The following is the edited text of the testimony presented last night [Wednesday, April 14] by Board of Education President Sharon Cox in support of the operating budget request for Fiscal Year 2005. The testimony was presented at a public hearing by the Montgomery County Council.
I am urging your support for full funding of the requested Fiscal Year 2005 Operating Budget for the Montgomery County Public Schools (MCPS). In March, the Board of Education unanimously approved an operating budget request of $1.6 billion for MCPS next year that would maintain existing initiatives, honor our negotiated contracts with our employee unions, provide one major program expansion -- add full-day kindergarten at 17 more schools -- and reopen Northwood High School. The requested budget would increase expenditures by $106 million or 7.1 percent.
It is impossible to overstate the Board's appreciation for County Executive Doug Duncan's decision to recommend funding for virtually all of the Board's FY 2005 Operating Budget Request. We recognize both the hard work that went into his decision and its foundation in this County Council's legacy of support for public education in Montgomery County. The members of the Board, indeed the whole community, are grateful for your ongoing support of quality public education in Montgomery County.
At a time when local community schools in Maryland are challenged by higher standards of achievement for a student population with increasingly diverse levels of academic preparedness, your leadership in helping us to uphold the excellence of our public school system is welcome and necessary.~ That excellence primarily depends on having a quality teacher in every classroom, a quality principal in every school and quality support staff throughout the system. It is noteworthy that Montgomery County has remained steadfast in supporting the work of our teachers, principals, and support staff.
Budget Includes Negotiated Agreements with Employees
The Board of Education's negotiations with MCPS' bargaining units had not been finalized in time for Mr. Duncan's review of our Operating Budget Request. His recommendations, therefore, did not address the amendment approved by the Board in March to reflect the results of tentative contract agreements with our unions. In terms of tax-supported funds, the County Executive recommended approximately $22 million less than the Board's amended FY 2005 Operating Budget Request.
I come before you tonight to ask for full funding that will sustain the school system's ongoing efforts to improve teaching and learning, and to honor the results of contract negotiations with our employees.
Your continued support is more important now than ever before. Montgomery County Public Schools 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. They impose an artificial deadline for the success of MCPS' far reaching efforts to ensure the academic progress of every child and overcome disparities in achievement by race, ethnicity, language, disability, and income.
Funding is critical to continue the school system's 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, support for special education and ESOL, greater school accountability, improved staff development, and upgraded technology.
Academic Gains Need Continued Investment
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. Our reform initiatives are showing promising results. It is therefore vital to maintain the momentum without reduction in resources.
We have taken measures to limit expenditures wherever possible. Central administrative spending, for example, represents just 2.0 percent of the overall budget, among the lowest in the state. Instead of new spending requests, internal realignments in existing programs will be used 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.
These efforts are designed to protect schools from steady erosion of services for children that has hampered the progress of other school systems in the Washington area and across the state.
Our annual review of the operating budget extends beyond seeking efficiencies in the budget. The Board is changing the public process to connect community input on revisions to the Board's strategic plan to the development of our operating budget.
Greater Public Involvement Being Encouraged
In order to encourage greater public involvement focused on long-range strategic issues, the Board will transition from only holding public hearings critiquing a fully developed operating budget to emphasizing public forums during the strategic plan revision and budget development process.
The community input in the annual process of updating the five-year strategic plan as required by the Bridge to Excellence Act supports the alignment of the budget with the strategic plan. Our citizens will have a greater opportunity to influence the budget and strategic plan priorities and there will be greater opportunity for exchange of viewpoints.
The public schools of Montgomery County are the foundation of our great community. We know that you will continue to maintain and strengthen this investment. Thank you for giving the Board the opportunity to address you tonight.