Tens of thousands of Harford County Public Schools students in kindergarten through 12th grade will be heading back to school Monday for the 2013-2014 school year.
Students in grades one to 12 in Cecil County Public Schools went back Thursday.
Teri Kranefeld, manager of communications for the school system, wrote in an e-mail Wednesday that "approximately" 38,000 students are expected to be enrolled in Harford's public schools this year, with an exact count of students available once an enrollment report is released Sept. 30.
Teachers and administrators spent recent days preparing their schools and classrooms for students to return, and Harford County's interim superintendent looked toward a fresh school year, after a summer in which school officials had to defend unpopular measures approved in June to reconcile the school system's budget, such as consolidating bus routes and implementing fees to play sports and take part in extracurricular activities.
"We are very excited to welcome our students back to school on Monday," Barbara Canavan said in a written statement. "The first day of school is always special. It is a new beginning. Nothing is impossible."
School districts across Maryland will also be implementing Common Core State Standards this year.
"The CCSS are a set of consistent, high-quality academic goals in English/language arts (ELA) and mathematics," according to a fact sheet posted on the Harford County schools' website. "The standards define the knowledge and skills all students should master by the end of each grade level in order to graduate from high school fully prepared to enter college and the workforce."
Canavan lauded Harford County's teachers, administrators and support staff.
"It takes a combination of exceptional staff, informed parents and involved community members to create the optimal environment for learning," she stated. "Everyone is committed to putting the best interest of our students first each and every day."
Canavan added: "We are dedicated to ensuring that student achievement remains our highest priority; and, we look forward to another rewarding year of watching our students learn and grow."
Changes for 2013-2014
The county's Board of Education had to find ways to close a nearly $20 million gap between what they requested from their local, state and federal funding sources and what they will receive in revenue for the 2013-2014 fiscal year, which began July 1.
School leaders have stated the increase in funding from the previous fiscal year was necessary to cover higher pension costs after the state required counties take on a larger share of teacher pensions, along with higher health and dental insurance costs and costs of doing business related to transportation, instruction and special education, insurance and general operations and administration.
They were also dealing with a decrease of about $5 million in state funding because of declining student enrollment and an increase in Harford County's overall wealth from 2012.
The members of the Board of Education voted 6-3 on June 10 in favor of a series of measures to reconcile the budget, such as canceling a spending package of about $7 million dedicated to teacher pay increases and cutting 115 employee positions system-wide, including 46 which were occupied by teachers, school support staff and central office employees.
The total school system budget for the current year totals about $425 million.
The majority of employees who were laid off in June were soon rehired to positions in the school system which remained vacant, however.
The school board also approved $50 per-sport "pay-to-play" fees and $25 per-activity fees to participate in extracurricular activities, which would be paid by students' families and help raise revenue, plus consolidation of school bus routes, eliminating door-to-door bus transportation for students participating in magnet programs outside their home school districts and moving four elementary schools, Bakerfield in Aberdeen and Bel Air, Forest Lakes and Red Pump in the Bel Air area, to the Tier 4 schedule, which begins and ends later than other school schedules
The day for those four schools will begin at 9:30 a.m. and end at 4 p.m.
More than 60 parents and students, especially those involved in magnet programs, have spoken against the fees and transportation changes during board meetings over the summer.
"If taxes need to be raised, then that's what needs to happen," parent Andre Rush of Abingdon said during the Aug. 12 meeting, the last board meeting before school starts.
"We can't play these games any longer," Rush continued. "We need to do what's right for our children, otherwise we'll be back here next year, and the year after, doing the same thing."
On the web
School officials have encouraged parents to visit the main school system website, http://www.hcps.org, for back-to-school information.
Kranefeld stated parents should create a Parent Portal, through the Blackboard Connect 5 system, for school administrators to have parents' contact information for "school and system-wide messages."
Parents can visit the main site or https://hcpsparentconnect.bbcportal.com; those who have already entered their contact information should still check that it is current "to avoid missing important messages that may be delivered by phone, email or text throughout the school year," Kranefeld wrote.
Visitors to the school system's main website can see tabs on the left side of the home page about transportation changes, fees and basic back-to-school information.
Open house events at schools began Wednesday and continue Friday; back-to-school nights began Thursday and continue through Sept. 17 at individual schools.
Complete schedules have been posted on the website.
Parents can also find information on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/HCPSchools, or on Twitter at https://twitter.com/hcpschools.
Cecil goes back
Cecil County Public Schools students in grades 1 to 12 were scheduled to begin classes Thursday, according to that school system's website.
The first day of school for pre-kindergarten and kindergarten students will be Tuesday.
More information can be found online at http://www.ccps.org, or on the school system's new Facebook page, http://www.facebook.com/ccpsmd, which was launched in mid-August.