The following letter was sent from Harford County Education Association President Ryan Burbey to Harford County Public Schools Superintendent Barbara Canavan and each member of the Harford County Board of Education. A copy was provided to The Dagger for publication:
Dear Ms. Canavan,
In my capacity as the HCEA president, I am required to serve as chief spokesman of the Association. As such, it is my responsibility to communicate the will of our members, the HCEA Representative Assembly and the HCEA Board of Directors. On Thursday, October 26, 2017, the HCEA Representative Assembly voted unanimously to present a specific list of budgetary recommendations to you for your consideration as you develop the superintendent’s proposed budget. The recommendations are as follows:
– Prioritize Funding the HCEA Negotiated Agreement in Full
Teachers have endured a protracted period where their negotiated agreement has not been fully funded. Many teachers are still multiple steps behind on the salary scale. This is causing excessive turn-over, particularly in our most challenged schools. Likewise, recruitment of teacher candidates and experienced teachers is increasingly difficult, especially in high need content areas. Amidst a national teacher shortage, HCPS can ill afford to lose experienced teaching staff. Similarly HCPS must honor its agreements in order to attract the best candidates from surrounding school systems and colleges.
– Review and Expand Access to CTE Programs
While Harford Technical High School has become a truly high-quality educational opportunity for many of our students, many students who would greatly benefit from traditional vocational education are not able to access the programs at Harford Technical High School due to academic shortcomings or disciplinary infractions. Greater access to CTE programs could only benefit the community and our students.
– Eliminate Instructional Facilitator Position
With few exceptions teachers see instructional facilitators as purely evaluative positions. Teachers do not find the instructional facilitator position to be an effective or efficient model for delivering professional development. Funds currently spent on instructional facilitators could be better utilized to support strategic professional development opportunities and to compensate teachers for steps lost during the salary freeze. Were HCPS to employ the teacher specialist model of professional for elementary schools that is already employed in secondary schools, there would be significant savings. This shift would also facilitate better professional development since the newly created elementary teacher specialists would be able to focus solely on professional development rather than spending the bulk of their time performing administrative tasks related to evaluations.
– Set System-Wide Enrollment and Staffing Metrics
Currently, there are no discernable staffing metrics to determine the number of assistant principals or other staff dedicated to each building. The ratios of students to administrators, as well as, the ratios of students to staff are inconsistent and inequitable. Consistent staffing ratios for administration and instructional staff throughout Harford County schools would ensure that all buildings receive an equitable distribution of staff. Simply adding additional administrative staff has not proven to be an effective means to improve achievement or climate within our at-risk schools.
– Implement Depot Busing for Harford Technical High School
For several years, students at every magnet school with the exception of Harford Technical High School have utilized depot stops for transportation. It seems only logical for students at Harford Technical High School to utilize the same busing. This would ensure that depot buses maximize potential savings.
– Reduce or Eliminate Funding for Conference Attendance
HCPS should reduce or eliminate funding for employees to attend conferences. While these may be valuable opportunities, these funds could be better used to support strategic professional development opportunities and to compensate teachers for steps lost during the salary freeze.
– Reduce Central Office Administrative Staff
HCPS must reduce positions within its bureaucratic structure to be more efficient.
– Re-Examine School Allocations
Currently, principals receive categorized per pupil allocations to support programming at their schools. It is unclear whether these allocations are justified by existing programing. One example of this is the allocation for gifted and talented services in secondary schools.
– Re-Examine Sports Programs
While we agree that sports are a relevant and important aspect of providing a quality public school education, it is unclear if the current athletics programs support community interest or are cost-effective. Re-examining the interest levels, coaching positions allocated and operational costs of each program at each high school would allow HCPS to ensure that funds are spent efficiently on programs which hold the greatest interest to school communities and Harford County as a whole.
– Limit Travel Distance for Interscholastic Athletics and Extracurricular Activities
Longer travel distances substantially increase costs. While these activities are an important part of public school education, more efficiency must be employed in scheduling.
– Address Excess Capacity Issues
According to the November 28, 2016 enrollment report HCPS had 6,800 seats empty within schools across the county. This is an increase of 174 seats empty since last year. If projections hold true, this number will balloon to nearly 7,300 empty seats by 2022. It is important to note that the increase in empty seats this year exceeded projections. This excess capacity issue must be addressed. HCPS must create a sustainable means of addressing capacity issues within schools and across the county.
