2018 Maryland election results

Robert Wayne Miller

Robert Wayne Miller
  • Non-Partisan
  • Age: 61
  • Residence: Columbia

About Robert Wayne Miller


I have a B.S. in Psychology, a B.S. in Music Education. and a M.Ed. in Music Education, all from the University of Maryland, College Park.


I retired in 2015 after teaching in the Howard County Public School System for 34 years (as the band director at Hammond Middle School, Hammond Elementary School, and Howard High School). I continue to teach private music lessons and am a substitute teacher in our school system. Previously, I have been an adjunct professor at Howard Community College, and I have directed summer band camps though HCC and our Department of Recreation and Parks.


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School safety
With rising concern over school safety, should county police officers or sheriff's deputies be assigned to all public schools, along with additional screening methods, such as metal detectors, student pat-downs and clear backpacks?
Miller: No, because unfortunately it is doubtful that these types of practices would have prevented the tragedies that occurred. We should only add to our present security measures if we have proof that they are effective. We must differentiate between an appearance of security and actual security. As Tricia Bishop stated in her 3/1/18 column in the Baltimore Sun, “If someone is bent on doing damage at a school, there are myriad ways to go about it even with the tightest of access procedures in place and an armed guard posted at the main entrance. When Adam Lanza ran into a locked door at Sandy Hook Elementary in 2012, he shot his way in through a window.” Preventative measures such as increasing police familiarity with HCPSS facilities would be worthwhile, as would increasing the number of school social workers, using restorative justice practices, and implementing some types of technology and equipment that have been found to be effective. We should use our funds judiciously, though; sadly, nothing can guarantee safety, and difficult choices must be made with limited funds. We should focus on keeping our students safe outside of school, too. Meanwhile, an examination of accurate relevant statistics would show that our schools are still relatively safe places. Our students should not have to attend school in a prison-like atmosphere. We all wish we could solve this problem, but there is no easy solution. We should focus our efforts on what has best been proven to work.
Is the county school system's program to reduce crowded schools through redistricting an effective method given projected shifts in population growth, housing development plans?
Miller: Given our present structure, redistricting is the most effective way to reduce crowded schools. There are other initiatives that could be helpful, such as dual-enrollment programs like JumpStart, career and technical education programs, and/or world language immersion magnet programs. Other types of “magnet school” arrangements could be options, but though they can look appealing on the surface, they can carry with them a number of liabilities, such as issues related to transportation, feeder schools, community stability, after-school activities, lotteries, overspecialization, etc. Furthermore, they can result in non-magnet schools becoming “repel schools.” Redistricting can reduce crowded schools and, if done judiciously, could also help to equalize demographics and promote diversity while keeping feeder systems and communities reasonably intact. That said, in order to minimize disruption, we should enhance public awareness that the quality of a school, and the suitability of a school for an individual student, cannot and should not be determined by test scores, and that highly successful students graduate every year from every Howard County school. After 34 years of teaching in our school system, I have experienced several instances of redistricting, and I have found that for the great majority of students who are redistricted, after three weeks of school if they were offered the choice of going back or remaining, they would remain at their “new” school (though publicized options should exist for very special circumstances). Though redistricting can be challenging, it should remain our primary way of addressing overcrowding.
Superintendent Michael Martirano has shifted budget priorities and is proposing to eliminate a world language program that's in place at eight (of 41) Howard County elementary schools and his budget might require increasing class sizes, by one student, in several middle and high schools. He would like to increase the number of social workers — at a pace of three per year — to help students struggling with mental health issues. Are these prudent choices?
Miller: Eliminating the elementary school world language program as it was implemented was prudent. The program was poorly designed. Only one language, Spanish, was offered, and the program did not exist in 45 of our elementary schools. There was inadequate follow-through in middle and high schools due to the limited number of schools in which it existed, and the ability to expand the program was very much in doubt for financial and staffing reasons. Students with various numbers of years of experience from elementary school were put in 6th grade classes with beginners. Students who received 30 minutes of instruction 5 days a week from K-5 and then took Spanish in middle school could still only start 9th grade in Level 2, along with students who started in 6th or 7th grade. Students who moved into these elementary schools faced obvious challenges upon entering this program. We should be considering better options for implementing elementary school world language. The increase in class size is very troubling, but possibly prudent considering our budget challenges; hopefully the county can provide funds to prevent this from occurring. Adding social workers was prudent, as the expenditure would barely make a dent in class size this year, but would add to a program that could help improve student safety as well as educational outcomes. Thus, given today’s (4/11/18) big budget picture, overall Dr. Martirano made reasonably prudent decisions, though I hope that an increase in class size won’t be needed.
Health care costs
The system's health fund has been in the red for several years — the deficit projected at $50 million by this summer — and Mr. Martirano has requested one-time funds from the county to start to pay down the deficit. But higher health insurance rates are also in the cards; this is one apparent sticking point in the ongoing union contract talks. How do you believe this problem should be addressed?
