This morning I was very pleased to receive the recommendation of the Frederick County Teachers Association (FCTA) on behalf of FCTA and the Frederick Association of School Support Employees (FASSE) and the Frederick County Administrative and Supervisory Association (FCASA).
I am one of two candidates recommended by FCTA out of the five candidates running in the Democratic Party primary for the two County Council, At-Large seats (on the seven member council).
From the FCTA press release:
In a crowded field with many quality candidates, these candidates rose to the top. Together they bring a wide variety of experience in community engagement and public service. They all have a vision for Frederick County that includes strong public schools and a system that has the resources needed to recruit and retain the best educators so all our students can succeed.
To be considered for this recommendation, candidates completed questionnaires and participated in interviews with members of FCTA, Frederick Association of School Support Employees (FASSE) and Frederick County Administrative and Supervisory Association (FCASA). In order to receive the endorsement of FCTA, each candidate needed to have an
affirmative vote of at least 58% of ballots returned in an every member vote.
FCTA represents over 2,800 teachers, school counselors, media specialists, therapists, speech pathologists, social workers, teacher specialists and athletic directors working in Frederick County Public Schools.
I’m proud to note that I received the recommendation of the Frederick County Teachers Association when I ran in 2006, and again in 2010.
While it is a bit long, for those who are interested, I have included the questions and my answers from the questionnaire I completed, prior to my face-to-face interview.
Frederick County Council Candidate Questionnaire
1) What is your vision for the future of Frederick County Public Schools? As a member of the County Council how would you support this vision?
The top two priorities for any county elected official should always be public education and public safety. As one of seven members of the county council, under our still-new charter government, I would sincerely hope that the County Executive and a majority of the County Council shared that view, including a genuine commitment to provide the funding necessary to meet and maintain excellence…across the entire system.
Put simply, there is no vision of a thriving and prosperous future for Frederick County that does not include excellent schools.
As a member of the county council, I would strongly and reliably support that vision, with the sincere commitment to achieve and maintain system-wide excellence.
Part of that commitment goes well beyond simply supporting responsible budgets.
Schools…and our school system…are not islands that can or will fare as well as possible, even with adequate funding, if they are not also part of a healthy community, with safe and attractive neighborhoods, with affordable housing, with adequate and accessible parks and other recreational opportunities, with clean air and water, and so on.
The county council has to support and approve the county executive’s budget, but many of the most significant choices we will make about how we shape our community and its future are the responsibility of the council. That could be an entirely separate and substantial conversation, and I’d be happy to discuss it further, but the shorthand version of it means adhering to the full range of smart growth principles as our community adds tens of thousands of new residents, and we are faced with genuine challenges and opportunities.
2) What do you consider to be adequate funding for Frederick County Public Schools? Explain.
Maintenance of Effort (or MOE) is clearly intended to be a floor, and that makes sense. The idea is that, as a community (a state, a county…), we will not compromise our commitment to quality education by enabling volatile ups and downs in funding levels as we experience inevitable economic highs and lows. Predictable and reliable funding levels are essential for a stable, effective and high quality public school system.
As we learned during a recent six year stretch of consecutive MOE budgets, maintaining a per pupil level of funding is not the same thing as maintaining the same Frederick County Public School system. Those consecutive years of MOE, (which extended three or four years beyond what could possibly be justified), demonstrated that “maintenance of effort,” or flat funding, does not maintain even minimally adequate funding, and results in increasingly difficult budget cuts and staff reductions and the like.
If we think of MOE as a floor, then the real conversation we will have is about how to spend/invest education funding most effectively, and what additional investments should be considered first or next. In general, FCPS and the BOE do a very thorough and responsible job of putting together a budget request, based on actual system maintenance and top priorities (and new mandates, etc.), and through a good public process. I would hope that, at the very least, the County Executive would always start with that recommended FCPS budget as they construct the overall county budget.
That doesn’t mean it will always be possible to fund the full request. But the experience of staff and the recommendation of an elected Board of Education should establish the foundation upon which the remaining process takes place.
I share the County Executive’s confidence that the current funding commitment “is adequate to achieve the second year phase-in to implement a new sustainable pay scale for all FCPS teachers and staff,” and I support her continuing intention “that this investment in public education will be used to provide the best teachers and staff in our classrooms and to make sure all our children have access to programs, materials, and curriculum they need to be prepared for work or higher education.”
3) Frederick County Teachers Association (FCTA), Frederick Association of School Support Employees (FASSE) & Frederick County Administrative & Supervisory Association (FCASA) support a revenue structure that will provide a predictable, reliable and stable source of sustained funding for education. What are your ideas for that revenue stream? What is your position on the constant yield vs constant rate for property taxes?
