Maryland Voter Guide 2022

Voter guide: Antonia Barkley Watts, Board of Education (2), Howard

Antonia Watts

Non-Partisan candidate for Howard County Board of Education, D2

Age 39

Residence Elkridge, MD

Occupation Online ESL Tutor

Education BS Mechanical Engineering U Delaware; MS Bioengineering UC Berkeley MA Secondary Education U of Michigan

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Previous political experience


Why are you running for office?

No response.

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?

There are two major issues that I want to address during my time on the board of education. The first is closing the opportunity gap. The opportunity gap is the access that a child has to a high quality education. This high quality education includes access to experienced educators and rigorous coursework. There are disparities in our schools. Some schools have more advanced academic offerings. Some of our neediest schools have significant staff turnover creating instability in the school. This opportunity gap begins very young with a gap in access to high-quality affordable early childhood education. HCPSS’s data shows that groups that enter kindergarten underprepared are the same groups that have statistically lower graduation rates. To ensure that this issue receives that attention that it deserves, I plan to evaluate issues with its ability to move us toward closing the opportunity gap.

Teacher recruitment and retention is the second issue that is very closely connected with the opportunity gap and that also deserves attention. Schools serving mostly African-American students are twice as likely to have a novice teacher compared with schools serving mostly white students. The school system must work to ensure that teachers feel supported in their work enough to remain in the schools that need them the most.

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?

Yes, I am in favor of Martirano's plan. He recognizes that it is not good fiscal management to have a deficit in the health fund. Plus, eliminating the deficit allows the school system to direct more funds to educational services. The plan honors the negotiated contracts with the teachers' union and does not require teachers to pay for the mishandling of the fund by previous leadership. This is a relief to many educators who worried that they would have to pay more to rectify this situation. Additionally, Dr. Martirano's plan partners with the county to more quickly eliminate this deficit. It was wise to follow a similar model that allowed Anne Arundel to eliminate its deficit.

I believe that the proposed plan is too aggressive. The timeline proposed aims to save the school system 11.5 million by the end of FY 2022. This is a great savings. However, this is achieved by using the entire fund balance of the general fund at the onset of the plan. It removes any financial safeguards that might be needed in an emergency. This is not prudent. In the event of a school emergency, the system needs unassigned funds to tackle any unexpected issues.

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?

There is a staffing crisis in special education and an increase in the number of staff members is important to address this concern. However, it is critical to hire highly qualified special educators who are trained to handle the educational needs of the special education population. Once we have those educators in place, they must have a schedule that allows them to properly perform their duties. Currently, special educators are spread thin with large caseloads and little protected time to complete their administrative duties.

Increased staffing is not the only tool available though. As a general educator, I was given little guidance about how to best work with special educators so that they could better serve the students in my classroom. General educators and special educators need more training on how to better collaborate to increase student outcomes. Also, general educators should have the tools to better identify struggling learners since we interact with the child on a daily basis.

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?

Yes, I am in favor of renewing Dr. Martirano’s contract at this time. He joined the school system at a time of great turmoil. He immediately set out to rebuild the trust through increased transparency and open communication. With every school-related event on the local, state, and national level, he sent an email to the community that kept us abreast as to how it directly impacted HCPSS and how the schools were responding.

Furthermore, Dr. Martirano quickly addressed the health fund deficit. He developed a plan that did not punish educators and sought to put the missteps of the previous administrators behind us as quickly as possible. This showed that he was not afraid to tackle tough issues.

Lastly, Dr. Martirano is committed to equity. In his strategic call to action, he recognizes the shortcomings of the school system and his vision for addressing each item. His goal is to build a system that is inclusive and responsive to the student, staff and community needs. He strengthened the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion office by hiring a director and adding three new positions to that office. He truly believes there is “a fierce urgency of now” to address inequities and has shown that in his priorities.

My only reservation is his working relationship between the board of education and the superintendent. While the board holds the superintendent responsible for the performance of the school system, I still expect a collaborative working environment that is not always on display in public meetings.