Forty-one Harford County students, parents and elected officials pleaded with members of the Board of Education Monday evening to reverse course on policies designed to reconcile the school system's budget for Fiscal Year 2014, specifically policies that call for families to pay fees for their children to participate in sports or activities, and consolidated bus routes and stops.
The speakers were part of a crowd of more than 200 people that filled the board room and the lobby of the A.A. Roberty Building in Bel Air.
Teri Kranefeld, manager of communications for Harford County Public Schools, said there were 175 people in the board room – its capacity, including members of the school board and the top administrators of the school system's Leadership Team.
At least another 30 people were in the lobby, watching the proceedings on a flat-screen television mounted to a wall.
The school board voted on June 10 to implement measures such as the fees, consolidated bus routes and cutting positions to reconcile a $20 million gap in what school officials had requested in funding from their local, state and federal sources and what they actually provided.
The $424.7 million budget passed 6-3 last month and took effect July 1. School officials sent letters to parents July 17 with details of changes to the bus routes.
Andre Rush, of Abingdon, spoke to the board Monday while holding of a copy of his property tax bill in one hand and the check he planned to use to pay it in the other.
"I just wanted to remind you of where the money comes from," he said.
Magnet programs affected
Rush's son, Andre Jr., 14, is a rising sophomore and attends the Science and Mathematics Academy magnet program at Aberdeen High School.
His son and more than 400 of his fellow students who attend the magnet program at Aberdeen, as well as at Edgewood and North Harford High Schools, which host the Global Studies Program/International Baccalaureate Program and the Natural Resources and Agricultural Science Program, respectively, will lose direct bus transportation for programs which are open to high-achieving students, the father said.
Rush said school officials are forcing him to become a "bus driver" and estimated it would cost more than $1,400 to take his son to and from the magnet program during the school year.
"Why am I paying taxes so that I can take my son to school, so you can transfer this cost to me?" he asked.
Madelyn Miller, 14, a rising sophomore in the International Baccalaureate magnet program at Edgewood High, said she applied for magnet programs in the eighth grade. The Fallston resident said she is pushed to excel by being with like-minded students, even though it meant getting up earlier and leaving school later than others.
"I believe the magnet programs are very beneficial and I greatly enjoy mine," she said. "They were sold as, they would provide transportation and now it is being limited. I do understand the money must come from somewhere, but this plan creates a large challenge."
Magnet program students will be required to travel to a depot at the high school in their communities for the morning pickup by a school bus and then find their own transportation home after their school day ends, since the bus schedules of their home schools and the magnet program schedules do not match, school officials said earlier this month. The only countywide programs not affected are those at Harford Technical High School, where home-to-school bus service will continue to be provided.
No input claimed
Parents lamented they had no opportunity to give input on the bus schedule changes and the "pay-to-play" fees.
Nancy Hoffman, who has worked to organize parents of students in magnet programs, claimed the transportation changes violate board of education policies which require officials to notify anyone who would be affected by a change to a bus stop or route and give them a chance to provide input on the proposed change.
"As parents, our desire to collectively brainstorm alternative solutions on this matter is great and we respectfully request that you provide us the opportunity to do so before moving forward," Hoffman said, reading from a letter she wrote to the school board.