Harford schools seek 6% budget increase

Request for $262 million would add 16 teachers, address minority needs

January 30, 2002|By Lane Harvey Brown | Lane Harvey Brown,SUN STAFF

Harford County would add 16 secondary teachers, spend more than $2 million to narrow the minority achievement gap and improve teachers' professional development in the proposed budget delivered yesterday to the county executive's office.

The Board of Education is requesting $262.2 million for its operating budget for fiscal year 2003, an increase of $15.7 million, or 6.37 percent, over this year's budget.

"It is by no means a needs-based budget." board member Thomas D. Hess said at yesterday's meeting, where the spending plan was approved. Rather, said Chairman Eugene C. Chandler and board member Karen L. Wolf, it is a conservative plan that improves existing programs rather than proposing new ones.

County Executive James M. Harkins said he plans to meet with board members Monday.

"It's really too early to say" how the proposal will fare in the county's budgeting process, he said, but "our goal is to put more dollars into the classroom to give our kids a better education. It's a Number 1 priority of mine."

The county's share of the 2003 operating budget would be $151.1 million, or $12.7 million more than this year.

Since taking office in 1998, Harkins has provided $25 million in new funding for public schools, though under the "maintenance of effort" required by state law, he must earmark only $800,000 or $900,000 annually.

Last year, he budgeted an all-time county high of $10.2 million in new funds for the schools' operating budget.

"The present county executive has funded us to a level that far exceeds the required levels." allowing the system to hire teachers and improve instruction, said Superintendent Jacqueline C. Haas.

The proposed budget includes money to hire 16 secondary teachers, which Haas said was her top priority. "If you can get teachers that make that magic every day in the classroom, that goes a long way." she said.

Paul Schatz, president of the county teachers union, doubted whether the county could continue to hire and retain top teachers. "The school system has a tremendous number of unmet needs, and this is a rather conservative budget." he said.

He said the county ranks last in salaries in the Baltimore-Washington metropolitan area. "There is a shortage of qualified teachers. The marketplace is going to decide who they're going to hire and who stays on."

Schatz also said the union is negotiating pay increases for the coming year with the school system and hopes to reach an agreement next month.

The budget proposal includes $5.1 million in salary adjustments and benefits, said John Cox, budget director. Asked whether discussions with the teachers union could cause an increase in the budget, Cox said, "It always could."

The budget seeks to help close a persistent gap between white and black achievement, with about $2.3 million in spending on teachers, reading and math achievement programs and a restoration of previous cuts in instructional materials.

Cox said the plan also calls for hiring a deputy superintendent for about $123,000 to take over some day-to-day oversight duties from Haas, who would be able to concentrate on policy matters.

Haas said her other goals in cluded replacing aging maintenance vehicles and resurrecting the Office of Professional Development to provide more consistent support to teachers - especially new ones, who make up about 40 percent of the county's staffing.

"It's hard for me to order some of these priorities because they're all important." she said. "To not fund any one of these things means cuts in services to kids."

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