Light participation, but pointed comments for Harford schools superintendent's inaugural budget town hall

Contact Reporterdaanderson@baltsun.com

Participation was light, but the comments were pointed as members of the public gave their suggestions on Harford County Public Schools’ still-developing fiscal 2019 budget during a town hall meeting hosted by Superintendent Barbara Canavan and her top aides Monday.

“I would ask that we prioritize people over projects, people over technology because when the technology goes down, the people are still there,” said Ryan Burbey, president of the Harford County Education Association, the union representing Harford teachers.

People could give comments in person, via email or Twitter during what was billed as a “virtual budget town hall” held in the Board of Education meeting room in the A.A. Roberty Building, the school system’s Bel Air headquarters. Twitter-users were told to use the #HCPSBudget hashtag.

There were eight tweets sent during the 90-minute town hall, along with a handful of emails. Lindsay Bilodeau, acting manager of communications, announced each tweet and email.

Canavan, along with Joseph Licata, chief of administration, Deborah Judd, assistant superintendent for business services, and Eric Clark, budget director, listened as the comments came in. Officials sat in silence between comments.

Beth Poggioli, a Fallston resident who has been active in community and school issues, posted three of the eight tweets.

She expressed her thanks to school officials for hosting the virtual town hall.

Poggioli’s concerns included reducing class sizes, “specifically [at the] elementary” level and keeping funding for middle school language programs, and elementary school programs at the Harford Glen Environmental Education Center. Another of her concerns was a reduction in the number of honors courses for middle- and high-schoolers while there are more advanced placement courses.

Others who sent comments via Twitter touched on such topics as the school system’s efforts to create a one-to-one ratio so each of Harford County’s more than 37,000 students can access an electronic device; maintaining funding for magnet school programs; after-school instruction for students who need help meeting PARCC standardized testing goals; and a review of school security measures in light of recent mass shootings in Las Vegas and Texas.

School officials fielded comments via email about issues such as PARCC exams and funding teacher, and administrator training on “restorative practices” regarding student discipline.

Cindy Poper, a paraeducator at Bel Air Middle School, took HCPS officials to task on why salaries were so low for support staff such as para-educators and inclusion helpers who work with students with special needs.

She said the salaries do not meet federal standards for a “living wage.”

“The purpose of a living wage is to make sure that anyone who works full-time should have enough money to live above the federal poverty level,” Poper said.

Canavan and her aides listed their budget priorities for next year, which include funding the third year of contracturally obligated salary increases and a cost of living allowance for teachers; maintaining the HCPS instructional and non-instructional staff; enhancing “instructional technology” and supporting infrastructure; and improving facility maintenance and security.

Bilodeau said people can continue make comments on the budget, either online or during school board meetings, the next of which will take place Nov. 13. The school board will hold its own work sessions in January, she said.

More information is available online at www.hcps.org/budget, and emailed questions or comments can be submitted to budget@hcps.org.

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