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Monday, December 21, 2009

Real SMOBs of MoCo (Season 1, Episode 2)

What's it really like to be the Student Member of the Board of Education in Montgomery County? What does your SMOB do on a daily basis? Take a glimpse into the life of your SMOB and join him on his adventure through his term. In this week's episode: Follow the SMOB through a board meeting, the budget process, a town hall, and a snow day!

Note: This video does not represent everything the SMOB does. Just a glimpse into some of the most memorable moments. Music at the beginning is the Theme to The Office by NBC.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

How MCPS Closes Schools for Weather

Lately, I've been getting a lot of questions about how MCPS closes schools, so here are the answers to your most asked questions:

How is the decision made to close schools during bad weather?

Information about the weather is gathered from many sources, including The National Weather Service, Accu-Weather, the news media and by actual inspection of roads, school driveways, and sidewalks throughout the county. Weather conditions in surrounding counties are also gathered and factored into forecasting conditions for Montgomery County students and considered for those students attending non-public schools in other areas. Information from these various sources is factored into the decision and school administration, not the Board of Education, makes these decisions.

Weather conditions or continuing impact from severe weather or other events such as a widespread power outage, may cause a delayed opening, early closing or closing for the day. The most severe conditions within the county are used as the basis for the decision-making criteria. A uniform procedure to close all schools is maintained so that the school system can respond quickly to emergency conditions and protect the safety and well being of students and staff who attend both public and non-public schools and receive transportation services from Montgomery County. In any case, the school system always considers the safety and security of you all when they make these decisions.

The weather may be bad elsewhere in the county, but fine where I live. Why aren't the nearby schools in our zone open?

The decision to close schools because of weather (or other widespread situation impacting safety) is always for the entire system. MCPS busses transport 96,000 students every day, and of these, 16,000 students are transported to schools beyond their home school attendance area. To close by cluster or zone would mean students living in a less affected area might be unable to attend their school and vice-versa. This creates unequal access to the instructional programs and making sure each student receives the required days of instruction becomes difficult. School must be accessible for all students to be given the ability to participate in instructional programs. In the case of non-public school closings for schools located outside of Montgomery County, the Department of Transportation works with schools on an individual basis to assure each student receives the required days of instruction. However, in the interest of the safety of all students and staff, whenever Montgomery County Schools are closed all transportation services to public and non-public schools is cancelled.

How and when do I find out that the schools are closed/closing?

For early morning decisions, road inspection begins at 3 a.m. so that a decision can be forwarded to media in time for the 5 a.m. broadcasts. The decision will also be available online by 5 a.m. In case of an early dismissal, all announcements will be made by 11 a.m. Sometimes, decisions will be so obvious that they'll be available earlier online and for the media.

How many snowdays can we have before it rolls over into summer?
If schools are closed...The school year will be extended by...
5 daysone day to June 17, 2010
6 daystwo days to June 17 and 18, 2010
7 daysthree days to June 17, 18, and 21, 2010
8 daysfour days to June 17, 18, 21, and 22, 2010
9 daysfive days to June 17, 18, 21, 22 and 23, 2010

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Budget: We're Gonna Fight for What We Deserve

Students of Montgomery County!

I just got the budget in the form of a thick binder. It's about 1000 pages but it will affect your schools and your education directly. It's extremely complicated and can get very confusing. But let me try and break it down for you in a "Sparknotes" version:

We're asking for a 1% increase in our budget to just over $2.2 Billion. That's it. Nothing else. Dr. Weast described the situation here at the Board perfectly when he said, “I want to make it very clear that I do not want to have to make these reductions, and I will fight for every dollar that our staff and students deserve. I do worry that these cuts could jeopardize the tremendous gains our students have made over the past decade due to the hard work of our staff.”

So, I know a lot of you looked at the potential reductions list. And I know you guys have a lot of questions. So let me try and break some stuff down for you guys.

