Below are the questions posed by the Maryland State Education Association, and adopted by the Howard County Education Association. The blocks in gray are the background information provided by the HCEA. The specific question(s) posed are next. After the questions are the answers I gave, verbatim.
2014 GENERAL ASSEMBLY CANDIDATE QUESTIONNAIRE
Thornton Funding – State Aid for Education
In 2002, lawmakers passed the Bridge to Excellence in Public Schools Act (also known as the Thornton Plan) based on the recommendations of the Thornton Commission. While this increased investment has helped Maryland’s public schools and students achieve outstanding results and develop a reputation as a national leader, many unmet needs remain. MSEA supports increasing the per pupil expenditure, offsetting the impact of continuing inflation and growth, full funding of programs mandated by the General Assembly and/or the State Board of Education, additional state funding to reduce class size, funding to provide state of the art technologies that promote student achievement, increased funding for the education of students receiving special education services, and legislation to support high-quality programs for all students at-risk.
During challenging economic times, the General Assembly made changes to the Thornton Funding formula by slowing the growth of funding according to inflation. This resulted in $718 million less in state funding than originally projected for 2014.
The cost of educating students continues to increase. Over the last 10 years, Maryland has seen an increase in our Title 1 student population of 129 percent and limited English proficiency students of 88 percent. With year to year increases in special education needs, it is clear that the changing student population is a significant driver of costs.
But the return on investment is incredible. In 2001, 49 percent of students were ready for school when entering kindergarten. In 2011, that number was 83 percent. In addition to being the number one public school system in the country for five straight years, Maryland is also #1 in student achievement growth (1992-2011); 4th grade reading and math improvement (proficient level); and AP performance (2008-2012). And Maryland’s graduation rate is at 87 percent – the highest ever.
There is continued room for improvement in closing education gaps, expanding programs and services, and improving student achievement.
There is also considerable room for improvement in addressing educator salaries (flat for the last four years) and reducing class sizes (layoffs/retirements have a direct impact on a slow and steady increase in the number of students per classroom).
The changing expectations and uncertainty surrounding unproven and misaligned principal/teacher evaluations, standardized testing, and curriculum changes is a significant challenge in recruiting and retaining the high-quality educators we need
What is your position on efforts to meet or exceed the goals of the Thornton Commission when it comes to state aid for education?
_____ Increase funding beyond Thornton formulas
_____ Maintain funding at Thornton levels
_____ Decrease funding
Answer to Question #1
In 2002, the State passed the Thornton Plan (Bridge to Excellence) in what was not doubt the largest "unfunded mandate" ever passed. Governors had to raid the Transportation Trust Fund, among other dedicated sources of funds in order to fund Thornton, year after year.
Decisions about education are almost always best made at the local level - particularly here in Howard County. Thornton literally changed the state/local dynamic. As you point out in question #3, prior to Thornton, education funding was provided 51.8% by local governments, and 39.8% by the State (the balance by the Federal government). Today, 13 years later, the State's percentage has jumped to 48.7% -- more than the 46.5% provided by local governments. This change in funding percentage was accompanied by a change in power, best illustrated by the State passing legislation requiring county education budgets to be at least as large or larger than they were the year before ("maintenance of effort"). Counties generally want to maximize education funding, but there are times when this blanket one-size-fits-all approach makes no sense. Moreover, counties like Howard where education funding currently comprises about 70% of the county budget have very little room to cut budgets in the remaining 30% of the budget when times are tight.
The sixth bullet in the background points in question #1 raises an issue that concerned me when I ran for county executive in 2010. I spent hours trying to understand and compare classroom teachers' salaries vis a vis the salaries of central office staff. Unfortunately, it has proven difficult to get the data on central office salaries -- even for Board of Education members. From my analysis of the data I had, it looked to me like central office positions (including every central office classification, including clerks and other clerical jobs) were generally higher than the salaries of classroom teachers, even after taking into account the 10-month v. 12-month differential. I did extensive number crunching with what I had, but it was impossible to come to any valid conclusion, absent numbers from Central Office. While I believe that teachers in Howard County are not necessarily underpaid, the budget allocations seem to have their priorities backwards/ Teachers are the single most important element of a child's education, and we want the good ones in the classrooms making a difference. If jobs in the central office have comparably higher salaries, teachers will be lured out of the classroom, at the expense of our children's education. .
