Teachers are the “backbone” of the Harford County Public School system and proposing to eliminate 179 teaching positions in the next fiscal year is “heartbreaking” for some students.
The teacher cuts were part of Superintendent Sean Bulson’s proposed $467,678,414 budget for fiscal year 2020, which starts July 1. It’s an increase of $6 million, or 1.3 percent, over this fiscal year’s budget of $461,667,449.
“The news of the amount of teachers we are losing is heartbreaking,” North Harford High School junior Ryan Blosser said. “These teachers are the backbone of our society. They’re the ones shaping and melding the new minds of the future.”
Blosser was one of a handful of students who addressed members of the Harford County Board of Education at their meeting Tuesday night, when Bulson presented the board with his budget plan. It includes elimination of 179 positions — 153 instructional and 26 administrative — within the school system, as announced earlier this year. It also includes one step increase and a 1 percent cost of living adjustment for the teachers who stay with the school system.
“I believe this is a budget that is responsible considering the financial circumstances of this community and also we can build on in the future and start looking at something we’re growing, not just protecting,” Bulson said.
The board will hold a public hearing on the budget at 6:30 p.m. Feb. 4 in the A.A. Roberty Building and could vote on the plan at either the Feb. 11 or Feb. 25 school board meeting. The budget request must be submitted to the Harford County executive by March 1.
The students are concerned the loss of teachers means a loss of programs at their school. North Harford High and Middle stand to lose 14 and 10 positions respectively under Bulson’s budget proposal.
Fifty of the proposed eliminated positions will come from the elementary schools and 103 will come from the middle and high schools.
“I urge you to see the teachers that we’re cutting, so see what powerful influences they have in our lives and what changes they’ve made in our community and to find another way,” Blosser said. “Surely there has to be another way.”
Losing the 10 positions at North Harford High means losing 60 classes, 17-year-old junior Maxfield Henkel told the school board.
“It seemed as if all our educational opportunities were disappearing into thin air. It was absolutely heartbreaking,” Henkel said. “For some students, it’s the thing we go to school for, we absolutely love it. These are the things that we get excited for, and going to school without these things is a very daunting and cold possibility.”
He begged the school board members to do what they can to save the teacher cuts.
School board vice president Laura Runyeon said that while the proposal is to cut 179 positions, it doesn’t mean 179 people will lose their jobs. Each year, the school system fills about 200 positions, whether it’s teachers retiring or going elsewhere, and the leadership of the school system hopes to be able to fill those positions with the people whose positions have been cut, depending on their qualifications.
It’s not just the classroom education teachers provide that is important to students.
Navi Singh, an 11th-grader at Edgewood High, recently dealt with some mental health issues. One of her teachers “understood me and helped me crawl from hopelessness,” Singh said.
She shared her experience with the school board Tuesday “who show how student connections to teachers are wounded and the sudden stripping away of mentors can be detrimental to students opportunity and stability in unfathomable multitudes,” she said.
As a means to save money, she suggested letting sports teams raise their own funds, much like the Student Government Associations do, stopping political projects or assessing priorities such as buildings and government positions to give security to teachers.
When Bulson became superintendent July 1, he began examining the budget and has said from early on the school system needs to submit a budget request in line with what the county has been funding each year, not a plan with an astronomical increase that will only have to be cut later in the spring.
Bulson has discussed his proposal with Harford County Executive Barry Glassman, who Bulson said has been “appreciative” of the request.
“He’s generally been supportive of the more modest request,” Bulson said. “I have some degree of confidence he will be able to meet our target.”
While making the cuts, which include eliminating positions at the central office, Bulson wanted salaries of those remaining to stay competitive with other jurisdictions, so he’s proposing the step and COLA increases. And while he’s trying to reduce health insurance expenses, he doesn’t want more to be taken from salaries. The changes may come in the form of higher co-pays and using more generic prescriptions, he said.
One bit of good news the school system didn’t factor into its request is possibly a higher-than-projected state funding allocation, by as much as $5 million.
If the school system were to receive the additional funds, it would first go toward the school system’s fund balance, which was nearly depleted in the last budget year to balance the budget and fund teacher salary increases.
“It’s scary going into a year with no fund balance because there is no money if there is a problem,” Bulson said.