Category Archives: 3 Minutes with the Board

3 Minutes May 4, 2021

Good evening, Chair Scott, Vice Chair Henn, Dr. Williams, and members of the Board:

At the last Board meeting at your request, System leadership shared a plan for the reopening of schools for in-person instruction on a four-day schedule. All preK–5 students would be eligible, as well as data-targeted secondary groups of students. The primary difference is the CDC metric which allows 3-foot social distancing at the elementary level and remains at 6 feet for secondary students.

School leadership teams led by their principals have been hard at work since the morning following that meeting, using pertinent data and physical attributes of their schools to determine needs, identify students, reach out to them, and work with transportation to prepare for their return on May 10th and 17th.

I had not planned on speaking tonight, but I have heard rumblings that some on the Board may want to change the plan at this, the 11th hour, and bring back any secondary student who wants to return across the System. I am sure that there are Board members whose constituents advocate for this, but let us review some facts.

  • The 6-foot social distancing requirement at the secondary level prevents every student from returning at this point, which is the foundation of any plan.
  • School leadership teams have used the data and the Board’s own Equity focus to identify specific, targeted groups of students that would benefit the most from face-to-face instruction and spent every bit of the last two weeks planning for their return.
  • Each school is different, and decisions must be made based on data and physical limitations. Our schools are not cookie cutter. So, numbers will vary from school to school.
  • Site-based leadership under the direction of System leaders have used data and an equity lens to drive the number of students identified to return. That is what the leadership in the buildings have been hired, trained, and paid to do.

Both System and school-based leadership have worked diligently to respond to requests for full return to face-to-face instruction. But in the simplest terms there are CDC limitations which preclude a total return of every student at the secondary level.

An arbitrary change to our reopening plan at this point would show a complete lack of respect and appreciation for the hard work these leadership teams have done over these last two weeks. Is that the message you want to send?

A motion from this Board to return any student who wants, no matter the metrics, is an example of the concern I shared with this Board at the last meeting where I reviewed the difference between the Board’s role of governance versus the hired professionals’ job of operations. So, I will be plain. Stay in your lane. Isn’t that what is asked of every employee?

And as an aside, I find it distressingly ironic that members of this Board would dictate full in-person return of all students, no matter the metrics, when there has not been a full in-person return of this Board.

Thank you.

Tom DeHart

Executive Director, CASE

3 Minutes April 20, 2021

Good evening, Chair Scott, Vice Chair Henn, Dr. Williams, and members of the Board:

Tonight, I would like to speak with you about Governance or Guidance versus Operations or Management, as it relates to the function of this Board. I will reference the Board of Education of Baltimore County Board Handbook, last revised in 2015.

I cite in pertinent part, sections, and components of the Board Handbook to highlight the concept of Governance versus Operations.

Introduction

The BOARD OF EDUCATION OF BALTIMORE COUNTY guides the Baltimore County Public School System…

The Board’s Vision

The Board of Education, as the governing body for the County’s school system, will seek in every way to make the school system among the highest performing school systems in the nation…

The Board’s Mission

The Board, as the governing body of the school system, fulfills its mission by adopting policies …

The Board’s Norms of Behavior

Annually following its summer retreat, the Board will adopt norms of behavior and conduct. The Board’s most current norms are attached as Appendix A.

1. Practice Governance—The role of the Board is to govern through policy, budget adoption, approval of school boundaries, and hiring the superintendent.

This quote is from the Handbook:

“The Board’s responsibility is not to manage the school system or influence the daily operation of the school system. The Board will hold the superintendent accountable for the successful day-to-day management of the school system.”

I bring this up tonight because there continues to be instances where this Board has crossed the line from governance to operations. This causes a great deal of anxiety and frustration for administrators, teachers, and support personnel who are then required to pivot after preparations and plans have been designed and developed by the System. And over the last year, every single employee has been asked to pivot enough to last a lifetime.

You have asked the Superintendent to plan for the in-person return of students for 4 days per week. He and his team will share that plan with you tonight, including the schedule for that return.

CASE encourages you to do your due diligence in reviewing and questioning the plan, which is what you were elected or appointed to do. But please let the people who are charged with the day-to-day operations of the System do their jobs. That is what your Handbook, and common sense, prescribes.

Thank you,
Tom DeHart
Executive Director, CASE

3 Minutes March 25, 2021

Good evening, Chair Scott, Vice Chair Henn, Dr. Williams, and members of the Board:

It has been a year since I have spoken to the Board. And while I have sent letters, it is a pleasure to be able to speak to you live.

While I haven’t spoken to you in a year, I HAVE been watching. So have teachers, school leaders, community members, various stakeholders, and most importantly—our students.

Like the rest of the world, we have suffered through a pandemic that affects all of us. Additionally, we were hit with a cyberattack that crippled our system.

