A Harford County Council budget work session scheduled late on a Friday afternoon might sound like a real yawner. But a surprising amount of news came out of Harford County Public Schools’ presentation to the members of the County Council on April 23; and not all the news was about the budget.
HCPS has been buzzing lately about a pending management shake-up. Word is that Superintendent Robert Tomback, who hails from Baltimore County Public Schools and has been on the Harford job for less than a year, will bring in some of his own people and reorganize the central office. At the budget work session, Tomback volunteered that management changes were on the way, with a plan to be presented at the school board meeting (tonight) April 26. Tomback said that the reorganization involves both the office of curriculum and instruction, currently headed by Roger Plunkett, and school operations, currently under the direction of Chief of Administration Joe Licata. Tomback said the changes will streamline the system, create positions, and result in savings of $120,000.
The school system will squeak by without layoffs or cuts to the instructional program next year, but only because the operating budget will be held together by the temporary glue of one-time money. The FY11 operating budget uses the last of federal bailout money, wipes out the schools’ fund balance, and applies one-time cost savings, which together plugged what would have otherwise been a $12. 8 million budget hole, according to earlier comments from budget officials.
Without an uptick in revenues in FY12 and beyond, Harford Schools’ CFO John Markowski told council members that the instructional program will be impacted. Markowski said that could mean cuts to staff and to the arts and athletics after next year.
Asked about state funding, HCPS budget officials noted that something doesn’t add up with the levels that have been set for Prince George’s County Public Schools; PG’s allotment from the state seems low. Why should we care? If there’s an error, Harford may lose some of the state funding we’re banking on.
In other bad news, Councilman Dick Slutzky reported on a recent conversation with Maryland Comptroller Peter Franchot. Slutzky said that Franchot voiced some support for pushing the cost of teacher pensions onto the counties.
So Franchot joins the crowd in Annapolis who are plotting to save the state from drowning in red ink by tossing an anchor to the counties.
Slutkzy said Franchot reasoned that local officials hire staff and negotiate salaries which then affect pension costs. Markowski from HCPS retorted that it was the state legislature that recently voted to increase teachers’ pension benefits. Touché.
Still, the tone of the work session was remarkably jovial, given the long term economic outlook. Maybe it’s because crisis was averted for now. Like the relief of having missed a bullet – never mind that the firing squad may be reloading.
Councilman Slutzky asked a series of detailed budget questions and sought clarification on a number of line items. He also requested an evaluation of the Alternative Education program at the old Aberdeen High School (now called the Center for Educational Opportunity – CEO). Slutzky questioned the efficiency of the program in its current location, given the relatively small number of students being served (less than 100 as of last September, although the number fluctuates during the school year)
Slutzky also noted the school system’s overall 87% graduation rate and asked for an evaluation of high school reform (a.k.a. CSSRP). Slutzky wanted to know if the graduation rate had improved as a result of CSSRP and “if not, why not?”
Slutzky also asked that future budget reports provide details on the duties of senior staff. The budget document lists a total of 84 administrators, supervisors and assistant supervisors. Slutzky said that HCPS may be unfairly charged with being top heavy, so it might be helpful for the public to know “What do they actually do?”
Superintendent Tomback was more communicative than in past meetings with elected officials, a welcome change. Tomback also didn’t shy away from offering a commentary on the federal law that dictates so much of public education. In response to a question from Councilman Dion Guthrie about No Child Left Behind, Tomback said the intent of NCLB was “laudable”, but that the implementation had “failed”. He stressed that he was speaking only for himself. Tomback went on to note that the standards under NCLB varied from state to state and he talked about the punitive nature of the accountability system. To be sure, educators have railed against NCLB since it was enacted in 2001. But it was somehow refreshing to hear Tomback take a personal and impassioned stand.
Last to speak was Council President Billy Boniface. Boniface was genial, but he directed an I-mean-business look at Board President Mark Wolkow and Superintendent Tomback, stressing the need for good communication between the council and the school board.
