Following two consecutive years with no pay raises for school employees, Harford Schools Superintendent Robert M. Tomback has proposed a salary increase for all employees next year and requested an increase of $26.4 million, or 6.3%, in the FY12 unrestricted fund, to $448.97 million. The projected restricted fund is expected to drop by $12.2 million to $24.7 million, bringing the overall increase in the current expense fund to 3.1%.
The proposed salary increases are an effort to stay competitive with neighboring counties, according the superintendent’s budget transmittal letter, which explained the move as follows:
“As a result of no step increases or Cost of Living Adjustments (COLA) for the past two years, it is our intent with this budget proposal to avoid falling further behind. By law, the Board is required to negotiate with each of the five bargaining units in Harford County to establish salary, wages and other working conditions. As such, in order to bargain in good faith, no outcomes regarding this increase have been defined at this time.”
That the increases were mentioned at all stands in stark contrast to one year ago, when a 2% salary cut for all employees was quietly built into the superintendent’s budget request, which was based on the expectation that funding would be flat due to the economic downturn.
Asked whether there had been a shift this year to budgeting based on needs, rather than funding expectations, Dr. Tomback told The Dagger:
“As we work to establish a fiscally responsible budget each year, we reflect on the current and projected needs of our students and staff. The goals of the Recommended FY2012 Operating Budget are to preserve the integrity of the instructional programs, maintain a competitive salary, and to open the new Red Pump Elementary School. Harford County Public Schools is committed to ensuring every child is given the best educational opportunities possible and our budget request reflects that commitment.”
Last year’s 2% salary cut sparked a backlash from employees and was later reversed, in part because Harford County Government came up with $2.7 million more than the school system had requested. This year, the superintendent’s budget asks the county for an increase of nearly ten times that amount.
With no additional funding expected from the state, the bulk of the increase in the proposed FY12 unrestricted fund, or $24 million, is requested from local government. The amount represents an 11.3% increase over last year’s $214 million contribution from the county.
Looming over the local funding picture is the potential for teacher pensions to be gradually shifted from the state to the counties. Threatened for years, and opposed by both the school board and county government, the move is expected to be considered by the 2011 Maryland General Assembly, and could eat up millions in local funding.
The superintendent’s budget proposal, presented to the Harford County Board of Education on December 20, also includes a net increase of 26.3 full time equivalent positions, including additional staffing for the new Red Pump Elementary School in Bel Air, and the elimination of some positions in the restricted fund.
The school board will hold work sessions and accept public comment on the budget on January 10 and January 15, before adopting a budget recommendation to County Executive David Craig on January 18, 2011.
The following budget transmittal letter and budget highlights were provided by HCPS. Detailed information on the proposed budget can be found here: http://www.hcps.org/BOE/Budget.aspx