Harford County council proposes raises for members; School district denied funding

A proposal to increase the wages of Harford County council members and the county executive has drawn criticism. 

Why?

Some of the frustration is likely around the fact that the school system’s funding requests have been denied.

It’s being called a crisis in Harford County . Contracts for teachers haven’t been honored for five of the past six years, and starting salaries for teachers are among the lowest if not the lowest in the state.

The county proposes increasing county executive's base salary from $90,000 to $130,000. Base salaries for council members would increase from $31,000 to $45,000. The council president would see an increase from $34,000 to $48,000.

“The recent action by the Harford County Council to introduce legislation which would give council members and the county executive a 25% raise is utterly misplaced,” said Ryan Burbey, president of the Harford County Education Association.

Burbey argues there is concern over the priority of council members. He describes the proposal as “disheartening.”

“…Members of the county council have made raising their own pay and the pay of the county executive a priority. If the proposed pay increases were implemented, council members, who essentially work part time, would make about $3,000 more than first year teachers in Harford County Public Schools. It is disheartening that our county leaders cannot seem to align their priorities with the needs of our teachers, students and the community,” Burbey said.

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Teachers say they initially came to Harford County because of the strong school system. But, with salaries at a standstill and budget cuts year after year, they’re not sure how the district will keep teachers or attract new ones.

Meredith Heldt, a teacher at Edgewood Elementary, spoke out at the August 12 council meeting during which the increases for council members was proposed. By her third year teaching, she said, her love for the school system was lost.

She blamed the lost love on the way the school system is managed at the county government level.

Now in her sixth year of teaching, Heldt says there hasn’t been a worthwhile increase and she has watched good teachers leave the district as a result. She says her employment at the district has become a bitter conversation topic at most places she goes.

Heldt said county executive David Craig once told teachers a $600 bonus wasn’t deserved.

“When do I get to vote on giving myself a raise,” Heldt said as she stood at the podium and raised her right hand in the air. “If that’s the case, I vote ‘yes’ now.”

Heldt said if she could do it, she would give an increase to every employee in the Harford County school system.

Earlier this month, ABC2 reported at least 300 teachers are leaving Harford County schools and the district is working to fill vacancies.

The number of teachers leaving the district has gone up every year since 2010. This year, 208 teachers are moving on to other jobs and 92 are retiring. Last year, 141 teachers left and 80 retired.

** ABC2's Kyle Ottenheimer and Trang Do contributed to this report.

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