For the first time in Baltimore County, registered voters will have the opportunity to choose seven of the 12 members which make up the district’s school board.
Regardless of party affiliation, voters in districts with more than two candidates running for a board seat may vote in next month’s primary election for their desired candidate.
This means that even unaffiliated or independent voters may vote for school board candidates.
“School Board elections are nonpartisan elections. Therefore, unaffiliated voters may vote in that election,” Jared DeMarinis, the director of Maryland’s State Board of Elections, confirmed with The Baltimore Post this morning.
The 12-member hybrid elected school board will be made up of four appointed, one student and seven elected members. But out of Baltimore County’s seven councilmanic districts, only four districts have more than two candidates running for a seat on the school board and will appear on June’s primary ballot.
In contrast, candidates in districts with only two candidates running – Districts Two, Five and Six – will bypass the primary and go straight to the general election.
Candidates in Districts One, Three, Four and Seven will appear on the primary ballot because they are running among multiple candidates in order to make it to one of two slots for November’s general election.
In District Three, seven candidates are vying for a seat around the school board dais. An eighth candidate dropped out of the race earlier this month to support District Three incumbent board member, Kathleen Causey.
Ms. Causey is in a race to preserve her seat during an election she fought to have four years ago. In 2014, a year before Gov. Larry Hogan appointed her to the school board, Causey, along with the League of Women Voters, the NAACP, and other long-time advocates, fought for an election process in which voters could decide on members of Baltimore County Public Schools’ Board of Education. Ms. Causey is now part of that election process to continue representing District Three.
The Baltimore Post sent survey questions – formed through public input – to all interested candidates. Four candidates from District Three responded, while the one candidate dropped out earlier this month to support Ms. Causey.
Ms. Causey has been endorsed by county executive candidate and Democrat, state Sen. Jim Brochin, and Republican District Three Baltimore County councilman, Wade Kach. Her bio can be viewed here.
Q&A with Kathleen Causey:
BP: Why are you running for the school board?
KC: I am running to retain my seat on the Board of Education, representing the Third District. As a Board Member the last three years who has challenged the status quo, I am uniquely experienced to assist in this historic transition to a hybrid elected Board of Education. My mission is to engage the Board of Education to a high level of effective governance. The Board must improve its governance so we can improve educational opportunities and outcomes for our students.
There is no more important mission than providing our young people with the education and care they deserve. I am a product of public schools and I understand the potential and promise for all students. As a parent in the system for many years, I understand the strengths and challenges facing Baltimore County Public Schools.
The Board of Education must increase accountability and transparency to rebuild public trust among parents, teachers, staff, administrators, community, elected officials and funding partners. The Board must utilize due diligence in major decisions, including selecting a permanent Superintendent.
BP: What do you see is Baltimore County Public Schools greatest strength?
KC: The strength of Baltimore County Public Schools is the people that come together in the best interest of our children. There is a foundation of strengths: teachers, principals and in-school support, and the community: parents, families, business, and variety of stakeholders. Baltimore County Public Schools has almost 9,000 caring and dedicated teachers in the classrooms, as well as the committed leadership of principals, assistant principals and department chairs that are in the school buildings. The support staff provide the needed infrastructure for teaching and learning to take place.
Another strength of Baltimore County Public Schools is Baltimore County, itself. We are a large and diverse county. We have a highly educated population that is very focused and interested in public schools doing well for our children. We have a growing economy, so we are well positioned to provide quality public education. Another strong component is the higher education opportunities that are available. Specifically, we have several colleges and universities that provide teacher preparation, so we have a steady supply of well-trained teachers for the school system.
Another support of BCPS, which applies to all Maryland schools, is consistent annual funding we receive from both the county level, “maintenance of effort,” which is per-pupil funding, as well as the state contribution for per-pupil funding, but also the state contribution to school construction. BOE and BCPS have the ability to do long-term planning for both operating and capital budgets.
- Development of an Equity Policy 0100, focus on equity through Office of Equity, professional development, curriculum and instruction. The district has focused on promoting teamwork (Team BCPS) and community engagement. While there has been an increase in communications, it is mostly in outward direction. The Board needs to lead in being responsive to stakeholders; there is much work to be done.
What we don’t know is the impact on student outcomes. At the board level I see increasing community engagement around concerns of previous administrations’ decisions and their current effect.
