Saturday, March 19, 2016

The Road to Ellicott City (2016): Part Three

I set fire to three earlier iterations of this post.  Then the Middle Tennessee State 24-hour Dysgraphia hit.  I shall never visit Murfreesboro again.

Let me go straight to the headline: I am undecided on my third vote.  As of this writing, I have four serious contenders for the third choice.  I have ruled none of the challengers out, but there are four tiers:

Tier Four [Definite No]

Dump DeLacy/Dump Siddiqui (sung to the tune of Allan Sherman’s “Hello Muddah, Hello Fadduh (A Letter from Camp).”

Also Bedolla.  No response = an automatic no vote.

Tier One [Definite Yes]

Coombs and Ellis.  Awesome Squared.

Tier Three [Maybe, but not terribly likely at the moment]

Ponnuri:  Tech guy.  His questionnaire focuses on several broad themes, including “independent thinking,” “accountability,” and “empathy.” Not much in the way of specifics.

Would he be a good member of the Board of Education? Probably. Am I buying into his campaign’s value proposition yet?  No, not right now.

Andrews:  Definitely a stronger candidate compared to his 2014 bid.  He believes we “must address the discipline gap if we want to close to achievement gap.”  This writer strongly agrees with this sentiment.  He re-visits the importance of “respect” in his questionnaire, this writer also agrees with that line of thinking. 

I am not convinced that he is the right person for the job in 2016, but I respect his growth as a candidate for the Board of Education over the past two years.  He deserves serious consideration.

Tier Two [Perhaps]

Giles:  Yes, I am considering voting to re-elect one incumbent.  I think she is smart, capable, and has an impressive record when it comes to public service, most notably as it pertains to education issues. 

Her responses to the questionnaire were thoughtful.  Her stated “first year” priority to “restore public trust in our school system by engaging our staff and community to better inform us as we make decisions” indicates an awareness of the larger institutional challenges facing the Board of Education.  In terms of policy, I am in agreement with her when it comes to “expand[ing] elementary world language so that all students can graduate proficient in a second language.”

I found it interesting that while multiple candidates mentioned the Glenwood Middle mold issue as an example of the failure to follow certain HCPSS Guiding Principles, Giles defended the approach to that problem, citing the “quality of the report and the inclusive nature of the plan.”  She did note that “we (presumably the Board of Education) must improve our processes for fulfilling public information requests so that the responses people get answer their questions fully and promptly.”  I don’t believe I am with her on the former point, but I concur with Giles on the latter.

The concept of “right association” is a big thing in my corner of the world.  If I thought that the Board, and the County, would get the Best Giles along with the election of two reform-minded candidates, I would probably vote for her.  Pound for pound, her credentials compare favorably to almost every other possibility.  But elections are more than just resume evaluations.  There are other well-qualified alternatives, and perhaps we need three new reform-minded voices on the Board.  This brings us to the other candidates.

Miller:  Great background as an educator.  Very detailed responses.  Talks about needing to develop an “atmosphere of trust” and an “atmosphere of openness.”  I agree. Beyond that, he says we should “develop/re-start a budget oversight committee.”  Yes, indeed.  He wrote that we should “enable the public to be assured that the students are attending ‘healthy schools.’”  He says we should “cultivate a partner-like atmosphere with parents of special education students.”  He wants to “reduce the amount of instructional time lost to standardized over-testing and a poorly-conceived teacher (and administrator) evaluation system.”  He indicates that we should “resist unproven fads and the tendency to ‘fly planes while building them.’”  No disagreement there.

I am not sure about his concerns about the “World Language component of the Elementary School Model” where he says that “with the knowledge I presently have, I would not continue the program as it presently exists.”  Assuming my interpretation of his statement is accurate, I believe I am more aligned with Giles on that particular issue.  That said, I am not a subject matter expert on this topic…perhaps I need to read more on this specific debate.

His passion for education is evident in his responses. 

His belief that the “single biggest dysfunction impacting the Board is a lack of commitment to complete integrity.”  Strong words, ones that (I believe) represent the opinions of many of our neighbors. 

So why not Miller as a lock for the third choice? I don’t know.  His mastery of detail is impressive.  Perhaps he could have articulated those elements as the supporting points of an overarching Plan or Vision. 

He is in the running, but I am still considering two other challengers.

Cutroneo:  “Building back trust is the number one priority.”  She recommends “education town halls throughout the county.”  She is calling for, “with each new initiative policy, a more formal process in decision making…”  It is clear that she wants to open decision-making processes up, so the widest possible array of community members can have a voice, as well as access to the data used to inform policies. 

