Voter guide: Julie Hotopp, Board of Education (4), Howard

Julie Hotopp

Non-Partisan candidate for Howard County Board of Education, D4

Age 44

Residence Columbia, MD

Occupation Professor/Scientist

Education B.S./Ph.D.

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Previous political experience


Why are you running for office?

I want to ensure we continue to provide a top-rate education for students. But that must be done in a more transparent and open manner, where community engagement is both encouraged and welcomed.

I want to ensure we continue to provide a top-rate education for students. But that must be done in a more transparent and open manner, where community engagement is both encouraged and welcomed.

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?

We need to ensure every student has the best opportunity to learn and succeed in life. To do that, we need to start school later, we need a middle school science fair, and we need to recognize that a school is over capacity at 101%, not 110%, advocating for school construction that ensures every kid has a seat in a brick and mortar classroom. We should discuss and explore new initiatives that could improve outcomes, like year-round school—where students still attend school ~40-weeks of the year but it is more evenly spread through the year. We need to ensure that every school that is eligible, participates in the Community Eligibility Provision that offers free breakfast and lunch to all students to ensure Hunger-Free schools and to remove the stigma associated with free and reduced meals. We need to address the growing achievement gap between boys and girls, and make sure that the curriculum is aligned with the developmental milestones of both genders, ensuring the success and positive self-esteem of all. We also need to ensure that throughout the entire process, the public can be engaged; they need to feel their voices are heard and valued. That can only occur through increased openness, more transparency, and better communication. Communication needs to be a two-way street, not two one-way streets. In addition to advocating for students, I am committed to more open dialogue with constituents and to ensure that decisions are made in open meetings with the transparency we all deserve.

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?

This health fund deficit needs to be addressed in a timely manner. The health fund has been underfunded for 7 of 8 years in a row and in 2016 began showing a deficit that is now almost $40 million. Before the COVID crisis, it seemed that we were on track to reduce or eliminate the health fund deficit in the next few years with 2/3 of the funds coming from the school system and 1/3 of the funds coming from the county. However, with the financial crisis from the COVID pandemic, it is now clear that this will not happen as quickly as planned. Despite COVID-19, the school system is still committing funds to reduce the deficit, which is good.

However, the ultimate issue is that the superintendent’s budget is not fully funded, which would be the wisest county fiscal policy. The school budget cuts that are required to balance the budget are leading to increased class sizes and have led to the removal of support staff from classrooms, which have negative impacts on student performance and achievement. Smaller class sizes are associated with better academic outcomes, particularly for the most disadvantaged students. The anticipated poorer outcomes from larger class sizes will yield increased future costs in a spiral that started years ago. The special needs of some children will go unnoticed longer, which is associated with poor outcomes and more expensive remedies for language delays, dyslexia, dysgraphia, and other special needs.

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?

Evidence shows that early intervention is the least expensive solution and the most beneficial for the student. We need to ensure that every child that needs early intervention services before Kindergarten receives those services, to make sure students are ready to learn when they first arrive at the school doors. More also needs to be done to incentivize schools to both identify children who could benefit from intervention and to develop intervention strategies early. Schools need to stop being the gatekeepers until the problem escalates to a level that is severe, such that it is harder and more expensive to remedy. For example, as we have heard in numerous board meetings this past year, one in five children have dyslexia—that means at least 4 kids in most classrooms. Identifying and treating dyslexia early leads to the best outcomes. Children that go un-diagnosed are more difficult to treat and more likely to have social and emotional issues later in life that can interfere with their education. Our current curriculum does not support the identification of dyslexic children or teaching children in a way that is dyslexic-friendly. Remedying that, would significantly improve outcomes for those kids while benefiting other kids in the classroom. Personally, I know the same is true for dysgraphia and inattentiveness. We also need to do more to raise awareness that special education and GT are not mutually exclusive.

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?

Given that Dr. Martirano’s contract ends in 2022, now is the time to collect feedback on his performance from the community—including teachers, staff, students, parents, and other community members. At the same time, it is important to also obtain information on what the entire community values most in a superintendent, and to assess how his performance aligns with community values. In addition, we need to consider and discuss how to balance the innovation that comes with new leadership with the stability that maintaining existing leadership can bring, particularly in this economic climate. Most importantly, to do such an evaluation well and thoughtfully, this work needs to begin now. If, after that discussion, we decide to hire a new superintendent, I support an open search process, ensuring the process is open and transparent with community engagement like the one described by Terre Davis in a feature for AASA. Her description of the effects that closed and secretive deliberations has on a community is the crux of the problems in the Howard County School System community and school system—where elected officials value secrecy to ensure their re-election over open and meaningful dialogue with an engaged community. While many issues, like those protected by FERPA, need to be kept private; the deliberations and discussions on school policies and decisions (like evaluating the superintendent’s contract) need to be open and transparent.

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