The “HoCo School Interest” group asked every Howard County Council candidate the same three schools-specific questions. Our answers were limited to 350 words or less. Mine are below.
Question No. 1: What do you see as the top 3 challenges facing our school system? In your role as a County Council member, how can you provide relief to these challenges?
1.) Overcrowding. Especially in District 1 (Ellicott City, Elkridge and Hanover), we need more seats, more classrooms, more schools for the students here now. 240 portables crowd Howard County’s schools’ yards--90 of them in schools teaching D1 kids. Eight of eleven elementary schools that D1 kids attend are over-capacity, five of eight middle schools, four of six high schools. We need long-term, comprehensive planning for schools--new ones, additions and renovations--founded on verifiable, timely data and reliable projections of student enrollment from both existing and new housing stock.
As D1’s Council rep, I will scrutinize the basis and accuracy of the County analyses to prioritize those capital education projects that must be funded first. I will fight against any effort to scatter established neighborhoods into different school districts. I will pressure state legislators to increase to fair-value rates school surcharge fees assessed against new development. My vote as a Zoning Board member will deny Developers their perceived entitlement to re-zone mixed-use and commercial properties into highest-density residential and, as a Council member, their allocations of thousands of new housing units annually. And, most importantly, I will advance APFO legislation that will close our schools to new development when capacity reaches--or is projected to reach--100%. No “buy ins.” No “adjacency” tests. No “waiting periods.” No exception.
Independent from Developer influence, I will not compromise the quality of our kids’ education for the sake of special interest profit.
2.) Funding. I will ensure that we seek out all applicable State contributions (including casino funding), grow our commercial tax base, and not continue to divert public funds to private interests (e.g., the Columbia TIF), so that we do not further shortchange this County’s singular economic driver.
3.) Safety. I don’t mean guns and law enforcement. Injecting those into our schools without community buy-in and specialized training will likely endanger at least certain of our student population. I mean jam-packed classrooms, hallways and cafeterias; a maze of portables outside; kids riding to schools on the floors of buses. None of that--what happens here every single school day--is safe.
Question No. 2: How can you provide leadership to support our children in low-income households to help to assure the success of every student?
As we’ve seen during this year’s budget process--again--less funding results in fewer educators and counselors, and larger class sizes. One more child, on average, has been added to every single Howard County classroom in the last four years. (In District 1, we know, our kids’ classrooms are the ones driving up that average.) No question, the students first and worst impacted by these ever-diminishing resources are our most vulnerable. I will fully support funding this County’s schools, including their annual operating budgets, prioritizing our most vulnerable kids.
I also will fully support the Community Action Council of Howard County’s efforts to extend early childhood education opportunities to even more of our lowest-income children and ensure that their bellies are full and their beds warm at night--both directly through the annual budget approval process and indirectly by raising their profile within a community that may be generous, but unaware of the extent of the need existing right here in Howard County. I would encourage, for example, that the County partner with local grocers to implement a reusable shopping bag incentive that might feature our own Howard County Food Bank in the associated programming and printed materials made part of that roll out, including the reusable bags themselves.
As D1’s council rep, I will seek out ways to increase the stock of available low-income housing, including by eliminating the fee-in-lieu payments that allow Developers to forego building it in the first place.
And, I will advance legislation towards achieving gender equity in pay, starting right here at home. The National Women’s Law Center reports that mothers “working full time, year round outside the home are paid just 71 cents for every dollar paid to fathers, a gap that translates to a loss of $16,000 annually.” Even when moms work in the same occupations as dads, they’re still paid less. (May 22, 2017 “Equal Pay for Mothers is Critical for Families” Fact Sheet). New County law could prohibit prospective employers here from inquiring into applicants’ salary history and mandate that County and private employers collect and report equal pay data.
Question No. 3: Please summarize your views on development as it affects education in Howard County. Does it pay for itself? Do you tend to favor commercial vs. residential development for the near-term future in Howard County? Are there additional structures that can be put in place to help fund educational needs adequately?
Especially in District 1, schools cannot keep up with new development. They won’t be able to under the latest APFO revisions, either. Under both old and revised versions of the County’s APFO law, new construction feeding into schools deemed “constrained” is delayed, but only temporarily. After four years, Developers are permitted to build in regardless. Like the 79 new townhomes at “Long Gate Overlook” going in next to the Dancel Y, on Route 103—even though kids and teachers already are relegated to fifteen portable classrooms among the project’s three districted schools, right now.
My view is that special interests so control the incumbent Council rep for District 1—and County government generally—that new residential development will be accommodated, by law, by lapse, by re-zoning and by waiver, no matter the consequence to this County’s very youngest constituents. My certainty of this, and that it will not change without a clean slate of truly independent representatives on the Council, is what compelled me to enter this race. My own kids are 8 and 5.
I know new development doesn’t pay for itself. Look at the Roberts property on Route 1, Elkridge. Its Developer presents a cost-benefit analysis contending that the project will generate a “modest positive fiscal impact” over the next 20 years. Problem is, the analysis assumes that only 75 school-age children will live in the 408 new units proposed there, an assumption itself based on questionable “student yield rates” provided by HCPSS (like 3-bedroom apartments will generate only “0.11 pupils per housing unit”). And the schools-cost per child is assumed to be a constant $5,617, whereas (according to the 2017 Superintendent’s Proposed Operating Budget, p. 6), the current actual average cost per pupil is actually three times that amount, $14,790.
I favor small business development over residential, especially near-term, for its reduced demands on County services. And I see additional dedicated school revenue sources as including fair-value schools surcharge fees assessed against new development; Education Trust Fund contributions enhancing, not supplanting, existing funding; additional State funding for implementing the Kirwan Commission recommendations; and a transfer tax increase.