Testimony before the Montgomery County Council

By Cindy Kerr, President

On the FY 2007 Operating Budget

Wednesday, April 5, 2006

 

President Leventhal and members of the County Council:

 

Good Evening, I am Cindy Kerr, President of the Montgomery County Council of PTAs.  On behalf of the 50,000 members of MCCPTA, I want to thank the County Council for the opportunity to testify before you this evening on the Board of Education’s Adopted FY 2007 Operating Budget.

 

Attached are a copy of the MCCPTA FY 2007 Operating Budget Compact, and a copy of the 2005-2006 MCCPTA Advocacy Priorities which were developed and approved by our Delegates. 

 

As you know the Board of Education continues to struggle with how best to gain community input on its Strategic Plan and Operating Budget.  We like to think the Board’s February amendments to the FY 2007 Operating Budget are a reflection of the power of and necessity for public comment and we hope the County Council continues to see the value of cluster testimony.

 

In these hearings you will hear testimony from clusters across the County.  Our clusters come together with a common mission:  to speak on behalf of children in our schools.  It is important they have the opportunity to publicly state their issues to you.

 

This testimony will highlight only a few areas outlined in our Compact by focusing on three themes.

 

The first theme is:  Funding to Finality

 

MCPS strives to be innovative and cutting edge in its curricula and programs and while we wholeheartedly support the efforts to bring our children the most effective instructional program possible we are concerned that the operating budget process does not fully anticipate all the resources and supports that will be needed.  This theme refers to the need to consider the funding ramifications of new programs and curricula to ensure that all potential costs are considered before implementation and to then follow through until the initiatives are fully implemented.  For example, implementation of reteaching and reassessment is critical to improve learning but it has implications for additional teacher time, staff development, reassessment materials, and needs for space, all of which should be part of a comprehensive budget plan which considers the ripple effects of the new grading and reporting policy.

 

The Middle School Magnet Consortium seems to be a wonderful opportunity to start with a new format and new programs in middle schools.  Parents are concerned with what happens when the grant ends.  How will MCPS continue with these magnet programs within the consortium as well as extend them to other middle schools? Funding for finality means MCPS should be planning early how to provide programs like those in the Middle School Magnet Consortium if they prove effective.

 

Parents support increasing academic rigor in middle schools including bringing more high school level courses into middle schools.  MCPS must ensure that the middle schools have the funds to staff these courses with teachers qualified to teach these content areas.  There should be funding for middle schools to purchase the necessary texts and instructional materials for high school math and language classes and accelerated science and social science courses. 

 

Likewise, efforts to develop High School Academies must include a plan for recruiting and training teachers qualified to teach the specialized courses which are the hallmark of such academies. If MCPS offers programs in advanced computer technology and engineering then it must also have qualified staff to teach these offerings.

 

MCCPTA supports the Board’s amendment to fund a magnet program at Poolesville HS.  We appreciate the efforts MCPS made to include parent input into planning all aspects of this new program and a budget that considered the myriad of elements which must be in place to assure successful implementation.

 

Elementary class size reductions have resulted in tremendous gains in student performance.  The corresponding increase in the number of class sections has resulted in a decrease in instructional time for Art, Music, and PE for elementary students.  MCPS should think through all the implications of initiatives to ensure they don’t have unintended consequences.

 

In essence, funding to finality means ensuring we have the big picture as we proceed.  We applaud adding 25 general education teacher positions in high schools to support the inclusion of special education students. The steps towards inclusion will have ramifications throughout the classroom and including these 25 positions moves us closer to successful implementation of Least Restrictive Environment.  The fact that this operating budget puts in resources for this is a positive step towards funding to finality.

 

The second theme is:  Connections and Communication

 

We are looking to see the dedication of resources to improve communication to the parent community regarding the availability of opportunities and offerings in schools.   A good example of a process that provided opportunities for parental input at the planning stage is the development of the up-county magnet. It is only by improving our communication and outreach that we forge an effective partnership to ensure student success.  Communication requires establishing a meaningful dialogue creating ways and places where parents can be heard.

 

Home-school communication needs to be improved especially for homes where parents have limited English speaking ability.  The increase in central office translation services will help parents be more informed about the variety of MCPS programs and offerings and is a positive step toward improving communication.  The four additional ESOL Parent Community Coordinators will assist selected schools in their outreach efforts. 

