The first major phase of Harford County’s annual public school budget review and approval ended earlier this week when the Board of Education passed Superintendent Barbara Canavan’s requested budget – with one small modification – and sent it on to Harford County Executive Barry Glassman.
What was different between this year and preceding four budgets Canavan drew up? Not much, really. Canavan asked for $466.1 million; the board approved $466.2, adding a token $100,000 in the area of diversity and minority achievement.
As usual, Canavan presented what she said is an “educationally sound” budget, albeit that makes unrealistic demands for increased county government funding. As much as we’ve harped about the latter over the years, we’ll give her one due: As unrealistic as the superintendent may have been, the state government has done Harford County and many other local systems a continuing disservice when it comes to funding. It doesn’t matter who has been in the governor’s office or in the legislature – counties like Harford that are neither super rich nor super poor get a pittance from Annapolis compared to the ones that are either.
Also as usual, very few members of the public attended work sessions and public input sessions, and those who bothered had a common theme: better pay for teachers, better technology, smaller class sizes and a better effort to help minority students achieve. Being against any of those is the same as being against, well, you know the trite sayings to finish that thought.
As we have seen with this board, which took office in July 2015, there was that small, but vocal and ever-shifting minority among the nine members who criticized the way the budget keeps getting put together year after year. This is a minority and once actually almost became a majority, until threats of serious litigation were leveled by those who were then in power. While they have effected some positive thinking, they still didn’t have the muscle to end one of those popular budgetary tar babies: teachers who oversee other teachers, but don’t actually teach students. The positions stayed in the budget, for now at least.
With regard to the decision to add $100,000 to the Office of Equity and Cultural Proficiency we’ll say this: The proponents’ hearts are in the right places. Problem is, that’s a drop in the bucket to actually address errors of commission and omission in the way HCPS as an institution treats its minority students, not to mention its continuing woeful lack of minority staff – at all levels. Yes, the Canavan administration made some strides, as a recent report on minority hiring indicates. And as we noted when the superintendent announced her retirement last month, we believe there have been some solid academic gains on her watch, which presumably involves the entire student body regardless of race, ethnicity or national origin.
These are issues that, unfortunately, go back decades and while not specific only to Harford, there are plenty of long-tenured folks still left at HCPS, Canavan included, who have not risen to the occasion to obliterate the systemic racism or, in code words of another era, the so-called achievement gap.
A year from now, there will be a new superintendent at HCPS. While the same nine board members will presumably be on board then, most will have had to face the voters in the election this November and, presumably, some may not be in office as the new superintendent’s first budget covering the 2019-20 school year takes effect.
A year from now, we’d like to think we might be writing a different story and a different editorial regarding the Harford County Public Schools budget process. At this point, however, we can only say “we hope we can.”