I wrote a short article on the Baltimore Sun ( which will be shared on Howard County Times, Columbia Flier).
I am worried about the lack of coherent plan and long term vision for the county. There is a plan to relocate the central library in the 2016 Downtown Columbia TIF plan. Now the County Executive and County Council changed hand, there has not been any discussion (or serious discussion) any more. Recent discussion on the Toby theater, Downtown Culture Center, Affordable housing prompted me to write this article. Columbia will be totally built out soon and we need to process with caution on every land use.
I also shared similar concerns during yesterday’s BOE and County Council meeting. Where do we find school site land for the students from planned 30,000 population for Downtown Columbia?
Any decisions we make today will have a long-term impact for our future. One example is the Turf Vally development where APFO requirement was waived and no school site was reserved. Now we need pay over 6.5 million dollars for an elementary school site (around 10 acres). If they planned/reserved for a school site 20 years, it was probably free.
The reality is that people made those decision some time ago either moved up or retired. We are bearing the consequence now. I believe we can do better.
Last week I made a motion to put HS 14 in Elkridge back into HCPSS long term capital budget and the board approved that motion. I have been receiving some feedbacks from the community. One feedback is about the Timbers at Troy golf course. That golf course was discussed as one possible HS 14 site.
Here is the Timbers at Troy revenue and expenses in the last ten years. The golf court unfortunately is running red for the last several years. It lost 1.4 million in 2017, 0.439 million in 2018 and 1.5 million in 2019.
I am wondering how many golf courses the county owns and how well they are running in the last 10 years. I know Columbia Association’s golf courses have been facing some financial difficulties in the past several years too. How can we improve this situation? Or the sport of golf is not as attractive as before?
Howard County Citizens Association is asking the County Executive and County Council to adopt a bill to remove a loophole for developers. I came to know this loophole when Howard Hughs was proposing a new large scale downtown development with county finance help in 2016-2017. The TIF (Tax Increment Finance) was 170 million. They did not build the affordable housing units as promised in their previous developments and then they used affordable housing units again as a wedge to get their new deal approved. Here is the article I wrote four years ago on this issue: https://chaowu.org/2016/07/27/columbias-downtown-and-affordable-housing/: Columbia’s Downtown and Affordable Housing .
We should not allow developers to pay a tiny fee to skip the affordable housing requirements in their project. I am especially looking forward to affordable housing proponents to put the pressure on the county council and the county executive and remove this loophole.
We should put the developers’ interest aside and the residents’ interest first.
Welcome Mr. Koung to serve on the board. It is a tough job this year with so much unknowns. We look forward to working with you.
School Reopen Effort
School reopen will be tonight’s main focus. I believe the health of our students, teachers and staff are the highest priority. Whatever approach the school is taking, we will keep that in mind. Then how to implement a workable solution will involve all stakeholders. For example, we had a survey to understand our students/parents, teachers’ concern and need.
At the same time, until we have a solid data to know how many teachers are committed to come back to the classroom, we are not able to make any sound decision for the fall easily.
For some schools, maybe there are 10% teachers who want to come back to teach. For some subjects, maybe all the teachers want to teach online. So we need the solid data, not the survey data to make a sound decision. Our decision should be flexible and workable.
We need to work hard to give parents, students and teachers different options to suit their individual situation and need. If possible, they can choose online or classroom instruction. We need to put more efforts and priority into students who need more resources, for example, students with special needs, and students lagging behind already.
Thanks for community members for your input. We know every one care about this schedule. Prof. Meagan Fitzpatrick from University of Maryland helped me to understand the various disease spreading modeling, which is very informative and useful.
Again, I want to emphasize the importance of our online teaching curriculum. I want our school to use this opportunity and develop a flexible/robust online curriculum and integrate them into the classroom curriculum for our future.
Equity, Inclusiveness, diversity and respect
Tonight we are going to talk about equity policy too. Equity, inclusiveness, diversity and respect are all working together. These objectives are mutually supportive and inclusive and we should work in such a manner. Also we need to take historical background and cultural sensitivity into consideration. We have a long way to go. During this process, I believe we should take a positive and affirmative approach to overcome any challenges, address each problem one by one, unite the majority of our people and embrace a better future.
Finally, I appreciate the feedback from Jewish Federation of Howard County and I am sorry for the omission.
