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.