Budget focused on managing growth, narrowing the achievement gap, preparing for the future
The Montgomery County Board of Education on Tuesday (Feb. 11, 2014) approved a $2.32 billion operating budget request for Fiscal Year (FY) 2015—an increase of about 4 percent over the current budget. The budget is $51.7 million, or 2.3 percent, above the amount of funding required by state law.
The Board’s request will allow Montgomery County Public Schools (MCPS) to manage the district’s continued enrollment growth, while making strategic investments aimed at narrowing the achievement gap and preparing students and staff for the future. The budget also recognizes the commitment of MCPS employees by funding compensation increases, but asks employees to pay more for their health benefits.
“I believe this is a fair and thoughtful budget that balances the value our community places on high-quality schools and the Board’s commitment to fiscal responsibility,” said Board President Phil Kauffman. “This budget will allow MCPS to keep up with its rapid enrollment growth and invests wisely and strategically to improve teaching and learning.”
The majority of the Board’s requested budget increase will allow MCPS to provide the same level of services to a growing number of students and will fund increased compensation costs. The budget also includes about $12.4 million in strategic enhancements, including funds to improve student support services, increase technology, grow community partnerships, and foster teacher leadership. Several of these investments are aimed directly at narrowing the achievement gap, such as the addition of 15 high school focus teachers to lower class sizes in reading and mathematics; additional staff to improve services to English Language Learners in middle school; and the addition of two prekindergarten classes to serve low-income students.
The budget also funds the new “Career Lattice” program, which will provide supplements to highly effective teachers who choose to move to or remain in high-needs schools. This is an opportunity to acknowledge effective, veteran teachers who make the decision to stay in the classroom, rather than move into administration.
“We are investing in strategies and programs that will allow us to better serve our students in key areas of growth and need, while supporting the work of our outstanding teachers and staff,” said Superintendent of Schools Joshua P. Starr. “This budget will help us make progress in our mission to provide all students with the academic, creative problem solving, and social emotional skills they need to be successful in college and careers.”
The Board’s budget request will now be submitted to the Montgomery County Executive and the County Council for consideration. The County Executive will release his recommended budget in mid-March. The County Council is expected to approve a final budget for FY 2015 in May.
Building the Budget
Dr. Starr submitted his budget recommendation to the Board of Education on December 12, but cautioned that it should be considered preliminary because MCPS did not know how much funding it would receive from the state and negotiations with the district’s three employee associations were not complete.
The Board held two public hearings and two work sessions on the budget, during which it reviewed all areas of Dr. Starr’s proposal and asked many questions of staff.
The Board’s budget request is $35.5 million higher than Dr. Starr’s initial budget recommendation. Last month, Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley released his proposed budget, which includes a $13.8 million increase in state funding to MCPS. This is slightly less than Dr. Starr estimated in his budget recommendation.
In the past week, the Board of Education has reached tentative agreements on a three-year contract with its three employee associations--the Montgomery County Education Association, the Montgomery County Association of Administrators and Principals, and the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 500. All three contracts will need to be ratified by association membership before becoming final.
As a result of negotiations, the Board’s FY 2015 budget includes $35.8 million that was not included in Dr. Starr’s initial budget recommendation. This includes funds for compensation increases and other economic provisions that go into effect next school year and savings due to increased employee contributions to health benefits.
The Board also added more than $750,000 to the budget based on need and on input from the community. Among the enhancements made by the Board:
- Funding and resources for 2 additional prekindergarten classes to serve economically disadvantaged students in high-need areas;
- Funding for 3 pupil personnel workers and 1 school psychologist, in addition to student services staff already added in Dr. Starr’s recommendation;
- Funds for a comprehensive review of MCPS special education services, cultural competency training, and stipends for high school Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics clubs.
“We received a tremendous amount of input and feedback on the operating budget this year and appreciate the time parents, staff, and students took to share their thoughts with us,” Mr. Kauffman said. “While we could not meet every need that was shared with us, I am pleased we could make some adjustments that will enhance the education experience for our students.”
Managing Growth, Investing in the Future
The majority of the Board’s requested budget increase is dedicated to managing growth and continuing costs. Enrollment this school year is 151,289 students, an increase of more than 2,500 students from last school year and nearly 14,000 students over the past six years.
