Budget Focuses on Academics, Limited Finances

December 12, 2002
Dr. Jerry D. Weast, superintendent of schools, has proposed to the Board of Education an operating budget for the Montgomery County Public Schools next year that builds on “a specific record of academic achievement” and includes $15.5 million in program reductions because of “tough economic conditions.”

“Student performance is at an all-time high, and the potential for more improvement is immense, even as we slow the pace of expansion and work to improve what we have already achieved,” Dr. Weast said in his recommendations to the Board of Education this week.

The formal public presentation of the budget will be made this evening [Thursday, December 12] at Montgomery Blair High School auditorium, beginning at 7:30 p.m. A summary of the budget is available at the link below.

Overall, the superintendent recommended an increase of $59 million from the county government, reflecting an increase of 5.5 percent over the county's contribution last year. An additional $35 million is projected in state, federal, and other revenue. The $59 million from the county exceeds the minimum “maintenance of effort” requirement in order to avoid significant school system cuts totaling $36.4 million.

“The county funding increase is more than last year's but less than the year before and significantly below the $90-million increase in 2001,” Dr. Weast said. The total recommended budget for Fiscal Year 2004 is $1.5 billion, pending employee contract negotiations. The current budget is $1.4 billion.

While holding the line on new programs, the budget specifically requests funding for ongoing costs associated with more students, new textbooks, increased teacher salaries, rising prices for health insurance and retiree benefits, and higher costs for utilities, transportation, special education, English language instruction, new schools, alternative programs, and inflation.

The cost-cutting measures of $15.5 million were described as “prudent and serious” and would eliminate 80 staff positions. For example, reductions in instructional supplies and materials would be made to purchase $3 million in new textbooks.

The cuts in central service offices are the heaviest, reducing expenditures by 3.6 percent next year, compared to 2.1 percent among support operations and 0.6 percent in school-based expenditures. Continued administrative cuts would reduce this category to just 2.0 percent of the budget, the lowest ever and 20 percent lower than the state average. In the last two years, 78 positions have been cut from the central offices, representing 10 percent of the staff.

The reductions are on top of $51.4 million in cuts over the past three years, in addition to $10 million saved in last year's freeze. An aggressive zero-based budgeting process is directing resources to priority areas and using them more effectively.

The major budget recommendations, however, focus on continuing the priorities of the Board of Education, which were established in 1999 based on “a vision for a premier educational program,” Dr. Weast said. The superintendent outlined ongoing initiatives that would be continued to strengthen early childhood education, bolster curriculum and instruction, build professional staff development, and implement a system of shared accountability.

The results of these initiatives, Dr. Weast said, “provide clear evidence of impressive accomplishment.” He outlined a series of recent gains in student performance that were the direct results of reforms approved by the Board of Education and funded by the County Executive and the County Council:
· Increased literacy in kindergarten and first grade
· Accelerated mathematics instruction in elementary and middle school
· More students taking algebra or higher level mathematics in middle school
· More students taking honors and Advanced Placement courses in high school
· More students taking Advanced Placement tests
· Highest average SAT scores in Maryland
· Highest average math SAT score in the school system's history
· Highest percentage of students taking the SAT
· Highest performance level on high school assessments of any school system in Maryland

“We have accomplished this while adding more than 11,000 new students, becoming the largest school system in Maryland and reflecting a population of children that is ever more diverse and challenged,” Dr. Weast said.

The enrollment is projected to grow to more than 140,500 students next year. Since 1990, the number of children impacted by poverty has nearly doubled to more than 31,000 students receiving free and reduced-price meal assistance. The special education population is at a record high of 16,500 students. The ESOL enrollment has grown by almost 50 percent in the last three years to nearly 12,000 students.

The concentration of poverty, diversity, and language development among students is in the attendance areas of 60 elementary schools in an urban corridor from Takoma Park to Germantown, which contains nearly half of the county's entire elementary school population.

“There is much at risk if we fail,” said Dr. Weast. He cited continuing disparities in achievement by race, ethnicity, poverty, limited English proficiency, and disability. He also identified the new requirements for adequate yearly progress for each group in each school under the new federal No Child Left Behind Act.
“Such progress will be difficult without increased support, not just maintenance of effort,” he said.

“Every effort is being made to focus on highly rigorous classroom instruction,” Dr. Weast said. “Careful attention is being given to children who face academic challenges because of poverty, language, and disability. Our responsibilities are growing, and our students need a public school system that recognizes each and every one of them.”

<<Back to browse