Yes, I’m a glutton for punishment. I showed up at last night’s Wednesday’s second Board of Education hearing on the FY 2011 operating budget and the proposed cuts too. The clusters on deck to testify on Wednesday were Whitman, Bethesda Chevy-Chase, Northwood, Kennedy, Einstein, Blair, Wooton, Rockville, Richard Montgomery and Churchill. You can see the full BOE agenda here. You can now watch it here.
Meanwhile the transcripts of the actual cluster testimonies for both the January 13 and January 20 hearings have now been posted to the MCCPTA website, and can be downloaded here.
Like the previous week, there was a strong turn out, however this time it was purple-wearing members of the SIEU that initially packed the room. Among others, they represent MCPS media center assistants, which are among the positions slated to be cut. Also in the house: boy scouts. They were there for their civics badge, which requires attending a public meeting with two opposing sides. And lots of students from the middle school magnet consortium and the Richard Montgomery IB magnet. Groups rotated in an out of the room throughout the evening.
I’m not going to give you a blow by blow of the evening–after all it was three and a half hours long, finishing at 10:30. But I will give what I thought were the highlights.
The Middle School Magnet Consortium rocked it:
Where was CAP? Where was Eastern’s Humanities Magnet? Nowhere. Guys, you HAVE to do better. Check out the webpage on student advocacy that has been put up on the Loiederman school website. The MSMC students and parents were out in force. They had several students testify eloquently to the importance of the magnet, with one student saying words to the effect, “I was not surprised the cuts targeted gifted students, they have been under attack for some time.” They had an alumna who is now “working in her dream job” and who said “We are not a system of a privileged few? Why would we take a step back [and cut magnet transportion]?” The Parkland Science magnet kids had a video. A group of magnet Girl Scouts sang a song and rendered Vice Chairman Charles Barclay momentarily speechless. And MSMC parent Stephanie Weishaar, gave outstanding testimony in support of the instructional needs of gifted kids–I would love to get a copy.
The Whitman cluster rep’s “don’t hate me because I’m beautiful” comment (.pdf of full text here):
“Sometimes parents in our Cluster have been unfairly stereotyped, mischaracterized, and even faulted for their deep and vocal concern about their children’s education. Those same parents, however, have made huge commitments to help fill needs the schools’ budgets have not been able to satisfy. These parents demonstrate their care and commitment in productive ways every day by volunteering thousands of hours in classrooms, at recess and in evening community events to support our schools.”
They picked up kudos from a board member for sending a letter with over 500 signatures to the state level on the maintenance of effort issue (something I’m not even going to pretend I understand.) Their priority: classroom size. No mention at all was made of academic supports (no one needs supporting?) or magnet and special program transportation (no one leaves the cluster so who cares?)
Northwood Cluster rep’s testimony (see full text here):
For the last three years, the Northwood cluster has fought to maintain AI (academic intervention), special program and focus teachers from being cut. Why are these positions consistently put on the chopping block by Superintendent Weast? How do schools in the cluster reach higher AYP goals with fewer tools? By recommending these potential cuts in intervention, is Dr. Weast setting up schools in the DCC for failure? Once again, the Northwood Cluster’s highest priority is to maintain the current levels of AI , Special Program, and Focus teachers in each school in order to maintain AYP (Annual Yearly Progress), continue to close the achievement gap, increase eligibility rates, and achieve the MCPS Seven Keys to College Readiness. The cluster asks the BOE to stop the assault on direct instruction to students and find other ways to reduce costs that don’t directly impact our children, for example, reducing publication costs, reducing the number of community superintendents, freezing the curriculum department, and consolidating MCPS to make it a more efficient institution. Northwood Cluster constituents remark that during hard economic times, institutions, including MCPS, need to employ a third party to step back, look in the mirror, exam their current practices and productivity, and decide how to become an efficient well-oiled machine. Thank you for listening and your consideration.
“Stop the assault to direct instruction to students….for example reducing the number of community superintendents….” Yowza! Speak truth to power!
