Expanded Full-Day K Recommended in Heavily Cut Budget

December 6, 2001
Dr. Jerry D. Weast, superintendent of the Montgomery County Public Schools, announced today [Thursday, December 6] a budget plan for Fiscal Year 2003 that incorporates reductions in current expenditures, primarily in central office and support operations, and expansion of critical instructional initiatives, including 13 new full-day kindergarten programs.

The overall budget would increase by nearly $71 million, providing funds to open a new middle school and two new Centers for the Highly Gifted and maintain programs and services for a growing enrollment.

The budget includes $35 million in deferrals and cuts in programs and services that had been envisioned for next year. These reductions are necessitated by current and projected economic conditions affecting federal, state, and local funding.

“Our continued success in strengthening the rigor of our educational program depends greatly on receiving funding that allows us to maintain the core improvements envisioned two years ago in Our Call to Action,” Dr. Weast said in his recommendation to the Board of Education.

“I believe it is critical that we continue the momentum already under way in improving early childhood education, expanding professional staff development, continuing curriculum reform, and ensuring that technology is available to support quality and accountability,” Dr. Weast said. “To do this requires sacrifice, hard work, and a resiliency in our commitment to improving academic achievement.”

Main Initiatives in the Budget Include:

* Early childhood improvements would expand full-day kindergarten to an additional 13 schools (for a total of 47), each featuring a strengthened curriculum and average class sizes of 15 students for every teacher. The sites to receive full-day kindergarten would include Glenallan, Fox Chapel, Judith A. Resnik, Beall, Cannon Road, Meadow Hall, Galway, Strawberry Knoll, Mill Creek Towne, Takoma Park, Sligo Creek, Fairland, and Oakland Terrace elementary schools.

* Workforce excellence improvements would permit the third-year implementation of the consulting teacher initiative to work with new and struggling teachers, plus an expansion of the staff development substitute teacher program to assist teachers in the final phase of implementing the new evaluation system.

* Ongoing curriculum reform efforts would continue in kindergarten through Grade 8 with new efforts to align high school requirements with more rigorous content necessary for college and career preparation.

* A redirection of technology resources would continue the development of systems to provide principals and teachers with instructional data.

* Two new Centers for the Highly Gifted would be opened at Clearspring and Pine Crest elementary schools, the first expansion of this program in 17 years.

The recommended operating budget of $1.4 billion primarily includes the cost of maintaining school-based programs and services for a projected enrollment of 138,794 students next year, an increase of about 2,000 new students over this year.

The new enrollment will be the largest in the school system’s history, the largest in Maryland, and one of the fastest growing enrollments in the United States.

The school system will be opening a new middle school in the Einstein cluster, hiring additional teachers, especially at the secondary level, and increasing expenditures for special education, students with limited English proficiency, transportation, food services, and related costs, as one of the results of the enrollment increase.

The county contribution to the budget would increase by a modest 4.8 percent and include commitments for negotiated salary improvements for school system employees (with just 2.8 percent being sought from the county above the maintenance of effort requirements). The overall budget, including federal and state funding, would increase by 5.3 percent.

As originally envisioned over the past two years, however, the FY 2003 budget would have increased by 8 percent, or $106 million, allowing for a significant expansion of programs and services as planned in 1999. Many of these initiatives are being deferred, along with outright cuts and redeployment of staff, as economic conditions limit the availability of sufficient tax revenue and other county priorities compete for public resources.

Altogether, the deferrals total $12 million, and the reductions eliminate $23 million from current operations, cutting 168 current positions. A freeze on hiring and expenditure restrictions are under way now, and steps already have been taken to consolidate all financial services in a more cost-effective and efficient organization.

The position cuts heavily impact central office and support functions, accounting for 72 percent of the overall reductions and cutting 7.8 percent of the central office budget and 4.8 percent of the support operations budget. Central administration already accounts for only 2.2 percent of the overall budget, one of the lowest percentages among school systems in Maryland.

The remaining 28 percent of the reductions affect school-based positions but cut less than 1 percent of the total school-based budget.

“The reductions require greater focus by a consolidated staff on the core mission of central office and support operations curriculum development, staff development, monitoring, accountability, and required management functions,” Dr. Weast said.

Dr. Weast said the downturn in the economy “will have an impact beyond next year and I believe it is prudent to start taking the appropriate steps now.”

Of particular concern is limited state funding. State aid to Montgomery County is not likely to increase, especially under the recommendations of the Thornton Commission’s study of education finance, equity, and excellence. The school system now receives 77 percent of its budget from Montgomery County, the highest percent of local contribution to public education of any school system in Maryland.

The superintendent said the continued collaboration by the Board of Education with the County Executive, County Council, union representatives, and parent and community leaders is “more important now than ever before.”

“We have the opportunity to build on several impressive successes in early literacy, curriculum reform, workforce development, technology advances, and increased rigor and accountability,” Dr. Weast said. “I am impressed with the parent, staff, and community involvement in encouraging still higher standards, greater alignment of instructional strategies among and within schools, and responsibility within the entire community for improved teaching and learning.”

The budget recommendations can be found on the web at the link below:

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