Harford schools seeking $33 million increase from county

Harford County’s interim school superintendent will introduce a recommended budget for next school year on Monday that calls for a $33 million increase in county funding.

The $484.7 million operating budget, which will be given to the board of education at its meeting in Bel Air Monday night, is 7 percent higher than this year’s $452.8 million budget, but Interim Superintendent Barbara Canavan is asking the county to increase its outlay for schools by more than 15 percent.

The request for $254.4 million from the county comes just a year after the previous superintendent, Robert Tomback, sought more than $240 million from the county that the county executive and county council later pared down to $218.8 million.

After Tomback declined to seek another contract this year, the school board put Canavan in charge on an interim basis for one year while it hires a permanent replacement.

According to a briefing document that will be given the board, the recommended budget for the 2014-15 school year includes increases of $13.7 million for wages, $10.1 million for employee benefits and $8.9 million for such ongoing costs as utilities and maintenance of plant and equipment.

All of that additional money is being sought from the county. Although state aid is projected to increase by $2.9 million to $196 million, “other” revenue whose source isn’t specified is expected to decline $1 million.

The document also states the school system needs to raise compensation for its 5,400 employees to maintain a competitive salary structure with other counties and “to avoid falling further behind.”

Teachers and other employees have received a single 1 percent cost of living raise in the last five years, in part because county officials have declined to fund all the money school officials have requested.

The disconnect between school officials and county elected officials over school funding has played out in several contentious ways over the past two years, the most recent occurring last spring and summer when the school board cut positions, imposed fees to play sports and participate in other activities and consolidated or reduced some bus services. All the moves were controversial with the public.

According to the briefing document, from 2010-11 through 2013-14, “Harford County Public Schools operating costs increased by $55.8 million and decreased $9.1 million, resulting in a budget shortfall of $64 million.”

As of Sept. 30, the Harford school system had 37,900 students, about 500 fewer than four years ago.

Monday’s school board meeting will begin at 6:30 p.m. in the board room of the A.A. Roberty Building at 102 S. Hickory Avenue in Bel Air.

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