Communication between the two government bodies has been less than stellar in the past (see Red Pump/Campus Hills). But school board members Don Osman and Leonard Wheeler have begun regular meetings with Councilman Slutzky (Slutzky is a former educator and the council’s education liaison), with the other council members joining in on a rotating basis. As a result of the meetings, relations seem to be improving. It may be perfect timing, given the bumpy road ahead.
Christine Feldmann says
Dear Ms. Mumby:
It was with surprise and disappointment that we read your April 26 article entitled, “School Board Scratchpad: Budget Woes, Management Shuffle Ahead for Harford County Public Schools,” in which you reported that Comptroller Franchot supports the idea of shifting teacher pension costs to Maryland’s counties.
Since you failed to contact the Comptroller or any of his staff for comment or verification, you inaccurately reported that he “joins the crowd in Annapolis who are plotting to save the state from drowning in red ink by tossing an anchor to the counties.” In truth, he does not support this idea, which would simply shift cost commitments from one branch of government to another. He believes this approach would place an unsustainable fiscal burden on counties that are already struggling to balance their budgets and provide vital programs in the midst of tough economic times.
Comptroller Franchot spoke to the members of the Harford County Chamber of Commerce on April 22 and instead called for a top-to-bottom review of state spending and operations. He also cited his Office’s unprecedented success in generating hundreds of millions in new revenue through stronger enforcement of our existing tax laws. Finally, he has used his Office to advocate for the growth of Maryland’s green technology and life sciences sectors, and has even been a leader in support of our state’s growing wine industry.
If the Dagger wants to really be, “more than a blog, more than a forum and more than a traditional newspaper,” In the future, I hope that the Dagger will verify your “facts” before you publish them. Our door, and our phone lines, are always open.
Deputy Director of Communications
Comptroller of Maryland
Let me begin by stating that I believe Mr. Franchot is a good man facing a very challenging situation. In regards to your pompous and misguided lecture on journalism, I would hope that he does not condone your arrogant and uncalled for approach to a constituent matter. Regarding the substance, the article simply reported on what Mr. Slutzky stated in a public meeting: “Councilman Dick Slutzky reported on a recent conversation with Maryland Comptroller Peter Franchot. Slutzky said that Franchot voiced some support for pushing the cost of teacher pensions onto the counties.” If Mr. Franchot has an issue with this, then he should take it up with Mr. Slutzky, and either challenge his veracity, his memory, or his understanding of their conversation. The “anchor” reference was merely an editorial comment on what Mr. Slutzky was stating. In my opinion, your bluster was aimed at the wrong recipient. I might also add that I view Mr. Slutzky as an honest, constructive, and dedicated public servant.
And if you were truly a regular Dagger reader, as I am, you would understand the professional and valuable service that it provides to the citizens of Harford County; and you would not be so quick to disparage it and talk down to it.
I, for one, would certainly appreciate an official statement from Mr. Franchot indicating that he DOES NOT and WILL NOT “support this idea.” Just because you say that he believes it is “unsustainable” does not mean that he won’t do it. God only knows that he and the governor and the legislature have subjected us to countless “unsustainable” initiatives over the past 4 years.
I disagree with PTB’s assessment of your comment and thank you for asking for fact-checking on Dagger “news” articles. I think the sentence in Ms. Mumby’s article, “Slutzky said that Franchot voiced some support for pushing the cost of teacher pensions onto the counties” is fine; it’s the next one, “Franchot joins the crowd in Annapolis who are plotting to save the state from drowning in red ink by tossing an anchor to the counties” that is a leap and a generalization. In my opinion, this is more appropriate of a letter to the editor than an article. The line between the two is blurred on The Dagger; sometimes checking the author helps but not always. While I do enjoy reading Ms. Mumby’s articles on the school system, it’s clear how she feels about the state of HCPS through the editorializing that goes on…it’s definitely not just the facts.
