School.
When asked what he thought about comments at a recent Abingdon Community Council that William Paca/Old Post Road wasn't on the top of the school construction list because not many community members spoke up for the school, Burbey commented, "The squeaky wheel gets the grease."
The Havre de Grace's credit, he continued, "[they were] very organized and had a great campaign and has a hometown boy as a county executive. That can't hurt."
While there have been "significant improvements" to William Paca/Old Post Road, Burbey says it just can't compare to the other elementary schools in the county. There are a lot of schools in the same shape, however, and the issue comes down to who has the best case for a new school.
"We lose sight in these political decisions that we are making decisions on essentially the children's living conditions for most of their day," Burbey said.
With multiple protests from Harford's public school teachers over the lack of salary increases at the end of the last school year, some have seen the county's educators as the thorn in the government's side.
Since taking office as president of the Harford teachers union at the end of the summer, Burbey has had, what he calls, "very cordial" meeting with county officials.
"We're not always going to agree," he said. "And the teachers may have to protest again. But the county employees or Harford County Sheriff's Office employees might protest, too. You don't just have to say whatever the government says is OK."