Low turnout for latest public session on Harford school budget

Although only three people spoke Wednesday during a public input session hosted by the Harford County Board of Education on the budget for the 2015 fiscal year, county school officials said they appreciated the comments they received and encouraged county residents to attend future public input sessions.

"Even though we had three speakers, what they said is very worthwhile," board President Nancy Reynolds said after the meeting, which was held at Havre de Grace High School.

"We want to know their priorities are for their schools . . . what they consider important because we can't fund it all," Reynolds said.

School officials have been hosting public hearings around the county as they prepare the budget for the 2014-2015 fiscal year, which begins July 1.

More meetings will be held this month, and the school board will vote on the superintendent's proposed $485 million operating budget on Jan. 27, Reynolds said.

About 15 to 20 people were in the audience at the HHS auditorium Wednesday, the majority of whom were top officials with Harford County Public Schools, including Interim Superintendent Barbara Canavan.

About five members of the public attended.

One speaker was a county schools employee, Sarah Scholl, a media specialist at Havre de Grace Middle School.

Scholl is in her ninth year in education and her third year as a media specialist. She noted that per-pupil spending for library services has decreased dramatically during that three-year period.

She said per-pupil spending by the school system has decreased from $22 for elementary and middle school students and $36 for high school students during the 2011-2012 school year to $8 for middle and elementary and $14 for high school students during the current school year.

She cited cost figures provided by her supervisor.

"I want to keep it in the forefront of the minds of the people who make the big decisions, that what we do is valuable, that it's valuable to students and that the library is an important part of the school," Scholl said after the meeting.

Scholl said library and media staff had to do a "major" scaling back of their purchase of current titles in the face of cost cutting.

"We end up with gaps in our collection, and we're not meeting the needs of all of our students if we do that," she explained.

Reynolds noted after the meeting that the news of library cutbacks struck a chord with her.

"As a former reading specialist that bothers me very much," she said.

The board president also noted concerns raised at Wednesday's meeting by Havre de Grace City Councilman David Glenn about what he called an "unfunded mandate" of millions of dollars worth of teacher pension costs passed down by the state to the counties.

"I share his concerns and we're meeting with the state legislators on that," Reynolds said.

Glenn also shared his concerns about funding for a biomedical sciences program at Havre de Grace High School and the school system's controversial "pay to play" athletic fees and activity fees, and consolidation of school bus routes to save money, implemented at the beginning of the current fiscal year.

"It's just tough situations all around," he said. "The thing is we just need to be advocates and go to bat for our kids, because if we don't do it nobody else is."

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