Homestead-Wakefield needs pressed again at Harford school budget meeting

Comments from parents of children at the aging Homestead-Wakefield Elementary School in Bel Air were once again at the forefront during the final public input session Wednesday on the Harford school system's proposed 2014 budget.

About 50 people attended the third public input session on the new budget hosted by the board of education at school headquarters in Bel Air.

During the public comment period, Mary Harris, the President of Homestead-Wakefield Elementary School's Parent Teacher Association, spoke once again. At the two previous sessions, Harris had called for increased access to computers for the school's students and improvements to stem the worsening condition of the school's physical plant. On Wednesday, Harris chose to thank board of education as well as county officials for listening to her concerns.

"We would like to thank the entire Board of Education for allowing us to address our concerns at this, and the last two board public Input Sessions, and tell you that you have the gratitude of the families of nearly 1,000 children at Homestead-Wakefield for the often underappreciated level of service that you provide," Harris said.

Harris reminded those present to attend County Executive David Craig's own budget public input session set for on Monday, Jan. 28, at Aberdeen High School, and urged them to seek better education funding for Harford County children.

"I challenge myself, and I challenge you to request that education funding be set at a level that would make it so that children from Harford County will actually qualify for the exciting opportunities that have come to our County thanks to BRAC," Harris said.

Deidra Lassalle-Topping, a member of the Homestead-Wakefield Elementary School PTA and the mother of two students at the school spoke about technological disadvantages at Homestead-Wakefield Elementary compared to other schools in the county.

"With many schools in the area getting improvements on top of the improvements that they've already had, it's hard to not take that personal," Lassalle-Topping said. "In regards to the lack of technology, I'm not going to repeat the statistics, but it's a disgrace to our children."

"I understand the difficulty to appease every school that is requesting a portion of all of the funding," Lassalle-Topping added. "All we ask is that you please consider Homestead-Wakefield into your budget."

Ryan Burbey, president of Harford County Education Association, spoke once again about the need for adequate funding of the county's schools, noting the challenges that the board of education faces.

"You cannot possibly make good decisions about the budget, because it's a choice of who's not going to get [funding], not who's going to get it," said Burbey, whose union represents more than 3,000 teachers and guidance counselors. "It's a choice of how many positions are we going to cut, versus are we going to add positions like our neighboring counties."

He cited new data from the Maryland State Department of Education stating that Harford County had moved into 16th place in funding from the state from 18th the year before, but reiterated his point that finding much more funding for the Harford school system is imperative.

"We have to get the funds for this school system," Burbey said to the board. "I ask you to step outside of tradition, comfort, common practice, protocol, and do what we need to get the funds for our kids, our teachers and our community. We can't continue to lag at the bottom."

Also during the meeting, student member of the board Panashe Mutombo announced that his successor as student member for the 2013-2014 school year would be Ben Barsam, a junior at Bel Air High School. Barsam was elected by countywide student government leaders in December just prior to winter break.

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