DELEGATE SHEILA HIXSON VISITS MELVIN J. BERMAN HEBREW ACADEMY; ORTHODOX UNION FACILITATES KEY MEETING IN MONTGOMERY COUNTY
Del. Sheila Hixson (D-20), who chairs the powerful Ways & Means Committee in the Maryland House of Delegates, recently visited the Melvin J. Berman Hebrew Academy in Rockville. The visit, which included a tour of the campus and lunch with members of the school's lay and professional leadership, was facilitated by the Orthodox Union and follows upon an OU-facilitated meeting in June in the Delegate's district at Southeast Hebrew Congregation in White Oak with Orthodox leaders.
Daphna Raskas, Ph.D, MJBHA President, stated: “So many of our families are struggling financially to provide their children with the religious education they need along with the fine secular education that we offer. It was gratifying to hear Delegate Hixson's sympathy for the difficulties our families face as well as her commitment to finding ways to help alleviate their burden.”
The tour, led by former MJBHA president Diana Epstein and MJBHA Director of Development Jennifer Zukerman, showcased how the Academy has transformed what formerly was an abandoned public school and has now become an anchor of the local community, with neighbors and area groups utilizing the Academy's sports fields. As well, the Delegate was able to see the "life skills" room being built for use by Sulam, the community's special needs education program, to discuss the Academy's award winning art program, the Ezekiel Project; and to learn more of the ethos of community service instilled by the school. (For videos of the Delegate's visit, see the OU website and/or the OU Public Affairs YouTube Channel.)
Delegate Hixson remarked: “I was very impressed with the beautiful facility and those who hosted me so graciously. We will be talking in the future about looking into assistance for the schools.”
Over lunch the Delegate had the chance to learn how the Academy is an anchor in the greater Montgomery County community, serving to attract and retain families. As well, there was dialogue with the leadership over the Academy's ever-increasing scholarship budget, with over one-quarter of the school's families receiving some financial aid; and the financial, traffic and environmental burdens lack of bus transportation causes to parents, the school's neighbors and the broader community – issues that affect the area’s other Jewish day schools (and all nonpublic schools across Maryland) as well.
Respectfully, the Delegate and the leadership discussed and disagreed over the BOAST education tax credit which had passed the Senate this year 30-17 with Governor O'Malley's support but failed to make it out of Delegate Hixson's committee in the House. The OU has supported tax credits enacted or proposed in other states that have succeeded in bringing millions of new dollars to public and nonpublic schools alike while helping families in need.
Leadership reiterated their strong support for and commitment to public schools while reminding the Delegate of the tax burden their families bear and while also saving the county and state steep education and capital costs.
Delegate Hixson stressed her commitment to all students and pledged to work with the community to find ways to assist all schools and all families, pointing to successful models used to provide aid to all colleges and universities, including religious ones, as well as the state's textbook program for nonpublic schools. She assured the leaders she will look at transportation, energy and other areas and that she remains open to a dialogue on BOAST.
Howie Beigelman, OU Deputy Director of Public Policy stated: "Del. Hixson has responded to our community's efforts at conversation and has graciously given time to listen to our concerns and a commitment to work towards solutions. We appreciate that, as well as her continued partnership and look forward to working with her."