– Establish System-Wide Minimal Program
Currently there is no systemic approach to programing. Some elementary schools are departmentalized, while others are not. Some middle schools have multiple foreign languages, while others have no true foreign language program. In order to provide equitable educational opportunities for all students there must be a systemic approach to programing.
– Consolidate Middle School and High School Busing System-Wide
For decades North Harford Middle School and North Harford High School have utilize consolidated busing. There is simply no defensible reasoning why this cannot be implemented in all middle and high schools located in close proximity to one another. This would create greater efficiency in the transportation budget by eliminating busses, which currently operate well under capacity.
– Implement Transportation Opt-Out for High School Drivers
High school students who opt to drive to school and apply for a parking pass should be required to opt-out of bus transportation. This would provide a more accurate count of children who are actually riding the bus each day. There is no reason to reserve seats on buses for students who have no intention of using them.
– Implement and Capture System-Wide Parking Fees for High School Drivers
Currently, some high schools charge a fee for issuing parking passes to students. These fees should not remain controlled by the schools, but rather should be recaptured and redistributed equitably within the budget. All high schools should implement a parking fee to offset costs of maintaining of parking lots.
– Consolidate Bus Routes
Currently, HCPS buses operate well below capacity. Many buses circulate nearly devoid of students.
– Reduce Non-Public Special Education Placements
HCPS spends an exorbitant amount on non-public, special education placements. These funds could be recaptured by designing and implementing programs which meet the needs of students to whom nonpublic placements are currently provided.
– Eliminate PSAT Testing
PSAT testing no longer occurs solely during the school day. This results in an increased cost for proctors and facilities usage. This is an unnecessary and burdensome program.
– Reduce Local Standardized Testing Mandates
According to a 2014 Baltimore Sun article, HCPS requires among the most locally mandated testing in Maryland. In addition to the instructional time lost when administering these tests, there is a financial cost of producing, implementing and monitoring these tests, which could be recaptured if a less onerous approach to locally mandated testing was implemented. HCEA has seen no change in the amount of standardized testing required by HCPS.
– Establish and Enforce System-Wide Cost Savings Measures for Supply Usage
HCPS must implement a systemic approach to managing supply costs. Substantial savings could be realized by simply implementing two-sided printing system-wide. Other supply costs could be reduced through large-scale purchasing rather than school based purchasing.
– Establish and Enforce System-Wide Cost Savings Measures for Recycling
Every ounce of waste that is recycled rather than placed in trash dumpsters saves the system money. HCPS pays for trash removal, but not recycling. Currently many recyclables end up in the trash due to carelessness and lack of monitoring. Many schools do not have designated paper recycling containers in either classrooms, planning rooms, offices or copy rooms.
– Eliminate School Usage Funding
Currently, schools which are used more often receive additional “bonus” funds. Ultimately, this creates an inequitable funding structure.
– Eliminate Voluntary Summer School Programs
Summer school has not proven to be an effective remediation. Students who do not receive ESY services mandated through IEPs should not receive free summer school.
– Reduce Summer Curriculum Development Funding
Summer curriculum development often leads to select teachers receiving additional funds to develop curriculum which may or may not be useful system-wide. The goals of summer curriculum development could easily be accomplished within professional development days were time and resources dedicated to a systemic approach of accomplishing these goals.
– Utilize Open Source Materials When Available
HCPS currently makes significant expenditures purchasing and replacing texts which are available in open source formats. Similarly, much of the content being taught throughout our schools is available through open source documents.
– Reduce System-Wide Consumable Usage
HCPS should not purchase or implement programing which requires the purchase of publisher created consumables.
– Partner With HCC to Consolidate Duplicative Programing
Advanced coursework, such as IT classes, which are currently available at the community college need not be offered through public schools. Students should be encouraged to enroll in community college classes which meet their individual needs. HCPS should partner with Harford County College to create an efficient, efficacious, vertically aligned system of public education.
– Partner with Harford County Government to Consolidate Duplicative Services
It simply makes no sense for HCPS and Harford County Government to operate duplicative departments which perform the same function. Savings could be realized through greater cooperation. One glaring example of this is snow removal. Were HCPS to partner with Harford County Government, snow removal could be accomplished more efficiently and expeditiously, thereby reducing costs both to HCPS and Harford County Government.
