Another in an occasional series of informal reports, analysis and opinion based on a meeting of the Harford County Board of Education.
A meeting of the Harford County Board of Education held just before Valentine’s Day highlighted the heartfelt pain and hard realities of education funding. Added to the mix was a ray of hope and key questions posed by Board members about college readiness and whether all students should attend a four-year college.
Feeling the Pain
Clad all in black and wearing red badges saying “Save Our Schools”, a group of teachers, organized by their union, came to the February 13 school board meeting to talk about education funding. None was as poignant as the comments from Bel Air Middle School math teacher Dawn Klein. Tearful at times, Klein said that teachers come in early and stay late because it is necessary for students’ needs to be met. In addition to her teaching job, she said she helps with extra-curricular activities and works three outside jobs but can’t afford to live in Harford County, where she grew up. Saying she felt blessed to have a job and work in a great school, she was met with robust applause when she quietly added “but enough’s enough.”
The state budget proposed by Gov. Martin O’Malley hits local governments hard next year and beyond, with millions in new costs related to teacher pensions. Previously borne entirely by the state, teacher pension costs are proposed to be shared with the counties starting in fiscal year 2013. Some potential offsets would reduce the impact in year one of the shift, but without the offsets the pension costs for Harford County have been estimated at $8.3 million next year. Kathy Carmello, coordinator of government relations for HCPS, told Board members that the new costs would be in addition to required local education funding known as Maintenance of Effort (MOE).
Opposition to the pension shift abounds in Annapolis, Carmello said, including from local school boards and the Maryland Association of Counties. But she said that proponents of the shift were “going to try to force local governments to raise taxes.”
Harford County Executive David Craig has said that $8.3 million in teacher pension costs added to MOE next year have would have a “catastrophic” effect on the budget and taxpayers in Harford County.
A Ray of Hope
Tony Cofrancesco, the student representative on the school board, offered hope to his fellow students that the student rep position will soon carry limited voting rights. The voting rights would exclude matters such as personnel and budgets.
Students have fought for voting rights for years, seeking support from the school board and from Harford County legislators, who are necessary to the passage of enabling legislation. Cofrancesco said that the Harford County Senators sponsored such a bill this session and that all of the Harford County delegates were in support, save one. After the meeting, Cofrancesco, in response to a question, identified the lone holdout as Del. Glenn Glass.
A Key Question for Harford County Public Schools
Next on the agenda was a presentation from a team that included the president of Harford Community College, Dr. Dennis Golladay. The subject was the partnership between HCPS and the college, which Superintendent Robert Tomback said was “serious” and ongoing. Future initiatives include a program that will allow students to get a high school diploma and an associate’s degree within a total of four years. Dr. Golladay also expressed hope that the Maryland Higher Education Commission will, in the next few weeks, approve a plan for Towson University to offer a program on the HCC campus that would allow students to earn an associate’s degree at HCC and complete another two years for a baccalaureate degree from Towson, without leaving Harford County.
Following the presentation, Board Member Bob Frisch asked about the number of students who complete a college readiness program in Harford County Public Schools but need remedial coursework once they get to the community college, posing a key question for the school system: “Are we accomplishing our mission?”
Dr. Golladay agreed it was a “big issue” but said the college didn’t have the capability to gather the data. Among the efforts to reduce the number of students in need of remedial classes, which students must pay for without earning college credit, Golladay said that the classes were being redesigned to be delivered in “short bursts” or concurrent with for-credit classes.
Superintendent Tomback said that data tracking high school students into 95% of the nation’s colleges is being processed by the National Student Clearing House and would be provided to HCPS. The data, from 2006, is expected to be available in the spring. Tomback said the report would be more comprehensive than what was provided by the Maryland Higher Education Commission’s SOAR Report, which he said has been discontinued.
A Question of Vision
Wrapping up the discussion, School Board President Leonard Wheeler asked Dr. Golladay about his vision for higher education and whether all students needed to attend a four-year college or if four-year colleges had outlived their usefulness.
Dr. Golladay said that post-secondary education was now considered essential to employment. Four year programs have not outlived their usefulness, he said, but he would like to see some changes made. Higher education should prepare students not only for a job but to be good citizens and good leaders. Whether that meant a certificate program, associate or baccalaureate degree, he said that properly done, all three types of post-secondary education were appropriate and necessary.