In adopting a $2.32 billion operating budget for fiscal 2015, Montgomery County’s school board on Tuesday approved additional money for staff positions, cultural competency training and a review of special education programs and services.
The school board voted unanimously to pass the amended budget, which was about $34.7 million more than what Superintendent Joshua P. Starr proposed in December.
The board is sending an operating budget to the Montgomery County Council and County Executive Isiah Leggett that asks for about $91 million more than the school system received this year.
The budget also is about $51 million more than what the county is required to give under state law.
In a Feb. 11 letter to school board members, Starr said the amended budget also reflects Gov. Martin O’Malley’s state budget proposal, which provided about $217,000 less than the school system’s requested amount.
The amended budget will rely on the county to make up that shortfall.
Under O’Malley’s budget, the school system would receive about $618.8 million from the state.
Following developments in the school system’s negotiations with its employee associations, the adopted budget also includes about $35.8 million for employee compensation not included in Starr’s original proposed budget.
When Starr proposed his initial budget, he said he aimed to address growing student enrollment, ongoing achievement gaps among student groups and changes brought on by the Common Core State Standards, among other issues.
During Tuesday’s meeting, Starr and board members said the operating budget marked another step in a larger plan to add and restore positions and other budget items.
School board President Phil Kauffman (At large) of Olney said the budget, which doesn’t include everything the board members wanted, is “very responsible.”
“Sometimes that gets a little frustrating when we say, ‘Gee, can’t we do it all at once,’” he said. “But I think it’s reasonable to have the multi-year approach.”
School board Vice President Patricia O’Neill (District 3) of Bethesda said the budget is “a reflection of the past, the present and the future.”
“It is a multi-year phase-in of some of the things we would like to see,” she said.
The board passed amendments to the budget that included resources for two more prekindergarten classes, professional development to educate staff on how to work with students of different cultures, and three more pupil personnel workers and one more psychologist. There also will be money for an external review of special education programs and services and for student clubs related to science, technology, engineering and math.
Speaking on the added pupil personnel workers and psychologist, Kauffman said the board heard a lot from the community about the need for increasing the number of such positions.
“This is an area where I believe we have been underfunded in the past and we need to be expanding,” Kauffman said.
School board member Shirley Brandman (At large) of Bethesda said she supported the added staff members, as well, marking an acceleration of a plan to gradually add the positions.
“We’re trying, through the acceleration, to sort of note our committment,” she said.
Board member Christopher S. Barclay voiced his support for the cultural compentency training, which he said could benefit staff members who don’t have previous experience working with certain student groups.
“We need to know our differences, not from a negative perspective but from a positive perspective so we can figure out how to attain our goals,” he said.
Barclay (District 4) of Takoma Park said the review of special education programs and services is not a look at “what’s wrong.”
“It is a review based on how to get even better at what we do,” he said.
Board member Judith Docca (District 1) of Montgomery Village said the external review will provide “a balanced view of what we might do that would be better.”