“Dear Friends, I want to recognize the first day of Ramadan and the start of the Persian New Year this week as well as the first day of Spring. For everyone celebrating or just looking forward to warmer weather I hope the new season brings you good health and happiness. Over the last week, there has been a lot of discussion and media attention on the $6.8 billion operating budget that I sent to the Council last week. This budget is about choosing to maintain services and the social safety net that we created during the pandemic, while also providing record funding for education, affordable housing, public safety and combatting climate change. Much of the attention has been focused on the proposed 10 cent property tax that would be used only for Montgomery County Public Schools (MCPS).
The 10-cent property tax increase is in response to MCPS’ request for $300 million in additional funding over last year’s budget . While this funding request is an increase over last year’s funding, the vast majority of this funding is needed to recruit and retain outstanding teachers and other essential staff as well as address the increase in special education enrollment. If this were a programs-only budget that wasn’t focused on retaining teachers and keeping salaries competitive, I would have looked at their request very differently. But the fact is they need money. We have teachers leaving the profession, and we’re losing the ability to compete with surrounding jurisdictions. Our schools are suffering as a result. As the President of the Montgomery County Educational Association (MCEA), Jennifer Martin has pointed out, more than 1,100 teachers left MCPS last year and hundreds of positions remain unfilled. Teachers are leaving the classroom for better pay, less demanding and more respected work. The impact is larger classes and fewer people to meet the needs of students. The teachers still in the schools are burning out as they work to cover the vacant positions and the increased needs. The risk of teacher burnout rises with each unfilled job.
Pia Morrison, president of SEIU Local 500, which represents the paraeducators in the classrooms as well as the security staff, bus drivers and other essential school staff also talked about the problems with vacancies and low pay. She explained that when substitute positions for teachers are not filled, the support staff have to step in and on average 40 – 50 percent of those substitute positions are not being filled. That means that many of the students who need the one-on-one support go without the additional academic supporty they need, and special education students miss out on interventions that address their learning needs. Additionally, because MCPS support staff are less than full-time staff, she explained they routinely have to supplement their income with other jobs in order to support their own families, making it more difficult for them to help the students.
The measures of student performance are concerning. According to the results of the 2022 Maryland Comprehensive Assessment Program (MCAP) test, only 31 percent of MCPS students scored proficient in math, and 53 percent scored proficient in English. We have great schools, but we cannot afford to let them decline. In real dollars – adjusted for inflation – we are spending less per pupil than we did before. Our funding peaked 13 years ago – we’re spending $3,000 per pupil less than we did in 2010.
People want to live and work in our county in great part because of the high quality of our schools. We cannot disinvest in our schools – we need to invest in the schools and staff and that means additional resources. My proposal to increase our investment is about our future—our children. We owe them the best we have to offer and the additional 10 cents that I am asking is an important step to make Montgomery County a leader in education once again, and this money is for education only. Teachers and other educational professionals are at the core of what we need to give our children the best education possible. We get the best when we invest in the people that are working with our kids every day.
On April 11, the County Council will begin public hearings on the budget. Information on how to testify is here. The Council will review my proposed budget and a final budget will be passed in May. Like education systems across the nation, Montgomery County is dealing with the challenges that isolation and virtual learning wrought on students, but how we deal with it is up to us. Montgomery County’s reputation as the best school system in Maryland won’t survive on perception alone. It takes support and that’s what my budget proposal offers.
This week, the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) published their annual Audit of Antisemitic Incidents. Nationally, antisemitic incidents in 2022 surged to the highest levels ever recorded, with a total of 3,697 incidents of assault, harassment and vandalism reported to ADL. This represents an increase of 36 percent compared to 2021 – also a record setting year – an average of more than ten incidents per day. Maryland saw a 98 percent increase in antisemitic incidents as 109 were reported in 2022, a 98 percent increase from the 55 incidents in 2021, and a 132 percent increase from the 47 incidents reported in 2020. Sadly, Maryland registered with the 10th highest number of antisemitic incidents reported in the country for 2022. This week, I joined a panel discussion about combatting antisemitism with the Montgomery County Committee Against Hate/Violence. I expressed my frustration that antisemitism still exists in our society, let alone is worsening.