She indicates that she “would reinstate a BOE auditor or ombudsman type position.”  Sounds good to me.

She notes that “instead of jumping on the bandwagon for the latest, greatest, and glossy curriculum, we need to look at best practices throughout the country and grow from within.”  I appreciate this perspective.

On the Guiding Principles question, she reflected upon “the case of a special ed parent [name known but redacted] trying to obtain [a] special education audit.”  She believes, in this case, “that the Board acted in a manner that ran counter to the principle of collaboration, trust, and shared responsibility.” I agree with her on this point.

So why not Cutroneo for the third vote?  As of this moment, it is because she is running on a slate with Christina Delmont-Small…and I believe that while both have impressive advocacy credentials, Delmont-Small’s are slightly stronger.  That said, I haven’t made up my mind…yet.

Delmont-Small.  Right now, at this very minute, she is my third vote. 

First, her PTA and PTACHC experience is great, as is her work on the Operating Budget Review Committee.  Her backing by the HCEA is important in my household.

She pulled the old Kobayashi Maru on me on the questionnaire.  Basically, for non-Star Trek fans, she refused to accept the premise of my clones question.  Importantly, she did so cleverly.  Essentially, she used the question as an opportunity to reflect on the necessity of “different opinions and ideas on the BOE and a BOE that will embrace respectful discussion of opinions and thoughts that are contrary to their own and be able to disagree in a respectful manner.”  Well played.

Beyond that, she hit the high notes regarding the need to “increase transparency and accountability,” calling for a “student/school focused approach,” and the need to “change/improve relationships.”  As part of that third platform element, she correctly noted that “the superintendent is accountable to the BOE on all matters related to the operation of the school system.  The superintendent is not an elected member of the BOE, she is an employee of the BOE.” Obvious to many? Yes.  Needed to be said?  Absolutely yes.

She talks about the importance of “electing individuals to the BOE who will bring the voices of parents, teachers, and administrators to the BOE and will ask the hard questions and ensure that the school system operates in a manner that is accountable and transparent.” 

So why not Delmont-Small for the third vote?  Honestly, I would have loved to have seen a bit more policy in her responses.  A bit more detail.  She had the “vision thing” down cold.  I believe she gets the nitty-gritty, but she kept her responses focused on broader, bigger themes.  That said, I think she would make a great Board of Education member.  That is why she leads the Tier Two pack. 

Of course nothing is a lock until I vote. 

Stay tuned, as more will follow.


Wednesday, March 16, 2016

The Road to Ellicott City (2016): Part Two

First, let’s review the questionnaire I developed for the Howard County Board of Education candidates.

“1) Thought experiment. Much is made of the Board of Education acting as a collaborative body, but it is one comprised of unique individuals with different backgrounds, perspectives, and talents.  With that in mind...

What if you can replace, immediately, all of the other board members with clones of yourself.  Assuming you can work collaboratively with your other selves, what specifically would you want to accomplish in the next two years? In the next four?

2a) If you are an incumbent:  Why should we trust you with another four year term?

2b) If you are a challenger:  Why should we trust you with a four year term?

3) What is the single biggest dysfunction impacting the Board and how can it be resolved over the course of the next four years?

4) The HCPSS lists, among a set of “guiding principles,” the following:

“Fostering a culture of collaboration, trust, and shared responsibility” (source:

Thinking about the past four years, Please provide one example of how the Board advanced that principle and one example of how the Board acted in a manner that ran counter to that principle.  Please elaborate on both examples.”

The first question was designed to identify the agenda and vision of each individual candidate. 

The second question assumes that public trust in the Board has taken a hit in recent years, and that it would be instructive for voters to hear from the candidates how they intend to earn the public’s trust.

The third question does not presuppose that the Board is dysfunctional, although I believe that argument can be made, but for the candidate to 1) show their thinking regarding the single biggest dysfunction and 2) their ability to identify a solution to fix the problem. 

The fourth question is intended to shed light on their perceptions of what the Board has done well, and where the Board can improve, regarding that important guiding principle. 

Following the receipt and review of their questionnaire responses, I will definitely be marking my primary election ballot for:

Kirsten Coombs.  I know Kirsten as a community activist and chronicler of local events.  Her background as an accountant and experience as a member of Citizens' Operating Budget Review Committee are also compelling reasons to cast a ballot for her.  In addition, she can ask direct, informed questions while still being able to work with others in a respectful, collegial manner.  She has a deep understanding of education issues.  She received the endorsement of the Howard County Education Association.  I believe Kirsten, alongside like-minded colleagues, can help the Board chart a new, more productive way forward. 

