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More than 225 from Harford to join march, rally for education in Annapolis Monday

More than 200 people from Harford County are expected to board buses bound for Annapolis Monday afternoon to rally for funding for local schools and schools across Maryland.

The Maryland State Education Association is hosting a March for Our Schools at 6 p.m. Monday in front of the State House and Harford is sending a contingent to show its support.

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“Particularly in this county, the continual under-funding has resulted in the school system having to make significant staffing cuts since 2011,” Chrystie Crawford-Smick, president of the Harford County Education Association, said. “Another fairly significant cut [is proposed] for FY2020.”

Superintendent Sean Bulson’s proposed a $467.7 operating budget for the next fiscal year — $10 million more than the FY2019 budget — called for the elimination of 179 instructional and administrative positions across the school system.

The Harford County Board of Education voted to add another $5 million to the school system’s request, which was $472.7 million when forwarded to Harford County Executive Barry Glassman. The additional $5 million would be used to save about 70 instructional positions.

Six buses will leave Harford for the rally from five locations: two from Patterson Mill Middle/High School and one each from the A.A. Roberty Building on Hickory Avenue, the Fallston park and ride on Route 152, Edgewood Middle/Deerfield Elementary and Harford Tech.

Approximately 230 people are registered to attend, Crawford-Smick said, many of whom are school system employees. Also attending are community members and PTA advocates.

Limited seats remain on the buses. Anyone who is interested in attending and has not registered is asked to the call the HCEA office at 410-838-0800.

In November’s election, the voters won the fight to get casino money earmarked for schools, Crawford-Smick said.

“Now is our opportunity to show the governor the money needs to go to operational budgets, not capital projects,” she said, which is where Gov. Larry Hogan’s directed most of the casino money in his proposed FY2020 budget.

“While there are new schools we do need or schools that need to be renovated across the state, we need to make sure we’re funding the schools we have and providing our kids with the best education possible, and we can’t do that without adequate funding.”

The march is also aimed at supporting many of the recommendations made by the Kirwan Commission, a group studying how to best improve state schools, Crawford-Smick said.

Earlier this week, a bill titled Blueprint for Maryland’s Future was introduced in the House of Delegates to provide $1 billion over two years to begin implementing the recommendations of the commission.

“We are supportive of that bill and all of the opportunities it will bring to our schools, such as mental health services, increased compensation for educators, increased services for students,” Crawford-Smick said during Tuesday’s Harford County Council meeting. “So many things will benefit our students from this bill.”

She told the council on Tuesday the public school system “has a very serious funding problem.”

“Our state elected officials are, once again, idly watching the district lose highly-qualified professionals that it will be nearly impossible to replace in the future and doing nothing to prevent it from happening,” Crawford-Smick said. “Gentlemen, we need your help.”

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She said the school system has cut 700 positions since 2011, and current teachers and other school employees are concerned about what could happen to their positions next year. Many have been applying for and accepting offers in other districts.

“The consequences of inadequate funding will ripple through our community for many years,” Crawford-Smick said.

She challenged council members “to be willing to consider unpopular alternatives and find a way to increase our county revenue,” as well as putting pressure on legislators in Annapolis to submit a bill for supplemental funding “to help restore some of the cuts our school system is making,” which she said other counties have done many times over the years.

Council members did not make a commitment Tuesday to attend the march, but council Vice President Joe Woods said he and Council President Patrick Vincenti met Tuesday with representatives of several HCPS employee unions.

“I think it was a very productive meeting, and I would like to reach out and say, ‘Let’s do that once a year,’” Woods said.

At Monday’s march, supporters will gather at the U.S. Naval Academy stadium at 6 p.m. then march to the State House for a rally with a number of speakers.

Last year, the MSEA rally was to support putting the casino revenue bill on the ballot, which was successful.

“Our presence really does make a difference,” Crawford-Smick said.

At least two school board members plan to attend Monday’s rally.

“I want to support what’s needed for the school system, it’s that simple,” school board president Joe Voskuhl said. “We hope our voices are heard and that the legislature sees the need. I hope they’re recognize the need to support public education in Maryland.”

Board member Nancy Reynolds also plans to attend.

“I think it’s important to advocate for our schools,” Reynolds said. “I think it’s vital the community and the school board and everyone is involved.”

Budget impacts

Abingdon resident Rachel Ashbrook, who has been a regular speaker at Board of Education meetings, said her oldest child will enter HCPS during the 2019-2020 school year.

She said the impact of losing 153 instructional positions “will reverberate through the county similarly to the decision to halt steps for teacher pay during the recession.”

Ashbrook, a Cecil County Public Schools teacher, said she can “vouch” for stories of teachers departing HCPS for other jurisdictions. She said later that one of her colleagues at her school in Cecil is a former Harford teacher.

“It’s the perception of our strong schools and the supporting community around them that allows us to grow,” she said. “If we lose that perception it will be only ourselves that we can blame.”

Ashbrook also referenced suggestions made by other speakers about the county raising additional revenue for schools, such as increasing taxes.

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“I’ve made the investment of time,” she said. “I’m willing to make the investment in money, too.”

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