Harford's teachers angry, upset over lack of school funding, raises

Harford County teachers were not quiet bystanders during Monday's school board meeting.

Cuts in school funding on the state level, a possible push of teacher pensions back onto the counties and ongoing arbitration of the teachers' 2011-2012 contract had several riled up, and they chose to take their frustrations to Harford County Board of Education members at their meeting in Bel Air Monday night.

Louise Pons, a teacher for 14 years, said she's been complacent up until now in not attending school board meetings, comfortable to let others do the talking.

Recently, she said, she has heard the school system could be "tinkering" with the teachers' health benefits package, a perk that makes her feel "valued" as an employee.

"A healthy teacher can do anything," she said in regard to the health benefits Harford's teachers receive.

Pons, who has a diabetic daughter, commented that her comprehensive benefits package eases her mind.

"The health benefits are so important," Pons said, as they help her get through the times where there are salary freezes, as has been the case the last several years.

Chris Scholz, a member-at-large for Harford County Education Association under Havre de Grace High School, urged the board to save money that would be spent on lawyers in fighting the HCEA in contract negations and put it toward teacher salaries.

He said Harford's teacher are becoming frustrated and fed up, looking for jobs in other districts.

"They're leaving," Scholz said. He said he met a woman, whom he would not name, just that night who had been applying to other jobs and finally got an offer.

In an emotional statement, Dawn Klein, a seventh-year math teacher at Bel Air Middle School, choked back tears when speaking about how hard teachers work in the county.

"A 40-hour work week is a joke," Klein said, referring to teachers coming in early to school, leaving late and helping with extracurricular activities "because it's good for the students and it's good for the school."

Klein, who stressed that she feels blessed to have a job, commented that every year during tax time she receives four W-2 tax forms: one from teaching, one from a summer job, one from a nighttime teaching job and another from working during the Christmas holiday.

"Enough is enough," she said, receiving a standing ovation from the audience.

Legislative support

The board of education unanimously voted to support a bill that will allow Harford's board to submit its yearly master plan update to the state at a later time.

Harford County Public Schools legislative liaison Kathy Carmello requested the vote on SB 143, which focuses on the schools comprehensive master plan, to take a formal position on it

"So far, the bill has received favorable support," Carmello said.

The bill, requested by the Maryland State Department of Education, proposes allowing each county's school board to submit its annual update to the master plan to the state superintendent for review and approval at a later date.

The change would delay the requirement for each board to submit a new comprehensive plan from October 2012 to October 2015, requiring the board to submit a new master plan to the MSDE on or before Oct. 15, 2015 with a yearly update each year beginning on or before Oct. 15, 2016.

If passed by the Maryland General Assembly, it will allow consideration of federal mandates involving Race to the Top, assessments and a curriculum that relates to Common Core Standards and possible reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, which is widely known as the No Child Left Behind Act.

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