HCPSS Survey on Student Participation in Distance Learning

The purpose of this memorandum is to inform you that the Maryland State Department of Education asked all Maryland local education agencies to particiapate in a distance learning survey. The survey is designed to gauge students’ access and engagement with online learning over the week of Monday, April 27 to Friday, May 1. Howard County Public School System returned the below reponses to the survey on Wednesday, May 13. Here is the document.

APFO 2020 School Capacity Chart

Adequate Public Facilities Ordinance (APFO) School Capacity charts are utilized as part of the growth management process of Howard County for new residential developments. The test year for the 2020 APFO School Capacity Charts is SY 2023-24. For SY 2023-24, there are 20 elementary, five middle and five high schools, and three elementary school regions listed as constrained (see Attachment 2). impact of Board approved SY 2020-21 boundaries has been taken into account for these School Capacity Charts.

Here are the school capacity charts.

Board Member Report 2020-05-14

Board Member Report

2020-05-14, Thursday

Revised for publication.

First, I want to thank Ms. Min Woo, Specialist and Mr. James Lemon, Executive Director of Community, Parent and School Outreach for hosting the Well-Being in the Asian Community seminar. I dialed-in and listened for a while. I just missed Dr. Martirano’s excellent speech. It was a great seminar for the community. 

We have been hearing more feedback from our parents, students and teachers.  For students with special needs or resource limited families, please keep reaching out to school and discuss your children’s needs and how the school can help to meet their needs. 

For High School seniors, we care about their graduation, one of the most important ceremonies before their grown-up life. 

For High School juniors, they worry about their senior year experience and graduation next year. Please notice that everything will be a little different and take some time to self-reflect, manage your course-load and re-prioritize your curriculum. 

At the elementary school level, we are keeping revising our distant learning practice. I believe the school can do a little more than we are having now. For example, 

  1. Having more, short virtual meetings with teachers and peer students online. Building a connected classroom with our teacher and classmates of younger ones will also help our students’ psychosocial well-beings. It does not need to be long and well-scripted. Even a fireside chat with our teachers, a joke around with their peer classmates will be very helpful. 
  2. Providing a curriculum less intense, more engaged and more organized. Building and keeping a good routine for our young students will help them in the long run. Helping them to learn to be self-disciplined and being resilient, being independent from a daily, not so rigid agenda will help our students. 
  3. If a teacher wants to engage more with their classroom and students, we should encourage that engagement. Sure, we don’t want to  overburden our teachers. 

When we look back in the future, we may realize it is NOT what the academic knowledge our children learn, but the way we deal with this unprecedented crisis. Our children will learn flexibility, adaptability, accountability, discipline, compassion, and resilience. These great traits will benefit them all the way in the future.

Another topic I would like to highlight: we need to use this opportunity and time to prepare on how to integrate distance learning into our curriculum, especially if we are not sure how/when we will come back in the fall. If we are not able to get this right, those less-fortunate students will be impacted more disproportionally.

I truly appreciate our superintendent, teacher and staff’s dedicated effort during this time.

Thank you. 

PG County Public School Report: Facilities for Education

Here is a copy of PG county public school: facilities for education. Their average building age is 41 Years Old. The report itself is four years old.

The report listed some benefits about good education facility and environment. I wish they provide a reference link to those data points.

  1. Building temperature can lower overall student performance by 0.2% in test scores for every 1 degree increase in temperature
  2. There is a 5% reduction in attention levels in poorly ventilated classrooms with too much CO2.
  3. Math and English scores can be improved through increased ventilation by 2.9% and 2.7%
  4. Improved lighting increased reading fluency by 36%.

They proposed using P3 to build new schools and even for maintenance effort. Here is the full report:

Final report from 2019-2020 Charter Review Commission

Here is the final report from 2019-2020 Howard County Charter Review Commission. County charter is like a constitute for our county. There were so many meetings for a whole year. Thanks for the committee members.

Main recommendation:

  1. The Commission recommends expanding the County Council from five members to seven members, comprising seven individually-elected districts.
  2. There are many other recommendations on how to implement this change and on how to modify some other commissions.

It is a rather dense report. Please read it. The commission provides analysis and rational for each recommendation.

Then one open question: will BOE election be changed to seven individually-elected districts? We have 7 board members right now.

2021 HCPSS 30.9 million dollar budget gap

We are grateful that the county executive Dr. Ball recommended a funding level of $620.3 million, which is 2.7 million above the MOE formula and another 6 million dollar one time funding to reduce the health fund deficit. The total increase of funding is 13.1 million more than FY 2020 approved budget. Note the MOE is using last year’s student enrollment number, which is around 800-1000 students less than the real student number. This translates to 10.8-16 million MOE funding shortage (assuming per student spending 16k a year).

So there is a gap of 30.9 million dollars between the board approved 2021 operating budget and the county executive proposed funding, while assuming the state funding will not decrease.

As quoted in Baltimore Sun article, I said:

with such a dramatic gap between the need and the reality, all stakeholders, including the school, the county government, the county council and the community, need to prioritize our spending and change our spending habit.

