32 of Harford's 46 teachers laid off have been rehired

Of the 46 teachers and other staffers who were laid off earlier this month from Harford County Public Schools and put on the recall list, 32 had been recalled as of Monday and another six are expected to be recalled by the end of this week.

It gave some hope to the thousands of employees of the school system, which implemented several cost-saving measures, including the position cuts, to close a more than $20 million gap between what school officials had requested to fulfill their needs for the 2014 fiscal year, which begins July 1, and what the county, state and federal governments ultimately provided.

At Monday night's Harford County Board of Education meeting, seven stakeholders in the Harford County Public Schools system made their feelings known for the board's decision during its last meeting to cut more than 100 positions, implement athletic and activity fees, remove funding for teacher salary increases and take other drastic measures to reconcile its budget.

Ryan Burbey, president of the Harford County Education Association, the county's teachers' union, led off the public comments portion of Monday's board business meeting.

Burbey's comments followed the induction of former elementary school teacher Donna M. Zavacky, who retired from Harford County Public Schools in 2011 after 43 years in teaching, into the school system's Educator Hall of Fame.

"What's going to happen in 20, 30 years when you have no one to induct into the Hall of Fame because they all left?" Burbey asked.

Local teachers received their first salary step increase in five years at the beginning of the 2012-2013 school year, which ended earlier this month, and the $7.7 million that had been proposed in next year's budget would have covered a 1 percent salary increase for teachers and other school staff members, plus annual step increases as teachers continue to work in the school system.

Burbey said Harford County teachers are the lowest paid in the state, and noted many of them live outside of Harford County. He said there was little incentive for them to keep working in Harford when they could remain close to home in Baltimore and get a significant salary increase, or move to Cecil County and have a lower cost of living and higher salary.

"How long are we going to shortchange our professionals?" he asked.

Joe Voskuhl, a former principal of Bel Air High School, said he understands the board faced difficult decisions, but said members had "chosen once again to solve the budgetary crisis on the back of teachers and now have decided to add students to that burden."

He referred to the $50 per-season fee to play interscholastic sports and the $25 per-activity fee for extracurricular activities.

Hillary Doherty, a concerned Bel Air Elementary School parent and member of the school's Parent-Teacher Association, speaking during the public comments portion of the meeting and to The Aegis later, said her child, who is a rising fourth-grader at Bel Air, was in a class of about 90 children which was accustomed to four classroom teachers during the past two years since the school went through redistricting.

"We saw tremendous measurable growth in our third-graders this year," she said.

Doherty feared those gains could be lost if class sizes increase with only three fourth-grade teachers; Bel Air Elementary was among those that lost elementary teaching positions.

Beth Poggioli, vice president of the Youth's Benefit Elementary School PTA, was less critical of board members, noting they were "left with an enormous task."

She also encouraged them to keep funding for a much-needed replacement of the aging school in the school system's Capital Improvement Plan for the 2015 fiscal year, which was introduced to the board Monday and includes an $18 million request in state and local funds for the project.

School officials also approved changes to school bus routes, by consolidating stops and ending door-to-door drop-off and pick-ups for many students, plus implementing later starting and ending times for several elementary schools.

Erin Appel, representing the Harford County School Bus Contractors Association, read a prepared statement.

The statement acknowledged the "incredibly difficult position of the school board," but the association is "deeply concerned" with the changes to the bus stops "and the impact of those changes on student safety."

The association represents 40 local privately-owned school bus contracting companies, providing 400 "general education" buses and 100 "special needs" buses to transport more than 33,000 students more than 44,000 miles each day, according to the statement.

"By consolidating a number of bus stops and establishing 'depot stops,' students will be required to walk increased distances to reach the nearest bus stop," Appel read. "It follows that they will be more frequently required to cross roadways, at times in less than favorable weather and light conditions."

Suzanne Mace, a Hickory Elementary School parent, discussed the two second-grade teachers who had recently been laid off, including her son's teacher this past school year.

Mace said the most-recently hired teachers at Hickory were let go, despite their accomplishments and passion for teaching, and noted the first years are critical for a young teacher's success.

"There has to be a way to save our teachers, especially the young stars," she said.

Of the 115 positions that were cut, only 46 required teachers and other school staffers to be laid off; the rest would be eliminated through attrition such as retirements. Those who were laid off were placed on a recall list for two years.

Jean Mantegna, assistant superintendent for human resources, offered the good news about the recalled teachers. She said 32 school staffers had been recalled as of Monday to fill other open positions, and six more would be recalled by the end of the week.

She said those recalled included teachers in elementary education, family and consumer sciences, business, computer science and trades; they will be placed in positions for which they are certified.

Mantegna said more teachers would be recalled as needed.

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