For all four years as a county commissioner, I supported the constant rate for property taxes. I will also note, however, that the constant rate is not a guarantee of a constant or growing stream of revenues. During my term as a commissioner, we experienced a major national economic recession, and the county experienced a $38,000,000.00 drop in revenues over FY2010 and FY2011. During that difficult period, we (the Board of County Commissioners) had to make a continuing string of hard choices and difficult cuts to programs across county government.
For two years the funding for FCPS was at MOE level, but that education funding went from approximately 50% of the county budget to approximately 58% during that time. I should add that I was extremely disappointed…and outspoken…about the fact that the following BOCC (the Blaine Young board) continued to fund FCPS at MOE, even as revenues rebounded, and increased each year of their term.
On a related note, because of the way the budget process is structured under the new charter, I worry about the impact of a county executive who did not share County Executive Gardner’s commitment to public education as a top priority.
4) Recruiting and retaining high-quality, diverse employees is essential to improved student achievement. It is made more difficult in Frederick County by our proximity to higher paying school systems and the high cost of owning a home in Frederick. What would you do to help the school system recruit new staff and keep experienced staff in Frederick County?
Retaining good, experienced teachers is one of the most important things that can be done to maintain a high quality learning environment. Perhaps the most important, since the ability, or not, to retain good teachers is connected to everything about the overall public school system here (or anywhere).
There is no substitute for a great teacher.
But there is no silver bullet to this problem. Rather it is a problem looking for an integrated mix of priorities and policies, in a variety of areas of county governance. It is important here to highlight that means not just education-specific areas.
Competitive salaries and good benefits are unquestionably one of the most significant ways to retain good teachers. (And we must be competitive.) Other factors, however, cover the spectrum, including class size, overall physical facilities, administrative support, a good working environment and experience, and much more.
In general, we should be very concerned about the ongoing trend, which has more and more Frederick County teachers, and others, commuting here from outside the county, primarily because they can’t afford a decent home in a good neighborhood. Please note that even with many commuting out of the county, fully a third of Frederick County households cannot afford the cost of living here.
There are a variety of existing programs designed to help, in different ways. But the limited planning tools we have used, such as the MPDU program (before and after the establishment of the fee-in-lieu option), offer little more than a band aid if we don’t effectively address the broader problem.
We can not be a truly healthy community if teachers (and a long list of other middle income workers…and others) can not afford to live in our community.
To a significant degree, that is a challenge that has to be substantially addressed at the level of long term planning and zoning. Currently, it is uncommon for our new development to reflect the actual demographics and incomes and other needs of the people who actually make up our community. That is not inevitable. It is a choice, and we can do much better.
Affordable housing starts with planning and design that creates healthy, attractive communities offering a diversity of housing types and sizes…and prices.
My in-laws were both teachers their entire adult lives. They were never going to afford a massive suburban home, but they were able to find and afford and enjoy a nice, smaller home in a pleasant and safe neighborhood…for almost 50 years. We aren’t even building those sorts of communities in Frederick County. But we could. There ARE tools in the local government toolbox that would make this possible, if we are willing to use them, and to be more innovative. (And I would be happy to discuss this further in the candidate interview.)
If teachers receive competitive salaries and benefits, and can afford a home in a good neighborhood, and worked in schools that reflected their value to the community, in a county with a high quality of life, fewer would want or need to leave.
On a related note, I am hopeful about the way in which the vision expressed in the current (not yet approved) draft of the Livable Frederick Master Plan identifies key issues, including affordable housing, that could make our community more accessible to middle income families and others. But the master plan is just the starting point.
If Livable Frederick moves forward, and manages to survive the election of a new county council, I think it establishes a solid foundation for the steps we need to take to preserve and enhance the quality of life in Frederick County, and help the county move to a more balanced and diverse range of housing types and prices, in a community that is highly attractive on many levels, while preventing or minimizing the sort of poorly planned growth that will reduce our quality of life and lead to higher taxes and less affordable housing.
5) What is your plan to provide adequate space for all Frederick’s school children? What would you do to alleviate the overcrowding that exists currently in many of our schools? What role does the county’s Adequate Public Facilities Ordinance play in mitigating/ preventing overcrowding of schools?
It is the role and responsibility of FCPS and the BOE to determine the use of the existing facilities maintained by Frederick County Public Schools. But there is still a major role for the county executive and county council in ensuring that there are adequate – or better than merely “adequate” – facilities in the first place.
Similarly, it is the role and responsibility of FCPS and the BOE to tackle the always difficult (and controversial…but important) task of redistricting when it comes to dealing with an overall system that is overcrowded in some areas and has unused capacity in others. (That said, I support the goal of a school system that is operating at no more than 90% capacity, systemwide, and as close to that as reasonably possible in each school.)
