More Money for Harford Schools

February 04, 1993

Harford County's proposed $168.9 million school budget includes an overdue raise for teachers, who have gone two years without a cost of living increase, and for educational needs delayed because of the economic recession. It should be approved by the Board of Education and the county.

Superintendent Ray R. Keech says that his budget proposal, a 15 percent increase including the state's shift of $5.6 million in school employee Social Security payments to Harford County, may be more than the county treasury can afford.

But the proposed budget provides a good starting point for the guardians of the public purse. Certainly, politics and financial fine-tuning may eliminate some items and reduce others. That is expected in the public budget process.

What should not be expected is a reprise of the shoddy theatrics of a year ago that covered no one with honor. The school board has negotiated a contract with the teachers' union and it should abide by it. If the county executive or the County Council choose to trim that pay increase, as they can legally, the political responsibility will be squarely on their shoulders.

Harford's per-pupil spending ranks among the lowest in the state, but its teacher salaries at most experience levels compare favorably with the rest of the Baltimore metro counties. This educational spending pattern has paid off for the county in recent years, as students have on average recorded satisfactory test and achievement scores.

However, the county should put more money into instruction at the schools where students repeatedly do poorly on statewide measures of performance, notably schools south and east of Interstate 95. They'll need more than a full-time assistant principal, one of the prominent new cost items in this year's budget, or new facilities. They will need better, more stimulating teaching programs to motivate students and staffs to higher achievement levels.

Three new schools open in Harford this fall, and the new budget will provide books and equipment for them.

Harford has long maintained a conservatism in education spending, compared to some other suburban counties, and it's a conservatism that has served the county well. But balancing the budget on the back of the school system wouldn't benefit the county, its economic development efforts, its growing number of families or its children.

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