As enrollment grows, a greater number of our students require specific services and support to ensure success. More than 52,500 students (35 percent of total enrollment) now receive free and reduced-price meals, an indicator of poverty. More than 20,000 students (13.2 percent of enrollment) receive English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) services.
The Board’s budget includes funding for 157 elementary and secondary teachers, and other support positions, to serve an additional 2,721 students; 8 positions to serve additional ESOL students; and 75 positions to increase individualized services for special education students. This budget also includes $6.8 million for continuing salary costs (not including the newly negotiated compensation increases) and $17.3 million to cover increased costs for providing benefits for current and retired employees. The money for benefits includes $3.3 million for state teacher pension costs.
The budget also funds strategic enhancements that are part of a multiyear strategy aligned to the district’s Strategic Planning Framework—Building Our Future Together: Students, Staff, and Community. The Framework identifies the three competencies students will need so they can thrive in their future: academic excellence, creative problem solving, and social emotional learning. Along with a commitment to organizational effectiveness, this multiyear budgeting strategy invests money in key areas to deepen the district’s efforts to narrow gaps and prepare students for the future.
In FY 2014—the first year of the multiyear budgeting strategy—investments included placing additional teachers in middle schools to address achievement gaps; adding staff to improve mathematics teaching and learning; and enhancing professional development around the Common Core State Standards. Building on these investments, the Board’s budget request includes about $12.4 million in strategic enhancements.
Districtwide Investments: The Board is requesting additional funding aimed at fostering innovation and improved instruction and support across all grade levels, including—
· $800,000 for the Career Lattice, which will encourage veteran, exemplary teachers to move to or stay in high-needs schools. These funds will provide teacher salary supplements for up to 250 teachers, who will provide instruction and leadership. The funding also includes grants that school can use to improve teaching and learning;
· $3 million for the purchase of technology, mainly tablets, to enhance instruction and properly deliver new state assessments;
· About $1.3 million to begin a multiyear effort to improve the student support model. These funds will add 5.5 elementary school counselors, 5 school psychologists, and 6 pupil personnel workers, with more positions to be added in future years to lower caseloads; and
· $300,000 to provide additional support and coaching to improve school support and interventions.
Middle Schools: Some of the district's largest achievement gaps are in middle schools and the Board’s request continues to invest in improving this key area, including—
· $1.45 million that will mostly fund 10.5 positions in 21 middle schools to provide focused support to ESOL students; and
· $704,167 that will provide middle school teacher leaders more opportunities to engage and support educators and school staff.
High Schools: To support the improvement of MCPS high schools, the Board is requesting several additional investments, including—
· $977,145 for 15 high school focus teachers that, in combination with 23.5 existing positions, will reduce English and mathematics class sizes in the district's most impacted schools;
· $996,918 for additional positions that will allow high school resource and staff development teachers to increase opportunities for planning, coaching, and professional learning;
· $136,534, combined with $300,000 in realigned funds, to redesign Alternative Programs. These funds help provide more individualized instruction and support to students who have not been successful in traditional school settings; and
· $49,500 to further project-based learning at Wheaton High School, which will serve as a model for the district on how to engage students in instruction that builds academic excellence and creative problem-solving skills.
Elementary Schools: In addition to providing additional resources to the 67 elementary schools most impacted by poverty, the Board’s budget request includes—
· $251,832 to create additional team leader positions in some elementary schools that serve higher special education and ESOL populations;
· $456,000 for teachers to support the expansion of the compacted mathematics curriculum to Grade 5; and
· $541,677 to restore various positions that have been reduced in smaller elementary schools over the past five years, including staff development teachers, reading specialists, media specialists, and counselors.
Building Community Partnerships and Engagement: To support the mission of the Building Our Future Together Framework, the Board’s budget request invests in the expansion of community partnerships that support student success, including—
· $118,157 to expand the Kennedy Cluster Project, a multiagency partnership that provides students and families with access to health care, housing, financial assistance, and other social services. These funds would extend the program into the Watkins Mill cluster;
· $148,480 to expand transportation for students in Excel Beyond the Bell, a collaborative effort that provides high-quality, after-school programs in middle schools that are impacted by poverty; and
· $532,230 to add positions to the Office of Community Engagement and Partnerships as part of a multiyear effort to develop business and community connections and provide support to parents in our schools.