(MATT BUTTON AEGIS STAFF, Patuxent Homestead / January 9, 2013)

Veteran Harford County Public Schools educator Barbara Boksz has spent the past week looking through her options since learning she was one of 46 teachers and other school staffers to lose their jobs, the result of a slew of measures approved by the Board of Education to reconcile its budget for the 2014 fiscal year this month.

"The sad part of it is, it's the kids who are missing out," Boksz, a technology teacher at Magnolia Middle School in Joppatowne, said Tuesday.

The board had to close a $20.2 million gap between what it had requested from local, state and federal sources to fully fund operations, programs, personnel, capital projects and more, and what those sources were able to provide. Most of the shortfall resulted from the refusal of county elected officials – County Executive David Craig and the county council – to approve most of the nearly 10 percent increase in county funding the school system was seeking.

"The board was faced with some difficult, really difficult decisions to make," board member Robert Frisch said during a recent Edgewood Community Council meeting.

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Those reconciliation measures consisted of eliminating 115 of more than 5,300 positions throughout the school district, including 46 occupied job slots, removing a $7.7 million allocation for teacher salary increases that had been agreed upon in negotiations with the teachers' union, consolidating bus stops to save on transportation costs and charging fees for students to participate in interscholastic athletics and extracurricular activities.

The remaining 69 positions would be eliminated through attrition, such as retirements and other resignations.

The budget reconciliation documents presented to the board on June 10 and made available online, indicated positions would be lost in the central office administration/operations and clerical office areas, the Business Services warehouse, as well as inclusion helpers, counselors, school clerical workers, elementary paraeducators and elementary, middle and high school teachers.

A detailed list of position cuts is not yet available from the school system, a spokesperson explaining again earlier this week that not all those slated to lose their jobs have been notified.

School budget staffers listed 128 positions for elimination, but said 12.5 could be saved by implementing a $50 per-season "Pay to Play" sports fee, $25 per-activity fee and increasing the field trip reimbursement.

The measures were projected to raise $731,000 in revenue in FY 2014, according to the reconciliation presentation. Board members voted 6-3 in favor of the budget reconciliation.

Frisch, along with board President Francis "Rick" Grambo and member Alysson Krchnavy, cast the dissenting votes.

The board also approved fee exemptions for children whose parents are teachers or in the active-duty military, and those who are approved for free and reduced-price meals at school.

Fees not popular

The fees, however, did not sit well with students and parents. Harford County Public Schools families don't pay to participate in sports or extracurricular activities, and most expenses are often covered by funds raised by school booster clubs or other groups.

Maureen Eller, of Forest Hill, whose daughter is a rising sophomore at Aberdeen High School, said recently she was "just kind of blindsided" by the fee announcement.

"We [parents] didn't even have a choice; we didn't even have a vote on whether this would happen," she said.

Her daughter plays soccer and basketball at Aberdeen, and Eller was concerned the fees could affect how many students participate in sports.

The fees could also affect participation in extracurricular activities.

"For me, personally, it's going to have a big impact because this year I was involved in a lot of activities," said Ross Jarrar, of Jarrettsville, a rising senior at North Harford High school

Ross, 17, said he participated in a number of extracurriculars during his junior year, including the school musical, student government and serving as a peer helper.