2020 Proposed HoCo Recording Tax Increase (CR-85-2020)

Based on the newly proposed recording tax structure ((CR-85-2020) by Council Members Christiana Rigby and Dr. Opel Jones, I did some calculations for the recording tax. Note: the recording tax is used to document the loan transaction. This is separate from mortgage interest and other annual property taxes. It is a one-time tax.

Quick summary:

For house value less than 250k, there is a 20% tax decrease. Then the decrease goes down slowly. At 300k, there is no tax change. Then the tax begins to increase.

When the house value crosses around $530k, there is a 50% increase. After the house value crosses $750k, there is a 100% increase. For a house value at 1 million dollars, the recording tax increase is $6500, i.e., 130% increase.

For Howard County, the median house price is 498k (ref: https://www.nar.realtor/research-and-statistics/housing-statistics/county-median-home-prices-and-monthly-mortgage-payment). This means a 39.8% recording tax increase.

Here is a spreadsheet for your reference(5k step increase in house value). You can download it here:

Here is a plot, comparing old tax, new tax, tax increase and tax increase percentage:

A different scale (200k-800k house value)

Here is the news release from the county council.

My board member report on 2020-4-16

Revised for publication on 2020-04-16

We are entering a new phase of our education. We finally started our distance learning for high school students. I am glad to  hear many positive feedback from our parents. Middle school and elementary school will start next week. I wish this will give our students and families some relief, engagement, feelings of belongings and education. We are all together. 

I wish parents and students keep sharing their feedback with our school system such that the school system is tracking what the school system is doing, and keep improving the methodology, delivery approach and community communication.  In the current situation, I am especially worried about our delivery model for kids with special needs, younger kids having few parents’ involvement, kids who are already struggling or lagging on their subject. 

We probably will not go back to school for this semester. High School seniors will probably graduate without a prom or a graduation ceremony. Other students transition to a new middle school or a new high school even do not have a chance to say goodbye to their friend. I wish the school, community and parents are keeping a close eye on their children’s mental health. More video games, more screen times and less physical activity time for several months are very challenging for every student in this pandemic era.  

We need to be really careful on our spending. We will receive our 2021 operating budget in five days from the county executive. In Scott E’s blog, according to Dr. Holly Sun, Howard County’s Budget Director, Howard County is estimating a revenue loss of over $35 million in the current fiscal year, with major losses in income tax, recordation, and hotel tax. A significant revenue impact is also anticipated for FY 2021. These revenue losses don’t qualify for any known federal aid, which usually only covers expenses related to emergencies.

Here I am asking our school, pause any non-urgent spending until we hear from the county executive on the 2021 operating budget. 

As a board and a school system, we need to prepare for a difficult time ahead of us. We need to scrutinize any spending and probably think about a hybrid education delivery mode in the future, to incorporate distance learning as another education tool. 


HCPSS Seeks Citizen Members for Ethics Panel, Apply by May 8, 2020

The Howard County Board of Education is seeking citizens to serve on the Howard County Public School System’s Ethics Panel.

The Ethics Panel oversees the school system’s Ethics Regulations, advises the Board on matters related to conflict of interest and financial disclosure, and provides advisory opinions to employees on the applicability of the Ethics Regulations to specific situations. A complete copy of the Ethics Regulationis available online.

Any Howard County resident at least 18 years of age is eligible to serve on the Ethics Panel. Candidates cannot be an employee of the school system, an HCPSS student, an incumbent member of the Board, or an owner or individual employed by an entity doing business with the Board. Appointees serve a five-year term.

Howard County Citizens interested in serving on the Ethics Panel are asked to send a letter of interest and their resume to the Office of the General Counsel at Kimberly_Clare@hcpss.org.The deadline for submission is May 8, 2020.


Personal Budget Testimony for 2021 County Operating Budget

2020-3-30 Howard County Budget Testimony

My name is Chao Wu. I am a member of Howard County Board of Education.  

Before I begin my testimony, I would like to express my sincere appreciation to our County Executive Dr. Ball who has worked with the school board to develop a solid plan to address the historical health fund deficit issue.  My family and I, along with all Howard County residents, also appreciate very much our county government’s tremendous effort in addressing the coronavirus crisis. Unfortunately this epidemic will most likely incur additional pressure on the county’s budget for next year. 

The board is united in our commitment to bring down the health fund deficit with a clear path and vision. However, I am here today to testify not as a board member but as a parent. 

First, I would like to point out that without extra money coming into HCPSS, it would be extremely difficult in keeping class size small, paying teachers well, improving special education and maintaining academic excellence. 

HCPSS is in a crisis mode where schools are overcrowded, buildings lack maintenance and resources are needed everywhere in the school system. The recent need on Technology also highlights our long-term underfunding issue in this aspect. HCPSS has a 500 million deferred maintenance list and many large capital  projects : High School 13, Hammond High, Talbott Spring Elementary, and Turf Valley Elementary, Dunloggin Middle. The list can also go on and on. When HS 13 opens in 2023, we will probably need another extra 10 million dollars for its operating cost.

