In the following summary of conference panel presentations, state Senator Barry Glassman says that teacher pensions will be dealt with in the upcoming Maryland General Assembly session and he believes that some transfer of costs to the counties will occur; Harford County Council President Billy Boniface calls for an education element to be added to the county Master Plan; and Harford Schools Superintendent talks about setting priorities in tough economic times.
From the Harford Business Roundtable for Education:
Dr. Henry Cram, president, Middle States Association of Colleges and Schools:
Leadership for Learning
Dr. Cram suggested that the important question we should ask is why schools have not improved as much as we wish. So much in society has changed in the past 150 years but much of the educational process has not. At the same time society’s expectations from the schools has changed dramatically. The challenge is compounded by the fact that (as a nation) we are reaching the outer limits of what we can or are willing to pay for public education. His recommendations were that we must a) decide as a community what we want and expect from our schools (priorities and outcomes), b) The entire community must believe that the schools can be improved and will be better in the future, and c) that as a community we must have “..the audacity to believe you can make a difference.”
Harford County Executive David Craig:
Preparing Students for the Future – APG as the Employer of Choice
Mr. Craig provided background on APG’s effect on our community as both our largest employer and a potential partner in supporting our educational goals. He suggested that while “STEM” programs are important and that we are making good progress in this area, APG’s employment needs go beyond science, math and engineering. He believes we must strengthen the good relationship we have with base leadership and expand it to all the off post contractors. Finally he hopes to see more effort placed on giving students personal exposure to the career opportunities at APG. It is the responsibility of everyone in county leadership positions to build the personal relations required to make these improvements.
Harford County Council President Billy Boniface:
Adding an Education Element to the Harford County Master Plan
Mr. Boniface began by confirming that communication and cooperation among the individuals and organizations in leadership positions has improved, more needs to be done. He also emphasized that it is critically important to reach out and engage the entire community in this process, not least of all employers. Leadership needs to know what jobs will be available and skills required. And business should share their expertise. He expressed his belief that these elements must be included in the county’s Master Plan process.
Maryland State Senator Barry Glassman:
Funding Teacher Pensions
There are no easy answers to this problem. Nationwide states and local communities are struggling to place financial responsibility in the right place. Mr. Glassman reminded us that the state has a growing budget deficit that it has been building over time. It now must be dealt with.
He explained that Maryland is unique and that in almost all other states, pension plans are a local responsibility. On the other hand, in Maryland local jurisdictions have little say in the terms of pension plans. The legislature was unable to resolve the problem in the last session and this summer a commission has been working on recommendations. It will be dealt with in the upcoming session and he believes some transfer of financial responsibility will occur. He believes that part of the solution lies in looking to the structure of private sector plans. We must offer competitive pension plans but it must be affordable.
Harford County Board of Education President Mark Wolkow:
Parent Engagement with the School System
Engagement, not just involvement is what Mr. Wolkow proposes is necessary. He feels that parents must be engaged in all aspects of a child’s education. This begins with improved communication with children at home about their school and learning. He explained that schools are attempting to improve communication (using “Edline” as an example of a major improvement) but that schools must make it even easier for parents to be engaged. He proposed that our PTA’s can be a great advocate for parents. In the past PTA’s were very effective at representing parents at County Council and Board of Education meetings but this has lessened over time. Mr. Wolkow stated that children must know that their parents care about and are engaged in his or her education. He ended by pointing out that in seeking “accountability” one measure that many experts use is the degree of parent engagement. He pointed to this forum as one way that parents can be engaged.
Harford County Public Schools Superintendent Robert Tomback:
Priority Decisions in Tough Economic Times
Dr Tomback began by stating that in his remarks he is not complaining; emphasizing that both the Council and County Executive have given strong financial support in tough economic times. He quoted an authority that Dr. Cram had cited to put our challenge in context: “Good is the enemy of great.” Harford County Public Schools do a good job, so requesting more to make them great is a difficult challenge. He suggested that we need to consider two questions: 1) What are we willing to give up to go forward, and 2) What are we willing to change to improve performance. He believes that the second question is the harder to deal with but that it is more important. He believes that BRAC will be transformative and place greater demands for performance on HCPS. To prepare students for greater challenges we must have our teachers ready, our facilities must support the educational process, technology is crucial and we can all see the value of our magnet programs. But all of these needs come with a price tag. As a community we must agree on how to meet the challenges and be willing to make changes to what we have been doing.
Next: Part III – Work Group Recommendations: Tap Community Experts, Improve Communication, Increase Flexibility and Use of Data in Decision Making
Note: The Harford Business Round Table for Education (HBRT) is a coalition of employers with a long term commitment to supporting education reform and improving student achievement in Harford County. We are aligned with the State’s Maryland Business Roundtable for Education (MBRT). Under the direction of local business leaders, HBRT works collaboratively with government officials, educators, parents, community leaders, and other stakeholders to strengthen systems that affect student learning. Daggerpress LLC is a member of HBRT and participated in the conference.