Why do you want to serve on the county school board?
Konka: Because my experience as a teacher, professor, supervisory accountant, and contracting officer will ensure a high quality of education for all students in a safe environment, that teachers are adequately paid, and that the school system has appropriate administrative oversight.
Has the county’s use of educational technology in the classroom been appropriate? Do you support the system’s expenditures for student laptops?
Konka: No. Educational technology in the classroom is an important tool when properly used, but the system has made excessive expenditures for student laptops. Now they propose to buy the same laptop for high school seniors as they do for kindergarten students. As a former computer programmer and analyst, I can tell you that this makes no sense. They have not addressed the issue of students (particularly the very young ones) visiting sites on their laptops that are completely inappropriate. Besides being prone to misuse when they are working, many times the laptops are not working. It is an unreasonable burden on the teachers to have students using laptops with so many problems. The proposed educational technology budget increases by $10.4 million (over its existing base) and that money can be better utilized.
Are the system’s resources fairly and equitably divided among its schools? Does the system provide adequate support for students with large populations of minority or low-income students?
Konka: 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 has increased much faster than overall enrollment growth. Thus, those schools that have a greater need do receive a greater share of the system’s resources.
What additional steps, if any, need to be taken to ensure that the board exercises adequate oversight over the superintendent? Do you see a distinction between the disclosure failures that led to former superintendent Dallas Dance’s guilty pleas and those that interim Superintendent Verletta White has admitted to?
Konka: The superintendent should represent one of the pinnacles of success in the education field and should be someone that everyone respects. Yes, there is a distinction between the failures of Dallas Dance and the failures of Verletta White, but the failures were made nonetheless and should not be ignored. Baltimore County can and should do better. The Board should not tolerate such lapses in judgment. The superintendent’s salary is approximately a quarter of a million dollars a year and should be more than enough to concentrate solely on Baltimore County students and not prompt one to seek out consulting opportunities.
Are the system’s rules on ethics, conflicts of interest and financial disclosure sufficient?
Konka: Yes, the rules on ethics, conflicts of interest, and financial disclosure are sufficient, but the oversight of personnel following the rules is insufficient. In addition to the mistakes of Dallas Dance and Verletta White, we also have the case of Robert Barrett. As noted in a letter to the editor published in the Baltimore Sun on March 18, 2018: “The Baltimore County school system was viewed as being scandal free for 170 years until Messrs. Dance and Barrett temporarily besmirched this reputation and violated the trust the Board of Education placed in them to continue to improve the educational programs for girls and boys.” The Board of Education needs to be pro-active in ensuring that the school system regains its excellent reputation.
Do you think the school system's discipline policies keep students safe while appropriately disciplining students who exhibit poor behavior? What, if any, changes would you propose to the school system's discipline policies?
Konka: The current discipline policies are comprehensive, but sometimes the policies are not carried out in a timely enough fashion regarding students who exhibit poor behavior. Those students should be dealt with promptly so that the majority of students do not suffer.
What are your views on the Common Core and the PARCC exams?
Konka: Exams have been a part of school since schools began, but too many exams are not useful. Since 2013, 15 states–from red state Alabama to blue state Rhode Island–have stopped participating in the PARCC exams. Only six states now use the PARCC exams and only two (Maryland and New Mexico) use them for most grades. What’s wrong with this picture?
Should diversity be a factor in decisions about drawing new school attendance zone lines?
Konka: Whenever new school attendance zone lines are drawn, students should be allowed to attend the nearest school in their neighborhood. Diversity may be a factor, but it should not be a primary factor. The focus should be on what is best for the student.
How would you set priorities for school construction and renovation? Has the county devoted adequate resources to maintaining or replacing school buildings?
Konka: I agree with the priorities for school construction and renovation 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.