ROCKVILLE – Montgomery County Public Schools (MCPS) Superintendent Jack Smith presented his operating budget recommendation for the fiscal year of 2021 on Dec. 18.
Designed by Smith in collaboration with community groups and MCPS employee’s associations, the $2.8 billion budget is a 4.5% increase from the 2020 fiscal year, which was nearly half of the county’s budget, and has seen a focus in security and an expanded teacher workforce.
The budget expects 64% of funds to come in from the county, 28% from the state and 3% from the federal government, primarily in the form of grant money. About 81% of the budget will go into student instruction, followed by 16% in the system and school support services and 3% in enterprise and revenue funds.
It also includes $25 million that is allocated for the subsequent year’s budget, as done in previous years.
The budget has centered itself on four “strategic focus areas:” safety, operators, human capital engagement and learning.
In the budget’s presentation, CEO Dr. Andrew Zuckerman emphasized the importance of preventative and general security. The 2021 fiscal year will see an increase in approximately $600,000 to add five security assistants and six rover positions, primarily for elementary school deployment.
“It really is the responsibility of all 24,000 employees to think about and pay attention to student security and student safety,” Smith added.
MCPS has struggled with increasing student populations, calling for more funding to build new schools. As of Sept. 30, over 165,000 students are enrolled in MCPS schools. Just under half of the 208 schools in the county are overcapacity. With 50,000 students, high schools face the brunt of overpopulation, with 13 of 25 currently overcapacity.
According to Smith, MCPS has been adding a school every year since he became superintendent in 2016. The 2021 fiscal year operating budget, however, does not explicitly expect any new school buildings, having budgeted for school expansion, relocatable classrooms and assistant principals, but no new principal position for the county.
“If you walk into a school building, (principals) do (a) variety things,” Diane Morris, area associate superintendent, said. “From advocate to the counselor to building service worker to mentor…they wear many different hats.”
As an expansion on Smith’s goal to create more assistant principal positions for elementary schools with only one administrator, the budget would allocate $110,000 to converting five assistant school administrators to three middle schools and two high school assistant principals, providing teachers more supervision and guidance for those schools.
Notably, Snowden Farm Elementary School in Clarksburg, currently limited to kindergarten through fourth grade, will be able to expand to fifth grade in the recommended budget.
The budget would also allocate funding to hire about 560 full-time employees, including about 250 teachers and 100 instructional aides and assistants.
Contracts for the new and current employees were negotiated with three employee associations: the Montgomery County Education Association, Services Employees International Union Local 500 and the Montgomery County Association of Administrators and Principals/Montgomery County/Business and Operations Administrators.
“Almost 90% of that budget is around our people,” Nicky Diamond, chief financial officer for MCPS, said, citing the budget’s focus on hiring and retaining a “highly effective diverse” workforce and supporting inexperienced teachers as they come in.
The budget had the support of Byron Johns, chair of the NAACP Parents Council of Montgomery County, who emphasized the importance of a diverse workforce in a public school system that was “over 50% Black and Brown.”
“This has been a decades-old conversation about equity,” Johns said. “I feel hopeful that we have the elements now for really meaningful progress to be made through this budget and subsequent budgets.”
Negotiations, according to the budget, are still underway, but if finalized, would go into effect in June 2020.
Other key aspects of the budget include expanding programs like college tracks, aviation and full-day pre-kindergarten programs, creating an “equity and innovation fund” and supporting the new Seneca Valley High School with a “career readiness hub.”
Smith has also hoped to expand language programs in elementary schools so that students might have opportunities to learn second languages earlier in their education. The budget has also recommended greater staffing and $4.8 million in ESOL programs.
“Language is an asset,” Smith said. “Our students who come to us with a language and acquire English and become fully literate in both languages have a profound opportunity in life to contribute to the community and benefit from it.”
The Board of Education will hold work sessions on the budget over the month of January, and vote to take action on it on Feb. 10, 2020. In the meantime, the board is holding signups to comment during the operating budget hearings.
Following the unveiling of the budget, Smith announced in an internal email leaked on Dec. 20 that he would request to the board of education to renew his contract as superintendent, which is set to expire in June 2020. The renewal would mean a second four-year term.
In the same email, Smith also told school system staff that Chief Academic Officer Dr. Maria Navarro and Chief Operations Officer Dr. Andrew Zuckerman are to resign their positions in June 2020 “to pursue other leadership operations.” Renewing his contract would allow Smith to supervise their replacements.