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Harford school officials host public forums for FY2016 budget

Seventh grade students, with teacher Lauren Redding, view the latest video from Afghanistan.
Seventh grade students, with teacher Lauren Redding, view the latest video from Afghanistan.

Three members of the community attended the first of a week's worth of public input sessions with Harford County Public Schools Superintendent Barbara Canavan and her top aides at North Harford High School Tuesday evening as school officials develop their budget for the 2016 fiscal year.

Canavan was not fazed by the low turnout – members of the public were outnumbered by school system officials during the meeting in the high school's media center.

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"There were only 12 apostles, and they were darn important," she said.

Canavan, along with Chief of Administration Joe Licata and Manager of Communications Jillian Lader, spoke about the process of creating the annual budget and the need for county residents to put forth their priorities for school system funding.

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Licata said school officials are "trying to get as much input as we can as early as we can."

"We're starting soon because there is a definite timeline that we have to follow, and the effort that it takes to build a budget that's almost half a billion dollars is pretty extensive and pretty complicated," he explained.

Licata said the superintendent and her staff gather information from the community between August and November about their priorities for the budget, and school officials have been meeting with groups such as county business leaders and PTA representatives.

The superintendent then presents her budget proposal to the Board of Education in December, which holds its own public forums during December and January.

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The budget request approved by the school board is then sent to the county executive, who holds forums on the entire county budget, which includes funding for schools, during February and March.

The county budget is sent to the County Council, which also holds sessions with representatives of each agency and members of the county's citizen budget committee, and adopts the budget in June.

The fiscal year begins July 1.

"Between now and December, it's important for you and everybody in the community to make your feelings known to the superintendent as to what you, or the community, believes should be incorporated in the budget request," Licata explained.

Licata noted this year is a major election year, with races for school board, county council, county executive and state legislators, and a number of new people could be in those positions to administer school funding.

He and Canavan stressed that the school system and school board are not funding authorities – the schools get their funding from the county, state and federal governments.

The overall $426.9 million FY2015 operating budget, which the school board approved in June, is $27.2 million less than what school officials requested to meet their operating needs, and local funding is $29.6 million less than what was requested.

Licata noted the school system has not added programs in recent years, and Canavan said some administrative positions had to be cut, and summer school programs curtailed to save money for FY2015.

"I am here to tell you that every single penny in our school budget is accounted for," she said.

Canavan also expressed concerns with the potential for the departure of teachers and staff because wages are not competitive with surrounding jurisdictions. A proposed expenditure for salary increases had to be cut.

The results of a salary study will be presented during the school board's Oct. 13 board meeting, Canavan said.

"I will tell you, the little stream is starting to run over the banks," she said.

School officials fielded questions on giving input on the budget, increasing teacher compensation and methods of saving money in energy use and transportation.

"As a parent and a homeowner, sometimes I get frustrated," said Susan Summerfield, who lives in Pylesville and teaches at North Harford Middle School.

North Harford High Principal Edward Herbold noted several computers in the media center were still on, even though the school day was over.

"It's going to take everybody doing it, because you can't control everything centrally," Licata said of efforts to save money.

A second public forum will be held at 5 p.m. Wednesday in the media center of Aberdeen High School, and a third is scheduled for 5 p.m. Thursday at the C. Milton Wright High School media center.

The general presentation on the creation of the budget can be seen on the school system website, http://www.hcps.org, starting at 11 a.m. Wednesday.

An online budget input tool will also be available on the HCPS website, which allows members of the public to configure a mock budget.

Members of the public can give their views to Canavan via Twitter from noon to 1 p.m. Monday, Oct. 13, during a Twitter Lunch Chat. Visit @HCPSchools, and join the chat with #HCPSchat.

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