Election Eve

The reasons I decided to run for Howard County Board of Education still exist. If you have a few minutes and enjoy accounting, take a look at this recent audit report. Len Lazarick makes a strong case for voting out the lone incumbent left in the race. If you’ve finished reading those, I’d like to add a couple of additional notes:

  • There were complaints about the length of time for the audit. Evidently, the Administration decided that a Board member had to attend every audit meeting. Think Mark Zuckerberg or Richard Branson hanging out with an auditor every couple of weeks. That doesn’t happen, my friends.
  • Ms. O’Connor’s letter did not go to the rest of the Board as that “cc” would seem to indicate. When a Board member finds out from the press asking for comments, dysfunction as a body is rampant.
  • I started my career as an auditor…In the ensuing years after I left public accounting, I continued to work with auditors as I was the client. I wanted clean opinions and minimal recommendations. Have I gotten annoyed while on either side? Of course.

This report and its scorched earth response “from” the current Chair of the Board are a tightly wrapped gift to the state as reasons to punish our school system.

Then fast forward to Thursday’s Board meeting where Board members voted to end discussion on the payroll errors. Which were NOT a minor issue. Thank heavens for Dr. Altwerger for pushing it back onto the agenda during her report. Of course, more ridiculous behavior ensued after that. One departing Board member wanted the Internal Auditor to answer questions on it, which is not his field. (She was later heard to be telling people “I didn’t say the things they say I did.” But…video…)

Whatever happens, I believe we’ve shown the endemic nature of this cancer. I have worked very hard over the past 19 or so months on this campaign to learn and understand the responsibilities of this office. But I know that my campaign is nothing compared to the hard job awaiting me.

I am super excited to meet people as they vote tomorrow. Thank you for all of your support and encouragement…and TIME.

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Testimony FOR Budget Review Committee

Last night, I joined several members of the community in support of Dr. Ball’s bill CR 88 that creates a School Budget Review Committee under the aegis of the Council, rather than the Board of Education.

My testimony:

Good evening. My name is Kirsten Coombs. I am a member of the Town Center Village Board and my testimony is my personal opinion. I am a Certified Public Accountant, although not practicing currently. I have 20 years of experience in the accounting field & I have an MBA.

When the Citizens’ Operating Budget Review Committee was suspended in 2014, HCEA asked whether there was interest in convening an unofficial committee. I was glad to join and began working on the analysis of this $800 million budget.

That process taught me that the Superintendent and the Board of Education majority are unwilling to answer simple questions about the taxpayer money they receive. A budget demonstrates priorities for the coming year. The 2016 budget and now the 2017 one indicate that the Superintendent prioritizes higher class sizes, fewer instructional assistants, fewer textbooks, unproven trendy sounding programs and eliminating special education services. The Budget director of HCPSS referred to saving taxpayer money on special education, which Ms. Terrasa called offensive. Despite a forecasted increase in children with special needs, the Superintendent did not add any staff to school based services to address this increase.

An appropriate budget process should address the coming year as it is, as well as system priorities. Given that we are discussing taxpayer money, the budget process should also be transparent to the citizens. Unfortunately, the budget process has not even been transparent to some sitting Board of Education members. The Superintendent has dismissed Board members’ questions about it.

Please support this legislation to begin the process of restoring trust in our school system. Thank you.

Chasing Snow (with a Grain of Salt)

As my husband got ready in the dark for work this morning, I considered telling him to pack a change of clothes in case the weather was bad. He works in McLean, VA, a mere 35 miles away that seems 135 miles when it precipitates. But I reconsidered after realizing 1) he grew up north of Scranton, PA and 2) he can walk out his office building and into one of the Tysons malls. And 3) it was only a two-hour delay in Howard County.

So I snoozed only to wake up to learn Howard County had closed the schools while leaving the administration open. Sigh. Day #7. Five-day weekend. And then next Monday being a holiday. Sighhhh….

As a candidate, I hear two questions most often. The first is about whether I would have extended the superintendent’s contract for another four year term. In case you aren’t sure on that answer, it’s a no. Because I’m running and I’m an accountant who oddly enough passed her Government & Tax part of the CPA with an 89*, I went to the Budget work session around lunchtime. So I had a seat!

The second question or comment I hear, especially right now, is “Can you do something about the snow closing?” My answer is – I don’t know. I’ve watched the explanations, spoken to friends formerly in county government, seen my Facebook page blow up, etc. I think we’ve become very nervous, especially in the wake of Anne Arundel’s dust-ups over the past couple of years. There is no winning. Even Justin Berk was off today.

I went out for lunch and grocery shopping and Lil was biking this afternoon. The rain we had actually aided in the snow melt.

One of my friends is a teacher and suggested that the days off are not the only problem. It’s putting the additional days all at the end of year. If you are taking a one-semester class and miss all six days at the end of the first semester class, but add them to the end of the second semester class that had no skipped days, what is the point?

My revised answer to the second question is this: I would like to challenge the Calendar Committee to consider this marking period question. This has been a problem for a few years, so let’s be creative with the ideas. Let’s discuss this with open minds and the knowledge that compromise will not suit everyone.

And if I hear word of anybody doing the inside-out PJs thing to wish for another snow day, well, I’m dropping off my kid and her friends at your house for the snow day!

*I got mocked for that score because all you need is a 75. And I wasn’t doing government or tax accounting. We accountants are an odd bunch.