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Hundreds rally for education, urge full funding of Harford schools budget

Cars driving by on Churchville Road and Hickory Avenue honked their horn in support of the people in red, rallying Thursday evening for more funding for Harford County schools.

Hundreds gathered in the parking lot adjacent to the Harford County Public Schools headquarters before marching to the Harford County Council chambers, where they planned to urge the council to “Fund15” — fully fund the Harford board of education’s request for a $15 million increase in education funding during a public hearing on the county’s budget.

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Without it, they said, their class sizes will increase dramatically as teaching positions are eliminated.

In the Harford County Public Schools $472.7 million budget for FY2019-2020, Superintendent Sean Bulson proposed eliminating 179 positions — 153 instructional and 26 administrative.

Harford County Executive Barry Glassman introduced a budget that provides the school system $256.4 million in county funding, a $10.7 million increase — not the $15 million requested — over last year’s budget, which would still require Bulson’s proposed position cuts.

At Monday’s school board meeting, Bulson proposed restoring 53 of 153 teaching positions that were to be eliminated with the additional $5.6 million in state funding the school system is set to receive.

Katherine Airey is a teacher at Bel Air Middle School, where class sizes are already too high, she said.

She and her family — husband Chris and kids Anderson, 5, a kindergartner at Red Pump Elementary, and Benjamin, 3 — were there to advocate for the future.

“Little kids don’t need to be big classes,” Katherine Airey said.

She doesn’t have the funding now to do what she needs for her students, with resources already spread thin.

“I can’t imagine what [the cuts] will do,” she said.

Airey is a new teacher in the Harford school system this year. She previously taught in Baltimore County and stayed home for two years to take care for her children.

Her position was initially going to be eliminated but it’s safe, she said, because of retirements and transfers.

“We want Barry Glassman to fully fund Harford County Public Schools and make us as competitive as other counties,” Airey said.

Her colleague, Dawn Klein, who was also at the rally, has 40 students in one of her math classes.

Things will only get worse, they said.

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Six-year-old August Baker, a first-grader at Homestead-Wakefield Elementary, held a sign that read “School is important.”

“We’re trying to make people pay more money for schools,” August said.

He was with his sister Halligan, 3, and their parents, Adam and Sara Baker.

Both their children are on the autism spectrum and need special services through the school system.

“There’s not enough special education resources at school,” Sara Baker said.

Her son lost his adult support halfway through the school year last year because there weren’t enough to go around, she said.

“It’s unacceptable for the county executive to continue to underfund schools and continue to mislead the public on percentages,” Baker said. “When it comes down to it, it’s not enough. Schools are the first thing we should be funding.”

It’s important to be seen, she said — that’s why she and her family were at Thursday’s rally, dressed in red.

“Not everyone in the community has kids in school,” Baker said. “But everyone benefits from children being in well-funding schools, having their needs met. It reduces crime, encourages students to stay in the area and be a productive member of our community.”

The Callan family of Fallston — Katia and Jesse and their children Harper, 8, and Flynn, 10 — were carrying signs with them.

Harper is in second grade and Flynn in fifth at Youth’s Benefit Elementary, where class sizes are among the highest, if not the highest in Maryland, Katia said.

“That’s unacceptable, and we’re losing 10 percent of our faculty. Our classroom size is going to go up drastically,” Katia Callan said.

She and her husband are both social workers, and part of their career is social justice, she said.

“We want to make sure our kids get the money they need,” she said. “Hopefully [our councilman] Joe Woods will recognize we are here to support our community and what they are doing is unacceptable.”

The county council, which has a second public hearing scheduled May 16, can only move money around in the budget. It can not take money away from the school system, it can only increase its budget. If it does add money, it must determine where it will come from.

The council must pass a budget for FY2019-2020 by June 15.

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