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Unions representing teachers and other school system staff in Harford County and many residents have not been shy in calling for elected officials to commit to improved funding for education in 2020.

Representatives have attended meetings of the Harford County Board of Education and the County Council in December to make their concerns known. And while some of the numbers presented related to county finances do not tell the whole story, other numbers from inside the classroom indicate something needs to be done as enrollment increases and class sizes are getting larger.

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“Harford County Public Schools’ enrollment is larger than it was in 2011, and yet we have 504 – let me say that again, 504 – less adults to support our children’s mental health and educational well-being,” Stacy Gerringer, the principal of Abingdon Elementary School and president of The Association of Public School Administrators and Supervisors said at the Dec. 17 county council meeting.

When school officials did their annual Sept. 30 enrollment count, they found it had gone up by 619 students, Harford county’s highest enrollment spike in a decade. That came on the heels of eliminating more than 100 positions systemwide.

Classes sizes are also fairly large. About 77 percent of classes in kindergarten through second grade have more than 20 students, 60 percent of classes in third through fifth grade have 25 students and more; and 25 percent of middle school classes exceed 30 students, according to data presented by Chrystie Crawford-Smick, president of the Harford County Education Association.

Far fewer programs are offered at high schools due to cuts over the years and there are greater needs for special education services and students who are English-language owners.

Superintendent Sean Bulson is working with the budget team to develop a budget for next school year, which is expected to be presented to the Board of Education on Jan. 13, and the board will likely vote on his recommendations Feb. 10; the budget must be sent to County Executive Barry Glassman by March 1.

Based on his comments in November, Bulson intends to add teaching positions in his budget to address the enrollment increases, although it’s unclear at this time how many he’ll seek to add.

Education funding for Harford County is complicated. One number that has been bandied about quite a bit is that it ranks dead last of the 24 jurisdictions in the state when it comes to per pupil funding. However, that isn’t necessarily because of local government.

Local funding per pupil comes in closer to the middle of the pack. The overall number is dragged down by low amounts of state and federal funding that is often tied to higher levels of poverty and, at the state level, takes the relative wealth of the county into consideration.

At the state level, funds related to the Kirwan recommendations and legislation have also made that level of funding more unpredictable in years past, although generally districts have seen more money from the state than anticipated or budgeted. For example, last year Harford received about $5.5 million more than Bulson had budgeted from that state. He previously told the Aegis he was unsure if there were strings attached to that funding so he was reluctant to include it in the budget.

Glassman’s administration has increased funding for Harford schools each of the past five years.

Because of the uncertainty elsewhere, it is likely the burden will fall on county government to increase funding again to ensure our students are getting the education they deserve and that many families moved to Harford County to have. The county has a fund balance of $136 million, although only about $20 million is unaccounted for. While some of that could certainly be put toward education, doing so without having a method to continue that funding moving forward can create other problems.

Given the sudden spike in enrollment, however, perhaps this situation constitutes dipping into the rainy day fund as a long term plan is developed to ensure Harford’s students the best education available.

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