Fact-checking claims in the school board race

Mon, Nov 3, 2014

General Education, Uncategorized

Many of the same tenets are at the heart of campaigns for the eight candidates seeking seats on the Frederick County Board of Education this year: They want to keep local control, identify where money can best be spent and do what’s best for children.

But there are plenty of numbers involved, many claims about funds and learning in the era of Common Core State Standards, and more than a few ideas on which county executive candidate would best serve schools.

As election season comes to a close, here’s a roundup of some half-truths and fallacies thrown around this cycle.

Claim: Mike Ferrell: “Maryland teachers are 4th in average pay amongst the 50 states.” — Facebook, May 22

Check: False. The National Education Association ranked Maryland fourth in the mideast region, which also includes Delaware, Washington, New Jersey, New York and Pennsylvania, for estimated average annual teacher salary in 2013-2014.

Maryland placed eighth of all 50 states and D.C. for estimated average annual classroom teacher salary at $64,868. The state was also seventh in average starting teacher salary at $43,235 in 2012-2013, according to the NEA.

But statewide salaries are skewed by districts that pay more, like Baltimore city, Montgomery County and Calvert County, according to Maryland State Department of Education data. For first-year teachers, only Carroll County paid a lower first-step salary than Frederick County in 2013-2014, at $40,400 to $40,706.

Claim: Ken Kerr: “In 2011, the state increased funding to schools by $71 million … all of the schools collectively only increased funding by $30 million.” — Frederick News-Post candidate forum, Oct. 14

Check: False. Montgomery County Public Schools received $71 million more in state education aid, and their budget increased by $30 million in 2011-2012, according to the Montgomery County Education Association website. Though Kerr was using the numbers to back up his belief that schools should be funded higher than the state-mandated minimum, those figures don’t correlate to low school system funding in Frederick County.

Kerr’s campaign website also claims the Frederick County dropout rate is 5.05 percent, but that was true in 2011. Now, the four-year adjusted cohort dropout rate is 3.84 percent, according to state data.

Claim: “There was never a vote to align the entire FCPS curriculum with Common Core.” — Young Miller Cusimano Ferrell For BOE Facebook page, Oct. 20

Check: True. But the alignment transition rolled out in a series of votes, not one single decision.

In July 2010, former Superintendent Linda Burgee created a task force to look at the content and rigor of Frederick County Public Schools’ high school program after the Maryland State Board of Education voted to adopt the Common Core State Standards that June.

The group returned in February 2011 with a report that included recommendations to “increase the academic intensity of the FCPS program, K-12” and “complete the curricular revisions required to fully incorporate the Common Core Standards,” according to school board meeting minutes.

Those recommendations were adopted by a unanimous vote that included April Miller and Brad Young. The board also passed later changes, including a May 2011 decision to align kindergarten through grade two math curriculum to Common Core standards, and received periodic updates on the three-year transition from 2010 to 2013.

On Oct. 9, 2013, the school board voted 6-1 to revise parts of the public school curriculum to align with Common Core State Standards. Colleen Cusimano was the only member opposed.

The revisions officially set Common Core frameworks as the “minimal competency” for developing English language arts curriculum in grades three through 11, The Frederick News-Post previously reported. English 12 remained as the same composition course.

A school system report said all middle school math courses, Algebra 1 and geometry would use Common Core standards by the 2014-2015 school year.

Changes approved also included more emphasis on research in media curriculum, lessons on muscles in elementary health and physical education, greater focus on science, engineering and math in career and technology courses, as well as financial literacy and business skills in the agriculture industry.

English Language Learner curriculum was approved to be more rigorous and align with national language development standards as well, The Frederick News-Post reported.

Claim: Colleen Cusimano: “Jan Gardner’s (Board of County Commissioners) sought twice to fund schools at below minimum.” — Facebook, Oct. 20

Check: True. Gardner’s board did ask for state waivers to fund below the minimum state-mandated level in fiscal 2010 and 2011, after greater past contributions and a poor economy following the height of the recession. Commissioners withdrew the requests in both years after compromising with the school board.

The county provided the school system with $93 million more than required by those rules since fiscal 2000, County Finance Director John Kroll told The Frederick News-Post in 2009. County funding to the school board has increased by nearly $39 million, or 19 percent, since fiscal 2007.

That includes Gardner’s presidency from calendar 2006 to 2010, as well as Blaine Young’s presidency from 2010 to the present.

The county allocation to the school board grew by more than 8 percent in fiscal 2007 and 2008, then dropped to a lesser increase of 3.87 percent in fiscal 2009, according to budget documents. The appropriation shrank by 0.8 percent in fiscal 2010 and again by 0.03 percent in fiscal 2011 during the Gardner board’s last year.

It saw tepid growth at 0.36 percent in fiscal 2012 under Blaine Young’s board, then slightly better at 3.54 in fiscal 2013. The allocation grew by 2.67 percent in fiscal 2014, and by 0.05 percent in the most recent fiscal year.

Follow Rachel S. Karas on Twitter: @rachelkaras. ___

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