Five departing members of the Harford County Board of Education were honored Monday for doing what one county official said can be considered a "thankless job," yet vital for shaping policy that affects about 38,000 Harford County Public Schools students and 5,000 employees.
"I know it is a very difficult job, and it can be very thankless at times, but I want to rectify that and say, 'Thank you, sincerely,' from the county executive," said Harford County government spokesperson Cindy Mumby, who presented certificates to each board member on behalf of Harford County Executive Barry Glassman.
Board members Cassandra Beverley, Arthur Kaff, Alysson Krchnavy, James Thornton and Francis "Rick" Grambo, whose terms end this year, participated in their last board meeting before a full "hybrid" board made up of six members elected from county council districts and three members appointed by Gov. Larry Hogan is seated in July.
Board President Nancy Reynolds, along with Thomas Fitzpatrick, Robert Frisch and Joseph Hau will remain on the board. Reynolds, Fitzpatrick and Frisch won their respective elections in 2014, and Hau's – who was appointed in 2011 – re-appointment was announced Monday.
The current board members will be joined by elected board members Jansen Robinson, Joe Voskuhl and Rachel Gauthier and appointed board members Laura Runyeon and Alfred Williamson. Student representative Genae Hatcher, a rising senior at Patterson Mill High School, will take over from the 2014-2015 student representative, Hannah Jones, a Patterson Mill graduate.
All of the board members will be sworn in July 20. Hatcher will serve a one-year term for the 2015-2016 academic year, and the elected and appointed board members will serve four-year terms.
The six outgoing members, including Jones, received recognitions from the county, Superintendent Barbara Canavan and their board colleagues Monday.
"You engaged in impassioned debates, frankly and thoroughly, with one mission in mind, to create a competitive school system, which provides optimal opportunities for each and every student to succeed. For that, I will always be grateful, thank you," Canavan said.
Kaff presented a proclamation signed by each school board member, along with Canavan, to Jones.
"The student member has the responsibility of advocating for all of the students of Harford County, and Hannah has done that in an incredible manner," Kaff said.
Jones, who graduated from Patterson Mill June 4, will attend Michigan State University in the fall, where she will study international relations and political science, and major in French, according to Kaff.
Kaff noted Jones has maintained "straight As" while serving on the school board, and has participated in extracurricular activities such as student government.
"You've done a great job," Kaff said. "You've been a very powerful advocate for the students, and I look forward to seeing you serving in other leadership positions, because you are an outstanding leader."
Jones expressed her thanks to her fellow board members.
"This past year has been an incredible journey, and I am so thankful for the opportunity," she said.
Jones said that, while she is excited to move to the next phase of her life, "I will always look back on HCPS and hold it with a special place in my heart."
She also thanked her fellow board members "for an incredible year, and I wish you the best."
Each board member, including those who are staying on, gave his or her thoughts about the changes coming in the next fiscal year.
"I'm going to miss every single one of you," Fitzpatrick said.
Thornton, who was appointed to the board in 2011 and then ran an unsuccessful campaign for Harford County Council president in 2014, read from lengthy prepared remarks and touched on a number of challenges the school board has faced in recent years, including budget issues that have forced it to make unpopular decisions to save money, such as ending busing for magnet school students and placing several elementary schools on a fourth-tier busing schedule.
Thornton said he disagrees that the school system has a "revenue problem," with not enough money coming from state and county funding authorities to cover increasing expenses each year. He said the school system has an "expense issue."
"Leadership of the Board of Education and the administration must be willing to go through a zero-based budgeting system," he said.
Thornton said the school system "must close the gap in our salary structure to recruit and retain the best teachers, and other staff," plus deal with rising health care costs and the millions of dollars needed to cover Other Post-Employment Benefits for retirees.
He said school officials must work "in partnership" with the county executive and County Council.
"We should see top-notch schools as an economic engine," he said.
Appointed in 2008, Krchnavy is the longest-serving board member. She ran an unsuccessful campaign for the District C seat serving the Bel Air area. Her opponent in the 2014 election, Voskuhl, will represent the district.
"There are amazing men and women that I've had the opportunity to serve with on this board," she said.
Krchnavy said she does not measure her time on the board in years, but in the names of each student representative, the last of whom is Jones.
"You're awesome, and every one of these students are awesome in their time and their service," she told Jones.
Beverley, who was elected in 2010 and ran an unsuccessful campaign for state delegate last year, said she recognizes that the next board "has its work cut out for it."
"I just ask them to try to continue to keep the lines of communication open and try to continue to reach the community and get them on board to look at what kind of schools they want their schools to be," she said.
Grambo, who was elected in 2010 and declined to seek re-election last year, thanked Canavan and her leadership team for their work in carrying out board decisions.
"We have an excellent staff here, so thank you for that," he said.
Grambo also made a plea on behalf of local children.
"On behalf of the children, I would like to beg the state, county, local governments, federal government, please stop burdening our children with overwhelming, crushing, soul-crushing debt and burdensome regulations, so that they can grow up to be free, like free people were meant to be," he said.