Kentucky Board of Education Chairman Roger Marcum didn’t dodge any questions or issues Saturday in during a nearly 90-minute discussion with the KSBA Board of Directors in Frankfort.
While Marcum was optimistic on most issues – such as the ongoing search for a new commissioner of education – he acknowledged plenty of hurdles ahead for elementary and secondary education, especially on the multifaceted issue of funding.
KSBA Pres Allen Kennedy (L) KBE Chairman Roger Marcum (R
“We’ve got to make a better case – not just with legislators but with the people who elect them – that education is an investment, not just a cost. And if you don’t invest, there will be a cost down the road,” Marcum said.
“Education doesn’t just help you find a way to make a good living. It helps you be a good citizen, helps you take care of your family. I’m the first-generation college graduate from my family. I’ve seen the difference education has made in my life, in my children’s lives and in my grandchildren’s lives. We’ve got to be really strong advocates and not apologize because children don’t have a voice.”
Raising taxes, revenues
The former teacher and administrator with 42 years in public education said that one reason he retired in 2009 as Marion County Schools superintendent was “I was tired of having to go to people and say, ‘We’ve got to do more with less.’ And things have gotten worse since then.
“We can’t continue to increase expectations without adequate funding. That creates morale problems. It makes people like us look like we’re totally out of touch,” he said. “I understand the dilemma (of tight revenues), but as a policy maker, it’s my role to help establish a vision and then to convince the governor and legislators (to fund it).”
Marcum has been unpopular with some district leaders for his insistence that every school board should vote to take the maximum 4 percent revenue increase each year. And while saying he was speaking for himself and not the full KBE, he didn’t apologize for that position Saturday.
“For 10 straight years, I recommended the (Marion County) board to take 4 percent and they did,” he said. “I understand what’s happened since I left in 2009. I understand it’s gotten much more difficult. But here’s how I see that. When you’re hired to be the CEO of a district, you’re supposed to do what’s right for kids. So there’s no way I could serve as superintendent and not recommend taking the 4 percent, because kids would have to do without.
“Will that solve the adequacy issue? No but it’s one of the few things we have control about at the local level. At the local level, we can do the 4 percent. We know the compounding effect of taking or not taking that (tax rate),” Marcum said.
The KBE chairman also said it would be “hypocrisy” to go to legislators for more money to address adequacy issues if local leaders weren’t going after all of the revenues they could.
“Some say that this means pushing more (funding responsibilities) to local level,” he said. “The solution is that they’ve got to do something at the state level, but I want to make sure we’re doing all we can. And I’m not going to back off on that.”
Kentuckian in commissioner’s office?
In the wake of Terry Holliday’s announcement that he will retire Aug. 31, Marcum said he’s being asked a lot about two aspects of the search process: will the state board find someone in the short window before Holliday departs (and thus avoid the need for an interim commissioner) and what are the chances of the new KDE chief being a Kentuckian?
Saying he sees great importance in the commissioner hire being someone who “understands the culture of education in Kentucky,” Marcum repeated that that doesn’t mean the successful candidate must be working in education in the Commonwealth right now.
“I wouldn’t want us to be in the criteria that it has to be a Kentuckian, any more than you would want to say that it has to be someone from your district to be superintendent,” he said. “If the best-qualified person is from Kentucky, that would be wonderful. But here’s what I don’t want to happen: I don’t want to lose the momentum. Kentucky has been recognized nationally for education and I don’t want to lose that. The return on investment for taxpayers has been great over the past 25 years. We are not investing enough in education, but taxpayers are getting a great return on what is being invested.”
Monday afternoon, KDE announced that the online application process for the commissioner’s job has opened and will run through July 17. Marcum said he’s hopeful the timeline for completing the search will enable the state board to avoid naming an interim commissioner, adding, “but we’ll take our time to find the right person.”
During a lengthy question-and-answer period with the KSBA directors, Marcum offered additional insights such as:
· He does not support charter schools, despite Holliday’s backing of some form of the educational option for Kentucky.
· He strongly believes Kentucky did the right thing in adopting the common core academic standards, and is glad the state “didn’t back off like some of our neighbors did.”· He expects to see continued change in career and technical education programs. “We must preach the message that it’s OK to be an electrician or a plumber. For my generation, just having a college degree helped get you in the door. Today, that’s not the case for all. We must make sure kids and families understand that there are multiple pathways to success in life.”· His greatest concern about the Unbridled Learning assessment and accountability system is to be sure the process truly measures what students need to know. “Just having knowledge isn’t enough. They’ve got to be able to apply the knowledge. Knowledge-based instruction is not enough.”
Marcum said the proposed Kentucky Rising initiative – a collaboration with the Council on Postsecondary Education and the Kentucky Chamber of Commerce designed to increase the global competitiveness of Kentucky graduates – will be on hold pending the commissioner search and the outcome of the governor’s election in November.
“The vision of Kentucky Rising – global competence and deeper learning – is good, but we may not be ready for that. It will require additional resources,” he said. “But Singapore is not waiting. Finland is not waiting. We’ve been playing catch-up but we can’t afford to take our foot off the pedal. It’s stressful but we have to remember that these kids have one shot at a quality education. So that means we’ve got to push. Becoming an educator is almost like becoming a preacher. If you get a call in the middle of the night, you’ve got to go. If you are just in it for the career, that’s not enough.”