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Harford Council amends funding for Joppatowne High upgrades; no changes to school operating funds or tax increases discussed

The Harford County Council has put forth a handful of amendments that adjust spending for school system capital projects, such as upgrades to Joppatowne High School, renovation of swimming pools and improvements to special education facilities.

Council members have not yet put forth amendments to County Executive Barry Glassman’s proposed fiscal 2020 county budget that would increase the amount of local spending for Harford County Public Schools operations or increase the property tax rate to raise more revenue for schools — despite hours of calls from Harford citizens in two public hearings last week to do both of those things to fully fund a request by the Board of Education for $15 million more in county funding next year.

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Council members did acknowledge during their legislative session Tuesday — when 10 amendments to Bill 19-009, the annual budget appropriation ordinance, were introduced — the many concerns people have expressed over education funding in the preceding weeks.

Superintendent Sean Bulson said he would work with those teachers to keep them in the school system and get them certified — if they so choose.

Council President Patrick Vincenti noted the roughly 80 speakers, whom he said were “extremely passionate at expressing their thoughts and concerns” during public hearings May 9 and May 16 in the council chambers in Bel Air.

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“We want to thank for taking the time to come and talk with us,” Vincenti said. “We want to especially thank you for your respect and your courteous manner here at the chambers.”

Hundreds of people participated in a rally in downtown Bel Air before the May 9 public hearing, calling for the council to “Fund15” and increase local funding for Harford County Public Schools as school officials have proposed cutting multiple teaching and administrative positions to help balance the proposed $472.7 million HCPS operating budget for next year.

Glassman has, in his proposed $903.6 million county budget for fiscal 2020, allocated $256.4 million for public schools, a $10.7 million increase over the current year’s funding. The state also increased its funding for Harford schools by several million dollars, and more money is expected to be available through the state’s Kirwan Commission.

Those who spoke at the public hearings, including students, teachers, parents, school principals, union leaders and school board members, urged the council to shift money from unspent cash reserves elsewhere in the county budget, or raise property tax rates to generate additional revenue.

Nancy Reynolds, an eight-year school board member who has served as the board’s president and vice president, said at the May 16 hearing that citizens have made the message clear, “they want to live in a county that promotes education and values quality education.”

“The school system has done their part — the time is now, you have no option, in my mind, other than to fully fund this budget,” Reynolds said. “Our kids deserve it.”

Councilman Andre Johnson said Tuesday that the public showing is “what democracy looks like.”

“I appreciated the community coming out, and coming out in force and really telling us exactly what’s important to them,” he said.

Council Resolution 008-19, which was introduced April 16 and was one of the subjects of the public hearings in May, keeps county property tax rates the same next year, however.

The council has to pass the budget by June 15.

Budget amendments

The council introduced 10 amendments to the budget appropriation ordinance, the majority related to school capital projects.

Amendment 1 clears the school system to spend $1.5 million, which had been appropriated in prior fiscal years, on engineering and design for systemic renovations to Joppatowne High School. The school has not had any “major upgrades” since it was built in 1972, according to county budget documents.

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Amendment 3 reduces the allocation for improvements to HCPS’ three swimming pools from $705,000 to $120,000. Kim Spence, chief of budget and management research, told council members that school officials want to conduct an assessment before they determine how they will prioritize pool renovations, thus less funding is needed for that project next year.

Amendment 7 establishes a line item of $842,000 — the combination of $585,000 shifted from the pool renovation project and another $257,000 from relocatable classrooms — for improvements to special education facilities.

Chase Pullen of Bel Air, Alayna Avent of Harford Tech and Cara McLaughlin of Fallston have had perfect attendance for 13 years in Harford County Public Schools

Billy Boniface, director of administration for Glassman, lauded school system officials for working with the county government on the capital project funding changes, noting their efforts to “remain budget neutral” and “not bring in new funding.”

“We were able to take [existing capital] projects that had balances available,” Boniface said.

The 10th amendment introduced Tuesday involves removing $150,000 from the park and recreation department’s proposed budget that would be used for a contract with Multicorp to provide maintenance services at county recreation facilities rather than county personnel.

Councilman Robert Wagner sponsored the amendment along with Johnson. Wagner said it came about after “much discussion” during an April 29 council work session on parks and recreation funding. Director Kathy Burley said the department would use contractors at the Chenowith Activity Center in Fallston starting in early May as caretaker positions became vacant.

“Many times the people that our pubic first encounters are people that are there, watching over the building or cleaning the building,” Wagner said Tuesday. “I don’t think that contractor will be able to answer and direct, [to] do the general public a service that we see out of our dedicated personnel that we’ve got out there working for us today.”

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