Her answers on the questionnaire reflected a much-needed emphasis on promoting transparency, on “data based decision making,” and on accountability.  Her support for a “tracking log of Public Information requests that would allow people to track the status and resolution” of such requests strikes a chord.  Her stance on the reinstitution of “in-house counsel” is smart while her call for helping “parents of children with special needs” is compassionate.

Moreover, she was willing to acknowledge when the Board advanced the principle of collaboration, citing the occasion when the Board “acted unanimously to listen to the community’s concerns about the calendar including non-Christian holidays.”   This demonstrates an ability to be fair-minded, which I believe to be an important characteristic for any Board member.

Mavis Ellis.  Mavis possesses impeccable education credentials.  Her years as an educator, her long track record of professional accomplishments, and her leadership roles inside and outside of the classroom amount to an ideal candidate for the Howard County Board of Education.  Her reform-minded perspective and considerable subject matter expertise are attributes the Howard County Public School System needs.  Her endorsement by the Howard County Education Association is well deserved.

Her responses to my questionnaire were extremely detailed and thoughtful.  Her call to reinstate the Citizen’s Operating Budget Review Committee, for the HCPSS to provide an “inclusive curriculum,” for the “parents of students receiving Special Education” to know that “the Board will listen to their concerns without being judgmental,” and for a “listening campaign” to gather perspectives on “education priorities” from organizations around the County show her commitment to respecting the opinions of others.  It is evident that, if elected, she will be a constructive collaborator. 

I think both Kirsten and Mavis would be excellent Board members.

What about my third vote?  That will be the subject of Part Three.

Stay tuned, as more will follow.

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

The Road to Ellicott City (2016): Part One

For years, the McLean Bible Church has been running radio ads on WTOP with the message, “not a sermon, just a thought.”  I always found the spots disingenuous.  I think they are sermons; albeit very short ones.  Others may disagree.

With that in mind, this is not an endorsement post for the Howard County Board of Education Primary Election.  It is merely one voter’s reflections on the questions that will help structure a decision-making process. Some may think they are loaded questions, or an attempt to achieve or justify a certain outcome.  I do not believe my thumb is on the scale.

I am approaching this topic as someone who is not a parent.  I am not an educator, although the Mrs. is (in another county).  My primary concern is good, responsible governance by elected officials working alongside (although not always in concert with) other stakeholders. 

In light of the madness that seems to be overtaking large swathes of the American electorate, I am hoping that Howard County exceptionalism will manifest itself at the voting booths in both the primary and general elections this year.

First, there should be a consideration of the ideal Board of Education (as a collective entity) as well as the ideal Board of Education member.  Several key questions leap to mind.  What attributes are most important?  What do we, as citizens, have a right to expect in terms of proper behavior?  What skills are most in need?  Who is most concerned about promoting the common good? Who is sincerely committed to abiding by the stated Guiding Principles of the Howard County Public School System?  Who is truly focused on the children and their educational needs?  Who has the gravitas that the position deserves?

Employing those tests, and bearing in mind both the performance of the incumbents and promise of the challengers, it becomes easy to wish that all seven elected seats were contested this year.  In this way, there could be a true referendum on the direction the Board should take.  Alas, only three seats are up, with 11 candidates vying to be among the top six that will emerge out of the April primary.   So here we stand with three incumbents and eight challengers.

Frankly, in light of the public record and information found on such helpful resources as, I am inclined to believe that the present Board, as a collective body, is currently on the wrong track.  Among other issues, it is important to note that talking at people is not the same as talking with people.  With that in mind, this election provides an opportunity for course correction.  Thus, the question arises, which of the 11 choices would help bring about the reform that our Board of Education needs? 

It would be easier, from a messaging perspective, to adopt a “throw them all out” point-of-view.  It would be a simple, clean narrative.  However, reality is more complex than that.    
Personally, I believe that two incumbents up for re-election do not deserve to serve another term.  Frankly, these two do not deserve a top six finish in the primary.

Beyond that, there are multiple challengers that have not yet provided compelling rationales for their candidacies.

Adding all of the numbers up, I am left with six likely contenders, with two challengers in my top three.  I will definitely be voting for those two fine citizens.  Their identities will be revealed in the follow-up post.

I am undecided on my third choice.  For that position, I am torn between one incumbent and one of three challengers.  Note: one of the challengers that I was considering for my third choice opted to not respond to my questionnaire.  That person, at present #7 on my list, is currently not in contention for the third slot.

I will turn to my questionnaire, the illuminating responses, and my choices, in my next post.

Stay tuned, as more will follow.

