The Board of Education today [Monday, March 1] submitted its $1.6 billion operating budget request for next year to Montgomery County government leaders, urging County Executive Douglas M. Duncan and the members of the County Council to protect the Montgomery County Public Schools against losses in funding that would endanger critical programs and services.
“Without sufficient state and county funding, the school system's ongoing improvement efforts for academically at-risk children in our county are vulnerable,” said Board of Education President Sharon W. Cox in a letter to the county leaders accompanying the budget request.
The main initiatives include improved early childhood education, strengthened reading and mathematics instruction, detailed curricular alignments with rigorous standards, greater school accountability, improved staff development, and upgraded technology.
“The overwhelming majority of the budget is for direct instructional costs and school support services,” Cox said. “Nonetheless, the Board of Education is well aware of the threatened cutbacks in county resources and state aid, especially the potential loss of state funding for programs, services, and mandates associated with the Thornton Commission recommendations.”
Cox said the school system is facing “enormous challenges” in complying with the state's Bridge to Excellence in Public Schools Act and the federal No Child Left Behind Act. She said both mandates require implementation of “far-reaching efforts to ensure the academic progress of every child and overcome disparities in achievement by race, ethnicity, language, disability, and income.”
Enrollment to Grow to More than 140,000
The requested budget would increase expenditures by $85.3 million (5.7 percent), pending the completion of current contract negotiations with three employee organizations. The budget request would maintain existing services for a growing enrollment and provide just one new major program improvement -- the addition of full-day kindergarten at 17 more elementary schools, bringing the total to 73 schools next year. Overall enrollment is projected to grow to more than 140,000 students, and the school system will open the county's 24th high school at the Northwood facility.
Cox said that the school system has “taken measures to limit expenditures wherever possible,” using internal realignments in existing programs to buy textbooks, support the Downcounty Consortium, implement staff development in special education and diversity training, improve special education staffing, improve curriculum and technology, and upgrade school and bus maintenance.
“In fact, while Montgomery County has the state's largest school system, it also has one of the most frugal,” said Cox, noting that central administrative spending represents just 2.0 percent of the overall budget, among the lowest in the state.
“These efforts are designed to protect schools from steady erosion of services for children that have hampered the progress of other school systems in the Washington area and across the state,” said Cox.
The Board president was complimentary to both Duncan and the Council members, recognizing their “ongoing support of quality public education” in the county as an example for the state.
“At a time when local community schools in Maryland are challenged by higher standards of achievement for an increasingly diverse student enrollment, your leadership in helping us uphold the excellence of our public school system is welcome and necessary,” she said. “Indeed, it is noteworthy that Montgomery County has remained steadfast in supporting the work of our teachers, principals, and support staff.
“The public schools of Montgomery County remain one of the pillars of our great community,” she continued. “We know that you will do everything you can to strengthen this investment.”