Election Day, November 2, 2010, will mark the first time that any members of the Harford County Board of Education will be chosen by the public they will serve. In most other school districts in the state and in the nation, school board elections are nothing new. But in Harford County, where the Maryland governor used to appoint all school board members, the voters will soon elect three new board members, and make a bit of Harford County history in the process.
Readers who are interested in the change from an appointed school board to a blended board are encouraged to review The Dagger’s guide to the 2009 law that brought about the transition in progress. The bottom line: Harford County is moving away from a school board with seven appointed members, to a nine-member board made up of three appointed members and six members who will be elected in each of the six Harford council districts. The transition to the new system will be complete in 2014.
For now, our focus is on the first set of elections being held this year in three Harford council districts – Edgewood/Joppa (District A), Fallston/Abingdon (District B), and North Harford (District D). In the non-partisan primary held in September, voters in each of these three districts narrowed down larger fields of candidates to the top two vote-getters. On November 2, these remaining two candidates in each district will again face the voters of their district, again in non-partisan elections. The three winners will be seated on the Harford County Board of Education on July 1, 2011.
Mindful of this moment in history, and of the relationship between the quality of public education and the quality of life for all, The Dagger posed some fairly pointed questions to the two finalists up for election in each of the three Harford council districts. All of the candidates were given the same questions and while their answers will be published here in a series, all of the candidates’ responses were received prior to publication – in other words, no peeking at one another’s answers was possible.
With thanks to all of the candidates for their prompt responses, The Dagger brings you the following Q & A with the candidates for the Harford County Board of Education:
Mixing things up a little, we’ll start first with Fallston/Abingdon District B, where attorney Cassandra R. Beverley will be on the ballot with Ron Eaton, a former president of the Harford County Board of Education. Below are the questions as written by The Dagger, followed by the candidates’ unedited written responses.
Q1. School board members are often called upon to make decisions in areas where they may not have experience or expertise, such as the school curriculum or the capital budget program. Briefly describe how you would make decisions in areas outside your personal expertise.
I would approach these decisions in the same manner that I educate myself on issues that arise in my law practice. First, I contact colleagues or friends to obtain the names(s) of individuals who they consider to be knowledgeable in the field/area in question. I then speak with those persons to gain a working knowledge of the issues. I also ask these individuals for recommendations for additional resources to further educate myself on the matters at issue. The Board has access to persons who have knowledge and expertise who make presentations to members prior to decisions being made. I would avail myself of those resources as well as conducting independent research in order to make the most informed decision.
Simply said, no one is smarter than the other! All of us are surrounded by people with different experiences. A Board member must be wise enough to know what they don’t know, have the courage to invite those who do to assist in developing solutions, and have an uncanny ability to evaluate the logic of recommendations. Any policy or redistricting matter impacting students must involve parents!!!!! With curricula, teachers are the best source of information and expertise on what works and what doesn’t. On capital budget items I have extensive experience with capital budget programs from start to finish across the nation. Notwithstanding, local needs for capital budgets developing requirements and seeing plans through to completion requires a whole host of partners from parents, to architects, engineers, and those who fund the project.
Q2. The State of Maryland has adopted new education reforms calling for 50% of a teacher’s evaluation to be tied to student performance. Baltimore City has recently begun to develop their evaluation criteria and all local school districts will have an opportunity to do the same. Other than test scores, what are some student performance measures that you would consider to be valid for the purpose of teacher evaluations?
I believe that that it will be quite challenging to develop appropriate evaluation criteria other than test scores as there are many things that impact student performance that are beyond the control of the teacher. I don’t see that the Board will have any role in the development of evaluation criteria. I favor criteria that are within the control of the teacher. For example, if there are school resources that are available to support a student who is having difficulty, the teacher certainly should refer the student for available support resources and make diligent efforts to keep parents/guardians informed. They should also try to engage the student’s parents/guardians to address the student’s educational needs. The teacher may not be successful in engaging the parent/guardian and should not be penalized if his/her reasonable efforts to do so fail.
