Legislative breakfast serves up funding, special services
School board meets with delegation, commissioners
Discussion of the economic impact of Charles County Public Schools, the education of special populations within the school system, proof of residency and more were on the menu Tuesday morning during the school system’s annual legislative breakfast with county officials.
The event, hosted in the board room of the Jesse Starkey Administration Building in La Plata, was intended to give school board members and school system officials
the opportunity to dis- cuss upcoming legislative issues with members of the Charles County delegation and Charles Coun- ty commissioners, said school board chairwoman Virginia McGraw.
“The board and I think it’s very important that we get together at least once a year to discuss not only legislative issues, but also to make ourselves available to you to answer any questions you might have about education, es- pecially education here in Charles County,” Mc- Graw told the legislators present.
Superintendent Kimberly Hill said that the decisions made in Annapolis have a very real impact on stu- dents in Charles County.
The discussion opened with a summary of the economic impact report first presented to the board in November by the Business Economic and Community Outreach Network, or BEACON, of Salisbury University.
Sarah Guy, associate director of BEACON, said that every dollar the school system spends on operating costs yields a benefit of $1.81 to the local economy, and every dollar spent on capital im- provements yields $1.37 to the local economy.
Memo Diriker, founding director of BEACON, said a strong school system also helps attract business.
“People want to live in an area where the school system is well-respect- ed,” Diriker said. “When [companies] are looking for a new location, if not the first question they ask, then the second question or the third question, is always, ‘How good is the local school system?’”
Deputy Superintendent Amy Hollstein expressed concern about the school system’s ability to provide services to the rising numbers of English for Speakers of Other Lan- guages (ESOL) students and special education students with significant needs, two populations whose numbers have sky- rocketed in the past five years. Special education increased by 600 students and ESOL students doubled since 2012, according to a report by the school system during its Novem- ber meeting.
“These numbers are increasing every day. We get calls from parents ev- ery day with these needs who want to move to our county, because they like our program,” Hollstein said.
Sen. Thomas “Mac” Middleton (D-Charles) said the increase sur- prised him.
“This meeting has been enlightening,” Middleton said. “I was not aware of the special [education] in- crease.”
Hill said that in the past, the school system has funded required services through the operating budget.
“Over the past five years, we have, let me put it plainly, robbed Peter to pay Paul, from our oper- ating budget, to provide extra staffing, to provide supports needed for some of our special education students,” Hill said.
Hill asked legislators to oppose “burden of proof” legislation. Under current law, if a parent wishes to call a due process hearing to challenge the appropriateness of educational services being provided to students with special needs, the parent must prove that the services are inappropriate. Legislation proposed to the General Assembly last year would have shifted the burden of proof to school systems.
“Just like all the other school districts in this state, we are doing everything we know how to do to assist and support special education students. Additional legislation regarding ‘burden of proof’ isn’t going to change any of that, it’s just going to be more restrictive for us,” Hill said.
Board of Charles County Commissioners President Peter Murphy (D) expressed concern about students from other districts coming to attend Charles schools.
“Is there anything we can do to help with this problem of people illegally putting their children into our schools? They’re overcrowding our classrooms, they’re not paying a penny in taxes. We’re paying for those children, and it makes it harder to do the kinds of things we’re trying to do,” Murphy said.
Hill said the school system works diligently to confirm residency, but the effort is time-consuming and leads to complaints.
“We do a very thorough job of vetting folks who need to prove their residency, and I will tell you that it gets very complicated sometimes, when there are divorces and separations and step-parents here and there,” Hill said. “Honestly, people get very offended when we send school officials out to check residencies … We’re trying to go through what we believe is a very fair process.”
Del. C.T. Wilson (D-Charles) said he gets calls to his office regarding efforts to prove residency.
“When I explain to them the drain on our economy when things aren’t done correctly, the people who are supposed to be here were totally fine. The ones who keep going on and on are the ones who aren’t supposed to be here,” Wilson said.
Wilson also asked if the school system would support legislation to exempt special education and ESOL students from PARCC testing. Wilson had proposed such legislation last year — House Bill 1204 — but it died in committee.
“Absolutely,” Hollstein replied. “I expect families are going to start going to legal counsel because we’re not giving them their testing accommodations that they are legally able to have based on their IEP (Individualized Education Plan) but PARCC doesn’t allow us to give them those accommoda- tions, and that is completely, to me, criminal.”
Senate President Thom- as V. “Mike” Miller, Jr. (D-Calvert, Charles, Prince George’s) said he expects the Maryland Commission on Innova- tion and Excellence in Education to recommend an increase in education funding.
Also known as the Kirwan Commission, in rec- ognition of its chairman, former University System of Maryland chancellor William Kirwan, the com- mission was formed to take a fresh look at kin- dergarten through 12th grade education funding. It is expected to release a preliminary report this month, with recommen- dations to update the cur- rent funding model, which is based on the Thornton Commission’s findings in 2002.
“The problem with the Kirwan Commission, un- like the Thornton Com- mission, is they’re going to come up with these recommendations, but it doesn’t look like there’s going to be the funding that they recommend. When we did this once before, we were able to pass the cigarette tax, and … were able to come up with some extra money, but that doesn’t appear to be the case at the present time,” Miller said. “It’s going to be a very hard sell.”
Miller praised the school system for the work it is doing to meet students’ needs.
“I think you’re doing ever ything about right, right now,” Miller said.
Del. C.T. Wilson, center, speaks during a legislative breakfast hosted by the Charles County Board of Education Tuesday morning. At left is Patricia Vaira, director of student services for Charles County Public Schools.
From left, Maryland Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr., Del. Edith Patterson, Sen. Thomas “Mac” Middleton and Del. Susan Proctor attended a legislative breakfast hosted by the Charles County school board.
Charles County Public Schools Superintendent Kimberly Hill speaks with Sen. Thomas “Mac” Middleton following a legislative breakfast hosted by the school board Tuesday morning at the Jesse L. Starkey Administration Building in La Plata.