Leadership is important any time, but with twin crises, leadership is crucial.

Peter Stark says: “In a moment of crisis, reactions set the leaders apart from the followers.” I would ask the Board members to reflect on their actions over the last year. Have you been the cohesive, consistent leaders that our system and community want and deserve? This is obviously a rhetorical question.

Every member of this Board is a talented and intelligent person, and there will certainly be instances of healthy disagreement. But there are clear and consistent signs of partisanship, and to the outside observer, it often comes across as personal dislike for one another in too many instances. Any team or Board is only effective when the individual members work together for a common cause. And quite simply, that common cause is all of our students!

I have great respect for each of you and the time, effort, and energy you put into your role as a member of this Board, and I get no personal satisfaction in bringing this up tonight. But there is an elephant in the room. That elephant is the unfortunate lack of respect and openness to others’ opinions too often exhibited in the Board’s public meetings. This not only gets squarely in the way of the leadership we need and deserve but sets a tremendously poor example for all stakeholders…especially our students.

So, I am asking each of you tonight, to leave partisanship at the virtual door of every future meeting and work collaboratively and cooperatively with one another to lead us through these twin crises and into the future.

And in your collective leadership role, I ask that you keep former NBA champion Chicago Bulls’ coach Phil Jackson’s words in mind: “The strength of the team is each individual member. The strength of each member is the team.”

On behalf of the system leaders who I represent, as well as all stakeholders, I thank you in advance for much-needed reflection and a re-set as you work together to lead the Baltimore County Public Schools.

Have a great meeting tonight!

Thank you,
Tom DeHart
Executive Director, CASE

3 Minutes February 25, 2020

Good evening, Chair Causey, Vice Chair Henn, Superintendent Williams, and Members of the Board:

Team BCPS. Any organization can call itself a team. But to create a winning team, all components of the team must feel valued and respected. Every winning World Series or Super Bowl team will talk about the cohesion and support felt in the clubhouse from all aspects of the team—from front office, the manager, and to every player.

At the last board meeting you passed an amendment to the budget calling for a 15-minute extension to the school day—a move that you knew would be a significant cost. Tabco negotiated a $14.2 million 2% salary increase to fund that extension, and while not negotiable, the Para Educators salaries would increase by just over a million dollars.

CASE offered to accept the 2% increase negotiated by Tabco for its school-based members (principals and assistant principals), whose workdays would be increased as well. This would equate to $1.6 million. We were told that no money was budgeted for us but were offered a one-time $1,000 stipend instead.

Really?! Enough already! We talk nonstop about equity, but do we practice what we preach? This is not about equity; this is about discrimination! Each board member is given a $7,500 annual stipend for your service to our system. What if you were told that women on the board would only receive a $1,000 stipend because of fiscal issues, but men would receive the $7,500. Would that be acceptable? There is absolutely no difference between this scenario and what is being proposed for school-based administrators.

I have sent each of you almost 4 pages of testimony of the rationale for why principals and assistant principals should receive the same compensation as teachers for the extended day. The bottom line is that their day is being extended as well. Not to compensate them is not only unfair, it is wrong, it is discriminatory.

CASE is asking for this board to move and approve the same 2% salary adjustment for school-based administrators as they do for teachers. Team BCPS has some real issues in the clubhouse. This board has the opportunity tonight to address one of those issues on the surface, but candidly must do much more long term to value and respect all the players on the team.

Thank you,
Tom DeHart
Executive Director, CASE

3 Minutes February 11, 2020

Good evening, Chair Causey, Vice Chair Henn, Superintendent Williams, and Members of the Board:

As you are acutely aware, there never seems to be a downtime during the school year. And the budget review and approval period is especially frantic. CASE appreciates the time and energy the Board commits to this process.

This Board has consistently espoused equity across the system, and in that spirit, CASE respectfully requests the following budget considerations:

  • A One-time 2% stipend for CASE Employees
    • As you are aware there was a one-year delay of 2% COLA for FY20 for some BCPS employees. At the same time, the Social Security COLA increase for FY20 was 2.8% and is projected at 1.6% for FY21. (Based on Consumer Price Index) Clearly, CASE members have lost ground in their standard of living.
    • Members will never recoup this loss without this stipend.
  • A “Longevity Step” for employees who have reached the final step on our pay scale. There are valid reasons for this investment in experienced valued employees.
    • People are being promoted at a younger age than in years past, and consequently we are seeing members reaching the 20th step with significant years left in the system.
    • Currently there are 58 members at the 20th STEP. In 3 years, there will be 160 members (26%).
    • These dedicated folks who have spent a career in BCPS depend solely on COLA just to maintain their quality of life, which as I have indicated, hasn’t kept pace with the Consumer Price Index.

