Yes. School board members around the country who actually SPEAK OUT FOR public education and meaningful and equitable education for ALL children are indeed like unicorns. But here in Howard County, Maryland we have at least one. And when they are “sighted” (like unicorns) we must celebrate their courage widely. But Bess Altwerger isn’t only a member of a school board. She is Professor Emerita at Towson University. She is a founding member of Save Our Schools, a current Steering Committee member, and was a key organizer of the summer 2011 Save Our Schools rally, march and conference in Washington, DC. She has worked with teachers on the Navajo reservation, in the barrios of NM and AZ, and in urban school districts in the northeast and mid-Atlantic states to support multicultural/multilingual, democratic and child-centered education. Bess has published and presented widely on the negative impact of federal policies on our schools and classrooms, particularly in the area of literacy. Her books include Reading for Profit: How the Bottom Line Leaves Kids Behind (2005).
We need more BoE members who UNDERSTAND and will FIGHT FOR public education, children, educators, social justice and democracy. We need to stop handing over positions of power to corporate reformers no matter how much money they throw at inserting themselves into the educational landscape under the guise of “caring for schools” when it is clear they care for corporations more. Bess like so many others, fights for education underneath the radar where media remain silent and funding in non existent. Bess and many like her are the face of the education revolution. They are not here for the fame or the for profit. They are here for our children. And we must support them, because the dominant “reform” narrative which owns the think-tanks and mainstream media will do everything to stop us. And we will keep pushing forward.
At the recent Board of Ed meeting here is what Bess said:
As an elected member of the HC Board of Education I voted NOT to approve the HCPSS Operating Budget. Here’s the statement I read at the meeting:
Before I vote on this budget, I want to express my appreciation to the Superintendent, my fellow board members, and especially the staff who put countless hours into preparing and revising this budget.
My votes on the budget areas in no way reflect my lack of appreciation for all the many considerations and constraints that shaped the process of developing this budget. Beverly Davis went to extraordinary lengths in her effort to produce a budget that reflected the directions she was given. Thank you Bev and to the rest of the staff. I also want to thank the members of the Citizen’s OBRC who worked on their own to provide the Board very careful analyses of every area of the budget with recommendations for reallocation and revisions of the budget so as to ensure the people of Howard County that their tax dollars were being wisely spent to provide the best possible education for all of our students.
After deep reflection, I have decided to vote against the budget in accordance with my own conscience and best judgement, and in response to the public comments and testimonies coming from educators, parents and community members who believe that this budget does not reflect the priorities that have kept our schools among the best in the state and the nation. I agree with many of their concerns. Although I am very grateful that no staff members will lose their jobs next year, the budget does contain cuts in positions and that will greatly affect some of the key factors that affect learning.
1. There will be an increase in class sizes so that many classrooms will reach the maximum level allowed. Most significantly, this will impact our youngest and most vulnerable students who need the lowest possible student-educator ratio to thrive cognitively and emotionally. Along with larger class sizes these same students will have fewer trained paraprofessionals to support instruction. Their teachers will be stretched beyond reason as they try to attend to the wide range of developmental levels amongst their young students, while also trying to fulfill the requirements for administering the time consuming KRA.
2. I cannot in good conscience vote for a budget that eliminates the support staff necessary to keep our middle and high school media centers open and available to our students throughout the school day and providing the individualized assistance our students need to conduct their research, class projects, extending their knowledge and fostering their thirst for books.
3. I can’t in good conscience vote for a budget that doesn’t adequately address the concerns of the parents of our special needs students who have consistently and urgently requested our revisions in scheduling, in providing more staff, and extensions of programs to both younger and older students who need our support.
4. Finally, I cannot support a budget that finds the necessary millions of dollars for a testing system that robs days of valuable instructional time from our students and educators, and for a multitude of contracts with businesses and services but can’t set aside the funds to provide our outstanding educators with a step increase or even a small cost of living raise as a token of our appreciation.
Thank you for the time to express my views, and I apologize in advance to our dedicated staff who prepared each area of the budget to such painstaking detail and to the Supt and my Board colleagues who I know are doing what they think is in the best interest of the entire HCPSS.