School board hopes to give Harford teachers raises in fiscal year 2013

Harford County teachers need a pay raise next year, even if the school system doesn't get the funding it requests from the county, a teacher and school board members stressed Monday night.

Harford County Public Schools Superintendent Robert Tomback unveiled his proposed 2012-2013 budget during a work session Monday night in Bel Air, before the board's regular business meeting.

The proposed operating budget for fiscal year 2013 is $471,827,994, an increase of $17,843,892 (11 percent) from fiscal year 2012, which would maintain the board's goal of maintaining a competitive salary structure with surrounding counties. The proposed capital budget is $15.7 million.

During Monday night's Harford County Public Schools Board of Education work session, Ryan Burbey, chair for the English department at Aberdeen Middle School, addressed the board with his concern about teacher salaries.

"We can't keep going like this," he told the board. Burbey says that while his family has been able "to get by," they won't have that luxury if there's another freeze on salaries.

Burbey estimates that he's lost $12,000 in the past several years when there has been a salary freeze — one-fifth his yearly wages. "You're fighting just to keep yourself afloat," he said.

He told the board that students "deserve a teacher who don't go home and worry about their finances ever year."

"We need your help and we need to work together," he said to the board, adding that he appreciates their continual support with the matter.

During the presentation on Tomback's proposed budget for fiscal year 2013, board member James Thornton said there's "nothing that suggests they [the county] will support an 11 percent increase" in the budget.

Thornton agreed with Burbey, saying that employees need an "increase in compensation" and wants the board to come up with a plan that would support that either way.

According to the budget, teachers who began their careers in the 2008-2009 school year have remained at an average salary of $41,171 per year, while Cecil County teachers make on average $45,732 and Baltimore County teachers receive $44,755 annually.

Out of the more than $471 million budget, $208 million would be funded by the state, $17.7 million would come from the federal government, $238.5 million would come from the county, $5 million from the school's fund balance and $2.6 million labeled as "other."

In response to Thornton's comment, Tomback said the schools will request what they think is reasonable and for a "needs-based budget," one that is fiscally responsible and has little impact on the students and teachers.

Tomback recognized that teachers haven't received salary increases in three years and the importance of that happening soon.

"This year, in particular, may be a difficult one for us," board member Bob Frisch said, commenting that he doesn't know what will happen when the Maryland General Assembly meets for this coming legislative session, which begins today (Wednesday). The legislature will need to approve the state's portion of the public schools budget.

"Expectations are certainly not high" for approval from the legislature, Board President Leonard Wheeler said.

Unassigned budget

In this fiscal year's budget, the projected unassigned fund balance has about $1.1 million, which is used toward emergencies, according to Jim Jewell, assistant superintendent of business services, who presented various sections of the budget.

Frisch asked what the recommended amount is to keep in the unassigned funds balance, to which Jewell responded that 5 percent of the total budget is recommended, or $8 million for Harford County's current budget.

"To get out of structural deficit, we need to bring on more revenues and less expenses," Frisch said, which the school plans to do over a period of four years.


Projected expenditures for fiscal year 2013 are $471.8 million for the current expense funds, which takes care of transportation, operations and maintenance, administrative service and instruction and instructional support, $15.2 million for food services, $33.4 million in pension, $29.2 million in debt service and $15.7 million for the capital fund.

"Funding has dropped off considerably," Ed Fields, director of budget, who presented alongside Jewell, said.

In fiscal year 2012, Harford County schools were eighth in Maryland for total state support, according to the budget. Unrestricted state aid is projected to decrease $1.1 million in fiscal year 2013.

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