Thursday, March 10, 2016

Cummings as the Vice Presidential Nominee


Like all of you, I read the Esquire article promoting Congressman Elijah Cummings (D- MD) as a potential Democratic Vice Presidential candidate in 2016.

I have commended Representative Cummings for his leadership during the recent crisis in Baltimore. He really showed his mettle.  That said…Vice President? His selection wouldn’t be a bad choice, but I am not certain he would be a top 20 pick, maybe top 50.

He checks some boxes.  He is a capable legislator, a better-than-average Member of Congress. I am sincerely not trying to gosh-darn him with faint praise.  Really.  He is sufficiently progressive for most Democrats.  He would hold his own on the debate stage against whomever the Republicans dredged up, which is not a trivial matter.  He would be qualified to become President, which is a far more significant measure. That said, I am not convinced he is the best option from Maryland, much less all of the other states in the Union. 

Of course much depends on several unsettled factors.  The identity of the Democratic nominee is not yet known.  Yes, I have done the math just like you have.  I know Secretary Hillary Clinton is well poised to become the presumptive nominee in the near future.  But what if Senator Bernie Sanders becomes the nominee? Or what if a political earthquake occurs and a third person receives the Democratic nomination this summer?  The article assumes Clinton, but it’s not a done deal…not yet.

Congressman Cummings might match up better for Senator Sanders, although I think Bernie, if I may be familiar, and perhaps a majority of the Democratic Party might prefer a woman as a running mate…with Senator Klobuchar, Senator Gillibrand, or Hillary Clinton herself being interesting choices. 

Part of my issue with Cummings, frankly, is his age.  With the two most likely Democratic nominees being rather mature citizens from a certain generation, I would prefer a bit of youth with the #2 pick.  Yes, both Clinton and Sanders seem indefatigable, but we have all seen the age progression that occurs.  POTUS years are not the same as non-POTUS years.  I don’t think it is a bad idea to have someone in their 40s or 50s holding down the VP slot.  I like Senator Elizabeth Warren and Senator Sherrod Brown, but they are in the same age range as Cummings.

Moreover, despite the recent GOP successes in our corner of the universe, Maryland is not a swing state.  Electorally, there is little to be gained by such a choice.  Thus, while former Governor Martin O’Malley would be a qualified selection, he doesn’t help with the math to 270 electoral votes.  The same logic applies for Secretary Tom Perez, who like O’Malley, I would probably pick ahead of Cummings.

So who then?  I would short list Secretary Julian Castro.  His presence would likely not flip Texas, not in 2016, but I believe that that state will realign and become more competitive in the not-too-distant future.  Clinton – Castro would be a heck of a good ticket.  The case for Castro is simply more compelling than the case for Cummings. I may expand on this later.

And of course there is the double-down philosophy.  Let’s see who did that in recent history, oh yes, Bill Clinton with Al Gore in 1992.  Two modern (for the time), accomplished Southern Baby Boomers.  Clinton-Klobuchar would reflect a similar line of thinking; Clinton-Gillibrand might be trickier, given the electoral issues related to residency.  Of course the NY-NY angle probably doesn’t help Clinton, unless Trump is 1) the nominee and 2) greatly expands the playing field…in which case Clinton has much bigger problems.  Klobuchar would definitely offer more upside than Cummings from an electoral perspective.

It’s too bad that Kamala Harris isn’t a Senator yet, although if California is competitive in 2016, see the note on Gillibrand.

Personally, I think Senator Cory Booker and Governor Deval Patrick would be better choices than Cummings.  Both are statewide office-holders, NJ is more of a swing state than MA or MD.  And yes, Patrick turns 60 this year, but he is a youthful almost 60.

While not a fan of dynasties, I do admit that a Clinton – Obama (Michelle) ticket would be instant-awesome-in-a-can.

In short, I know those of us in the Free State admire Congressman Cummings. I do.  Many of us think he should have run for the Senate this year.  I did.  Would I be OK with him as the Democratic Vice Presidential choice?  I would.

But I think there are better options, from both the political and governing points-of-view, and I think the Democrats need the strongest ticket possible to win this November.  Hopefully by a wide enough margin, with sufficient coat-tails, to allow Congressman Cummings to become Chairman Cummings.

Stay tuned, as more will follow.

Bovine Based Wisdom

There is an ancient Icelandic proverb, the modern English translation of which is: "The cows of Husavik sing, but only after well after dusk."  This, of course, is self-explanatory for those who dwell across the street from the Arctic Circle.

