My name is Soma Datta and my husband’s name is Subhasis Datta. We reside in the Wootton High School cluster area and for over twelve years, we have worked on various MCPS boards, advisory committees and served on the PTA Executive Boards of our children’s schools. In addition, we have served as MCCPTA Delegates for a decade, cluster coordinators and on the School Improvement Teams at two MCPS schools. Currently, Mr. Datta serves on an advisory board to the Family and Community Partnerships program and I serve on numerous G/T and magnet school advisory groups and curriculum committees. In addition, we coordinate various PTA programs that benefit our students. We have two children both of whom are currently or have previously attended The Center for the Highly Gifted and MCPS Magnet Programs. We have been recognized for our contributions at various MCPS ceremonies and have been appointed to county-wide advisory boards by the County Executive.
In the event that the Superintendent’s proposed operating budget is not fully approved, among the targeted cuts is the elimination of the transportation budget for magnet programs which are referred to as
“Transportation for optional regular education programs outside normal school attendance zones,including magnet, IB, immersion, high school consortia and other special programs” [page 18-section H].
As you are aware, the magnet and IB programs are located outside the “normal school attendance zones”. Those attended by our children are at the farthest distance across the county possible and require over an hour’s journey each way on the congested Beltway. Students are selected to enroll in these magnet programs based upon demonstrating exceptional grasp of specialized subject areas in a county-wide entrance examination for which parents pay a fee ($50.00).
Approximately, only one tenth of those taking the test demonstrate that they need this highly specialized instruction that is well beyond their chronological grade level and much more rigorous and deeper than the regular ‘one-size fits all’ MCPS curriculum at the local schools. Magnet students from any of a large number of local school clusters are mandated by MCPS to attend the magnet programs from across the county.
The estimated cost savings from eliminating this very necessary transportation is only $4.9 million out of a total of $2,226,134,843. Although this budget savings is relatively miniscule in the overall picture, it would deal an immediate death-blow to the student talent, composition and attendance of these highly able and gifted students at these programs. Similar cuts are proposed to magnet teaching staff and support staff that would ultimately lead to the elimination of the magnet programs altogether.
We dispute that these magnet and signature programs are “optional”. In recent testimony at the BOE budget hearings, we were reminded that Montgomery County Public Schools has promised in its policy IOA to educate every child in the way that meets their educational needs. The needs of exceptionally and highly “gifted and talented” students needing different kinds of accommodations (classes with other high ability peers, appropriately rigorous and challenging curriculum that allows them to actualize their exceptionally advanced abilities and interests on their level to keep them engaged and motivated, teachers trained to nurture highly gifted and able minds with challenging curricula) must be an MCPS high priority, not an option!
The Montgomery Blair Math, Science and Computer Science HS Magnet and the Richard Montgomery HS International Baccalaureate Diploma Program are the jewels in the Crown of MCPS. They are world-class magnet programs that attract the highest caliber of student and secure the place of MCPS among the nation’s most attractive school districts. One indicator among many are the high numbers of National Merit scholarship semifinalists that raise MCPS to a comparable standing with the best schools in Virginia and other high performing school districts. Other indicators of success are the finalists in the Intel Science and Tech.Competition, AP exam pass rates etc. etc.
Speaking personally, our children were bored and overlooked at their local schools. They underwent a noticeable transformation and flourished at The Center For the Highly Gifted, Eastern and Takoma Park Middle Schools. Not only did the advanced teaching and subjects allow them to demonstrate and hone their exceptional academic abilities and creativity but they gained leadership skills, critical thinking skills and high self-esteem that comes with the nurturing environment of peers and teachers that are all working toward the same goals. For our children and us, the sacrifice of waking two and a half hours earlier in the dark to board a bus at 6:20 AM in order to attend a magnet program and returning up to three hours later than the neighborhood children in order to take part in specialized after school programs has been demonstrably worth it.
The specialized magnet programs are the reason we chose to reside in Montgomery County and pay those onerous taxes! Elimination of the buses that allow access to these few and threatened programs would leave us with little motivation to remain in a school district whose only political mission is to close the achievement gap but not provide for the needs of the highly talented and gifted student.
When many comparative studies show consistently that the United States stacks up very poorly compared to other developed and developing countries on Science, Mathematics, Technology talent, History, Geography, Language ability and understanding of global context; the last thing MCPS should be sacrificing are the meager provisions it makes to transport these highly gifted and able students to very limited programs available to meet their educational and developmental needs. These proposed transportation cuts would be tantamount to cutting off MCPS’ nose to spite it’s face!
Instead, we propose that the BOE consider cuts to the bureaucracy and MCPS central office budget lines that have no direct benefit to student instruction or gains.
Specifically, MCPS should consider cutting the following:
1. Letters and communications to individuals and families by snail mail when families can opt in to the email system. Recently we have received three mailings notifying us of publications that are available on the MCPS website. This is a huge waste of money and trees.
2. More restrictive leave policy for teachers and MCPS employees that require substitutes routinely. As a substitute teacher with MCPS myself, many times I am asked to sit around and do nothing but babysit students because it is hard to pick up where a seasoned teacher has left off.
3. Superintendent’s travel and conference costs that do not benefit MCPS directly such as the recent trip to Ireland and previous trips to Singapore to ‘learn’ about a math system that was never implemented in MCPS schools.
4. Duplication of costs such as printed materials from Office of Communications and Family Outreach for Department of Management, Budget and Planning.
5. Miscellaneous large-scale purchases of dubious value such as unnecessary Promethean Boards in every classroom.
Many thanks for your careful consideration of our concerns. We thank you for the dedication you bring to our school system and the many hours of work that you devote to our students’ welfare. Godspeed in making the right decisions for our students in this budget process.
Subhasis and Soma Datta