I ask the board to reconsider my motion I made during last board meeting and amend it as following:
Move the Howard County Board of Education denounce any bias and racism towards African American, Asian American, Latino American, Muslim American, LGBTQ+ community, the Jewish community and any other groups who have been ignored, marginalized, discriminated against and/or oppressed and allocate resources in accordance with these values as a school system and a Board.
Note: the original motion and this motion passed unanimously.
Some Retrospect and Prospect after HCPSS FY 2020-2021 Budget Vote
By Dr. Chao Wu,
Board Member, Howard County Board of Education
After the FY 2020-2021 budget vote, I reflected and wrote a short essay on this. Hopefully this will help and guide us for the next year’ HCPSS budget discussion. The article has the follow sections:
FY 2020-2021 Operating Budget Snapshot
Funding Increase Needed for FY 2021-2022
Funding Category is Complicated
More Communication to the community
Future Budget Process Improvement
County Tax and HCPSS Budget
I want to thank every teacher and staff members who have been working really hard during this unprecedented time. I want to give every teacher a raise, a competitive salary among neighboring counties. I want to raise our substitute teacher salaries to be competitive with other counties too.
Unfortunately, we have to make a budget based on how much money we have and what we can do. We are not laying off any staff. Job security for our staff is my number one priority in this challenging situation. We are still providing an average 2% salary raise for teachers and 1% for AMT staff. We are ramping up support for special education. We are fully funding the health care cost and gradually reducing the historical health fund deficit. We are able to continue on the equity path to provide quality education to all students. As an intermediate solution, we are seeing another class size increase for three consecutive years unfortunately.
I thank our staff, the superintendent, and all bargaining units, who have come together and make the budget happen.
After the vote, I have been self-reflecting on the budget process and where we can further change and continue to improve, especially for our future budget.
FY 2020-2021 Operating Budget Snapshot
The board unanimously adopted its FY 2020-2021 budget on Thursday, June 18,2020. The operating budget is 918.7 million, an increase of 17.2 million over FY 2020. We used a 5 millionfund balance for FY 20-21 budget. Among the efforts:
adding 106.8 new positions for special education
increasing employee compensation on average by 2% in the bargaining units, with 1% increase for non-represented(AMT) staff
accelerating HCPSS’ diversity, equity and inclusion work through addition of three new positions
funding actuary projected employee health insurance cost fully, for three consecutive years
Unfortunately the class size will be increased for the third consecutive years. On average, elementary school will increase class size by one in FY 2020-FY 2021. Middle school and high school will increase class size by 1.25.
Funding Increase Needed for FY 2021-2022
I have been asking HCPSS staff to project our future funding needs. Instead, I created a short table as follows with explanations below. Please note this is not an extensive or complete or accurate list. This is a rough projection.
Budget Increase Need Per Year
Student Growth Budget Need (800 new students)
10.22 million ***
Fully Fund Health Care
Possible COLA Salary/Step Increase for Our Workforce
Student Growth Cost
Board Approved Tuition Rate: In-State Elementary/ Secondary in the amount of $10,650 and Special Education in the amount of $31,950.
Each year, the school has around 800 new students, where 10% are special education students. The total county cost for student growth is around 10650*720+31950*80 = 10.22 million.
So we need to invest extra 10.22 million dollars to catch up with the student growth each year. Please remember the county funding formula (MOE) for HCPSS is using the student population from the previous year such that this extra 800 new students are not funded in the formula. This is the common problem for many school systems which see a continuous student growth and the funding increase could not catch up with the increased need.
This section may be updated depending on how this calculation is revisited based on feedback from our staff and other people. Another calculation I am thinking is to use the average per student cost, which is around 16k. Then the total is 16k per student per year * 800= 12.8 million.
Health Care Cost Increase
On average, the health care cost increase is around 5 million dollars per year. In some years, it was an 11 million dollars increase.
In the past 10 years, our workforce has received a salary increase between 1% and 5%. That is the reason I am writing a possible 1% increase at least. The 6 million dollars is an estimate based on this year’s 2% salary increase (12 million dollars).
Historical Health fund deficit
We have a historical 32 million dollars health fund deficit inherited from former superintendents’ era, which has to be paid down over the years. With the plan worked out with the county government, we need to pay around 8 million dollars per year to pay it down. The original deficit was 50 million dollars.
