Feb 15, 201104:15 PMEducation Matters
“What will happen to our schools?”
That was the reaction of a couple of parents I know to the news that minorities now are the majority population in Montgomery County.
According to a Washington Post analysis of U.S. Census Bureau statistics released last week, “barely 49 percent of Montgomery’s 972,000 residents are non-Hispanic whites, down from almost 60 percent in 2000.” Hispanics make up 17 percent of the county’s residents and outnumber African-Americans in the county, according to the newspaper.
One of the parents, whose three children attend county elementary, middle and high schools, couldn’t help but wonder how the changing demographics will affect the school system in coming years.
It’s a fair question—one that the county’s next school superintendent will have to grapple with as he or she deals with the demands of a diverse student body on a shrinking budget.
But it’s also a question that MCPS has been dealing with for years.
Let’s look at the numbers. Take the highly esteemed Richard Montgomery High School in Rockville, for example. Its student population is 61 percent minority—about 26 percent Asian, 17 percent African American, 18 percent Hispanic—and 39 percent white. At Montgomery Blair High School in Silver Spring, the student body is about 75 percent minority—that’s 29 percent African American, 28 percent Hispanic and 18 percent Asian—and 26 percent white. Yes, there are county schools in Bethesda and Potomac and other affluent communities where white students overwhelming outnumber minority populations and probably will for a long time. But the big picture is changing.
So the release of the census statistics isn’t news to those who work in county schools, particularly in what is outgoing Superintendent Jerry D. Weast calls the “red zone,” the part of the county with much higher poverty, many more Hispanic and African Americans, more mobility and more English as a second language students.
Weast divided county schools into red and green zones—those that are in affluent communities—after he arrived in 1999. Over the years, Weast directed more resources and funding to red zone schools as MCPS implemented reform efforts across grade levels to increase rigor and provide equity to all students. His administration worked to reduce the achievement gap in red zone schools without hurting higher-performing green zone schools.
Those efforts have paid off. But that was before the recession, when times were flush and there was money to pay for extra resources. Those days are gone for the foreseeable future. And yet enrollment is growing and demographics are changing.
And so the big question: What will happen to our schools?
Weast and the county Board of Education drew the proverbial line in the sand on Tuesday when the board approved Weast’s recommended $2.2 billion budget for the fiscal year beginning in July. MCPS is looking for an additional $82 million next year, which it says is the least amount of extra funds that it can ask for under the state’s maintenance of effort law. That law requires the county to fund its public schools at the same per student spending level each year. Not doing so could mean at least a $22 million loss in state aid.
No new programs or initiatives are included in the budget. That extra $82 million would pay for increased enrollment this year of more than 3,300 students, MCPS officials say.
But County Executive Ike Leggett and the County Council have already said enough’s enough and the schools are going to have to bear their share of the budget crisis without more funding. That doesn’t bode well for MCPS.
So what does that mean for the schools?
MCPS’s prediction is dire. Weast’s proposed list of cuts includes the elimination of more than 200 teaching positions and increased class sizes, and “dramatic reductions to academic intervention teachers, staff development teachers, media assistants, security assistants and other staff that directly serve schools and students, especially those who are at risk.”
“Every student in every school across the county will be affected by the reductions that may be coming,” school board President Christopher Barclay said Feb. 14 when the board voted on its budget.
So, what will happen to the schools? We’ll have to wait until March 15 to find out. That’s when Leggett will release his county budget proposal. That’s the day the battle will begin in earnest.
Do you know which side you will be on?