Miller: It is important to differentiate the deficit issue from the health care issue. The deficit was primarily caused by insufficient funding of the health care fund by previous school system leadership; money that should have gone into the fund was used instead for other initiatives in the operating budget. The present challenge is restoring the fund to where it should have been if it was responsibly funded, and I do not believe that our educators should be asked to bear this unfortunate burden any more than other taxpayers. That said, the annual increase of our educators’ health care claims averages about 3%; not much more than the increase in cost of living. Continued efforts to contain costs and elicit savings should continue to keep these costs manageable. Furthermore, our educators’ health care plans are similar to those in other local jurisdictions, and it is important that we remain competitive in what we offer, especially given the challenges of finding highly-qualified educators in the present environment. Therefore, though it is distressing that this situation was permitted to occur, I believe this solution should involve a two-pronged approach. First, our county government should use available funds to help reduce the deficit, in combination with our school system prioritizing funds for use toward the elimination of the deficit. Second, the health and dental fund should be maintained in a responsible way, enabling educators’ health care plans to continue to be competitive with those of other local jurisdictions.
Achievement gap
How would you evaluate HCPS' efforts to reduce achievement gaps between students of different races and backgrounds? Does more need to be done?
Miller: Though some good attempts have been made, overall HCPSS’s efforts have been insufficient. Some examples of more that can be done would be to: -Provide more staffing, equipment, etc., when needed at schools with student populations that face extra challenges -Prioritize one-on-one assistance for students struggling with basic skills; refusing to accept non-mastery -Reduce the time teachers spend dealing with standardized tests and educational fads, poorly designed and inefficient teacher and administrator evaluation systems, and paperwork and procedures, thus enabling increased teaching and learning time, including time for on-on-one assistance -Prioritize hierarchical skill mastery over information attainment when necessary to provide one-on-one assistance -Provide opportunities for enrichment by making available scholarships, funded by community organizations, foundation grants, individuals, businesses, and HCPSS, to be used for enrichment, tutoring, etc. -Enable volunteer, service, and internship opportunities for high school students to provide enrichment, tutoring, etc., to younger or less experienced students -Ensure to the extent possible that basic needs (food, shelter, clothing) are met and wrap-around services exist for students who need them -Ensure to the extent possible that educational needs are met for all students (computers/tablets, internet access, school supplies) -Provide appropriate instruction and supports to special education students -Provide quality training for staff members that will enhance their abilities to support students with challenges -Increase workforce diversity -Ensure transportation is provided so outside-of-the-school-day activities are available to all -Prioritize meeting the individual needs of each student.
Did the school board act appropriately in agreeing to pay former superintendent Renee Foose more than $1.6 million in salary and benefits to persuade her to resign?
Miller: Considering the big picture, though it was painful, yes. The loss of funding that was occurring because of a distrust of her and some in her administration by authorities ranging from our county government to our governor, appeared to be causing our school system to lose much more money than her (very large) payout. Also, irresponsible financial management was occurring, as exemplified by the tremendously underfunded and poorly planned Teachers for Tomorrow program and, to a much greater fiscal extent, the health and dental fund. The elementary school model world language program was an expensive initiative that was not well planned, thus it was unlikely to perpetuate. Programs of questionable value, fiscally and otherwise, were implemented, such as the Gallup Strengths initiative. Furthermore, under Dr. Foose, the Howard County Education Association job satisfaction survey item, “I have confidence in the leadership exhibited by the HCPSS Superintendent,” had only 10.8% agreement; the cost, financial and otherwise, to the school system from this lack of confidence was probably quite significant. She also lost the confidence and support of the community, exemplified by the 2016 elections when the three Board of Education members who supported her were voted out. The constant discord between Dr. Foose and the new Board appeared to prevent much meaningful progress from occurring, and the consequences of three additional years of dysfunction would have likely resulted in a significant cost to the county both financially, from legal costs and lost revenues as described above, and educationally.
How would you grade Mr. Martirano's performance and his reorganization of the central office?
Miller: I would give Dr. Martirano’s performance an “A-”. I don’t feel that I can give his reorganization of the central office a grade yet, as it still appears to be in the works; presently (4/11/18) the HCPSS website states: “The Superintendent’s recommended budget had incorporated significant reductions in central office staff, particularly the elimination or repurposing of 29 central office positions…” Also, I would want to see his reorganization in operation before giving it a grade. I think that most of the changes he has made so far have been effective, though I think that the central office could be set up more efficiently; I am expecting that his proposed reductions will address this, and are probably at least a positive step. The “A-” grade for Dr. Martirano’ performance might be a bit conservative. I refrained from an “A” because of occasional concerns; for example, with our budget challenges among the reasons, I did not think that an interscholastic middle school basketball program was a suitable proposal. Overall, though, I feel at this point that Dr. Martirano has faced great challenges and addressed them in ways I consider to have been intelligent, thoughtful, and considerate. He has generally been open to listening and considering the thoughts of others. He seems to sincerely be very student-oriented. His nature has been very cooperative, transparent, and respectful, yet he has demonstrated courage and decisiveness when appropriate. I believe that his leadership style, work ethic, and enthusiasm also add to his effectiveness.

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