Harford schools see drop in first-quarter revenue, but see savings in some expenses as schools remain closed

The COVID-19 pandemic has created some uncertainty within Harford County Public Schools’ budget for the current fiscal year, as the closing of schools has caused a loss of revenue in some areas but created savings in others. It is also still undetermined how the pandemic’s impact on state coffers will affect that revenue stream as officials develop next year’s budget for HCPS.

“At this time, it does not appear that there will be any state cuts,” said Deborah Judd, assistant superintendent for business services, as she presented a report on the school system’s finances for the first quarter of fiscal 2021 to the Board of Education on Monday.


Judd, whose report pertained to the quarter covering July 1 to Sept. 30, noted that “anything can change” this early in the year, but she will keep the board up to date on any new developments.

The first-quarter report covers 26.27% of revenues received and 16.69% of expenses spent through Sept. 30. One issue of note is a significant drop in miscellaneous revenues, such as transportation fees, facility rental income and gate receipts from sporting events, compared to the anticipated revenues when the fiscal 2021 budget was adopted by the school board last spring. Gate receipts from interscholastic sports were budgeted at $440,000 for the year, but zero revenue had been recorded for that line item as of Sept. 30.


“Those are probably the largest items,” Judd said of miscellaneous revenues hurt by schools being closed for much of the current school year. “We most likely will not see any money coming from that, so that will hurt us in the end.”

Expenditures in the first quarter were better than expected, as they were “trending below where we would want to be at this time of year,” according to Judd.

She said some savings are anticipated in operations costs, as schools have not been in full operation, but “we’ve also had many unexpected expenditures this year, so we’re monitoring that.”

Harford County has provided $5 million in federal CARES Act relief funds to the school system, which Judd said will “help tremendously,” especially with unanticipated pandemic-related expenses. Such expenses covered by CARES funds include $1.4 million for food service, as the school system has been providing take-home meals for many HCPS families during the spring, summer and fall.

The school system also has used CARES money to reimburse costs related to computers, paying staffers working in the Learning Support Centers opened in the beginning of the school year, as well as the cost of student supplies and personal protective equipment for staff.

Board Vice President Rachel Gauthier asked Judd if there has been “some sort of balance” in the HCPS budget so far, since some revenues have not come in such as income from interscholastic sports, but the school system also does not have the expenses of those sports such as paying staff and facility maintenance.

“Depending on what happens with athletics and when they start — if they start this year … all of that is up in the air,” said Judd, who noted that not having the expenses of such programs “will help offset some of that loss of revenue, absolutely.”

Judd listed, in response to a follow-up question from Gauthier, that HCPS is seeing savings in other areas, such as a decrease in the amount of paper used, along with transportation and utility costs, meaning the school system “could have some significant savings through the year, that we typically don’t see.”

She stressed that it is still early in the year, though, so “it’s hard to say exactly what will happen.”

“If something changes drastically [and] we end up back in school soon, then some of those costs come back into play,” Judd said. “It’s really a day-by-day, month-by-month picture that we’re reviewing and monitoring, and it’s just really hard to say exactly where we will end up.”

She reiterated that the CARES money will help to offset some costs incurred so far, and officials will look for ways to offset and cover other unanticipated costs.

“We want to be able to keep our fund balance as healthy as possible, but certainly not dive into it this year to cover the costs that were not expected,” she said.


Gauthier emphasized that school system leaders are looking at the matter “from a bunch of different angles, and we are aware that our costs and savings are just very different this year.”

Judd also discussed the timeline for developing the budget for fiscal 2022. The school system has put out an online survey that people can fill out to give their input on next year’s budget. The survey closes at 11:59 p.m. Friday.

Revenues at the state level were strong as of September, due to the July 15 receipt of income tax revenue, but HCPS officials want to get more information on the state’s revenue picture as of December, so they have as much up-to-date information as possible when Superintendent Sean Bulson presents his proposed budget to the school board in January.

Board members agreed unanimously that they will accept the budget proposal in January, as it has been presented in December in prior years.

“I think that we should wait for the state to get more information,” member Joyce Herold said. “I have no problem waiting.”

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