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FY-2014 Budget Recommendations, Programs to Keep and Changes to Make

After months of research, debate, and evaluation, the Montgomery County Board of Education formally presented its fiscal year 2014 budget recommendation proposal, formulated by Superintendent Dr. Starr, at a recent board meeting. The proposed budget continues to emphasize core education values of MCPS, such as providing multiple pathways for college/career-readiness, bridging achievement gap, and supporting student-staff engagement in schools. Advocacy groups including the Montgomery County Education Association, Service Employees International Union, and the Montgomery County Council of PTAs gave input during the budget’s formulation. To channel input from marginalized communities, BOE also established the Neighbor to Neighbor initiative that encourages groups to hold independently-facilitated discussions. Twenty-three discussions were held district-wide under this program; Dr. Starr considered notes taken from conversations while making budget recommendations.

As students, it is important to understand the changes brought by the FY 2014 budget that will impact us. Here, we provide a student-friendly guide to learning about the FY 2014 budget amendments in a nutshell. In general, this budget recommendation entails a 2.3% increase (or $48.95 million) from past year’s.

I. Growth and management costs—Funds for program growth encompasses 82% of Dr. Starr’s proposed budget. To accommodate the total projected enrollment increase of 2,261 students, the BOE made an additional $21.1 million in recommendations. This increase will provide 127 employment positions in grades K~12. In particular, the BOE will devote $9.4 million to special education, which calls for more para-educators, speech pathologists, and home/hospital teachers. Within that amount also includes a $1.5 million fund for ESOL program expansion.

II. Re-energizing Efforts to narrow achievement gap—these expenditures are dedicated to enclosing the academic achievement gap between demographics. Last year, the class of 2012 attained an average composite SAT score of 1651, and achieved the highest graduation rate among the nation’s largest school districts. MCPS’s student AP test participation rate has also increased steadily over the past four years, in fact, exams taken by Hispanic students has raised by 333% over the past 10 years. Nonetheless, despite these accomplishments, disparities still occur. Particularly, when examining the MSA (Maryland State Assessment given to elementary and middle school) proficiency levels, discrepancy among minority groups becomes evident. This gap only widens in high school, where the percentage of White/Asian students who received a grade of A or B in grade 9 English was 71 percent, compared to 34 percent of African American and 28 percent of Hispanic students. According to Dr. Starr, “closing these gaps is not just a moral or educational issue. It’s an economic imperative.” Disparity in academic achievement could profoundly impact a student’s income in the next decade, which creates undesirable implications for our society’s economic stability and impedes progress. The Board plans to tackle this challenge via several thresholds.
• Middle Schools: the Board calls for the restoration of staff development teachers as well as resource staff for students struggling in English and math (project cost is around $3.5 million). Middle schools are favorable places for such expenditures to be made, as it is the area where the largest gaps occurred.
• Math instruction: “To address our needs in the area of Mathematics, the Office of Curriculum and Instruction Programs will establish a Mathematics Implementation Team” (BOE). The Mathematics Implementation Team will train teachers to give instructions for accelerated math courses at the elementary school level. The team will be established through the reallocation of existing positions and realigned funding within the budget.
• Achieving Collegiate Excellence and Success program: This collaborative effort with Montgomery College and the Universities at Shady Grove is designed to provide support for students pursuing post-secondary education. This program is aimed at students from groups that are underrepresented in higher education. The program will take place during summer.
• “Invest in our staff:” teachers are the cornerstones of any successful education system; building a strong, solid staff gives a more optimistic future.

III. Changes in educational values: this is where the ‘new measures’ come in. Terms that many student leaders are familiar with: ‘Common Core Values,’ ‘Curriculum 2.0,’ ‘PARCC assessments,’ all fall under this category.

IV. Professional learning: to further prepare students for 21st century challenges, the board proposed a $1.55 million increase for implementation of Curriculum 2.0 and Common Core State Standards, a $800,000 increase in staff development substitutes (allowing full-time employees to engage in Professional Learning), and four additional consulting teachers who will work with new and underperforming staff. These measures will strength the current Professional Development system.

V. Strategic Restorations and Additions: under this category, Dr. Starr hopes to restore positions cut previously due to economic circumstances. These positions include media specialists, school administrators, and instrumental music teachers. Fund requests will also be made for a district-wide concussion baseline testing program.

Nonetheless, uncertainties still exist regarding the recommended budget. The possibility of federal sequestration, ambiguity in amount of state funds, and the current county fiscal outlook may compromise current amendments.

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Article by Jessica Li, SAC press secretary, junior at Richard Montgomery High School

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