Funding Category is Complicated
During the discussion, we heard the teacher salary (State Category 2) increase was fully funded. In reality, when there is an increase of salary, other expenses (benefits, retirement) will go up as well. We will not be able to give a teacher salary increase, but not give them the associated benefit increase. So unless everything associated with a full compensation package for an employee is fully funded, we could not call the salary increase fully funded.
Second, many teachers’ salaries are not funded in State Category 2. For example, there are more than 1200 special education teachers whose salaries are not funded in Category 2.
Third, the health care cost keeps increasing at a faster pace than anything else. In order to avoid the health fund deficit issue that happened before ( with an accumulated deficit of 32 million now), we need to fully fund the health care cost. The school system cannot run at a deficit by law.
It is a little complicated and I want to make it easier for the general public to understand it.
More Communication to the community
During the last two weeks of the budget discussion, we received thousands of emails asking the board not to cut the budget. In reality, the board is not generating money ourselves. We fully rely on the funding from the county and the state to operate. They give us money and we make a budget and balance the budget.
Furthermore, when the board was in negotiation with the unions, we were not allowed by law to discuss anything about employee salary and benefit publicly. We were not able to comment on the negotiations publicly. The public and our workforce definitely felt the frustration because of the communication restriction on these topics. We had to rely on the union leadership to relay the message back to union members.
Future Budget Process Improvement
For the school budget, if we don’t ask for it, we don’t get it from the county government and the county council. At the same time, we know the county has so much need and we will not get the full amount we ask. So we have a very delicate balance here since we want to present a fair and reasonable budget for discussion.
Furthermore, the county executive and the county council can claim they fully fund something by State Category. However, all categories are interconnected when our staff is preparing for the budget. In general, we are not able to separate one category totally from other categories while considering funding.
Realizing our funding will be short for the near future, I have been advocating for a change in the budget process to avoid the last minute change and uncertainty which is painful and hurts the morale of our workforce.
We could consider a budget into two parts.
The first (basic) part is the Maintenance of Effort (MOE) budget which the county and the state are bound legally to fund the school. At the MOE level, we can check to see:
whether the class size will increase or not,
whether our workforce will be surplused or not,
where the special education will be fully funded or not,
whether the health fund is fully funded or not,
whether the instruction materials are fully funded or not
The second part is the add-on above MOE part. Based on our need and priority, how much extra money we need to fully fund the school system.
whether/how we can decrease class-size.
whether /how we can add/change programs.
whether/how much we can give our teacher a salary increase.
Whether/how we can renovate school service without increasing budget
whether we can launch any new initiative to improve mental health service, further close the student achievement gap, and many others.
County Tax and HCPSS Budget
Many people are now realizing that HCPSS is facing a structural deficit issue. The funding increase could not catch up with the student population growth and other increasing needs.
In reality, the share of the county funding into HCPSS is swinging up and down. HCPSS budget was previously mismanaged and underfunded such that we are facing such a difficult situation now.
We hear there are people calling for higher tax. However, tax for our county residents is very high already. Our tax rate is top 3 in Maryland. Raising tax may have a detrimental effect on our economy and in the end it may hurt our tax base in the long run.
Furthermore, additional tax revenue does not mean it will be provided to HCPSS. I want to avoid the failed promise and fiasco that Maryland state gambling money would go into education when some people promoted the gambling industry. Yes, some gambling money went into education, but original money was diverted away.
The county may receive 20 million dollar additional revenue by increasing some tax rate, but the county may give only 1 or 2 millions to HCPSS. I have been advocating for HCPSS to receive a larger share (percentage) of the county revenue.
There are many “wants” in the county budget and we may need to shrink those “wants” and redirect the money to HCPSS. Our excellent school system is one of the most important reasons that many families come here and 90% of county revenue comes from property tax and income tax.
We need to cherish the support and trust from families who live here and HCPSS must provide an excellent, equitable and individualized education for our students.
First I would like to thanks our student board member Allison Alston, who has demonstrated a strong leadership. When I saw her performance at Reservoir High School’s Black History Month, I was really surprised and admired. You are a super star. We will miss you.
