Voters in District B, which includes Fallston and Joppa, will have three school board candidates to choose from in the June primary election. However, only candidate Laura Runyeon provided responses to The Dagger’s three questions for the candidates.
Candidate Greg Johnson was willing to answer the questions, but he missed the deadline for publication. Incumbent school board member Bob Frisch said that he would not answer the questions.
As a reminder, the top two vote-getters in the June primary election will appear on the November ballot. The school board elections are non-partisan, meaning that voters do not need to be registered with a political party to vote in the primary for their school board representative.
Mrs. Runyeon’s Q & A with The Dagger appears 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.
I believe that I have a unique perspective as a parent and a community leader. I have had the fortune to be an active participant inside the schools and classrooms as a parent, PTA leader and school improvement team member for several years. In that capacity, I have had the opportunity to see how decisions that are made at the Board level impact the students and teachers in the classroom. These experiences and my relationships with other parents, teachers, PTA leaders and administrators, as well as my active participation in Board of Education meetings, inform my understanding in many of these areas.
When faced with a new challenge, my instinct is to always do my own research. I believe that Board members are charged with doing their own due diligence, so that they are not just relying on the information provided to them by internal parties, but have had the opportunity to develop their own informed perspective. As an example, as the PTA President at Youth’s Benefit, I needed to learn how school construction funding worked on both the local and state level. I spent countless hours researching the Maryland Public School Construction Program, including reading their manual, having phone conversations with members of the school construction program, attending meetings of the state funding source (the InterAgency Committee and the Board of Public Works), meeting with local county council members, state delegates and the county executive and his team. I also reviewed the BOE Capital Project Lists, the InterAgency Committee capital recommendations and county budgets. It was essential to our efforts that we fully understood the funding mechanisms for school construction. I continue to monitor current proposed legislation that may impact our opportunities to maximize school construction funding for Harford County schools. As a member of the Board of Education, I would bring this approach to any decisions that I would need to make.
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 disagree with the decision that the Board made last year to create depot stops for the magnet programs, create 4th tier schools and change transportation available to students. While I recognize that the decision was made in an effort to find cost saving measures that wouldn’t impact the classroom, I believe that proposing the changes and passing them in the same meeting, without stakeholder input or fully vetting the consequences of these changes was a mistake. Good education creates opportunities for our students and community and decisions that limit access to education or create an undue hardship on working parents to provide access to education for their children are bad decisions.
The consequence of this decision, according to recent testimony of internal staff, is much harder to unwind than it was to create. There was no apparent plan in place as to how to deal with magnet students in the case of late openings or early closings. The changes affected the early dismissal schedule for all elementary students. It was already a challenge to provide significant classroom instruction on early dismissal days, now there is even less time to do so. Establishing 4th tier elementary schools created scheduling difficulties for many working families. In my opinion, the Board should have invested more time understanding what consequences this decision would create and allowing stakeholders to weigh in before any final decision was made. Ultimately, I don’t believe the benefits justified the costs to families.
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.
The issues that are most important to me as a Board member are setting budget priorities and formulating school policies. I recognize that the budget issues are among the most challenging that Board members face, but I also recognize that it is essential to the success of our school system and students to maximize funding and utilize our resources wisely. I believe that we must continue to limit class sizes, sufficiently fund technology, retain highly qualified and compensated teachers, provide sufficient professional development for teachers and adequate instructional resources, while continuing to meet the needs of our students at every level of the spectrum. In order to prevent further cuts that impact class size and instruction, we must find ways to improve efficiencies with other government agencies, eliminate duplicative expenses, carefully review expenses and work collaboratively with all funding decision makers. Providing sufficient resources to students with the same or less funding is clearly a challenging prospect, but I believe that with collaborative relationships among the school system, the Board and the funding authorities, we can meet these needs. I have had the opportunity to work collaboratively with the Board, the county council and the county executive and I believe that these goals can be achieved.
I also believe that we must continue to invest in our physical facilities. As a County, we must find a way to address our aging school facilities. We have 54 school facilities in Harford County, with an average life of 50 years. We must evaluate and update these facilities and we can if we continue demand adequate state participation and develop a sensible approach to systemic renovations or replacement facilities for these buildings. It is important that we push for the results of the county-wide evaluation of our school facilities so that we have a true evaluation of our school buildings. Our reluctance to commit funds for construction projects ultimately costs taxpayers more. Delays often result in increases in constructions costs, while also requiring us to bear the burden of maintenance costs for these aging buildings.
I am interested in school policies that have a direct impact on classroom instruction, such as, setting the policies for Gifted and Talented instruction, middle school grouping, and curriculum offerings on the high school level. We must be sure that the policies that we put in place benefit students at every level and also support their teachers. We need to provide students with both the curriculum and the resources and tools to effectively utilize the curriculum that is presented. I am also deeply committed to ensuring that parents are provided every opportunity to be involved in and apprised of the decisions that impact their children.
Mrs. Runyeon has been an active member of the PTA since 2005 and has served as President of Youth’s Benefit Elementary School PTA since 2011. She has served as a parent representative on the School Improvement Team at Youth’s Benefit since 2010. In 2012 she was selected as one of ten PTA representatives nationwide to attend the National PTA Grassroots Advocacy Training. Subsequently, she developed and implemented an Advocacy training module for Harford County PTA officers. She has participated in several meetings and roundtable discussions surrounding the Common Core standards, as well as education roundtables in Harford County. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in Business, with a minor in Finance from Notre Dame of Maryland University. Mrs. Runyeon has been a paralegal specializing in large commercial finance transactions and commercial foreclosures at Miles & Stockbridge P.C., a regional law firm, since 1987.