School Board Approves Budget After Restoring Reading Teacher Posts

Spending plan totaling $2.5 billion now heads to the County Council for consideration


School board President Michael Durso

Via Montgomery County Public Schools

The Montgomery County Board of Education on Tuesday signed off on a $2.52 billion school spending plan for the 2017-2018 school year after saving three dozen reading instruction positions from elimination.

Restoring the 35.5 teaching posts will cost almost $2.5 million, but school board members argued it was worth the expense to help elementary school students learn to read. Principals will distribute these positions in their schools to enable smaller class sizes for entire grades or for reading sections in kindergarten through second grade.

The school board offered no other amendments before passing the budget proposal crafted by Montgomery County Public Schools Superintendent Jack Smith. Members said they were by-and-large pleased with the plan, which increases funding for language learning, opening alternative paths to graduation and expanding opportunities for students to engage in rigorous coursework.

“Where you spend your money shows what you believe in,” board President Michael Durso said.

Overall, the proposed budget would increase spending by about 2.5 percent compared to the prior year. The plan will now head to the County Council, which will decide whether to meet the school board’s funding request for the system serving more than 159,000 students.

In his first budget as superintendent, Smith said he wanted to focus on closing opportunity gaps that leave some students behind. The system’s goal should be for every MCPS student to walk off the graduation stage and into a living-wage job, a college program, an apprenticeship or military service.

“Whatever they want to do is what we should be helping them get to,” said Smith, who took as schools chief in July.

Since Smith submitted his original budget plan in December, the draft has seen several changes. The version unanimously approved Tuesday would do away with extracurricular fees for middle- and high-school students, for a loss of about $700,000 in revenue over the 2017-2018 school year.

The superintendent said MCPS staff is also beginning a broader study of fees across the system, adding that he hopes the analysis will be ready in time for next year’s budget discussion.

The budget updates also reflect higher-than-expected state funding levels. Because of the county’s booming enrollment numbers and mediocre growth in affluence, the state is on course to give MCPS about $14.1 million more than previously anticipated and about $22.6 million compared to the prior year.

Smith’s adjusted budget lowered the request for county funding by $13.7 million, from $1.68 billion to $1.67 billion. However, restoring the reading instruction posts will likely depend on getting an additional $2.5 million from the county, Smith said.

In a presentation to the school board, the superintendent noted that his budget—which will take effect in July—would enable MCPS to pay for each student to take either the SAT, ACT or a career certification assessment. The plan also provides funding for cultural competency training for teachers and greater investment in science and math education by expanding courses to more students.

The spending proposal will come back to the school board for a final vote after the council passes its budget.

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