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District F school board candidates stress that good schools mean good quality of life

Michael Hitchings, left, and Thomas Fitzpatrick
Michael Hitchings, left, and Thomas Fitzpatrick

Two Havre de Grace men, one with three children in Harford County Public Schools, and one doesn't have children, are running for the District F seat on the Harford County Board of Education.

Michael Hitchings, 37, and a father of three, and Thomas Fitzpatrick, 57, who is married without children, will face each other in the November general election.

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Both candidates live in the city and have been involved in community activities.

Fitzpatrick was appointed to represent the Havre de Grace area on the school board in 2012. He grew up in Baltimore County, but said he considers Havre de Grace his adopted home.

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He works as the East Coast sales manager for Modular Wetlands Inc., a stormwater management company headquartered in Oceanside, Calif.

Fitzpatrick is a founding member of Havre de Grace Main Street Inc., which promotes development and community events, such as First Fridays in downtown Havre de Grace, and he volunteers at city institutions such as the Susquehanna Museum at the Lock House and during events such as the annual Independence Day celebration.

Although he does not have children, Fitzpatrick stressed the need to have good community schools to maintain the local quality of life.

"If you go down the list of the best communities to live in the United States, there's something every single one of them has in common, and that's the fact that every single one of those communities has great schools, and great schools are about building a future," he said.

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Fitzpatrick added: "If you want the people of Harford County to have a great future, you have to make sure they have good schools."

Fitzpatrick was appointed two years ago, and he is running this year for one of six elected seats for the nine-member board.

Councilmanic District F covers Havre de Grace, parts of Aberdeen, Aberdeen Proving Ground, Abingdon, Belcamp and parts of greater Bel Air.

"I think the fact that I have a couple of years of experience puts me in a good position to help navigate the challenges that we're going to have in the next couple of years," Fitzpatrick said.

The school system has struggled in recent years with difficult budgets and the increased costs of doing business, as well as trying to find money for teachers' salary steps, which are contractually-obligated salary increases that kick in as teachers gain experience and additional education.

"I think we're going to have to work very closely with the incoming government and the new County Council to resolve that in the most equitable manner," he said of the budget situation.

Hitchings is a 1995 graduate of Havre de Grace High School; two of his children attend Meadowvale Elementary School in the city, and his oldest attends Havre de Grace Middle School.

"As a parent I have a direct connection back to the schools through my own children," he said.

Hitchings recalls the value of his education through Harford County Public Schools and "the wonderful mentors and education that I had," and he is concerned his children will not have the same experience, since HCPS has declined in his view.

"I'm afraid my three kids and their classmates won't look back on their life, growing up in Havre de Grace and say, 'That was a great place to grow up in,' and they won't look back after graduation and say, 'I want to raise my family in Harford County.'" he said.

Hitchings is a project and program manager for the Department of the Army at Aberdeen Proving Ground. He is also a member of the city's Board of Appeals and a former member of the city Planning Commission, and he is a youth soccer coach.

He is also a member of a local Masonic lodge, Susquehanna Lodge 130.

"Generally, what concerns me is if we don't take care of our educators, our students won't want to stay here after graduation, and we'll see a decline; our communities that make up Harford County will generally fall apart," he said.

Hitchings said he would bring to the school board leadership experience from his job, for which he manages about $750 million worth of projects, a figure that is larger than the HCPS annual budget, as well as his understanding of design, construction and master planning and how to implement them for a facilities program, plus his connections to the Havre de Grace community.

"Bringing that all together, I understand what the board needs from a community interest perspective," he explained.

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