Q: How does the budget work? Why do people say there are going to be cuts?
A: There is a common misconception here. The Board of Education does not tax or anything. It has no power over the money. The budget that the Board of Education is asking for has NO CUTS. We're not asking to cut ANYTHING. The Board of Education gets its money from the County Government (72%), the State Government (20%), the Federal Government (5%), and Other (3%). So, the budget that the Board of Education passes will be sent to the County Council and the County Executive so they can sign off on it.

But if the County Council and the State Government choose not to fund it, then MCPS will be forced to make cuts because its hands are tied. As you can see below, if the County Council and the State Government don't give money to the Board of Education, cuts have to be made to MCPS. Let me make this very clear: no one wants to cut our budget - not the Superintendent, not the Board of Ed, not the County Council, not the State. No one is to blame for this crisis but the economy itself.

Now, I'm a visual guy, so let me try and show you how it goes down:

Step 1: The Board of Education Recommends a Budget

Step 2A: If the County Council gives money to the Board of Education for everything:

Step 2B: If the County Council does not give money to the Board of Education for everything.

Q: Tim, why do we need an increase in money when we're already in a bad economy?
A: We have more kids basically. As I said before, in my post about Maintenance of Effort. Recap: the County Council has to fund the Board of Education budget at the same level as last year. If they funded $10,000 per student in 2008, they have to do that in 2009 or more. This year, we saw unprecedented growth: 2% growth or 2500 kids. And we're asking for more money so that we can keep up with the growth. In addition we just got 4000 more students on Free and Reduced Meals (FARMS) - 10% growth! We have more kids on FARMS than DCPS has public school students! So, we're asking for no new programs. No new initiatives. We just want to fund our budget at the same level as last year.

Q: Why can't the Board cut something else? What did the Board already cut?
A: Your teachers, administrators, support staff, etc. have made incredible sacrifices so far. Last year, the Board had to cut over $200 Million in spending through reductions, reorganization, cutbacks, etc. Your teachers, administrators, staff, etc. chose to give up their Cost of Living Adjustments to save the school system $90 Million (thank them!). A hiring freeze was put in place to save $50 Million. And $80 Million was cut in services. We cut 13% of central staff so far. That's what the Board and the Superintendent have been doing. We're all trying to save money without cutting education.

Q: What's going on in terms of the budget right now? Is it final?
A: No. Right now, MCPS is negotiating with teacher, administrator, and staff unions to try and hammer out something. No one knows what's going to happen. Because of the bad economy, the County Government and State Government have big deficits right off the bat. Tax revenues that fund both the county and state are down because of the economy. So they may choose not to fund the budget for MCPS. In addition, because of the Maintenance of Effort situation (MCPS loaned money to Council to satisfy MOE law, State said it was no good and will charge fine), MCPS will have to pay a fine. And looking further down the road, no one knows what's going to happen when the ARRA (Stimulus Package) funds run out and zap our federal funds.

Q: I hear class sizes are going to go up. What's up with that? Are they firing teachers?
A: No. Because more students are coming into the county, the Board of Education is asking for more money to hire more teachers. But, if the County and the State don't fund the budget, then no teachers can be hired and class sizes will eventually go up because of the growth in the county not because we are cutting any teachers. We are all working so that teachers are NOT cut.

Q: What's up with this Potential Budget Reductions Sheet? Are they really going to cut all this stuff? Are they really going to cut magnet/IB/Consortia busing? Are they really going to cut extracurriculars? How much are they going to cut in the end?
A: Who knows. Right now, nothing is final. Please know that these are NOT final cuts. They're not even close. Again, nobody wants to cut anything. If anything we, and I'm guessing the County Council and the State, want to INCREASE money for all of these things. I just want you guys to know that at the end of the day, the amount of money that the County Council and the State Government appropriates to the Board of Education is going to force MCPS to do one thing or another. If the budget is NOT funded, then these cuts will have to be made. But we're trying our best to preserve education in the classroom at ALL COSTS. That's why no existing teacher positions will be removed.

