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Public has five chances in January to weigh in on Harford school budget

Members of the public will have five chances this month — starting Wednesday — to make their voices heard on Harford County Public Schools Superintendent Barbara Canavan’s proposed fiscal 2019 budget.

Canavan presented her proposed $466.1 million operating budget to the Board of Education in December. The board is scheduled to vote Jan. 22 to adopt the budget request, which it will then send to Harford County Executive Barry Glassman for his review. More that half of the funding for the school system’s budget comes from the county.

The school board is seeking public input between now and then. Work sessions, which include time for public comment, are scheduled for Wednesday, next Monday and Jan. 17, all starting at 6 p.m. and all in the board meeting room in the A.A. Roberty Building, the school system headquarters at 102 S. Hickory Ave. in Bel Air.

A public input session is scheduled for Wednesday, Jan. 10 at 6 p.m. in the board room of the Roberty Building. The public can also give comments Jan. 22, which is a regular school board meeting that starts at 6:30 p.m. That is the night the board plans to adopt the budget.

More information is available online at http://www.hcps.org/budget.

The county, as well as the state, provide the vast majority of operating funds to the public schools. The total proposed operating budget for the next fiscal year, as developed by Canavan and her top aides, is $20.1 million higher than the $446 million budget the board adopted for the current school year.

The proposed school budget requests $263.5 million from the county, which would cover more than 56 percent of the request. That amount is $24.8 million more than the $238.7 million Harford County Executive Barry Glassman allocated in his 2017-18 which covers operations in the current school year.

According to Canavan and her staff, most of the increased funding is needed to cover $15.45 million in employee wage increases, as fiscal 2019 is the final year of a three-year negotiated agreement between the school board and the teachers’ union — the Harford County Education Association — to fund two steps on the teacher salary scale and a 2 percent COLA each year.

Several school board members have expressed ongoing dissatisfaction with the way Canavan’s previous school budgets were structured, particularly with regard to the increases she requested in county funding. A minority of the board demanded more input before the latest budget request was submitted, but was rebuffed by the majority.

The board will vote to adopt a final budget this spring, once the state and county have finalized their budgets, which include their allocations to the schools. The board must then reconcile its request with the available funding from those sources.

This budget could be Canavan’s last, as her four-year contract as superintendent expires June 30. Under state law, she must notify the board early next month if she wants to be considered for reappointment.

She has not yet said publicly if she plans to seek another term or will retire at the end of the school year, but board members have said privately they are planning for the contingency that she will opt to retire.

If Canavan leaves or retires, her successor would inherit the final budget adopted in June.

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