The Harford County Board of Education on Monday voted to pass a budget for next year that includes cuts to an undetermined number of classroom teacher positions, and millions of dollars’ worth of cuts to line items that were not publicly disclosed. The cuts were made to the school board’s original budget proposal and were necessary to align the final budget with available funding, and to fund salary increases that were tentatively negotiated for the year that begins on July 1. The $427,768,507 unrestricted operating budget for the fiscal year 2013 was unanimously approved.
Superintendent Robert M. Tomback said later that cuts to 66 positions approved by the school board to help pay for the wage package, which he characterized as cuts to “classroom or related positions”, would be absorbed through attrition and would not result in layoffs. Tomback stressed that the cuts were to a dollar amount associated with 66 positions and that the actual number of classroom teacher positions cut among the 66 would be determined at a future date, and after meetings with school principals.
Seeking to preserve teaching positions, Board Member Bob Frisch proposed an amendment prior to the passage of the budget on Monday that would have replaced teacher mentor positions, currently designated as full time employees, with contracted positions. Frisch said that the move affected roughly 30 teacher mentor positions and could save $1.2 million, which he said translated into approximately 16 teacher positions.
Superintendent Tomback pushed back on Frisch’s proposal, citing state requirements regarding mentors and potential violations of the contract with the teachers’ union. Tomback said the idea required further study and Frisch’s proposal failed to win a majority vote.
Undisclosed Line Item Cuts
Two sets of cuts containing undisclosed line items were among a total of 14 amendments recommended by Superintendent Tomback and approved in the budget action Monday. A total of $6,101,404 in unnamed line item cuts were made to help balance the budget with available funding (“Amendment 4”); and a total of $3,300,000 in unnamed cuts were made to help offset the $10 million cost of salary increases for all employees (“Amendment 13”). Both amendments were unanimously approved by the school board.
While the individual line items comprising Amendments 4 and 13 were not made public during or after the meeting, Teri Kranefeld, HCPS manager of communications, said that board members knew what they were prior to the budget vote.
In response to a request by The Dagger, Kranefeld provided the individual line items comprising the two amendments, which appear in the tables below.
The tables provide details on additional position cuts, including a total of eight paraeducator positions cut: four in special education and four under the heading of “Intervention”. Kranefeld said that there would be no layoffs and paraeducators would be moved to open positions in other areas.
Along with the many line items cut, with dollar amounts ranging from less than $500 up to nearly $1 million, several line items in the tables appear to have actually been increased: $40,000 for Department of Juvenile Justice contracted instruction; $118,015 for two special education teachers (made possible by the reduction in special education paraeducators); and $31,200 for legal fees, conferences and professional dues for the school board.
Cuts to Help Balance Budget With County Funding Level (Amendment 4)
Cuts to Help Fund Negotiated Wage Proposal (Amendment 13)
Below is an overview of all 14 budget amendments as they were publicly recommended by Superintendent Tomback and approved by the school board on June 11, 2012:
Reacting to the cuts to 66 positions to fund the wage package, the teachers’ union issued the following press release on June 13, 2012:
Teachers Oppose Cuts that Impact Classrooms
“The Harford County Council put the Harford Board of Education in a difficult position when it shrugged off its responsibility to adequately fund county schools,” said Randy Cerveny, president of the Harford County Education Association. “We believe that classrooms should be the last place any cuts should be made.”
Cerveny was commenting on the Board of Education’s announcement of its decision to cut 66 teacher positions for the 2012-2013 school year. “The County Executive and Council’s refusal to support public education has forced the Board of Education to make difficult choices,” he said. “The most important thing in education is the teaching professional in front of the classroom, interacting directly with students.”
“Harford educators fought very hard for adequate school funding this year,” according to Cerveny. “We hope that everyone in the county will join with us when we return to school in August to take up the funding fight we’ve begun. If we don’t stand together to support our schools, there will be more of these difficult decisions in the future, many of which will be disastrous to quality education in the county.”
HCEA reports that the Harford Board of Education had other options in terms of cuts. “Unfortunately,” said Cerveny, “they chose to take so much out of school level staffing. Our preference would have been to make cuts that didn’t directly affect the students.” State law gives an employee representative such as HCEA no authority on specific budget issues, such as which programs or positions are funded or cut. The Superintendent makes a budget recommendation to the Board of Education, which has the ultimate responsibility for budget matters.
During the process of negotiations for the teachers’ 2012-2013 contract, HCEA made the offer to sit down with representatives of the Board of Education to look for possible cuts that would be least detrimental to classroom instruction. “In light of the fact that the Harford County school population has decreased by 2000 students over the last five years,” said Seleste Harris, HCEA staff person and negotiator, “we expect the board to implement any necessary staff reductions in a way that will not effect class size or decrease curriculum offerings to students.”
The Association intends to continue its efforts to do whatever is necessary to advocate for a quality education for students and fair treatment for education employees and its members.