 

MCCPTA strongly supports having more parent outreach staff assigned to local schools rather than based at central office.  While parent involvement programs such as Study Circles and National Network of Partnership Schools (through Johns Hopkins) might be shown to be effective, they put the burden on parents to seek them out rather than being a hand that reaches out and draws these families into the school community. 

 

Communication with non-English speaking parents must be valued in its own right and not consigned as an afterthought to someone else’s job description.  Recruitment of bilingual secretaries, teachers, and para-educators is important but these personnel have their own responsibilities and cannot fulfill the critical mission of parent outreach that is so important to student success.   We need parent outreach coordinators in the trenches at the local schools so that all parents feel comfortable phoning the school to ask a question about their child and that teachers can easily communicate concerns and congratulations to parents. Parents who come to this county with an unfamiliar language, with an unfamiliar culture, with an unfamiliar school system need a familiar face at their child’s school whose sole responsibility is to help parents become true partners in education.

 

We welcome the additional Assistant Principals and Directors of School Performance.  These additional positions respond to the reality of continuously growing demands placed upon our school based administration.  These positions are also crucial links to providing the communication necessary for smooth transitions and implementation of programs.  For example, fair and consistent implementation of the Grading and Reporting policy requires and will continue to require monitoring and supervision by local school administrators working through the community superintendents.

 

MCCPTA also supports the addition of an analyst to the Board’s independent staff.  This position is designed to analyze Board Policies.  While we certainly can see the need for help with analyzing policies, given the Board’s breakneck pace of policy revisions, we think this position might be put to better use to assist the Board in their oversight of MCPS programs and budgets. 

 

We support stronger connections between the capital and operating budgets so that our facilities are adequate to support programming needs and provide a safe and healthful environment that promotes learning.  Given the huge maintenance back-log and the slow pace of elementary school modernizations, MCPS should be adding maintenance positions, not cutting twelve positions as this budget does.

 

The third theme is:  Technology must Support Teaching

 

The continued increase in central office technology must support teaching and student performance.  We want to see cost-effective technology which clearly supports academic programs.  Parents want to measure outcomes and not activities.  There is concern that the new Web-based IEP system is chasing an elusive target in its efforts to analyze the effectiveness of interventions as meeting IEP goals is an extremely subjective evaluation. 

 

We want to see increases in students’ performance and not just schools’ performance. Assessments made possible by the new technology should focus on individual student performance and de-emphasize school performance which can be altered by shifting student populations in consortiums and magnets.

 

We recognize the value of assessments for differentiating instruction in the classroom, but not all technology serves that purpose.  We need to carefully discriminate between technology that supports teaching and technology that just adds additional burdens on classroom staff. 

 

Finally, I would like to highlight the $2.6 million designated as High School supports.  We support the goals of reducing the number of oversize high school classes, providing intervention programs to improve literacy skills and prepare students to succeed on the HSAs and in more rigorous classes, as well as extended day programs to address issues such as academic ineligibility.  However, we would like to see some of this funding address parent outreach at the high school level.  High Schools have a critical need to be able to communicate with all parents, especially non-English speaking parents, to convey the importance of consistent attendance, homework completion, and the cultural expectations of U.S. schools. We have concerns whether this level of funding can produce meaningful results in any of these areas and look forward to a more substantial commitment of resources in future years.

 

I want to end my testimony by thanking the County Council for working with us to maintain the world class school system we enjoy in Montgomery County.

 


 

 

PROPOSED MCCPTA FY2007 OPERATING BUDGET COMPACT

 

The Montgomery County Council of Parent-Teacher Associations (MCCPTA) believes that an Operating Budget for the Montgomery County Public Schools (MCPS) must provide funding to make progress towards the fundamental requirements described in this budget compact. This compact will provide the basis for testimony before the Board of Education and the County Council and in other forums concerning the MCPS Operating Budget for FY 2007. MCCPTA will not support any budget, MCPS Strategic Plan, or other planning or policy document, that does not make progress towards the requirements of this compact.

 

A. Maximum Performance for all Students

MCPS must focus on raising academic performance of all students so that all may reach their full potential, no matter where they reside in the county.  There is a need for uniformly high expectations that all students will succeed and will have their needs met including Special Education, ESOL, and Gifted/Talented students. There must be sufficient funding for programs to raise the performance of under-performing students. There must also be adequate funding to enhance the performance of students who have attained satisfactory levels of performance but who can do better and to challenge students who exceed satisfactory levels of performance but are able to perform at even higher levels.