- Increased focus on Career Technology Education programs. Improved the variety and amount of CTE programs and opportunities for students. Board-created Director Position in CTE Department. STCT offers a variety of programs which include Career Research and Development (CRD), work-based learning, internships, Career and Technology Education (CTE) capstone completers, apprenticeships, and job shadowing. JROTC is also available at several schools. Recent improvements include: from school year 2014 to school year 2017, enrollment in BCPS CTE programs has increased 46% (from 11,274 students to 16,475 students).
The District has touted closing achievement gap by graduation rate that eliminates difference between white and black student population. The Board has not received report that explains the increase in graduation rate between those that meet requirements, versus those that graduated with benefit of state waiver, or with bridge program or other accomodation. Also, this is during time of changing the Grading and Reporting procedures to include a Low Score of 50% instead of a 0. Additionally, the MSDE has granted waivers of graduation requirements based on the PARCC scores being so low County and State-wide. Board needs to evaluate to see what programs are working and need to be expanded and to ensure BCPS is not graduating students who are not adequately prepared for college or career.
BP: What do you see is the school system’s greatest weakness? And what has the district done poorly that you would change?
KC: The greatest weakness is lack of Board leadership to effectively govern the Superintendent and school system. We have had a crisis in leadership with our former superintendent and other employees’ unethical behavior. We are just recently understanding through his guilty plea, chronic dishonesty and focus on moonlighting in other districts across the nation, starting at the beginning of his tenure.
The Board has done poor job of understanding how so many initiatives have impacted teaching and learning, and student achievement. Yet, even with our former superintendent in jail, many Board members do not seem interested in evaluating and proceed to ignore or rubber stamp controversial initiatives: BCPS leadership, STAT (1:1 laptop program), $140 MILLION Laptop purchases; budget re-alignment for stat $250 Million so far, plus $140 Million more, including $50 MILLION per year just for leasing laptops; Grading Procedures; Discipline policies, rules and procedures and adherence; removal of successful High school schedules – Semester Block and 7 Period day; digital curriculum, increased teacher workloads, teacher evaluations, reduced staffing and focus on Special Ed, Gifted; potential improper vendor influence, potential conflicts of interest, etc.
We need to understand the past, clean up what is needed, strengthen the positives and plan for a better future!
BP: What do you see are the current challenges facing Baltimore County Public Schools as a whole?
KC: There are many challenges which I outline above and in other answers. To properly address any and all challenges, trust and proper governance must be re-established. Trust has been broken; the Board has heard from many parents, employees and stakeholders, including elected officials. They have said publicly that the Board of Education needs to focus on working with the school system to restore the public trust. Part of that situation has affected teacher and staff morale in that we have dedicated, hardworking, caring teachers and staff who have been conscientious day-in and day-out for our children and now see where others were spending time moonlighting for personal gain.
- The Board needs to select the permanent superintendent diligently, through a defined search process with professional search firm, which includes organized and anonymous BCPS and community input.
- We will face a very large transition, if not complete turnover of the Board of Education. My experience and institutional knowledge will help the Board of Education and the school system through that, along with current member and candidate, Julie Henn in District 5. However, it is also the opportunity for an infusion of very interested and highly focused community members, taking on the role of Board of Education members.
- There has been a great number of initiatives and changes in the school the system over the past five years. Some from the federal level, some from the state level and some from the county level, including system-wide initiatives put into place by the former superintendent. It will be important for the new board and the permanent superintendent to evaluate the impact of all of those changes and modify as needed to make them more effective.
Many of these changes have caused a disruption to the teacher workload and workflow and we need to make sure that we minimize disruption to the teachers, moving forward.
BP: What do you see are the district’s greatest capital needs right now, as in priority of use of capital funds?
KC: I have aggressively advocated for equitable safe, healthy, climate-controlled and modern schools to positively impact teaching and learning environments for highest student achievement. Priorities are safe and healthy before top of line technology:
- A seat and desk for each student in a safe, secure and healthy building, not in a relocatable.
- Healthy air
- Healthy water
- Modern facility (can be renovation where appropriate and cost effective)
- 21st century learning environment (can be renovation where appropriate and cost effective)
Success is through understanding community concerns; researching best practices; collaborating with all stakeholders, county and state leaders. In a system as large as BCPS with increasing enrollment and aging infrastructure it is challenging to equitably set priorities for school construction and renovation. The County and State are providing a large amount of funding, but there continue to be unmet needs. So, while we need to build and address capacity issues, we also have to focus on systemic renovations or replacements of schools that have outlived their useful life.
We still have the situation of several thousand students and teachers in classrooms without air conditioning and we need to try and mitigate the problems of excessively hot and humid classrooms, since long-term solutions are years away in some cases.