I also expressed my determination to speak out against anti-semitism at every opportunity. We know and understand that while the acts are targeting our Jewish community, they impact all our religious and minority communities. An attack on one faith community in Montgomery County is an attack on us all, and we stand together to embrace our diversity and celebrate our Jewish community. For us to combat these incidents, we need everyone to report any of incident of hate that they may witness. We must also continue to unite, partner and collaborate. Jews are not facing acts of hatred alone. Many other religious and minority communities also have also dealt with hate-based incidents in our County recently. And most importantly, we must educate to eradicate hate. We need to do more in our schools and our homes. We need to intentionally teach and talk about antisemitism and the history of oppression for the Jewish people and for other marginalized groups. The numbers released by the ADL should be a cause of concern for everyone. We must do better. As a leader against antisemitism, I stand with my local Jewish community as an ally and commit to providing support, showing solidarity, and building a foundation for greater understanding and mutual respect for all.
This week was Crossover Day for Maryland state lawmakers. Legislation that has not been passed by one house and sent to the other by Crossover Day will not move forward this year. The last day of session is just three weeks away on April 10. I have been visiting the legislature regularly since the beginning of the session, and I have testified on a number of bills, including efforts by Maryland Health Care For All! to give access to health insurance to many more Marylanders, including low-income households (SB 26/HB 111), young adults (SB 601/HB 814), and immigrants (SB 365/HB 588), and to help the state continue to develop strategies to bring down the cost of expensive prescription drugs (HB 200 & HB 202/ SB 202/HB 279). With a new governor and his administration in place I have seen bipartisan support for many of his and other measures this session. I hope that collaboration continues, and we finish this legislative session strong for the people of Montgomery County and the people of Maryland.
As you read this, I am on a plane heading to Taiwan for an international trip representing Montgomery County at the Smart City Summit & Expo. Our focus of this trip is economic development. I’ll be joined by the Board Chair of the Montgomery County Economic Development Corporation, the Chair of the Montgomery County Council’s Economic Committee, the County’s Chief Information Officer, and several business leaders representing our technology start-up community.
This trip is a wonderful opportunity for us to let others know that Montgomery County is a great place to live and do business. Additionally, Taiwanese leaders want to hear about much we’ve accomplished with our Climate Action Plan. We’re also meeting with leaders from Taipei Medical University & National Taiwan University which host top-ranked Artificial Intelligence programs and I will be telling them about our exciting project in the North Bethesda the University of Maryland – Institute for Health Computing. We also will be meeting with dozens of Taiwanese business leaders who have expressed interest in potentially opening an East Coast office or lab or partnering with Montgomery County companies. This is the first international economic trade mission that I will be taking since being County Executive. I am excited to promote this County and find potential opportunities and partnerships.
Creating a greener County has been of my goals since becoming County Executive, but I know the effort to improve the environment began before that. Earlier this month the Tree Montgomery program planted its 10,000th tree. To mark the milestone, the Montgomery County Department of Environmental Protection staff celebrated a tremendously successful 9 years of the program with their tree planting contractor D. A. Dunlevy at the Lake Marion Community Center in Montgomery Village. Shade trees help our environment in many ways. They are important to wildlife and the process of pollination. Trees soak up water runoff reducing the risk of flash flooding. They are also welcome on our County’s many playgrounds, parking lots, and school yards. These beautiful trees also help us save energy in homes, offices, and schools.
I encourage everyone to visit the Tree Montgomery website to learn more about nominating somewhere in the County a tree should be added.
This week we have very little to share about COVID-19 and as they say no news is good news. Our community level status remains ‘low.’ Our rate of infection is as low as we’ve seen in it in a calendar year and our hospitalization metrics have also come down significantly. I encourage everyone to stay up to date with their bivalent booster shots—those are the ones that came out last September. If you haven’t gotten one since then make your appointment. The County is still taking appointments and is handling vaccine and booster clinics weekly. Montgomery County md dot gov slash covid 19 is still a resource to find vaccine appointments and stay up to date on the virus.
This Saturday our Department of Health and Human Services will partner with Montgomery County Public Schools and Montgomery Goes Purple to hold another event aimed at educating the public on the dangers of fentanyl and preventing drug overdoses. Paint Branch High School in Burtonsville will host the forum, starting at 9 a.m. It will feature English and Spanish breakout sessions to help answer as many community questions as possible. Topics for the morning include starting substance use conversations, healthy boundaries vs. “Tough Love,” emergency response, and safety at home and at school. To attend in person or watch via live stream please follow this link to register.
As always, my appreciation for all of you,
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