Testimony before the Montgomery County Board of Education

By Cindy Kerr, President

On the FY 2005 Operating Budget

Thursday, January 13, 2005

 

President O’Neill, Superintendent Weast, Members of the Board:

 

Good Evening, I am Cindy Kerr, President of the Montgomery County Council of PTAs. On behalf of the 50,000 members of the MCCPTA, I want to thank the BOE for the opportunity to testify before you this evening on the Superintendent’s recommended FY2006 Operating Budget.

 

Attached to my written testimony is a copy of our MCCPTA Operating Budget Compact for FY 2006, and an alignment of the Compact to the new initiatives in the proposed budget. Our assessment is that this budget is responsive to our stated Compact priorities, however we feel that in some areas we have pressing needs that continue to be unmet. We are particularly pleased that approximately 37% of  the funding for new initiatives will go to our highest priority - for MCPS to provide teachers to reduce class sizes across the county. It has been too many years since the BOE’s guidelines on class size were revisited in light of changing demands resulting from new curriculum and an increasingly diverse student population. We also appreciate that approximately 5% of new funding that will go to additional Elementary Assistant Principals, which directly responds to our priority to help relieve the administrative burden on educators. We want to thank the Superintendent for responding to our needs and ask the Board to support Dr. Weast, and the MCCPTA, by supporting the proposed budget. 

 

Tonight I will highlight only a few areas outlined in our Compact by focusing on three major themes.

 

The first theme is: Services to Needs Not Neighborhoods

 

You will hear testimony tonight from clusters across the County. We urge you to hear the needs they describe, and not focus on the neighborhoods they come from. The proposed budget includes new initiatives focused on many types of students: under-performing students, regular academic, special education, and gifted and talented students. There must remain a continuum of services available based on an individual child's needs. Some initiatives, such as the class size reductions, and much of the new funding that will go to Special Education, are designed to reach students at local schools, irrespective of which neighborhood school they attend. Others like the all-day K initiative have concrete plans to be offered to students across the county. And while it is not possible to offer all services at every school, initiatives such as the new center for the highly gifted expand student opportunities to receive needed services.

 

However, we are still concerned that MCPS seems to follow a red zone/green zone policy where all students in “above the line” red zone schools receive the benefits of targeted initiatives like ELO summer school, while highly impacted students in “below the line” schools do not have access to these same crucial services.  We find it ironic that MCPS often demonstrates the success of the targeted initiatives by pointing out that recipients in red zone schools outperform students of similar background in green zone schools. If these initiatives work,  we must find ways to offer similar services to all highly impacted students. The $300K Intervention Project is a good start. We hope this funding will be used to fund pilot projects to be assessed for county-wide implementation.

 

Parents across the county have expressed concern about the need for improvement at the Middle School level including increased academic rigor. The new middle school initiatives in the proposed budget are a start, but we are disappointed that we do not have access to the Middle School Audit referenced in the budget to help us evaluate these initiatives in the context of an overall plan for Middle School improvement.

 

For Special Education we need to additional funding for those students not moving to diploma avenues.  Vocational support and transitions staffing is needed to help facilitate job avenues.

 

The second theme is: Communication for Collaboration

 

MCPS needs to do better in outreach – especially for our non-English speakers. We need to make it second nature that any communications with parents, such as the curriculum rollout, involve translation services. The new Translation Services, Web Communications Enhancement, and Human Relations Compliance initiatives are good first steps, but there is a need for more school-based services such as bi-lingual front office staffs.  The additional funding for Elementary School Secretaries will allow Principals more time to focus on students and communicate with parents.

 

We ask that MCPS and the BOE view parents as partners. Parents are in a unique position to understand the impact of policies and initiatives on students. Parents request respectful customer service from MCPS. We request more active parent participation in the curriculum rollout along the lines of our successful collaboration on Grading and Reporting. We were disappointed that as partners, MCCPTA did not receive important budget documents in a timely manner this year.

 

We are pleased that, based on our examination of their required funding and their likely impact on our children, the new budget initiatives appear consistent with the Compact. We ask you to continue this dialogue. We believe that the linkage of budget development to the MCPS Strategic Plan shows great promise and appreciate efforts to get community input much earlier in the process. We encourage MCPS to better link the budget to the strategic plan and to involve MCCPTA in funding decisions that allocate spending among different priorities, rather than waiting for MCCPTA comment on these allocations after the are embedded in the proposed budget. In addition, we once again urge the BOE to engage in a dialogue with MCCPTA on its unilateral decision to eliminate future year preset designated testimony times for MCCPTA, PTA cluster coordinators, and Unions.

 

The third theme is: Accountability for All Activities

 

MCPS must adequately assess new programs and curricula, and should insure materials are available, and teacher training is completed before implementation. The proposed budget makes some progress in this area but MCCPTA continues to believe the Board needs additional dedicated resources to complete independent program evaluations and audits and adequately oversee MCPS.

 

Accountability activities require infrastructure and the MCPS financial system gets some needed focus in this budget, but the effort appears to lack a long-range plan. We are also concerned that the antiquated MCPS mainframe computer system will have adverse impacts on the efficiency and effectiveness of teaching and administration, ultimately impacting our students.

 

MCPS has increased the numbers of programs initially funded by grants.  While grants are a great way to increase available funding, eventually they have to be funded by MCPS.  They also often immediately require additional MCPS funding, such as transportation services, and can come with requirements that have broad policy implications that need to be fully vetted before accepting grant funding. Programs funded by grants must receive the same scrutiny and parent communication as other MCPS programs.

 

Accountability for a safe and healthful environment is essential. We ask the BOE to undertake planning efforts to address the initiatives for all-Day K and class size reductions without greatly expanding the long-term use of portables. In addition, while the budget makes some progress in this area, we need more resources for adequate maintenance, repair and security personnel across the county. 

 

I want to end my testimony by thanking the BOE, Dr. Weast, and the MCPS staff, for working with us to maintain the world-class school system we enjoy in Montgomery County.