From Harford County Executive David R. Craig:
These have been challenging times and I appreciate and understand how many of our education professionals feel and how the budgetary decisions that I, the County Council, and the Board of Education make affect them. I’d like to briefly discuss the county budget as it relates to the public school system.
The decline in the economy has severely impacted tax revenues for Harford County. Property tax assessments have dropped substantially in each of the past four years. The same is true of other taxes, but property taxes are half of our revenue. The county did see a very small increase in overall revenue this year of about $6.3 million, or less than 1% of an overall budget of $800 million. This increase, which is smaller than the rate of inflation, must go toward increases in the costs of pensions, benefits, insurance, and other rises in the cost of doing business. Quite simply, there is no “extra” money.
Many of our neighbors are facing 20% cuts to their salaries and even layoffs as a result of federal sequestration. The uncertainty and strain that this places on the household budgets of so many of Harford’s citizens troubles me, and coupled with a national economy that continues to lag, I felt that implementing tax increases to fund growth in the county budget was not a practical or responsible option at this time. Furthermore, dipping heavily into fund balance or the “rainy day” fund, as has been suggested, to pay for costs that will recur and compound year-on-year is not a responsible budgetary practice.
County employees have had to endure a state of frozen salaries just as school system employees have. In county government, we have eliminated hundreds of positions and in many cases have transferred greater responsibility to current workers. The surprise is that during my tenure as county executive, HCPS has increased its staff by over 650 positions even though school enrollment has declined by over 2,300 students.
Not only has the economy been bad but state actions have been severe. Historically, funding for the HCPS operating budget has been divided roughly 50-50 between the state and the county, with a very small amount of federal funding also in the mix. During the past few years, state contributions to HCPS have declined by approximately $10 million. I have never lowered the county contribution. The county’s per student contribution has increased every year I have been county executive while the state is in a reverse mode. (See chart below.)
Yet the local teachers’ union directs all of the letters and emails to me and to the County Council, and apparently none to the governor or the leadership in the state legislature. Coincidentally, many teachers may be surprised to find out that the state recently passed a law requiring that school systems deduct union fees from all teachers who are not union members, and send the money to the union. This state action will probably result in hundreds of dollars less in take-home pay for the nearly 50% of Harford’s teachers who are not union members.
It is unfortunate that whoever is trying to provide teachers and staff with budget facts does not comprehend the budget, mandates, rainy day funds, or dedicated revenue. They just pick out numbers and use them improperly. Ignored is the fact that the shift of teacher pension costs to the county – $7 million since last year – is a hefty sum that could have been used for a pay raise but was used by the state to further reduce its share of the costs of education in Harford County.
The fact is that I have no control over how the Board of Education uses the money allocated to them. I could put $5 million extra in the county’s allocation and say it is for a pay raise and it could instead be used for new positions, healthcare, or operations. I do not get to vote on or approve their budget. There are many other factors that determine education funding, including the state’s decreases in funding to HCPS, new funding obligations and rises in the costs of doing business, and most importantly, internal budgetary decisions by the Harford County Board of Education.
For 34 years I was a middle school teacher and assistant principal. During 32 of those years I had a second job and for several years had three. I know that it may be of little consolation, but I truly do know and understand the difficulties of trying to make ends meet as a teacher with a family for which to provide.
Despite these trying times, we will continue to work within our means to provide the best possible environment for education in Harford County. I sincerely thank my fellow teachers and school system employees for all that they do on behalf of our county’s most precious resources: our children and grandchildren.
David R. Craig
Harford County Executive