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With more state money expected, Harford schools superintendent plans to decrease local funding request by $2 million

Harford school officials expect to reduce their request for funding from the Harford County government by about $2 million, as the revenue coming from the state is expected to increase by roughly the same amount. However, officials still plan to file a budget request with the county executive that exceeds $20 million beyond the current budget.

Adjustments in anticipated county and state revenue do not change the total $503.1 million operating budget request for the 2021 fiscal year, as recommended by Harford County Public Schools Superintendent Sean Bulson.

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“It keeps the content of the budget the same, but it is a recognition that we have more money coming from the state, and so our request to the county has gone down a little,” Bulson told members of the Board of Education Monday evening.

The anticipated revenue from the state now stands at $218.9 million, a $7.2 million increase from this year. The proposed revenue increase grew by $1.69 million, from $5.25 million — or a total allocation of $216.9 million — compared to when Bulson first presented his proposed budget to the school board Jan. 13. Revenues have been revised since then as state officials provide projections based on student enrollment, according to Bulson.

That means the requested local allocation decreases from $278.8 million to $276.9 million, shrinking the gap from $22.4 million to $20.4 million in terms of how much more money schools will ask from the county.

Bulson presented his revised budget request — which is designed to add or restore 115 HCPS positions as total student enrollment grows and more students need services such as special education or English as a second language — while members of the public were able to give their first comments in the current budget cycle Monday.

“We really need to fund this budget,” parent Wade Sewell, of Fallston, said. “We need to fully support Dr. Bulson’s request, and we need Harford County government to step up and fund that.”

Sewell was among the parents, students, teachers, administrators, union leaders and school board members who urged County Executive Barry Glassman and the County Council to increase funding to HCPS by $15 million last spring as the fiscal 2020 schools budget was being developed.

The budget approved by the council included a $10.7 million increase to HCPS, in line with what Glassman allocated, and the school board had to approve multiple position cuts in teaching, classroom support and school administrative areas.

Bulson hopes to restore some of the cut positions and add new ones as the need for various programs grows — one line item calls for creating a position and establishing an operating budget of more than $200,000 for the office of Family and Community Partnerships to support continued outreach to families and community organizations.

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“Since 2011 the school district has had fewer positions every year in every budget, so we’re really hopeful that this is the year we start to turn that trend around, and we are able to open the next school year with more positions than the year before,” Bulson said.

Student enrollment this year increased by more than 600, pushing the total figure above 38,000.

“The fact that our student enrollment has been growing makes that really important for us to achieve,” Bulson said of the budget request.

The school board, which can adjust the budget from the amount recommended by the superintendent, is scheduled to vote on its request Feb. 10 — it must be submitted to the county executive by March.

Four people spoke about the budget Monday evening; most speakers echoed concerns brought up last spring such as how Harford County ranks last in the state, out of 24 jurisdictions, in its level of total per-pupil funding when state and local allocations, as well as other sources, are combined.

Large class sizes, growing workloads for teachers and other staffers and the elimination of multiple high school programs also are concerns for the public. Sewell, the Fallston parent, encouraged board members to visit schools and meet with teachers who have the largest classes, or teachers the highest number of students with special needs who come with Individual Education Plans the teachers must follow.

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“In my children’s school, I see it,” Sewell said. “The class sizes are bigger than ever — they can’t get it done, the kids are missing out.”

Ryan Blosser, a senior at North Harford High School, thanked Bulson for putting forth a budget “that restores Harford County Public Schools and moves us in the right direction.”

“For years we’ve been cutting teachers, programs,” Blosser continued. “Now, we’re moving in the right direction and I hope that Harford County can truly see that this is the direction we need to move into.”

He also discussed comments he has seen on social media in recent days from Harford County residents accusing school board members, teachers and union leaders of seeking a larger budget for their own gain, not students'.

“When I see, on Facebook, people calling the education association leaders greedy, or calling teachers greedy or calling the unions greedy, that’s not the type of debate we need to have,” Blosser said, emphasizing that those who work in the school system are there to support students, not to line their pockets.

He said education should not be a partisan issue, pitting residents of different parts of the county against each other, or those who have children in HCPS versus those who do not.

“This is the community that we support, the community that we’re trying to support in the future, and the students that will be the next generation of Harford County citizens,” Blosser said.

Jansen Robinson, president of the school board, thanked people for giving their input to board members — the public also can submit comments via email to budget@hcps.org. Robinson encouraged people to reach out to the county executive and County Council members, too.

“There is engagement on the budget, and there will be further engagement on the budget by the [school] board members,” he said.

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