– Increase and Capture Gate Charges to Defray Costs of Sports and Extracurricular Events
HCPS should calculate the cost of staging various events and set the gate charges to offset the costs to include staffing and energy resources. These gate charges should be recaptured from schools and equitably redistributed through the budget.
– Reduce Legal Fees by Utilizing HCPS Internal Counsel
HCPS currently employs a general counsel who receives a salary of over $148,000. Yet, HCPS employs outside counsel and consultants for a plethora of issues. Seemingly, these tasks should fall under the purview and responsibilities of HCPS internal counsel.
– Reduce Legal Fees by Fostering Greater Cooperation with HCEA
HCPS has incurred significant legal expenses simply because administration and various administrators refuse to make legitimate attempts to cooperate and compromise with HCEA. Many of the issues that are creating additional legal fees arise out of failure on the part of administration to follow the Negotiated Agreement and failure to allow HCEA appropriate access to its unit members.
– Eliminate all Testing Preparation Classes, Programs and Expenditures
Currently, HCPS utilizes a variety of supplemental test preparation programs, classes and materials. One example is SAT prep class in high schools. Testing preparation classes and programs run counter to accepted pedagogy.
– Establish System-Wide Expectations for the Number of Periods Per Day Each Teacher, Department Chair, Specialist, etc. Must Actively Teach Students
Currently, there is no systemic approach to the assignment of minimal teaching duty, particularly in secondary schools but also with regard to specialists within elementary schools.
– Establish System-Wide Minimum Class-Size Expectations
There currently are no system-wide minimum class size parameters or expectations. This inherently creates an unequitable and inefficient staffing model.
– Monitor and Report Students Who Receive High School Attendance Waivers
Students who are released on waivers for a portion of their day in high school reduce the number of students actually enrolled in classes at any particular time. Thus, staffing allocations can become disproportionate. Without monitoring the number of students who are approved for waivers, it is impossible for HCPS to properly allocate staffing.
– Prioritize Funding for Implementation of Restorative Practices
In order to ensure success for all students, HCPS must move away from a strictly punitive disciplinary system. Students should be encouraged to reach positive resolutions for conflicts and to understand the implications of their decisions. Teachers require training to implement this kind of proactive disciplinary measures. Restorative practices have proven successful in reducing inappropriate behavior and improving school climates nationwide.
– Expand Supportive Services and Staffing for At-Risk Schools and Populations
Currently, our at-risk students including children in at-risk, high poverty schools and English Language Learners do not have sufficient access to social workers, school psychologists or ELL teachers. Often our school psychologists and ELL teachers, particularly those in at-risk schools have excessively high caseloads. HCPS must dedicate additional services and staffing in order to appropriately meet the needs of our at-risk students.
– Expand Before and Aftercare Programs to All Elementary Schools
While many of our elementary schools currently have before and aftercare options available to students and parents, many schools still do not have either before school child care or after school childcare available on-site. HCPS should ensure that working parents have access to reliable before school and afterschool care on site at their child’s elementary school.
We recognize that these recommendations denote a level of sacrifice by all stakeholders. We also recognize that if implemented these recommendations could result in staff reductions and reductions in services at some schools or within administration. However, we feel that in order for HCPS to create a sustainable system, significant changes must occur.
For too long HCPS has expected its staff, teachers and at-risk communities to absorb increased cost of doing business and inefficient implementation of programing through insufficient support and stagnant wages. This failed strategy is having a profound deleterious effect on our schools. Likewise, it threatens future funding structures as our staff exit to other local school systems; rather than putting down roots in our community by purchasing homes and contributing to the tax base. Creating a sustainable school system is not merely defined by honoring our salary commitments to teachers but rather by establishing the protocols, practices and procedures necessary to ensure that HCPS can honor its commitments to all stakeholders, including teachers, even in lean budget years. Our at-risk neighborhoods hold the best hope for future opportunity and revenue growth in Harford County. HCPS must play an active role in revitalizing these neighborhoods, restoring faith in our at-risk schools and providing opportunities for our most fragile families. The current status quo is not accomplishing these goals. Ultimately, we believe new budgetary and programmatic measures are necessary to create an environment which best serves the needs of all our children and our community.
If you have any questions or concerns, please contact me.