While some of the teaching positions proposed to be eliminated in the superintendent's budget proposal for FY20, school board member Robert Frisch, right, says they won't go far enough.
While some of the teaching positions proposed to be eliminated in the superintendent's budget proposal for FY20, school board member Robert Frisch, right, says they won't go far enough. (David Anderson / Aegis file)

Harford County Public Schools Superintendent Sean Bulson is hopeful the school system will be able to restore some of the teaching positions proposed to be eliminated in next year’s budget, but at least one school board member is not so optimistic.

The school system is waiting on County Executive Barry Glassman’s budget proposal for Fiscal Year 2020, set to be announced April 15, but between the school board increasing its request by $5 million and potentially more revenue coming from the state, Bulson said some of the 179 positions proposed to be eliminated won’t have to be.

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“At this point we’re hoping for more funds, and we think there is a good chance,” Bulson told members of the board of education at their meeting Monday night. “But we’re not at a point where relying on hope is necessarily the best approach.”

The school system’s $472.7 million budget request for next year includes eliminated 179 positions — 152 instructional and 26 administrative. The board’s request is $5 million more than what Bulson proposed.

That $5 million, whether it comes from the county or the state, could restore about 70 positions, Bulson told the board.

School board member Robert Frisch, however, said those 70 positions aren’t half what’s been proposed to be cut.

“If we get $5 million, you’ll still see half of the teaching positions eliminated, and that’s not including the administrative ranks or people from the central office,” Frisch said. “So let’s be honest — $5 million might seem like it’s helping out, but it still hurts. The pain beyond the $5 million is significant, to the staff and to the students who won’t receive the opportunities in education that we’d all like to see them have.”

Because Glassman’s budget proposal has not been introduced and final education bills in the Maryland General Assembly hadn’t been passed as of the meeting, Bulson and his budget staff don’t have final answers on how much money the school system will have to work with.

That doesn’t mean, however, the school system isn’t looking at how it should restore those positions once those figures are finalized, which won’t be until the Harford County Council approves the budget by June 15.

A one-question survey was given to school administrators — primarily principals — and teachers, giving four filters that could be used when considering how to restore positions, including poverty, school size, special programs and the number of cuts absorbed, Bulson said.

Overwhelmingly, principals chose to restore teachers first at schools where poverty levels are highest, he said.

Teachers also chose impoverished schools, but adding back positions at schools where the greatest number of positions will be cut was a close second, Bulson said.

“It’s something for you to process in your decision-making of how to approach this,” Bulson told board members.

Even before this year’s budget is finalized, the superintendent and his staff are already looking at the FY21 budget.

Positions have been cut in every single budget since FY2011, Bulson said.

“I believe our overarching goal should be to bring forward a budget next year that eliminates no positions,” he said. “And we need to do everything we can to get to that place for next year.”

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To do that, the school system can’t do things between now and when the FY20 budget is reconciled “that puts us in a position to make it harder to bring that budget forward.”

“Because it’s not going to be easy. This has been a hard thing to balance the budget,” Bulson said. “Again, for 10 years we’ve had to do it by eliminating positions in the district. I’m hoping we’ve reached the bottom level and we start building. But to do that we’re going to have a lot of very focused thinking to do.”

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