xml:space="preserve">
xml:space="preserve">
Advertisement
Advertisement

Harford school board debating digital learning steps after exec’s encouraging funding proposal

Education funding proposed by Harford County Executive Barry Glassman could pave the way for a broader adoption of digital learning tools at Harford County schools, the county’s board of education discussed at a Monday teleconference meeting.

Some of the board members were grateful for Glassman fully funding Harford County Public School’s operating budget request of about $278 million in local money, a roughly $20.5 million increase from the current fiscal year and consistent with Superintendent Sean Bulson’s budget request, which was adopted by the board in February.

Advertisement

At the same time, some expressed apprehension about the school system’s capital budget. Capital budgets across multiple county agencies show steep reductions in the proposed outline for the next fiscal year, and the school system is no exception.

Harford schools received about $42.8 million in capital funding for fiscal year 2020, which ends June 30. Glassman’s proposed capital budget for the coming year slashes that by about half.

Advertisement
Advertisement

Not including state eligible capital projects, such as a limited renovation of Joppatowne High School and roof replacements at Bel Air Middle and Hickory Elementary schools, the school board had requested nearly $41.5 million in capital funding from the county for a variety of projects.

Glassman’s proposed capital budget funds about $4.87 million of that request, including $1.13 million for special education facility improvements, $1.5 million to replace 14 buses, $1 million to partially fund technology infrastructure, $670,000 to fund the first year of facility master planning and $530,000 to partially fund life, health, safety and compliance measures.

The county has committed about $16.8 million for the Joppatowne renovations and the two roof projects, combined with $11.6 million in state funding.

But schools are anticipated to realize a saving of “several million” due to coronavirus-related closures, Bulson said, though those savings are not yet counted and are subject to many variables. That, along with other funds, could enable schools to potentially pay for electronic devices to be given to students.

Advertisement

Board member Sonja Karwacki said teachers would need to develop a new curriculum and get more training before potentially rolling out devices to students. Bulson agreed, and said the goal of giving Harford students electronics to use for school was not totally far-fetched.

"To have something in student’s hands by September or October would be a very, very difficult lift and something we would have to move very quickly on, but there is time,” he said.

Between savings, revenue from next year’s operating budget, federal relief funds and adjustments to the budget, Bulson said schools could more seriously consider digital learning, which was not prioritized in the proposed budget. He said the board would have to discuss the possibility with the county council, if it decided to make digital learning a priority and change around its budget.

The county council has received Glassman’s budget and will begin work sessions in consultation with county agencies Thursday. The board of education is scheduled to make an appearance at the council’s Friday session to answer questions about its budget.

Digital learning is an important consideration, Bulson said, in light of the coronavirus pandemic and because of the limited access some students have to technology.

Some students do not have access to computers or the internet at home, Bulson said, or have restricted access because of their parents’ usage. That presents a problem for instructors, which is why schools have sent home packs of material that can be done “asynchronously," he said, instead of teaching live classes over the internet.

For the time being, schools will continue sending the educational packets, Bulson explained, adding that teachers should be receiving a plan clarifying issues they are having with instruction and the learning packets students have been using. But within that material is a contingency plan to deliver the learning packets through the end of the year if school closures extend that far, which remains to be seen, Bulson said.

“The plan that we are sending out has a contingency plan for how we will be delivering those through the end of the year, planning as if the closure were to exist through the end of the year,” Bulson said.

Schools have been closed through May 15, and Bulson said he did not know if they would be shuttered longer.

“We do not know any more than you do on that front,” he said.

The capital budget’s shortfall also presents challenges to buying electronic devices for a technology refresh. It becomes an issue when the board’s general fund and capital budget are unequally funded.

“If we were going to buy computers and/or wireless hot-spots, things like that, would that normally fall under the operating budget or the capital budget?” board member David Bauer asked Bulson.

"That, in a way, is the multi-million dollar question; it can appear in either,” Bulson said.

Recommended on Baltimore Sun

Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement