Harford school board approves 2012 legislative platform

The school system's 2012 legislative platform includes opposition to state aid to private schools, charging that vouchers and other public programs that aid non-public education allow the private schools to skim off the top academic performers and students from financially well-off families who are more likely to attend such schools in the first place.

The Harford County Board of Education voted last week to approve the superintendent's recommended platform, which takes positions on such staples as aid to private schools, charter schools, merit pay for teachers, unfunded state mandates and guaranteed local funding.

Besides opposition to state aid, the platform also states Harford's school board supports "the goal of a highly qualified teacher in every classroom and flexibility to establish alternative entry routes into teaching," including the ability to hire "career-changers, not formally prepared for teaching careers."

Also supported is "establishment of monetary awards for teachers and other certificated employees who work in schools that make adequate yearly progress, or AYP," as defined by the state education department.

Not surprisingly, the Harford legislative platform opposes changes in current state laws which mandate that local governments provide a stable amount of funding to their school systems from year to year, a concept called maintenance of effort that has come under attack in an era of shrinking revenue and voter concern about higher property and local income taxes.

The board approved the 2012 legislative platform at its Nov. 21 meeting in Bel Air. To view the complete platform, click here.

The platform was previously presented at the board's Nov. 14 meeting by Kathy Carmello, facilitator of governmental relations for the schools system; however, board members had said they wanted more time to review the platform, which states what issues the school system supports and opposes that are likely to come before the Maryland General Assembly this winter.

After further consideration and with the knowledge the platform can still be changed during the legislative session, the school board unanimously adopted the platform.

Test fee payments

According to what was approved, the board supports "the development and implementation of programs to increase student participation in honors courses, advanced placement courses, the International Baccalaureate Program and other rigorous academic programs with specific emphasis on increasing minority student participation in these kinds of challenging programs."

To that end, the platform also supports "state and local sharing on state assumption of the significant examination fees for students, particularly for students who are disadvantaged."

The question of whether the local school system should pay the fees imposed by testing companies like The College Board charge for advanced placement and other standardized tests has been a controversial issue for the Harford school board in the past. The legislative program, however, states that such fees "present a disincentive to enrollment and participation in the programs and become a barrier to advanced study in high school."

The platform also states the Harford board supports "standards to reliably assess student performance prior to graduation from high school and to provide for teacher accountability to ensure that students are adequately educated to succeed in the workplace of today and tomorrow."

Charter schools

Among the many issues covered in the charter schools section of the report, "holding a charter school accountable to the local board of education…" is supported by the school system, which opposes "any legislation that creates waivers for charter schools that release them from compliance with state law and board policies."

Despite federal mandates that encourage charter schools, Harford school officials in the past have taken a hard line on them. The one charter school that was approved a few years ago eventually lost its certification after the school board became dissatisfied with its inability to find a permanent location and to meet other requirements the board had set.

In the area of student discipline, the legislative platform says the Harford board supports "an increased level of responsibility or duty" for parents or guardians "for the disruptive or detrimental behavior of their student," while also acknowledging "the continued responsibility of the school system to intervene with strategies that will promote educational success."

Conversely, the platform opposes "legislation that would impose a 'one size fits all' statewide approach to discipline, dictating under which circumstances schools must implement in-school versus out-of-school suspensions."

Local funding support

In discussing in great detail the Harford board's support for the concept of maintenance of effort, the platform states the board "believes that maintenance of effort is the commitment that local government makes to education" and thus it supports, "the retention of maintenance of effort provisions [in Maryland law] that mandates the county council to appropriate to HCPS for our annual operating budget an amount no less than the product of the enrollment for the current fiscal year and the per pupil allocation for the prior fiscal year, long enforced as the local funding floor, not simply the local share of the foundation program."

In Harford, where total public school enrollment has declined in each of the past six years, maintenance of effort may be having a far smaller impact than in the days when enrollment was growing, a number of county elected officials have said.

Other issues in the legislative platform upon which positions were taken include academic achievement; other discipline matters such as suspensions and expulsions – the program opposes mandated school uniforms; federal reauthorization of the elementary and secondary education act; federal support of public education; funding of excellence in public education; legislated curriculum and testing; local school board authority/governance; parent and community involvement; public school construction; retirement and pension – the board opposes any shift of teacher and other employee retirement costs from the state to the counties; school nutrition and health; school and student safety; teachers and instructional personnel; and transportation; vouchers, tuition tax credits, tax deductions and textbooks.

The platform opposes state aid to private schools, noting that any "diversion of public funds to nonpublic schools is likely to produce serious economic, constitutional, legal and public policy consequences."

Specific mention is made of vouchers, which the policy states "provide choice for private schools, not students," noting the private schools will generally "not admit students with pervasive disabilities, but instead targets those students who are higher functioning, wealthier and already attending private schools."

Carmello said there has been no change in the positions the board took in last year's program, although a majority of the nine board members were either not in office or just days into the tenure when the 2011 program was adopted.

Regardless, the board made no comment on any of the specific platform items before it approved the program.

Other Nov. 21 board actions

In other actions during its Nov. 21 meeting, the school board approved three amendments to the fiscal year 2013 Capital Improvement Program (CIP), which increases the school's overall state reimbursement by $871,644. The additional money will go toward will go toward refreshing textbooks, which was also approved by the board.

Redistricting, revising building capacity and an update to a fiscal year 2009 approval of Red Pump Elementary School by the state increased the reimbursement by $135,153.

The HVAC project at Norrisville Elementary School will be postponed until fiscal year 2014 because the school was last renovated in 1996. The state does not allow funding for improvements to schools that have not been in service for more than 15 years, according to an school system report. As a result, $836,491 for the project was no longer needed.

James Jewell, assistant superintendent of business services, gave the first quarter report for fiscal year 2012.

As schools had only operated for one month during the first quarter, there were no year-end projections for expenditures, revenues or fund balances.

As was stated in Jewell's presentation, total revenue in the school system's unrestricted fund is "within expectation at almost 27 percent of the amount projected." Other revenue is at more than 26 percent of the annual budget.

As of Sept. 30, 90.4 percent of the capital projects fund had been spent on projects, with 7.94 percent available for appropriations.

The total amount of revenue budgeted year-to-date is $114,950,222, according to the presentation, with total expenditures budgeted at $80,738,557 year-to-date.

The board approved the appointment of Renee McNally, owner and president of HR Solutions, a human resources consulting firm in Harford County, to the Board of Education Ethics Panel. She replaces Dr. David Jaffe, whose second and final term on the board expired.

The board recognized Ashley Bowker, of Church Creek Elementary School, Courtney Cullison, of Bel Air Middle School, and Mark Puckett, of Fallston High School, as the 2011-2012 winners of the Simon McNeely award. The honor goes to those who demonstrate greatness and innovation in physical fitness.

Tara Buecker, of Jarrettsville Elementary School, Ryan Zimmerman, of Aberdeen Middle School, and Wendy Feight, of North Harford Middle School, were the recipients of the 2011-2012 Maryland Association for Health, Physical Education, Recreation and Dance Emerging Leaders award. Each year, the organization honors 18 people throughout the state for their work in physical education.

Bakerfield Elementary School in Aberdeen was named the 2011 Maryland Center for Character Education School of the Year. The school was recognized for its character education practices during the 2010-2011 school year.

Ring Factory Elementary School in Bel Air was selected as a Maryland Physical Education Demonstration school for 2011-2013. The school was one out of 10 to be chosen for its extraordinary instructional programs.

Aegis staff member Allan Vought contributed to this article.

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