There was a session just recently at the National School Board Association talking about classroom temperature and how just a small increase in hot temperature could lead to decreases in testing scores. That is just one correlation between academic achievement and quality facilities.
In my time on the board, I have discussed facility issues at every level and across Maryland: with parents, teachers, students, bus drivers, all the way up to the IAC, MSDE, Treasurer Nancy Kopp, Governor Larry Hogan and Comptroller Peter Franchot. After the November elections, Baltimore County will have a new County Executive, new County Council, and new Board of Education and Superintendent in transistion. Baltimore County needs to focus on a comprehensive, strategic 10-year facilities plan modeled after Anne Arundel County Public Schools, which has been long-term, highly successful and well regarded throughout the state. AACPS strategic plan includes all of those leaders working collaboratively, transparently and objectively. It is the best way to provide equitable, comprehensive and fiscally responsible solutions county-wide.
BP: In your view, is there an achievement gap? If so, why? How can they be solved?
KC: We do have achievement gaps. When we look at our disaggregated K-12 data, we see achievement gaps in our KRA, MAP testing, PARCC testing, AP completion and passing, etc, along the lines of race, gender, special needs, English Language Learners, poverty, etc. There are insufficient reporting and explanations given by the school system to the board for those differences. So, it is difficult to understand if we are working effectively toward the goal to allow each child to achieve their potential.
How can they be solved?
One way is to look at best practices in BCPS and other Maryland districts. One aspect that needs to be reviewed immediately is former Superintendent removal of two very effective high school schedules for all student populations: the Semester Block (which was used at 4 high schools) and the 7 period day (used at over 10 high schools).
Focus on the foundations of literacy, mathematics and critical thinking before advancing students unprepared.
Another way is to clearly understand the factors for the achievement gaps and then providing specific supports for those populations that are not fulfilling their potential. In terms of poverty, options to consider: improved nutrition, social workers for students who have trauma or other negative situations, whether it is homelessness or other trauma. Also, there are community school models of providing wrap-around supports from the school, making that a community hub for populations at risk. Also, for our struggling readers, which could be for a variety of reasons, across populations, we have started training teachers in Orton-Gillingham and that program could be ramped up faster, for instance, in including more teachers and reading specialists in the elementary level. Goal is our students reading on grade-level before they leave for middle school since literacy is the foundation for all academic success. If our students are not reading on grade level, every other subject becomes a greater challenge to master.
BP: Do you feel that schools are treated equally in the school system? Why/Why not? (Such as facilities, resources, supports)
KC: The Board has not received enough clear reports to indicate that schools are treated equally or equitably.
In terms of school maintenance and construction, it seems some decisions are subjective rather than objective. And that some schools receive the latest and greatest of everything while thousands of students and teachers do without the basics of clean air, clean water and space in a secure building.
While the STAT initiative theory is to level the playing field with access to technology, BCPS’ expensive implementation has realigned budget, personnel and focus from every other area. And high schools have decreased budgets for 4 years without 1:1 laptops. Budget re-alignment has contributed to increasing class size, increasing teacher workload, facility issues, teacher recruitment and retention, struggles with transportation, special education, gifted education. I see this though my work on the twice monthly Building and Contracts Committee meetings. I see, as a Board member, through our resignations and retirements reports and our new hiring reports that there are some schools that have greater turnover than other schools. Highly effective teachers make the greatest impact on the academic achievement. Lack of teacher retention is a negative factor for student achievement. It’s also a negative economically since the system spends additional resources recruiting, and additional resources in orientation and training new teachers to Baltimore County.
BP: What do you see is the role of the Board of Education? Also, how do you see this role relative to any superintendent hired by the school system?
KC: The role of the Board of Education is to govern the school system. It’s to set the mission, vision, and beliefs of the system and to define the programs of education with the advice of the superintendent. The Board is also supposed to govern the school system through the development and approval of the operating and capital budgets, which at close to $1.9 billion is an incredible responsibility. Additionally, the board sets the path of the school system through policy development and implementation. The Board needs to hold itself, the superintendent and the system accountable to all the policies, rules and procedures of the school system, especially ethics and code of conduct. The Board should consider the input of all stakeholders in its governance of the school system.
The role of the superintendent is to implement the Policies, Programs and budget approved by the Board. The superintendent is the administrator of the school system. The Board needs to monitor the progress of the superintendent and the impact on student achievement and outcomes.
BP: If approached by a special interest group, former board member or politician with a request on how to vote on a matter, how would you handle such a request? What would you do?
