Opinion Section: Op-Ed
There once was woman. A woman of means, who regularly ate at restaurants, got monthly massages and facials, and drove a luxury vehicle that required premium gas only. She did not consider these to be luxuries. She had the money.
One afternoon, she received a phone call from the hospital. Her son had overdosed on heroin. He was alive, but just barely. She took a leave of absence from work to be at his side day and night throughout his recovery. She called all over the country looking for an open bed in a top-rated recovery center and found one three states away, but her insurance would only cover half the cost. Without hesitating she signed the intake papers. This was life or death. There was no other choice.
The cost of treatment ate into her savings. Reluctantly, she even dipped into her 401K. What she also did was to reduce expenses in other parts of her life. She ate at home, forwent facials and massages, and even traded in her car for one that takes regular gas. She became an expert at pinching pennies. Every little bit help. Every little bit was needed to get through the crisis.
It took time. It took work. It took investing in the right treatments. Eventually, her son did come through the other side. And the woman? Well, after she worked to pay back her 401K, replenished her savings, she went out to dinner.
When calamity struck the family, the family’s budget was retooled in response to the calamity. The money for facials and massages was needed elsewhere and was spent elsewhere.
Baltimore County Public Schools is facing a similar situation, but instead of responding appropriately by taking a critical look at the budget and scaling back some areas while ramping up others, all budget classes get an increase. This is an insult to the thousands of Baltimore County families who, themselves, must develop and live within personal budgets – or face dire consequences when they do not.
The socioeconomic profile of the county has changed dramatically over the past 30 years. More students are coming to school suffering from the effects of complex trauma resulting from what the CDC defines as Adverse Childhood Experiences. The science is clear. The size of the brain cortex in children who experience traumas including, are smaller than those of children who are lucky to be born into a stable familial situation. This area of the brain is responsible for many complex functions including memory, attention, perceptual awareness, thinking, language, and consciousness. These changes may affect IQ and the ability to regulate emotions, develop trust, and healthy relationships.
In addition, population has continued to outpace municipal infrastructure investments, i.e. schools resulting in overcrowded schools and classroom sizes of unmanageable levels. Lack of maintenance of the existing school stock has created unsafe learning environments.
Teachers can’t teach. Students can’t learn. Is it any wonder that teachers are fleeing the county and students are not performing on grade level?
BCPS is in crisis. While there has been acknowledgement of the woeful lack of student services in the form of personal pupil workers, counselors, and psychologists, the funding levels proposed for 2020-2021 still lag the recommended levels. Turn the page, however, and you will see a requested increase in administration. No! Baltimore County already has one of the highest per pupil admin rates of any school district in the nation.
The budget is now in the hands of the County Council and County Executive. It is up to them to make the hard choices. The school system and the county are in no position to increase funding in every spending account across the board – nor does that make any sense. Yet this is what they ask for year after year. Budgets don’t always grow. Families know that. Most of the time money needs to be reapportioned to meet specific needs of a specific time. Why is the budget of BCPS any different? Today, the money needs to be taken from admin and other areas and triaged to student support services.
The work is hard. It is going to take time. It is going to take money. But we need to meet the students where they are and give them what they need to succeed.