So you think you can balance the budget for Harford County Public Schools? Now is your chance.
The school system launched an online “HCPS Budget Input Tool” Friday, inviting the public to weigh in on where money should be spent, and equally important, where cuts can be made so that the budget for the upcoming fiscal year is balanced without an increase in revenues. Introducing the online tool, the first of its kind in the state, Interim Superintendent Barbara Canavan said earlier in the week that school officials would give “serious consideration” to public input as they develop operating budget priorities for the 2015 fiscal year.
Budget battles have rocked Harford County Public Schools in recent years as teachers have fought for raises, parents have decried new pay-to-play fees and cuts in bus transportation service, and declining enrollment and a lackluster economy have squeezed revenues from state and county government.
School officials said last week that they are assuming no increase in revenues for next year above the $424.7 million received for FY 2014.
Likening the new interactive budget tool to balancing a checkbook, HCPS Chief of Administration Joe Licata said Tuesday that participants would be required to offset any suggested spending increases with cuts in other areas. “We hear often, ‘I could have balanced your budget’. I think you’ll find…it’s not as easy as that”, he said. In addition to the flat revenue assumption, the tool will not allow users to alter the cost of doing business, which includes such items as mandated services, and increases in health insurance and utility costs.
Using actual budget figures from FY 2014 as a starting point, the budget input tool available now on the school system’s Web site includes “help buttons” to assist users in making changes among 12 broad operating budget categories established by the state. The complete line item budget is also available via a link in the tool.
Submissions must result in a balanced budget, otherwise the online system will not accept them, Licata said. Participants will also be asked to provide a rationale for recommended changes and contact information in case school officials have follow-up questions. “We’re hoping that if folks are serious about this, you’ll provide a rationale,” he said. Participants may use estimates when inputting dollar amounts, which Licata said are less important to school officials than the underlying ideas and rationale.
Harford County Public Schools is the first school system in the state to use an interactive, online budget input tool, according to Teri Kranefeld, HCPS manager of communications. Arlington Public Schools in Virginia uses a similar tool, Kranefeld said. Asked about the cost of the new budget tool in Harford County Public Schools, Interim Superintendent Canavan said that it was developed in house.
The new tool will not replace traditional methods for public input on the budget, including public hearings set for January and the school system’s dedicated email address for budget input: firstname.lastname@example.org.
An introduction to the budget development process and the online budget tool can be found here: http://www.hcps.org/budget/