 

B.  Educational Program Staffing

The highest priority for MCPS must be to provide teachers to reduce class sizes across the county at both elementary and secondary levels, weighted to take into account ESOL and Special Education students.  MCPS should develop more appropriate class size guidelines at the elementary and secondary levels that are absolute caps on class size. Until appropriate class sizes are achieved, more paraeducators must be provided to enhance instruction.  Further classroom staffing priorities include:

·         There should be math specialists to provide early intervention for students.

·         Middle school teachers teaching high school courses should hold the necessary qualifications and MCPS should ensure that specialty courses offered in signature programs are taught by teachers certified in those content areas.

·         The student/teacher staffing ratios for art, music, and physical education should be decreased.

·         The use of substitute teachers in the classroom during academic year teacher training should be minimized.

·         There should be more reading teachers in all elementary and secondary schools.

·         Funding must allow for expansion of all day kindergarten as proposed by the planned roll-out.

MCPS must not use funds appropriated for hiring new teachers or reducing class size for any other purpose.

 

C. Educational Resources

As adequate educational staffing is achieved, it will become even more important to provide staff with the tools necessary to assure success.

·         Increased academic rigor in the middle school curriculum is needed. Attention to emotional and developmental needs, though appropriate, cannot be to the exclusion of rigorous academic standards.

·         There should be more emphasis on providing a well-rounded curriculum including a rich science, social studies, and arts curriculum.

·         Increase academic intervention/support resources to meet the demand based on need to include:

o        Specific action/intervention plans for students not meeting standards under the new grading and reporting policy.

o        Specific action/intervention plans for students not meeting extracurricular activity eligibility requirements.

o        Consistent funding and implementation of special programs across the county. MCPS formulas for resource allocation need to be revised.

o        Academic intervention/support such as summer learning opportunities should be available to all students based on need. Resource allocation should not be limited to Title I schools.

·         When new curricula are introduced, teachers must be provided with new materials, as well as textbooks, to implement the changes effectively.

·         More attention needs to be paid to vertical articulation to ensure students receive the foundation for future curriculum options.

 

D. A Safe and Healthful Environment

The setting in which education takes place should not be neglected.  For optimal learning our schools must be a place where the children feel safe, and their health is protected.  Pursuant to this, MCPS must be able to ensure adequate maintenance and repair personnel and adequate security personnel are provided.  Furthermore,

·         More attention must be paid to safety hazards posed by traffic patterns around schools as well as overcrowded and unsupervised buses.

·         More attention and resources should be devoted to addressing discipline problems, especially at the middle school level, including the problem of gangs, bullying and risk to student safety.

·         There should be more time devoted to physical education, particularly at the elementary school level.

·         Building and mechanical improvements necessary to maintain adequate indoor air quality must be supported; and energy management policies must not compromise adequate indoor air quality.

·         The process for lead remediation in school drinking water should be accelerated.

·         There should be adequate funding to ensure school security, including better securing and monitoring of all school entrances and pathways to portables that are outside main buildings.

·         There should be more resources devoted to cleaning and maintenance of outdated and inadequately functioning bathroom facilities.

·         School lunch and a la carte menu selections should be reviewed and adjusted to improve nutritional content.

 

E. Other Support for Students

In a system with sufficient teaching resources in adequate buildings, other supports will still be needed to ensure a quality education for all children.  To assist the educational staff and focus their time on working with students, MCPS needs to:

·         Provide more local school based resources for communications, especially with non-English speaking parents and increase translation services.

·         Relieve the administrative burden on educators by adding Assistant Principals.

·         Add Guidance Counselors and pupil personnel workers, and staff to address social/emotional/developmental needs at all levels.

·         Increase attention and resources to students who fail at the 9th grade level to anticipate and avoid risk of later drop out.

 

F. Retention and Recruitment of Qualified Staff

Development, retention, and recruitment of talented educational, administrative, and support staff are fundamental to maintaining a high quality of education in Montgomery County.  Serious consideration should be given to revising salary structures or increasing outside contracting for positions that are persistently vacant, such as HVAC mechanics and speech and language therapists.  MCPS needs to address the high turnover rate for staff from Principals to building services staff, to increase diversity in hiring, and to ensure necessary training for all.

