Friday, May 13, 2016

Need to Get Away?

HCPSS Board Chair Christine O'Connor would like you to pick up the pace, please.

At the Board of Education Budget Meeting last night she can be heard whispering to Superintendent Foose, "Is this going to go on all night?" She was clearly in a hurry to get somewhere. Anywhere. She must have thought she was pretty clever when she instructed the timekeepers to begin timing public testimony from the moment the person's name was called, instead of waiting for them to actually come to the front of the room and sit down to testify.

The timekeepers didn't agree, thank goodness.

Ms. O'Connor may have been in a hurry but the public was not. Teachers, parents, families, and community members were there to ensure that their voices were heard in the budget process. One could see pride, exhilaration, determination, and, to be sure, frustration and indignation, but nobody was in a hurry to wrap up and be done with it.

It was a moment to be savored.

They came to have their say. They came to support teachers and families who could not be there. They came to denounce a budget devised with no community oversight and a budget "survey" which was nothing but a sham. They came to let it be known that the community will not be ignored or silenced.

In a hurry? Not them.

So much brilliant testimony was given last night. I urge you to watch. I'd like to share just one here, from Elkridge parent Deeba Jafri:

Members of the Board of Education,

It was always my intention to attend this meeting tonight, but it certainly hadn’t been my intention to testify until 2 days ago. Call it the straw that broke the camel’s back. I heard about all the principals being summoned to Central Office and then about the talking points these poor principals should employ to scare their teaching teams into surrendering on the battlefield and filling out the asinine budget cuts survey.

I know many of our teachers are frightened and intimidated by these tactics, fearful of speaking out. This is America, last time I checked it’s still a democracy and no one should ever feel that way about raising their voice in dissent. I am here for all the teachers, each and every single one who have impacted the lives of my fourth grade daughter Hunniya and my eighth grade son Musa.

$50 million in cuts. $50 million in cuts. Somewhere in all of this you’re all losing sight of the fact that you’re getting $30 million more than last year. These threats of furloughs, bigger class sizes, cutbacks in the things that directly impact classroom instruction, this is all nonsense. You can’t pull the wool over our eyes any more. County Executive Kittleman specifically said that he has fully funded the classroom instruction and special education parts of the budget.

We have already spoken in April. It seems you have taken little notice.

Not even the Governor’s words yesterday seem to have had any impact and I quote, “ there seems to be a palpable lack of trust between the community and the school system.” I hear that another email was sent out yesterday afternoon by the Chair of the Board, innocuous in its beginning and mercenary in its end, another act of intimidation for our teachers who, let me remind you, are in the middle of administering a host of PARCC tests, another demoralizer. And then they will have to deal with MAP. As my 4th grader pointed out “they’ve all gone mad. Missing music for PARCC seems a little ridiculous. We know what a destressor music can be.”

Enough. Really. Just enough. Your survey isn’t going to give you the mandate to make the selected cuts you want. Let our teachers teach and stop using them for your own political ends.

You know, we spend so many hours in our schools teaching our children how important it is to be an upstander and not a bystander in the face of bullying. That’s what we’re all telling you tonight. We the parents are here being upstanders for our teachers. We will not stand by and watch them suffer at the hands of your bullying tactics.

I know you’re not really listening to me tonight but the days of us dealing with this rubbish and your consistent disrespect of the fine teaching professionals in this county are numbered. We sent you a message in the primaries and you’ll see it again in November.

This is clear, forthright, and damning. Ms. Jafri is telling it like it is. She will not stand by while teachers are mistreated, schools are in decline and students are sacrificed. By the looks of the massive turnout last night, combined with those following along in real time at home, she is not alone.

This is what I think: If you are an elected public servant and your overriding goal is to get away from public testimony as quickly as possible--well, maybe public service just isn't for you. Howard County wants a school board that exemplifies the best in public service.

If we're in a hurry to get anywhere, it's to November.


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