All the cuts listed are potential. No cuts have been proposed as the Board will be sending the County Council and the State Government a full budget with no cuts at all. In the worst case scenario where these cuts have be made, the classroom will be the most important priority. Who knows? If the County Council and the State don't fund the budget, then more cuts could be made and this sheet could be just the tip of the iceberg. You have to realize that it is not the fault of the Board of Education or Dr. Weast. It is the fault of the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression. And at this time, the Board of Education is shouting at the top of its lungs to get the FULL budget funded by the County Government and the State Government so that no cuts have to be made. If the county and state don't appropriate the funds, then we could see a backtrack in the tremendous progress we have made in the past couple of years.

Q: We can't let this happen!! How can I help?
A: On January 13 and 20 the Board of Education is going to have its own hearings. On March 1, we're going to present this budget to the County Council. During April, the County Council will have its own hearings and on May 20th, the County Council will finally vote on whether or not to fully fund the budget or not. Depending on what they choose, this will determine whether or not cuts will be made. It's all about prioritizing. We need to tell the County Council and the State that education should be at the very top of their list.

I need you guys to contact your County Council and tell them that we need to get what we deserve! I need you guys to come out and make your voices heard to the Council during April, 2010 and tell the County Council to give us what we deserve. We need to show that the 142,000 students of Montgomery County care about their education and their futures. I will be posting the exact dates as we get closer.

The MCR-SGA General Assembly just voted unanimously to urge the County Council to fund the Board of Education's budget to the full and to lobby all out in favor of getting everything funded. I urge you to join them when they begin those lobbying efforts.

Q: Where can I read this budget?
A: In the spirit of transparency, the budget has been put up online here. You can read the budget, you can ask questions, and give feedback directly to MCPS staff.

Hope that helped guys!

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

County-Wide Student Town Hall

Music? Yes.
SSL Hours? Yes.
Free Food? Yes.
Talk to the SMOB? Yes.

You are invited to attend the SMOB 2.0 County-Wide Town Hall on December 16, 2009 at 7 PM at 850 Hungerford Dr. Rockville, MD 20850! Use this time to voice your opinions and your concerns to the SMOB that you elected back in April! This is the first time a SMOB has ever done something like this. The SMOB is committed to making sure that your voices are heard loudly and clearly to the entire county, but he can't do that without your help! An excellent local student band named The Unspoken Wheels has also been booked for the Town Hall. Now we have music, food, and a wonderful opportunity for you to express your views!

If you have any questions or comments please email me at:

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Gazette: Student school board member wants more voting rights

People ask me, why do we need voting rights?

Right now, I'm working on a bill that would allow the student member to make changes to the $2.2 Billion Dollar Operating Budget, Facilities/Boundaries, and the CIP. Why? Because that's the way real change gets done. If students want better teachers, if students want certain programs, if students want better bathrooms - all these things take money. And right now the SMOB can't vote on ANY of it. The SMOB can't enact real change unless they're given the opportunity to do so! I hope that this bill passes and future SMOBs will be a powerful and resounding voice for the students, as the largest stakeholder in the system. I may not bring about changes in my term, but I hope that future SMOBs will use this opportunity that I give them to fight on behalf of the students.

New Board Officers Elected

Congratulations to the new Board of Education President and Vice President. Ms. Pat O'Neill was elected unanimously to serve as the President of the Board of Education and Mr. Chris Barclay was elected unanimously to serve as the Vice President of the Board of Education.

Ms. O'Neill is no stranger to the Board Presidency. This is her fourth term as Board President and eleventh year as a school board member. She brings tremendous experience, respect, and know-how into the process. Similarly, Mr. Barclay is very well respected (and just an all-around nice guy) He himself has a financial background - as he previously served as the Chair of the Fiscal Management Committee and has served for three years on the Board of Education. When it comes down to the difficult choices that are going to have to be made this year in terms of the budget and other issues, they will provide the leadership the school system desperately needs to succeed and get out of these troubling times.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Real SMOBs of MoCo (Season 1, Episode 1)

What's it really like to be the Student Member of the Board of Education in Montgomery County? What does your SMOB do on a daily basis? Take a glimpse into the life of your SMOB and join him on his adventure through his term.

