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HCPS Board Meeting Highlights

Monday, October 23, 2006

Questions regarding these Board Highlights may be directed to Don Morrison, Director of Public Information, 410-588-5203.

The Board of Education of Harford County met in open business session on Monday, October 23, 2006 beginning at 6:33 p.m. in the Board Room of the Harford County Public Schools Administration Building, 102 S. Hickory Avenue, Bel Air. The following actions and discussions took place.

RECOGNITIONS

The Board of Education conducted three recognition ceremonies. The first involved the induction of Shirley Kuenzler into the HCPS Educator Hall of Fame. Ms. Kuenzler, a native of Florida, spent many years as a bookkeeper before drifting into college seeking an elementary teacher's certification. She came to Harford County in 1961 and spent 30 years as a first or second grade teacher and logged two years as an assistant principal in the newly integrated Hickory Elementary School (1965-67) before returning fulltime to her first love in the classroom. Ms. Kuenzler retired in 1991 after a deteriorating hearing condition made it impossible for her to continue. She volunteered for another ten years at Hickory, assisting teachers in their classrooms. Ms. Kuenzler received a series of certificates and awards from elected officials, the Harford County Retired School Personnel Association, the Board, and Superintendent Jacqueline C. Haas. She thanked those who made her career a success and expressed how humbled she was to have been added to the HCPS Educator Hall of Fame.

The second recognition involved the presentation of certificates to the officers of the new "fifth bargaining unit" - the Association of Harford County Administrative, Technical, and Supervisory Professionals (AHCATSP). Senior Human Resources Manager Jeff Fradel presented the officers who received their certificates from Superintendent Haas and Board President Mark M. Wolkow.

The third recognition concerned four students and their faculty chaperone from the Science/Math Academy at Aberdeen High School who were selected through a competitive process to take part in a 44-student, week-long study this past summer at the Keystone Center, Colorado on childhood nutrition and obesity. The students - Michelle Guignet, Joanna Catalano, Vidur Tangri, and Alex Jakobsson (not present); and SMA faculty member Nathaniel Sloan were introduced by the Academy's Coordinator Donna Clem who said the results of the study will be used by authorities in helping to address the key issue. The students and Mr. Sloan received Board certificates recognizing their contributions.

GENERAL PUBLIC COMMENT

Larry English spoke to the Board on the topic of grandfathering of ninth graders involved in the upcoming redistricting. He said, if they are not allowed to remain in their current school, they could attend three different schools in a four-year period. He asked that the Superintendent's Technical Advisory Committee (STAC) explore the possibility prior to the Board's next meeting and pointed out that grandfathering those students would help alleviate problems with double-busing.

Gregory Plotycia, a 29-year HCPS teacher, spoke about impending changes in the employee 403B tax deferred annuity plan, which would require there to be just one approved vendor for the service involving employee payroll deduction. He said the right of employees to make their own decisions in this matter is being abridged. Mr. Plotycia said, the Internal Revenue Service has delayed implementation of regulation changes which are forcing the move until 2008 and asked why HCPS is making the change now. He said it was a "handy excuse" to reduce paperwork in the HCPS central office and asked that the Board "treat us like professionals capable of making our own decisions."

OLD BUSINESS

ACTION ITEMS

CONSENT AGENDA

Acting on the motion of Board Member Patrick L. Hess and the second of Board Member Salina M. Williams, the Board unanimously passed items on the Consent Agenda, including: Monthly Report on Personnel; Decision on Contract, Construction Management Services, Joppatowne Elementary School Modernization; Decision on Contract, Architectural/Engineering Services, Prospect Mill Gym Addition; Decision on Contract, Architectural/Engineering Services, Edgewood/Deerfield Project; Decision on Contract, Architectural/Engineering Services, Aberdeen High Addition; Decision on Contract Award for Five Vans; Proposed Resolutions on American Education Week, National Educational Support Personnel Day, National Family Week, Impact Area Aid Assistance, and American Patriotism in Harford County Schools.

Prior to consideration of proposed changes in start/finish of the high school schedules for the 2007-08 school year in relation to transportation issues, the Board accepted public comment on the topic.

Cindy Mumby, representing the Bel Air High School PTSA Executive Board, said the group had voted not to accept the moving up of the high school start/finish times by 15 minutes to accommodate a wider window between the high school and middle school schedules. She said research confirms what parents already know to the point that high school aged students are more attuned to a later start/finish time. She said the situation is exacerbated by the new block schedule. She suggested the alternative of delaying the start/finish of the middle/elementary school day to provide the needed additional bus transportation time.

Matt Lowe, a student at Bel Air High, said he had surveyed 41 high school students about the earlier opening/closing of school and found five percent agreed, ten percent didn't care, and 85 percent definitely did not want an earlier opening.

