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HCPS Board Meeting Highlights

Monday, November 7, 2005

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

At the business meeting on November 7, 2005, held at the Center for Educational Opportunity building, the following actions and discussions took place:

Board President R. Robin Rich announced that Board Immediate Past President Robert W. Thomas, Jr. had accepted a job with the Harford County Sheriff's Office which precludes him from taking part in Board meetings. (Mr. Thomas has been serving on the Board since July 2005 beyond his ten-year, two-term limit pending the appointment of a replacement for the position which represents the Joppatowne area.) Board Member Patrick L. Hess was also not present for the meeting.


John Lee of Havre de Grace, accompanied by Janice Grant of Aberdeen, made a presentation to the Board on behalf of having a permanent museum to African-Americans erected in honor of former Harford County Public School educator Dr. Percy V. Williams. Dr. Williams was also a State Assistant Superintendent, a ten-year Harford County Board of Education Member, and two-time president of the group. Mr. Lee said he is opposed to another school being named for Dr. Williams who is already honored by sharing the name of Roye-Williams Elementary School with former Havre de Grace Consolidated School Principal Leon Roye. Mrs. Grant read a letter from County Executive David Craig supporting the possibility of renaming the Center for Educational Opportunity building for Dr. Williams. Mr. Lee said he doesn't know where elected officials in Havre de Grace got the impression he is seeing the renaming of Havre de Grace Elementary School for Dr. Williams.



Acting on the motion of Board Member Salina M. Williams and the second of Board Member Lee Merrell, the Board unanimously approved items on the Consent Agenda including Affirmation of Monthly Contract Awards, Resolution for Parks & Recreation State Grant for Hall's Cross Roads Elementary School; Approval of Award for Reading Materials and Textbooks for Secondary Schools; and Approval of General Legislative Positions with corrections. Board Vice President Mark M. Wolkow pointed out that part of the approval of legislative positions includes the support of a recent initiative by the Maryland Association of Boards of Education (MABE) to seek $400 million in school constructions funds for FY 2007.



Acting on the motion of Mr. Wolkow and the second of Board Member Thomas L. Fidler, Jr., the Board voted unanimously to approve the designation of a fifth employee unit to be composed of supervisory or managerial non-certificated employees. Assistant Superintendent for Human Resources Jon O'Neal told the Board the Annotated Code of Maryland allows local boards to designate up to three non-certified units. He said, a third non-certified unit representing the managerial/supervisory non-certificated personnel, would better align the Harford County Public Schools with the Annotated Code and the school system's operating procedures. Prior to the motion, HCPS non-certificated personnel had been represented by the Harford County Educational Services Council (HCESC) and the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) Local 2467.


The Board of Education received a presentation from Executive Director of Secondary Education David Volrath and Supervisor of High School Physical Education and Athletics Forest Wiest on the first quarter results from a toughened extra-curricular eligibility policy put into place by the Board effective the last quarter of the 2004-05 school year. The amended policy declares a high school student ineligible for any extra curricular activity if he or she receives more than one 'E' on their report card (the former policy permitted participation unless the student had received more than two 'E's' in a quarter). Mr. Wiest said the number of students potentially ineligible as a result of the more stringent policy increased from 1,603 in the fourth quarter of the 2003-04 school year to 1,938 in the fourth quarter of the 2004-05 school year (which determines eligibility for the following fall first quarter) - an increase of 17 percent. Mr. Wiest emphasized that the number represents a raw count of the total number of high school students, not necessarily those who would have participated in an extra curricular activity. The report presented by Mr. Wiest showed there had been 101 appeals of ineligibility by students as a result of the fourth quarter 2004-05 grades compared to 58 in a similar period resulting from the fourth quarter of the 2003-04 report cards. He explained that eligibility committees are empowered at each school to listen to extenuating circumstances out of the student's control that may have caused him/her to fail one or more courses. Mrs. Williams said in her opinion it is "not okay" to fail a course. Mr. Wolkow, noting the Board is on a path that would further strengthen the policy beginning in the fourth quarter of the 2005-06 school year (for eligibility in the fall first quarter of 2006-07) to no 'E's,' said he wonders whether the Board may be moving to quickly in its implementation of the more stringent standards. Mr. Fidler said he would be intrigued by how many students would be ineligible entering the spring season of this school year. Mr. Wiest pointed out the policy applies to all extra-curricular activities, not just athletics. He said examination of the figures show four schools actually had less students ineligible this quarter compared to a similar period in 2004-05 (North Harford, Edgewood, Joppatowne, and Harford Technical high schools), while four others (Aberdeen, Bel Air, Havre de Grace, and C. Milton Wright high schools) had more students ineligible. Fallston High had no appreciable change. The Superintendent's recommendation was the Board consider the data as it moves toward its 'no failure' eligibility for the 2006-07 school year.

