In the third and final part of our interview with gubernatorial candidate David Craig, the Harford County executive reflects on his time in office, criticizes the state’s process for funding school construction, and dismisses Maryland’s number one ranking in education.
Dagger: You are running for governor, but you will be Harford County executive for another year and a half. How will you ensure that the demands of running for your next job won’t interfere with the job you have now?
Craig: “It never has in the past. I’ve done it 20 times, and I’ve never let the elections of any situation I’ve ever run for interfere with the fact that I have a job, and that I do the job and get it done. “
Dagger: Do you have major initiatives planned between now and the end of your term?
Craig: “…What we did is the two-year plan and we’ve accomplished probably 40% – almost 50% of what we had in the plan. We’re going to present that plan again in September to the county council….An update, it’s not going to be anything new, we’re going to show here’s where our goals were; here’s what we achieved; and here’s what’s left for the last 12 months.”
Dagger: Is a new Havre de Grace High School going to get built – will it break ground before you leave office?
Craig: “It doesn’t matter when they break ground, as long as it gets done….What do you think, if I’m governor, do you think it’s going to get built?
The only thing that offends me about [my support for a new Havre de Grace High School] is people say it’s because I went to school there and [my] children went there. [That] had nothing to do with why I [built new schools] for every other place in this county. People who hold that [view]…are so jealous of Havre de Grace High School because it’s the only high school in Harford County to be a national school of excellence.”
Dagger: Baltimore City Schools just upended the usual process for funding school construction, in which local school systems get allotments from available state funding each year. Instead, Baltimore City got a promised revenue stream that will allow it to borrow $1 billion to modernize about 50 schools…
Craig: “I’d be shocked if they were able to get that many.”
Dagger: Do you think other school systems should be able to get a deal like that, or are there are other ways to improve the funding process?
Craig: “I believe the present governor talks about one Maryland – shouldn’t they all be treated the same?”
Dagger: So you think that other local school systems should be able to tap into a guaranteed revenue stream to borrow money?
Craig: “We have it. It’s called the tax dollar. They didn’t need to do that [for Baltimore City]…I do support construction of new schools…We’ve done almost a third of a billion dollars in Harford County, and some of that was forward funded, and the money never came back to me. It went over to the school board. If it had come to me, I could have paid bonds off and then I could have actually borrowed more money…So it’s there, it’s called a property tax.
I don’t support the way they did it [for Baltimore City] but I support the construction of new schools or the repair of new schools…And another thing, there’s been no particular real evaluation of what schools needed to be torn down there. Look what we’re doing here.”
Dagger: What are we doing here? What is the status of the countywide evaluation of school facilities?
Craig: “It’s moving slowly.”
Dagger: Why is it moving slowly? Some have said there’s foot dragging on your end.
Craig: “There was a disagreement in the procurement office about how to move forward on certain things, but it’s moving forward.” But if you go to Baltimore City, they have 200 schools. Do they need them all? The school population continues to decline. There was no evaluation of should we close down a school, should we build a new school, should we renovate a school? And they have to have a better evaluation…”
Dagger: Getting back to the state process for funding school construction – does it work or does it need to be fixed?
Craig: “It needs to be fixed. We have an issue that 35 % of [the cost of school construction is] because [the state has] a requirement for prevailing wage.” http://www.dllr.state.md.us/labor/prev/
Dagger: You’ve dismissed Maryland’s number one ranking in education as coming from a trade publication and politicians. What must Maryland do differently to truly be number one?
Craig: “There is no number one. … Different organizations use different criteria for how they rate you number one…That’s totally useless information because – so what if you’re number one? If your child didn’t graduate, do you care if Maryland is number one? …Conversely, if you’re in a state where you’re [ranked] 50th, but your child graduated and went to Harvard… do you care about that number? …Rankings don’t matter.”
Dagger: Do you think we have a top system?
Craig: “I think we have a very good system.”
Dagger: How do we improve?
Craig: Turn more back to the teachers, and to the school that the children actually go to. If you look at parents, they’re more concerned about their particular child and their particular school and specifically, their teacher and their particular principal.
The success of education really comes down to one person – the principal of the school. The principal of the school is able to attract good teachers and keep good teachers there… [Interim Superintendent] Barbara Canavan was an excellent principal. Staff people would come [to Southampton Middle School] and never want to leave…They talk about testing and success… Let’s say your child is autistic and you know they’re never going to learn Trig, but [the school helps] your child progress through school and come out and be able to live independently. You’re happy about it. So, rating everybody according to one size fits all – you know, when you teach, you have 130 kids. The success of every one of those children is different… They learn differently, they have different desires …it varies from child to child, even in your own family.
Students in high school particularly, and even in middle school, I believe, that after their first semester, [if] they haven’t done well, start them over again…Otherwise you keep pushing forward and they just keep going down, and down, and down. You could offer better summer programs for kids like that. Rescheduling is another thing… I still have the calendar from when I was in 10th grade… I’m sorry, we didn’t have vacations for Martin Luther King or President Washington. We were in school that day. All those vacations that have been added… When you have a student and you’ve been teaching them something…you gotta do it every day.
That whole thing with the calendar – they go for the last week in August, and after that there’s no full week.”
Dagger: You’ve been in office, it will be 32 years, and now you’re seeking the state’s highest office. Everybody does things they’re proud of along the way and of course you’re going to talk about those. What mistakes have you made that you think you’ve learned from, and that you’d be able to bring to the governor’s office?
Craig: “You just don’t learn about mistakes, you learn about the good things you do. You learn both ways, if you watch what you do. I can’t say they’re mistakes. The first time you do it, you learn how to do things differently.”
Dagger: Can you give an example?
Craig: “The ability to work with people to get things done is probably the most important thing. Everybody thinks it’s more about politics. It’s more about personal relationships with people and being able to work with them.”