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Testimony before the Montgomery County Council on the Fiscal Year 2001 Operating Budget

April 7, 2000
Presented by

Patricia B. O'Neill, President, Board of Education

April 6, 2000

The Board urges the Montgomery County Council to fully fund its FY 2001 Operating Budget Request. The Board of Education and the superintendent of schools have launched a comprehensive plan, Our Call to Action, which has captured the imagination of this community and stirred interest across the nation. It points the way to sustained improvement in the achievement of students.

We applaud the county executive for recommending a budget that serves all of the county's children and for ensuring that the County Council's Children First Initiative is the top priority in the development of the FY 2001 budget. The Board applauds the members of the Council for recognizing that student success in later years depends on doing more to help children in the early years achieve high standards and preclude the emergence of an achievement gap.

Consistent with the Council's initiative, the Board has endorsed the development of a rigorous new Kindergarten curriculum, stressing emerging literacy skills. This includes full-day Kindergarten in the 28 most highly impacted schools. Children in these schools need a full day of school with a rigorous curriculum in classes of no more than 15 students. With your support we can enhance early childhood development for our students.

In September 1999, the Board of Education adopted five priorities that will guide its work for the next four years. The purpose of these priorities is to raise academic standards for all students and to close the persistent gap in student achievement among the county's racial and ethnic groups. In November, Dr. Weast issued Our Call to Action, a comprehensive plan to implement the Board's priorities. In January, staff developed a detailed implementation plan that sets out responsibilities and time frames to implement each of the initiatives in the plan.

In February, the Board adopted a budget request for FY 2001 that funds these ambitious and carefully drawn plans. In addition to improvements to address improved educational quality, the total budget request of $1.22 billion includes $86.5 million needed to respond to enrollment growth, employee compensation, inflation, and other increases. The Board and two of its bargaining units (MCCSSE and MCAASP) have reached agreement on multiyear contracts that guarantee wage stability over three years. The Board has also reached agreement with MCEA on salaries as part of the final year of a three-year contract with provisions that can contribute to teacher recruitment and retention as we hire another 1,400 teachers for next school year.

In addition to these budget increases, the Board has requested $33.3 million to improve the quality of education. The Board was gratified that the county executive recommended an increase of $99 million, including approximately $17 million of the proposed improvement initiatives.

In making his recommendations, the county executive spoke supportively of the crucial importance of workforce excellence and recommended full funding of this vital initiative. He also favored beginning a major effort to reduce class size in the primary grades of those schools most heavily impacted by high levels of poverty, mobility, and high numbers of English language learners. It is in these core schools that student learning needs to be accelerated to close the achievement gap. He also targeted school security, progress toward shared accountability with funds for improved decision support systems, an innovative remedial literacy program in partnership with Montgomery College, preschool programs jointly budgeted with Montgomery County Government, efforts to improve the curriculum, and support for disadvantaged students to obtain graphing calculators and take SAT and advanced placement examinations.

While all this will make a great difference, it is crucial to understand that the success of each of these initiatives depends on moving forward with each of the others. In order to achieve success in the classroom, highly trained teachers must have a literacy curriculum that is well developed and supported with adequate resources. The new "high stakes" high school exit exams will challenge all of us to provide such a quality program. The Board has called for continued progress to reduce oversize classes in high schools. Our schools also need support for athletic programs that puts us more in line with neighboring districts. For those students who need intervention, it is important to strengthen psychological services, to establish a middle school alternative program in the upcounty area, to develop a monitoring system to address the overrepresentation of African Americans in special education, and to provide additional support for elementary schools with large numbers of special education students.

We must provide support in the operating budget for elementary schools that will be receiving Global Access capital funds for hardware and wiring next year. The Board also asks you to upgrade the safety of schools with improved security. Although these budget requests are substantial, we have continued to make important savings and productivity gains. This budget includes some $6.1 million in savings, none of which affect the classroom.

Thank you for the opportunity to participate in this public hearing. I welcome your questions.

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