I think you should look back at the “Scratchpad” and see what its intent was. It wasn’t meant to be an article. Do you know for a fact that Mr. Franchot didn’t make those comments? Were you with him when he spoke to the group and/or individuals mentioned? I have seen politicians say different things to different groups.
Would it be possible to post his position written by him (not you)on here? I think many people are fed up with both the federal and state governments passing unfunded mandates onto the counties and expecting them to pay the bills. In this case, the teacher pensions are going to enable the state to keep even more money for themselves and make the local governments pick up the tab. I hope he doesn’t want the tax burden placed on the counties, but it wouldn’t be the first case of double speak in a political year.
Is it possible that Mr. Franchot or Mr. Slutzky had a misunderstanding?
As you stated, HCPS merely dodged a bullet this year. what about next?
The main office is going to have take a long, hard look, and I think a good place to start is the admin section. Look at salaries and responsibilities at main office level. I’m sure some fat could be cut there.
Neal Anderson says
Ha, a shake up, this isn’t a Shake-up but a take over. I’m sure by next year Roger Plunket will be gone and the new middle school director will be a Baltimore County Croonie, as will most of the top. Why we want to be Baltimore County I don’t know!
At least Balt. Co. High schools don’t have block scheduling.
some don’t some do or at least did.
one more former student says
With the majority of workers across the state, both in private firm and civil service, paying a large portion of their health benefits cost; as well as the largest part of their retirement. Why do we the taxpayers keep having to pay for such a huge amount in state budget obligations for the teachers bennies and pensions. Let a portion go to the counties, then those that help set the amounts can understand what it takes to keep funding on track. Yes ,teachers do a good job with what they have, but the time has come and gone for them to join the rest of us on health care costs and retirements. Also , while the school board is looking into ways to cut costs while enrolments climb, why don’t we go to 2 shift classes? We already pay for the infrastructure. Companies do it all the time; even colleges are looking into almost around the clock classes. While your at it, cut some of those overpaid upper admin people and funnel that $$ back into updating the schools with current IT. Take a step back in time to when kids had to pay to ride the bus and there’s some more savings.
I thought enrollment was declining?
Having 2 shift classes would double our transportation costs as well as having to pay for twice the amount of teachers. Teachers have contracts limiting the number of hours they have to work. I agree that when you look at teacher salaries you have to consider the benefits. Most people don’t get nearly what they do.
Harford county students have much higher test scores than Baltimore county. so is this the beginning of dumbing down our kids ?
Towson and Dulaney routinely have some of the best scores in the state and much better AP pass rates. BCPS may average lower scores, but maybe that’s because they have a higher poverty rate that HCPS. If you were to compare the best schools in BCPS and the best schools in HCPS I think you’d find that HCPS has room for improvement. And at least Dulaney doesn’t have block schedule.
If you want to compare, go look at the Towson and Dulaney Profiles. They’re online with SAT scores and AP pass rates. Dulaney even lists it’s pass rates by test. SOOO easy to find. Good luck finding that data on HCPS high schools. Towson has a 82% pass rate on AP.
Caroline Worthington says
You’ve got to be kidding!!! I was recently a consultant for a financial institution in Harford Co. and we could not find people who could speak proper English. All we heard was, “He don’t have his account number” and “she don’t have enough money” and “It’s broke” and “drive safe” and “He come into the credit union”. We even held grammar classes and it didn’t do any good and I’m talking about people from Fallston, Forest Hill, Bel Air, etc. If they grew up in Harford Co. and attended public schools, their grammar was embarrassing!!! I don’t know how they could score well on national tests. Sure there are sections of Baltimore Co. that have the same problem but not in the areas with the better public schools.
