Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Testimony to State Board: Curricular Fees in MCPS

Testimony to Maryland State Board of Education
September 23, 2008
Curricular Fees in Montgomery County Public Schools

Good afternoon. Thank you for the opportunity to present public comment. My name is Janis Sartucci and I am a Montgomery County parent. My children have spent a combined 15 years as public school students in Montgomery County. Possibly you are aware of newspaper reports and media coverage on the issue of curricular fees that parents in Montgomery County are forced to pay. In the 3 minutes that I have before you I would like to make sure that you are aware of the facts behind the media reports on this issue and I would like to make a plea for your assistance.

Fact 1: In 2003, the Montgomery County Board of Education created a Curricular Fees policy that allowed for the collection of Curricular Fees from MCPS parents. This was a new policy for the county. (Attachment B)

Fact 2: This stack of textbooks and instructional materials, including this red suit, were required purchases for credit classes taken during the regular school day for one our children to attend Montgomery County public schools. In addition, I have a "towel" that is a required Physical Education fee at a number of MCPS high schools. (Towel was shown to State Board members.)

Fact 3: Students in Montgomery County pay Curricular Fees for English, Science, Foreign Language, Computer, Math, Social Studies, and Physical Education and many other credit classes taken during the course of the regular school day. In addition, some schools require mandatory senior fees that must be paid in order to participate in the school's graduation. (Attachment F)

Fact 4: Curricular fees are required to be paid and when not paid the debt creates what is known as an "obligation". Students who have outstanding obligations face many penalties including having their report cards withheld (per MCPS policy), are denied tickets to graduation, prom and homecoming, are denied access to after school activities, and can have their names placed on a list that is publicly displayed on the school wall. (Attachment A)

Fact 5: In August of 2008, MCPS parents wrote to Attorney General Gansler for assistance on the mandatory Curricular Fees being charged by MCPS schools.

Fact 6: On August 18, 2008, principal counsel to the Maryland State Department of Education, Elizabeth Kameen, responded to a MCPS parent and copied her letter on school fees to Superintendent Jerry Weast and State Superintendent Nancy Grasmick. (Attachment C)

Fact 7: The next day, August 19, 2008, Superintendent Weast's office authorized a memo that was sent to all MCPS principals and teachers stating that, "You may be contacted by persons who challenge or contradict our policy of curricular expenses for student fees. There may be individuals or organizations that attempt to tell you that no fees may be charged. This is their interpretation of the law." The memo did not explain to MCPS staff that the "person or organization" that was interpreting Maryland law on school fees was the Maryland Attorney General and you, the State Board of Education. (Attachment D)

Fact 8: Curricular Fees paid to MCPS schools are put in Student Activity Accounts, not in the MCPS Operating Budget. There is no accounting for how these funds are used.

Fact 9: Maryland State statute Sec 4-201(e)(1) says that the State Superintendent may remove a county superintendent for: (i) Immorality; (ii) Misconduct in office; (iii) Insubordination; (iv) Incompetency; or (v) Willful neglect of duty.

Fact 10: This summer Superintendent Weast declared $6,607,000 in Textbook funds surplus. Then when students returned to schools across the county in August they were presented with over 2,000 mandatory Curricular Fees for textbooks and materials of instruction in the high schools alone. (Attachment E)

Failure to provide MCPS students with the textbooks and materials of instruction that are part of their free public school education is a willful neglect of duty by a Superintendent.

It is unconscionable that 130,000 families should all have to appeal the assessment of illegal curricular and senior fees to the State Board of Education. It is time for those in authority, with the legal power to stop this illegal practice, to act before one more child is turned away from public school for failure to pay illegal mandatory course fees.

Thank you.