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.

Advertisements

State Audit Report

As an accountant and former auditor, today’s report was a riveting read.

Given the past couple of years, the MD state legislative audit of HCPSS presented a consistent story that noted sole-sourced contracts and mishandled mileage stipends. We’ve known about some of these items and inflated health care costs and similar issues drove Dr. Ball and the Council to have their auditor do another audit.

Finding 5 was somewhat surprising – “HCPSS lacked evidence that the salaries for 142 administrative employees, which totaled $15.3 million in fiscal year 2014, had been approved by the Board as required by State Law.” Worse was the claims by HCPSS “that the salaries and pay scale were provided to certain Board members“ (emphasis mine). Our Central Office administrators and managers make a lot of money. Side note: Did you know that some managers have been demoted, but kept at their manager salaries? Their title in the payroll system stays the same, so they can’t seek refuge with Howard County Education Association. Crafty, right?

Add another piece of perplexing and disappointing evidence: the Board Chair (or her proxy) wrote a very defensive and confrontational response to the State Legislative Auditor that was sent WITHOUT notifying the entire Board of Education. This meant Board members were blindsided the other day as the report was being circulated in advance of its official release today (Oct. 21).

What does this mean? Well, the Board is completely dysfunctional. The leadership of the school system is going into bunker mode and attempting to defend itself against the indefensible. I attended the PTA Presidents meeting with the Board earlier this week. They constantly blamed the county for budget cuts because getting $32 million more than the prior year is apparently a budget cut. Dr. Altwerger, thankfully, mentioned looking for areas to cut that do NOT affect the classroom. But the Board majority wants parents to mobilize against the County Executive and Council because they’re the bogeymen that “cut” the Budget. They’re hitting the kids where it hurts so parents will lobby on behalf of the Board, when there is no shared pain on the part of HCPSS Administration.

Is it world-class to act this way? To fight our elected officials, both the HCPSS Board and our county/state legislators? Is it world-class to expose student information to potential hacking? How is this meeting the goal of “Families and the community are engaged and supported as partners in education?”

In Maryland, we have NINE days to vote. Take advantage of your right to vote. Tell people who might not be paying attention to what is happening to the highly decorated Howard County school system. (Also tell them that HCPSS and thus, we taxpayers, pay for some of those decorations.) The Board vote matters for our property values and taxes and our reputation, but it primarily matters for our students and parents and educators. Rebuilding trust may take awhile, but let’s start the process on Election Day.

Forums Around Town

We’re a month out from Election Day! We have a few more forums coming up around Howard County. Scott Ewart has a helpful list here. If you’re unable to make it to a forum in person, check out http://www.vote411.org/ for Candidate information.

Each forum has its own personality. It’s always exciting to do a new one. Rarely do we get the questions beforehand.

One where we did is the Columbia Village Board forum coordinated by Oakland Mills. We submitted our responses and you can view them here. Next week, we have the chance to expand on one of the questions.

Thank you to all who coordinate these forums. They are a lot of work, but they provide an opportunity for us. Countywide candidacies present challenges, but thanks to civic groups, we get a chance to spread our message to multiple constituencies.

Monthly Reminder…

That I’m not running in 2018 for another office if the Howard County electorate decides to select me for the Board of Education.

Remember this? It’s still true!

Yes, as a member of the Town Center Village Board, I have been very engaged in the Downtown Columbia discussions. (Tonight, our Board will testify AGAINST the increase in density and the Administration’s plan.) The 2010 plan had 5,500 units and the idea that 900 additional units won’t be counted toward density because they’re affordable sets a dangerous precedent for the county. It’s like not counting Pre-K toward elementary school capacity…

But I continue to hear from people that I am running for the County Council District 4 seat, which will become vacant in 2018. That Board of Education is just a stepping stone that I’m using. That being a political animal I really won’t be satisfied with the Board.

One day maybe I will run for County Council. But when people tell you I am running in 2018, ask yourself why they’re telling you that rumor/lie. And please tell them, stop saying it.

