Education Advocates Object To Proposed Budget Cuts in MCPS Central Services
Parents, students push to keep positions in accelerated instruction, language learning offices
The Montgomery County school board heard public testimony Wednesday night on the proposed school system budget.
Students and education advocates on Tuesday night argued against budget cuts to offices supporting accelerated instruction and English learners and asked for more funding for counseling services.
The Montgomery County Board of Education held its second public hearing on Superintendent Jack Smith’s proposed $2.59 billion budget plan for the school system. Overall, Smith’s budget would boost spending by about 2.7 percent compared to the prior year and includes new investment in dual-language programs and career learning opportunities.
But Smith’s plan to decentralize certain services in Montgomery County Public Schools, making staffing cuts and realignments in the process, has some people worried.
“I am concerned that the recommendation to cut the size of the (accelerated and enriched instruction) office will degrade the ability of MCPS to provide the dynamic and personal education I have received since sixth grade,” testified Nina Todd, a senior at Poolesville High School. “In my opinion, taking away any part of the gifted and talented system, or its support, will only result in diminishing MCPS’s standing as an outstanding and admired educational system.”
Smith’s budget plan, presented in December, would eliminate director and secretary positions inside the AEI office, which works with gifted and talented, magnet and International Baccalaureate programs. His plan states that the reductions would save about $173,500 and is possible because of “overall efficiencies” in the office.
The office that supports English for speakers of other languages instruction in high school is slated to lose 10 teacher-coach positions and an instructional specialist position, for a savings of more than $639,000. These coaches aren’t losing their jobs and will instead be working directly with students, according to Smith’s budget plan.
Smith has said that he wants to put resources closer to local schools rather than having them consolidated in the MCPS central offices. However, several parent advocates said there is value in focusing certain services in one place.
“We need to continue to support magnet programs for advanced learners. We need central office staff who can help make sure that our schools are properly implementing countywide educational initiatives,” said Monique Ashton, a parent advocate coordinator for the Richard Montgomery Cluster. “Without a strong central office, we worry these things will not happen.”
Tracie Potts, a parent advocate coordinator for the Paint Branch Cluster, said people in her community have questions about reductions in special education services.
“In the Northeast Consortium, we have 3,000 reasons to be concerned,” she said, adding that it’s the number of special education students served in that area.
And in the wake of some recent teen suicides in the county, a junior from Walter Johnson High School asked for more school counselors.
“The loss of only one student’s life to suicide is one too many,” Drew Skilton said. “We must address mental illness more proactively in our schools.”
Thomas “Tommy” Silva, a junior from Walter Johnson, died by suicide in early December. A Walt Whitman High School student, Jordana “JoJo” Greenberg, died by suicide in November.
School board members asked MCPS staff members a number of questions about decentralizing some support services and the cost of adding or expanding positions within the school system. However, board member Pat O’Neill reminded the group that the school system is facing a tight budget year. County Executive Ike Leggett earlier this month asked MCPS to save $25 million in the current fiscal year to help close the county’s $120 million budget shortfall.
“We are not in the flushest of times,” she said.
The school board is scheduled to hold a work session on the budget proposal Wednesday and will adopt a final version in February. The County Council then will review the spending plan and take final action in June.
Bethany Rodgers can be reached at email@example.com.