Harford County teachers took their protest over lack of raises and other contract issues to the county council meeting Tuesday night, packing the chamber in Bel Air as the council got ready to vote on the 2013 county budget.
Before the meeting, dozens of teachers and their supporters shouted and held signs in front of the council building on 212 S. Bond St. Once Tuesday's session started, teachers filled in almost all the chairs in the chamber and at least a dozen more waited outside.
Protests were also staged earlier that day at Bel Air High School and Friday at Ring Factory Elementary School.
Harford County Executive David Craig had tried to give a $1,250 bonus to all county and school employees this year. The teachers' first payment – one half or $625 – was tied up in negotiations with the teachers' union and the second half never materialized after Craig said the money that would have funded the bonuses was needed to fund the teacher pension cost shift coming from the state.
Ryan Burbey, a frequent teachers' advocate at government meetings and a teacher at Aberdeen Middle School, questioned the $5.5 million teacher pension shift from the state to the county that Craig had cited in canceling the second $625 installment of the bonus.
Burbey said there is "no way" the cost is that high, adding it might only be $1.8 million.
"It's shameful to cloud these issues in false facts," Burbey said. "Teachers are put in the middle of this political manipulation."
Craig responded the next day, lamenting in a statement he wishes teachers would have fought the teacher pension shift long before now.
"I share your frustration, and I truly wish that more teachers and public employee unions had been vocal in their opposition to the Governor's plan to shift teacher pension costs to county governments when the issue was being debated in Annapolis," Craig wrote in the e-mailed statement.
Burbey also blasted the budget and said many teachers have never gotten a step increase.
"Every single member of this council holds responsibility for this budget and that is shameful," he said. "Fifteen percent of the county is children. Did they get 15 percent of the budget? The answer is no."
He said instead of funding salaries, the county is instead "building trash stations that nobody wants," in reference to the waste transfer facility the county executive wants to build in Joppa.
Burbey also blasted the council for not letting all the protesters into the meeting room.
He said a sign outside states that 280 people are allowed in the council chamber, but teachers were instead left standing in the "stuffy" antechamber or outside the building.
"I think this council needs a lesson in math," he said. "We were denied access to our government tonight and that is shameful. That is absolutely shameful."
Council President Billy Boniface took issue with that, telling Burbey he took "great offense" at his accusations about the two deputies assigned to provide security at council meetings.
He said they take their responsibility to provide safety to the council and the public "very seriously," and for Burbey to insinuate otherwise is "downright disgraceful."
"They are keeping it in compliance with the fire code," Boniface said. "They have done a tremendous job for us."
'Change the course'
William Smith pleaded with the council members to do what they could to change the relationship between the county executive and the board of education.