Today, I will talk about something different. The nation is watching the hardship, struggle and pain the African American community are experiencing. As a community member and a school board member, I share the same pain and the same concern: Where are we going? How can we get to the point where injustice will go away? When will everyone have the same opportunity to pursue their dreams and reach their full potential?
Two recent events highlighted here:
I read the petition from more than 400 HCPSS high school students shared with the board. A 2015 Glenelg High School graduate is leading the campaign. Glenelg High School unfortunately had been on the newspaper front page for several racist incidents. Just reading the petition, for example:
Some students called black students “N word” and there were no consequences.
Some teachers could not remember Asian American Students’ names or faces in a small classroom for half the semester. Some of our staff could not pronounce students’ family names.
Some staff or teachers discouraged African American students or Latino American students from entering into AP classes.
Many community members called me regarding a recent social media post from an HCPSS administrator. They feel the post was insensitive and offensive. They believe our officials should have been more thoughtful and responsible when they express their opinions publicly, which includes clicking the “like” button on social media platforms.
All these events made me think: What can we do to eliminate explicit and implicit biases, microaggression, discrimination and oppression? How can we systematically implement the necessary actions steps?
The questions are tough to answer as we are naturally inclined to find a fast and easy way out, yet unsuccessfully so. The inconvenient truth is, only when we are able to face the reality truthfully and do self-reflecting and soul-searching, we are able to move forward. We can aim big, however, we should act small, starting with incremental steps for which we have the ability to execute as well as to examine the outcomes each step along the way.
I agree that HCPSS should include more anti-bias training to help our workforce to better connect with the students and families. These connections will create stronger motivations for our students to work hard and also provide more opportunities for them to excel. We also need to increase culture proficiency training.When we do so, we need to ensure that everyone is included. No individuals or groups should feel being ignored, marginalized, discriminated against and/or oppressed.
I agree that HCPSS should work hard to reduce bias during the hiring process to increase workforce diversity and leadership diversity. When we do so, we need to ensure that everyone is included. No individuals or groups should feel being ignored, marginalized, discriminated against and/or oppressed.
I agree that HCPSS should include a more diverse curriculum to help our students expand their learning horizon which will promote better cross-group, cross-culture understanding and respect. When we do so, we need to ensure that everyone is included. No individuals or groups should feel being ignored, marginalized, discriminated against and/or oppressed.
I want to make a motion:
The Howard County Board of Education denounces any bias and racism towards African American, Asian American, Latino American, Muslim American, LGBT community, and any other groups who have been ignored, marginalized, discriminated against and/or oppressed.
The federal Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) requires states to report the per pupil expenditures of federal, state, and local funds including actual personnel expenditures and actual non personnel expenditures. The HCPSS finance office followed MSDE’s methodology to develop the school level per-pupil expenditure data that is being reported. All districts across the state followed the same methodology.
Expenditures are separated into: School-level per-pupil expenditures: local school system operating expenditures directly attributed to schools or allocated to schools based on certain criteria and reported as a per-pupil or per-student amount. District wide costs: expenditures that are not directly linked to a school.
Regional programs, the experience level of staff at the school, and Title I funding contribute to the differences in the per-pupil funding between schools.
Expenditures for students in nonpublic placements, pre-kindergarten, and infants and toddlers programs, are excluded from this per-pupil reporting.
Cedar Lane Special Center
High School Level
Wilde Lake High
Oakland Mills High
Long Reach High
Mount Hebron High
River Hill High
Marriotts Ridge High
Middle School Level
Harpers Choice Middle
Oakland Mills Middle
Wilde Lake Middle
Lake Elkhorn Middle
Mayfield Woods Middle
Patuxent Valley Middle
Thomas Viaduct Middle
Murray Hill Middle
Elkridge Landing Middle
Bonnie Branch Middle
Lime Kiln Middle
Folly Quarter Middle
Hammond Middle School
Ellicott Mills Middle
Burleigh Manor Middle School
Mount View Middle
Elementary School Level
Stevens Forest Elementary
Running Brook Elementary
Bryant Woods Elementary
Phelps Luck Elementary
Talbott Springs Elementary
Ducketts Lane Elementary
Deep Run Elementary
Dayton Oaks Elementary
Laurel Woods Elementary
Bollman Bridge Elementary
Bushy Park Elementary
Jeffers Hill Elementary
Thunder Hill Elementary
Bellows Spring Elementary
Hanover Hills Elementary
West Friendship Elementary
Triadelphia Ridge Elementary
Clemens Crossing Elementary
Manor Woods Elementary
Hollifield Station Elementary
Forest Ridge Elementary
Pointers Run Elementary
Gorman Crossing Elementary
Centennial Lane Elementary
St. Johns Lane Elementary
There are very large variations on per-student spending between schools. Cedar Lane Special Center and Homework School are two different schools which rank the highest spending. Then
There are many unknown factors and the school system is working to have a plan. Here are some concerns I shared with the staff.
