Note: The following is the text of an announcement about the superintendent's budget recommendations, which will be detailed at tonight's public presentation to the Board of Education at Montgomery Blair High School, beginning at 7:30 p.m. A PDF of the "Citizens Budget" is available at the link below.
Dr. Jerry D. Weast, superintendent of schools, today [Wednesday, December 10] announced a recommended Fiscal Year 2005 Operating Budget of $1.6 billion that includes an increase of $85.3 million to ensure that “our teachers, administrators, and support staff have the resources they need to improve the quality of education throughout the Montgomery County Public Schools.”
The proposed budget, which will be presented to the Board of Education this evening, focuses on maintaining “the momentum under way for the past four years to improve the academic success of students from kindergarten through high school,” Dr. Weast said in his recommendation to the Board. He credited school system staff for the continuing success.
“Our employees are the heart and soul of the school system,” said Dr. Weast. “They are the primary reason that student achievement has continued to improve on a steady, incremental basis each year.”
Nonetheless, Dr. Weast cautioned that “the fiscal outlook is very uncertain” because the recommended budget is $51 million more than the minimum amount required for maintenance of effort by the county. The budget also does not include pending contract negotiations with employee organizations.
Maintain Existing Services
“This amount only makes it possible to maintain existing initiatives and provide one new major program improvement -- adding 17 full-day kindergarten schools next year at a cost of $1.6 million,” Dr. Weast said. The major thrust of the recommendations is an effort to maintain existing services against the threat of potential cutbacks.
Most of the recommended increase ($60 million) is for current salaries and benefits for a workforce of about 20,000 teachers, principals, and support staff. Pending contract negotiations are not included in the proposal.
Another $16 million is for costs associated with hiring new staff for a growing enrollment, primarily for special education students and children with limited English proficiency, providing transportation and food services, and reopening Northwood High School. About $7 million is necessary for inflation and other increases.
The budget includes internal realignments of $4.4 million in program resources that can be used, instead, to buy textbooks, support the Downcounty Consortium, implement staff development in special education and diversity training, improve special education staffing, enhance curriculum and technology, and upgrade school and bus maintenance.
Dr. Weast cautioned that, because the system is similar to other labor-intensive organizations, any significant additional reductions “means eliminating positions.” Consequently, since most of the workforce is employed in schools, “it will be difficult, if not impossible, to protect schools from further cutbacks unless we are able to obtain the necessary funding,” he said.
He noted that significant reductions and realignments within the budget since 1999 have largely spared schools and, instead, targeted central office and systemwide support functions. The administrative portion of the budget now is just 2 percent.
“This is the irony of our fiscal situation at a time when our academic improvements are producing outstanding results,” Dr. Weast said. “The gains of the last four years exist because of the tremendous investment in the women and men who teach in our classrooms, who lead our schools, and who provide the daily administrative and operational services. Now, more than ever, we need that investment to continue.”
Continue Reform Initiatives
Dr. Weast said the recommended budget is designed to continue reform initiatives begun since 1999, as detailed in the approved strategic plan, Our Call to Action: Pursuit of Excellence. These initiatives include improved early childhood education, strengthened reading and mathematics instruction, curriculum alignments with rigorous standards, greater school accountability, improved staff development, and upgraded technology. The major new initiative is the expansion of full-day kindergarten to 17 more schools.
Among the recent examples cited by the superintendent of continuing academic progress are the improvements in kindergarten and high school. The percentage of kindergarten students who can read a simple story with familiar content, for example, has nearly doubled, from just 39 percent three years ago to 70 percent last year.
The number of students taking Advanced Placement tests, moreover, has increased by 125 percent since 1999, and the number of individual AP tests taken has increased by 137 percent.
“These examples underscore the tremendous responsibility we have for providing the highest level of support possible for quality teaching and learning,” Dr. Weast said.
The superintendent noted that the Board of Education has been especially successful in working closely with the County Executive and the County Council in securing important “strategic decisions” that have provided the school system “with the resources necessary for placing the best teacher possible in every classroom, the best principal in every school, and the best support staff in every facet of our organization.
“We need those resources to continue,” Dr. Weast said.