Education, particularly for special-needs students, should be a spending priority as the county begins its 2009 budget deliberations, County Executive David R. Craig was told at a public hearing Wednesday.
Craig, who is coping with state and federal cuts, and reduced revenues from a slumping housing market, asked residents how money should be spent.
The majority of the more than 30 speakers at a public hearing Wednesday said that despite looming cuts, money for the Board of Education should be increased.
"Fully fund the [education] budget, no matter what the state decides," said Patrick Whitehurst, a Fallston High School teacher.
The hearing at Patterson Mill Middle High School, the county's newest school, drew about 100 people, including teachers, administrators, PTA leaders and students. They argued for salary increases, more resources and more staff members.
"New teachers can't pay their college loans or afford houses in the county," said Brian Rheinhardt, a teacher at C. Milton Wright High School. "They are leaving because of salary and workload. Teachers are not greedy, but they are practical."
Several teachers of English as a second language described growing numbers of students struggling to master the language with insufficient resources.
"Ten years ago, we had 200 students with nine teachers," said Dee Whitesell, an ESL teacher. "Now we have 500 and 10 teachers. We are ill-equipped because of the sheer numbers."
Senior citizens called for more facilities and for weekend and evening programs, and county government retirees called for improved benefits. Others asked for Sunday library hours and an arts center.
Parents of children with special needs expressed concerns about federal cuts, particularly in the early-intervention programs, and asked the county to pick up the slack.
"With reductions in state and federal funds, local government is the only source left to us," said Patty Jones, coordinator of Harford's Infant and Toddler Program.
Craig said he valued each comment and would work to find as much money as possible for all programs.