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Harford schools trim $8 million from budget; Board taps reserve fund, blocks teacher hirings, but protects music, sports


Searching for ways to cut $8 million from its proposed budget for the next academic year, the Harford County school board sent teaching specialists back to the classroom last night, borrowed $1.8 million from a reserve fund and decided against hiring two dozen extra teachers for next year.

The in-house loan must be repaid by 2002, and the move to forgo hiring 24 teachers for the 2001-2002 school year saved $909,700. Also, it raised spending for materials by $148,319 instead of the proposed $1.15 million increase.

Of 17 "teacher specialists," who mentor less-experienced teachers, eight will return to the classroom for a saving of more than a quarter-million dollars.

The budget cuts occur at a time when Harford County is being flooded with new residents, many of them with school-age children.

By 11 p.m., the board had trimmed the $8 million from the proposed $236 million school budget but went out of its way to protect music and sports programs and teachers' 5 percent raise.

Members of the school system's Citizens Budget Advisory Committee had recommended the county cut the $1.67 million allocated for sports and other extracurricular activities and pay for them instead through fees, corporate subsidies or fund-raisers.

In last night's moves, about 20 teachers working in the gifted and talented program for elementary school pupils will be reassigned to regular classrooms.

A move to eliminate music programs at all elementary schools -- which would have saved $834,423 -- was defeated by a vote of 4-3 with board President Karen L. Wolf casting the deciding vote.

Board member Robert B. Thomas Jr. had warned that if the motion passed, "it will haunt us all."

A proposal to charge a $15 fee to all students participating in extracurricular activities died because of questions about its legality.

At the meeting, board members got a recap of budget-cutting proposals from schools Superintendent Jacqueline Haas. About a week ago, the board agreed not to touch a proposal to raise teacher salaries by about 5 percent -- an action taken to guard against a teacher shortage.

"We feel very strongly about that," Wolf said.

Throughout Harford, rapid residential growth has outpaced resources available to meet residents' needs. Last month, County Executive James M. Harkins proposed increasing the piggyback tax rate for residents from 50 percent of state income taxes to 60 percent -- which could cost an unmarried taxpayer with a gross income of $25,000 about $90 more a year.

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