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Superintendent proposes restoring 53 teaching positions with additional state money

Superintendent proposes restoring 53 teaching positions with additional state money
Harford County Public Schools superintendent Sean Bulson told the school board Monday night that he'd like to use extra state funds to save teaching positions. (Matt Button/The Aegis)

Harford County Public Schools’ superintendent is proposing to restore 53 of 153 teaching positions that were to be eliminated with the additional $5.6 million in state funding in next year’s budget the school system is set to receive.

About half the positions would be at the elementary level and half at the secondary level, primarily at schools with higher levels of poverty.

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The increase from the state is “unprecedented,” Superintendent Sean Bulson told members of the Harford County Board of Education Monday night.

While he presented his plan to restore teaching positions, school board members urged the Harford County Council to scrutinize the county’s budget and fund extra money and for the public to take their concerns to the council members. Public hearings on the budget are set for Thursday and May 16, both at 7 p.m. in the County Council chambers at 212 S. Bond St. in Bel Air.

“In an ideal world, the $6.2 million [in total state funding] could have restored a lot more positions,” school board president Joe Voskuhl said, but some it will be needed to pay other bills. “It will allow [positions to be added back], but not to the level that our students deserve and not to the level that this community deserves.

“It's now up to the county council to provide the level of funding that the citizens and students of this county deserve,” he said. “We increased Dr. Bulson’s $10 million to $15 million. We're asking the County Council to find that $5 million. I'm asking the county council to have the political courage to do what is necessary to fund the education of our students.”

Some county council members have “emphatically urged” Bulson to find more money in the school system budget, including at a work session two weeks ago.

“I’m going to ask the county council, try” to find more money in the county budget, school board member Robert Frisch said.

He suggested the council look at how much revenue a half a percent from each department would create in funding for the school system, to see if they can find $4.7 million — the difference in what the school system requested and what it is proposed to receive from the county. If that doesn’t work, then look at what a 1 percent cut would generate, he said.

“I don’t know what the answer is, but you can get it done,” Frisch said. “It’s whether you have the courage, whether you’re willing to do it, that’s the bottom line.”

He urged residents to take their fight to the council.

“Folks, you have your chance between now and when the county council adopts the budget, you have an opportunity to influence,” Frisch said. “We did our part, let’s have them do theirs.”

The school board submitted a $472.7 million operating budget request to Harford County Executive Barry Glassman, a $15 million increase over this year’s budget.

The budget includes elimination of 152.5 instructional positions, 26 administrative positions and 24 central office staff, though 15 instructional positions, three administrative positions and two central office positions have already been restored.

In his operating budget for FY2019-2020, Glassman has proposed county funding of $256.5 million for schools, “the greatest increase we’ve ever seen,” Bulson said.

It’s a $10.7 million increase over FY2018-2019, but still $4.7 million short of the $15 million increase the school board requested.

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Bulson is proposing the school system use $5.4 million of the additional state funding for the 53 positions and to cover fixed costs and “me too” clauses in association agreements from Kirwan Commission salary increases.

Of the $5.4 million, $3.8 million will be used to add 26 teaching positions to elementary schools with the greatest poverty levels.

School officials have been discussing how positions would be restored if funding were available, and most — including teachers — agreed schools with the greatest levels of poverty should be considered first.

“The challenge of equality versus equity is the question of whether everyone should get the same, or whether we should be deliberate about how we allocate our resources and should they be differentiated or should everyone get the same thing,” Bulson said.

At the elementary level, where the number of positions eliminated was based on class size, the schools with more students receiving Free and Reduced Meals will keep more teachers.

As initially proposed, class sizes in kindergarten through second grade were capped at 25 students and third through fifth grade capped at 30. That will remain for schools where 50 percent or fewer students receive reduced meals, Bulson said.

At the seven schools where 50.1 to 75 percent of students receive reduced meals, kindergarten through second grade class sizes will be capped at 23 and third through fifth at 27. And at the two schools with 75.1 to 100 percent reduced meals, class sizes in kindergarten through second grade won’t exceed 21 and third through fifth won’t exceed 24.

“This is a formula I believe we can build on in future years. As resources become available, the priority is to continue to lower class sizes in elementary schools,” Bulson said. “This is the starting point, that allows us to explain, and to demonstrate to our community, exactly how we deploy our staff to our schools.”

At the middle and high school level, positions were eliminated based on the ratio of students to teachers — 19.27 students per teacher — but took into account the number of reduced meals students using a multiplier. The multiplier increased based on the number of students, from 1 to 1.1, Bulson said.

“Schools with the greatest percentage of poverty received the fewest cuts,” he said.

In reducing the number of cuts, one position will be restored at each of the 18 secondary schools with one teaching position added to the nine secondary schools with fewer than 1,000 students, Bulson proposed. Harford Tech, where the school board previously restored two positions, is not included.

Of the $8.7 million to be allocated to Harford County to fund Kirwan Commission recommendations, $3.5 million is a teacher salary grant, which gives teachers a 3% salary increase.

Because the school system funds “me too” clauses with its five bargaining units, it must come up with money outside of what Kirwan funds to give those members the same raises teachers will receive.

Any of the $5.6 million left over will be applied to the school system’s fund balance, which Bulson warned is “very, very tight.”

“Should a major emergency arise, we’ll have to make difficult decisions,” he said.

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