Several stakeholders express concerns about Harford County school budget proposal

Several stakeholders expressed concerns over the lack of school funding in the Harford County Public School superintendent’s proposed $660.9 million operating budget for the 2025 fiscal year during a public comment session Thursday evening.

The meeting, held at the Board of Education building, comes nine days after Superintendent Sean Bulson presented his operating budget to the board members. During the meeting, members of the public — which ranged from teachers, current students and community leaders — had the opportunity to express their thoughts on the proposal to the board.

The operating budget would run from July 1 to June 30, 2025. The proposed budget increases spending by $47.3 million from fiscal 2024. The plan also includes a request for $356.5 million from the county and $294.7 million from the state.

The funding received from the county was a topic of discussion Thursday night, with several participants expressing concerns over the lack of funding given to the school board by County Executive Bob Cassilly.

Chrystie Crawford-Smick, president of the Harford teachers union, told the board she feels Bulson’s proposed budget is “conservative.” She and many others said there’s a dire need for more educators and overall funding in the district.

In April 2023, Cassilly announced a $19.4 million school budget reduction and $39 million less than what the school board asked for in his proposed FY2024 budget. The decision was met with heavy backlash, leading Cassilly and the school board to pen an agreement where the board would contribute $15 million from its balance toward the fiscal 2024 budget, and Cassilly agreed to contribute an extra $10 million.

For the fiscal year 2025 Cassilly is proposing a 5% or $15 million funding increase for schools. Despite this, Crawford-Smick and several others who spoke Thursday evening feel the school board needs to push against Cassilly and demand more funding for the school system in his budget proposal.

“When Bob Cassilly underfunds this district, and we know that he will, you need to lean in and truly understand the needs of this district when drastic decisions need to be made,” she told the board. “But that also means you need to lean on the experts who this district hired because of their brilliance and commitment to HCPS. […] So push back on the county executive and tell him what he can do with his 5% budget increase. We all know that the county has the money to provide much more.”

Similarly, Crystal Rufenacht, an educator within the school system, said Cassilly and the school board often disregard the perspectives of teachers and fail to include their insight on budget decisions. Further, she said the board needs to focus on advocating for the needs of the district rather than complying with Cassilly.

“It is your job to advocate for the needs of the school system,” Rufenacht told the board.

“It’s Bob Cassilly’s job to say yes or no to your budget request. We understand as appointed members, we are asking you to have courage. You’re not going to be on his good side. He may not reappoint you. But is that what’s important to you?”