Teachers gave a standing ovation to the school board member who pled for more education funding at a Harford County Council budget hearing Thursday, and lambasted County Executive David Craig, blaming him for creating a “desperate situation” in Harford County Public Schools.
The occasion for teachers’ disparate reactions was a public hearing held by the County Council to gather public input on Craig’s recommended budget for the 2014 fiscal year. The hearing drew a crowd of about 120, mostly school employees, who decried Craig’s spending plan to increase funding for Harford County Public Schools by nearly $2 million over the required maintenance of effort, but far short of the $22.6 million increase the school system had requested. Teachers called on council members to fully fund the school system’s requested increase, which also includes nearly $8 million for increases in employee salaries.
Pointing to the elbow patches on his blazer, Fallston High School teacher Ben White said that he was struggling to keep up with the cost of living.
Educator William Smith warned of cuts to 150 teaching positions if the requested education budget was not funded, adding that Craig “touted education” but the school system was “falling apart”.
North Harford Middle School teacher George Curry was succinct: “We need money,” he said, citing the switch next year to a new curriculum, needed updates in technology, and an ongoing disparity among county school buildings.
Edgewood library technician Connie Schepers said “Mr. Craig is killing this school system”, as she outlined dramatic, system-wide cuts to library materials this year. She also said that Edgewood Middle School had the least number of computers of any school despite being the only resource for many of its students.
Joppatowne High School teacher Jean Nussle said that Craig thinks teachers are “greedy”, but “our representation is not representing us.”
Teacher Timothy Dougherty warned of class sizes in the range of 45 – 50 students next year without more money for schools. He also claimed that Towson University was steering new teachers away from the county because of underfunding and blamed Craig for blaming the shortfall on state cuts. “Why have other counties met the challenge?” he asked, calling Harford County the “Pittsburgh Pirates of education.”
Ryan Burbey, president of the Harford County Education Association representing the county’s 3,200 teachers in labor negotiations, said he had hoped for a better turnout from teachers but, he said, “they are tired and they are losing faith and they are leaving.” Craig underfunded education, Burbey said, and unless the school system’s requested increase was funded by the Council, there would be “extreme cuts”, jobs would be lost, and class size would increase along with inequities among county schools. “The system will not look like it does now,” Burbey warned, “It’s a desperate situation.”
In contrast to the combative tone of some speakers, Board Vice-President Nancy Reynolds pledged cooperation with lawmakers as she laid out the case for the education budget on behalf of her fellow board members, many of whom were in the audience. Citing a “perfect storm” of unfunded federal and state mandates, including new curriculum standards, new assessments and a new teacher evaluation system, Reynolds said that the school system had cut costs in the economic downturn, but the mandates and other factors such as increased transportation costs, were beyond the board’s control.
Reynolds warned that a lack of funding increases next year for what she called a “needs based” budget would have a direct impact on the classroom. Garnering a first round of applause, Reynolds made the case for funding the salary increases negotiated by the board with employee unions: “It is necessary and important that we can provide for our employees a competitive wage package in order to attract and retain the best educators and staff for the children of Harford County.” Bringing teachers to their feet, Reynolds concluded: “I respectfully request that you support the children of this county by helping us maintain the rigorous and meaningful education that generations of students have been afforded in Harford County.”