For a long time, I have described the Adequate Public Facilities Ordinance as a “backstop to bad planning.” By that I mean that the APFO is not really a planning tool, but a way to ensure that inadequate planning doesn’t lead to significant development that does not have the proper and most important infrastructure in place, starting with sufficient school capacity and roads.
The ability of the APFO to serve as an effective backstop to bad planning got more challenging when the previous/last BOCC made it possible to avoid the delay or the requirement by paying a fee-in-lieu option.
In any case, while we need to move forward from here adhering as closely as possible to responsible land use planning as we grow, we have to start and work with things as they are now, and with an eye toward meeting the demands of the development that has already been approved, but not yet built.
No likely capital budget will keep up with with bad planning. We need to fully account for infrastructure needs and costs with the initial planning and phasing of all major development. And we need to ensure that does not only include meeting the expanding need for new schools. For too long, Frederick County failed to renovate, rehabilitate or replace older schools, in existing/older communities, because of the unrelenting pressure to build new schools to accommodate the newer growth.
Our long term planning and our capital budgets must include a proper balance between the need to maintain or expand or replace existing schools with the need to build new schools.
6) Inequities in technology, space and functionality exist between new and newly renovated buildings versus older buildings. How do you see the need to renovate older schools fitting into the Capital Improvement Plan? How should the renovation needs of older buildings be funded?
I addressed this a little in the previous response.
The renovation and rehabilitation or expansion or replacement of older schools should be a top priority — as important as building the new schools required to serve new development.
Overly rapid – or poorly planned – new growth meant that capital dollars get spent on the new schools that were needed to keep up with that growth, at the expense of our older communities and their schools. If we are pushing these much needed projects back in the Capital Improvements Budget, year after year, it is a clear sign that we are not planning properly.
This is just one more example of the fact that education/school issues are directly and indirectly tied to and substantially affected by decisions that are made in other areas – in this instance, planning and zoning.
But, as I’ve noted in other ways, it isn’t enough to say renovating old schools is an equal priority. The county has to connect this priority to other land use and planning decisions – beyond the annual CIP process – in order to ensure that renovating old schools is not constantly pushed back.
During the first part of my term as a county commissioner, we looked beyond long term planning options (which we also paid close attention to), to find creative ways to move a few projects up on the CIP calendar. That only happened because it was a priority for a majority of that BOCC.
7) FCTA, FASSE & FCASA opposes any public funding of private schools, including but not limited to, vouchers to cover private school tuition and tax credit schemes. What is your position on vouchers and other forms of public funding for private or home schooling?
I am unwaveringly opposed to school vouchers. Would be happy to list all the reasons why, but I think you know them already.
To wit: I agree with each and every concern or argument outlined here:
This is not a path we want to wander down, even just a little. There is no reasonable compromise here, and the very idea is contrary to the fundamental, democratic and equitable nature of public education.
8) FCTA, FASSE & FCASA oppose the outsourcing and privatization of jobs currently done by the dedicated education support professionals of FCPS. Do you think it is appropriate for the school system to privatize aspects of their operations? Under what circumstances, if any, would you support privatizing or outsourcing work currently done by FCPS staff?
I am strongly opposed to the privatization of any aspects of school operation, and believe that examples we have seen in other places has only served to offer more good evidence of why it is a bad idea.
Public education is an investment we make in our children, our citizens, our community. It is not a business investment. Private contractors bring an entirely different and inappropriate set of motivations and goals into the system. I don’t see any compelling reasons to make exceptions, even around what some might consider ‘the edges.”
If we think certain aspects of school operations can be done more efficiently, we must work within the existing system and decision-making structure to get there. If something is deemed inefficient, however, simply because a lower cost alternative is based on lower wages or lesser benefits, that is a non-starter, if our goal is, as it should be, to pay all county employees a fair, competitive and livable wage.
9) As a member of the County Council, how will you work with FCTA, FASSE and FCASA so that the experience, knowledge and expertise of professional educators will help inform your decisions on issues related to public education?
Because achieving and maintaining excellence in our public school system is a priority for me, I am fully committed to being an informed and active advocate…for the full range of FCPS employees.
Getting and remaining well informed means being accessible, communicating well, attending appropriate meetings and so on. My long term interest and commitment, my previous experience, and my general desire to be well informed…especially in areas where I have some decision-making responsibility…gives me a good understanding of the circumstances, challenges and goals, but it does not make me an expert.
Making the right decisions means employing a proper and thorough process. And that means communicating well with stakeholders and experts across related areas as an integral part of the process.