In Baltimore County’s first ever partially elected school board election this year, registered voters in the county’s seven councilmanic districts will have the opportunity to cast their votes for their chosen board representative.
The 12-member hybrid elected school board will be comprised of four governor-appointed members, one student member, and seven elected members who represent the county’s seven districts.
Only candidates in District One, Three, Four and Seven will appear on the primary ballots because each of those districts have more than two candidates running for a seat on the school board. The primary election will determine which two candidates will go on to November’s general election.
In District Three, six candidates are running against incumbent board member, Kathleen Causey; and on June 26, registered voters – regardless of political affiliation – may cast their votes for their favored candidate since all school board candidates will appear as unaffiliated on the ballots.
Questions were sent to all candidates who agreed to an interview with The Baltimore Post. Four candidates from District Three responded, while one candidate dropped out of the race earlier this month to support the district’s incumbent board member.
District Three candidate, Paul V. Konka, has been endorsed by the Teachers Association of Baltimore County Baltimore County (TABCO). Mr. Konka’s bio can be viewed here.
Q&A with Paul V. Konka:
BP: Why are you running for the school board?
PK: I am a big believer in education for myself, my family, and my community. I have a BA in History from the University of Wisconsin—Madison, an MBA in Finance and Investments from the George Washington University, and a JD from the University of Oregon. Both of my daughters attended elementary and secondary schools in Baltimore County Public Schools (BCPS)—and have completed college—and my granddaughter will enroll in BCPS in a few years. My wife has a BA from the University of Maryland Baltimore County and a Master’s degree from Johns Hopkins University. As a potential Board of Education member, I am committed to doing what I can to ensure that every student in Baltimore County receives a quality education—one that will prepare them either for college or provide a firm foundation for employment directly after high school. I have taught in the BCPS for the last four years (mostly grades kindergarten through sixth grade) and have an intimate understanding of its successes and yet-to-be successes. I am an adjunct professor with the University of Maryland University College and was a professor at the University of Notre Dame in Indiana. I have worked both in the private sector and in government. I have been a contracting officer with the Federal Government and have an excellent understanding of what is required to properly oversee procurement in the BCPS. I was a Supervisory Accountant at the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services and oversaw the internal controls for the Medicare and Medicaid programs. Such expertise is needed on the Board of Education to ensure administrative accountability. I am a retired Navy Captain with 5 years of active duty and 19 years of reserve service, including serving as the Commanding Officer of two contracting units. I look forward to serving the citizens of Baltimore County as a member of the Board of Education.
BP: What do you see is Baltimore County Public Schools’ greatest strength? And what has the district done well over last five years?
PK: Without question, the teachers are the greatest strength in the Baltimore County Public Schools. Their commitment and dedication to teaching our children is phenomenal. They have done exceptionally well over the last five years despite difficult circumstances.
BP: What do you see is the school system’s greatest weakness? And what has the district done poorly that you want changed?
PK: Obviously, ethical leadership and contracting issues have posed a problem in the recent past. In addition to rectifying those issues, it is imperative that the Board of Education address a more systemic problem—that of ensuring an adequate number of qualified teachers and support personnel for the district.
BP: What do you see are the current challenges facing Baltimore County Public Schools, as a whole?
PK: In addition to the problems discussed in Question 3, the first priority of an effective education is a safe learning environment. This does not mean arming teachers. As a veteran and marksman, I can assure you that such an idea is foolhardy. However, an armed School Resource Officer or Police Officer for every school may be a necessity in the current environment. Their very presence will also assist in decreasing disciplinary problems.
As a substitute teacher in BCPS for the last four years, I have experienced some of what the full-time teachers endure. Teaching is a rewarding, but tough profession and I will support teachers as an articulate advocate for reasonable pay, reasonable class sizes, and empowerment to maximize their effectiveness. I am the only candidate in District 3 who has been endorsed by the Teachers Association of Baltimore County and the Education Support Professionals of Baltimore County.
While teachers play the key role in educating our children, the BCPS administration is also necessary to ensure effective education. Nonetheless, they need to be held accountable for their administrative actions. When I was a Supervisory Accountant at the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, I instituted effective internal controls over the Medicare and Medicaid programs. As a member of the Board of Education, I will bring that same level of expertise to ensure that the BCPS administrators will operate in an efficient, effective, and ethical manner.
BP: What do you see are the district’s greatest capital needs right now?
PK: I agree with the priorities that have been set by state and county fiscal partners, the Board of Education, state and county elected officials, communities, and various other stakeholders, specifically: first, complete the installation of central air-conditioning in all schools; second, build new schools for the growing population; third, modernize high schools through either limited renovations or replacement schools; and fourth, replace essential infrastructure and building systems. The six-year capital program for FY2019 through FY2024 has projected funding of $317 million, which should be sufficient for accomplishing these priorities.
