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Interim Superintendent Puts Mark on School System

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There’s a reason the local school superintendent is the highest paid official in Howard County: It’s the toughest job in the county, heading the institutions where taxpayers spend the most money and that touch the most lives.

The fierce competition for the top talent also drives up the salaries, and the average superintendent of large urban and suburban school system lasts only about four years in the job. Michael Martirano has only been hired as interim superintendent of the Howard County Public School System (HCPSS) for this school year. He’s clearly acting like he plans to stay much longer, and he hopes as much.
Since he was hired as acting superintendent in May, followed by his one-year appointment, Martirano has been on a whirlwind of activity. Externally, he’s made himself highly visible in the community.

“I’m still building bridges,” he said, in an interview this past month with two writers from The Business Monthly. “I think we’ll be able to heal the organization quickly. I’m operating from a very high level of urgency.”

Healing

The previous superintendent, Renee Foose, had achieved much of what the school board which hired her had wanted when it came to student achievement. But her closed management style had engendered a widespread level of hostility from the community and from within the school system; that dissatisfaction led to the defeat of three incumbent school board members, replaced by members bent on removing Foose.

After prolonged acrimony — and Foose suing the board she worked for — and a $1.6 million buyout of her contract, the new board majority got their way and Foose was gone.

Ding, dong, the wicked witch is dead. But then what?

They got very lucky that Martirano was waiting in the wings. He had vastly more, and more varied, experience than Foose had brought to the system. He already knew the community, having lived here for 19 years, and he knew the public schools, having served as supervisor of elementary schools.

Earlier in his career, he had been a teacher and a principal of Laurel High School. Following his Howard County service, he became superintendent in St. Mary’s County, in Southern Maryland, and then for the state of West Virginia.

“My return to Howard County is like a dream come true,” Martirano said, after he got the job. “I always wanted to be the superintendent of Howard County, but the timing just never worked itself out.”

Community Outreach

As one small sign of Martirano’s community outreach: He showed up at a happy hour for Howard County bloggers, with a strong representation of candidates and activists. The new super has already set up regular meetings with Howard County Executive Allan Kittleman and other elected officials.

Under Martirano, we are not likely to see a repeat of school budgets like this year’s, where the executive needed to cut $54 million the county did not have.

“There is not an endless pot of money available each year,” said Martirano. “I’ve always been able to navigate the difference between wants and needs.”

One of the needs is what he calls “a major problem with capacity.” Thirty-three of the 76 schools are either over capacity or underutilized.

Martirano knows what not having enough space looks like. Outside the window of his office in the HCPSS headquarters, on Route 108, is a modular building holding central office staff.

He’s already rearranged the priorities for the system’s capital program. There will not be a $140 million high school for career and technical education. He’s trimmed the cost to $90 million from $100 million, freeing up the money for other needs.

Also at the top of his needs list is dealing with a $20 million deficit in the school system’s health care spending accounting. He’s also adjusted the operating budget to restore the paraeducators to the media centers in every school, a lack that had “disappointed and chagrined” him.

“I’m feeling pretty good right now,” he said two weeks before the start of school. “I never lose sight of what it means to be a teacher.”
That, after all, is the most important thing, what happens in classrooms between children and their teachers. Howard County residents are proud of the reputation of their schools, and they expect them to stay that way. So does Michael Martirano.

McCuan Dies

Developer Patrick McCuan valued education, not surprising for a former professor of social work. McCuan died last month at the age of 76, but left his imprint on Howard County, not just through his commercial properties along Route 100, but in politics and at Howard Community College (HCC).

McCuan and his wife, Jill, were among the largest donors to HCC, where the administration building is named in their honor. McCuan also played a less visible role in Howard County politics, having served as a major fundraiser for the county executive campaigns of Republican Chuck Ecker in 1994 and Allan Kittleman in 2014.

Watson Is Back

Former County Councilmember Courtney Watson is back in the political fray. She announced on social media she will run for the House of Delegates in District 9B, a single member district now represented by Republican Bob Flanagan. Watson, a Democrat, represented much of the same Ellicott City area on the council.
She will face media executive Dan Medinger in the Democratic primary. The district is the only truly swing legislative district in the county, but Flanagan won 55% of the vote in 2014, and is already knocking on doors to run again next year.

Attacking the Media

I was taking a break from editing last month when, at one point, I turned on the TV. And there was the president of the United States on CNN. He started attacking the media.

“But the very dishonest media,” he said. “Those people right up there, with all the cameras.”

It continued. “I mean truly dishonest people in the media and the fake media, they make up stories. … They don’t report the facts.”
Then he said the “failing New York Times … is like, so bad,” and accused The Washington Post of being “a lobbying tool for Amazon” because the newspaper is owned by Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos.
What really got me was when he told the crowd that the cameras were being turned off when he attacked the media and CNN.
I was watching the speech on CNN. It carried the whole speech live.
I checked, and the speech was live on MSNBC, but not the whole 75 minutes, as it was on CNN; it was live on Fox, on the other CNN channels and on C-Span.

The “failing New York Times” added more than 300,000 digital subscribers in the first quarter. I’ve worked in Annapolis with three of its current White House reporters. They don’t make things up.
The president said there were very few protesters outside. We could see thousands with our own eyes.

CNN has definitely become more biased in its coverage, particularly anchors like Don Lemon, and its panels. But it still has the best breaking news coverage. The network carried his attacks on it, unedited. It is very hard to report on someone fairly who has no respect for facts. As the old saying goes, “Who you gonna believe? Me or your lying eyes?”

I’m gonna believe my own eyes. And I’m going to try to report facts when I can find them.