KC: This happens many times, through emails, conversations, stakeholders coming to Board and providing comments. I listen to the stakeholders, but tell them I cannot promise how I will vote. What’s important to me is to understand from all stakeholders, their perspectives. Then understand the superintendent, the system and Board members’ perspective. Then I research the issue as much as possible and discuss with the board to come to the best decision that is in front of me. So, while I do and plan to continue to listen to all stakeholders, it’s ultimately in discussion with the Board, based on the understanding of information I receive from the system and elsewhere, to make the best decision. I think board members need to come to every vote with a sense of purpose and independence in making their vote. It’s really an issue of making decisions based on balancing needs and resources of the entire school system.
BP: As a Board member, would (DO) you see yourself primarily as a representative of the community or as a representative of the school system?
KC: As a board member who represents a specific district, I think it’s important to understand the needs of the communities in your district and the variety of schools in your district. So we do represent our communities. When Board members make decisions, they need to make decisions with the entire system in mind. That is how I have approached my work on the board. When the Board discuss needs of BCPS with funding partners or regulatory entities, we represent the entire school system.
BP: Will you be accessible to community members and their concerns?
KC: I absolutely plan to be accessible as I have through my almost three-year tenure on the board. I would like to see more objective and organized community input through board-directed surveys, so that it’s not just a matter of who has the time and ability to come to the board meetings to submit board member comments in person and it’s not a matter of having one group more organized in sending emails, but that it’s an outward approach that are specific to subjects and inclusive to all stakeholders. For instance, we had school climate meetings, several around the different geographic areas around the county, and there was an online comment where you could submit a comment, but it doesn’t specifically ask how parents and/or teachers feel about the discipline policy and procedures. Also, the Board has not received a report with a compilation of input received from those meetings.
We could be receiving better information and then make better decisions. Ways that I have been accessible? Reading all of my emails, responding to emails, going to the area advisory council meetings, specific advisory council meetings such as special education, gifted and talented, going to PTA meetings, community forums that are put on by others. I have a lot of opportunity through attending school events, sporting events and community events where I hear from students, teachers and community members who don’t have students in the system. I also participate in a number of social media platforms where I observe the concerns of community members.
BP: In your view, does BCPS have a student discipline problem? If so, why? And how should/can it be addressed?
KC: From all of the input that the board has received, there is a school climate and discipline problem where we need to make improvements immediately. Aspects of school climate and discipline are #1: student, teacher and all employees safety; #2: an effective learning environment; #3 safe community. Those are the top reasons. There are obviously a lot of other impacts that relate to school climate and an effective discipline policy and procedures. But our goal is to provide an effective teaching and learning environment, and if we do not have an orderly classroom, teaching and learning is less effective. Another aspect is adhering to our Master Agreements with our bargaining units around employee safety, TABCO, ESPBC, AFSCME, CASE, etc.
It has to be addressed in multiple ways. I’m a member of the policy review committee of the board of education. The work of the board deciding on policy changes, the superintendent developing the procedures that align with the new policy, and then BCPS staff providing training to our school leadership and teachers. Then monitoring to make sure that those policies and procedures are being followed with fidelity and consistency.
Also, the Grading and Reporting Procedures need to be improved. Teachers, parents, administrators and even students report the redo’s and low score of 50 instead of less, or zero, are demotivating. Students realize they can pass the class with much less work, so engagement, attention and diligence decline and misbehavior and disruption increase. Anecdotally, we hear that attendance procedures are slackened and students are less motivated to attend each and every class, but roam the halls and grounds more.
We originally began reevaluating the discipline policies a year ago. There was a great deal of controversy around the policy recommendations from the superintendent and staff and so those policies were tabled until we could hear from the communities. TABCO wanted to have more of an involvement in the development of any changes to the discipline policies and procedures. The interim superintendent and staff have not brought those recommendations to the policy review committee despite my requests. It’s not clear to me why. The other aspect of discipline and school climate is the change from No Child Left Behind to the federal Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) and getting approval for our ESSA plan. The Every Student Succeeds Acts has components in it related to school climate and discipline. So, it is a complicated issue and it is one where the board should be involved with organized anonymous input from teachers, staff and administrators.
BP: What is your own experience with public education?
KC: I have all public education – elementary to university. Also, my husband’s education has been all public, from elementary to university. My father-in-law taught in Baltimore County Public Schools for over 25 years. We have two children who have graduated from Baltimore County Public Schools and are in public universities. We have a current middle school student enrolled in a Baltimore County public school. We are committed to the success of BCPS and we also feel it’s vitally important as foundation for success of communities, counties, Maryland and also of our country.