R. Slutzky says
Ms. Christine Feldmann
Comptroller P. Franchot
I and other colleagues of mine on the Harford County Council are pleased to hear that Comptroller Franchot does not support having the State hand some portion of teacher pension costs back to the local jurisdictions. We will look for his opposition to this idea when it is revisited in the next legislative session in Annapolis.
However, I can tell you that if in fact this is Comtroller Franchot’s position one could not have ascertained that from the comments he made in response to the question I ashed him in the public forum at the Harford County Chamber of Commerce lunch on April 22. My question was, “Do you have an opinion on the State of Maryland giving teacher pension obligations back to the counties?”
Paraphrasing his answer as closely as possible he said …this is a difficult situation and I don’t want to get in trouble answering that question. He went on to say that he was from Montgomery County and this was an issue of concern in Montgomery …. and since the counties set the pay schedule and provided the raises there would have to be some compromises and consessions at the county level.
I have checked this recollection with prominent individuals associated with the Harford Chamber and other local elected officials and they all have corroborated this recollection as being almost verbatum. Thay all also interpreted his answer as suggesting that he believed that the counties would have to share in some entent with paying the teacher pension obligation. I would be glad to share with you the names of those who I have checked with if you contact my office.
If his remarks were not intended to give the impression indicated above many in the audience must have been confused by the response Comptroller Franchot provided. I apologize if I did not clearly understand the response but I obviously was not the only one.
Please contact my office if you need any additional information.
Richard C. Slutzky
Harford County Council
Why is it one day,”If we don’t get more money we’ll cut teacher pay.” Now they have more money so they hire more $100,000+ administrators. County Council should not give HCPS another dime. This is outrageous. Enrollment is shrinking, why do we need more admin? How does adding more admin save $180,000 a year? Must be Everyday Math at work!
You did not read they took 3 senior level jobs and combined them to keep one senior level job and one junior level job. Thus you save money (which it said 120,000 not 180,000 and you are not hiring more administrators. You are letting 3 go and hiring 2!
They are not “letting 3 go.” No one is losing their jobs in this re-org. They are not filling an open position and are creating 2 new positions. They may be playing musical chairs, but they aren’t taking any chairs away.
what is happening to Plunkett and Licata?
I heard they are getting new titles/positions with less power and/or one of them may be “choosing” to retire.
Plunkett is going to work for Baltimore County. It was approved by BCPS board yesterday.
According to Sunpaper article, Roger Plunkett is going to be reporting directly to the Superintendent of Baltimore County schools. He is going to be “working with the superintendent with a broad range of administrative responsibilities including… monitoring and reviewing data related to effectiveness of system-wide intiatives.” Wasn’t he doing that here? Whose job is it to do that anyway? One of HCPS biggest problems is that no one checks on the effectivenes of their iniatives. Case in point Secondary School Reform… still waiting for the Board to discuss (3 years later while my kids have wasted a lot of valuable time in high school).
Roger Plunkett is one of the people in the school system who really cared about the students. There are too many others that I can’t say the same about.
Bob D. says
This scenario you speak of only shows that the money is there, it is just how the superintendent wishes to use it. Apparently, this man would rather spend the money on home office materials, new programs, and new personnel at the board level than giving teachers adequate pay. I would much rather see the people in the classroom trenches well compensated than a new program to replace INFORM or a new “swipe card” system that will only be discarded after a year or two.
Susan Rinehart says
I understand the economic bind that HCPS is facing. That is a situatuation we face personally every day. That being said, I have worked for HCPS for 25 years and I have earned a excellent reputation as an instructional asssistant. Faced with family issues beyond my controll my attendance suffered. I was judged on attendance, not preformance on my evaluation. For the first time in career I recieved an overall “cause for concern” based on this, therefore I was put in the layoff pool. The negoicated agreement states we are ONLY judged on our performance, which was not the case. If layoffs are necessary do it legally. My excellent work record and dedication to my students had little to no bearing on this decision. In the future, I hope that this policy is adhered to and the employees who give their all are treated fairly or at least legally!