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October 7, 2013

Pointing in the wrong direction

Cindy A. Rose

Get ready for the 2014-15 Frederick County Public Schools budget battle.  What, oh what, will get thrown under the bus first? What will frazzle the parents most and send them screaming down to Winchester Hall?


The first thing I want to know: where is the extra $10,283,387 taken from OPEB (Other Post Employment Benefits) to fund wage increases last year, going to come from to pay for those increases this year?


Let me try and give you some insight on what I see school administrators doing to rally public support to push for more money.


I sat in on the Superintendent’s Chat on October 1 at Brunswick Middle School, which I thought was well attended. A very passionate parent, new to Maryland, made a plea to Superintendent Dr. Theresa Alban to speak up on behalf of the special education students on the over-use of seclusion rooms. (Over 200 children lost their lives nationwide in these rooms in the last five years.


This parent also made a plea that the employees of Frederick County Public Schools, who come in contact with the special education children get more and better training on how to interact with them. Knowing how to deal with these children prevents and/or minimizes the need for such rooms.


Dr. Alban responded to the second part of her plea, not by explaining the amount of training teachers and instructional assistants have, but by complaining about how funding doesn’t allow for us to have what we want and need to have.


I mean here is this parent crying, obviously in great emotional distress, and the gut reaction of our superintendent was to carp about funding?


Dr. Alban pointed out that our school system has only 19 psychologists and “we” need more of them to address this parent’s concerns.


Really? The answer to the problem isn’t training for the existing instructional aides and teachers? Those who come in daily contact with these children couldn’t benefit from more training? What we need are more psychologists, around $90K a pop, who rarely see them, that’s the answer?


Missed opportunity #1 – To really be a part of the community.


Another parent had concerns over textbooks and why her 5th grader was using the same book she had in 4th grade. Dr. Alban mentioned, once again, the problems with funding. She explained how our school system cut the resource (textbook) budget because money was needed to upgrade the WiFi system. This begs the explanation I was given, that “we” weren’t spending money on books because they wanted to find ones best aligned for the new standards and they wanted more digital resources.


What happened to the $2 plus million the Board of County Commissioners gave above and beyond Maintenance of Effort, specifically for technology upgrades?


She did say our school system purchased new math books so they could be aligned with the new, “rigorous”, Common Core.


So, I’m confused on the “we couldn’t but did,” purchase books. If these new books are Common Core math aligned, parents have something other than budget concerns to worry about. Common Core math is TERC math and we all know how long and hard we fought to rid ourselves of that albatross.


Dr. Alban assured this parent that Common Core math was deeper and more complex. “When they learn fractions, they are really going to get deep into them.” [Paraphrased.]


How is that going to be possible when children in elementary school aren’t going to be taught how to divide fractions? I’m not kidding. Quoting here: “Division of a fraction by a fraction – gone in elementary grades.”


I don’t know your definition of “deep,” but when learning the basics of fractions I would assume dividing them is a necessity to any understanding, let alone a “deep” one.


Missed opportunity #2 – To be open and honest about the shortcomings of Common Core.


Dr. Alban forgot to mention the upgraded WiFi was necessary because Common Core Assessments crash and burn if all schools, in all jurisdictions, aren’t computer ready. It also requires one computer for every two students, but that’s another budget concern for another column.


I heard someone say that curriculum and standards weren’t a budgetary concern. I’d like to point out to that person that curriculum and standards are nothing BUT a budgetary concern. Again, another topic for another column.


I hope to be proven wrong, but I fear the purpose of the superintendent’s chats aren’t to get out into the community and engage parents’ concerns, but to plant in the public’s mind that money is the cause of all our problems and the Board of County Commissioners need to be pressured into giving our schools more.


Frederick County Public Schools should stop using real opportunities to partner with parents in the community as a stage for convincing them that the commissioners need to be pressured. Instead of trying to get the community to gather their torches and pitchforks and head to Winchester Hall, to instead, head toward Baltimore where unfunded/unwanted mandates are spawned. This is what wastes millions of dollars we could put to more targeted uses.


If anything needs to be “deep” and “targeted,” it’s fighting back where the real damage is coming from: The Maryland Department of Education and loss of local control.


Yellow Cab
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