Teacher raises, 'overcrowded' schools get blood boiling

January 16, 2012

When I gave blood about 10 days ago, my blood pressure was surprisingly low (for me) at 90/60. But a few things have gotten my blood boiling in the last few days, particularly as I read them on the pages of The Aegis.

I think what's got me most riled up is all the complaining by some Harford County Public Schools teachers about their lack of raises in recent years.

We can't keep going like this," Ryan Burbey, chair of the English Department at Aberdeen Middle School, told members of the Harford County Board of Education at their meeting Monday night. He says his family is fighting to keep itself afloat.

He's not the only one. Teachers across the county, every year at budget time, complain about the raises they won't be getting in the next budget year. Others, like Trina Hill, say they want Schools Superintendent Robert Tomback, who had the nerve to propose a pay cut two years ago, to leave the school system.

I know lots of teachers and I understand they want raises every year. So do I. But in the last five years, I've gotten one raise - 3 percent. Sure, I complain on occasion that I don't make a lot of money, and I haven't gotten a raise, but I'm not making a federal case out of it, especially given the circumstances in our company in the last few years.

Homestead Publishing Co. is part of The Baltimore Sun Media Group, a Tribune Company subsidiary. In the last few years, dozens of people just in our group have been laid off or bought out. Last year, our printing operation in Bel Air was shut down, and people lost their jobs right before Christmas. Another 10 or so lost their jobs this year, two weeks before Christmas.

Face it, it's not just us. Companies across the country are doing the same thing. It's how companies are cutting or maintaining costs these days – cutting positions or not giving raises. I thank my lucky stars one of those positions has not been mine. So while, yes, I would love a raise, I'm just thankful I'm coming to work every day and doing a job I still love, even after 17 years.

Sure, teachers would like a raise, but they, too, should be grateful they have jobs, ones I'm sure they didn't get into for the money.

"For the first time in 20 years, Harford County can say there are no overcrowded schools," Harford County Executive David R. Craig pronounced.

Really? Schools aren't overcrowded? Then why are portable classrooms still in use? I can only speak of two elementary schools – Bel Air and Fountain Green – where I know for sure portables are still being used. I took my kids to the playground at Fountain Green Elementary School just last week, and saw students come and go from four portables. And just behind our office, we can see the students enter and exit the portables at Bel Air Elementary School, so don't tell me they're not being used.

I guess it all depends on whose definition of overcrowded you use, but to me, if there aren't enough seats inside the proper school buildings and you have to use portable classrooms to accommodate all your students, then the school is overcrowded. Sounds pretty simple to me, but I know it can get convoluted when government entities get involved and play fast and loose with the numbers.

And speaking of schools, why does Harford County keep adding schools if enrollment is declining and no schools are overcrowded? As of Sept. 30, 2011, enrollment in Harford County Public Schools was 37,707 and yet there are enough seats for 43,902 students in all the system's buildings – a difference of 6,195 students. Yet they had to build a new Patterson Mill school a few years ago. Couldn't school leaders simply adjust boundary lines so the student population is distributed evenly, instead of some schools over capacity and others not close to theirs?

My last gripe has nothing to do with schools, rather common courtesy and obeying the law. At least once a day, and often twice, I cross Main Street and Bond Street, where they come together near Gordon Street, on my way to either Subway or the Ma & Pa Trail. Most of the time, I cross at the crosswalk, where the signs clearly tell drivers to stop for pedestrians. Yet time and again, I stand there and wait for a lull in traffic. Only on occasion do drivers stop to let me cross, and I'm actually shocked when they do. It shouldn't be that way.

And speaking of the Ma & Pa Trail, I wish dog owners would rein in their pets. I love to see people walking with their dogs, but please, keep them tight, at least when you know someone is coming. Just the other day, a dog NOT on a leash ran right in my path while I was running. I had to almost stop to avoid running over the dog, and all its owner did was glare at me. Not an "I'm sorry my dog got in your way," kind of glare, but more of a "Hey, watch out for my dog" kind of glare. Dogs are supposed to be on leashes – keep them there.

That's my rant – I can already feel myself calming down and my blood pressure returning to normal, albeit a low normal.

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