About 50 teachers and community members attended a meeting at Bel Air High School Monday for the presentation of a financial report done by a consultant hired by the teachers union that, not surprisingly, purported to find places where the county government and the public school system could find money to fund raise for teachers. The consultant made the same presentation to the Harford County Board of Education at a meeting latter that evening.
Independent financial expert R.J. Pellicoro was hired by the local teacher' union – the Harford County Education Association, also known as the HCEA - to find where the county's money goes every year and if they, indeed, have enough to fund an increase in pay for Harford teachers.
Pellicoro, using Harford County comprehensive annual financial reports and fiscal year 2013's proposed budget as sources, said reducing the annual pay-as-you-go fund for capital projects was one way more money could become available for the Board of Education.
Dion Guthrie and Dick Slutzky, Harford County Council members, however, expressed that finding such funds wasn't as easy as Pellicoro made it seem and that money would have to come by cutting other services.
The consultant told the audience that he had done previous reports for Harford "from time to time" over the last 30 years and that he looks at economic trends, such as spending, revenue and the county's priorities in its annual budget to come up with his report.
Pellicoro noted that his report did not reflect the recently-passed bill that will shift roughly $5 million in teacher pensions costs to the county next year and closer to $10 million over the next three years.
He said the county's revenues in fiscal year 2012 will exceed its budget by $15.5 million and that this year is just another in a trend of overestimates, which have averaged to about $15.4 million per year for the last five years.
"There's nothing wrong with being a conservative forecaster," Pellicoro said of consistent overestimating, "but if quality of services is being compromised," then the budget needs to be tightened.
Pellicoro also said that Harford County reducing its tax rate twice in the past three years, both times by two percent, probably wasn't a prudent move as it reduced revenue intake and, therefore, reduces funding for education.
He went on to report that the school board's budget has increased by $3.2 million, or 2 percent between the fiscal year 2011 budget and the proposed 2013 budget. Non-education spending, he continued, increased by $32.4 million, or 14 percent.
"It's hardly an equitable basis," Pellicoro said, "to have such different increases in the two categories."
Pellicoro also pointed to the $13 million increase in pay-as-you-go funding for capital projects as a possible place to move money around for education.
"Are we going to put capital projects before people and their services?" he asked. Pellicoro called funding in that category "a little overboard in comparison to other departments."
Ryan Burbey, chair for the English department at Aberdeen Middle School and a frequent speaker during school board meetings, said that since many Harford County Public School employees live in the county, when tax rates are lowered, "you're actually cutting our revenue stream."
"Moderation is so important," Pellicoro added. "This flood's going to get us if we don't stop this [financial] erosion."
Guthrie asked fellow councilman Slutzky, who represents the school board, to explain to the audience that the council's budget process, as Pellicoro's report made it look "like there's some things we can do with the money" that he said they couldn't.
Slutzky explained that any money that would go toward raises that council would "have to find that money in the existing budget."
To fund the $15.5 million increase, the school board and the superintendent requested last year, he continued, the county would have to reduce services elsewhere by that amount.
Slutzky gave the example of Baltimore County Public Schools, which did provide a raise, he said, but 200 teachers lost their jobs.
Harford County hasn't "taken one job or asked for furloughs," he said. "It's not as easy or direct as sometimes it appears to be."