Testimony to the Board of Education on Operating Budget

Samir Paul Testimonty to the Board of Education

Check out this short video of Blair PTSA Vice President/Teacher/Alum Samir Paul's terrific testimony on Blair's budget needs or read the testimony on our website at http://blairptsa.org/boe-testimony.

Posted by Montgomery Blair High School PTSA on Saturday, January 16, 2016

My name is Samir Paul. I am an alumnus of Montgomery Blair High School and I now serve here as a computer science teacher and as a vice president of our PTSA. I’m pleased to present our perspective on the Superintendent’s recommended operating budget.

Our PTSA leaders have conducted a wide range of meetings with the cluster’s PTSA members, principals, school board members, and other MCPS leaders.

In these discussions, one message has come through over and over again: Blair is a massive school serving a high-need population, and so it has commensurately big needs. I’d like to outline a few important examples of this.

First and foremost, Blair needs greater staffing allocations to serve a population of its size. Many Blair staff members perform their job functions for the entire school; we have one attendance secretary, one registrar, one pupil personnel worker (whom we share with two other schools and get only on Mondays and Tuesdays), one parent community specialist (also shared). The demands of serving such a massive school are not to be underestimated, and these staff members would not be unreasonable to seek another placement where they could do the same job for the same pay in a smaller school. In fact, Blair has the highest student-to-support-staff ratio in the county, about 50% higher than the county average. We need greater staffing allocations so that our team can continue to provide a high level of service.

Likewise, with nearly 3,000 students, our media center has just 1 Media Specialist and 1.5 Media Assistants, and they are overwhelmed with the daily crush of students who come before school, during lunch, and after school to use a computer, read a book, or work in a quiet place. Many of our students have inconsistent technology access at home, so they rely on our media center to get online or to type up homework assignments.

The needs of our very large school extend beyond staffing, as well. We have outgrown our current graduation venue, DAR Constitution Hall, but with just the county’s standard $5,000 funding allocation, we cannot afford a venue that will comfortably seat our students and their families. We do not believe that the parent community should need to fundraise to properly celebrate our graduates and their accomplishments. Unfortunately, right now, this is the reality.

These are certainly problems. But they do reveal the incredible work happening on our campus and the great work being done by kids, families, and teachers: We serve a high-need population and provide technology access and quiet workspaces for them — so we need more media center staffing. We are producing a huge number of first-generation high-school graduates who are eager to celebrate with their big families — so we need more space to celebrate. Truthfully, I am proud that we are running into the limits of our capacity, because it means that our school and parent communities are taking our charge seriously and squeezing every last drop out of every resource we have. These problems — too many students coming to the library at lunch, too many graduates, too many proud parents — these are incredible problems to have. And solving these problems with limited resources requires real sacrifice.

It is also important to note that while Blair experiences a particularly acute version of these challenges due to its size, schools elsewhere in the county are running into these limits, too. So while I am a Blair alumnus, teacher, and PTSA leader and while I want to make sure that we get the resources we need, I must make clear that I do not intend for these resources to come at the expense of any other community in our growing county. Blair’s PTSA this year adopted the slogan “We are One Blair” to embrace the idea that despite our differences in language and culture and background and so many other things, we are one united school community. Likewise, I believe that we have to act and advocate as “One County.” I don’t want Blair’s slice of the pie to get bigger at the expense of some other cluster.

Rather, I want to emphasize — as every member on this board and every person in this room well knows — that it is time to drastically increase the size of the pie. For eight years now, the visionary budget we deserve has been on hold as we’ve slogged our way through grim financial reality. We need you — our school board and leadership — to take the lead in advocating for the restoration of our system’s budget. There’s no other way to rein in class size and fund the programs that a changing county needs if it is to preserve the social contract bringing young families here generation after generation. It will require significant political courage, and it is not going to happen by accident. Fortunately, a coalition of teachers, families, and others stands behind you. But we need you to take the lead. The students, families, and educators of the Blair cluster — and the rest of the county — can’t wait. Thank you for your time.