Harford school board sends request for employee COLA, step increases to county exec

Harford County Public Schools employees could be getting a 1 percent raise in the next school year if Harford County Executive David Craig and the Harford County Council approve enough money to fund the raises.

The Harford Board of Education approved budget amendments at its meeting Monday night totaling $1,447,643 in additional costs. The amended budget request for 2014, which also includes an additional $16,210 for the proposed food services budget, will be $444,242,403, and some of the changes approved directly affect salary packages the school system has negotiated with its employee unions.

The board unanimously passed the budget amendment that would give a COLA and step increase to all eligible employees. The school board and the Harford County Education Association, or HCEA, reached an agreement on the COLA and step increases, that is typically about 3 percent, on Feb. 28.

HCEA represents more than 3,200 employees, mostly teachers and counselors. The school system has about 5,300 employees total and all will receive similar increases, Lindsay Bilodeau, a school system media specialist, said Tuesday.

The estimated cost of the step raises is $4.8 million and the estimated cost of a 1 percent COLA is $2.9 million, for a total of $7.7 million, Bilodeau said.

All of this additional money is being requested from Harford County. Based on the amendments the board approved Monday, the additional money the board is requesting from the county next school year is $22,636,715, as all of the $1.4 million in additional spending is requested from the county.

The board also approved a health care holiday premium of $876,061 from the excess reserve to offset employee annual contributions, as well as $150,000 each for an estimated increase in dental care and health care cost increases for 2013.

That will involve transferring $2,489,315 to the fund for other post-employment benefits.

Another $1,163,529 was also transferred to the 2013 OPEB fund for excess costs in dependent care, flex medical services and Medicare Part D drug subsidy.

Push for longer lunches

Ryan Burbey, president of HCEA, told the board he was not discussing finances for once but instead urged the board to give students longer lunch periods.

He said he started a petition to get students a 30-minute lunch in all schools, noting that in many schools lunch period is down to 20 or 25 minutes.

"It really represents a basic restriction on their ability to function as human beings," Burbey said. "I believe it truly is a human rights issue."

"We've scalped away at lunches to the point that some schools right now have less than 20 minutes of real lunch time," he said.

Gifted and talented

Board member Alysson Krchnavy said she was at an event honoring people who teach gifted-and-talented classes statewide, and noted every teacher except for the one from Harford County only taught at one school.

The Harford teacher, meanwhile, was shared by two or three schools.

"It's amazing that we have the dedicated teachers we have, that will [go from school to school] and still be the best in the state," she said.

Board member Bob Frisch said since prospects do not seem to be improving financially, the school system may need to re-evaluate its own financial situation.

"One of those issues is transportation," he said. "It's a considerable amount of money we spend on transportation, in excess of $30 million a year."

Frisch said he heard the number of miles driven each day by Harford buses is more than the circumference of the earth, which is about 25,000 miles.

Board member Arthur Kaff said he is worried about how the federal sequestration could affect the board's budget.

"I think the federal government is going through some serious issues right now, and I do hope the president and Congress will be able to work something out," he said.

Common Core

A panel of educators led a presentation on how the school system will be transitioning to Common Core standards, which is a new state mandate.

They explained "pathways" to Common Core include instructional shifts and changes in rigor or pedagogy.

In math, for example, the goal in Common Core is to teach students to persevere in problem-solving, reason abstractly, construct arguments, model with math, use tools strategically, attend to precision, look for and use structure and use repeated reasoning to draw conclusions from patterns.

Another focus is to link ideas from grade level to grade level and, in English classes, to offer a range of text complexity.

For example, in a third-grade class, students might have the option of reading "Henry and Mudge" (the least complex book), "Sarah, Plain and Tall" or "The Odyssey."

Marlene Molter, principal of C. Milton Wright High School, also said Advanced Placement teachers have been sending students to be writing consultants for other students, which has helped develop the value of writing. She said she wants to create a better springboard for Common Core state standards.

School board member Nancy Reynolds, a former teacher, said she was especially glad to hear about the C. Milton Wright program, adding, "Having students teach other students is the best way."

Board member Thomas Fitzpatrick said this was the first presentation he saw on the project that "really had a rubber-meets-the-road feel to it."

"It looks good, to be honest with you," he said.

Superintendent Robert Tomback said he believes the diagnostic will be extremely valuable to classroom teachers and will give a "much better picture" of the extent to which students have mastered content.

Board member James Thornton asked whether this would be considered the first or second "sea change" for a student going from kindergarten to 12th grade.

Sarah Morris, superintendent of mathematics, replied she believes it would be the one change for them.

"We haven't had MSPAP as our assessment for several years now," she said, of the former statewide student achievement program replaced by the Maryland Scholastic Assessments. "This would be, we hope, once in their lifetime."

Board President Rick Grambo said he is "not necessarily sold" on the Common Core but believes the panel will maximize its potential.

The board also heard a presentation from the Greater Excellence in Education Foundation, or GEEF, a private group that runs programs such as gathering supplies for school and holding a summer Youth Leadership Academy at Harford Glen.

Warren Hamilton, representing the group, said the academy includes having students create a vision for their lives.

"We see a lot of NFL players and rock stars, but we also see scientists, nurses and doctors," said Hamilton, a longtime construction company executive and a member of the Harford County Board of Estimates.

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