Member, Board of Education of Howard County 2016-2020
Why are you running for office?
I’m running for re-election because there’s still much work to be done to improve the transparency, oversight, and accountability of the BOE/HCPSS. I bring a much needed common sense approach to the BOE and make decisions based on listening to the community and stakeholders, data and facts, not emotions. I’ve been involved in school system issues for years through my involvement at the local PTA level, the county level as president of the PTA Council of Howard County (3 terms), a member & co-chair of the Operating Budget Review Committee (OBRC), and the Citizen’s Operating Budget Review Committee when a previous BOE eliminated the OBRC. I’ve spent time trying to make things better and want to make improvements for students because I’m deeply invested in our community and the success of all of our students. I’m not running because of one issue - I’ve been a long-standing advocate for students since my children entered HCPSS. My approach is to look at all aspects/processes of the school system and address where we fall short so improvements can be made. I’ve been criticized for asking too many questions, but to me that is the job of a member of the BOE.
The 2019 fall redistricting process is still dominating conversations among community members. What other issues are you going to bring to light as a school board member, and how will you get them the attention they deserve?
I will continue to advocate that the school system institute responsible budgeting and spending of tax dollars that takes into account current and future needs, and linking funding decisions to evaluated, data-driven student outcomes.
The budget process is broken - it’s a process that over and over results in sending a budget to the county executive that does not prioritize students outcomes and ignores economic realities. The result is a failure to serve our community well.
Just because many accept that we must ask for more than is economically feasible because the county executive can only cut, and not add to the budget, is not a realistic process. When we send the budget to the county executive we create a false impression that the budget will be fully funded and false hope that reductions will not need to be made. In addition, it is unrealistic and irresponsible that we do not factor the impact current budget decisions will have on future budget decisions.
The superintendent’s proposed budget to the BOE should include detailed information from school system experts as to what to prioritize when reductions need to be made to the budget. By waiting until the budget is not fully funded by the county executive does not allow for adequate time in the process to make millions of dollars in reductions. Rushed decisions are often not rooted in thoroughly analyzed data and therefore put good student outcomes at risk.
Howard Schools Superintendent Michael Martirano has long been “ringing the bell” about eliminating the health fund deficit. He has proposed to fully eliminate the deficit by fiscal 2022 through school system savings and county funding. Are you in favor of Mr. Martirano’s plan, and why or why not? Do you think the plan should be more aggressive or less?
In February, the BOE voted to accept the County Executive's outlined pay down of the Health Fund Deficit, the timeline, and both Board and County contributions. Under the plan, the health fund deficit will be eliminated no later than the end of FY24 and includes a total of $13 million in one-time revenue from the County Government and Operating Budget budgetary savings of a total of $17.5 million from HCPSS. It is important for the both the County Government and HCPSS that the health fund deficit is eliminated. I would like to see the deficit eliminated as soon a possible, but we have to be realistic given the funding levels that the County Government is able to contribute and the amount of budgetary savings that HCPSS is able to contribute.
In Mr. Martirano’s proposal fiscal 2021 operating budget, he is looking to address the special education staffing crisis by hiring more than 200 additional staff members in the next year. Is the best avenue to address the staffing crisis, and why or why not? What, if any, additional support programs should also be introduced?
We need to fully fund Special Education and ensure that we have highly qualified, appropriately trained educators working with our students with disabilities. For example, we have increased the number of support staff working with students with special needs instead of increasing the number of qualified teachers and this ratio needs to be adjusted. Also, the job qualifications for special education aides in Howard County are far below those in Montgomery County. Systemwide, programs must be evaluated using appropriate data to determine what impact they have on student outcomes. If programs are not improving student outcomes, we have to determine what changes need to be made and continue to evaluate our programs so that we improve the education experience for all of our students.
Mr. Martirano’s contract ends in June 2022. At this point in time, would you be in favor of renewing his contract? Why or why not?
As a current member of the BOE, performance of the superintendent or my opinion of his performance is a personnel matter, and I am not allowed by law to discuss this.
The role of the BOE is to provide clear expectations and guidance to the superintendent and hold the superintendent accountable to those expectations and to ensure that he provides data to show that the programs the school system has in place is improving student outcomes.