As a parent and volunteer in the school system for over two decades I watched the Howard County Board of Education (“BOE”) repeatedly fail to rise to the challenges facing our community and make tough political choices that would benefit all our students. When I began my tenure on the BOE I was determined to change this. Boundary adjustments to level attendance across schools had been deferred for far too long. As a result, many imbalances had reached crisis levels, yet many in the community were understandably concerned about how change would impact their students. Simply put, failing to finally address this problem would have been irresponsible and I was not willing to make that compromise for political expediency.
I was proud to lead the effort on the BOE to reach compromise and successfully implement a boundary adjustment process that will benefit all Howard County students beginning in the 2020-2021 school year. Like all public policy compromises the outcome did not give any constituency exactly what it wanted. However, I am proud the final approved plan benefits all students by providing relief to many of the 21,000 students who were slated to be at schools slated to be above 110% capacity next year and better using resources and educators to provide more educational equity and opportunities. I believe it is imperative that the school system applies a similar approach to other difficult problems so we can make positive changes that will maintain our earned recognition as a top school system in the country. I am running for re-election to continue to lead the BOE in doing so.
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?
The issue that may have the biggest positive academic and student well-being impact is starting schools later. The weight of the scientific research identifies significant positive impacts from students starting school after 8:00 AM. The evidence is that this practical change will improve student academic performance, increase attendance, improve student mental health, and reduce vehicular accidents. As with boundary adjustment, there is significant and understandable community resistance to adjusting start time. I am confident that any disruptions it may cause are far outweighed by the significant benefits we would gain. Working on implementing this change now, in conjunction with adding High School 13, will allow us to incorporate community feedback and optimize our plans. This process will allow coordination with daycare, before-care, and aftercare providers to build up the infrastructure to provide needed services in the context of a changed schedule and provide continuity to families.
The school system has convened multiple task forces on this topic over the last twenty years that all support the benefits of this change. Yet a failure of leadership and reluctance to make tough choices has always stood in its way. I aim to change that. Beginning in early 2021, if reelected, I will champion this effort and direct the Superintendent to develop feasible models to have all schools begin the school day after 8:00 am.
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?
While I would prefer to pay down the deficit quickly, neither the school system nor the county has enough revenue to do so by 2022. After analyzing available revenue, I support the elimination of the health fund deficit by 2024 as proposed by County Executive Ball and subsequently agreed to by the Howard County Board of Education, D. If we do not eliminate the deficit, we will continue to be choked by it—affecting classrooms on an everyday basis. We will not be able to add back paraeducators. We will continually be faced with painful, awful choices that pit music vs. GT vs. special education vs. Chromebooks to deliver instruction during a pandemic or worse. To pay down the deficit within four years, we may need to make some hard decisions in the short term. I have demonstrated that I can work with my colleagues, our local government and legislators, and the administration to cooperatively and collaboratively make tough, necessary decisions that make us stronger and better in the long run.
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?
Simply put—our students who receive special education services need additional qualified teachers and support staff. Dr. Martirano proposed an increase of over $18 million and more than 200 positions in special education as part of the FY21 budget. In light of the expected budgetary shortfalls, the BOE asked for a more gradual approach to expanding special education staff over two years. I voted with the majority of the Board to request funding to cover 104 new classroom special educators. It’s easy to tell people what they want to hear—especially when the needs exceed available funds, like we see in special education. We need to do better than platitudes and do more than empty gestures for our community. We need leaders who are experienced, thoughtful, researched, and reasoned. With my degree in economics, my training in data analytics, and my experience in education, I can continue to work hard and lead our team of BOE members. My personal experience as a parent of a then 18-month-old child who began receiving special education services means that I bring my experience to better inform decisions. My years of working at the school and county levels in education advocacy and policy mean that I bring a wealth of knowledge and understanding to the decision-making processes. It is through these lenses that I will continue to fight for educational equity and opportunity, including for our special education 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?
The responsibility for picking a superintendent is one of the most important of the BOE. Dr. Martirano has defined the mission of HCPSS as “ensuring academic success and social-emotional well-being for each student in an inclusive and nurturing environment that closes opportunity gaps.” He has implemented policies and procedures to realize this mission, which embodies what Howard County is all about. HCPSS is on the right course with his leadership and he is the right person to lead the school system going forward.
Dr. Martirano assumed his role in a time of low morale, financial mis-management, and organizational chaos. He has righted the ship and set HCPSS on a course for success.
We have just entered a new era of doing business with the COVID-19 pandemic. Dr. Martirano is leading with science, efficient procedures, and calm management. He prioritized hiring a qualified Director of Security, Emergency Preparedness and Response. This Director and his small team have been working since December to consider scenarios and options when coronavirus first appeared in China. It is this kind of planning, preparation, forward thinking, openness, transparency, and commitment to equitable education that Dr. Martirano has brought to HCPSS. Dr. Martirano’s commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion is critical to HCPSS’s continued success.
Some in our community blame Dr. Martirano for the Board decision to redistrict. But the responsibility for redistricting rests with the BOE, which directed him to develop a comprehensive plan consistent with Policy 6010 by a unanimous 7-0 vote.