School budget tricks [Editorial]

thendricks@theaegis.com

The notion that Harford County Public Schools still has a funding gap of $17.6 million with just about three weeks before one fiscal year ends and the next one begins is nonsense.

School officials say they will figure it out and resolve the issue by the beginning of next week.

“We’re not going beyond next Monday,” Joe Voskuhl, president of the Harford County Board of Education, said at Monday night’s meeting about balancing and passing the budget.

From late 1959 to mid-1964, “The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle,” a cartoon series about a moose and a squirrel, was popular TV fare and it lives on in reruns, syndication, YouTube and many other formats.

One bit had Bullwinkle, the moose, always trying, but not quite pulling off, a magic trick.

“Hey, Rocky,” Bullwinkle would shout, “watch me pull a rabbit out of my hat.”

He would then rip the right sleeve off his shirt, adding “nothing up my sleeve,” before pulling a ferocious, snarling animal’s head out of a top hat poised upside down on a table. Then he would quickly shove the wrong animal’s head back into the hat.

That’s not too far from what Harford County Public Schools is doing with its budget. The leadership keeps trying, a la Bullwinkle, to pull a rabbit out of their budget hat, but keeps pulling out the head of a dangerous animal instead of the more docile rabbit.

School officials have known for months they would not be getting funding to match the increase in spending they were seeking.

State funding for schools, if anything, has been going down, not up. Harford County Executive Barry Glassman has made it clear he would bump up the county’s revenue allotment, but only slightly, to pay for maintenance of effort – fancy way of saying allocating enough extra money to cover the increase in costs for the school system to do next year what it’s doing this year, and not much more.

Glassman also allocated enough money, though, that is the subject of disagreement, to pay for raises for teachers.

In a nutshell, Glassman allocated $7.1 million more in funding for the new fiscal year that begins July 1 compared to the current fiscal year, but that is $17.7 million less than what the school system wants.

For too many years past, school system leaders would label getting $7.1 million more for the next year than for the current budget year a “budget cut.” School leaders have abandoned that tack, as well as nickel and dime approaches such as charging kids to pay to participate in extracurricular activities that wouldn’t bring in much money, but might serve to rally the parents to carry the school system’s torch on school funding. That hasn’t worked out too well.

For several years we have opined the school system has to have a more businesslike, realistic approach to crafting its annual budget, instead of putting together a wish list not unlike the ones dreaming children put together just before Christmas.

Without addressing most of the specifics of how the school system could or should fix the books by its self-imposed Monday deadline, we’ll just say the school leaders should have done weeks, if not months ago, what they are planning to do by Monday.

In the meantime, that animated image of Bullwinkle ripping off his sleeve and pulling the wrong animal’s head out of the top hat seems so appropriate for the budget machinations being done by Harford County Public Schools officials.

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