The cost of both these equity issues is less than 1/10 of 1% of the proposed budget. It is difficult to imagine this Board would not believe that these dedicated employees are not worth this investment.

In a January 24, 2020 article in The Baltimore Sun, Sean Naron, a spokesman for the County Executive, said the county is “on significantly stronger fiscal footing than we were a year ago.”

We didn’t get what we asked for a year ago, and now is the time for the School Board to ask for what is needed to fund a successful equitable school system.

Thank you,
Tom DeHart,
Executive Director, CASE

3 Minutes January 7, 2020

Good evening, Chair Causey, Vice Chair Henn, Superintendent Williams, and members of the Board:

Happy New Year! A new year brings opportunities for resolutions and a promise of new beginnings—a chance to start fresh based on experiences from our past. As we begin the budget cycle for 20-21, it is the appropriate time to resolve to advocate for a budget that addresses inequities in staffing, support, and salaries. It is also a time to address the narrative of the Kirwan Commission recommendations at the local and state level.

CASE fully supports Kirwan as it provides additional funds to expand full-day kindergarten, improve college and career readiness, raise teacher salaries, and support schools in high concentrations of poverty, among other programs.

We do have concerns, however, with funding only teacher salaries. Certainly, teacher salaries must improve to attract and retain the best and brightest. And as I have shared with this Board before, we know the teacher contributes the largest single impact on student growth at 33%.

However, as you know, the principal, and by extension, assistant principal, contribute the 2nd largest single impact to student growth at 25%—only 8% less than the teacher. If we want to attract and retain the best and brightest administrators, their salaries must at least keep pace with those of teachers.

As you are aware, that didn’t happen this year. CASE members were not given the Cost of Living increase that teachers received. Not only is that a blow to the morale of this essential group of leaders, but we have members who received no pay increase and have less buying power now, than they had the year before.

It is a shortsighted game of “Whack a mole” to address the salaries of only one group of people who have significant impact on student growth. CASE asks that this Board resolve to work with our local and state policy makers to rethink the need for improved salaries from only teachers, to educators—as every employee contributes to student success.

That said, this Board must ensure a level of equity relative to Cost of Living increases. If equity is in fact, what you espouse, your voices must be heard. Your dissatisfaction with the funding decisions must be registered. You have a difficult job, and we appreciate your leadership. However, you were elected or appointed to do this job, and sometimes that means making a strong stand on necessary issues. We feel your voices should be heard for all bargaining units.

Our County Executive told the teachers at the New Teacher Orientation in August that they should advocate for what they need. CASE expects this Board to do no less.

Thank you.

Tom DeHart,
Executive Director, CASE

3 Minutes September 10, 2019

Good evening Board Chair Causey, Vice Chair Henn, Superintendent Williams, and members of the Board.

Early last spring this school board submitted an operating budget to the County Executive that included longevity step increases as well as a 2% Cost of Living (COLA) increase for all employees in the five BCPS bargaining units.

In that same time frame, the County Executive appeared before this Board informing us of an $81 million deficit. Obviously county funds spent on salary increases in any form would be precarious.

The County Executive approved step increases for all associations but delayed the COLA for tree of the five until June 2020. Thus 51 CASE employees will actually lose money this year as they are at the last step on our salary scale and won’t receive a COLA to keep up with inflation.

Fortunately, Senate Bill 1030 provided $9.8 million dollars to the county to fund teacher salaries. This money could only be used for teacher salaries. Consequently, teachers received a 2% COLA as of July 1, 2019, and the County Executive did find county funds for another association’s COLA which also began on July 1, 2019.

This is important! Please understand. CASE is by no means suggesting that all employees shouldn’t get the salaries for which they negotiated. And we certainly understand and applaud the state funding that is directed at teachers. But while we have absolutely no animosity towards the association whose COLA was funded by local funds, we feel it is extremely disingenuous of the County Executive to single out 1 of the 4 remaining bargaining units for local funding while lamenting an inherited deficit. 

CASE thanks this Board, its leadership and Dr. Williams for being receptive to potentially funding the other 3 association’s COLAs by transferring funds within the budget. While it wasn’t possible to do, your openness and support is heartening.

With all of this said, the CASE Board of Directors has voted to not sign our Master Agreement and will work without an agreement as the only item negotiated last year was salary. This is done as a sign of disappointment and dissatisfaction of our negotiated agreement not being funded in an arbitrary and capricious manner. This will not impact the hard work and extra effort given by these professionals every day.

Negotiations for the 2020-2021 CASE Master Agreement begin next week. CASE has alerted the Board and the Superintendent that they should be prepared for us to make up for the loss of earnings and retirement benefits incurred this year.

Thank you.

Tom DeHart,
Executive Director, CASE

3 Minutes July 9, 2019

Good evening, Board Chair Causey, Vice Chair Henn, Superintendent Williams, and members of the Board.

