By Kevin O’Rourke
On Tuesday, Montgomery County Public Schools Superintendent Joshua P. Starr presented an operating budget of $2.4 billion for Fiscal Year 2016 to the Montgomery County Board of Education. The budget includes $103.6 million in additional spending that will allow MCPS to manage growth, while narrowing the achievement gaps and prepare students.
“My budget recommendation builds on the investments we have made the past two years to ensure we are serving our students to the highest level,” Starr said. “I am recommending a budget that will allow us to keep up with our growing enrollment, while ensuring that all students have the skills and knowledge they need to be prepared to thrive in their future.”
Most of the $103.6 million spending increase will be used to provide the same level of services to a growing number of students; fund ongoing salaries and benefits; and manage increasing operational costs. The recommendation includes $8.2 million in strategic priority enhancements that are focused on improving student performance while narrowing achievement gaps. Starr’s recommendation also includes $23.3 million that will be needed to replace the one-time revenue source the Montgomery County Council used to fund retiree benefits in the FY 2015 budget.
The Board of Education will now hold public hearings on the budget on Thursday, Jan. 8, and Thursday, Jan. 15. The Board will then hold two work sessions on the budget before submitting a final FY 2016 Operating Budget Request to the Montgomery County Executive and the Montgomery County Council in February.
Starr’s recommendation reflects the Board of Education’s budget interests and significant input from staff, parents, students, and community members who were a part of three budget teams — one each for elementary, middle, and high schools — and provided input on specific areas of need. The recommended budget also was built in partnership with representatives from the three MCPS employee associations — the Montgomery County Education Association, the Montgomery County Association of Administrators and Principals, and the Service Employees International Union Local 500 — as well as the Montgomery County Council of Parent-Teacher Associations .
“We appreciate the hard work and collaboration that went into creating this budget recommendation,” said Patricia O’Neill, president of the Board of Education. “We look forward to hearing from the public on Dr. Starr’s recommendation, as we seek to build a budget that meets the needs of our students, staff, and community.”
Enrollment in MCPS this school year is 153,852 students, an increase of more than 2,500 students compared with last year and more than 12,000 students over the past six years. According to the MCPS, the growth is expected to continue in the coming years, with enrollment next school year projected to be 156,514 students — an increase of more than 2,600.
While overall enrollment is growing dramatically, the number of students needing services to ensure their success — such as free and reduced-price meals (FARMS) and English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) services — is growing even faster. Since FY 2009, overall enrollment has grown by 10.5 percent, but during the same time period the number of students receiving FARMS has increased by 43.5 percent and ESOL enrollment has grown by 32 percent.
In order to manage the projected growth in FY 2016, Starr is recommending $19.6 million to add more than 275 positions, including 111 general elementary/secondary positions, 96 positions for special education services, 41 positions for ESOL instruction, and 25 positions for student transportation.
The proposed budget also includes a $75.2 million increase to fund ongoing salary and benefits costs. This includes 2 percent general wage increases for MCPS employees and step or longevity increases for qualifying employees. Part of this increase is offset by savings generated by an increase in the amount that employees contribute to their health benefits.
The budget recommendation also includes a $6.2 million increase in operational costs, such as supplies and materials, utilities, and inflation. The increase in the budget is offset by $5.6 million in efficiencies and reductions.