Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Talking to the BoCC again

Last night was the Board of County Commissioners Public Hearing on the 2012 Budget.  You all know that I am the coordinator of the Autism Spectrum Support Group of Southern Maryland, a representative and former officer for the Citizen’s Advisory Committee for Special Education, a board member of the Learning Disabilities Association of St. Mary’s County, and a volunteer for Girl Scouts and AWANA.  If you read my blog post last year at this time, you also know that this is my fifth year speaking to the BoCC about the budget.

This is what I said to them:
For the past four years, I’ve come here to support increased funding for education.  Last year was particularly difficult for me:  After I spoke, someone stood up and chastised all the speakers who were there to support education, saying that we should be telling you what to cut, not where to spend.  I don't have the credentials to tell you what to cut.  I believe my job is to make my priority, education, be your priority.

If I understand how this worked, you informed the Superintendent of the amount you would budget for the school system, thus tasking him with the job of making the school system's needs match that amount.  But needs are needs; they don't go away because you say we can't afford them.  (Goodness knows, if that were true, my two children with special needs would have been cured long ago!)  I don't understand this directionality, but the Superintendent and the BoE have made a herculean effort to present a balanced budget based on your given level of funding.  However, that budget denies $14.2m worth of needs.

Your stated 2012 funding level, therefore, has caused the Board of Education to submit a proposed budget that will hurt the children of this county.  Many people tonight have already highlighted the negatives. My two children will be affected.  Moreover, because both my children have special needs, the impact of this funding level is even greater.  The potential for academic and behavioral backsliding is very real.

I have been trying to make sense of it all.  It is as if you told the Board of Education that it can have a new “vehicle” to "pull" the school system "load," but in sticking to the letter of the law and not the spirit, you've budgeted for a golf cart.  You can't pull a trailer hauling 17,000 students with a golf cart engine.  The engine’s going to blow up before it moves an inch, and the children will be left at the depot.  The school system needs a big rig engine to get our children where they need to go.  The economic times are tough; at least fund the school system with a heavy-duty pick-up truck.  Our children won't get as far as quickly, but they won't be left stranded at the side of the road. 
It is a fact that educating children costs money.  Educating children appropriately costs more money.  Educating without money costs children.  I’m here tonight to make it plain:  Education must be your priority.  You must fund the needs of SMCPS.  Thank you.
People say that parents make the difference.  I don't know about that.  I've spoken four times prior to this year, and the percentage of the county's budget that funds public education has decreased steadily.  But I do know this:  If I don't try now, I have no right to complain later.

Monday, April 18, 2011

A Blog Award? Really?

I don't know if I ever said why I started this blog.  I wanted to post a comment on Lori Does Maryland, but I didn't want to do it anonymously.  I had to create an account, and the set-up boxes just kept appearing; before I knew it, I had a blog!  (It wasn't until much later that I thought, "Oh, geez, I could have just signed my name in the comment box.  Duh!!)

I couldn't just leave the blog all plain, could I?  What if someone actually saw it?  I had to prettify it.  And I couldn't just leave it blank, could I?  What if, well, what if someone wanted to read something?  I had to write something.  The next thing I knew, I had a place to write down all the stuff that squirrels around in my head and keeps me up at night.  Apparently, there are a lot of squirrels.

Imagine my surprise when Karen over at Confessions of an Asperger's Mom awarded me with this:

Thank you, Karen!!

