From Harford County Education Association President Ryan Burbey:
Dear Mr Craig,
I am writing to address your recent press release/letter regarding education funding in our county. While I welcome and appreciate the effort to make sure that all county residents are aware of the relevant data, it appears that there are numerous oversights in your letter that prevent the full story from being told.
You state: “The decline in the economy has severely impacted tax revenues for Harford County.” However, this simply is not substantiated with the facts. In FY 2004-2005, General Fund Revenue was $323,213,155 (1). The FY 2013-2014 Harford County Budget, which you proposed, lists General Fund Revenue as $493,855,941. To your credit, General Fund Revenue has grown by over $170 million dollars in just nine short years. In 2005, property tax revenue was a paltry $153,232,128. (2) Your budget projects property tax revenue in FY 2014 of $248,593,893. (3) That is an increase of over $95 million dollars. It seems that your claims of declining revenues simply do not ring true.
I will agree with your statement that, “Property tax assessments have dropped substantially in each of the past four years.” However, since reaching the bottom of the real estate crash in FY 2007-2008 when property tax revenue was only $207,440,466 (4); property tax revenue has steadily risen to projected revenue of $248,593,893 in FY 2014 (5). That seems to indicate that the net taxable base has grown substantially due to development. It would also imply that as real estate values climb and the next cycle of tax assessments begins, Harford County will realize a windfall of property tax revenue. If nothing else, both market trends and your own budget documents indicate that property tax revenue will continue to rise without any increase in taxes.
Your letter also suggests a false choice of either properly funding education and increasing taxes or leaving tax rates consistent and maintaining your short-sighted trend of underfunding education. This is just categorically inaccurate. More than anything else budgets reflect the priorities of our leaders. It is clear that education simply is not your priority. I will again reference you to 2004-2005. At that time, education received 52% of General Fund Revenues (6). Your FY 2013-2014 Budget allocates only 48% of General Fund Revenues to education of this only 45% will be allocated to Harford County Public Schools. (7) If you truly value education as you contend, why do you continually decrease the percent of your budget allocated to our public schools?
You also state that during your tenure as County Executive, “HCPS has increased its staff by over 650 positions even though school enrollment has declined by over 2,300 students.” This allegation also seems to be false. In 2005, HCPS employed 4,997 staff; 2,589 of whom were teachers. (8) The HCPS FY14 operating budget proposes a total staff of 5,372 with 2,847 of these positions being teachers. (9) That is only an increase of 375 positions. Perhaps you are basing your allegations of an increase of 650 positions on staffing levels in 2004-05, before you were elected in 2006. At any rate, I’m sure you’ll recall the several new schools that have opened during your tenure. These new schools naturally required new staff to fill them. When Red Pump Elementary opened in August of 2011, it required 64 staff (10). Likewise, Patterson Mill Middle/High School, which opened in 2008, now requires more than 120 (11). Just these two ventures would seem to account for almost half of the 375 positions that were added since 2005-06 and about a quarter of the 650 positions you cite. During this period HCPS also added three magnet programs that required additional staff, as well as Aberdeen and Edgewood High, which are substantially larger replacement buildings requiring additional custodians.
I would tend to agree that dipping heavily into fund balances or rainy day funds to fund ongoing expenses can be problematic. Why then do you continually force the Board of Education to do so by religiously underfunding their operations? The June 30, 2012 Fiscal Report indicates that governmental revenues exceeded expenditures by 13.1 million. Couldn’t a portion of this have been allocated to schools? It also states that the General Fund Balance is $98.7 million (12). The June 2011 Fiscal Report indicates a General Fund Balance of $96.8 million (13). The June 2010 Fiscal report indicates a General Fund Balance of $79.3 million (14). The June 2009 Fiscal report indicates a General Fund Balance of $69.9 million (15). The June 2008 Fiscal report indicates a General Fund Balance of $78.9 million (16). Since the General Fund Balance has historically fluctuated but remained around $70 million-$80 million, couldn’t even a small portion of this be allocated to HCPS?
I found it both surprising and interesting that you would raise the issue of fair share fees in a letter that was presented under the guise of discussing, “The county budget as it relates to the public school system.” As you know, fair share fees are meant to offset the costs of negotiations and representation for members of our bargaining unit. Since these fees have not even been negotiated as yet, don’t you think it is a little premature to interject them in a budgetary discussion? Moreover, any negotiated fees will have zero cost to the county and will have no bearing on the county budget. Likewise, I can assure you that whatever the fair share fee ultimately is, it will represent a small fraction of the thousands upon thousands of dollars in wages that teachers have lost thanks to your serial underfunding of HCPS and our negotiated contract.
Similarly, I find it astounding that you continue to assert that you, “Truly do know and understand the difficulties of trying to make ends meet as a teacher with a family for which to provide.” Respectfully, Mr. Craig you neither know nor seemingly care of the hardship, which you have wrought upon our teachers. During your career as an educator, you had steps frozen only once. You did not endure three consecutive years of salary freezes necessitated by an ideologically driven County Executive with his heart set upon the governor’s mansion. Likewise, you were not required to attain a master’s degree nor were your evaluations tied to the standardized test scores of your students. For most of your career, you were not held accountable to the onerous tenets of No Child Left Behind Act. In fact, for much of your career, schools were not even accountable to the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. So, respectfully, Mr. Craig, you do not understand what education has become since you dedicated yourself to politics full-time. For you to imply that it is somehow okay to expect teachers to work two or three jobs in the current paradigm, with its increased demands and workloads, is just not reasonable. When you refer to the second jobs you held while an educator, I can only assume that you are counting the years you served as Mayor of Havre de Grace, State Senator and Delegate. Unfortunately, for most of our teachers, their second jobs often involve retail, food service, or manual labor.
I know it is commonplace to blame the State of Maryland for reductions in funding but I hope you realize that state funding for education is governed by a formula. Harford County has lost state funding due to two primary factors: increased wealth and a slight decline in enrollment, with increased wealth being the primary determinant (17). Harford County’s measured wealth has increased by over 60% in the past seven years (18). While I wish that state funding had not decreased, I accept that a wealth based formula is the only way to fulfill the mandate of equal access to a free public education in the Maryland Constitution. As I am sure you are aware multiple court rulings, including, Hornbeck v. Somerset County Board of Education, Bradford v. Maryland State Board of Education, as well as the Commission on Education Finance, Equity, and Excellence substantiate this formula.
While neither you nor I have control over how the Board of Education spends the money which is allocated to their budget, you do control the level of funding which Harford County Government provides. While neither you nor I can change state funding formulas, you can offset losses of state funding by increasing Harford County Government’s contribution to the HCPS budget. We both agree that our teachers work tirelessly and often thanklessly to develop our students, thus, nurturing Harford County’s future. Harford County’s teachers labor long hours; developing innovative lessons and studying current pedagogy to provide each student with their best opportunity to learn. Our teachers sacrifice time with their own families to build a better community for all of Harford County. Our teachers only ask that they are provided vital materials, relevant training and financial stability in return. The recent austerity has already reached deep into our schools and classrooms. Our teachers and students have sacrificed enough. I implore you to provide the funds necessary to ensure that all students in Harford County are afforded equal access to a first-rate education measured by contemporary educational standards.
11. staff http://www.hcps.org/schools/SchoolProfile.aspx?schoolID=87 and http://www.hcps.org/schools/SchoolProfile.aspx?schoolID=88