Wednesday, April 28, 2010

My Job/Their Job

I coordinate the Autism Spectrum Disorder Support Group of Southern Maryland and have done so for the past eight years.  I am an officer for the Citizens' Advisory Committee for Special Education and have held the position for three years.  I sit on the board of the Learning Disabilities Association of St. Mary's County and have done so for over two years.  I'm an AWANA volunteer finishing up my fourth year.  I'm a Girl Scout Leader and can do more with less to astonishing levels.

Last night, I went before the SMC Board of County Commissioners for the fourth time at their annual public hearing on the the budget.  I spoke as an informed parent and member of the community.  And again, I spoke about funding the school budget.

As I told the commissioners last night, in the past, I've spoken about my having children with special needs who are square pegs in a world of round holes, and I've said that fair doesn't mean equal, fair means each person gets what s/he needs.

In the past, I've spoken about the financial sense of educating children with special needs now with the goal of independence vs. paying for care later.

In the past, I've spoken about the school system’s need to have the financial commitment of the BoCC to allow the school system to "think outside the box" and create specialized programming for children who learn differently.

In the past, I've spoken about the county’s initiatives to recruit, retain, and home grow the workforce, plans which can succeed only when the workforce can get what it needs from the community and our schools:  the infrastructure of appropriate special education and other pathways for learning.

I went there last night to repeat myself.

In the past, I asked the BoCC to fully fund, to increase the funding, not to cut the funding to the school system.  Last night, I tried one more version:  I asked them to fully fund the school budget beyond current percentages.

I hope that when I go there next year, I don’t have to repeat myself again.  I hope that when I go there next year, I can say, “Thank you.”

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I was there for four hours.  Seventy-four speakers had signed up, and my turn came well after the break.  I even paid attention to just about all of the speakers.  And the speakers, for the most part, were well-behaved and on topic, with none of the (in my opinion) out-of-line comments of last year.

It seems to me that though there were many interests represented (most notably in favor of fully funding the school budget), there were really two types of speakers:  Those who asked for financial support of their particular area of interest (libraries, public schools, Boys and Girls Clubs, Leah's House, tax changes, etc.), and those who told the commissioners what to cut.  My talk fell into the former category.

One speaker who followed me pointed out that there just isn't any more money, so rather than to ask the commissioners to fund our own interests, we should instead present solutions to the commissioners, telling them what to cut.  That really struck a discordant note with me.  In fact, each time one of the speakers from that category talked, I cringed.  I don't disagree with their right to use their three minutes that way, but I've found that most people don't usually have all the facts before they start hacking away at the budget, or they have an incomplete background in economics.

But the speaker who chastised us for not presenting solutions made me go back and check on something.  The BoCC notification invited countians to attend and participate and to provide comments.  Nowhere did it say that we were to provide solutions.

I understand that these are among the most difficult budget years our county has faced in a long time.  I understand that cuts have to be made.  My job is not to tell them where to make those cuts.  My job is to make the BoCC aware of where I put my priorities and where I believe they should put the county's priorities:  funding the school system.  It's my job to explain why I believe this, and in doing so, to convince them to do so, too.

If I was unsuccessful, it wouldn't be the first time, but it's my job to try.  I'll go back next year, too, and do it all again because I believe our school system needs the money in order to provide the programming essential to reach my children.

2 comments:

Lori said...

Totally agreed...and glad to know such an advocate for all children!!!

Confessions of a Mother, Lawyer & Crazy Woman said...

You are a star, your children appreciate your efforts, I know it.

Also, wanted to say thank you for donating to my friend's Race For The Cure efforts. Her team surpassed their goal and it was wonderful that you gave your support. Thank you for being so kind! - J