At a time when superheroes occupy the screens in cinemas around the country, several of the many speakers who participated in a public hearing on the fiscal 2020 Harford County budget Thursday evening urged County Council members to be gallant themselves and fully fund the Board of Education’s budget request.
“I am here to ask you to be the heroes of Harford County,” Heather Sewell, a Fallston resident and Youth’s Benefit Elementary School parent, told the seven-member council.
The hearing, one of two hosted by the council before it votes on County Executive Barry Glassman’s proposed $903.6 million county budget for next year, was held in the council chambers in Bel Air. The chambers were packed with people, many of them wearing red or orange in support of the school system and community’s push to fully fund a requested $15 million increase in the Harford County Public Schools’ operating budget.
The public hearing followed a rally in downtown Bel Air, which hundreds of people attended, in support of additional county money for public schools.
About 30 people spoke during the public hearing, the majority about school funding. Others spoke about matters such as building a community center in northern Harford County or funding for Family and Children’s Services, which provides mental health services for the local Child Advocacy Center.
“Tonight, citizens from all over Harford County were in the streets of Bel Air and this county [council] chamber to advocate to you,” said Ryan Blosser, a junior at North Harford High School and student representative for the Harford County Council of PTAs.
Superintendent Sean Bulson, who is in his first year leading HCPS, initially proposed cutting 179 teaching and administrative positions to help balance finances when he put forth his proposed budget in January.
School officials have since said some of those positions could be restored with the funding proposed by Glassman, who increased the allocation for schools by $10.7 million over this year, as well as several million dollars more than expected from the state.
Blosser told County Council members that “this decision is yours now.” The council has the final say on the budget, as well as property tax rates for next year. It can increase local funding for schools by either shifting money from other departments or raising taxes.
Several speakers urged the council to do both of those things.
“The only way to get funding up for our schools, and for our police and for public safety, is to increase taxes, period,” said Aberdeen resident Ryan Burbey, a former president of the Harford County Education Association, the local teachers’ union, and a current HCPS teacher.
The council will host its second and final public hearing at 7 p.m. Thursday, May 16 in its chambers at 212 S. Bond St. in Bel Air. The council did not respond to any members of the public during the hearing Thursday, although Council President Patrick Vincenti noted at the start that “my colleagues and I are extremely interested in everyone’s comments.”
Vincenti also called for a moment of silence to remember those killed and injured in an early-morning fire in the 1800 block of Simons Court in Edgewood on Thursday.
“Our hearts go out to their families, friends, first responders and the entire Edgewood community during this difficult time,” he said.