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.

Advertisements

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.

 

 

Community schools

In Howard County, I often hear “I don’t have kids in the school system, so I don’t really know much about it.” As I noted in my announcement speech, more than 60% of our budget in any given year is going to the schools. I pay high taxes and I want to be assured that they are being used well.

Why do people move here? The schools rank high on the list of reasons. In college, I was an Honors student and many of my neighbors on Easton 5 were Howard County kids. I was like, there are that many schools in Howard County? I thought it was just Merriweather…

I moved here because I got a job in the Baltimore office of Arthur Andersen. I had four or five offers in the DC/Tysons Corner area from the Big Six accounting firms. But a couple friends convinced me Baltimore was the fun office. Being a Washingtonian and having family in Montgomery County, I figured Columbia made sense. I fell in love with Columbia and decided to stay.

I went to private school for 12 years. But when it came to the decision for my daughter, my husband and I were pretty sure we’d be foolish not to send her to such a great system. I sometimes questioned it when I hear people talk about Wilde Lake – negatively.

That’s why I was happy that the Wilde Lake Village Board reached out to my village board for partnering on an Education Committee. Town Center has no schools, so our kids go to the Wilde Lake schools. In meeting with the chair of the committee, I was happy to find that a retiree spends his time doing robotics and other extracurricular science activities for our community schools. And he wants to partner with the local schools to help them in a multitude of ways – volunteer opportunities for community service requirements, providing speakers and publicizing school events. He wants to cheerlead for the schools, because it’s common sense to him.

It’s common sense to me too and I’m glad that Wilde Lake has a positive outlook on their local schools.

Opinions are my own and do not necessarily reflect those of any other organization or person.

Link

Some Good News!

By coincidence or rather Ms. Philip’s schedule and mine finally working out, the article below appeared (in print) on the day of my announcement. I felt that she really captured the essence of my disappointment with our current Board. Please let me know YOUR thoughts at kirsten@kirstencoombs.org – Feel free to share success stories too!

http://www.baltimoresun.com/news/maryland/howard/columbia/ph-ho-cf-kirsten-coombs-1029-20151027-story.html