Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Annapolis Schools Funding Update

This afternoon the County Council took up amendments to the Fiscal Year 2010 budget. I am thrilled to report that the County Council unanimously delivered a huge victory for Annapolis schools.

1. Bates Performing and Visual Arts (PVA) Magnet Program

The County Council restored $800,000 to fully implement the Arts Magnet at Bates this Fall. The County Executive's proposed budget had eliminated this funding which the Board of Education had proposed.

2. Germantown Elementary and Annapolis Elementary Construction Projects

The County Council took no action on the County Auditor's recommendation to close Annapolis Elementary and combine its students into a new mega-elementary school complex at Germantown. Both County Executive Leopold and the Board of Education strongly supported keeping the two schools separate. The County Council's support for the Board of Ed's recommendation effectively assures that the new Germantown project will continue as planned with construction of the new school starting next year. Annapolis Elementary will also remain as a stand-alone revitalization project with design slated for FY 2012 and construction to begin in FY 2013.

I have no doubt that these budget votes would have been different without the tremendous outpouring of support from the community. I thank the parents and students who came out for impromptu rallies, waited long hours to testify at public hearings, and otherwise made their voices heard. The community's voice does make a difference.

The final vote on the amended budget is next week so it's not over yet, but the heavy lifting took place today. I am grateful for the bipartisan support of my colleagues on the County Council during this very difficult budget season. I am also grateful for the personal involvement of House Speaker Mike Busch and the Annapolis City Council, especially Alderwoman Sheila Finlayson and Alderman Fred Paone, all of whom went the extra mile to convey the importance of these votes to Annapolis families.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Bates Arts Magnet funding cut

As reported in today's Capital, the County Executive's proposed budget fails to fund the Visual and Performing Arts Magnet Program at Bates Middle School this Fall.

This budget cut is disappointing to say the least. The Annapolis feeder system has more middle-school students attending private school than any feeder system in the county. Signature programs such as the Middle Years Programme at Annapolis Middle School and the Arts Magnet at Bates are key to the long term viability of city public schools.

The County Council needs to restore the Arts Magnet funding, and community support will be key to making it happen.

Tough fiscal times

Fiscally, the County is hard-pressed to fund any enhancements for FY2010. It is a challenge simply to maintain our existing level of services. From that viewpoint, any increase such as the Arts Magnet sticks out as an easy target to cut.

Enrollment decisions already made

Although the full implementation of the Arts Magnet will be an enhancement over the current budget, it is one that the schools have committed to in writing. Parents have passed the point of no return in making school decisions for their children next Fall. After receiving the Arts Magnet acceptance letters, parents withdrew their children's slots at other schools.

How heartbreaking this will be for these students who applied for admission and received the acceptance letter, only to have it pulled away. If this action stands it will severely erode families' confidence and trust in their school system.

It would be understandable to defer a funding enhancement that was never committed to. But, at this late date it is unacceptable to cancel the implementation of the Arts Magnet after scores of parents have already made irreversible enrollment decisions for this Fall.

Needless to say, I am committed to restoring this funding. I am cautiously optimistic that a majority of my colleagues will support the effort, but it is a very difficult year fiscally. Community support will be the key to making it happen.

To testify

The County Council is holding two public hearings on the budget next week. They both start at 7 p.m. as follows:

- Monday, May 11 at Old Mill High School
- Wednesday, May 13 at the Arundel Center in Annapolis

Individuals are given two minutes to speak. The best testimonial is simply from the heart. Parents whose children have already been accepted into the magnet should bring their acceptance letter with them.