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Board of Ed OKs $2.46 Billion Operating Budget With 6 Percent Increase

At Tuesday’s regular meeting, the Montgomery County Board of Education on unanimously approved a final $2.46 billion Operating Budget for Fiscal Year 2017. The budget contains a $139 million increase, or 6.0 percent jump, over FY 2016’s budget.

The school district said the approved budget also provides $37.9 million of targeted funding that will allow Montgomery County Public Schools to reduce class sizes in many classrooms across the district and accelerate efforts to close the achievement gap. The approved budget marks the first time since 2009 Montgomery County Public Schools has been funded above the minimum level required by state law, called Maintenance of Effort.

“This budget represents an important reinvestment in our students and our schools,” stated Michael Durso, president of the Board of Education. “The resources in this budget not only help us keep pace with enrollment but also allow us to take bold, meaningful steps toward closing the achievement gap. In addition, this budget allows us to give our well-deserving employees a salary increase next year. I am grateful to the County Executive, County Council President Nancy Floreen and the County Council, and our community for their unwavering support for public education.”

“We have all been members of the Board for years and every year we have been cutting and cutting, and cutting,” said At-Large Board Member Phil Kaufman during Tuesday’s Board of Education Meeting. “I think to a certain extent we have been guilty of patting ourselves on the back, in those years in saying we were able to absorb those cuts, and it didn’t make a difference. However, I think, those cuts did make a difference, and it really bubbled up this year in terms of the testimony that we heard from our community. We have had to move in a difference direction. This was more about articulating what we need.”

Among the investments in education that MCPS says this budget fund include: Lowering class sizes with additional teachers; increasing paraeducator support to students in classrooms in targeted areas, including mathematics and literacy; allocating additional Focus teachers to impacted schools to provide targeted support, especially in content areas such as literacy and mathematics in order to address achievement gaps; enhancing professional development investments to improve math and literacy instruction in elementary schools; increasing the number of elementary school counselors, parent community coordinators, psychologists, and pupil personnel workers to provide support for the district’s most vulnerable students and their families; increasing minority achievement programs, including the Student to Educator Pathway (STEP) program, after-school extracurricular activities, mentoring programs, and university partnerships; and expanding the Achieving Collegiate Excellence and Success (ACES) program and the Minority Scholars program to additional schools.

Interim Superintendent of Schools Larry Bowers, said at the meeting, “The Board’s request was reduced by about $41 million. Everything we wanted just wasn’t possible. I want to thank and commend our union partners for all of their work. I know that some of our employees are disappointed because they are not getting the raises that had been negotiated. Certainly, the Board of Education and I never want to be in a position where we have to do that. But, I think, in balancing everything we have, this is truly a budget that reflects the interest and the needs.”

Last month, the council told the Board of Ed that the planned 8 percent increase due to teachers, administrators and staff over the next year under the terms of collective bargaining agreements could not be justified, given the challenges facing the school district. Those include ­severe overcrowding and the achievement gaps separating white and Asian students from black and Latino students.

Council concerns about the long-term health of the system led to a 2017 appropriation that is $90 million above the minimum annual spending required by state law. In exchange for the increase, the council told the Board of Ed that it must cut the raises in the negotiated collective bargaining agreement and those funds must be redirected to address overcrowding and the achievement gap issues.

“This is a year where we have had to trust,” said Kaufman during the Board meeting. “We have had to trust each other and our Council. We may have questioned whether we could trust them and they have trusted whether they could trust us. At the end of the day, we trusted each other, and we came to a satisfactory conclusion.”

Also at Tuesday’s meeting the Board approved a recommendation to amend the existing agreement with the Service Employees International Union Local 500, which changed the raise schedule and amounts for employees in the SEI Union. The Board also eliminated the salary schedule which was to become effective on March 4, 2017, from the FY17 budget entirely.

“This truly is a budget that reflects both pay increases for our employees,” said Bowers at the Board of Education meeting, “maybe not what was originally negotiated, but certainly there are increases in the budget. As well as many, but not all the enhancements that the Board of Education approved in February. The budget increase is $139 million, a six-percent increase. $110 million is from Montgomery County and an increase of $89 million over the MOE funding level. An additional $25 million was from the State of Maryland, over $17 million—almost $18 million was for the Geographic Cost of Education, the GCEI. $3 million additional federal aid funds. An increase of Title I funding of about $2.3 million and additional IDEA Funding.”

Bowers also mentioned a number of reductions that were made to the budget from what was proposed by the Board back in February. They included reductions of about $10.6 million in enhancements that were requested by the Board. “There were reductions of funding for the employee benefit plan,” he said. “There was reductions in the amount for fuel, as a result of legislation that was approved which exempted MCPS from the fuel tax.” He also said that the changes to the SEI Union Local 500 agreement would result in $22 million in salary savings.

Bowers also said that the approved budget will add 481 positions to MCPS, including 313 positions aimed at reducing class size in the district’s overcrowded schools.

The additional classroom teacher positions included in the FY 2017 Operating Budget will enable MCPS to change the elementary class size guidelines that are used to allocate staff to schools. In what MCPS calls Focus Schools—those with the highest levels of poverty—class size guidelines are reduced more for some grade levels than in non-Focus schools; however, the guidelines are being changed for non-Focus schools as well, according to the MCPS release.

This budget reflects the Board’s commitment to continuing to invest more resources in schools with greater student needs. Changing the guidelines does not mean that every elementary class will be smaller by one or two students in the 2016–2017 school year. Classes that already are at or below the new guidelines will not see the number of students in the classroom change; however, schools that have several classrooms that exceed the new guidelines will receive additional teachers to create smaller classes.

For secondary schools, this budget allows for reduced class size guidelines for mathematics, science, social studies, reading, and foreign language classes. It is important to remember that class size guidelines are not the same as average class sizes, read the MCPS release. Principals use their teacher positions to offer a wide range of course offerings to students while keeping the size of core content classes manageable. The additional classroom teachers for secondary schools allow MCPS to minimize the number of classes above the class size guidelines, reduce the average class sizes in all schools, and reduce class sizes to address the priority of closing the achievement gap.

File Photos.