BP: In your view, is there an achievement gap? If so, why? How can it be solved?
PK: Yes. Many reasons explain the achievement gap, including socioeconomic factors, education and school funding policies, and even more subtle factors such as peer pressure, student tracking, negative stereotyping, and test bias. An excellent summary of the achievement gap can be found in “Achievement Gap,” Education Week, July 7, 2011. Solving the achievement gap will require addressing all of the reasons that explain the gap. It has been a problem of long-standing and does not lend itself to easy or short-term fixes.
BP: Do you feel that schools are treated equally in the school system? Why/why not? (i.e. facilities, resources, support)
PK: As stated in the Interim Superintendent’s letter regarding the FY2019 Proposed Operating Budget: “The proposed FY2019 budget improves student-to-teacher ratios and instructional caseloads across the system for both special education and English learner students.” The reason for this is that the five-year growth rates for students identified with disabilities and the ten-year growth rates for English learners has increased much faster than the overall enrollment growth.
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?
PK: By Maryland law, the Board of Education of Baltimore County (Board) is authorized to “determine, with advice of the county Superintendent, the educational policies of the county school system.” In addition to developing policies, the Board has responsibilities for the school budget and school property. One of the priorities for the school system is to ensure that the school budget is robust enough to ensure that teachers are paid adequately so that we do not have the problems that have been in the news recently regarding teacher walkouts in Arizona, Kentucky, Oklahoma, and West Virginia. To ensure an adequate school budget, it is critical that the Board can articulate its rationale to the County Executive and to the County Council, which approves the budget. Few people want their county taxes (which pay for the majority of budgeted school money) increased, and therefore it is imperative that the Board put together an efficient and effective budget. My experience as a finance professor and as a supervisory accountant will pay dividends to increase the probability that the Superintendent will develop such a budget.
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?
PK: I would explain that I represent the voters of Council District 3.
BP: As a Board member, would (or do) you see yourself primarily as a representative of the community or as a representative for the school system?
PK: I see myself as a representative of the community of Council District 3.
BP: Will you be accessible to community members and their concerns? What are the ways you plan to engage with community members?
PK: Yes, of course! The ways include town hall meetings, newsletters, emails, phone calls, digital media, and personal conversations.
BP: In your view, does BCPS have a student discipline problem? If so, why? And how should/can it be addressed?
PK: Yes. It is possible that every school system in America has a student discipline problem and the reasons are many and not easily solved. As noted in the answer to Question 3, an armed School Resource Officer (SRO) or Police Officer for every school may assist in decreasing disciplinary problems. However, disciplinary problems are best addressed long before a student encounters an Officer. Smaller class sizes and additional educational support personnel will help address the problem. Comprehensive polices regarding discipline problems already exist; however, they do need to be enforced in a timely manner so that the majority of students do not suffer. The additional $8 million proposed by the current County Executive for school safety will be a big step in providing the SROs. Such an officer will also assist in addressing drug and gang problems, as well as combatting bullying. The schools alone cannot solve society’s drug problems, but effective education beginning with the earliest grades and age-appropriate lessons can only help.
BP: What is your own experience with public education?
PK: I attended public schools, graduated third in a class of almost 200, and earned two college scholarships. Both of my daughters attended elementary and secondary schools in Baltimore County Public Schools (BCPS). I have taught in BCPS for the past four years as a substitute teacher.
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)?
PK: Educational technology is an important tool in the classroom when properly used, but every student from the youngest age having a laptop (and even one that has the same capability as the laptop used by a high school senior!) is going overboard. While the digital age means that change continues to happen at an accelerating rate, one must still ensure that our youngest students have the capabilities to make effective use of technology without losing the importance of the education that occurs from the classroom teacher.
BP: What are the factors on which you will base your decisions as a school board member?
PK: Whatever is in the best interests of educating our children.
BP: How do you suggest the school system adhere to both ethics and procurement procedures and policies? In your view, whose job is it to oversee procurement and ethics policies and procedures?
PK: The school system requires a Board of Education that has the necessary experience to ensure adherence to both ethics and procurement procedures and policies. My years of experience as a Contracting Officer, as well as a Supervisory Accountant who managed the internal controls for the Medicare and Medicaid programs make me uniquely qualified to ensure administrative accountability and effective oversight. During many years at the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, my team and I ensured effective internal controls over multi-billion-dollar programs. I can bring that same level of expertise to the Board of Education’s $1.6 billion operating budget, which is almost half of Baltimore County’s $3.5 billion budget.