The Dagger’s Q & A with candidates for the Harford County School Board continues with responses from the candidates in District C, Bel Air, where incumbent board member Alysson Krchnavy faces two challengers: John Anker, a Bel Air business owner and information technology consultant, and Joe Voskuhl, a retired principal of Bel Air High School. The Dagger’s three questions and the candidates’ responses appear below.
Dagger: School board members often make decisions in areas where they may not have expertise, such as curriculum, facilities or the budget. Briefly describe the experience/skills you would bring to the school board and how you make decisions in areas outside your expertise.
Foremost, I am a parent with a child that has spent her entire public school experience in Harford County Public Schools. There are the six years of experience that I have served as a seated member of Harford County’s Board of Education. I am business woman, working for the past six years in an of?ce right here in Harford County. I am a member of several local PTAs and a 20+ year member of Oak Grove Baptist Church. These varied experiences have taught me priority management, customer satisfaction skills, networking, con?ict resolution, and budget processing just to name a few. Please take a moment to see my Facebook “Alysson L. Krchnavy, Candidate District “C” HCPS Board of Education ” page to see my full resumé.
Any decision I have had the privilege to vote on while in service to the school board is always, ALWAYS couched in “What is best for the students, the staff, and the community?” question. When I run up against a topic that I am unfamiliar with I will approach the school system staff for clari?cation while also tapping on my business and community network for insight, perspective, and direction. In addition, I regularly speak with my colleagues on our board and school board members from across the state to elicit their opinions. Thing is – I also do this for topics that I believe I know well because gaining other peoples’ perspective is important and valuable ALL THE TIME.
As someone who as taught in HCPS and participated in curriculum development and a School Improvement Team, I have some familiarity with some of these issues. No one person can master all areas however, and it is important to 1) become familiar with historical and current trends in the subject matter if not the details; 2) find reliable and wise counsel from multiple sources to help inform the decision; and 3) ensure that HCPS staff are not only capable in their role but also held accountable for the decisions they make on behalf of the Board of Education as well as the recommendations they make to the Board.
I currently own Anker Technical Services and consult in IT. I taught in HCPS from 2006-2009 and was an English teacher at C. Milton Wright. During my time at CMW, I served on the School Improvement Team and sponsored the Video Club as well as the Anime Club.
As the former principal of Bel Air High School, I feel prepared to make decisions in the majority of areas under the School Board’s authority. As a principal, I was responsible for managing a very large year to year budget and making curriculum decisions on a regular basis. I was also fortunate to have had the experience of being part of the project to build the new Bel Air High School and Athletic Complex. I was responsible for overseeing the purchasing of all furnishings and equipment, including the sound system for the auditorium, equipment for the television studio, all new classroom based and Biomedical program technology, band uniforms, and custodial equipment for building maintenance. Was I an expert in all of these areas? No. However, I consulted with the experts, teachers, and students and did my research. I am proud to say that as a team we were able to complete the project under budget.
If faced with an issue outside my area of expertise, I would use a team approach to find the best possible solution to the problem. This would mean attending Parent Teacher Student Association (PTSA) meetings, meeting with the County Executive as the budget is being formulated, and visiting the schools to find out how decisions would affect the learning environment and students.
Dagger: Please cite a previous decision by the Harford County Board of Education with which you either strongly agree or disagree, and why.
I strongly agree with the appointment of Mrs. Barbara Canavan as our Superintendent of Harford County Public Schools. She is a great leader with a passion for seeing kids succeed in Harford County. She has extensive experience in our system and has lived in Harford County for most of her life. I supported her appointment as our Middle School Executive Director, I supported her appointment as our Interim Superintendent. It was gratifying to vote for her as our Superintendent. She will do great things for our system – she is already proving her value.
Of the many decisions made over the past year, the “Pay to Play” decision sticks out, not only as a bad decision in the first place, but as an example of terrible implementation, and a rush to back out mid-year. While I am not generally opposed to some costs being added to some activities or privileges such as parking spots for students, all students should have full access to extra-curricular activities, and across our county participation in these activities–not only sports–should be encouraged by each school’s culture. This is an area where HCPS needs much improvement.
