From Ryan Burbey, Harford County Public Schools teacher:
Much debate over the past couple of years has revolved around taxes and school funding. Local “Tea Party” activists would tell you that they pay too much in taxes and that our schools are massively wasteful institutions. At first glance, your tax bill may seem exorbitant, but a closer look will reveal an obvious flaw in this logic.
After last year’s two cent per $100 tax cut, Harford County’s property tax rate stands at $1.042. That means that for each $100,000 in real property, each Harford County resident pays $1,042.00. That amounts to about $87 each month, down from about $89 each month. This modest rate cut may seem like small potatoes, but let me tell you it adds up to big time lost revenue. Extrapolated across the county, this amounts to millions and millions of dollars, which can’t be spent on schools, police, firemen or vital services. Would you pay $2 per month to have better schools?
“Tea Party” loyalists will tell you that Harford County taxes are still higher than they should be, but when compared to other counties around the state, it is clear that this argument has little or no merit. We pay far less in taxes than virtually every other developed county in the state. Similarly, real estate values in Howard County and other developed counties are significantly higher than ours. This means that each household pays significantly more in real estate tax than most of the citizens of Harford County.
Why are property values so much higher in Howard County? As all of our “free market”, “Tea Party” advocates can confirm, housing cost is driven by supply and demand. That means that more people in general want to live in Howard County, braving daily traffic jams, than scenic Harford County. Why do they forgo our pristine vistas and pastoral landscapes for over-priced, over-crowded communities? Perhaps, it is proximity to work or more shopping options, but most would say that families choose their homes based on the quality of community schools.
Being a teacher in Harford County, I would be the last person to debase our schools. We have, for a long-time, done the best we can with the funding we are provided. However, Harford County Public Schools is one of the lowest funded school systems in the state. As of October 2010, Harford County ranked 18th out of 24 counties in per pupil spending. Only Cecil, St. Mary’s, Washington, Queen Anne’s, Talbot, and Caroline invested less money on their children’s future than Harford County. http://www.mdreportcard.org/
As much as every teacher wishes they could overcome the overwhelming funding disparities between Harford County and other more successful counties, money matters. Currently, the top three most successful school systems in the state of Maryland are Calvert County, Carroll County and Howard County. Harford County ranks 12th, just behind St. Mary’s County and just ahead of Baltimore County. http://www.schooldigger.com/go/MD/districtrank.aspx
Why, you ask again? Do they have better kids, better parents or better teachers? Is there something in the water? No, they just invest more money in their schools.
In 2009, 2010 and 2011 Calvert County invested $6,313, $6,500 and $6,562 per pupil respectively. Carroll County spent $6,100, $6,333, and $6,200 during the same three years. Howard County, the system closest of the top three in size to HCPS, spent over $9,000 per student in every year since 2009 and proposes to spend almost $9,400 per pupil in 2012.
By no means do I suggest that Harford County can or should spend $9,000 per student, but the much-maligned budget proposed by Dr. Tomback and approved by the Harford County Board of Education gets Harford County Public Schools in line with the funding priorities of our competitors, raising the per pupil expenditure to a modest $6,000. This paltry sum is less than any of the top three rated districts spent in any year from 2009 to 2011. Correspondingly, Harford County spent just $5,300/pupil, $5,400/pupil and $5,500/pupil during those years.
The proposed $6,000 per student expenditure also is $300 less than the proposed 2012 per pupil expenditures in Carroll County and $3,360 less per student than Howard County plans on spending next year. Some will say, “In this economy, where are we ever going to get the money?” It is simple. The Harford County Council needs to raise taxes.
Many believe we can’t afford to raise real estate taxes during “tough times.” In truth, we can’t afford not to raise the necessary funds to improve our schools, as well as, maintain the quality of life in our community. Our schools are in dire need of renovations, repairs and technological updates to remain competitive. Our teachers and other school employees have not received negotiated salary steps in two years. Our county workers have endured excessive pay-cuts, disguised as furlough days. Our crumbling infrastructure is also long over due for crucial updates. Just returning property tax rates to 2005 levels of $1.09 for every $100 of assessed real estate value would raise millions of the much-needed dollars to revitalize our schools and community. This “tax hike” would amount to less than $10 per month for most households.
Raising taxes is not popular right now. No one likes to write their property tax check. However, what we really need to be asking ourselves is, “Can you afford a few dollars each month for better schools?” Boasting the 12th best schools in the state is not much of a marketing plan for Harford County real estate. More importantly, 12th out of 24 is simply not good enough for our children. We can do better. We will do better. We just need to invest the money necessary to be competitive.
Warren Buffet, one of the most successful businessmen in U.S history, and a recent Presidential Medal of Freedom Award winner, once said, “Chains of habit are too light to be felt until they are too heavy to be broken.” To be successful in turbulent times ahead, Harford County must break the habit of under-funding our schools. Likewise, our elected officials must unchain their repressed political will, brave the irrational anger of “Tea Party” protests, and shoulder the weight of increasing taxes to do right by our children and community.
If we invest, improve and work hard our schools and community will be the envy of every county in the state of Maryland. Undoubtedly, our property values will rise with improvements to schools; yielding much needed financial relief for all residents. In the short term, raising taxes might not seem like the best solution to our economic woes.
However, in the long run, our investment in education will yield a bountiful profit, not just by increased property values, but also, through the prosperity of our children. Great schools are great for business. Great schools build wealth and attract investors. Great schools are the solution to falling property values and lack-luster economic growth.
Above all else, the children of Harford County deserve great schools. In the words of William Allin, “Education is not the answer to the question. Education is the means to the answer to all questions.”