Now, as far as I can tell, such things come with rules.  I'm copying them straight off Confessions of an Asperger's Mom, so bear with me.  (I've got to tell you that since this is my first blog award, I had to google it to see lots of other examples of what you're supposed to do with these things -- sort of like watching what other people do with all that silverware at a fancy meal.  I was hoping Martha had a handy step-by-step list, but alas...)  Karen says:
  1. Winners grab the image above and put it in your blog.
  2. Link back to the person who gave you it.
  3. Tell 10 things about yourself
  4. Award 15 recently discovered bloggers.
  5. Contact the bloggers you have awarded to let them know they have won.
Numbers 1, 2, and 5 are easy-peasy.  It's numbers 3 and 4 that are going to cause me some problems!  So, 10 things about myself...
  1. Peas make me gag.
  2. I have a pretty terrific husband and two kind of cool kids.
  3. Despite #2, much of my "alone time" happens when I lock myself in the bathroom.
  4. One of my favorite quotes is this:  The devil once offered to sell at auction all his tools save one -- discouragement. "For," said he, "if I have that, I can get along very well without the others." (Helen C. White)
  5. I'm scared that our Superintendent of Schools is going to apply for the State Superintendent of Schools position that will become vacant when the current State Superintendent retires in June.  I'm terrified that he's going to get it.
  6. I love Children's National Medical Center in Washington, D.C.  I really dislike Children's billing department.
  7. Matthew changed my life.
  8. I believe that "competent" is one of the highest words of praise I can give someone.
  9. I hate lettuce.  I eat it, but I hate it.  Except on nachos grande.  Go figure.
  10. I learned to drive on an Edsel.
 I don't read blogs quite as much as the requirements expect.  I'll do my best, but I won't hit 15.
  1. I know it says recently discovered bloggers, but I have to fudge on this one because this one changed my life:  Lori Does Maryland.
  2. Again, not as recent, but surely recent is a relative term:  Confessions of a Mother, Lawyer and Crazy Woman.  I laugh 'til my sides hurt.  Unless I cry.  Or both.
  3. Cricut Your Classroom because Wendy is just so clever!  One day, I'll get my rubber stamps back from my sister and start crafting again.  For now, I just envy Wendy.
  4. Autism Sucks because frankly, it does.  Frequently.
It's not 15, but I hope I'll be forgiven the others.
While I recognize that what I write is pretty much for myself and is therefore quite self-focused, I hope that every once in awhile, someone (of the seven people who read this) will find something to think about.

Thanks again, Karen!

Friday, April 8, 2011

Siphoning off some stuff

Random Thought #1 -- The technical volunteers at the Southern Maryland GiveCamp (SoMDGC) are wonderful people.  Can you imagine committing yourself from 4 p.m. Friday through 4 p.m. Sunday, plus travel time, to working under pressure?  Granted, they looked like they thought it was fun under pressure, but still...  They gave up being with their families in order to help organizations that help people.  I am just in awe of them, the founder of the SoMDGC, the non-technical volunteers, and all the families.  I hope they know how much their work and sacrifices are appreciated by the organizations.

Random Thought #2 -- Executive Functioning (EF) deficits can be significantly impairing.  Skills must be taught or our children will not be able to get and keep a job, or to advance in it if they get one.  They impact so much, from time management to emotional regulation, from the ability to "shift" to safety awareness.  I used to think that my son's issues were so very Asperger's (the social component, in particular), but the more I learn about EF for my daughter, the more I see that many of his needs stem from EF.  He can be taught these skills; he has the capability.  It's just not a "superior" one.

Random Thought #3 -- We took a "sunset walk" at SoMDGC.  I'm hoping that one of the developers -- a part-time professional photographer -- will post his pictures soon.  SoMDGC was held at St. Mary's College of Maryland, which has one of the most beautiful campuses I've ever seen.  Remember that I went to the University of Pittsburgh, which, while not in downtown Pgh., is still in an urban setting.  I remember my first few weeks there as a freshman having a lot of trouble getting to sleep and staying that way just because of the noise of the buses and the ambulances outside my dormitory.  But this campus is gorgeous.  What a pleasure to walk down to the river to watch the sun go down!  And I got to "visit" with a few people along the way.  That was nice.  As usual, though, I lament my lack of artistic abilities.  I would so love to be able to draw or paint or photograph the panoramic vistas of the campus and the river or the tiny details of tree bark and lichen on the bricks. ~Sigh~

Random Thought #4 -- I recently got the chance to see a high school-aged boy with, in my opinion, undiagnosed Asperger's.  (Arrogant of me, perhaps, to make that "judgment," but there you have it.)  I didn't get to see his strengths, only his weaknesses, and I don't know if his strengths, whatever they are, were visible through the weaknesses.  But it makes me all the more determined to fight for addressing all the needs of twice exceptional students.

Random Thought #5 -- I'm making myself sick over the county's lack of funding of the school system's budget.  Yesterday, my friend's husband talked to the wife of one of the commissioners.  She maintains that there is no more money to give the school system.  I don't know how to reconcile this to the independent auditor's report which says that the county is currently sitting on over $12 million in undesignated funds with that amount expected to reach $23 million by the end of the fiscal year in July.  The other thing that the commissioner's wife maintains is that the funding problem isn't with the county but rather is with the state and federal governments:  All the base housing in our area means that many families aren't paying taxes but use our resources.  I don't know how to find out if the increase in base housing (and the number of children who live in base housing who attend our schools) has increased over the past decade in the same amount that the percentage of the county's budget that goes to the school system has decreased in the last decade.  How can a county give 52% of its budget  to the school system 10 years ago but steadily decrease that percentage to its current low of 38% today?  How can they do that and say that it's OK?

