On January 16th, 2018, the Montgomery County Board of Education held another operating budget hearing. Operating budget hearings are held monthly by the Montgomery County Board and led by Superintendent Jack Smith. They are hearings in which board members provide information to county residents on where they will be spending their budget the following school years.
Only this time, students from all over the county gathered to testify on behalf of students across the county during the annual MCR Budget Blackout. This Budget Blackout was created to represent a sense of unity within Montgomery County students and MCR's response to the opportunities of student testimony.
MCR Officers Michael Yin, Ananya Tadikonda, and Nate Tinbite testified on behalf of the MCPS student population. Other student leaders such as Nina Todd, Drew Skilton, and Rose Gottschalk were in attendance as well, speaking on their beliefs and issues.
Gillian Smith of Richard Montgomery and Nina Todd of Poolesville, both lifelong magnet school students, urged the Board of Education to reconsider the Accelerated and Enriched Instruction, or AEI, budget cuts. Todd said, "Places in application programs are valued mainly because of the unique experiences and opportunities its students will indubitably receive." These application programs include all magnet, or highly gifted, schools, in which an application and testing process occurs to select the brightest students. Smith agreed, stating, "The AEI office has also been there to help countless individual families, including mine, work with their schools to meet students’ needs."
Throughout the night, the central issue seemed to be recent discussions on AEI committee budget cuts. These cuts come from Superintendent Dr. Smith's December budget plan, where the secretary and director positions within the AEI office would be eliminated. The AEI office works specifically with the gifted and talented, magnet, and International Baccalaureate (IB) programs.
MCR treasurer, Nate Tinbite, discussed spending more budget money on ESOL counselors and teachers. "Cutting central level ESOL staff cannot be an option and would be morally unsound." Tinbite wishes to broaden opportunities to all students, no matter their backgrounds.
Following Tinbite’s testimony, Michael Yin, MCR President, supported efforts to save the AEI program, arguing of its importance to both current and future students. Ananya Tadikonda, MCR Vice President, followed suit, talking about the usage of technology during school hours and its' benefits to academic usage. She also addressed the importance of AEI in advancing diversity in magnet programs, showcasing disapproval in AEI budget cuts.
In addition to the high school student leaders, a few middle schoolers also testified. Christian Testa from Eastern MS challenged the benefits of magnet programs and suggested more challenging learning material at home schools. He recalls from personal experience the inconvenience of hanging out with his friends in the magnet program when they all live so far way of one another. However, Testa furthers the disapproval of AEI cuts, saying, "We need a stronger central office for Accelerated and Enriched Instruction [AEI] to make this happen, not one made weaker by the proposed budget cuts."
Following the speech of her fellow middle schooler, Rose Gottschalk of Rosa Parks MS gave her take on the importance of language immersion programs and introducing language learning at a younger age. She highlights the benefits of being bilingual in adult years, within a work environment. Gottschalk states, "I request that more money is allocated for language immersion programs to be more invested in and for the programs to be expanded or for additional programs to be added."
With the testimony of the student leaders in mind, the Board of Education will finalize the budget sometime in February. This budget will then be implemented in the following school year of 2019-2020.
Written by Eileen Zhang
Published by PR Department