Testimony of Eric Marx before the Board of Education

January 20, 2010

Members of the Board:

Good Evening.

My name is Eric Marx.  For more than a decade, I have been a member or officer of the Gifted and Talented Association of Montgomery County, and have also served as a PTA GT Liaison, an MCCPTA Delegate, and a member of countless MCPS GT- and magnet-related advisory and review committees.  More importantly, I also have two children who have attended or are attending MCPS magnet programs at the elementary-, middle-, and high-school levels.  I speak tonight in support of saving these programs.

Make no mistake about it, even though the threatened cuts would save only a tiny amount of money, they would absolutely kill these programs as we know them, and would violate the guarantee of Policy IOA that Centers and magnet programs will continue to be provided to students who require such “markedly different programming.”   Don’t fool yourself that the only effect of these threatened cuts would be merely to exacerbate the racial, ethnic, economic, and geographic disproportionality of these programs’ student bodies by limiting the programs to those families with the resources and ability to be able to provide their own transportation to and from school every day (although it’s hard to see how anybody would be able to transport multiple students to different schools simultaneously) -- we’re talking about killing the magnets.

Now, the magnets are certainly not perfect -- there’s too much homework, and many of the programs are too limited in their curricular offerings -- but for highly and profoundly gifted students in MCPS, they’re all there is.  These students have no other appropriate educational options within MCPS, no other alternative to having their unique academic needs ignored in local schools with no real advanced curricula or intellectual peer grouping.

Quite frankly, without the magnets, many parents of highly and profoundly gifted students would leave MCPS as soon as they were able to, AND THEY SHOULD, because MCPS makes it clearer every day that it just doesn’t want to educate these students.  Even the threat of these cuts again sends the message that everything else is more important than GT education, and that everything else in the budget has to be fully funded before gifted and talented students even get to keep what little they have.

Of course, many of us assume that these proposed cuts are just another round in the Superintendent’s annual “protection racket” game, pretending to target high-profile and popular programs as a way of extorting parent support for the rest of MCPS’ budget, which has grown by almost three times the rate of inflation during the last 10 years (with an increasing portion of the budget spent for non-instructional purposes), rather than targeting more appropriate parts of the budget, such as the money spent for self-promotion in the $10 million dollar communications budget, or the funds spent by the Office of Organizational Development to espouse discredited, anti-education, and just plain wacky racist ideology.  But we can’t just assume the threatened cuts are only a disingenuous bluff merely because they are so ill-considered and educationally indefensible, or because they will save so little money.  We’ve repeatedly seen egregious cuts targeting special student populations rammed through the budget process before -- the elimination of the secondary learning centers, the recent cuts to magnet teaching hours, and the elimination of funds for MPAC, currently on the table, immediately come to mind.

It’s easy to blame the Superintendent for such cynical and counter-productive moves, but it’s YOUR budget, not his.  And if you continue to abdicate your responsibilities and act as though you work for the Superintendent, instead the other way around, and just rubber-stamp whatever he throws in front of you at the last minute, the mistakes and wrong-headed decisions in the budget will continue to be YOUR fault.  If you would just do your job, and focus the budget on the needs of the students, ALL STUDENTS, this system will be able to ride out even these tough economic times.  I urge you to do so, and not to further degrade or eliminate MCPS’ Center and magnet programs.

Thank you.