Note: This video does not represent everything the SMOB does. Just a glimpse into some of the most memorable moments.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Facebook Post

Every so often I'll get a good Facebook Post on my wall that I'd like to post up. If I get any of these, I'll let you guys see them as they come. Today's Facebook post comes on a particular November 10, 2009:

Friday, December 4, 2009

From the SMOB to the Community: Keep the Tone Civil

"Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen." - Ephesians 4:29, Holy Bible

There is something wrong with the tone of the debate in this county. Many groups and individuals in the community have turned their attention to "getting" the Superintendent, individual members of the school board, and MCPS rather than working towards the goal of giving all our children a world class education. The 20% of this county that make up the student population is waiting and watching the tone of our community. Consequently, as a student, some people think I am unaware of the issues facing our county. They think I'm deaf and they think I'm blind to such issues. Well I'll tell you right now, I am certainly not mute. For these groups and individuals who continue to drive the tone of the community negative, the questions remain: (1) Is this the right time to be harping at each other and (2) Is this even appropriate?

As a student in Montgomery County, there is something extremely childish about seeing grown men and women engaging in pre-teen like behavior that can only be likened to a public fight on facebook. Is MCPS perfect? No. But what system is? Everyday, hardworking teachers and administrators work to improve the system, one step at a time. No one is complacent because education itself is ongoing. But to see grown parents and leaders disrespecting the opinions of others and disregarding all the ideals that they have instilled in us is highly disconcerting, discouraging, and just plain insulting.

In our schools, in our homes, in our government, our teachers, parents, and elected officials tell us the importance of the golden rule: that to receive respect one must give it. No one is immune from this rule - not any elected official, not any community individual, not any parent. While I have been on the Board, among other things I have seen community groups attacking elected officials over matters of personality and ethos rather than the logic of their own argument. One particular group has even started to engage students in their debate. In other cases, petty personalities get in the way of getting real work done.

I believe that we are on a slippery slope here. None of this leads to the better education of our students; rather it is detrimental to our students not only in their education but in the values that we are teaching them. If a group/individual is truly committed to improving the lives of the students, then it will drop the power-plays, drop the vicious attacks on the system, drop the personal and petty, drop the non-constructive criticism, and work collaboratively with the school system and pick up the collective burden of educating the future generation and safe-guarding the prosperity of our community.

The tone of the discussion needs to change, and it needs to change now. We, the students of Montgomery County, cannot afford to have parents pitted in a battle against the School Board or to have community organizations facing off against each other. It's hard enough living our own lives in this economic crisis; we are a community and in tough times we have to stick it out together.

Now is not the time to be insulting one another and finding faults. What we need now the most is trust and respect - trust between everyone to understand the difficult decisions that the board and superintendant are making and trust that it is in the best interest of the students. What's lacking right now isn't the willingness to persevere - there's plenty of that - but the willingness to persevere together. And I believe that trust will be the binding glue that will help us get through these difficult times. Now, I am not against constructive criticism and collaboration - but I am against the recent tone of the criticism and means to justify the end. For the sake of the children, don't you think Montgomery County should be an example to the rest of this state and country?

I ask you, parents, students, elected officials, community leaders: as we push our way through tough budget times to always keep the tone civil, to listen, to compromise, and to negotiate. We don't need ad hominem, personal attacks at this time. There is no need for cyberbullying and fighting within schools. Now is the time for collaboration. Now is the time for unity. Now is the time for our community to come together. I hope that as these groups and individuals go about their daily lives, they think about the thousands of children in the system that feel the blunt of their decisions and to keep in mind the lessons that they taught their children in elementary school: to listen, to share, to negotiate, and to always keep the mission in mind. I hope we never lose sight of the most important goal of this system: to improve education for the 140,000 students in this county.

For those of you who have a hard time grasping this concept, I refer you to the words of a distinguished community member:

Curricular Fees Poll

As many you may have noticed, your schools have now stopped charging fees for school classes. Recently, MCPS has made strong attempts to eliminate curricular fees at the county-level. While this is true, the blunt of the effects will now be felt by the students of Montgomery County. At a recent December 3, 2009 SMOB 2.0 Policy Meeting, students spoke to the issues of curricular fees in schools and had a long discussion about its impacts. In general, students understood the need for a free, public education but also understood the opportunities that the curricular fees brought them. Many schools are now cutting back on supplemental labs, art supplies, music equipment, work books, and even assignment books which are now being considered "extra".