For those who don't catch the laughably evident meaning, it is both a cautionary tale as well as a recognition that we all possess talents that are seldom witnessed.  Regarding the former, it exhorts us to express ourselves before it is too take a stand, while the body and spirit permit, in defense of a cause, a principle, a community.  To the latter point, it encourages us to take not flinch in the face of risk.  It is easily among my favorite old Icelandic proverbs.  Probably Top 15.

Applied to our time and place, it could be read as a call for public service in some form...either by seeking office, or by volunteering, or by applying one's talents in a manner that promotes the common good.  I know many of my readers are already immersed in such activities. That said, there is another circle of folks, who have the time, energy, and temperament to engage in these pursuits, but they haven't reached the tipping point yet.  They stand by the river's edge, canoe at their feet.  Why not offer them an oar?

Which is my way of saying, if you know such people, perhaps it might be a good time to strike up a conversation about the meaning of community, volunteerism, and philanthropy.  Ask questions.  If they had the time to dedicate to a cause, what would they want to do?  When appropriate, offer suggestions.  Perhaps he/she/they simply don't know where to begin their journey.  Be understanding.  Sometimes people need to sit with the "How can I help?" question for a while.  Encourage them, but allow them to work out their own timetable.
They will remember that you helped provide the sheet music.  And when they thank you, remember to respond, "Don't thank me.  Thank the cows of Husavik."  Chuckle knowingly.

Stay tuned, as more will follow.         

Monday, March 7, 2016


With the Howard County Board of Education Primary Election fast approaching, I decided to refocus from a one-on-one verbal question and answer session to a written homework assignment.

Here are the rules:

1) Only the 11 current Board of Education candidates can respond to these questions.
2) The responses are due by 8 pm Eastern, March 14, 2016.
3) The answers should be emailed to:
4) I reserve the right to quote, and attribute, your responses as part of a future blog post.

Here are the questions:

1) Thought experiment. Much is made of the Board of Education acting as a collaborative body, but it is one comprised of unique individuals with different backgrounds, perspectives, and talents.  With that in mind...

What if you can replace, immediately, all of the other board members with clones of yourself.  Assuming you can work collaboratively with your other selves, what specifically would you want to accomplish in the next two years? In the next four?

2a) If you are an incumbent:  Why should we trust you with another four year term?

2b) If you are a challenger:  Why should we trust you with a four year term?

3) What is the single biggest dysfunction impacting the Board and how can it be resolved over the course of the next four years?

4) The HCPSS lists , among a set of “guiding principles,” the following:

“Fostering a culture of collaboration, trust, and shared responsibility” (source:

Thinking about the past four years, Please provide one example of how the Board advanced that principle and one example of how the Board acted in a manner that ran counter to that principle.  Please elaborate on both examples.

I look forward to receiving your responses.  

Stay tuned, as more will follow.

Friday, March 4, 2016

Collect Counsel

"You have a collect call from a, uh, Stats McCool. Do you accept the charges?" the operator intoned.

"Slats MacCune. And sure, why not" I replied.

The line crackled for a moment as I pondered why anyone outside of prison calls collect these days.

"You there? Sorry, I can't seem to find my mobile," Slats stammered.

"Yeah. You working or luxuriating these days?" I inquired.

"Always work. Retirement is for suckers.  Anyway, you have a connection with Trump's organization?"

"Not a one.  Why?"

"Let me tell you, Trump should have sent his plane to pick up Mitt yesterday.  Offered to fly him out to the debate, or to California to file papers, or wherever.  The media would have split screen the whole thing, the Donald on one half, his plane on the other with a clock marking the time.  'Where is Romney? Will Romney accept the challenge?'  Trump should have done this right after Romney mouthed off, but he can still do it. So you don't know Corey?" Slats rapid-fired, clearly hoping for a "yes," an introduction Mr. C. Lewandowki [n.b., Campaign Manager, Trump for President], and a slice of Trump's coffers.  Not necessarily in that order.

"Well, that would have dominated the news cycle, starved the remaining three of some political oxygen by making the storyline Trump vs. Romney at a critical juncture.  It would have been an impressive show of strength," I admitted.  Slats hadn't lost a step, even if his phone was misplaced.

"Exactly.  At which point Romney either demurs, showing weakness, or he runs straight into the buzzsaw.  Either way, Trump wins," said Slats, his voice nearing shout levels.

"Interesting.  Hey Slats, I'm hearing some background noise on your end."

"Oh yeah, loud copier in this office," he replied.

"One that sounds like steel drum music?" I asked.

"Listen, I gotta go.  Oh wait, my cell was in my pocket the whole time. Go figure."


Stay tuned, as more will follow.