The budget is the biggest issue that has not been dealt with effectively over the past four years. The Board has not shown a willingness to work with the County Executive to find cost saving measures. Instead, the Board has imposed the pay to play fee, cut busing to the magnet programs, and increased the number of fourth tier elementary schools. These steps have done nothing to solve the budget problems. They have only shifted the burden onto the parents and students. I can only assume that these measures were an attempt to put political pressure on the County Executive. With the added expenses associated with Common Core and its related testing, it will be even more important than ever to work with the County Executive to cut expenses and secure the funding needed for this mandate.
The most recent example of a decision with which I disagree is the hiring of a communication manager at a starting salary of $97,000.00. This may be the going rate in the private sector, but in a situation where funding is in short supply for the schools, is this money well spent?
Dagger: Maryland school boards are charged with certain responsibilities. Among them are: Hiring the superintendent, setting capital and operating budget priorities, determining school attendance boundaries, and formulating school policies. Looking ahead, what issues within the board’s purview are of specific interest or concern to you and why? Please cite two issues.
Two issues that are on the Board’s horizon that are of concern to me are the recurring budget challenge we face and along with that the support for arts and extra-curricular activities in our schools.
I have participated in five full budget cycles (both operating and capital) while serving on the school board. In 2008, we were faced with the impossible task of having to return a requested ten million dollars of our then current operating year’s budget back to the county. HCPS staff has continued to deliver great instruction to our students consistently through awful economic conditions. Our system is only going to continue to be the best if we put fairly compensated teachers and support staff in front and alongside our students. Over the years I have regularly fought to preserve teaching positions in our budgets. Likewise, arts and extracurricular activities profoundly impact a child’s educational experience. I support maintaining our teams, clubs, and our arts and music programs in our public school system.
1) The rush to implement technology without true consideration of the total cost of ownership: As someone with a technology background, I would be the first to embrace technology throughout HCPS; however, past implementations have demonstrated a tendency to spend inefficiently at all levels. I know of at least one department in the A. A. Roberty building that has more printers than it has employees; Several years ago HCPS implemented SharePoint but failed to give adequate training to the staff expected to use it; teachers are finding more of their day swallowed up by data collection tasks, yet the databases provided to them as “tools” are disparate and unwieldy and cost too much time and effort to use.
Technology can have a valuable role in HCPS, but only if: 1) we first acknowledge openly that our most important resource is the teacher in the classroom and no technology can replace that 2) we consider the long term total costs of ownership of the technology investment, including the true impact on instructional preparedness 3) we set an intelligent long term course which allows for adaption of new technology without encouraging a pursuit of the latest hot trends as an experiment.
2) For too long the focus has been set on meeting state standards. I take exception to this, as it fails to acknowledge those standards as minimum standards. I ask, “Why is our goal the minimum standard?” As a former HCPS and [Harford Community College] teacher and as a coach in youth sports I have seen what our children are capable of doing. Students will rise to your level of expectation when you provide them with the culture and the tools to do so. My guiding principle in every decision will be, “Will this allow HCPS to exceed the minimum standards and turn our students into a collective group that is sought out by college recruiters?” This will require a change in culture from the Superintendent down through the parents and their students, but if other school systems can do it, why can’t Harford County?
There are many issues that need to be addressed, but the two most pressing issues are capacity and enrollment in the middle and high schools, and the overall budget. Solving the capacity and enrollment issue would allow the board to reallocate funds to where they are most needed.
This election presents the opportunity for the School Board to begin to work with the County Executive in preparing the budget. Together, these two groups can identify mutually agreed upon cost saving areas. By working together, the saved funds can be used to enhance the educational process.
In summary, it is time for change. The citizens must elect board members who are willing to tackle the tough issues, change the budget process, prioritize spending to benefit the schools, and make themselves available to the public.