Harford schools seek expanded budget

Board wants more funds to cover cost of growth, technology, services

January 22, 2001|By Suzanne Loudermilk | Suzanne Loudermilk,SUN STAFF

Noting its frustration in adequately funding education in Harford County, the county school board tacked on an extra $3.6 million to the school superintendent's proposed $241.7 million budget for fiscal year 2002.

The $245.3 million budget, almost 6 percent larger than this year's, is expected to be approved by the board today and forwarded to Harford County Executive James M. Harkins for consideration as the county budget is formulated over the next several months.

But even with the added money, school board members acknowledge that the school system requires more funds.

"This system will not continue to succeed with 4, 5 and 6 percent increases," said school board member Robert B. Thomas Jr. "To remain a competitive school system, there has to be tremendous enhancement to the operating budget."

During its budget work sessions, the school board sought to meet the needs of a growing school system, which has 50 schools and almost 40,000 students.

In addition to addressing increased basic costs, such as utilities, and a jump in the cost of health benefits, the board's proposed budget includes added money for 40 secondary teachers, four teacher mentors, three reading specialists, special education staff and computer equipment.

Board members expressed concern that the school system would not be able to maintain sufficient computer equipment.

"The state standard is one computer per five students," Thomas said. "It would take $2.4 million to get to the state standard."

Board members also called for extra money for curriculum development, school safety and security, and expanded use of a mobile agricultural classroom, which tours the state.

Patricia L. Skebeck, director of elementary education in Harford County, said that the agricultural program has been successful at William S. James Elementary in Abingdon and Norrisville Elementary in White Hall and that other schools would like to participate. "The issue comes down to money," she said.

The board agreed to request the extra funding Wednesday.

The priorities added to the budget are consistent with recommendations that Harford Superintendent of Schools Jacqueline Haas made to the board. She stressed that the list represents a portion of the schools' needs.

"We had to look at what are the most urgent things we need to address," Haas said. "It's just a beginning."

Though Harford schools placed third in the recent Maryland School Performance Assessment Program tests, the county ranks lowest in per-pupil funding among the state's 24 public school systems, according to state figures.

"It's appalling we're 24th," said school board Vice President Eugene C. Chandler. "We are going to lose ground."

Parents and educators echoed that concern at a public hearing on county budget priorities last week at Bel Air High School. Harkins and his Cabinet spent the evening listening to most of the 27 speakers request greater support for the school budget.

Speakers also made requests for a coordinator for a program for gifted and talented students, band uniforms, better salaries for instructional assistants and health technicians, additional technology teachers and more money for special education.

"I'm asking for full funding for education and special attention to the 6,000 children with special needs," said Dr. Raymond Wilson, a county psychologist. "Our future lies in our children and obviously in their education."

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