Random Thought #6 -- Currently in the background the 1930s version of Frankenstein is playing on the TV.  It's the angry mob scene with the pitchforks and torches.  Makes me think about Random Thought #5 and the public hearing on the budget coming up in a few weeks.  People are really hot about this.  I'm getting more and more concerned that people are going to behave badly at the public hearing.  If people behave badly, the commissioners are going to stop listening, and since my general feeling is that they've already closed their minds and their hearts to the idea of using the fund balance to increase the school system's budget, we haven't got a chance.

Random Thought #7 -- Great Wolf Lodge is a great place to go.  My GS troop decided at the beginning of the year that a trip to Great Wolf Lodge was how they wanted to spend their cookie money, so bless them, they worked hard, sold the cookies, and made enough money to pay for the trip.  The troop can cover the water park, accommodations, and dinner for everyone.  Maybe next year we need to budget cookie sales to cover the cost of gas!

Monday, April 4, 2011

SoMDGC 2011 since SoMDGC 2010

Last year at this time, I had so much new information swirling around my head I thought it was just going to pop off my shoulders and, like that meatball, roll right out the door.  I had just represented the Autism Spectrum Support Group of Southern Maryland at the Southern Maryland GiveCamp 2010, and we had received a brand-spanking-new, free, professionally-built website with free hosting for life.  I remember feeling so awed and grateful that I couldn't help but write about it afterwards.

Not to be weird about it or anything -- it's a website, for heaven's sake -- but working with the volunteers at SoMDGC and receiving the new website were close to life-changing experiences:
  • The ASSG/SoMD went from being "unfindable" on a Google search to being the No. 1 listing just three weeks later.
  • We have had a 27% increase in our listserv membership in the year between the two GiveCamps, and we're getting closer to my personal goal:  I want the 600 or so families impacted by autism spectrum disorders in Southern Maryland to not be a member of the ASSG/SoMD because they choose not to be, not because they don't know about us. 
  • I also wanted people to have access to a calendar that lists upcoming meetings, events, and workshops because I believe that helping our children has to start with education.  The Google Analytics feature embedded in the website shows me that we have a pretty consistent spike in visitors around the middle of the month, telling me that people are checking the calendar for the date of the next support group meeting.
  • We've expanded our presence by diving into the world of social media.  We're on Twitter (something that still shocks me), and after this past weekend, Facebook, too.  Granted, I have to delete a bunch of spam followers (I'm sure there's a word for them), but my tweet about being at #SoMDGC got retweeted by a local news/events group!
  • On a personal level, I've explored new ideas, pushed myself outside my boundaries and my comfort zone, met new people, made new friends, and discovered that I have the potential to be a partial geek (unless that's like being a little bit pregnant).  Life is good...

This year, I got to be on the other side of a givecamp -- I was a non-technical volunteer, and I got to help with planning the event.  Truth be told, I didn't do a whole lot, but that's because the SoMDGC organizer, Jim Pendarvis, is fabulous.  He knows what he wants, and he goes out and makes it happen.  He is truly devoted to SoMDGC and to giving back to the organizations that give to others.

I also helped out a bit during the weekend event, but not in the ways I expected, really.  The other non-technical volunteers, after only one other givecamp under their belts, have the logistics down to a science.  Registration, meals, even trash collection, all went off without a hitch -- or if there was one, it wasn't visible to the volunteers!  What I ended up doing was working through setting up Twitter and Facebook with two non-profit organizations, and in the process, setting up a Facebook page for the ASSG/SoMD -- something that I have been meaning to do this whole year.  Happy side benefit!


During SoMDGC 2010, in addition to 19 non-profit organizations' having their IT needs met, a lot of lessons were learned, shared, and incorporated into SoMDGC 2011.  One of the biggest was to have more bandwidth on the wireless network this year.   (At least I think that's what they said the issue was, that and "pointing" something or other in our building's direction...) This year, I didn't hear a single person, myself included, talking about slow speeds or crashing the system.

Another lesson learned was to gather the non-profits' requirements earlier and have them posted on Google Docs for the technical volunteers.  Doing this then allowed the technical coordinator to make team assignments well in advance of the event, and team members could do all that "getting to know you, getting to know all about you" stuff before they even left home.

Other changes ranged from the addition of large tables in the classrooms for better work surfaces and team collaboration to the choices of beverages on hand.

During SoMDGC 2011, 13 non-profit organizations had their IT needs met in a more efficient, streamlined way.  (I'm sure a listing of this year's non-profit projects, with links to new websites, will soon join last year's on the "Non-Profits" tab of Southern Maryland GiveCamp.)  If this year's non-profits are as satisfied with their projects as I was with mine, I'm sure there were some happy tears,,,,