Harford teachers flood county budget hearing

After unhappy teachers prompted an unusually large turnout at his first budget hearing for 2013, Harford County Executive David Craig told the audience Monday night it was the state's fault the education budget is in trouble.

About 300 people packed the Aberdeen High School auditorium, which county spokesman Bob Thomas said was the largest audience at a budget hearing in three years.

Forty people had signed up to testify, almost all of them educators who urged Craig to fully fund the board of education budget.

Craig said he understood their perspective, being a longtime educator who worked two or three jobs to support himself, but explained that Harford was alone in having its budget cut this year.

He said gave every one of the "big seven" counties more money, while Harford actually lost funding.

"We have already been told that the state this year is going to cut our school board budget by $4.7 million," he said.

Craig called it a "huge action by state government that punished us."

He nevertheless thanked everyone for coming out and encouraged them to e-mail him with any more comments, saying he reads every individual letter.

Director of Administration Mary Chance, Chief of Budget and Management Research Kim Spence and Treasurer Kathryn Hewitt joined Craig on the panel listening to speakers.

The teachers, meanwhile, told Craig about the hardships they were facing by the lack of raises and the inability of the county to fully fund the board of education budget.

Some asked for more specific items, like Mary Harris, president of Homestead-Wakefield Elementary School Parent-Teacher Association, who said she had to pay for her own technology.

"There's an obscene disparity of technical equipment [at older schools]," she said, adding that creates second-class citizens.

Krista Hayes also said there is a technology disparity at Homestead-Wakefield.

"Homestead-Wakefield students are suffering from a lack of access to computers, but our girls are most at risk," she said.

Jean Mussly said she has personally bought books so each of her students can have one.

Dawn Klein, from Bel Air Middle School, said there are fewer volunteers for events such as dances and a talent show because faculty members no longer have the time to plan and coordinate such events.

She said she was recently working three jobs besides her teacher position. This year, she was only working one other job because the others were no longer available.

Mark Wolkow, a former school board president, also asked to Craig to fully fund schools, saying that everything will suffer "if our goal is simply to save money and we don't look at the quality of what we're doing."

Marla Posey-Moss, who used to work at Aberdeen Middle School and Bel Air High School, but now works in Baltimore County, said funding education should be "an open and shut case" every year.

Joann MacDonald said she resigned from teaching in 1977 because she could not afford to stay in the profession and is "disheartened" that schools have been underfunded decade after decade.

Alison Warner said although Bel Air High School is "fortunate" to have a state-of-the-art building, she has had to go to Staples and ask for help buying supplies for students.

Others, meanwhile, continued to press for repairs to Youth's Benefit Elementary School in Fallston, among other facilities.

Laura Runyeon said the facility has failing septic systems and students are occasionally asked not to flush toilets. They also cannot assemble as an entire school community.

Danielle Spagler, as well as her son, Nick Spagler, and Fran Dowres, asked for a new playground at Prospect Mill Elementary School.

Danielle Spagler said the playground was built in 1973, is "older than I am" and is used by four classes, but only has four swings and a small climbing apparatus.

"The children have resorted to playing on a nearby hill for entertainment," she said.

A few people were concerned about how the meeting was conducted.

George Curry said he thinks the government should be willing to listen to each resident's full remarks, criticizing the limit of three minutes per speaker, even if representing a group.

Curry then said he was "getting tired" of waiting for resources and of having the educational system be a "pawn or pinata" for political or personal reasons.

He said despite getting increasingly less money year after year, teachers still do the best job they can for their students.

Despite the flood of teachers, several residents also asked the county to keep funding organizations like the library system or the Arc.

Al Morey noted the creator of the multi-branch system in Harford would have wanted the library to keep being funded.

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