A $2.2 billion county schools operating budget proposed Tuesday by Superintendent Joshua P. Starr increases spending to manage growing enrollment, seeks to address persistent achievement gaps and invests in a curriculum aimed at meeting new state and national standards.
It also sets the school system up for yet another debate with the Montgomery County Council over spending on K-12 education.
“This is a responsible budget that allows us to keep up with growing enrollment, while making strategic investments that will benefit our students today and in the future,” Starr said in a statement. “A budget is a reflection of our values and I know that Montgomery County understands the direct connections between the quality of our schools and the future of our county.”
A state law on school funding will again loom over the budget season.
Starr said he expects that he will have to sway the Montgomery County Council to fund the operating budget at a level $10 million above the minimum mandated by the state’s maintenance of effort law. The law requires counties’ per-pupil spending to remain the same or increase from year to year.
Click here to read more on what the state law could mean for the budget.
The proposed spending plan for fiscal 2014, which begins July 1 and outlines operating expenses for the 2013-2014 school year, is a $48.95 million increase (2.3 percent) over the current budget.
About 82 percent of the recommended increase is for managing growing enrollment and continuing costs.
More teachers are needed to support the school system’s nearly 149,000 students—a number that has grown by 2,300 since last year and is expected to exceed 159,000 by the 2018-2019 school year.
“A total of $21.2 million is needed in FY 2014 for a projected student enrollment increase of 2,336 students,” Starr wrote.
The budget proposes hiring about 127 teacher positions in K-12 and about 22 positions to support 900 new students who have limited English skills. Another $8.5 million would increase individualized services for special education students, including funding 52 new teachers, 36 paraeducators, about seven speech pathologists and increased funding for private placements for some students.
Per-pupil spending this school year is $13,592. Under the proposal, per-pupil spending would grow to $14,029 in 2013-2014, with about $9,000 of that coming from the county.
This year, 19,846 students are enrolled in English for Speakers of Other Languages and 49,344 students are eligible for free and reduced-price meals, an indicator of poverty.
Addressing the achievement gap
The achievement gap between African-American and Hispanic students and their white and Asian peers persists.
According to school system data, last spring 68 percent of white and Asian ninth graders combined completed Algebra with a grade of A or B, while just 31 percent of both African-American and Hispanic ninth-graders, counted separately, earned an A or B in the class. The percentage of white and Asian eighth-graders scoring advanced on the state math exam was 45 points more than that of African-American students and 47 points more than that of Hispanic students.
“Some of our largest gaps are in middle school,” Starr wrote. “Therefore, I am recommending $1.97 million for the hiring of 30 focus teacher positions at the middle school level to support students who are struggling in mathematics and English.”
Another $1.5 million would go to return staff development teachers to each middle school. The staff development positions were eliminated as a cost-cutting measure.
Middle schools were the final frontier in a long-range plan carried out by Jerry D. Weast over his 12 years at the helm of county schools that addressed curriculum in elementary and high schools before focusing on middle school reforms.
Middle schools need to focus intervention and instructional support on underperforming students, including lowering student-to-teacher ratios, Starr said in an interview.
The second need is “changing the teaching and learning environment,” he said. Middle school students “can be engaged in so many different and creative ways,” he said. Schools must provide social and emotional development for students, Starr said, while incorporating science, technology, engineering and mathematics under what he calls “Curriculum 2.0.”
Curriculum 2.0 and Common Core Standards
Curriculum 2.0 seeks to give more time to the arts, information literacy, science, social studies and physical education by blending them with reading, writing and math instruction and developing creative and critical thinking skills.
“Clearly it’s our future,” said Christopher S. Barclay (Dist. 4) of Takoma Park, who was elected county school board president on Tuesday. “One, because we are in one of the states that adopted the Common Core State Standards. But the other part of that, that is important, is it is the right thing to do for our students. Moving us to a higher level and a more consistent standard across the country is important.”