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Harford County Executive David Craig announced Tuesday the county government will be providing the school system with an additional $2.7 million for employee payroll and health benefits.

But there is no guarantee the money will be used to fund a part of the $4.8 million that was deleted from current salary expenses in Harford County Public Schools Superintendent Robert Tomback’s proposed 2010-11 budget to balance increases in employee health insurance and other costs over which the school system has no control.

“It’s hard for me to make any definitive decision where the money will go,” Tomback said during a joint press conference Tuesday at Ring Factory Elementary. Craig, Harford County Council President Billy Boniface and Board of Education President Mark Wolkow also attended.

Tomback said the allocation of the additional money will be determined by the school board and the collective bargaining process, which is under way with the school system’s five unions. The Harford school system has about 5,400 employees.

There is also no assurance the school system will fund the remaining $2 million by cutting spending elsewhere in its budget, although that is what Craig would like to see happen.

Craig said the goal is for the school board to find a similar amount of money in its budget and go through negotiations so that “no school employee will experience a furlough day or salary drop of any kind.”

Craig also announced the county will be funding the full maintenance of effort for the school system at $211 million and providing additional money for North Harford High’s agricultural magnet program at $300,000.

The county executive will hold a press briefing on his proposed 2010-11 county budget today [Wednesday] at 2:30 p.m. in the government administration building in Bel Air.

The school board has scheduled a public meeting Thursday at 6 p.m. in the A.A. Roberty Building in Bel Air to go over “budget decisions.”

During Tuesday’s press conference Craig said the new county budget will not require employee layoffs or furloughs, unlike in the current budget where more than 20 county employees lost their jobs and most of the workforce had to take five days off without pay.

“If we aren’t going to do furloughs, the board of education shouldn’t have to do furloughs,” Craig said.

Craig said furloughs are typically used as a stopgap measure to get through a small fiscal crisis over one year.

“We are not furloughing any county employees in [Fiscal Year] 2011 or laying anyone off,” he said.

Tomback has proposed a $417.5 million school system operating budget for the new fiscal year, which is equivalent to the same level of spending as in the current fiscal year; however, the new budget reduces overall spending on salaries by 2 percent.

With Tuesday’s announcement, the county’s full contribution to the school system’s budget will be about $214.1 million.

“We are in fact working in the same direction, we need to provide the best programs for our students and, as best as we can, take care of our employees,” Tomback said, adding that the additional revenue will help put the school system in a better position for negotiations.

Following the press conference, the president of the Harford County Education Association, the largest union in the school system, which represents more than 3,000 teachers, said what happens with the funding is up to the school board.

“We still have to wait and see what the board of education is going to do,” HCEA President Randy Cerveny said, adding that he assumes the school board will find the additional $2 million needed so salary expenses are not reduced.

Even though Cerveny said HCEA appreciates Craig’s additional money, the county still has to do something to ensure local teacher salaries remain competitive with other school systems.

“Adjacent counties are still getting an increase in salaries,” Cerveny said.

The $2.7 million that will be allocated to the school system was made possible because the county’s budget is “going down.”

Craig said the county’s budget is being reduced by 5 percent across all general government departments, which is in part due to job freezes and retirement.

Approximately 53 county employees will retire by June 30, according to Lorraine Costello, director of administration.

“Our payroll is declining this year,” Craig said, adding that the $2.7 million was money the county could have used in its own budget, but is instead shifting it over to the school system.

“This is the very first time the county has put in more money than the school board has asked,” he added.

The $2.7 million is equivalent to about one penny on the general property tax rate.

Boniface said the council has supported the school administration in an aggressive school construction program, but those buildings will mean nothing if they are not staffed with highly-qualified teachers.

“We need qualified teachers in the classroom and, in order to have that, you need to compensate them accordingly,” he said. “...I and my colleagues, have and will continue to support Harford County Public Schools so that they have the resources available to retain and recruit qualified teachers.”

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