April 2015 Letter to the Montgomery County Council
April 22, 2015
Dear Councilmember Rice,
Thank you again for coming to speak to the Blair Magnet senior class in February. I have heard from parents, students, and teachers, who all appreciated your words in support of education and public service. When the Magnet Foundation Board decided to honor you as a distinguished alumnus of the Magnet Program, we did not expect that MCPS would be facing significant budget cuts in 2015-16. I write to you today to let you know how the County Executive’s proposed cuts to MCPS will affect the Blair Magnet Program.
As you know, the Superintendent has stated that the proposed budget will result in a cut of 370 school-based positions. This includes a proposed cut to High School Special Programs of 7.0 FTE, reducing that line item from 44.1 FTE to 37.1 FTE. The Blair Magnet currently receives 5.0 FTE to cover the additional teaching time for 9th period and to offer certain specialty electives with smaller class sizes. The proposed cut would reduce this allocation by one full-time position to 4.0 FTE, which would still allow the Magnet to maintain 9th period but would eliminate most of the budget for small electives. Astronomy, 3-D Graphics, Advanced Geometry, and Plate Tectonics/ Oceanography are the classes expected to be cut for next year.
The budget cuts will also affect the Magnet Senior Research Project, a program that matches students with scientist mentors in the summer between their junior and senior year. This is one of the most recognized aspects of the Blair Magnet program. Last year, three students were among the 40 finalists in the Intel Science Talent Search, the most in the country. This year, one student, Michael Winer, won a First Place Medal and a $150,000 scholarship. The Blair Magnet’s consistent performance in the Westinghouse and Intel Science Talent Search competitions has been extraordinary, having produced 42 finalists and over 200 semifinalists since the first Magnet seniors graduated in 1989, among the best in the nation.
A key feature of the Senior Research Project over the years has been the oversight of a teacher over the summer. The teacher visits with students in their labs and meets with their mentors to help to keep the projects on track, and this supervision ensures that the students are conducting real scientific research in an educational environment rather than simply working a summer job. The Magnet was previously allocated a budget for summer employment, but this was cut several years ago. In the past few years, the Office of Accelerated and Enriched Instruction (AEI) has been able to find $2,500 as a special exception for the Senior Research Project teacher, but as a result of the impending budget cuts, AEI has recently told Blair administrators that only $2,000 will be available this summer.
Although the cuts to the Magnet are relatively small in relation to the larger budget (1.0 FTE and $500), they will have a large impact on the Magnet Program, canceling several classes that students are planning to take next year, and forcing a teacher to do the same work for less pay.
The proposed cuts for 2015-16 are also cumulative of significant cuts over the past decade. Since 2006-07, the number of teaching positions dedicated to high school special programs has been reduced from 70.4 FTE to 44.1 FTE, and the budget for high school summer employment has fallen from $480,000 to $70,000.* When the Blair Magnet budget was cut in 2008-2010, the program was able to compensate by requiring every Magnet teacher to teach one more period each day, and certain retiring teachers were not replaced with new hires. Also, while Magnet teachers were previously paid stipends to plan curriculum over the summer, that budget has been cut entirely, with special exceptions being granted through AEI only for the Senior Research Project teacher.
The proposed FY2016 cut to 37.1 FTE would represent a nearly 50% cut in staffing for high school special programs over the past decade. The cuts to the high school summer employment budget have been even more dramatic, falling from $480,000 to $70,000 over the past decade, an 85% reduction in funding.**
I urge you to fully fund MCPS in FY2016 to spare the Blair Magnet from these additional cuts. Please don’t deprive some of the most talented students in MCPS of the same opportunities that you and I were able to enjoy as Blair Magnet students in previous decades.
-Ted Jou '99
President, MBHS Magnet Foundation
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* Prior to FY2009, the line items in the budget were labeled "Special Program Support" and "Program Development/SSE."
**The $71,539 amount for FY2016 is the budget proposed by the Superintendent, but it is unclear whether the Summer Employment budget would be reduced if the County Executive's budget cuts were enacted.