For the first time in Baltimore County, registered voters will have the opportunity to choose seven members of the county’s 12-member, partially elected school board.
The board, whose members have been governor-appointed, will soon be comprised of four appointed members, one student member, as well as seven elected members who represent the county’s seven councilmanic districts.
In each councilmanic district, voters will have the opportunity to cast their votes for their districts’ board representative. In districts with fewer than three candidates running for the position, candidates will bypass June’s primary election and appear only in the general election.
In District Five, two candidates are running for a seat on the school board and will appear only on November’s ballot: Peter Beilenson, MD and incumbent school board member, Julie Henn, who has been serving as an at-large member of the board since her appointment in December 2016.
Both candidates submitted responses to The Baltimore Post’s school board candidate questionnaire. The candidates are running to represent the Towson, Perry Hall, Fullerton, Carney and Kingsville areas.
Dr. Beilenson is a physician who has worked in Maryland’s healthcare system for 25 years. He has been endorsed by the Teachers Association of Baltimore County (TABCO). His bio can be viewed here.
Q&A with Peter Beilenson, MD:
BP: Why are you running for the school board?
PB: As a father of five children (the youngest at Dumbarton MS), a former teacher and a rec league coach for 40+ seasons), I care about the education of our children. Professionally, I have spent my career advocating for social change, particularly focusing on the needs of children. I will bring the same innovative spirit to the Board, as I had as the chief public health official of Howard County and Baltimore City, where I initiated programs that produced very positive outcomes for children.
BP: What do you see is Baltimore County Public Schools’ greatest strength? And what has the district done well over last five years?
PB: Strong teachers; and good job with the renovations/new buildings that have been undertaken.
BP: What do you see is the school system’s greatest weakness? And what has the district done poorly that you want changed?
PB: The school system’s greatest weakness is the lack of balance in funding tech over teachers/school professionals. BCPS needs to provide more funds for salaries of teachers and school professionals in order to reduce class sizes and provide manageable classrooms
BP: What do you see are the current challenges facing Baltimore County Public Schools, as a whole?
PB: There is no question that Baltimore County schools are underfunded. In recent years, additional stresses have been placed on the system—from increased Title 1 and Special Education populations, to an increase in the number of students coming to school with significant behavioral problems and socioeconomic needs which make them less prepared to learn.
To address these needs, additional resources need to be obtained. My top priority for additional funding is to hire more teachers and professional staff to allow for both smaller class sizes and more manageable classrooms. I would then budget additional funding to increase and improve services to our most vulnerable populations—by increasing the number of Community Schools in areas of concentrated poverty and implementing universal pre-K, to improve the chances of better educational outcomes for youngsters who may not have had the exposure to enriching activities prior to school as others.
BP: What do you see are the district’s greatest capital needs right now?
PB: BCPS needs to complete a comprehensive assessment of school buildings, and make appropriate improvements—in all areas of the county
BCPS also needs to do a much better job at enrollment projections for new or renovated schools—far too often, by the time a new or renovated school opens, it is already over capacity
BP: In your view, is there an achievement gap? If so, why? How can it be solved?
PB: Yes, particularly along socioeconomic lines. We need to do more to ensure that all children come to school ready to learn. Therefore, I am a strong proponent for universal pre-K, free lunch programs and community schools.
BP: Do you feel that schools are treated equally in the school system? Why/why not? (i.e. facilities, resources, support)
PB: I think too many decisions are made responding to the squeaky wheels.
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?
PB: Over the next four years, I have three broad goals as a potential Baltimore County School Board member. I want to help to lead Baltimore County Public Schools to be the pre-eminent school system in the state in promoting innovative initiatives, increasing funding, and supporting teachers and ESPs.
In terms of innovative initiatives, in four years, I see a system of community schools (some implemented, some planned) in all areas of concentrated poverty, as well as universal pre-K; and the launching of robust parental involvement efforts.
In terms of funding, in four years, I would hope to have helped advocate for funding for more professional staff and teachers to allow for both more manageable classrooms and smaller class sizes.
In terms of supporting teachers and ESPs, in four years, I want to have helped advocate for consistent salary increases for teachers and ESPs along with maintaining professional education opportunities for educators.
Finally, the School Board must do a much better job of holding the superintendent closely accountable on both fiscal and programmatic matters.
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?
PB: I will meet with anyone to get his or her comments, but will vote solely based on the merits of the proposal. To that end, I will NOT accept any PAC contributions to my campaign.
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?
PB: The community—students, parents and teachers.
BP: Will you be accessible to community members and their concerns? What are the ways you plan to engage with community members? (And/or how have you engaged with the community?)
PB: Yes, I will be accessible…one way I have been doing that during this campaign is by going to PTA meetings and community meetings in the district.
BP: In your view, does BCPS have a student discipline problem? If so, why? And how should/can it be addressed?
PB: Obviously, all schools have some disciplinary problems. The key is to enforce the policies on issues like bullying and physical attacks
BP: What is your own experience with public education?
PB: My wife and I went to public schools, my two youngest sons attended BCPS schools, and my mother and mother-in-law are former public school teachers.
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)?
PB: The youngest get plenty of screen time at home. I favor gradually introducing 1:1 computers so that young students can learn things like how to write and calculate the old-fashioned way—by hand (still important skills to have).
BP: What are the factors on which you will base your decisions as a school board member?
PB: SOLELY, based on how the proposal affects the students and teachers in BCPS
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?
PB: The Board of Education should hold the superintendent closely accountable; this includes overseeing procurement (i.e. no no-bid contacts) and ethics filings.