If some parents feel it is not safe to send kids to school, will going to school be optional or not? Then how to manage the classroom?
How to mitigate safety concerns from teachers and staff too? If the teacher does not want to go to teach in the classroom, how do we handle that?
How will the before-care and after-care handle the situation?
learn new knowledge (not just drill)
online interactive teaching
mental health of our students, online bullying(chat ,etc)
We need to pull some teachers, working together with the central office, having a relatively structured instruction. Instead we push those tasks to individual teachers to search for instruction video on youtube.
If we are not able to provide those videos, are we able to identify from some free, open source video contents, for example, Khan Academy to have a list of videos?
This way, we can relieve the burden from individual teacher, and make it easier for both teachers, students and parents.
The BOE received a student petition on addressing some racist events in the school. Victoria Owens, Glenelg High School, Class of 2015, is leading the campaign. Glenelg High School unfortunately has been on the newspaper front page for several racist incidents.
I highly encourage your read our students’ school experience and share your idea on how to change and improve the school climate in HCPSS. Some of the experiences are heart-broken. However, only when we are able to face the reality calmly and do self-reflecting and soul-searching, we are able to move forward.
I agree that HCPSS should include a more diverse curriculum to help our students expand their learning horizon worldwide which will promote better cross-culture understanding and respect, reduce racial bias during the hiring process to increase workforce diversity and leadership diversity, and increase culture proficiency training.
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.
I spent some time tonight and examined 2020 Howard County Operating Budget, including HCPSS, Howard Community College and others. Only HCPSS and HCC have a separate budget. Others are inside the county budget book. I would encourage our residents spending some time to read them. It will help us where to advocate and how to advocate. For example, maybe the county can have a different funding priority considering the problem HCPSS is facing now. Many parents come to Howard County for education and we should not let them lose faith in HCPSS.
Here is the FY 2020 approved Howard County Operating Budget.
Howard County hired Urban Analytics to calculate the potential fiscal impact on the 2019 APFO amendment.
Summary from the report:
New development in Howard County “pays for itself” and generates net surplus to the County • Amended APFO results in a net loss to Howard County compared to the General Plan scenario; in other words, bring less net gains to the County • Land use decisions by policy makers have consequential short and long term economic and fiscal implications to the County
Thank several Indian Americans for their invitation to join the Diwali celebration. It is a celebration for light, for hope and for better. We, as a community, the best in American , should overcome differences and seek for equality, respect and civility.
Today I attended 2016 Howard County Chinese School graduation at Marriotts Ridge high school. It took 320 weekends to sit in the classroom and learn something new for these young kids. It is more than ten years dedication from our kids, while others may play football, or watch movies.
I am so proud of them. I find their Chinese is better than last year’s graduates. I wish these thirty kids will remember today’s moment, their friends around, and their HoCo Chinese school time. I believe their perseverance learned during the years will be part of their life for future success.
I also helped to count the ballot for the board of director election. I am so excited that we have so many candidates who are willing to serve our community.
My daughter graduated from the kindergarten and will go into first year soon. I took a semester’s Yoga class which really helped me to reduce my back pain.
After I joined the Howard County Runner group, I have always been motivated to keep my self fit and healthy. This Saturday’s Maryland Half Marathon at Maple Lawn was both a fundraiser event and my first major run. My time is 31 minutes 21 seconds.
By running with a group of people, we build a small dedicated community. We are running for fun, for healthy body and for energetic mind. It is not how fast we run. It is how much we enjoy overcoming difficulty and moving forward.
Dr. Clarence Lam is recognized as Person of The Year of 2015 in Metro-DC Chinese community by The Washington Chinese Post. He served in Columbia’s village, Haper’s Choice board before. He has been a strong voice for the community.