BP: What is your opinion on the school system’s youngest learners being on 1:1 computers? Specifically, what do you think the gains and/or missed opportunities are such as time and money?
KC: Currently, our STAT initiative provides laptops to kindergartners in an 8:1 ratio. In first grade through 12th grade, we are completing the implementation of 1:1 laptop-to-student access. Budget constraints, limited academic achievement and research on limiting screen time would indicate a 3:1 ratio would be better. According to a recent report on 1:1 initiatives, BCPS is spending double what is recommended. So, I am concerned that we have a large amount of money that is being unnecessarily spent on technology for our younger learners than what is needed to incorporate appropriate technology.
I just voted recently to provide, not the highest scored laptop, but the second highest scored laptop in order to save $9 million for the school system, but the board did not support that motion. They just approved a contract for the most expensive laptop option.
The other part to that is I believe that we need to have well-rounded students to have the highest academic achievement and the greatest fulfillment of their potential which includes physical and social/emotional health, including: nutrition, enough time for meals, access to recess, playtime or physical education. I believe we need to work more on the balance.
BP: What are the factors on which you will base your decisions as a school board member?
KC: The number one factor is “how does this support our students’ success.” The physical health and safety of our students, as well as their social-emotional well-being and their academic achievement are all linked. Those have to be the priority factors. Another key factor: impact on teachers, autonomy, workload, workflow, effectiveness, and retention. Is the issue research-based, data driven, fiscally sound, informed by key stakeholders and community? Other factors: is issue ethical, free of conflict of interests, free of undue vendor influence, etc. Did the BOE, superintendent and staff perform due diligence around decision? What are the opportunity costs of one option over another? Decisions on how much we spend on every item in the budget has an impact on our students. So, it’s a complicated system with a wide variety of needs and it’s about achieving the best balance in order to meet the needs of our students.
BP: How do you suggest the school system adhere to both ethics and procurement procedures and policies? How can the oversight over procurement improve?
KC: Since the fall of 2017, I and other Board Members have been advocating for an independent, comprehensive, forensic audit of BOE ethics, conduct and procurement policies and procedures since 2012. It is a failure of Board leadership and system leadership that an audit has not started. The Board leadership could have guided the Board to ask either MSDE or the State legislature to conduct an independent audit, but they did not. Through my advocacy and many others, pressure has come from the County Council, the State Senators, MSDE, the State Board and the State Superintendent to conduct an audit. Hopefully, the proper audit starts soon. Then it will be up to the Board to evaluate the results and recommendations and to implement them through policy and direction to the Superintendent.
As a member of the BOE Policy Review Committee, I realized almost all Policy development was directed by the Superintendent’s Administration with little prior BOE, stakeholder or community input. Many policies were changed to limit the governance of the BOE. Many policies need to be evaluated and updated to increase accountability of the BOE and BCPS. All polices need to be evaluated, especially ethics, conflicts of interest, financial disclosure, Internal Board Operations, oversight of the Superintendent and system, and procurement. After policies are updated, the BOE directs the Superintendent to update the system’s rules and procedures to align and implement. Then the BOE needs to monitor closely for adherence.
Additionally, we can look to our Maryland Association Boards of Education (MABE) in providing guidance from other Maryland districts that may have stronger and more effective ethics policies and procedures in place that we could model. The 2014-2015 legislative audit has recommendations still not implemented. There is also assistance available from the Maryland State Department of Education. For instance, we could ask them to come in and review our ethics policies and procedures. We also need to implement system-wide ethics and conduct training, annually. We also need to strengthen the Ethics Review Panel Procedures, forms and training.
In terms of improving teacher and staff morale, and rebuilding public trust in the system, we need to focus on this immediately and thoroughly.
To be a highly effective governing Board, there needs to be Board focus on transparency, accountability and responsiveness. This includes proper oversight of the Superintendent and BCPS, requiring and building appropriate relationships. Board members need to request and receive necessary information, discuss and work together as a team, through committees but also directly.
BP: Additional Comments?
KC: The greatest factors for students’ success are safe and healthy school and learning environment, a highly effective teacher, and quality leadership in the school building utilizing a comprehensive and quality curriculum. We need to focus on retention of highly effective teachers and leaders. We need to do that by improving their workload and their workflow, reduce class size, increasing their salaries and increasing the instructional time that we provide for our teachers. Right now there are a lot of processes that take time away from the actual planning and instructional time. There has been an increase in testing over the recent years, including PARCC, but also including in-classroom assessments. So, we need to balance testing with instructional time that we give our teachers and our students.