Blair Cluster Rep testimony (full text here): The Blair cluster spoke out forcefully for GT programming:
Excellence is important to us. Our cluster of 13 schools has Spanish, French, and IB programs, magnet math and science instruction in 4 schools, two highly gifted centers for local students, and other local special programs. Application programs have provided an essential lifeline to parents whose child’s academic discipline and/or talent would not otherwise be developed and are an attractive alternative to parents who may otherwise choose private school. In the past couple of years, MCPS’ Accelerated and Enriched Instruction staff have worked diligently to raise the bar for everyone by training dozens of teachers and providing opportunities for hundreds of on-grade students to study more advanced material. Thank you for this work.
And pointed to where cuts need to be made:
Simply put, we ask that you prioritize People over PCs, Teachers over Technology, and Students over Statistics in any future budget cuts. Be diligent in dissecting the 2.044 trillion dollar operating budget, and consider budget reductions in these other areas with concentrated expenses in IT, human resources, and the Superintendent’s offices…
I loved some of these cluster comments. They showed that at least some in the county have not been fooled by Jerry Weast’s cynical tactics, namely instructing principals to urge parents to support his budget or else X, Y and Z cuts impacting students will be made. And then they all dutifully converge on the county council and push for Weast’s budget to be passed, intact. Thankfully some parents are saying, “Wait a minute.” Let’s talk about cuts to the bloated, non-instructional part of the budget. Let’s talk about accountability, about oversight, about waste, and yes, perhaps even fraud. Let’s not just blindly endorse whatever is put forward but instead–to use a favorite Weast phrase–put these things on the table.
Eric Marx, on behalf of the gifted magnets. Speaking on his own behalf, he let it rip for gifted education (I’ll post a full text when it becomes available):
I speak tonight in support of saving those magnet programs from the threatened cuts to next year’s budget. And make no mistake about it, even though the threatened cuts would save only a tiny amount of money, they would be devastating to these programs. They would not merely limit access to the magnet programs to those families who have the resources and ability to provide their own transportation, although it’s hard to see how even those families would somehow be able to transport multiple students to different schools at the same time. These cuts would not merely exacerbate the racial, economic, and geographic disproportionality of the students who are able to participate in the programs. Instead, these cuts will absolutely kill these programs as we know them, and would violate the guarantee of Policy IOA that Centers and Magnet programs will continue to be provided to students who require such “markedly different programming.”
Now, the magnets are certainly not perfect – there’s too much homework, and many of the programs are too limited in their curricular offerings — but for highly and profoundly gifted students in MCPS, they are simply all there is. As a parent and GT activist I have seen first-hand the life-saving and life-changing necessity of these programs for the students who, because of their unique academic and social needs, have no other educational options within MCPS, no other alternative to being ignored and warehoused in local schools with few or no appropriate instructional opportunities.
Indeed, for years, parents of highly and profoundly gifted students have had little or no reason other than the hope offered by the magnets to stay in MCPS schools. MCPS’ lack of real advanced curricular offerings and appropriate grouping practices offer little adequate instruction for gifted students in local schools. Quite frankly, without the magnets, parents of these children will, and should, leave MCPS as soon as they are able to, because MCPS is making it clearer every day that they just don’t want to educate gifted children. Indeed, that is the completely unacceptable message sent by even the threats of these cuts — MCPS is again saying that everything else is more important than GT education, and that every other thing in the budget has to be fully funded before gifted and talented students get anything, again highlighting just how low a priority for MCPS is the real academic needs of GT students….
Finally, testimony by MPAC parents to an empty chair. I should have taken a picture. Late in the evening, when the crowd had thinned out considerably, supporters of the MPAC program took to the mike. At one point a parent, reading from a prepared text, directly pleaded to Jerry Weast to save this program for severely developmentally delayed preschoolers from cuts. But the chair was empty. Dr. Weast had left the building. No doubt on his way to Kentucky, where he had an engagement to speak on “his comprehensive reform effort… that includes an investment in preschool education for both public and private providers.”
[Were you there or did you watch online? Did you have a favorite moment? A link to what you thought was compelling testimony? Add it to the comments.]
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