The Board of Education today [Tuesday, February 10] unanimously approved an operating budget request of $1.6 billion for the Montgomery County Public Schools next year that would maintain existing initiatives, provide one new major program improvement -- adding 17 full-day kindergarten schools -- and reopen Northwood High School.
The major thrust of the Board's Fiscal Year 2005 Operating Budget request is a defense against the threat of cutbacks in county revenue and state aid, especially the loss of state funding for programs, services, and mandates associated with Thornton Commission recommendations.
At risk are the school system's ongoing efforts to improve teaching and learning, including reforms in programs and services that have contributed to continued improvements in student achievement. These initiatives include improved early childhood education, strengthened reading and mathematics instruction, detailed program alignments with rigorous standards, greater school accountability, improved staff development, and upgraded technology.
The budget builds on the plan recommended in December by Dr. Jerry D. Weast, superintendent of schools. Since then, limited state funding and other threatened financial setbacks at the county level have jeopardized the budgeted funding for programs and services, including those directly affecting schools.
Threat of Cutbacks Prompts Protest
The threat of cutbacks in state aid prompted a rally of thousands of protesting parents, students, educators, and government leaders from Montgomery County and throughout Maryland this week, including members of the Board of Education, Dr. Weast, and other senior staff.
At particular risk are the student gains from academic initiatives under way in kindergarten through high school. Recent studies show that the percentage of kindergarten students who can read a simple story with familiar content has nearly doubled in the last four years, from just 39 percent in 1999 to 70 percent last spring. Since 1999, moreover, the number of students taking the highly rigorous Advanced Placement tests has increased by 125 percent.
The budget request would maintain current salaries and benefits for a workforce of about 20,000 teachers, principals, and support staff -- including new staff to be hired for a growing enrollment of more than 140,000 students expected next year. Contract negotiations are pending with employee representative organizations.
The budget makes internal realignments in program resources that will 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.
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.