Why do you want to serve on the county school board?
Beilenson: 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 did as the chief public health official of Howard County and Baltimore City, where I initiated programs that produced very positive outcomes for children. 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.
Has the county’s use of educational technology in the classroom been appropriate? Do you support the system’s expenditures for student laptops?
Beilenson: Because of the illegitimate manner in which the contract for laptops was awarded, I would like to evaluate how much they should have cost with an appropriate process before coming to a conclusion on cost. Nonetheless, I think more advanced technology is beneficial to our students, but computers alone are not adequate, if large class sizes are allowed to persist in Baltimore County schools. Therefore, I support a balanced approach to school funding—modernize yes, but also provide funds for more teachers (to reduce class size) and for social workers/school psychologists/counselors as well as professional pupil worker staff to handle disciplinary and behavioral problems (to allow teachers to have more manageable classrooms).
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?
Beilenson: No–I Think the system’s resources are not equitably divided. Schools in lower income areas are not in as good shape as those in higher income areas. In order to address these inequities, a truly transparent and unbiased assessment process must be implemented to determine the needs of individual schools.
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?
Beilenson: - Require the Superintendent to present all major budgetary or programmatic changes to the entire school board
- As a Board member, pledge to go through the entire budget with a fine-tooth comb
- As a Board member, maintain a healthy skepticism of highly touted new initiatives when voting on them
- Prohibit no-bid contracts valued at greater than $10,000 The interim superintendent’s disclosure failures are not anywhere as egregious as Dallas Dance’s. However, I have had to file these types of disclosures as a public official for twenty years, and when I had any doubts about a disclosure, I personally called the appropriate ethics office to ascertain the correct way to do so. In light of the recent history at BCPS, it was incumbent on Ms. White to go the extra mile to make sure her financial disclosure form was pristine.
Are the system’s rules on ethics, conflicts of interest and financial disclosure sufficient?
Beilenson: The system’s rules are probably sufficient. However, the rules have to be enforced, financial disclosures have to be examined for veracity and the Board of Education has to do a better job of holding high level BCPS officials accountable.
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?
Beilenson: As long as they are enforced equitably, most of the policies are fairly reasonable. I do think their need to be stronger forms of discipline for bullying, because the long-term consequences of chronic bullying are very damaging psychologically. However, I think we need to intervene with students who are troubled before they act out. To that end, I support increased funding for professional counseling staff in each school to work with students with behavioral/disciplinary issues outside of the classroom. This has the additional benefit of allowing for more manageable classrooms.
What are your views on the Common Core and the PARCC exams?
Beilenson: As a dad (and a former middle school teacher) who frequently answers questions from my 6th grader regarding his homework, I quickly concluded that I didn’t particularly like or understand the Common Core. I think an effort needs to be made to evaluate whether it has made any difference in our children’s knowledge base. I think that each jurisdiction in Maryland has its own challenges and strengths that impact their respective school systems. Thus, teachers should be evaluated on metrics that are informed by the population of students to be served. This approach, therefore, argues against a single “cookie-cutter” state-imposed evaluation process. Having seen my two youngest children spend so much time taking standardized tests and their teachers teaching to these tests, I have been struck by how poorly this captures a teacher’s abilities, or a student’s true aptitude for that matter. As a public health professional, I strongly support evidence-based policies. Such an approach is necessary in creating constructive evaluation systems, which have to be developed with significant teacher input, and reduce the excessive use of standardized testing.
Should diversity be a factor in decisions about drawing new school attendance zone lines?
Beilenson: School attendance zones should include diversity as a component of zoning decisions, but zones should be as compact as feasible. “Gerrymandered” zones would lead to long travel times to and from schools for some students.
How would you set priorities for school construction and renovation? Has the county devoted adequate resources to maintaining or replacing school buildings?
Beilenson: - Complete a comprehensive assessment of school buildings, and make appropriate improvements—in all areas of the county
- BCPS 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 The county has done a reasonable job on maintaining /replacing school buildings; however, more funds would certainly help improve schools at a faster pace.