Mr. Hess moved and Board Past President R. Robin Rich and Board Member Lee Merrell seconded that the proposed altering of the high school schedule to a 7:30 a.m. start and a 2:00 p.m. conclusion be accepted. Mr. Merrell said there is not sufficient time to do studies on the issue now but said he would like to see the issue brought back for review after it is implemented. Ms. Rich pointed out that Harford County and Cecil County Public Schools are now in an athletic league (the Upper Chesapeake Bay Athletic Conference) where a significant change in the start/stop time of HCPS schools would impact games played in that league involving Cecil teams. Student Representative to the Board Jennifer L. Cook said she could not support the change based on her knowledge of student feelings on the matter. Mr. Wolkow said STAC should look into options because student achievement must be at the center of all the Board does. Dr. Haas said the school administration wants all its high schools on the same schedule and altering any of the schedules would require the addition of more buses. The Superintendent said, to be able to transport all students in a timely manner on the current schedule would require the addition of 24 new buses rather than the seven already needed to accommodate the grandfathering of juniors and seniors whose residences are involved in the impending redistricting for next year. Board Member John Smilko said his "informal" survey of his two high school-aged children showed they don't agree with the change either. However, the Board voted unanimously (with a dissenting preferential vote from Ms. Cook) to support the change in start/end time for high schools beginning next school year.

In a related matter, Ms. Rich moved, Mr. Smilko seconded, and the Board voted unanimously to establish the standard 1 mile student walking distance to the new Patterson Mill Middle/High School. Also, Mr. Hess moved and Mr. Merrell seconded (but subsequently withdrew their actions) that the HCPS Facilities Department explore the possibility of building a pathway at the rear of the new school for walkers from a nearby neighborhood. The motion/second was withdrawn when Supervisor of Planning and Construction Kathleen Sanner said such a path is already being built as part of the construction project.

A review of the Annual Report on Enrollment and Projections was conducted by Assistant Superintendent of Operations Joseph P. Licata; and Executive Directors of Elementary and Secondary Education Patricia Skebeck and David Volrath, respectively. Mr. Licata said the report showed that student enrollment in the county is down by more than 600 students compared to this time last school year 2006 Enrollment Report -- Mrs. Skebeck and Mr. Volrath speculated that the decline may be related to soldiers leaving the Aberdeen Proving Ground not being replaced as part of the Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) process; and the elimination of a housing development in Havre de Grace from which a significant number of elementary students had been coming. Ms. Rich said BRAC may bring more secondary students than elementary and Dr. Haas said a study of potential BRAC children potentially coming to Harford would be released after Thanksgiving. Mr. Licata said 17 of the 32 elementary schools in the county are above 95 percent capacity. Mr. Volrath said there will be "some space" in all secondary schools after redistricting is completed. Mr. Licata said the STAC will provide its report on recommendations for actions to be taken to balance enrollment will be delivered to the Board in November.

Mrs. Sanner and Mr. Licata presented Design Development documents on the new Bel Air High School to the Board, noting that Board approval was needed for the documents to be forwarded to the Maryland State Department of Education's (MSDE) approval. Action was also sought to approve the construction manager contract. Mrs. Sanner said the design, which had used Aberdeen High School as a model, reflected "lessons learned" from the Aberdeen building. After reviewing the documents (Click here to access the Design Documents for Bel Air High School) and commenting on energy-savings and other improvements planned for the new Bel Air High, acting on the motion of Ms. Rich and the second of Mrs. Williams, the Board voted unanimously to approve the Superintendent's recommendations.

Acting on the motion of Mr. Smilko and the second of Ms. Rich, the Board voted unanimously to approve the design development documents related to the modernization of Joppatowne Elementary School. Mrs. Sanner reviewed many of the proposed improvements to the school, including an enlarged gymnasium, a television studio, math space and diagnostic test area, collapsible bleachers, instructional areas around the gym, an enhanced front entrance to the school, a media center with a computer instructional area, and more - (Click here to access the Design Documents for Joppatowne Elementary).

Chief Financial Officer John M. Markowski told the Board that changes in the HCPS employee retirement registration and fee structure are necessary to meet the realities of costs involved. He said current employees are "subsidizing" the relatively higher cost of health benefits used by retirees. He said the Superintendent is proposing that a tiered rate schedule for retirees be established and that they be allowed a one-time registration period (unless their life situations change). He said the leadership of the Retired School Personnel Association has been aware of the proposed changes for some time. It was made clear that no benefits were being cut and that the Board would continue paying 80 or 90 percent of the health benefits (depending on the plan), though the premiums for retirees will increase. Acting on the motion of Ms. Rich and the second of Mrs. Hess, the Board voted unanimously to establish the one-time enrollment period (April 2007); and, acting on the motion of Mr. Hess and the second of Mr. Merrell, the Board voted unanimously to institute the new retiree tiered rate structure, effective July 2007.

