With less than two months until the 2018 general election, five of the six remaining candidates for the Carroll County Public Schools Board of Education answered questions about key issues facing the school system Thursday night.
Those in attendance at the Community Media Center were Patricia Ann Dorsey, Doug Howard, Kenneth A. Kiler, Mary Kowalski and Bob Lord. Tara Battaglia, another candidate, could not attend because of a prior obligation.
Over 90 minutes Thursday, candidates covered a handful of topics — most in relation to recent decisions or discussions in CCPS — from the Redistricting and School Closure Committee report to discussions about the Bring Your Own Device policy, to bullying and student safety, to styles of leadership.
The RSCC report was released one night before the candidate forum, and discussed at length during the BOE’s meeting Wednesday. On Thursday night, candidates gave their feedback on RSCC’s list of five suggestions, of which reactions were split.
Dorsey said she agreed with the committee’s findings, and she appreciated all it was able to do.
“I think they’ve done a very thorough job,” she said.
Dorsey agreed East Middle School should be at the top of everyone’s attention, and one of the committee’s three recommendations for East Middle needs to be put in motion.
Lord and Kowalski also expressed a need to do something with the middle school. Lord, the current school board president and only candidate seeking re-election, said David Lever, RSCC’s paid facilitator, is one of the leading experts on school building and construction in the state, and provided the BOE with a detailed, well-written report.
Right now, he said, the school board is digesting all of the information, but he knows something needs to be done.
“East Middle is that white elephant in the room,” Lord said.
Kowalski said she agreed with RSCC that there is no need for closures or redistricting right now, and that East Middle needs attention, especially the roof and HVAC system.
But, she said, that shouldn’t be an excuse to spend a large amount of money on a kindergarten through eighth grade facility, which was the group’s top recommendation.
But for Howard, a current District 5 county commissioner, and Kiler, the report’s recommendations didn’t bring much to the table.
Howard echoed comments he made at Wednesday’s BOE meeting, and said while he thanked the committee for the report, he didn’t agree with its findings.
“Clear direction needed to be given to that committee,” he said, adding that because the school board didn’t do that, it ended up with a report with no clear path forward how to implement the possible plans and that none of them were based in “financial reality.”
“I don’t like the idea of elementary school kids having their own device at school,” he said.
And, he added, although the school’s system blocks certain sites, students can get onto whatever they want if they’re using a data plan on their phones.
Kowalski cited concerns over students bringing devices to school because she felt that it hindered their ability to play with others and learn social skills during recess.
Lord said surveys to teachers and administrators found devices aren’t being used in the classroom to help with learning, but said there are a number of parents who demand some sort of device be sent with their child to school.
The next step, Lord said, is for the board to hear from more parents before moving forward.
Dorsey said she agreed with those next steps, and said she found it interesting teachers weren’t incorporating devices in instruction.
Howard said he would end the policy completely because if devices aren’t being used in the classroom, then they’re not helping education. He felt OK with a policy that would allow children to bring devices to be used in an emergency only.
Battaglia did not attend the forum because Thursday was her 15th wedding anniversary and because she had also volunteered to be a soccer coach for a 4- and 5-year-old team with the Charles Carroll Rec Council. She provided a statement to the Times prior to the forum: “I know this is an important forum for the community, and my absence may have some asking as to where my priorities are. As I have advocated my entire campaign, our children and families need to come first. I intend to keep my promise and I am doing just that. ...
“As I have said during my entire campaign, I want to be there for all children, families and communities. Going back on my word would not be in the best interest of my beliefs and my principles. I thank you for your understanding. Please feel free to contact me with any questions at email@example.com.”