Unrealistic Harford School Request

February 01, 1991

Harford County School Superintendent Ray Keech believes in being an advocate. The latest proof is his record $153 million budget proposal, $26 million more than the current allocation.

Is a 20 percent increase unrealistic for the county's 30,000 pupils, 26 elementary schools, seven middle schools, eight high schools, one special school and one vocational technical school?

We think it is. But Christine Haggett, president of the Harford County Education Association, sees it differently. Says she, "I don't think it's ever unrealistic to ask for what you need."

The superintendent's excessive spending request is part of the budgetary problems confronting Harford's new executive, Eileen M. Rehrmann. It won't be easy to balance her administration's priorities and political needs against fiscal realities. In Harford, those realities are complicated not only by the recession but by the county's narrow tax base, particularly its lack of commercial revenue.

Over the years, Harford has not spent lavishly on schools, yet it has provided quality education. Salaries for experienced teachers are considerably lower than in Anne Arundel, Howard, Baltimore and Carroll counties; so is spending per pupil. Harford ranks near the bottom in the availability of school computers. Yet in test scores, Harford students have consistently placed near the top.

Much of the credit for this remarkable achievement must go to the dedication of experienced teachers in Harford. They have inspired classrooms and served on academic curriculum boards and advisory groups. The problem on the horizon is that Harford will lose about half of its total teaching staff through retirements within the next decade. Younger teachers will have to be lured to Harford County by more than money.

County Executive Rehrmann has to tackle that ticklish dilemma head-on because Mr. Keech's budget grants an 8 percent raise to all school employees. This raise would follow hefty increases in two previous years -- and hard campaign work by the local teachers' union last November that helped ensure Ms. Rehrmann's narrow victory.

The school board has yet submitted its formal budget request to the executive. But it is clear Ms. Rehrmann will have a tough time making the school budget conform with available resources.

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