As the Maryland Lottery went about encouraging the media to urge people to play for last week's record $1.5 billion Powerball jackpot, each news release came with this reminder: "Maryland Lottery and Gaming contributed $1.012 billion to the state in FY2015. Please play responsibly."

So, how come Harford County Public Schools, a supposed beneficiary of all this lottery money, along with the 23 other local school systems, will be getting less money from the state in the coming fiscal year 2016-17, according to projections?


This is a question that has gnawed at us for some time and each time we seek an explanation, the response is balderdash, such as: declining enrollment; not enough local tax dollars generated by the county's wealth(?); not enough maintenance of local effort (spending); or the answer for dummies: That's just the way the formula works.

Here's how much your state government, fueled by ever-expanding gambling revenue of which the lion's share is supposed to be dedicated to something called the "education trust fund," has been providing annually for the operation of your Harford County Public Schools:

2013 - $197 million;

2014 - $193.3 million;

2015 - $193.9 million;

2016 - $194.3 million; and

2017 - $193.7 million.

The above fiscal year figures come from HCPS budget documents and, obviously, the 2016 and 2017 numbers are estimates. If the latter were to hold true, however, then Harford schools will get $625,000 less from the state for the next school year than they are presumed to receive in the current one.

The county government has picked up some of the slack: $219.8 million (2013); $221.3 million (2014); $223.7 million (2015); $228.2 million in the current budget. HCPS officials are on the verge of asking the county for $257.3 million next year, an amount we have previously stated is wildly unrealistic. But here's the rub: The cost of doing business, as HCPS officials note – opening the doors and turning on the lights, etc. – tends to accelerate annually. These costs may not go up uniformly year over year, but over time they most certainly do.

Then, there's also the issue of paying employees and the escalating cost of benefits. Without getting into a drawn-out discussion about the latter, and whether HCPS is truly doing anything to appropriately control benefits costs, we do believe HCPS employees are being paid below market wages compared to other school systems in the region.

A consultant study, commissioned two years ago by HCPS and cited by a member of the personnel staff just last week, showed HCPS support personnel are underpaid compared to the market, as are other non-professionals, while teachers at the top of the scale also are being paid below their peers elsewhere. (The study did not give a market minimum average for teachers for comparison purposes.) According to the same study, the only employees consistently paid well above the market average are the administrators – principals, assistant principals, education supervisors – and the superintendent's executive staff.

While the study's numbers are from 2014, we suspect little has changed and, frankly, it's time for school leaders to look closer at this disparity and how to eliminate it. And, yes, to do so will take money, lots of it, and where is it to come from?

HCPS certainly needs to pare back costs in some areas. Harford County under this administration has shown a willingness to provide more for the schools, even though its own resources are compromised by lackluster local economic growth. Regardless, neither spending controls nor more county funding will be enough together to pay employees adequately – to protect their purchasing power as the head of the local teachers union put it last week – and to keep up with the non-salaried operating costs that continue to rise over time.

Which brings us back to the state. Something is broken when a school system like Harford's keeps getting less financial support from a source, the state, that continues to bring in all kinds of money from expanded gaming as was intended. If the formula is the problem, then it's broken and needs to be fixed. If the money is being siphoned off for some other use, it needs to be put back in its rightful place.


The locals need to do their part by spending prudently and controlling costs wherever practical. But the State of Maryland needs to step up and do its part, too, by providing a realistic and steady stream of money to all local school districts, in amounts that are fair to all.