HCPS Describes Budget Proposal As The "Worst-Case Scenario," Fires Back At County Executive


Students walk to class at Havre de Grace Elementary School. (Credit: Google/ Google Maps)

HAVRE DE GRACE - On Tuesday, Harford County Public Schools issued a press release describing County Executive Bob Cassilly's proposed FY 2024 budget as the "worst-case scenario."

The release fires back at Cassilly and his budget for cutting HCPS funding by $19.4 million from the previous fiscal year's budget and $39 million below the Harford County Board of Education's request. According to HCPS, the budget cuts equate to reducing spending by $1,000 per student.

Superintendent of Schools Dr. Sean Bulson did not pull any punches in his statement about the budget proposal.

"Bob Cassilly is mortgaging our children's future for political grandstanding," Bulson said. "He is pandering to a conservative political base, one that doesn't believe a quality education is critical to the success of a greater community. This deplorable budget is the worst-case scenario for our children. If it goes unchecked, it will cause a greater issue in the future and further undermine our ability to continue to offer quality education to the children of Harford County. Your children deserve to continue receiving the best education possible."

 In his budget announcement, Cassilly said that his budget "provides education funding in the amount required by the state."

Harford County Public Schools said that his comments are misleading and do not accurately reflect the school system's needs. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average inflation rate is around 6%, meaning that rising costs compound any reduction in funding.

Cassilly contended that HCPS can use its available fund balance to cover un-funded expenses. The county executive said that the school system currently has an available fund balance of $92 million. In their statement, HCPS noted that the school system "does have a healthy fund balance, but nowhere near $92 million is available for the district to spend."

According to the school system, only $36 million of the total fund balance is available for the district to spend. The remaining $56 million is earmarked for projects in 2023.

In a statement provided to the Havre de Grace Patch, Harford County Councilman Jacob Bennett said he was "disappointed" with the budget and the lack of communication between the executive's office and residents.

"I am very upset with the way the executive's office has chosen to communicate with the public. I feel mistrust and resentment is being built in all directions, and soon where once sat bridges will only be ashes. It is not too late to right the ship, and I hope by the end of this budget cycle, we are all able to come to the table and ensure all people who take care of our community are taken care of."

The proposed budget also contains cuts to Harford County Parks and Recreation funding and "flat funds" Harford County Public libraries. According to the school district, these cuts signal the executive's priorities.

"Mr. Cassilly has shown he doesn't believe in the future of Harford County. He doesn't believe in supporting the needs of our children. Mr. Cassilly is attempting to balance a budget at the expense of our greatest gift: our children," HCPS wrote.

Proponents of the budget highlight its fiscal responsibility and contend that the cuts are necessary to address the county's structural deficit. If the proposed budget passes, it will cut the structural deficit in half, according to Cassilly's office.

The budget proposal also increases funding for EMS and law enforcement. It would add 130 new first-responder positions, including paramedics, EMTs, and 9-1-1 dispatchers, as well as increasing salaries, personnel, and equipment for the Harford County Sheriff's Office.

The budget still needs to be finalized. Throughout May, the county council will hold two work sessions with county department leaders and two public hearings to discuss the budget. The county council must approve a finalized budget by June 15.

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