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Harford school supporters to rally for more education funding Thursday before council budget hearing

Harford school supporters are trying to start a movement to pressure local elected officials, especially the county executive, to do better moving forward when it comes to funding education.

“The [position] cuts pretty much impact every single community, it has the entire county involved,” Chrystie Crawford-Smick, president of the Harford County Education Association, said. “While we appreciate that Harford County Public Schools has received more funding each year Mr. Glassman has been in office, I find it very alarming that a record funding year, as he calls it, is resulting in elimination of [nearly] 200 positions and people are also being laid off.”

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

While Harford County Public Schools superintendent Sean Bulson presented his plan to restore teaching positions, school board members urged the Harford County Council to scrutinize the budget and fund extra money and for the public to take their concerns to the council members.

Harford County Executive Barry Glassman has introduced a budget that provides the school system $256.4 million, $10.7 million increase over last year’s budget, which would still require Bulson’s proposed position cuts.

The superintendent introduced a plan at Monday’s school board meeting to use additional, unanticipated funding from the state to restore some of those instructional positions, including 26 teachers at the elementary schools and 27 at the middle and high schools.The state’s allocation to Harford County is about $6.2 million — the school system initially budgeted about $600,000 from the state.

The HCEA is gathering the troops for a rally Thursday and march from the school system headquarters on Hickory Avenue to the Harford County Council chambers on North Bond Street to demonstrate their support for education in the county.

“Most of the county council has been very supportive of us as educators, we don’t want to discount that. We realize their options are limited in terms of how they can support us with funding this year,” Crawford-Smick said. “But we’re hoping that by their constituents being there, voicing their opinion and telling that that education needs to be a priority, they take that back to county executive and urge him to do better.”

The crowd will gather in the parking lot adjacent to the school board headquarters on Hickory Avenue, across from Bel Air Volunteer Fire Company, where Crawford-Smick said she intends to address the crowd. Supporters will march to the council chambers to arrive by 6, so those interested in speaking will arrive in time to get a seat inside, she said.

“Those who have no desire to go in can stay outside and continue to rally,” Crawford-Smick said.

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She encouraged people who wish to speak to sign up ahead of time online, by emailing council@harfordcountymd.gov, or by calling the council chambers at 410-638-3343.

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.

Crawford-Smick is hoping the council can find any excess money from a project that can wait, initiatives that don’t have to happen immediately or from a line item that hasn’t been used in the last few years, and apply those funds to Harford County Public Schools instead.

“We’re talking $1 million to $2 million, because we want to be able to continue to fund these positions,” she said.

Crawford-Smick is expecting more than 500 people at the rally, including teachers, parents, students, administrators, staff from facilities and the central office, as well as community members and advocates and some supporters from outside Harford County, like the Cecil County Classroom Teachers Association and the Maryland State Education Association.

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Among those who will be rallying are Wade and Heather Sewell of Fallston, who have been outspoken since the beginning of the year about the proposed cuts and their impact on the school system.

They got involved as concerned parents when they became aware of the positions being eliminated.

The Sewells’ children attend Youth’s Benefit Elementary School, where 1,025 students are enrolled. Emma is a fourth-grader with 27 students in her class and Ian is a second-grader with 26 students in his class. The school is slated to lose four teachers.

“We wanted to understand why this was happening to the school system when kids are already in very large classes,” Wade Sewell said. “We didn’t see anywhere teachers could be cut.”

They are working with Crawford-Smick to spread the word about the rally Thursday and to provide information.

Heather Sewell has been a data analyst and when she learned of the cuts, began looking at the county’s previous budgets and audits.

“Our sole focus from the beginning is to make everyone aware of what we know, that everyone has the same set of information, so they can make informed decisions,” Wade Sewell said.

She found that Harford County has the seventh-highest property taxes in the state and the ninth-highest income taxes, yet it ranks 13th when it comes to school funding by the county and 24th when it comes to per pupil funding.

“There are more places in the budget where the money could come from,” Heather Sewell said.

If the budget is approved as proposed, the school budget would be 43 percent of the general fund, down 3 percentage points from when Glassman took office, she said.

I recently met with the County Council, County Executive, and Harford County Public Schools to better understand school funding in Harford County. As a concerned parent and data analyst, I conducted research to better understand school funding across Maryland. Here are my findings.

“Everyone in Harford County has the right to be well-informed with how they county is spending our tax dollars,” Wade Sewell said. “From that they can advocate for themselves for the county they want to build. Every day we’re building the county, building the future.”

Crawford-Smick said the rally Thursday isn’t just about this fiscal year, it’s about the future of Harford’s public school system.

“We know the school system is not adequately funded. Systemic underfunding through the years has gotten us to the point we’re in now,” she said. “We can’t keep sacrificing a high-quality education just to save a dollar.”

She noted the $100 million fund balance the county has achieved in the last five years and likened it to paying the bills.

“It’s important for the county to be fiscally responsible, but at the same time, you don’t save money when the electricity is being turned off or your car repossessed,” Crawford-Smick said. “We need to make sure we’re paying the bills before the money goes into savings, and we don’t feel the county’s bills are being paid the way they should be, including the education bills.”

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