Great teachers who teach diverse classes are what motivate many students to go to school. Assistant principals help keep students safe while they’re there.
Cutting any of them would be a detriment to a school system that has already suffered budget cuts over the last decade, parents, students and teachers told members of the Harford County Board of Education at a budget input session Monday night at the school system headquarters in Bel Air.
The school board is considering Harford County Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Sean Bulson’s proposed $467.68 million operating budget, which he submitted to the board Jan. 22.
The school system could vote on the budget, which must be submitted to Harford County Executive Barry Glassman by March 1, at its Feb. 11 or Feb. 25 board meeting. Glassman will submit his budget proposal to the Harford County Council by early April and the council must pass a budget by June 15, but has typically approved it by the end of May.
The request is $10 million (1.3 percent) more than last year’s budget, but significantly lower than budget requests sent to the Harford County executive by other superintendents in previous years. Those requests were never fully funded, Bulson told the several hundred people attending the input session, and said he sees his proposal as being more reasonable.
In it, however, he proposes eliminating 179 positions — 153 instructional and 26 administrative, many of which he anticipates will be filled through retirements or other resignations. He also proposes 1 percent cost of living raises and one step increase for staff who remain to keep Harford from falling further behind neighboring school systems.
“It’s a very tightly balanced budget at this point,” said Bulson, who took over as Harford’s superintendent July 1. “Those are very, very deep cuts, and as I’ve said many times, not based on what we think is the best practice for school systems in terms of serving the needs but it’s the reality based on the revenue we believe will be available to us for next year.”
“But shouldn’t we be asking for more?” Hillary Doherty asked. “If we don’t ask for more, we don’t get more.”
She has two children at C. Milton Wright, and said the percentage of the school system’s funding from the county and state have decreased over the years. If the county executive doesn’t provide the funding, the school system needs to provide the county with a list of each position eliminated because the county and state wouldn’t fund them.
Doherty was one of 38 people, including more than a dozen students, who urged the school board during the two-hour input session to find a way to not have to cut so many positions, administrative and instructional, and do what it takes to maintain lower class sizes.
Some offered their own suggestions.
Cayleigh Glorioso is a senior at Fallston High School, about to enter society as a taxpaying citizen.
She suggested increasing the income tax in Harford County from 3.06 percent to the legally allowed limit of 3.2 percent to minimize the damages of cutting valuable AP classes and beloved teachers.
“I am aware you don’t control taxes or where they go, but I feel raising taxes is a viable option that should be looked at and brought to the county executive,” Glorioso said.
She would support an increase in the income tax rate, as she hoped most people at Monday’s public hearing would.
“Consider all possible solutions to save as many positions as we possibly can,” Glorioso said. “I know if you truly care about teachers, students and staff, you will fight for them and explore all options, even it it means bringing the fight all the way to the top.”
Mary Hubner is concerned about the impact of the proposed cuts on education as a whole.
She has lived in Fallston for 20 years and her three children graduated from Fallston schools, went to college and are employed.
“It’s largely due to the education they received in Harford County,” Hubner told the school board members.
Previous cuts have already undermined teachers in the county, she said, and those who remain are being asked to do more with less.
“If you eliminate 153 more, I’m sure it will decimate what has been a desirable, coveted school system,” Hubner said.
Education needs to be prioritized in Harford County, and it needs to begin with protecting educators, she said.
Jeanne Smith encouraged the school board to increase the school system’s request by $4 million, to $14 million more than last year, about 6 percent.
From FY2017 to FY2018, the Harford Sheriff’s Office funding from the county went up 6.1 percent, the Harford County Council’s budget went up 8.8 percent and a county miscellaneous fund went up 36 percent, Smith said.
A 6 percent increase this year “is reasonable” this year, considering the board of education’s budget only went up by 3 percent last year.
“Our schools and staff deserve to be funded more equitably by the county,” Smith said.
With fewer teachers, many of the schools’ AP programs will be cut, while music, art and drama teachers will have to pick up teaching the main subjects, eliminating others, many students said Monday.
When Evan Malloney was entering Fallston High as a freshman, he was excited about music theory, jazz ensemble and music tech classes.
“When students are able to take classes based on interests they have a passion for, they aren’t just getting a good grade, they’re learning and they’re thriving,” Malloney, the vice president of his senior class, said. “I fear that with the proposed budget cuts impacting our fantastic teachers, and subsequently the classes available at my school, students will feel like they’re simply existing through every day.”
Emma Harty, a junior at Patterson Mill, questioned why arts classes are always among the first to be cut, when they do so many things, like teach students to think outside the box and improve motivation, teamwork and concentration.
Those arts teachers are the ones who helped Harty to become more confident in herself, so she would get up and speak to the board.
“My teachers taught me to be better in my everyday life, to be prepared for my future and are the very reason I enjoy going to school,” Harty said. “The teachers I look forward to seeing each day are going to be gone.”
The tablets recently purchased for the sixth and eighth-graders at Patterson Mill Middle were unnecessary, and cost millions of dollars, “and it’s now costing our teachers their jobs and thus our valuable education.”
Holly Bostic, whose daughters attend North Harford schools, said she’s concerned about the slow learners, and what happens to them with the proposed budget cuts.
One of her daughters requires more help, she said.
“What going to happen to those kids when they’re stuck in a middle school or a high school class of 30 to 35 students? They’re not going to get the proper learning they need, the one-on-one they need,” Bostic, who also drives a school bus for Harford County, said. “I’m just asking you to consider class sizes.”
Christian Walker, a junior at CMW who will be the student representative on the board next year, is concerned the budget doesn’t look far enough into the future.
“If our goals for the future are to improve mental health for our students, to improve hiring practices, especially minority teachers, if these are the goals we are trying to achieve… we are not putting ourselves in a place to do that by making this magnitude of cuts,” Walker said.
But if they are “absolutely necessary and unavoidable” this year, he wants the superintendent to put together a long-term plan to move forward.
“To where we will not suffer this degree of cuts ever again,” Walker said. “I’m hoping the testimony tonight is enough to not only consider what you’re looking at next year, but whether this room will look like this five years from now and we’ll be talking about more position cuts.”
His hope is that the energy from Monday’s meeting can be used to develop a long-term plan, one that would move the school system forward “for the benefit of our students, teachers and this whole community,” Walker said.
Mackenzie Wardrope, whose daughter is in pre-K at John Archer, again asked the school board to make the school for special needs students a priority.
“We’re not asking for special classes, we’re asking for basic needs. We want to make John Archer finally a priority, not third on the list,” Wardrope said. “Our kids deserve it.”
It’s been 10 years and the school system isn’t making the school, which serves students from 5 to 21 years old, a priority in its budget, she said.
Tina Dolan, a special needs bus driver for Harford County, asked if any proposals were put forth to have contractors take over the special needs buses, and if so, what would happen to those bus drivers who work for the county.
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Clerical employee Linda Lambert said she had a “very small” request: that when the school system determines how to budget for custodial supplies like toilet paper, paper towels and sawdust to use during stomach bug season, that the amount necessary be determined by the number of students in the school, not the square footage of the building.