Howard County executive candidates share common ground on education as a priority

The men vying for county executive in Howard County deemed education funding to be a top priority.

Republican incumbent Allan Kittleman blamed the school board for a $50 million deficit in the school system budget, which he said was caused by the “neglected health fund.”

“That school system needs to get their act together,” Kittleman said at a Thursday night forum with his Democratic challenger, Calvin Ball.

Kittleman said school superintendent Michael Martirano is a “much better person to be there” than his predecessor, Renee Foose, who resigned after her relationship with the Board of Education, teachers union and parents soured.

Kittleman, who said the solution should not be to “throw tax dollars” at the shortfall, this year allocated $11 million toward the deficit “to stop the bleeding.” He urged the school board to find a “sustainable solution” for the problem.

Ball, who was endorsed by the Howard County Education Association, highlighted his successful campaign to find $5.6 million from the county’s budget to avert an increase in some class sizes. The councilman earlier in the week announced his vision for Howard Public Schools which includes increasing funding, expanding vocational programs for students not seeking to enroll in college and paying school employees a living wage.

On other topics, Kittleman, who has the support of multiple law enforcement groups, outgoing Democratic councilman Jon Weinstein and Gov. Larry Hogan, said he fell short by not allowing people to quickly return to their homes after the 2016 Ellicott City flood.

“It made it much harder for some of those folks to recover because they didn’t get in their buildings quickly enough,” he said.

Kittleman said he improved by helping business owners get back into their buildings quickly after the May 27 flood.

Ball, who said flood mitigation and stormwater management was a priority, said he wished he would have aligned more of the public facilities with infrastructure and development during his tenure on the Zoning Board.

“I would do a much better job with what I know now than what I knew when I was 30 when I got on the council,” Ball said.

Kittleman said his campaign is different from Ball’s because he plans to never let Howard County become a sanctuary for undocumented immigrants.

“To tell us that we can’t coordinate at all with federal officials, when something is happening in our county, is wrong,” Kittleman said. “If we have someone here who is in [the gang] MS-13 and we know they’ve been deported and we see them in the Columbia mall, I want” police to be able to arrest them.

Ball last year co-sponsored sanctuary legislation that would have restricted Howard officials from providing certain information to federal immigration agents. The Howard County bill, which was last year vetoed by Kittleman, came amid a national dialogue triggered by the election of President Trump who made the arrest of undocumented immigrants a highlight of his administration.

Sanctuary status “continues to come up as ‘the most divisive issue’ because it’s used right now in political forums to divide,” Ball said. “We all want a community where our residents don’t feel attacked. And I think we all want to make sure we follow the laws.”

Kittleman during the forum concurred with Ball’s assertion that the debate surrounding sanctuary status has become unnecessarily divisive.

Ball said in an interview that if elected county executive, he does not plan to re-introduce sanctuary county legislation, adding that if the topic resurfaced, he would confer with the council on how to proceed.

This story has been updated to clarify the paraphrasing of Kittleman’s statement of the 2016 Ellicott City flood.

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