UPDATED (11:27 p.m.)—Despite the suggestion from a teacher's union president that Harford County Public Schools may need to consider closing some institutions, no such school shutdowns are imminent, officials said Monday.
Ryan Burbey, president of the Harford County Education Association, said during public comment at last week's Harford County Council meeting that a decline in funding for education may eventually force schools to consider shutting down some buildings.
Burbey addressed an "imminent funding crisis" for Harford County Public Schools.
"If we don’t do something soon, your schools face dramatic cuts," he said. "The schools that are most at-risk are our at-risk schools, our schools at the upper end of the county where the enrollment is very low, including, really, quite honestly, Havre de Grace. Both the high school and the middle school have low enrollment. It is a tragedy getting ready to unfold if somebody doesn’t do something."
Burbey then called upon the County Council and County Executive David Craig—who is holding a budget hearing in Aberdeen tonight—to find more funding in the upcoming budget for public schools.
Craig, through a spokesperson, declined comment.
He is likely to address schools funding at the hearing and during upcoming budget discussions.
The Board of Education of Harford County has the final say in drastic measures, such as closing schools.
Board Member Thomas Fitzpatrick, in an email to Havre de Grace community leaders, wrote: "At this point, no one on the Board has any intention of even suggesting closing either Havre de Grace High School or Middle School. The idea is a non starter."
Board President Rick Grambo could not be reached for comment Monday afternoon, according to a schools spokesperson.
Havre de Grace High School, with 775 enrolled in the 850-seat capacity facility, is at 91.2 percent capacity, according to the school system website. Based upon that information, it is the smallest school in terms of enrollment in the county, but is closer to capacity than many newer facilities.
Burbey sent a document to Patch by email Monday night, indicating the enrollment at Havre de Grace was actually 674 students—bringing the percent to capacity to just 79—the third-lowest figure in the county, just above Joppatowne and Edgewood.
That document also mapped out projected enrollment through 2019—at which point, Havre de Grace is projected to have just 561 enrolled. That figure, according to the file, would represent just 66 percent of capacity at the school. Only Joppatowne (63 percent) and Fallston (59 percent) would have a lower ratio to capacity.
Under those figures, Havre de Grace High School's student body would remain the smallest in the county.
Craig and community leaders have pushed for a new facility to replace the two-building set-up in Havre de Grace—the oldest high school in the county.
Havre de Grace Middle School, with 584 students enrolled in the 775-seat capactiy building, is at 75.4 percent capacity, according to the school system website. Burbey's document indicated the school had 532 students—or just 69 percent of capacity, which is the second-lowest in the county, ahead gnolia Middle.
Havre de Grace Middle School, per the document shared by Burbey, has the smallest enrollment among all middle schools in the county, and would continue to have the lowest enrollment in 2019.
There has been some discussion of combining the schools in one new facility, similar to the way Patterson Mill Middle/High School—the county's newest secondary school, and among the newest school facilities—was built.
Havre de Grace City Councilman David Glenn, in an email to constituents and community leaders, said that Burbey "was premature to play that card at this stage of the process. Keep in mind, no other schools were mentioned. Such a comment only serves to send panic throughout the Havre de Grace community."
Glenn said he was planning to attend Monday's meeting in Bel Air, and planned to rally more Havre de Grace residents concerned about the issue.
Burbey also noted that staff cuts may be forced upon the school system, but that cutting staff alone could not make up what he deemed a $20 million shortfall. He said Harford County will receive $4 million less from the state this year than in past years.
"There’s no way to fill that hole without your help and the county executive’s help," he told the County Council.
He said school programming—and not facilities—should be a priority for the county government.
Burbey added: "I don’t want to see our county’s educational system go backwards."