 

G. Performance Assessment, Fiscal Responsibility and Securing Adequate Funding

Consistent with the goal of promoting maximum performance by all students, there must be greater accountability by MCPS for improved academic performance of students.  MCPS accountability for effective use of resources should be increased by using the inventory of all MCPS programs to reduce duplications and overlaps, and through outcome measurement rigorously evaluate programs for effectiveness and efficiency. 

·         MCPS must adequately assess new programs and curricula before and after implementation, and should insure that sufficient course materials, guidebooks, and implementation documents are available, and teacher training completed before implementation.

·         MCPS should evaluate the use of new technology to ensure that it is the most cost-effective way to increase student performance.

·         There is a need for more oversight of local schools by the Community Superintendents.

·         MCPS and BOE should develop a budget document that is more comprehensible to the public and that will allow decision -makers and the community to assess the costs and benefits of particular programs and initiatives.

 

The MCCPTA recognizes that an Operating Budget that satisfies all of these requirements will necessitate a continued strong commitment to education by Montgomery County.  Such a commitment and investment, however, is more than justified by the benefits a well-resourced educational system provides to the community.

 


                         

 

 

 

2005-2006  MCCPTA Advocacy Priorities

 

ACADEMIC CONCERNS – Elementary School:

·         Lack of a well rounded curriculum: Emphasis on reading, writing, arithmetic to the exclusion of a rich science, social studies, arts and other curriculum

·         Need for Math Specialists (like Reading Specialists) in all elementary schools to provide early intervention for students especially with increased demands of new math curriculum 

·         Too much time devoted to teaching to the “test” for standardized testing

·         Overcrowded classes with inadequate aide and/or resource support

·         Need to increase number of  physical education (PE) periods per week

·         Need to develop more appropriate class size guidelines that are absolute caps on class size

·         Inconsistent expectations of students – need for uniformly high expectations that all students will succeed and will have their needs met including Special Education, ESOL, Gifted/Talented

·         Inadequate attention to vertical articulation planning – more attention needed to ensure that students receive necessary foundational instruction in elementary to be academically ready for  later curriculum options (example: preparing students for Math A in Middle School)

·         Need to make academic intervention/support such as summer learning opportunities available to all students based on need and not limit resource allocation to Title I schools

·         Poorly planned curriculum implementation—lack of adequate resources for teachers and inadequate communication with parents during roll out of new curriculum

·         Inadequate range of placement  alternatives to meet the needs of special education students including curtailing of the home school model

·         Inadequate time for lunch: re-align lunch periods to accommodate  increased demands of larger population

·         Inadequate attention to problem of bullying in character education curriculum

·         Inadequate attention and response to the data confirming a tremendous gap in achievement between African American and Hispanic students and white students within special education despite the fact that each of these students, regardless of race, has an individualized education plan

·         Lowering Art, Music, PE student:staff ratios to account for the increased number of class sections generated by lower class size initiatives and the reduction of class size guidelines

 

ACADEMIC CONCERNS – Middle School:

·         Teachers who lack the necessary qualifications are being asked to teach high school courses in middle school

·         Lack of opportunity to take the arts (art, drama) in MS if student takes band/foreign language

·         Grading and reporting – continued confusion about its application, including the role of homework and participation,  and need for specific action/intervention plan for students not meeting standard


·         Inadequate attention to vertical articulation planning – more attention needed to ensure that students receive necessary foundational instruction in elementary and middle school to be academically ready for  later curriculum options

·         Frequent curriculum changes  and lack of textbooks

·         Overly large classes

·         Inadequate academic rigor in middle school curriculum—attention to emotional and developmental needs though appropriate cannot be to the exclusion of  rigorous academic standards

·         Inconsistent expectations of students – need for uniformly high expectations that all students will succeed and will have their needs met including Special Education, ESOL, Gifted/Talented

·         Eliminate unnecessary barriers to entry into GT classes: Too wide a gap between regular and GT classes

·         Inadequate after school options and lack of transportation and other resources to support after school participation

 

ACADEMIC CONCERNS – High School:

·         Inconsistent expectations of students – need for uniformly high expectations that all students will succeed and will have their needs met including Special Education, ESOL, Gifted/Talented

·         Grading and reporting – continued confusion about its application, including role of homework and participation and need for specific action/intervention plan for students not meeting standard

·         Overly large classes: teacher: student ratios are too high

·         Failure to devote adequate attention/resources to the large number of students not meeting basic academic standards (below a 2.0 GPA) who then become academically ineligible 

