Harford County school officials, including interim school Superintendent Barbara Canavan and board members, did not attend an appeals hearing before the Board of Public Works in Annapolis last Wednesday to advocate for state funding for school construction projects.
The school system requested $14,240,000 in state funding for capital improvement projects. The governor's proposed capital budget for FY15, however, was $10,106,000, which would fund HVAC projects at four schools and construction of a replacement Youth's Benefit Elementary School in Fallston. The $10 million plus is $4,134,000 less than the requested amount. The hearing last week was so Harford school officials could ask for more money for a new Havre de Grace High School and upgrades to Joppatowne High School, the costs of which are undetermined.
"With the impending weather event, there was a need for staff to remain in Harford County to deal with the storm and its repercussions," Chief of Administration Joe Licata said in an email this week regarding the ice storm overnight Feb. 4 into last Wednesday that closed Harford County Public Schools for two days.
Some elected officials in Harford County, who made it to the hearing with Gov. Martin O'Malley and the state comptroller and treasurer, are questioning the school officials' decision to stay in Harford.
"The lack of attendance by the interim superintendent could have a poor impact on school funding and this is [Canavan's] first impression as interim superintendent before decision makers," Harford County Councilwoman Mary Ann Lisanti, who represents the Havre de Grace area and is a HHS graduate, said. "If it was the inclement weather, they could have come down the night before."
Licata said school officials several weeks earlier had submitted their testimony to Dr. David Lever, executive director of the Interagency Committee on School Construction (IAC).
According to Licata, he and School Board President Nancy Reynolds believed it was appropriate to be excused from the hearing "in order to attend to the issues in Harford County," and therefore asked to be excused from the hearing; Lever agreed.
Lisanti and Del. Rick Impallaria, who represents western Harford County including the Fallston area, said they were unaware of any pre-arranged excused absence of school officials.
Lisanti said she had no electricity in her home Wednesday morning following the winter storm, but drove to Annapolis to show her support for state funding for school construction
Lisanti said Canavan and school board members were scheduled to testify at 2 p.m., but the Board of Public Works was running about two hours behind schedule. She said it was not until another county school board, that signed in after her, went in to testify, that she was told the Harford school system was skipped because no school board members were there for the presentation.
After some quick discussions, Lisanti and Impallaria made a "spontaneous" presentation before the board without pre-briefing or an information packet detailing the county's funding requests.
During the appeals hearing, Lisanti and Impallaria advocated for the Board of Public Works to allocate additional funds to begin the renovation projects at Joppatowne and Havre de Grace.
Impallaria said Lisanti also gave a detailed explanation of the emergency services and flooding in the City of Havre de Grace and how it could impact construction of a new middle and high school.
"That is something that [the Board of Public Works] would not have gotten a grasp of if they did not get that info from Lisanti," Impallaria said.
Lisanti said she questions the decision of the HCPS School Board to not attend the appeals hearing, calling it a "poor decision."
Licata said school officials do not believe their lack of attendance will have a negative impact on funding requests. He said a detailed testimony and supporting jurisdiction documentation was submitted to the IAC for all projects that were being appealed.
"We were assured by Dr. Lever that our presence would have no bearing on the outcome of the hearings," Licata said in an email.
Impallaria said the Harford delegation sent a letter to the school system on Friday requesting an open line of communication between the school system and its elected officials.
"We want an open dialogue between the school board, superintendent and the delegation," Impallaria said. "We are all on the same team and that's to do what's best for the kids of Harford County and the school system."
Lisanti said there needs to be a recognition between HCPS officials and the Harford County elected officials that "we are a team and we should operate as a team."
"There are many opportunities to present Harford County in a positive manner to the legislature and the leadership of this state and it takes all of us to do that," Lisanti said.
Licata said members of the Harford delegation were not aware school officials would not be attending the hearing because the school system received no prior notification that anyone from the delegation was interested in attending.