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Harford school board increases budget request by $5 million to $472.7 million for FY2020

Harford school board increases budget request by $5 million to $472.7 million for FY2020
Youth's Benefit Elementary School fourth-grader Emma Sewell urges members of the Harford County Board of Education not to cut the 153 instructional positions proposed in the FY2020 budget. (Erika Butler/The Aegis)

The Harford County Board of Education voted unanimously Tuesday night to increase its proposed budget for Fiscal Year 2020 by $5 million and submit a request to the county executive for $472,678,414.

It would be $15 million more than this fiscal year’s budget.

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If the total budget request is funded by Harford County Executive Barry Glassman and approved by the Harford County Council, the entire additional $5 million would be used to restore about 70 instructional positions, according to an amendment introduced by board vice president Laura Runyeon.

Superintendent Sean Bulson’s proposed budget of $467,678,414 included elimination of 179 positions — 153 instructional and 26 administrative.

“My goal tonight would be to make a request that increases our funding so we can restore some positions, but also make a request that will get funded,” Runyeon said. “To make a request that is so large it can be viewed as unnecessarily large sometimes creates a situation where we’re given just a number, and it’s often not the number we would hope to have.”

Bulson, however, cautioned the board in asking the county for more money and that the $10 million increase he proposed is more than any county executive has funded in recent years.

“My concern is any increases may put us in jeopardy of not having a response to support it,” Bulson said. “I initially made this request for this budget number, based on a great deal of feedback, about finding a budget request that was something that could be viewed in the broader community as a reasonable request.”

The budget must be submitted by March 1 to Glassman, who must submit his proposed budget to the Harford County Council by April 15. The council will hold a series of public hearings and work sessions and must pass the budget, with any amendments, by June 15 and it goes into effect July 1.

Board members agreed they did not want to submit a request with a $35 million increase over last year, the amount required to cover all of their expenses without cutting any positions, because it would be unreasonable.

But they want some of the positions proposed to be eliminated back in the budget, if the entire $15 million is funded.

Talking about a budget request with that large of an increase, “with those numbers, you lose the faces of what we’re talking about,” board member Rachel Gauthier said.

“One of the things the community here has done really, really well is to advocate for the faces. They’ve advocated for their people, they’ve advocated for their teachers, they’ve advocated for their schools, their administrators, and I think we would be remiss if we attempted to take those faces away, to take those stories away,” Gauthier said. “I do believe $5 million is a reasonable amount to consider.”

Before the meeting, 18 members of the school community addressed the board, asking them to consider increasing funding.

Emma Sewell, a fourth-grader at Youth’s Benefit Elementary School in Fallston, said she was representing the more than 1,000 students at her school, “even the bullies.”

“Teachers have worked their hardest to teach the students, they’re just trying to teach us so we can be anything when we grow up,” Sewell said.

They spent years in college and now 150 people are being eliminated just for doing their jobs, she said.

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“Let me ask you this, are you willing to fight for us? Think of all the classrooms with too many kids,” Sewell said. “I ask you to think about what I said and do something about it.”

Harford Tech programs

After pleas from graduates of the floral design program at Harford Tech not to eliminate the teacher of the classes, and thereby the entire program, the board voted to add back into the budget two instructional positions to be cut at the school — though they weren’t directed at a specific program.

Instead of eliminating eight positions at the school as proposed under Bulson’s budget, the school stands to lose six.

The floral design position and a masonry teaching position were among those identified by the principal and approved by Bulson as two of the eight to be cut if the reductions are necessary once the school system’s final budget is approved.

A half dozen supporters of the floral design program at Tech pleaded with the board Tuesday not to eliminate it.

Jordan Kortisses, a 2015 graduate of Tech’s floral design program, said she learned independence, responsibility and life skills she didn’t get from her math class, and the program “quite literally kept me alive.”

At 17 years old, she was dealing with the death of her brother and “trying to live a semi-normal life in a drug-ridden home … where every day was a struggle to want to keep living,” Kortisses said.

She knew she had to go to school, where she felt needed, wanted and appreciated, because people were depending on her to fill their orders.

Without the program at Tech, she would not have been able to purchase her own flower shop at age 18, seven months after graduating from high school, nor would she have been able to teach floral design classes at Harford Community College.

The pleas prompted a broader discussion among the board members about how the positions to be eliminated were identified and if cutting a single teacher at some schools means eliminating an entire program.

Bulson told board members once more concrete figures are available on how what the school system’s budget will be for next year, it can begin to look more closely at how those positions will be cut.

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