As a nearly $1 billion organization, HCPSS has a very complicated budget. With 15+ of accounting experience for small and large corporations, I bring a deep knowledge of the importance of financial and data systems during challenging budgetary times. We need to prioritize our investments in the classroom – including assuring adequate staffing and support for our frontline employees and sustaining the programs that make HCPSS a high-quality education system – while balancing the need for fiscally responsible spending and data-driven decision-making.
To ensure a positive return on our budget investments, we need to routinely monitor progress using both quantitative and qualitative approaches. New and existing programs should be assessed using quantifiable measures, such as Key Performance Indicators, as well as stakeholder input. Parents are the experts on their children – they should be provided with the opportunity for meaningful input into program decisions.
Educator & Staff Voice
Our educators and staff work with our children every day and have the best insight into what programs succeed and how they affect our students. HCPSS spends approximately 85% on salaries because education is a human service. Assuring adequate staffing and support with engaging, effective professional development will lead to better retention of staff and outcomes for our students. This includes hiring and mentoring new staff, especially focusing on increasing workforce diversity, so that our students see themselves reflected in their classrooms.
Special Education Services
Howard County has an obligation to provide a free, appropriate public education and we must embrace all children, including children with special needs. The process for obtaining necessary special education services should be transparent, efficient, and above all, equitable. HCPSS must commit to providing adequate resources for Special Education Services, especially in staffing, including hiring qualified people to assist our children. Steps are being taken to bring special education temporary employees in house and this should increase accountability & quality. HCPSS has made progress to build better relationships with parents of children with special needs, but more needs to be done to decrease disproportionate outcomes.
Supporting Vulnerable Populations
I strongly support programs like the International Family Support Program (IFSP) for newcomers to the US and the Hispanic family liaisons that offer assistance in a county with the wonderful diversity of 20% Asian, 20% African-American, and 7% Latinx populations. I would like to double the number of IFSP participants and increase International and Second Language resources to engage more of our community. Providing personalized outreach to families and communities needing additional resources and building strong family-community-school partnerships are foundational to closing opportunity & achievement gaps. The Black Student Achievement Program (BSAP) has been successfully assisting students access additional supports and activities, such as the BSAP Saturday Math Academy and liaisons at many schools. In addition, HCPSS has been leveraging local and state partnerships to provide mental and behavioral health services for all of our students to address rising psychological needs and has requested increased financial investment from the county for school mental health supports. Enhancing supports for all underserved communities benefits all of our children and families.
Our schools play a unique part in Howard County as centers of education, social services, and community building. As a major stakeholder, BOE members have an obligation to advocate with our elected officials at the County, State, and Federal levels for legislation that positively impacts the school system. I have been a consistent voice at all three, fighting for local control and the dollars we need to run our system. I have served as Chair of Legislative Committee of the BOE since 2017, leading efforts to collaborate and advocate for our students at the policy level.
During my time on the Board, I have voted to support stronger Adequate Public Facility Ordinances that require developers to slow down building and pay higher fees for school surcharges. As the fastest growing county in Maryland, we are constantly behind in terms of capacity and per pupil funding. People move to Howard County for our great schools, but we need to assure that student growth and overcrowding do not deplete school quality and limit classroom resources. On January 7, 2020, I voted to support Councilmember Liz Walsh’s bill, CB-1-2020, to expand the wait times for residential development in areas where our schools are over APFO thresholds for capacity (105% ES, 110% MS, 115% HS).
Friends of Kirsten Coombs, Authority Rebecca Vivrette, Treasurer