Harford County Public Schools employees will see a salary cut of nearly two percent overall next year under Superintendent Robert Tomback’s proposed fiscal year 2011 budget, a response to increases in fixed costs and the current poor economy.
Tomback first presented his proposed budget at a Board of Education meeting on Dec. 21, but the salary cuts were not noted in his brief public remarks. The narrative portion of the 526-page budget document clearly states that no wage increases are included in the proposal, but the across-the-board salary cuts are not discussed. The cuts were discovered when The Dagger identified reductions in individual line items.
In an e-mail to The Dagger, Tomback said the cuts were not part of the narrative portion of the budget because the reductions “are subject to the collective bargaining process.” Tomback said that his compensation, which is determined by a contract, could be cut along with that of other staff if the school board chooses, but did not specifically say whether it would be cut under his proposed budget.
Under the contract he signed last June, Tomback is scheduled to start FY 2011 with a base salary of $190,000, plus a potential bonus of up to 10 percent.
The cuts were confirmed late Monday by school system spokeswoman Teri Kranefeld in response to questions about an unexplained reduction in a line item for instructional salaries. Kranefeld estimated the reductions at nearly two percent for HCPS employees overall.
The superintendent’s total, unrestricted operating budget request for fiscal 2011 is $417,525,509, unchanged from the current fiscal year. Increases totaling $11.4 million in health insurance, retirement, utilities and other fixed costs, along with the tough economic climate led to the decision to cut salaries.
The budget document offers the following explanation:
“In response to this challenge, all areas of the budget were examined with an emphasis on preserving critical programs related to student achievement, creating greater efficiencies in all operating areas, and making difficult decisions on cost reductions that would least impact students.”
Randy Cerveny, who represents HCPS teachers as president of the Harford County Education Association, told The Dagger he was “really surprised” to learn of the salary cuts. Cerveny said that he had reviewed the narrative portion of the budget document, but he hadn’t seen the salary cuts.
“It makes no sense why they would keep this secret,” Cerveny said. “Who are they trying to fool?”
But enactment of the superintendent’s proposed budget is far from assured. First, the budget is subject to change depending on actual funding levels, and must clear a series of approvals, before becoming final in late June. Second, any change to salary levels are subject to negotiations between the school board and the five employee associations which together represent all HCPS employees.
Public hearings on the superintendent’s proposed budget are scheduled for Monday, Jan. 11 at 6:30 p.m. and Sat., Jan. 16 at 9 a.m. at the HCPS Administration Building in Bel Air. Board work sessions, where changes to the budget would be considered, will immediately follow each of the public hearings. The school board plans to vote on the budget proposal at a special business meeting planned for Tues., Jan. 19. All meetings are open to the public.
Once approved, the superintendent’s proposed budget becomes known as the board’s Recommended Budget, which will be submitted to Harford County Executive David Craig on Feb. 8, according to the budget document. In late March, Craig is expected to release his proposed funding levels for county organizations, including HCPS. The school board will then make any necessary adjustments before the Recommended Budget is sent to the Harford County Council for a vote in late May. Final board approval of the budget follows in June, prior to the start of the new fiscal year on July 1.
Here’s the full text of Tomback’s e-mail to The Dagger, with the verbatim questions posed to him in italics:
Across-the-board salary cuts for all HCPS employees are not specifically mentioned in your proposed budget document; nor were they included in your public remarks introducing the budget on Dec. 21. We’ve had some reaction that this was an attempt to hide the proposed cuts, at least initially. Do you have a response?
As part of the budget process, we will be reviewing the proposed budget with the Board on Monday, January 11th, at the budget work session. At that time, Board members will begin their deliberative process in order to reach a final budget. The Board will review and adopt a budget of their own and submit it to the County Executive, who, following review, will then submit it to the County Council.
Can you explain why you chose to summarize some budget actions (i.e. hiring bus drivers, increased health care costs) in your comments and in the budget document, but not the salary cuts that will affect every HCPS employee?
The reductions to salary categories are not automatic. There are various ways to realize cost reductions, many of which require collective bargaining. The salary reductions were not explained in the narrative because they are subject to the collective bargaining process.
Will the 2% cut affect your own compensation?
If the Board chooses a process by which my compensation would require a reduction, then I would absolutely be included.