The topic was Montgomery County Public Schools’ finances and there was no lack of questions.
Larry Bowers, the school system’s chief operating officer, met with Montgomery County Taxpayers League members and others on Thursday to answer questions on the school system’s operating budget, data sharing and auditing process among other subjects.
Fred Stichnoth — a county schools activist and former president of the Gifted and Talented Association of Montgomery County — asked Bowers to further explain components of Superintendent Joshua P. Starr’s recommended operating budget for fiscal 2015 that would add teachers in schools with high levels of poverty and implement a program that offers incentives to teachers who work in the high-needs schools.
Bowers said the school system is working to attract and retain high-performing teachers to these schools.
The program in Starr’s budget would offer grants to teachers so they could work on special projects at the schools, Bowers said.
Bowers later said the school system has not done as good a job closing the achievement gap as it would have liked.
“We have a ways to go yet,” he said. “There’s no question about that.”
Gordie Brenne, one of the group’s directors, said there is no “crosswalk” in Starr’s recommended budget between the proposed expenditures and the strategies described in the school system’s strategic plan for addressing various issues.
Those connections, Brenne said, are important for those looking to the budget to make decisions, including taxpayers.
Bowers said that Starr, in his presentation to the county school board, had “chunked (the budget) into some big areas,” including student services and community engagement.
Bowers also discussed the school system potentially sharing financial data as part of the county’s open-data initiative, saying that the system is talking with county officials.
“We’re continuing to work with (the county) ... in terms of our level of participation,” he said.
One question, he said, is how much money it would take for the school system to participate.
Yale Wiesberg, the group’s treasurer, asked Bowers if the school system would be open to hiring someone in an inspector general-like position to conduct audits.
“I’m all for accountability,” Bowers said. “I just don’t think that’s the way to go.”
The school system is examined by the county’s Office of Legislative Oversight, Bowers said.
“They have done an extensive amount of work looking at MCPS,” he said.