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

Harford schools may use some local money to expand digital learning, rather than hire new teachers

Harford County Public Schools are working to iron out a plan that would expand the county’s digital learning infrastructure, which could come at the expense of some new hires the Board of Education had tentatively budgeted for.

Speaking to the Harford County Council, Superintendent Sean Bulson said Thursday that the coronavirus pandemic has exposed the system’s inadequacies in digital learning — an issue he said the school board is “working on very aggressively, starting now,” on finding a solution to, which may involved adjusting the school system’s budget.

Advertisement

Bulson said the school system has devices for three of the 14 grades it serves, but most of those machines are designed to remain at school. In light of the school closures and the difficulties of delivering lessons and instruction to students at their homes, Bulson said that the school board was weighing its options to fund devices for students to take home.

The need for take-home devices, Bulson said, is an urgent one in view of a possible resurgence of the coronavirus, which has infected over 15,000 Marylanders and killed 680. That may necessitate longer closures of schools, which could potentially extend into the beginning of the next school year.

Advertisement

State Superintendent of Schools Karen Salmon has extended school closures through May 15, but earlier this month told a group of state lawmakers she was ramping up online and distance-learning capabilities in case schools must remain closed into the 2020-2021 academic year. Some epidemiologists have said the state could see a second wave of the virus in the fall.

To get the money necessary to supply devices to students, Bulson said that federal CARES Act funds, savings from this year and potentially money from next fiscal year’s budget could be used to advance the issue.

Within the school system’s budget, Bulson said the money could come from the roughly $7.2 million earmarked for hiring new teachers and support staff. Plans are still preliminary, he said, and the school board has not discussed it in detail, but it is an option.

The positions that could be funded by the $7.2 million include everything from school counselors to teachers, instructional coaches and assistant principals.

In spite of potential hiring curtailments, Bulson said, Harford County Executive Barry Glassman’s proposed budget was the “single greatest type of support we could hope for.”

Glassman’s proposed budget would raise the school system’s local funding to $278 million, a roughly $20.5 million increase from the current fiscal year and consistent with Bulson’s budget request, which was adopted by the board in February.

Bulson said the school board should have more details at its meeting on May 4.

Councilman Chad Shrodes asked what the school system could do for those with little or no access to internet, a problem compounded by Armstrong’s decision to pull out of a deal with the county that could have brought more stable internet to its rural, undeserved regions.

Shrodes represents the northern part of Harford County, where high-speed internet is more sparse.

Bulson said that is a problem the board is working with. "[The pandemic] has kind of woken us all up to how far behind we are in our connectivity,” he said.

Shrodes also noted that technology changes fast, and its resale value can significantly decline over years, leading Bulson to offer that the board is looking into the possibility of leasing devices for students to take home.

The school system has begun looking at quotes for electronics, Bulson said, as have many other counties. But the school system could leverage relationships and resources to be in a strong position whatever the board decides to do about the devices.

Advertisement

“It is a concern because we are competing with all those other districts,” Bulson said.

Recommended on Baltimore Sun

Advertisement
Advertisement