·         Increase attention and resources to students who fail at the 9th grade to anticipate and avoid risk of later drop out

·         Failure to offer rigorous courses to all high school students irrespective of their local community

·         Inconsistency in course offerings across county

·         Need to allow for meaningful parent participation in discussion/design of alternative high school program options

·         Eliminate unnecessary barriers to entry into GT classes: Too wide a gap between regular and GT classes

·         Improved transportation of HS athletes to their events--so they miss less school

 

FACILITIES CONCERNS:

 

  • MCPS is not keeping up with the PLAR schedule – undue delays in replacing heating and .cooling systems; replacing roofs; eliminating mold
  • MCPS is not planning adequately for development -- MCPS fails to account for realistic student influx resulting in  overcrowding
  • Lack of hygiene and inadequate functioning of outdated bathroom facilities
  • Old and outdated buildings in general
  • Schools are too large
  • No surplusing our school land 
  • Over reliance on portables rather than permanent construction/portables becoming permanent
  • Lack of safety in portables due to site placement and security problems created by lack of connection with main school facility
  • Unhealthy internal building conditions including poor air quality
  • Boundary issues extend Poolesville HS boundaries to 355
  • Need to address the policy protections lost in the revision of Policy FAA (long range planning)
  •  Inadequate and/or Unsafe playground equipment – poorly maintained/ insufficient to meet children’s needs
  • Need to add  gymnasiums to elementary schools and provide air conditioning for all gyms

 

STAFFING AND SUPPORT SERVICE CONCERNS:

·         Overuse of substitute teachers in the classroom during academic year teacher training

·         Need for Assistant Principals in every school to address growing administrative burdens

·         Inadequate guidance counselors/PPW staff to address myriad social/emotional/developmental needs at the elementary, middle and high school level

·         Need for additional resources and training geared toward better integration of special education students into the mainstream 

·         Overly large schools – tendency toward larger and larger school capacity may hurt educational program

·         Need for greater diversity in MCSP staff --inadequate number of Spanish speaking teachers/staff in MCPS

·         Lack of appropriate process for a school community to address problem of an underperforming/inadequate principal

·         High rates of teacher turn over  and high turnover in principals -- inadequate attention to retention and stability

·         Lack of clarity in the role of the Community Superintendent and need for better communication/access between local community and the Community Superintendent

 

SAFETY/HEALTH CONCERNS:

  • Inadequate attention and resources to the safety hazards (bullying) posed by overcrowded and unsupervised buses
  • Inadequate attention paid to dangers posed by traffic patterns and new road construction around schools and the need to better protect pedestrian safety at drop off/pick up
  • Need to develop policies and a resource plan to address growing problem of bullying and gang violence
  • Insufficient attention to and remediation of  lead in drinking
  • Inadequate attention to children’s nutritional needs in school meal programs/offerings
  • Lack of teen driver education classes/resources to promote greater safety
  • Need more attention to school building security especially unique challenges raised by portables that are outside main building
  • Overcrowding in school buildings poses safety risks to students
  • Need for better maintenance/mold remediation
  • Need to work for stronger legislation keeping convicted child molesters from living near schools, parks and libraries

 

PARENT INVOLVEMENT/COMMUNICATION CONCERNS:

  • Inadequate resources devoted by MCPS to improve communication with non-English speaking parents – need more/better translation services
  • Need to replace parent community outreach coordinator positions cut from schools—these positions are a vital link to immigrant and minority families and critical to improving parent involvement
  • Lack of meaningful involvement by parents in School Improvement Plan process requires systemic correction
  • Need mandatory system-wide program for online posting of all homework and grades (1)
  • Lack of clear, understandable communications to parents—for example materials on grading and reporting are too complicated to be readily understood
  • Lack of uniformity and consistent MCPS support for communicating with parents—individual schools bear costs of photocopying; inconsistent access to internet information channels; variation in newsletter communication with parents
  • Barriers erected by Interagency Coordinating Board (ICB) interfere with school community use of school facilities

 

 

ACCOUNTABILITY CONCERNS:

 

  • No clearly articulated intervention plan to support students who are underperforming or in need of remediation as identified by new grading policy 
  • IEP process is overly cumbersome and intimidating and needs to be reformed 
  • Lack of consistency in funding and implementation of special programs across the county – need to revise MCPS formulas for resource allocation
  • Need for improved oversight by community superintendents