Welcome, Dr. Williams, to your first official public school board meeting. As you know, you are coming to Baltimore County at a time with many critical issues facing this board, the system, communities, and individual schools.

However, by referencing Stephen Covey’s “Seek first to understand, then to be understood,” you have shown great wisdom in recognizing that there is far more right with BCPS than there is wrong.

As you are aware, perhaps the single-most difficult, but essential, component for the success of any organization is consistency. Roger Staubach said: “In any team sport, the best teams have consistency and chemistry.” This applies to Team BCPS, and CASE welcomes your stated desire (and we hope demand) for your three C’s—Communication, Consistency, and Coherence—in the daily operation of our system.

The members of CASE hold positions that are the face of BCPS. They are the front-line leadership that is crucial to the success of our system, which is measured by the success of our students. Quite candidly, these folks are too often the ones who are caught in the middle of inconsistent policies and practices.

CASE is excited that principals will be included on the teams you are creating in your 100 Day Entry Plan, around Strategic Leadership, Relationship Building, and Professional Development. The knowledge, experience, and insight gained in their position will be very helpful as you continue to get to know the system.

Again, welcome, Dr. Williams. CASE looks forward to establishing and maintaining a long and collaborative relationship with you.

Thank you.

Tom DeHart

Executive Director, CASE

3 Minutes May 7, 2019

Good evening, Board Chair Causey, Vice Chair Henn, Superintendent White, and members of the Board.

On this Teacher Appreciation Day, CASE would like to take this opportunity to thank all the hard-working teachers in BCPS. The vast majority of CASE members were teachers, and we recognize and appreciate the dedication and perseverance necessary to be successful in the classroom. Again, thank you teachers!

Transparency—currently one of the sexiest terms in our society. I Googled the term and came up with over 12 and a half billion results! Transparency is regularly touted as standard operating procedure in government at the federal, state, and local levels, and yes, even by this school board.

For the sake of discussion, I’ll use the definition of transparency found in Wikipedia. Transparency is operating in such a way that it is easy for others to see what actions are performed.

Last month CASE requested of this Board that, in the spirit of transparency, they share the names of the 2–3 finalists for BCPS superintendent and bring each of them into our community for a day to meet with various stakeholder groups. This is common practice in superintendent searches nationally.

CASE appreciates each member of this Board, and the hard work and dedication you have, and continue to, put into this search.

That said, CASE is challenging the Board go on record tonight to either commit to this transparent practice of meeting the superintendent finalists or maintain the current plan, which is to call a press conference and announce the permanent superintendent.

The Board needs to decide which of these choices exemplifies the level of transparency it espouses. CASE sees it as an easy choice. We think the members of this Board should see it that way too.

Thank you,

Tom DeHart, CASE Executive Director

3 Minutes April 9, 2019

Good evening, Board Chair Causey, Vice Chair Henn, Superintendent White, and members of the Board.

We are in the midst of our superintendent search. Please notice that I said “our”, not “the Board” or just “the search”. I say this because this search process belongs to all stakeholders…not just the Board. As Vice Chair Henn said in her Facebook post yesterday when discussing the superintendent search, “Process matters”.

So, let’s lay out that process. First, thank you to this Board for providing multiple opportunities for stakeholders to share our desires for the next superintendent with Ray and Associates staff. I attended three of the sessions, including the CASE session, where, by the way, Superintendent White was given resounding support as the permanent superintendent. The search process, following stakeholder input, was shared with us by Ray. Stakeholders’ input in the sessions and online, was used to create a flyer with the desired characteristics to be shared with candidates who inquire, or with candidates Ray reaches out to, or those who may already be in Ray’s database.

Ray will cull the applicants for this Board, who will then work to further refine the list based on questions they design. Responses will be completed in an anonymous fashion, and based on the responses, the list will be whittled down to the finalists. The Board will interview them in person and choose the superintendent and announce it to the public.

There is something missing in this process. Our community will not know who any of the candidates are until we are told who the Board has chosen. CASE realizes the need for anonymity early in the process in order to attract candidates who otherwise may not apply, as they are probably already employed and don’t want to jeopardize their current position. However, CASE emphatically recommends that when the Board chooses the 2–3 finalists, they are publicized and each are brought into our district for a day to meet the public, staff, and stakeholders as neighboring districts, as districts across the country have done. Since this Board’s leadership espouses transparency and has stated that the process matters, we should expect no less.

One last thought about process and the Board. CASE encourages each member to continue to be an independent thinker and make decisions based on your knowledge and your beliefs. That is all we can expect, and we trust you will.

Thank you for your dedication and thoughtful deliberation during this process, that is so important to all of us.

Thank you,

Tom DeHart