Coordinator of Safety and Security Robert Benedetto presented the Board with an update on activities of his department and initiatives taken to make schools safer for students and staff. Mr. Benedetto discussed random drug sniffing dog scans done at least twice each school year in the high schools and once in the middle schools. He pointed to critical incident plans done by each school which provide a clear plan as to what actions would be taken in case of an incident at the school. The Safety and Security Coordinator gave Board members a "virtual" demonstration of the surveillance cameras being installed in and outside school buildings in the county.

Executive Director of Elementary Education Patricia Skebeck was joined by her counterpart in the secondary schools, Mr. Volrath, to present the Board with a look at class sizes in the schools. Both the school leaders said the 162 new teaching positions provided through the fully-funded FY 06 budget had allowed class sizes to improve. In the elementary schools, in grades one through five, class size declined from 21.8 last school year to 21.0 this school year. Average class sizes range from 18.6 at grade one to 22.9 at grade five. Mrs. Skebeck said the situation had been helped by a decline of 150 students this school year compared to last. She said there remain no elementary school classes over 30 students. Mr. Volrath said this year's data shows a decrease of 2.6 students per class in the secondary schools - from 26.3 in 2004-05 to 23.7 students this year. He said the additional teachers had allowed schools to decrease the number of their classes with more than 35 students from 100 in 2004-05 to 46 this year - with most of those being in the performing arts classes such as band and chorus.

Board Counsel Patrick Spicer presented the Board with a proposed policy on visitors in the schools. The policy, developed in coordination with the Safety & Security Office, provides support for regulations that would protect and secure the safety of all students, staff, and others in the schools. Mr. Spicer also presented the Board with a set of procedures (which the Board does not take action on) which would set up a system of providing dated visitors passes to those not employed in the school system which must be returned when leaving the building. The procedures call for all exterior doors at the buildings equipped with remote door access controls be locked during the school day. Schools without remote access will have only one door open during the day. External doors will be closed after students/staff exit. The Board of Education will accept public comment on the proposed Visitor Policy for the next month, pending anticipated action at its December 12, 2005 meeting.


Dr. Haas said the school system leadership will appear before the State Delegation (November 9) along with other local agencies to discuss priorities for the upcoming General Assembly Session. She said American Education Week will be held November 13th through 19th with the theme of "A Strong America Starts With Great Public Schools." She said the public is invited on any day during the week, but special invitations have been sent for grandparents on Monday, November 14; Pre-kindergarten/Kindergarten/even grades on Tuesday, November 15; and odd grades on Wednesday, November 16. Dr. Haas discussed results of the Maryland Adolescent Survey given to selected sixth, eighth, tenth, and twelfth graders in December 2004 and released October 26th. She emphasized the majority of Harford County Public School students do not use illicit drugs. She added the results provide a "clear message" to families that those who talk to their children about the dangers of drugs, families that eat together, and families where the child knows there is someone who cares whether he or she uses drugs or smokes cigarettes result in less abuse of the substances. Dr. Haas said, despite a headline that appeared in the local newspaper, Harford's twelfth graders do not lead the state/nation in use of controlled dangerous substances, but they are above state averages in most categories. She said, the good news is, the rates of use fell in this survey compared to the one done in 2002 for 23 of the 24 categories among high school seniors with the 24th remaining the same. She added that declines among eighth, tenth, and twelfth graders were "pretty significant." Dr. Haas said, alarmingly, some rates - though still very small - did increase among sixth graders. She emphasized that drug/alcohol education is a priority in schools. She credited the support of community and local governmental agencies as helping in the fight against drug/alcohol/tobacco use by Harford youth. Dr. Haas mentioned the upcoming visit of State Superintendent Nancy S. Grasmick to Harford County (November 16th/Fallston Middle School) to highlight a new year of emphasizing a program called Maryland Pride, which points out the positive things happening in the schools. She noted the partnership with Comcast has made the program special and added that Dr. Grasmick chose Harford to kick off the renewed program "because she sees much to be proud of in Harford County."