Eight Days a Week…

Since I worked on another campaign as the Field Director, I knew exactly what Early Voting would entail. Oh, wait, this time I was the candidate.

Let me tell you, it was great! I had so many conversations with people about their concerns and issues. One woman stopped to tell me I was wasting my time, but Board of Education is a down-ballot race. Another candidate and I were stopped by a gentleman who had initially eliminated us. We were able to change his vote to us after a few minutes’ discussion. Many people come to the polls ready for Senate or President, but a personal connection can make a difference in a this race. I don’t have the money for TV adverts and for some reason, CNN is not preempting presidential news coverage for Howard County’s Board of Education race.

But the Baltimore Sun/Hoco Times/Columbia Flier are certainly covering it! That is much appreciated. In addition, they endorsed me and my fellow Educator Apple Ballot candidates – saying that we have “spines”and “charisma.” (When I was five, I think they called me “annoyingly precocious.” 😉 )

I also used my time at the polls to deepen friendships with other candidates and their surrogates, knowing that good relationships with other community leaders will be important as a Board member. I have been friendly with my fellow candidates despite some major differences of opinion with the incumbents. As a Town Center board member, I have some different opinions from my fellow board members, but discussions have always been collegial. I plan to bring that to the Board of Education in December.

If you would like to see the current Board in action, please check out this video (Click on April 21 7:30) from last night’s budget discussion. There was a wee bit of name calling…

Maryland had record voter turnout for Early Voting – Howard County had almost 10% of eligible voters turn out in the past eight days. Check Scott E’s blog for more detail on daily and party turnouts.

Primary day is Tuesday, April 26 from 7 AM to 8 PM. If you’d like to help to hand out my campaign literature, please contact me at kirsten@kirstencoombs.org. An hour or two would be awesome. But if you can’t, please support me by telling your friends & neighbors who might not have tuned into the Board campaigns. The top six candidates will go on to the November General Election. With your help, I will be one of those six.

THANK YOU!!!!

BYOD Update

Update to my daughter’s usage of BYOD at her middle school – I think we’re at two instances of classroom usage. Here’s my October post:

http://kirstycat1209.blogspot.com/2015/10/when-plan-doesnt-come-together.html

And then I read this article about a teacher’s experience of using electronic devices…in THIRD GRADE. The socialization skills of her students are being stunted by an overreliance and overuse of the iPads. The quietness of eight year olds all mesmerized by screens? Maybe needed for a 15 minute break when the children have behaved well and the teachers need to chat? But dominating their schoolday?

I had been thinking about the inconsistencies of what pediatricians tell us about limiting screen time and what these policies are encouraging. Although the AAP focuses on entertainment, they encourage the non-electronic formats of books and magazines.

But this article also elucidated the issues of what we expect our educators to be for our children. Are they supposed to be tech experts? If a book online is assigned, should the ability to track student progress be available? What Pandora’s box could that open up? When tablets and wi-fi don’t work, what’s the backup plan? Are educators expected to have constant analog backups on their lesson plans? (Given they’re already employing those backups here due to the partially working grading/learning management software HCPSS currently “uses” I guess that would be a yes…) (That article is ten weeks old, but trust me, students are still “disappearing” from classes.)

Do I sound like a Luddite? I am NOT. I LOVE technology and make many of my consumer purchasing decisions based on that. Our children should be exposed to computers sometimes, but not to the exclusion of student and teacher interaction. I remember a lesson I witnessed as a volunteer in kindergarten. The teacher used Google maps to show the kids the satellite view and to talk about roads and buildings and the surrounding community. She asked them questions about places and the kids and she interacted and shared common experiences. That was cool and meant something, but it didn’t stifle socialization.

At the recent town hall held by a bipartisan group of Howard County legislators, one speaker mentioned BYOD and felt the lack of a plan as well, plus the holding back of information regarding the policy. It’s not just me at my daughter’s middle school.

But at lunch today across three periods, I saw plenty of device use. During their downtime, kids are hopping onto their devices. Good thing they get social interaction during class.

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.