Maryland school systems will be required to adopt national and state requirements with teacher evaluations being tied to student performance. Exploring National Board certification evaluation criteria may prove beneficial since that process requires a teacher’s in-depth analysis of student progress via observation, portfolio review, interviews, goal attainment, progress over time and benchmarks/rubrics, etc.
All students have different learning styles, home environments, and certainly motivation. We have to start with those areas which are admittedly subjective. Setting those aside, performance should be based on a student’s ability level and measured according to their capacity for learning. IEP students can show growth throughout a school year but their progress will look much different than a student performing at a G&T level. This must be taken into account. A classroom full of “resource” students will have much different instruction and pacing of performance than a classroom full of students performing above grade level. Consider the following student measures to complete the 50%:
– Establish a baseline for each student that considers academic and environmental factors against which individual growth is evaluated
– External measures 15% (State assessments for grades 3 and beyond, commercial instrument for grades k-2 and special areas)
– Local/District benchmarks 10% (class profile growth over time, district comparison)
– School/Teacher/Team developed assessments 10% (class profile growth over time, grade level comparison)
– Student Motivational survey 5% (growth over time)
Q3. Maryland school boards are charged with many responsibilities. Among them are hiring the superintendent, setting both capital and operating budget priorities, formulating policies for school system operations, and establishing local curriculum guides and courses of study. Are there any previous decisions made by the Harford County Board of Education that you would seek to review or overturn?
I believe the decision regarding the use of the teacher’s sick leave bank should be reviewed. I was in attendance at the Board meeting where several teachers testified on this issue. I found their arguments compelling and persuasive.
– Sports eligibility criteria must be strengthened. Consider discipline measures for coaches that ignore the rules. This is not just student issue!
– Return to a zero tolerance for drugs and alcohol.
– Eliminate the use of taxpayer funded vehicles by senior staff personnel.
– Review, strengthen, and enforce HCPS internet access computers to “non-educational” and “non-school” related activities for both staff and students.
– Standardize and centralize technology procurement: The system made a one-time purchase of Wireless Generation Palm Pilots with capital funds to capture K testing data ($400K). They are not serviced by the HCPS tech-office and use a software language incompatible with the Performance Matters data management system for which they were purchased. The hardware and software procurement must be standardized and centrally managed.
– Revisit the 7, 5, or 4 period day. Parents and teachers are concerned with the current schedule
Q4. Adequate funding is a perennial concern for school board members. Next year, HCPS expects to face an operating budget deficit, estimated at nearly $14 million, if additional funding cannot be secured. What cost saving measures would you be willing to consider as a member of the school board? Please name at least two specific examples.
The Superintendent will present his recommended budget to the Board which will reflect his recommendations for cost reductions to address the anticipated shortfall. The Board members will need to diligently review all areas of the budget to determine whether the Superintendent’s recommended cuts are the best way to address the deficit and whether additional or different reductions are necessary. We will have the opportunity to study the recommendations for ourselves, to ask questions and to do independent inquiry to obtain as much information as possible to make the tough decisions that are required during these challenging economic times. I would consider reductions that do not jeopardize the Board’s long term goals for the system. I would not be inclined to support cuts that reduce teaching staff.
Cutting one or two budget items will not approach $14M. Many activities would have to be examined. The last place to cut the budget is in the classroom. Here are a few areas that must be evaluated for potential cost savings:
– Personnel: Determine if early retirement options for teachers and others (with an appropriate buyout) will be beneficial over the long haul in bringing overall salary requirements down. Cap and/or reduce sick leave payments upon retirement of senior staff (assistant superintendents; etc).
– Business Functions: Conduct an independent business audit of staff overhead and functions in all central office business functions with emphasis on procurement, facilities, human resources, and supervisor to employee ratios. Eliminate any redundant functions. Reduce salaries of senior staff.
– Staff development: Cut the professional development budget. At the end May, each school receives 15-20 additional days to use or lose. If schools get an average of 17.5 unused staff development days at the end of the fiscal year, then one must ask, why were they needed in the first place? That translates to roughly $100K for which there was no plan!