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Harford County executive's plan for school funding gets pushback

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Harford County Executive Barry Glassman acknowledged the challenges the local school system has in crafting its budget for next year, although he lauded the “proactive” decisions officials must make to balance their spending.

Residents, including Harford County Public Schools administrators, students and community supporters, pushed back on that assessment during the public comment portion of the County Council’s legislative session Tuesday. That session was held after Glassman delivered his State of the County Address and Council President Patrick Vincenti gave his legislative address.

New HCPS Superintendent Sean Bulson has crafted a $467.7 million operating budget for the 2020 fiscal year, which is about $10 million more than the current year’s budget. Bulson has identified 153 instructional and 26 administrative positions to be cut in order to help balance the budget, though.

Glassman said Tuesday night and during a prior speech to the Chamber of Commerce, that he had to make some of the same difficult choices in “right-sizing” the county government when he took office more than four years ago. Such choices have worked out in the long run with a replenished fund balance, decreased debt, equitable expenses and revenues and a top bond rating resulting in lower borrowing costs, according to Glassman.

He also pushed back, during his State of the County speech, on claims that Harford County ranks in the bottom of Maryland’s 24 jurisdictions for public school funding. He noted Harford ranks 13th out of 24 in terms of local funding, and his administration has increased local funding at a rate of about 4 to 1 compared with state funding over four years.

Those who commented to the council were not having it, though, when it comes to the schools, and they urged the council to seek greater local and state funding for HCPS.

“We ask you, our elected County Council representatives, to advocate for our children,” said Stacey Gerringer, principal of Abingdon Elementary School and president of the Association of Public School Administrators and Supervisors of Harford County.

“Please encourage Mr. Glassman to increase Harford County’s operating budget and, if needed, as a council shift the funds to reinforce [the notion] that providing adequate funding for our children’s education is paramount, and that being 13th in the state funding is just not good enough for our children,” Gerringer said.

The council, which has final approval over the annual county budget, can increase funding for schools, but it would have to shift money from other departments or raise taxes.

Speaker Chas. Hagan is the principal of Southampton Middle School in Bel Air, but he stressed he was speaking for himself as a taxpayer, HCPS parent and administrator.

Hagan asked the seven-member council to imagine what they would do if it was cut back to five members, but they still had to do the same job while taking on the responsibilities of their former colleagues.

He asked them to imagine the council chambers filled with about 20 to 30 percent more audience members, but the size of the room remains the same, then ask themselves if they could still “do what you do adequately.”

“If the answer to that is no, then you would be a Harford County Public Schools teacher next year,” he said.

Hagan stressed that assistant principals who are not cut will have to take on more responsibilities, and teachers will have to deal with larger class sizes.

“The issue is not the issue,” he told council members. “How we handle the issue is the issue, and that’s up to you.”

Ryan Blosser, a junior at North Harford High School, issued a plea on behalf of his teachers who already have classes of 25 to 27 students. He noted that not all of those students want to be in school.

“Our teachers’ burden is already high enough and we’re just making it harder for them,” Blosser said. “They dedicate their time and passion to helping us students, and when we cut them and tell them, ‘Bye, see you, you’re not going to have a position,’ it’s disheartening.”

He said teachers already work in the classroom, then at home grading papers, plus they must manage clubs, even console students in need.

“These teachers are the bloodline of our society and when we cut them, we cut our society,” Blosser said.

Ryan Burbey, the former president of the Harford County Education Association, or teachers’ union, said the school system does need more funding, but encouraged people to focus their energy on getting greater state funding.

“What you really need to do now is, you need to band together with the rest of us, and you need to go down to the state and you need to make sure that the folks that are elected at a state level start to bring home some money,” Burbey told council members.

Council Vice President Joe Woods said he plans to attend the March for Our Schools rally in Annapolis on March 11, and he encouraged others to get involved. He said people can visit https://marchforourschools.com to RSVP.

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