Residents support raises for teachers

200 educators attend county budget hearing

May 16, 2004|By Ted Shelsby | Ted Shelsby,SUN STAFF

Jim Hudson, a Bel Air resident with three children in the Harford County public school system, has a simple solution to the budget crunch that threatens teacher pay raises - raise taxes.

Hudson was one of about 30 county residents or teachers who testified at a budget hearing held by the County Council on Thursday night at North Harford High School.

He told council members that it was appalling that so many Harford teachers leave the county for more money at schools in Baltimore County or Pennsylvania.

He said quality education is dependent on hiring and retaining quality teachers. "I'm willing to pay more taxes," he said, if the county fully funds the school budget and gives teachers their negotiated pay raise. "I'm willing to pay more," he said.

About 200 teachers attended the meeting, which they used as a show of force in support of a scheduled pay raise.

Under terms of a contract negotiated this year, teachers are due a 3 percent pay raise.

But there is not enough money in the budget proposed by County Executive James M. Harkins to cover a 3 percent increase, according to Council President Robert S. Wagner.

Teacher after teacher came to the microphone in the school auditorium to plead their case. One, Stephanie Sanzone, said she lived in Baltimore because she could not afford a home in Harford County on her salary.

Andy Gridlock of Abingdon, the band director at North Harford High School, said he was not asking for millions of dollars - just enough to buy 95-cent guitar strings for his students.

He said his budget is $3.82 per student for the year.

Circuit Court Judge William O. Carr asked the council to search hard for the money needed to fund an alternative education program for students who have been suspended or, for social, emotional or economic reasons, cannot attend classes during the day.

He said he sees too many students in his courtroom who have dropped out of school. He called funding of an alternative education program the most important thing that lawmakers could do in their term in office.

Superintendent Jacqueline C. Haas told the council members that it was time for them to keep the promise they made that education was a top priority. "We want more money for teachers," she said. "We want more money for textbooks. We want more money to stops leaks" in the roofs of school buildings.

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