Mr. Merrell said he had enjoyed the Town Meetings co-hosted by the Board of Education and the Harford Business Roundtable for Education the last week of October. He said the meeting he attended at Fallston High School resulted in the accumulating of valuable information from the public.

Mrs. Williams echoed Mr. Merrell's comments about the Town Meetings, noted a successful Harford Equity Leadership Program (HELP) conference the previous week, and pointed to a strong effort in the Parent Forum held November 1st at Aberdeen High School - even though the parent turnout was relatively slight.

Mr. Wolkow joined his colleagues in praising the leadership of Ms. Rich and the Superintendent and her staff in carrying out the Town Meetings. He said they were impressive beyond his expectations.

Ms. Rich said the Town Meetings will not be the last time the public is engaged in a similar way. She said the Board received a lot of useful information from them which will be reviewed at a public work session to be held on November 16th (CEO Building, 7:00 p.m.). Ms. Rich said the answers to questions one and two - visioning and magnet schools - would be used in helping the Board revisit its goals; while the information gained on the third question - redistricting - would be put to use as the Board begins receiving proposals from the Technical Advisory Committee on Balancing Enrollment (November 28th, CEO Building, 7:00 p.m.). She added she was impressed at how Board members rolled up their sleeves and took part in discussions with those citizens who attended. Ms. Rich said that she and the Superintendent had attended an all day meeting hosted by the County Executive on the Base Realignment and Closing (BRAC) process that day and both had been asked to serve on a task force whose work could continue for three to four years. She said emphasis had been placed on all parties working as a team to absorb the impact of those people expected to come to Harford as a result of BRAC. Ms. Rich said the bill was due to become law the next day. Ms. Rich said the County Executive had expressed his desire to see Bel Air and Edgewood high school modernizations/replacements occur sooner than later, asking that architectural and design money requests be included in the FY 07 budget, with work on the buildings to be done in FY 08/09. "I couldn't be more pleased," Ms. Rich said, adding that the County needs to obtain two additional elementary school properties (added to the one it already has) in the near future. She said there will be the need to have a middle school in the central Bel Air area to team with Patterson Mill Middle/High which will need to be converted into a 1,600 seat high school in short order. And, she said, there is a short term need for a second technical high school with the possibility of some technical programs being "farmed out" from Harford Technical High School to other schools. The Board President said there is an immediate need that the county supply the school system with land to be used for future schools. She said the teacher's union (Harford County Education Association) "can and must" be a partner in change that will benefit students and called for "empathetic listening" on the part of both employee associations and school system negotiators at the upcoming contract negotiations.


Director of Transportation Norman Seidel presented the Board with options to provide for the ability to continue delivering students and getting them home on time. Mr. Seidel said, especially in the afternoons, it is getting more and more difficult for the four-tiered system of busing high school, middle school, and third and fourth tier elementary students. He said the "window" between the runs - most of which are covered by the same buses and drivers - is not wide enough to permit the safe and timely delivery of students. Mr. Seidel said the current 30 minute window between middle and high school runs is not sufficient, adding that his department needs at least 45 minutes between those runs to make the service possible. He said the widening of the window would increase the time bus drivers would work and would result in an increased cost in salaries of about $400,000. Ms. Rich said the Board would take up the issue of providing for sufficient time to complete bus runs at its January meetings. She directed the Superintendent to seek input from those in the school system and from the public in suggesting solutions to the problem.

With no more business to come before the Board, the meeting was adjourned at 9:00 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