The passage on Tuesday of the county budget for the fiscal year 2015 leaves Harford County Public Schools $29.6 million short of its funding request for the year beginning July 1st. The task of making ends meet now falls to the school board, which in years past has forsaken employee raises, cut teaching and other positions, implemented pay-to-play fees, cut school bus transportation and nearly tapped out its fund balance, among other budget balancing moves.
Cost cutting this time around may include any or all of the above. But a lack of raises in four out of the last five years has left teachers at a “crisis point”, according to Ryan Burbey, president of the Harford County Education Association, the union representing teachers. Burbey and others have repeatedly warned that teachers are struggling financially, and low pay relative to surrounding jurisdictions has caused top teachers to leave, threatening the quality of education in HCPS.
A flash point has been the lack of “steps”, or scheduled salary increases for teachers according to their years of experience and education levels attained. Steps are subject to funding availability each year.
For the fiscal year 2015, funding step increases for eligible employees will cost $4.7 million, according to Jillian Lader, HCPS manager of communications, with longevity increases adding another $900,000.
As early as next Wednesday, the school board will decide whether to eliminate step and longevity increases from their budget for next year, or find a way to pay for them. Notably, Board Member Cassandra Beverley in late January asked how many teaching positions would have to be cut in order to raise $1 million toward teacher salary increases. The response at the time from Jim Jewell, assistant superintendent of business services, was approximately 16.
Doing the math, that adds up to 90 teaching positions cut, equating to more than one and a half per school, to provide step and longevity increases for eligible staff. That does not include any other position cuts that may be undertaken to balance the rest of the budget.
With the understanding that budget estimates are subject to change, if it becomes necessary, should the Harford County Board of Education cut teaching positions – and increase class sizes – to give teachers a raise?