Geographic Cost of Education Index
This grant program provides additional state funds to local school systems where costs for educational resources are higher than the state average. GCEI was an original component of the 2002 Thornton Plan; however, it was subsequently determined to be discretionary and funding was delayed. Full funding for the geographic cost of education index (GCEI) formula was provided in fiscal year 2009 for the first time.
State funding for fiscal year 2014 to the thirteen eligible countyies is $130.8 million.
In 2009 the GCEI index was updated as required by statute however, to date the General Assumbly has not adopted the new index into statute. The 2009 GCEI index woul determine fourteen counties eligible and woul increase stste funding by an additional $109 million per year.
Do you support or oppose mandating the Geographic Cost of Education Index (GCEI) as a part of the state aid for education formula?
Do you support or oppose the state adopting an updated GCEI index (current unfunded index is from 2009) that would increase aid through this formula from $130 million to $239 million in FY15?
#4. Maintenance of Effort. The state imposed the "maintenance of effort" requirement to allay concerns the local jurisdictions would simply decrease local spending for education in the amount of the state allocation. As I noted in my response to question #1, maintenance is a clear example of the power of the State, which, in this case, has led to difficulties. The State is empowered to, but not required to, grant waivers when a county pleads hardship. I know that Montgomery County (and possibly others) that were denied by the State. I have not had the opportunity to review the 2012 changes, so some of my thinking may have been addressed. But the primary objection to programs like Thornton is that in exchange for money, local governments surrender more and more of their autonomy.
#5.School Construction. This is a funding question, and I have insufficient information regarding the demands on the capital budget to respond. However, funds to construct schools should be one of the higher priorities, in part because it is often difficult to predict the future need for schools. Another consideration may become paramount if the dramatic weather we've been having continues. Older schools might find their heating systems not up to the frigid temperatures created by the polar vortex freeze we experienced earlier this year
#20. School Board Autonomy. Since I believe in local control, I am in support of school board autonomy, with one caveat. The school board must be given the power to impose and collect its own taxes to fund the operating and capital budgets. Raising the money to fund what they spend creates a systemic responsibility that is currently missing.
#17, #18 & #19 Teacher & Principal Evaluations. I am in complete agreement with the MSTA. You note that "what our students learn is different from what they are tested on." This is simply wrong on so many levels. The students will get discouraged; meaningless test scores will be used to evaluate students' progress; and that progress will be used to evaluate the success of the teacher
Equally disturbing are the efforts by state and federal agencies "to overturn school districts' mutually agreed upon, statutorily compliant evaluation models in pursuit of a one-size-fits-all models developed by the federal and state agencies rather than local education agencies.''
Question 19 raises the issue of the imposition of "Common Core." I have no idea whether the program itself is good or bad, but the way it has been imposed on teachers and students, without their input, without adequate testing, and with almost no teacher training is very wrong. I understand this on a personal level.[i] . It should be obvious that teachers deserve sufficient information to be able to integrate new standards into their teaching, in a way that enables them to deliver high-quality instruction. The training for Common Core standards should, however, be done at the local level.
[i] My daughter taught in the Howard County school system for some 10 years or so, as a secondary ed teacher of mathematics, primarily in high schools.. She went to part-time when her second child was born. Within the last two years, she and her husband severed their marriage, and are sharing joint custody of their two young children. At this point, my daughter needed to work, and secured a position as an Algebra I teacher at a Howard County middle school. She was living with me at the time, and I wondered why she was up so late into the night working on grading tests and preparing lesson plans. Teaching math was not new to her. After about two months of being a mom and working full time, she left teaching -- not by choice but by circumstance. Initially, I wondered why. It was not until I began hearing from many sources about the effect of Common Core on teachers --particularly math teachers -- that I understood what had happened, and talked to her about it. I learned, for example, that she had no curriculum; she was not provided daily objectives. She had books that had almost no correlation to what she was required to teach. She used the Internet to search out-of-state websites to find relevant "tasks" for her student -- not always an easy task. She found an example in Seattle where the teacher used ticket prices at Seattle's Met Life Stadium. Unfortunately, the data was over five years old, and no longer relevant. So she emailed the Ravens to ask for up to date prices, all in order to provide and provide "relevant tasks" for her students.
