Harford school board approves $444 million budget

All but two of Harford County's eight board of education members voted Monday to approve the superintendent's proposed fiscal year 2013 budget of $444,301,549, including amendments to offset a nearly $3 million reduction in state aid.

The school system's new unrestricted operating budget is $15.5 million higher than the current budget of $428,791,217, an increase of 3.6 percent.

To make up for the funds the schools won't receive from the state, the budget was reworked to reflect a 2 percent increase in health insurance costs next school year, rather than a 7 percent increase that Superintendent Robert Tomback placed in his original budget request.

In addition to the health insurance expense change, two new positions in the proposed budget were eliminated to allocate funds elsewhere, including to prevent the possible elimination of a special education teacher.

During the special session Monday night to finalize the new budget, Jim Jewell, assistant superintendent of business services, said the school system was "very fortunate health insurance [costs] went down" and was able to reduce the projected increase of 7 percent to 2 percent for fiscal year 2013, a difference of $3,033,000. These funds will make up for the $2,855,486 they won't receive from the state, he noted.

When board member Bob Frisch why this was such a substantial amount from what was originally projected, Jewell answered that their projection was based off the costs in the first three quarters of the previous calendar year. The fourth quarter, however, "came in well enough" that it lowered the overall rate and only a 2 percent increase could be projected for 2012-13.

Jewell went on to explain that in the last few years, the school system has "come close to breaking even" when it comes to what was budgeted for health insurance costs for employees and what was actually spent. Last year, however, the schools received an almost $4 million refund.

When the other items in the proposed budget were up for discussion, board member James Thornton moved to eliminate a new position of minority business enterprise purchasing agent and reallocate those funds - $99,060 - to education services, ideally go toward salary raises for teachers, he said.

The board voted to approve this amendment, with the exception of member Cassandra Beverley.

Board member Nancy Reynolds moved to eliminate a biomedical science program teacher specialist position for Bel Air High School and reallocate those funds - $60,985 - for a special education teacher position that Reynolds said could possibly be cut.

The board also approved this amendment, with members Alysson Krchnavy and vice president Rick Grambo voting against it.

Before the board voted on the budget as a whole, Frisch said he had "concerns" with various parts of the budget and believes County Executive David Craig will "return" it to the board and not approve it as presented, similar to last year when Craig declined to increase county funding to a level in the budget the board had approved. Craig's action triggered the school system's decision not to honor pay raises it had negotiated with five employee unions.

Frisch said if and when the budget is brought back to the board, he would then go into his specific concerns.

The board, except for Frisch and Grambo, voted to approve the unrestricted fund of $444 million. Grambo did not say why he voted against the budget.

In addition to the unrestricted fund, restricted funds of $24,493,445, the food service fund of $15,205,567 and the capital budget of $15,706,131 were also approved by the board Monday.

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