Mr. Markowski and Director of Finance Jay Staab introduced an official from the accounting firm of Clifton Gunderson who presented the Board with results of the annual audit report. The representative said there were no "reportable conditions or findings" disclosed by the audit, adding there were "no weaknesses" in the financial reporting of the system during the 2005-06 period covered by the audit. Mr. Wolkow said the report is significant and shows "public monies have been taken care of in a good manner - this gives the Board and the public indication that their monies are being accurately managed."

Mr. Markowski said a decision on the proposed changes to the employee 403B plan is not up for action at this meeting, but that the school system must comply with new IRS regulations by January 1, 2008. He said the proposed change (which would reduce from the current 16 to one the providers of tax deferred annuity plans to HCPS employees) would not impact those who plan to retire by June 30, 2007. Mr. Markowski said the new regulations require HCPS to monitor vendors' performance in the area of TDAs. He said the Bolton Partners consultant, which has been working with the school system to design the new TDA offering, are not vendors. The group established the selection criteria for the request for proposals that invited the 16 companies now offering TDAs to make a proposal to be the single provider. He emphasized the new system would have one provider but not just one fund, with the provider selected offering a variety of funds in which employees could invest their money.

Assistant Superintendent for Human Resources Jonathan O'Neal and members of his office presented the Board with a series of reports on teacher employment and retention. Among the points made in the report was that Harford was second only to Howard County in having the lowest percentage of teacher turnover last year. He discussed the recruiting program, noting that HCPS agents had visited 77 colleges in 16 states this past year. Mr. O'Neal discussed some of the reasons stated by teachers for coming to Harford and for remaining here for their careers. Mr. Wolkow said "we must be doing something right" noting the 92.5 percent retention rate for teachers.

Dr. Haas presented her Superintendent's Report, introducing Mrs. Skebeck who, in turn, introduced Amy Kraft, a teacher at Prospect Mill Elementary School who, as part of her administrative intern work, oversaw the creation of brochures on subjects taught in kindergarten through fifth grade describing what children will learn. Mrs. Skebeck said the public can go to the HCPS website and view the brochures. She said it is hoped sufficient quantities will be available for use during the upcoming early November parent/teacher conferences. Dr. Haas reminded the public that, as part of the "paperless" effort involving Board meetings, agendas and Board exhibits will be available online (www.hcps.org) the Friday prior to Monday Board meetings and that most reports/documents/and other supporting material will be available on the school system website the morning following the Monday meetings. She discussed upcoming changes in the way MSDE gathers race/ethnic information on students with new codes being established. Dr. Haas displayed voting sheets that were being employed by Patterson Mill Middle/High School Principal Wayne Thibeault in allowing students ticketed to go to the new school and others cast ballots for the school mascot and school colors. She said Mr. Thibeault will bring the results to the Board when all the votes are tabulated.

During the Board Comment period, Mrs. Williams reminded parents to go on the EdLine computer program to check their child's grades (secondary students only) so they won't be surprised by the grades on first term report cards. She reminded parents about the upcoming American Education Week visitation schedule. She thanked those who had provided expressions of support during a recent family health crisis. Mr. Smilko said he had taken his child to a school for her PSAT exams and said it was "like an airport" with the number of students there to take the tests. Ms. Rich commented on the new MSDE race code surveys, noting how difficult the process is. She reminded the County government how essential it is that land needed for new elementary schools be identified and urged that the land be secured. Mr. Wolkow said the HCPS website currently has a "Hot Topics" category where information on a variety of issues of interest to the public has been placed with more to be added in the future so that the "public can get a good understanding of how we do our business." He said the many efforts on the part of the school system to build energy efficiency into its buildings "may cost a bit more but it will save us money in the long run." Mr. Wolkow said that safety is always a focus area and suggested the system look into seatbelt use on special education buses, noting a bill in the General Assembly which would have mandated such a circumstance had been withdrawn last session. He talked about the withdrawal by the County Council of a proposed property tax cap which would have hamstrung the school operation as well as other agencies that use County money to operate. Mr. Wolkow thanked the County legislators for that withdrawal. Mr. Wolkow discussed a recent article showing that those people who do not finish high school stand to earn about 65 percent of what a high school graduate will earn in his/her lifetime. Those who earn a college degree earn 72 percent more than those who do not. He discussed the recent Greater Edgewood Education Foundation gala, calling it a "resounding success," noting that Superintendent Haas spoke "eloquently" about former William Paca/Old Post Road Elementary Principal Frank Tull who passed away on the second day of school. He said there had been a turnout of 180 people attending the Richlin Ballroom event; and noted the presentation made by a representative of the Walter Reed Hospital.

With no more business to come before the Board, the meeting was adjourned at 9:56 p.m.


This document contains a summary of issues that came before the Board of Education of Harford County and actions taken by the Board at the public business meeting at the meeting date referenced on the document. These are not official Board-approved minutes. Board minutes are not posted on the HCPS web site because of the time lapse that occurs between the meeting, their preparation, and ultimate approval by the Board.
For copies of approved Board minutes, please e-mail Lynn.Sweatt@hcps.org