Montgomery superintendent seeks boost in school funding -- Gazette.Net


This story was corrected on Dec. 12, 2012. An explanation follows.

To meet the needs of its larger, more diverse student body and keep up with changes in education nationally, Montgomery County Public Schools needs more money next school year, Superintendent Joshua P. Starr said Tuesday.

Starr’s preliminary request for next budget year, fiscal 2014, is $2.217 billion, a $48.95 million, or 2.3 percent, increase from last year.

Public budget hearings will take place over the next few months, and the Montgomery County Board of Education will finalize the request by spring 2013.

The budget increase pays for more positions and services for an expected enrollment increase of 2,260 students, but also increases the average amount of money spent per student by $152, from $13,877 to $14,029.

The County Council is required to spend the same amount per student as it did last year under the state’s Maintenance of Effort law. Starr’s preliminary request asks for about $10 million over that amount.

Council President Nancy Navarro (D-Dist. 4) of Silver Spring said Monday that the council is concerned about approving a budget above the required amount.

“There is concern about the stress and pressure that it will put on the other county agencies,” she said.

Board Vice President Philip Kauffman said the budget request is what the school system needs for its students.

“The council members indicate the risk of going above MOE, when the question is what is the risk of not going above MOE in the future, in terms of these are the investments on our kids,” Kauffman said.

The budget is reasonable and fiscally appropriate, Starr said.

He said he trusts that the council members, who have said in the past that education is the No. 1 priority in the county, will look at the budget “and continue to do the right thing.”

The county government supplied about $1.42 billion of the school system’s total $2.16 billion budget this budget year, or about 65.7 percent.

Starr said he used feedback from 23 discussions from community members who met after the school system created a “Neighbor to Neighbor” initiative, providing resources for self-guided budget discussions.

Parents had concerns regarding the implementation of the new Curriculum 2.0 and math instruction, options for arts and extracurricular activities, social and emotional skills, class size and availability of technology, Starr said.

Curriculum 2.0 encompasses new ways of teaching students, particularly in elementary grades.

The preliminary budget would restore 11 positions at elementary schools such as media or reading specialists, add administrative help to elementary schools that have more than 950 students, and provide five elementary instrumental music teachers.

Starr said the budget addresses three general needs: growth, the achievement gap and changes in nationwide educational standards and testing.

In the last five years, the school system has grown by about 11,000 students; there are about 148,779 students in county schools this year and there will be about 151,354 next school year.

About $21.2 million in next year’s budget would go to enrollment growth, adding 127 positions.

The budget does not include a compensation increase for employees, although the school system still is negotiating with the three unions that represent its employees, Starr said.

Starr said the school system needs to give a boost to its resources that are focused on narrowing the achievement gap, as there still are large gaps between races.

“I would say we have sort of plateaued a little bit in our new investment,” Starr said.

In middle schools, Starr would add 30 “focus teachers” for schools with the most students in need, restore 22.8 full-time staff development teachers and increase professional development.

He also would add 10 elementary math teachers to provide “accelerated instruction,” and create an eight-member math “SWAT team,” which would provide training for elementary school teachers.

To address curriculum and testing changes under the new Common Core State Standards, Starr would increase professional development, including $1.55 million for Curriculum 2.0.

Editor’s note: The council president was misidentified.