Harford school officials urge employee, parent involvement in new budget

After several years of controversy surrounding their budget and fiscal relationship with the county, Harford County Public Schools officials are asking employees and parents to get involved in next year's budget process from the beginning.

The school system sent out robo-calls to its 5,200 employees on Wednesday night inviting them to a budget input session with interim Superintendent Barbara Canavan later this month, as well as urging them to voice their opinions to Canavan and at upcoming public input sessions that will focus on the 2013-14 budget. Canavan will be submitting a budget to the Harford County Board of Education in December.

The meeting between Canavan and the employees is slated for Oct. 21, Teri Kranefeld, school system manager of communications, said.

A robo-call also was slated to go out Thursday evening to parents of the school system's 38,000 students, urging them to attend the public input sessions on Oct. 22 at C. Milton Wright High School beginning at 5 p.m. and Oct. 25 at Patterson Mill High School beginning at 3:30 p.m. There will be also a live video stream input session on Oct. 24 at 10 a.m.

The call to parents says in part: "Good evening. This is Harford County Public Schools Manager of Communications Teri Kranefeld. I would like to take a moment to extend an invitation to you to partner with Superintendent Canavan as she begins to develop her FY15 proposed operating budget. Mrs. Canavan is committed to working with all our stakeholders throughout this year-long budget development process. In order to provide an opportunity for everyone to become involved, input sessions, video presentations and online methods of input sharing have been developed...

"This will be an opportunity for you and the community to share with Mrs. Canavan the needs of the system and any cost-saving ideas. However, this is not the only way to provide input. Members of the community are always welcome to e-mail ideas and suggestions to budget@hcps.org any time throughout the process. The goal is to generate meaningful discussion and gather valuable feedback to consider for this first step of the budget development process, which is the Superintendent's recommended operating budget that will be presented to the Board of Education in December." 

Similar information is contained in a memo to the media released Monday that states in part: "Harford County Public Schools is about to embark on the year-long budget development process for the FY15 operating budget. We have been working to develop a plan that will engage all stakeholders in meaningful discussion regarding the budget and the needs for the system throughout each stage of the process. We will ensure that the entire community has an opportunity to become involved in the process and partner with us in the development of the 2014-15 operating budget ..." 

In the past two budgets, the school system received relatively small increases in county funding, though far less than what school officials requested, leading to finger-pointing among elected officials, school officials, school employees, parents and students, as employee raises were scaled back and some program funding was cut.

This school year brought the imposition of new sports and activity fees and reductions in some bus services, as schools officials retaliated against the county elected officials' parsimony. Both sides have blamed the other, with parents, students and employees saying they've been unfairly caught in the middle of the dispute.

The school board is expected to hold its own public input sessions on the new budget during January.

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