While Burbey said his priority, as head of the union, is to advocate for staff salaries and benefits, he understands the need for up-to-date school buildings. All the same, he contended, students are better off with a highly competent, well-paid teaching staff and old buildings than well-appointed schools with weak teaching staffs.
Frisch, an elected school board member representing the Joppa-Edgewood district, as well as an appointed member of the Joppa Community Council, said the school system budget process will involve not only issues of teacher salaries but also key decisions on which schools should receive priority status for reconstruction and renovation projects and also matters of school security. Frisch is also a social studies teacher in the Baltimore County school district.
Frisch commended Burbey's comments, which were initially billed as being a brief request that people attend the Jan. 28 budget event but expanded into an hour-long presentation, as having "a lot of factual information."
The school board member went on to note, however, that in his position, a range of issues needs to be addressed, including school construction and reconstruction. Though Harford County's public school system has seen a decrease of 2,000 students over the past decade, coupled with the addition of a new high and middle school complex at Patterson Mill, construction, or more specifically reconstruction, is a high priority for the county school board.
He noted that he and other board members are at odds with Harford County Executive Craig over the next funding priority for a high school reconstruction project. Joppatowne High School, he said, had been in the review process for reconstruction consideration last year but ended up being turned down, and it will be in the consideration process again this year. Meanwhile, Frisch said, the county executive, a Havre de Grace native, has added into the process plans to rebuild Havre de Grace High School and has been making that a top priority.
"It's no secret where the county executive is from," Frisch said, noting his opposition to having the Havre de Grace project take priority over one for Joppatowne High.
On the broader issue of the school system budget process and how school funding priorities are set and managed, Frisch said the school board has plans to establish a citizen advisory committee on the school system budget. The board of education has several volunteer citizen advisory committees, which consist of experts in various fields who offer their advice to the board on a variety of subjects from school security, to special needs programs, to family life education.
Frisch said the board's plan is to solicit people who work in finance, business and other management areas to volunteer to offer advice to the board with regard to the details of the budget process.
Burbey speaks to council
In speaking to members of the county council Tuesday, HCEA head Burbey said the elected officials need to continue funding higher teacher salaries and to provide more financial support for the school system in general.
Burbey presented many of the same statistics about the county's school system having some of the lowest salaries in the state.
He noted the school system is the second largest employer in the county and teachers would earn several thousand dollars more by working in Baltimore or Cecil County.
"Anytime you're handcuffing the second largest employer, you're going to have an economic impact," he said.
Burbey said more than 6,400 jobs have been added to the labor force and the county's "economic note is not dire."
The county nevertheless ranked 22nd out of 24 counties for new teacher salaries, he said.
"Unless something changes, what impetus do our teachers have to put down roots here?" Burbey said.
Councilman Dick Slutzky pointed out that many homes have been devalued in the county and Harford is not going to get the property tax income it once would have.
Burbey replied that creates a "self-defeating cycle" by saying the county should cut the school system because it is not getting revenue, thus discouraging even more people from moving here.
Although he commended the council for solving the issue of school overcrowding, Burbey said it was not enough.
"Those beautiful schools that we've built, without qualified teachers to provide instruction, are nothing but beautiful window dressing," he said.