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:
Earlier, we heard from candidates Cassandra R. Beverley and Ron Eaton in Fallston/Abingdon District B. Next up is North Harford District D, where the choice will be between electrical systems engineer Rick Grambo, and Lorrie Warfield, a stay-at-home mother. 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.
As I have said all along, no one person can have all of the answers, and successful professionals know how to sort input from different sources and formulate winning plans. I will draw on the experience of a large network of capable individuals to help us through these difficult times, that network is our community.
We also need to recognize that there are hundreds of School Boards throughout the country that face similar challenges on a daily basis. Harford County should establish working relationships with the most successful of those, and learn from their wisdom.
The way that I would make decisions that would be outside of my area of expertise would be to contact and maintain a good working relationship with members of the community, parents, teachers, students and administrators. That way I could understand the full effect of any decision’s made on those persons. I would also research how any decisions made regarding curriculum’s or budgetary concerns have affected other school districts.
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?
Competition provides the best incentive for hard work and innovation, often resulting in lower costs and higher quality. The Race to the Top program includes new teacher evaluation policies in an attempt to create free market conditions where none currently exist. I prefer school choice options as the very best way to introduce competition into our school system. Parents ultimately should decide where to spend their education dollars.
A school principal is in a unique position to evaluate the talent of their staff, and should preside over decisions concerning salaries. A Principal can use test scores, student progress, and parent satisfaction in combination with the intangibles to make informed judgments about the employees. Tracking real world outcomes of students who progress through the system would be a useful tool for making adjustments to the criteria over time.
In order to fully judge a teacher’s performance considerations must be made in order to ensure that any factors that are not within a teacher’s control do not affect their salary. Those factor’s could include; attendance, learning disabilities, illnesses and the school’s prior performance. For the record I do not agree with this educational reform as I believe that it will negatively affect schools that have historically lower test scores in attracting and retaining quality teachers.
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 Board could have done a better job reducing the cost of recent construction projects. The result of this overspending is Principal and Interest payments of about $25.5 million dollars per year for the foreseeable future.
-“Stretch spelling”, “Everyday Math”, and the “Block Schedule” have been sources of much discussion in the community. I think the BOE should revisit these programs and invite a more open discussion this time around.
-It is worth noting that the HCBOE has not been supportive of alternatives to the traditional public school. I would like to see the Board invite discussion on school choice options and how they could be incorporated to improve the current system.
-Adoption of the No Child Left Behind Act on September 14th 1992 was a huge mistake. The budget has ballooned since it was passed, and across the board student performance gains have not been realized. We need to make sure Harford County does not make the same mistake chasing Race to the Top funding.
Some of the previous decisions made by the current board that I would wish to review or overturn would include the hiring of the current superintendent, the budget’s and expenditures for the last couple years, and which elementary school to build. The reason that I would reevaluate the hiring of the current superintendent is that I believe strongly that whomever is in that position must have a strong tie to the community in which he/she is serving by living in it. I would wish to review the budget’s for the last few years because I strongly believe that there are area’s in which some waste could be eliminated by setting up controls. Examples of those would be the mistake at PMMHS regarding the track. The situation could have been avoided had whomever was signing the checks for payment to the contractor ensured that the job was done correctly. If the mistake was discovered then it could have been fixed at no cost to the taxpayers. The last decision that I would wish to explore would be the current elementary school construction. I believe that both area’s are in need of overcrowding relief and if it was possible I would like to further research the pros and cons of both schools.
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.
This is a great question and I think it is very important that candidates encourage meaningful discussion about the serious economic issues counties are faced with. Many would agree that $14 million dollars is an optimistic assessment of the deficit.
Americans need to decide what we expect from Government schools. Today’s public school system is not simply a place parents send their children to learn. It has grown into a social services agency tasked with much more than just teaching our children. Do we want a Government charged with solving all of the challenges we face as Americans? Is the government responsible for all aspects of the education our children receive? Should we as parents and community leaders play a larger role in raising our children? The community needs to discuss these types of questions, in a civil productive manner, if we are to avoid the financial emergencies taking place in other parts of the country.
Salaries and pensions make up roughly 82% of the BOE budget, leaving very little room to make changes without impacting the employees. The BOE must examine the entire budget and remove all wasteful spending, but to solve the long term challenges fundamental changes are needed.
As requested, I have identified some specific examples of budget items that warrant more discussion:
-The 2010 budget places the Special Education cost for each of 5,277 students at $23,741 while the Non public placement line item is $47,093 for each of 205 students listed. The general education cost of $9,537 for each of 36,637 students is by comparison much less.
-The largest portion of Special Education Budget is the Home school section, listed at $19,335,440 and making up roughly half of the special education budget.
-Psychological Services and School Counseling Services make up over $9.5 million dollars of the total $14.7 million dollar Student Services budget. Parents, churches, and other community resources can easily fill in if reductions are made in this area.
– Pension costs are rising fast, and may rise even faster if the state puts more of the burden on our county as has been discussed. In 2007 total pension expenditures were roughly $19.5 million dollars (the county only contributed $1.6 million); with 2011 pension expenditures budgeted at $37 million dollars (the county only contributed $2.8 million). I suggest immediate changes affecting any future hires as a starting point. Political poison or not, we must address this issue.
-All of the new construction has left the county paying considerable interest on the bonds used to fund the building of new schools. The 2011 budget includes over $11 million dollars in interest payments. The county needs to find a way to pay off the existing debt quickly, and cannot afford to enter into any new debt.
-HCPS students who fail entrance exams at HCC require taxpayer funded remedial instruction. This program needs to be eliminated.
What other services does the school system offer that can be easily replaced by existing community resources?
Ultimately Parents are responsible for raising and educating their children. By reducing (and in some cases eliminating) mandates placed on the BOE by federal and state agencies, real cost savings and educational improvements can be realized. The Harford County Board of Education must use its voice, and work with other school boards, to demand the necessary changes in Annapolis.
Some of the cost saving measures that I would explore to reduce the deficit would include further consolidating the upper administrative positions and reducing excess “throw-away” expenses. I believe that many of the upper administrated positions could be further condensed. It would make good sense in economical trying times like now that positions could be further grouped by duties. I also believe that there could be quite a bit of money saved from the bottom up by eliminating excess paper’s and supplies that are typically thrown away. Many of paper’s could be send electronically. Even though this looks like a small expenditure it does add up once you look at the larger picture.