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January 2016 Letter to the Board of Education

January 20, 2016

Dear President Durso, Vice-President Docca, and the members of the Board of Education,

I write on behalf of the Montgomery Blair High School Magnet Foundation to urge MCPS to restore funding for High School Special Programs back to previous levels and in particular, to fully fund the Magnet Program at Montgomery Blair High School.

After the Board adopted its recommended budget last year, the budget allocation for High School Special Programs was reduced from 44.1 FTE to 37.1 FTE.  This resulted in a cut of 1.0 FTE to the Blair Magnet Program, and as a consequence several classes were not offered this school year that had been taught in previous years, such as Astronomy, 3-D Graphics, Advanced Geometry, and Plate Tectonics/Oceanography.

These cuts were significant, but their impact is magnified by the dramatic cuts that have been made to High School Special Programs over the past decade.

 MCPS Budgets
FY2007 - FY2017
FY2007-08*  FY2009  FY2010  FY2011-15  FY2016  FY2017**
High School Teachers, 
Special Programs*
70.4* 63.8   50.6  44.1  37.1  37.1**

* Prior to FY2009, the line item in the budget was labeled "Special Program Support."
** Proposed FY2017 Budget

Since FY2007, the teaching budget for High School Special Programs has nearly been cut in half, from 70.4 FTE to 37.1 FTE.  For the Blair Magnet, the budget has been cut by more than half, from 9.0 FTE to 4.0 FTE.

Although these cuts have been part of an overall reduction in positions at County high schools (from 3,422.975 in FY2007 to 3,316.065 in FY2017), the cuts to Special Programs and the Blair Magnet have been among the most severe.  Over the past decade, no major line item in the High School budget has been cut more than Special Programs.  The 33.3 FTE cut since FY2007 represents 47% of the Special Programs budget, which is a much larger reduction than the cuts in the overall budget.  All of the budget cuts over the past decade have removed important resources from high school students across the County, but the students and teachers in Special Programs have suffered disproportionally.

Despite these cuts, the Blair Magnet has continued to bring awards and recognition to MCPS.  In the past few weeks, a team of Blair students won the Maryland Science Bowl, and Blair students swept the top three places in the University of Maryland High School Mathematics Competition.  Nine Blair students were named semifinalists in the prestigious Intel Science Talent Search, which is more than any other high school in the country.  Just his morning, two finalists were named from Blair, which is only one of two schools in the nation to have more than one finalist.  No school has had more semifinalists and finalists since Intel began sponsoring this competition in 1999.

It may be tempting to believe that these talented students would have done just as well at their home schools, but anyone who has paid close attention to the Magnet has seen the students achieve far beyond expectations.  One example of the Blair Magnet’s impact can be seen in research competitions like the Science Talent Search (previously sponsored by Westinghouse and now by Intel).  When the Blair Magnet’s first students entered the competition, the number of finalists from the state of Maryland more than doubled.  Maryland went from 11 finalists during the 1980s to 28 finalists in the 1990s, including 16 from the Blair Magnet.  This success has continued in the 2000s (19 finalists from Blair) and 2010s (9 finalists so far), as Blair has produced more finalists than any other high school in the nation.  The total number of finalists from Maryland has surged past other states like Virginia, Massachusetts, and Texas, although those states also have similar magnet schools and programs.  Even among peer schools that are also teaching gifted students, the Blair Magnet’s research-focused curriculum clearly stands out.

Unfortunately, the budget cuts to the Blair Magnet and Special Programs threaten this proven curriculum.  Any further cuts to teaching staff would make it difficult to continue to offer ninth period classes, which allow Magnet students to take Research and Experimentation courses that build a foundation for senior-year research projects.  Budget cuts to the Office of Accelerated and Enriched Instruction (AEI) and reductions in available summer stipend funds have also affected the summer component of the research curriculum.  Each summer, a Magnet teacher visits students during their internships at NIH, NIST, the University of Maryland, and other facilities, and this teacher has been compensated with a modest stipend.  When the Magnet’s budget was cut several years ago, the teacher was compensated from the budget for AEI.  When AEI’s budget was cut last year, the teacher was paid a reduced amount ($2,000) from ad hoc funds that AEI was only able to release late in the year. 
 Hopefully, these funds will be available again at the end of this year, but if the MCPS budget stays at current levels, student summer research may soon rely upon a teacher willing to work for free.

Please consider reversing the cuts to Special Programs that are proposed this year, and please tell the Superintendent to prioritize funding for the Magnet Program and its research-focused curriculum.  The Blair Magnet has been invaluable for many students and alumni like myself, and any further cuts would begin to affect the core of the Magnet curriculum.  Please help us keep this special program special.

Sincerely,

Ted Jou, Montgomery Blair High School Class of 1999
President, Blair Magnet Foundation