MCPS budget cuts jeopardize Magnet division


Photo Courtesy of Bethesda Magazine

A meeting takes place with Board of Education members in 2018.

Robyn Fohouo

Montgomery County Superintendent Dr. Jack R. Smith’s recommended budget for the 2019 fiscal year contains cuts that would significantly reduce the capabilities of the Division of Accelerated and Enriched Instruction (AEI), which would have adverse effects on magnet programs and students receiving accelerate instruction found in AP, IB, and Honors classes, among others.

The proposed eliminations of the AEI Director and secretary positions would greatly weaken program capacity and the ability of MCPS leadership to meet the needs of advanced learners. According to Smith’s budget plan, these reductions will save $173,500, while the loss of ten teacher-coach positions and an instructional specialist position in the office that supports non-native English speakers in high school will save more than $639,000.

These cuts are possible because of the “overall efficiencies” in the office, as Smith aims to put resources closer to local schools instead of having them in central MCPS offices. That is why the ten coaches will now be working directly with students. This decentralization, however, has many parents and students worried.

“We need to continue to support magnet programs for advanced learners. We need central office staff who can help make sure that our schools are properly implementing countywide educational initiatives.Without a strong central office, we worry these things will not happen,” said Monique Ashton, a parent advocate coordinator for the Richard Montgomery Cluster.

The AEI’s mission is to develop instructional guidelines, curriculum components, program models and professional development in differentiated instruction to support students who are Gifted and Talented or who have the motivation or potential to excel in school. They provide a vast array of services for teachers and students, including support for IB and AP programming, professional development at system and school-based levels to give all students access to rigorous instruction, instructional and programming support for early talent development in all schools, and individualised support for student whose needs are not being met by their current schedule.

On Tuesday, January 16, students and education advocates argued against these budgets cuts and voiced their support for accelerated instruction and the aid of English learners.

I was fortunate enough to test into a magnet program in 4th and 5th grade, and then there the environment completely changed. I was with students who were in the same boat as me, students who weren’t being challenged enough in their previous elementary schools and it was nice to be in a more competitive environment,” said junior Britney Erickson. “So now, it’s disheartening to hear that it’s a possibility that funding could be cut for these accelerated programs because I know that a large percentage of students in the County benefit from these.”

Erickson is one of over 2000 people who has signed a petition directed towards the MCPS Board of Education protesting these budget cuts. Michelle Gluck, chair of The Montgomery County Council of PTAs Gifted Child Committee, created this petition in the first week of 2018 on behalf of the Gifted and Talented Association of Montgomery County (GTA). Their goal is to reach 2500 signatures, and students, parents, and teachers alike have gone out of their way to show support.

“I don’t buy the idea that you need to cut certain programs in order to pay for other programs within education,” said Mr. Grosfeld-Katz, who teaches IB students. “Of course money and resources are limited, but in my opinion, the solution is not to take money from one educational program and divert it to another, it’s to find revenue from other sources. It still should be possible to find a way to maximize every single student’s potential. And if they haven’t found a solution, they’re not being creative enough.”

The school board will continue to hold work sessions on the budget proposal and will adopt a final version in February. The County Council will then review the plan and make the final decision in June. The new budget will have far-reaching impacts across the county, a fact that will no doubt play a role in the council’s decision-making process.

Feature photo courtesy of Bethesda Magazine.