#17 Digital Learning. Maximizing our use of the tools that two decade long technological revolution have provided is a must. I agree that how these tools are used should be done thoughtfully. -- expeditiously, but not carelessly. Teachers are never going to be "replaced" by computers, or any other technology, and I know that most teachers will actively embrace the potential to dramatically increase their effectiveness through the use of technology, and look for the best way to integrate the learning
#14Privatization. This is an issue that no one should be "for" or "against." Some types of services do not lend themselves to private operation; some do. Whether a specific service should be contracted out with a private firm depends on many things, and should be made, essentially, on a case to case basis, and reviewed periodically to be certain that it is still cost-effective (and that the people who are being serviced are satisfied). If the State Highway Department was unable to depend on outside contractors, the system would collapse. Agencies must, however, have proper controls in place to monitor contractor performance.
#15Charter Schools. I support a strong system of Charter Schools. I do not, however, look at charter schools or vouchers to be at odds with an excellent public school system. I view charter schools as an adjunct to the public school system. Indeed, I believe that charter schools can relieve the public school system of having to be all things to all students. Exceptional students will thrive anywhere -- particularly in the excellent system of public schools in this county. The need is for students who have unique needs (language barriers, for example), and for students who are stuck in a school system that is not performing. Charter schools offer the ability to provide families with a variety of educational choices that may ultimately be impossible in a public school system that is becoming more rigid and uniform as state and federal rules are aimed at creating a "one-size-fits-all" system. Providing some sort of choice for parents and kids for the source of their K-12 education is something I support -- particularly in areas where public schools are clearly failing.[i]
[i] You might find it amusing to know that from the time I met Bob Kittleman until well into our marriage, the issue of charter schools was the only issue on which we disagreed. His issue was the potential government support of religion. I ultimately brought him around to my point of view.
#13 Increasing the Minimum Wage. Passing and increasing the amount of the "minimum wage" falls into the category of laws that I view as "means well -- doesn't work".
#12Tax Policy. From what I know about "combined reporting," I don't believe that it is a "tax loophole." I believe it would have a negative impact on the larger "foreign" corporations who do business in Maryland, with the likely result that a number of them leave the state. As always, I am open to hearing the other perspective.
#10. Collective Bargaining. As a former labor relations attorney, working in a large law firm, I have generally been on the side of "management." My primary issue with union contracts is not the level of salaries negotiated, but the work rules that often cost far more than higher salaries. A prime example is the union agreement that the MTA (Maryland Transit Administration) and its primary union. The union was adamant about its entrenched work rules some of which prevented needed changes. I've included in an endnote an example of how I worked with the Maryland Transportation Authority's FOP's request for collective bargaining.[i]
[i] Relevant anecdote of how I negotiate: When I was the CEO of the Maryland Transportation Authority, I was the civilian head of 450 sworn police officers. In 2006, the FOP had a bill in the General Assembly that would have instituted mandatory collective bargaining. The FOP requested my support There hadn't been any issues between the FOP and the Authority as far as any of us could remember, and I sat down with the leaders of the FOP and the Chief to voice my concerns about collective bargaining. I said I believed that we have great relationships between the FOP and the Authority -- with every division of the agency. I enjoyed the opportunity to meet and talk with the FOP and with individual members of the force as I went to our different facilities. I objected to an imposed collective bargaining law because the rules regarding "bargaining/negotiating" are strict and would essentially put us into an adversarial position and regiment how we talked with one another.
In lieu of Collective Bargaining, I proposed an alternate option. The police had been wanting take-home cars for some time. They had even compiled a notebook with a comprehensive plan for implementing such a program over three years. I proposed that the Authority would implement the take-home car program over the three years shown in their plan, and they would refrain from seeking collective bargaining for those three year.
We agreed and signed a one-page contract. The first year, everything went as scheduled. However, when Governor Ehrlich was defeated and O'Malley's administration took over, they decided to cut the car take-home program. The FOP fought them, and the issue of our 1-page contract went to court. The court of special appeals ruled against the FOP), but the Court of Appeals said the Court of Special Appeals was wrong on virtually every issue -- except, there was a federal regulation we were unfamiliar with that required the Administration's position to win. (Maryland Transportation Authority v. Maryland Transportation Authority Police Lodge #34., 420 Md. 141 (2011))
Questions 8 and 9
#8 #9. Retirement Security. I'm unfamiliar with the details of a "unified benefit structure." I am in complete agreement with supporting the effort to make any and all future benefit plans become actuarially sound.[i]
[i] Anecdote: When my husband first won election to the House of Delegates in 1982, he was confronted with one of the most difficult votes he ever took. That was the year that Speaker Ben Cardin, was leading the effort to revise the teacher's pension system to reduce its long term financial effects. From a financial and philosophical perspective, Bob was in favor of the change; from the moral stance, he was not. He felt-- as I do == that governments should honor their contract promises.
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