This month’s conversation is with Roger Marcum, who was elected chairman of the Kentucky Board of Education in August. He is executive vice president of St. Catharine College, a former Marion County Schools superintendent, and F. L. Dupree Outstanding Superintendent Award recipient.
Marcum has headed the statewide superintendents, administrators and school council groups, as well as the Council for Better Education. His current four-year KBE term expires in April 2014, at which time he would be eligible for reappointment by the governor.
Q: The one-two positions on the Kentucky Board of Education are now occupied by a former local superintendent (possibly for the first time) and a former local school board member (new vice chair Brigitte Blom Ramsey). How will your experience as a former superintendent affect your leadership and decision making?
A: As not only a former superintendent but also a principal, I hope I will bring the practical side of policy making to our decisions. Often, policy makers don’t consider the outcomes of policy implementation at the local level. I can also bring the relationships that I have built across the state during my almost 40-year career in education.
Q: As chairman, what are your key roles/responsibilities?
A: Preparation for meetings is a key role in working with the Kentucky Department of Education. Facilitating our meetings and being sure that all board members have the opportunity to be heard on whatever issues are brought before us. When I speak on behalf of the board, it will be to voice their opinion, not my own.
Q: How would you describe the relationship between the positions of Kentucky state school board chairman and the Kentucky commissioner of education?
A: A very positive relationship. I have been very impressed with the work that Commissioner Holliday has done. It is very important that the line of communications between the commissioner and the board chair be open at all times. I think the Kentucky Board of Education members are the eyes and ears for the commissioner, because we are located throughout the state and hear from constituents and school districts. We have an excellent Board of Education. Their decision making is very much centered on kids and I consider it an honor to be serving in this role as chairman. I believe we have a commissioner and Department of Education very committed to the same things.
Q: As the spokesperson for KBE, do you see yourself as being a highly visible advocate for board priorities or more of one working behind the scenes during the legislative session?
A: Probably more hands on. I think there is a balance between a board member or staff member working with the legislature. The commissioner and staff have to implement policies passed by legislators, so it is important for the General Assembly to hear from them. However, it is also important for them to hear from state board members who are not earning a living by working for the department or a local school district. They respond as concerned citizens and advocates for education.
Q: As chairman of the Kentucky Board of Education, what are your top legislative priorities?
A: I would say the one way we are failing our kids when it gets to the legislative priorities is funding. Education Week’s quality report that came out a few months ago gave Kentucky an overall score of a B- and ranked Kentucky 10th in education. But, the one place they said we are failing is in providing adequate funding for education. Funding is the No. 1 issue as far as I am concerned. I will be advocating directly with legislative leaders, as well as through interviews and in board meetings. I bring the budget up constantly. There are a lot of other important issues, but if you don’t have adequate funding, that trumps all the other concerns we have right now.
Q: What do you hope to see coming out of the next biennial budget for elementary and secondary education?
A: Two things I hope will happen are that we can get the SEEK base back to the 2008 per-pupil allocation. The other area would be to restore flexible focus funds that cover such things as professional development, extended services, preschool and other programs that have experienced deep cuts.
Q: What do you fear might come out in the next budget?
A: My fear would be that any additional dollars that might be available would go for other pressing needs. I hold out hope that our General Assembly will consider recommendations from Lt. Gov. (Jerry)Abramson and the committee that the governor appointed to study tax reform. Sequestration is a big concern for next spring in terms of cuts in Title I, Title II and IDEA. If we don’t do something in Kentucky to address state and federal funding cuts, local school districts and kids are going to lose services.
Q: On several occasions, you’ve taken local district leaders to task for not taking the full 4 percent tax revenue increase. Is that always the best choice for a district?
A: Absolutely. At the time the legislation (House Bill 44) was passed that established tax options for local school boards, the 4 percent option was intended to be the floor, not the ceiling. In the anti-tax environment in which we are now living, that has become the ceiling rather than the floor. Local school boards have only one funding option over which they have any control – local property taxes. I strongly recommend taking this 4 percent to try to offset not only inflation, but some of the other cuts districts are experiencing.
Q: Some school board leaders fear a decline in SEEK funding if their local revenues increase. Is that a valid fear?
A: At the local level, you could make a good argument that more funding is shifting to local boards because of the decline in SEEK and flexible focus funding. On the other hand, legislators would be quick to point to local control and making decisions about what kind of funding you think is necessary to have quality education in your local community. I think the state must address funding. But, if we are going to be critical of the General Assembly or the United States Congress in regards to funding for education and we are not at least doing what we can do locally, I am not sure we have much credibility. Additionally, I hope (local) folks will also realize that KDE is facing the same struggles they are. Their resources have been cut significantly, yet the expectations have continued to increase. My point is that we are all in this together and, in the end, we have to be advocates for students.
Q: You have expressed the importance of partnerships. Why are they so important at this time?
A: I have been around pre-KERA and post-KERA and, now, Senate Bill 1. At the beginning of KERA, I saw the importance of partnerships, such as the role that the Prichard Committee played in helping KERA become a reality. That all the “K” organizations – superintendents and principals organizations, KSBA, KASC, KASA, KEA, the Council for Postsecondary Education, Education Professional Standards Board, etc. – work together becomes especially important when you begin to get some pushback on change and reform. Any time you are making change there is going to be pushback from those who say we are not headed in the right direction or who are concerned about cost. KDE can’t do it alone. The Kentucky Board of Education can’t do it alone. It is important that people see we are united in our belief that this is what is best for education of the children in Kentucky.
Q: Commissioner Holliday has not endeared himself to some superintendents by initiating a new superintendent evaluation system, including posting of contracts online with little input from superintendents. Has KBE discussed this rift with the commissioner?
A: More in general terms we discussed with the commissioner the importance of establishing strong relationships and partnerships with school superintendents. I think the commissioner has done several things recently to try to strengthen that relationship, including the hiring of Tommy Floyd as KDE chief of staff. A former superintendent, Tommy is going to not only help in communicating with local superintendents, but also help them understand policies and regulations that are being implemented. Regarding the superintendent evaluation, we are putting in place an evaluation system for local boards to use with their superintendents based on results for kids. If we are going to say to teachers that part of their evaluation should be based on results for students, then we certainly should say that to superintendents.
Q: As executive vice-president of St. Catharine College, what would you like to see happen to build a stronger bond between K-12 and postsecondary programs in Kentucky?
A: One of the first encouraging things that has come out lately is the whole notion of having a seamless preschool-20 system of education in Kentucky. I have seen some progress in that – not as much as I had hoped.
Q: What advice would you give to local school boards about how they can best give input to KBE about their concerns and wishes?
A: As chairman of the board, I am always open to hearing the concerns not only from local school boards, but educators, parents, community members and to receive advice they have to offer. KDE and KBE have a good relationship with KSBA and are always interested in receiving input on what they hear from local boards. David Baird, KSBA’s interim executive director, is a very well-respected former superintendent and a good channel of communication.