Second, with the HCPSS budget crisis, I believe our county government should not operate as business as usual. In my opinion, the county budget needs to shift its priority to the education of our children. The county needs to shrink its spending in some other areas and increase the share of spending for HCPSS.  

I ask the county to have a thorough cost and benefit analysis for each project. We need to differentiate the Needs and the Wants. There are several big projects that in my opinion belong to the category of Wants. They are ranging from 15 million dollars, to 60 millions, 80 million dollars, even to more than 100 million dollars in the county’s budget book now and in the future.  

In addition, since public libraries in the digital age will have less physical books, their space could be used as a community center for our kids, parents, seniors and community groups. To save cost, the relocation and rebuilding of the central library, or any future library renovations should be incorporated with a community center concept, vice verse. I would also suggest that the county could collaborate with Columbia Association or other partners to offer services for our residents instead of building our own facilities.

At the same time, please slow down residential development since our school capacity could not catch up with the pace of the rapid development. I sincerely hope the county government and the county council eventually find the balance on this most pressing developmental issue our county is facing now.

Our school system is one of the greatest assets for our county. With ever growing budget constraints, we would not be able to keep our renowned world class high education standard. The school system’s reputation is the single most important factor that Howard County is able to keep attracting more families to move here. About 41% of our county revenue comes from property tax and 49% of it comes from personal income. If these two revenues drop because of the deterioration of the school system, our tax base will decrease and eventually everybody will suffer.   

Howard County is at a critical moment. Our school’s good reputation is on the life line now. If it starts going downwards, it would be very difficult to reverse the trend. We have witnessed this alarming pattern in some neighboring counties. We need to work very hard to avoid this disaster happening in Howard County. 

Please invest in our County’s future! Please invest in our school system!

Thank you.

My board member report on 2020-03-26

My Board Member report for today’s virtual board meeting

(revised for publication here):

This is a difficult moment which we have never faced before. Everyone is putting their effort to mitigate the current difficult situation. We don’t even know when this coronavirus emergency will end. My school visits have been on hold for two weeks now. I appreciate that the board receives daily update from the superintendent and his staff.

The plan presented by the superintendent last night was the school’s first step. It is not perfect. I am hoping we will be able to work together to improve this plan and make sure our students are taken care of and everyone in the community stays safe.

I am looking forward to a simple, limited structured instruction plan for our students before we have a fully developed plan. We can not wait for another four weeks. We can have a relatively structured curriculum and routine for students every day of the week, one for the morning and one for the afternoon, with much longer recess time and lunch time. This will be very helpful for many students and parents. Our students love our teachers and they want to hear from their teachers.

I don’t expect the online education will be the same as classroom education. We will not be able to serve every student as usual during this difficult time in our nation. We are not able even to offer PE class now.

So we need adapt to the new situation quickly. There will be up/downs during the process, as long as we can implement, correct and improve. This is also an opportunity to develop our future education model, incorporating online teaching and classroom teaching.

For the current plan, I am very concerned about the 25 thousands ES students who need to wait to the end of the second closure period. I am also concerned about the HS seniors facing graduation, special education kids needing intervention programs, kids from low income families getting the necessary help.

Let’s stay calm and work together through this difficult time. Stay safe. Thanks.

Howard County Housing Projection

Here is the presentation from the County Government, talking about three phases of APFO history, how housing units have been allocated by different regions, how the general plan is playing a role in it. We are going to have a new Howard County General Plan very soon.

I hope this new Howard County General Plan will balance growth, affordable housing, school capacity, infrastructure and sustainability much better. The county has very few land left (9%) for new development. Revitalization of some old village centers are as important as developing on new land.

Here is the presentation for your reference.

Columbia Development Tracker 2020-02

The document is developed by Columbia Association. I used to update the community pretty often on this when I was on CA board. Tonight I took a look and found many new development changes. https://www.columbiaassociation.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/02/vers-2-Development-Tracker-February-2020.pdf

There are several big developments:

  1. Dorsey Overlook development has 82 units. I thought it was originally designed for 55+ community. Now it did not mention that.
  2. Columbia Downtown development asks for extra 300 units.
  3. Erickson Senior Living rezones 62.116 acres from B-2 & RC-DEO to CEF-M.
  4. Robinson Overlook moderate incoming housing (48 units) keeps moving on.
  5. River Hill Square ( River Hill Garden Center) submitted a commercial variance request to reduce the setback from a residential district from 30 feet to 0 feet.

HCPSS opinion on Blueprint for Maryland Future ( Kirwan commission)

This is the letter from HCPSS superintendent Dr. Martirano to our senators on the Blueprint for Maryland Future legislation (Senate Bill SB1000/House Bill HB1300). The full letter is attached here.

The letter talked about good side of the legislation:

There are more challenges laying ahead.

Challenges Specific to Howard County: Lack of Local aid increase/budget pressures

  • Local funding for teacher salary increases
  • Salary increases for Non-Teachers
  • Dual Enrollment costs
  • Administrative costs

Broader Implementation Challenges

  • Budgeting and reporting
  • Career Ladder Implementation
  • Early Childhood Education
  • College and Career Readiness
  • Accountability and Oversight