In cases such a foreign language, art, music, etc. where materials are needed, the elimination of these fees have forced MCPS, the county, and the state to cut back on the services to these program in these times of economic and budgetary crisis. One student at Montgomery Blair High School replied with an email stating, "The poorest students in MCPS [are] feeling the blunt of the consequences academically because [they] do not have the money or the resources to afford expensive tutors, prep books, and instruments rather than buying the subsidized cost of the materials in [their] schools".

Polling in MCPS Schools by our SMOB 2.0 Staff among high school students in MCPS shows that students have varying opinions on the issue. When asked the question: "Do you think the elimination of fees was detrimental to your academic learning?", county-wide (N=297), 58% of students were against the elimination of the fees, 31% of students were for the elimination of the fees, and 11% were ambivalent about the issue. Specifically at Red Zone high schools, the numbers (N=108) are at about 52% of students against, 30% support, and 18% ambivalent. However, there doesn't seem to be much passion behind this issue. For many students, the issue isn't about fees; rather its about getting every opportunity to learn, regardless of the cost - which is why many of their parents moved to this high cost of living area in the first place.

Despite all this, MCPS continues to be at the top of the country, as one of the best education systems in the nation as we can see in the recent increase in the number of passing AP Exams. So, are the fees good, are they bad? I'll leave that up to you.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

MCPS Loves Trees: Going Green (Part 3)

In this part we're going to take a good look at the recycling data in MCPS. Don't worry, I'm not going to single out any schools, but I hope that we all take away a good lesson from this post about recycling.

In MCPS, The formal recycling program began in 1998, with recycling at less than 7 percent of the waste stream. Slowly, quarter by quarter, recycling performance steadily increased until 2002, leveling off between 27 and 30 percent of the waste stream. Today, paper recycling accounts for 76% of all recycling.

Despite the great strides that our county has made in the past decade, we still have a ways to go. A recent study on recycling by the Office of Legislative Oversight found that MCPS has a large opportunity for growth among paper and bottle/can recycling, resulting in massive savings necessary during these tough economic times and set a goal for 36% recycling system-wide, implementing several programs for positive and negative incentives.

One such program is the Recycling Rewards Program: All schools are eligible to achieve recycling rewards by sustaining a recycling rate of 36% or more or by achieving a substantial improvement in recycling performance, as compared with other schools. In addition to these rewards, ratings are given to schools based on recycling percentage, County grades, SERT facilitator data points, and evidence of an active in-school recycling program. What we get is a system where recycling data is pin-pointed down to the school through the SERT Program so we can fix schools or reward them based on their performance. Here's a sample data sheet for a school in MCPS:

As a result, MCPS has begun:
• Examining and reorganizing existing resources to enhance the recycling program – SERT synergy
• Creating an additional position to manage and expand recycling operations (budget neutral)
• Increasing awareness through multi-media information campaign
• Investing in infrastructure improvements, incentives, and additional streams of recyclable materials such as putting in new bins for bottle and paper carton recycling throughout all the schools

These initiatives have shown massive pay-outs in terms of recycling:

In our next part, we're going to take a look at green techniques in our schools.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

MC 12-10 Bill Hearing

Thank you to everyone who sent in letters and came out to the Bill Hearing for MC 12-10! Keep up the great work! Over the next couple of weeks we will be working hard to get this bill passed. Delegation will vote on this sometime in January and the Full House and Senate will vote on this sometime before the end of the 2010 Legislative Session.

For those of you who were not able to make it, I have uploaded testimony from Tuesday night's Bill Hearing from several former SMOBs and even the President of the Board of Education. Please be sure to check them out!

Ben Moskowitz (30th SMOB):

Sebastian Johnson (28th SMOB):

Shirley Brandman (President of the BOE):

David Naimon (1st SMOB):