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Crowd at budget hearing says schools need more money

The message is loud and clear: Harford County Public Schools need more money for next year than what's been budgeted, according to many of the more than 100 people who attended a public hearing Thursday.

The crowd, significantly more than the handful who showed up for a similar session Wednesday at Aberdeen High School, turned out at Patterson Mill High School for the public hearing on Harford County Executive David R. Craig's proposed budget for fiscal 2014.

The majority of people who spoke Thursday before the Harford County Council were local educators, frustrated with a proposed budget for Harford County Public Schools which school officials have said is nearly $20 million short of what is needed for the next fiscal year.

Craig allocated $221.3 million for schools in next year's budget, about $1.5 million more than what was allocated for the current fiscal year.

Educators and their advocates told members of the council they are dealing with class sizes of up to 40 students, having to take second and third jobs because they receive "poverty-level" salaries, an exodus of talented teachers to other Baltimore metropolitan counties for higher pay and a perceived lack of support from local elected officials.

"When people ask me, 'Should I come here?' I'm forced to tell them, as the president of my local teachers union, 'No.,' " Ryan Burbey, president of the Harford County Education Association, said.

Teacher Ben White pointed to the patches on the elbows of his suit coat, saying they were not "a fashion statement."

He said he did not teach to get rich.

"I teach because every once in a while when I'm communicating something to a kid, I see the lights go on," he pleaded.

The night before

Only three people spoke during the Harford County Council's first of two public hearings on the budget Wednesday, but council members knew to expect a larger crowd during Thursday's hearing, when they knew the county's educators would be out in full force.

"This is what you call a 'quickie,' " Councilman Jim McMahan jokingly said following the first hearing in the auditorium at Aberdeen High School.

The hearing lasted less than 10 minutes, and included appeals from representatives of Youth's Benefit Elementary School in Fallston and the Homecoming Project.

"The county executive did a pretty good job with the budget he presented, so there's not a lot of complaints," Council President Billy Boniface said after the meeting.

The Homecoming Project Inc., based in Bel Air, operates an eight-bed home for women in recovery from substance abuse, according to its website.

Two Homecoming Project representatives asked the council to keep funding for their organization in Harford County Executive David Craig's proposed $638 million Harford County operating budget for the 2014 fiscal year.

"Which I definitely know the council wants to do, and maybe we'll be able to help them out with some additional funding," Boniface said.

Funding is also in Craig's proposed capital budget for the long-awaited replacement of the aging Youth's Benefit Elementary, and Laura Runyeon, president of the school's Parent-Teacher Association sought to keep that funding intact as well.

"Our school has been on the list for priority replacement for 16 years," Runyeon said.

The county executive has set aside $15 million in his capital budget for planning the Youth's Benefit replacement.

"We're asking the county council to see it through and get it done," Runyeon said.

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