ROCKVILLE – A few Montgomery County classroom teachers may have class sizes shrink slightly under a proposed multi-million-dollar amendment for the FY 2020 budget, but some school community members said more funding is needed.
Council President Nancy Navarro announced on April 24 a new budget amendment that, if passed, would result in Montgomery County Public Schools (MCPS) receiving an additional $5 million for its operating budget, which covers teachers’ salaries and benefits.
County Executive Marc Elrich said that a member of the county delegation, State Sen. Cheryl Kagan (D-17), deserves thanks for the fact that the Maryland legislature passed her bill about 911 reform this year.
“The state is assuming more of the (cost of) the 911 service; it’s freeing up dollars the county otherwise would have been spending, so the impact of this bill is providing some of the money we need to make this (work),” Elrich said, on fully funding the school system budget.
Elrich added that the freed-up funding to education was a recent decision. He did not know a couple of weeks ago how much county money the state would free up for the council to spend on other costs, in either FY 2020 or FY 2021.
The proposed amendment would help the county long term, Navarro said.
“Fully funding our school system is part of a larger and much-broader economic development strategy,” Navarro said. “It’s also about ensuring all of our students have an opportunity to realize their potential.”
Under state law, the county is required to fund what the state calls “Maintenance of Effort,” which means spending the same amount of money, and not less, per student as it did the previous fiscal year.
Superintendent of Schools Jack Smith said he supports the proposed amendment.
When asked the source of the remaining money above the maintenance of effort to fully fund the MCPS operating budget, Smith said, “What’s been made today is a firm commitment that we will be fully funded this year.”
In the next couple of months, the Council Education and Culture Committee will discuss and work through the specifics of the proposed budget amendment. Later, the full council will vote to approve the amendment.
Smith said the School Board will spend the proposed additional money, if the council approves it, on enlarging existing programs and adjusting the guideline for the number of students in an elementary school classroom. The guideline would decrease by one or two students.
“Most of the new money in the budget this year is about adding additional staff to our Focus schools…adding Language Exploratory and continuing to build out on our STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) programs in elementary and middle schools,” Smith said. “It’s reducing class size guidelines across all schools, and that will be a small change but heading in the right direction.”
Chris Lloyd, president of teachers union Montgomery County Education Association, said that if the budget amendment passes, he anticipates it would affect few teachers. With increasing enrollment during the past ten years and the fact that students in MCPS have greater needs for services than in previous years, MCPS needs additional money, he said.
Navarro summarized some of the changes in the needs of the students in recent years.
“We continue to have increases in (the) FARMs (Free and Reduced-Price Meals) rate and ESOL (English Speakers of Other Languages), and students that have issues with mobility, and all of this combined really calls for all of us to stay true to (this) commitment to school funding,” Navarro said.
Lloyd said the amendment will not help the emotional well-being of students and teachers, which he said he believes is something that needs more MCPS central office attention and funding.
“I think it’s certainly a step in the right direction, but it’s not as aggressive as it should be,” Lloyd said of the amendment. “These are not the schools our kids deserve. Our kids deserve much more in schools.”
Teachers have more responsibilities that take up their time than they did a decade ago while student enrollment continues to increase.
Lloyd said reducing the size of a class by one or two students for some teachers does not free up time for teachers to spend on the students. While he would like teachers to be able to have smaller classes, reducing data collection about student performance such as scores on tests and class work and other time commitments would lessen the burden that teachers carry.
The Kirwan Commission, which reviewed all the public school systems in the state this year and respective funding formulae, is slated to give Montgomery County $21.6 million for education. The commission is composed of representatives from throughout the state, including some state legislators, state- and county-level school officials and individuals in the business community.
The council has not declared the source of the remaining money MCPS requested above maintenance of effort.
Elrich said staff are continuing to “scour” the county budget that could be directed toward MCPS.
“I told Nancy (Navarro) a couple of weeks ago that we’re going to continue to look, and if we can find it, we’ll send more money over (for MCPS),” Elrich said after the press conference. “When I submitted the budget in March, I was dealing with the money I knew I had. Now, I know I have a little bit more.”
From the perspective of county public school teachers, Lloyd said that he believes that the unions are being included less and less in discussions with the superintendent or the school board for determining the budget. He said he believes that’s been happening during the past three to four years.
Two words to describe the proposed amendment are “not enough,” Lloyd said.