Even if Superintendent Joshua P. Starr gets the money he wants for Montgomery schools next school year, he says it will take years to restore what once was.
That means many positions that were cut — such as some school counselors and psychologists — are still on the waiting list, not included in Starr’s $2.2 billion fiscal 2014 budget proposal.
“I do want people to recognize my budget as a multiyear process,” Starr said. “There is a long list of things that people want us to buy back or restore.”
Since the 2008-2009 school year, the school system cut more than 1,350 positions. Starr’s request for next budget year restores or adds 90 new positions.
Meeting with The Gazette editors Thursday, Starr said he chose next year to add five instrumental music teachers rather than adding to student support teams, such as counselors or pupil personnel workers.
Starr said there is a great demand for instrumental music, and there needs to be a strong pipeline for the programming from elementary to high school, or else it will take years to recoup.
“We can maintain where we are with the [pupil personnel workers] complement of folks we have, where if we let the instrumental musical program die off, it takes so many years of recovery that I just don’t think it is worth that. It is an efficiency decision on one hand.”
Meanwhile, the counselor-to-student ratio at middle schools continues to grow.
Starr proposes to add one counselor for next school year for a projected enrollment growth of 2,336 students.
If his request is approved, the middle school student to counselor ratio would grow from 236:1 to 242:1.
Starr has included in the budget $721,528 for elementary schools to restore 11 of the 36 teacher-level support positions that were cut in the last five years, which includes counselors, staff development teachers and reading and media specialists. Individual schools will make decisions on which positions to restore.
As the system’s budget fell in 2009-2010 and 2010-2011, the school system cut school-based staff.
While other positions, such as teachers, have been restored and surpassed since then due to enrollment growth, only two of the 16 counselor positions that were cut have been restored.
Now, with about 7,000 more students in Montgomery County Public Schools this school year than there were in 2009-2010, there are 14.7 fewer counseling positions, with about 148,779 students and 453.3 counselors this year.
Janette Gilman, president of the county’s main parent teacher group, said the decision not to include more counseling positions in the budget was just a matter of priorities, and it may be something “worth putting on the table,” during upcoming budget discussions.
Starr lists interventions and social and emotional competency in his main priorities for students.
He said that work should be done not just by counselors or pupil personnel workers, but by every employee in the school system.
“There won’t be a straight line between that work and how many counselors we have, because if we do that we won’t do it right, because it will just be seen as that person’s job and not everybody’s job,” Starr said. “I wouldn’t want that connection to be made.”
Montgomery County Councilwoman Valerie Ervin, chairwoman of the education committee, said she is sure that the Montgomery County Board of Education will “get an earful” from parents and others in the community about the choices they have made.
Ervin (D-Dist. 5) of Silver Spring said she didn’t know where counselors would fit into the overall budget plan for the school system and she hadn’t reviewed the budget enough to comment on the restorations, but said she knows that both students and parents want more counselors, especially at high school.
Officials from the Montgomery County Education Association, the county’s teacher union, were involved in budget discussions.
Doug Prouty, president of the organization, said he believes the presented budget did a good job of addressing a variety of the pressing needs for the school system.
He said he was hoping that union contract negotiations would have been completed so that employee salary and benefit compensation could have been included, and the union also was looking for more resources for the implementation of Curriculum 2.0.
Councilman Philip M. Andrews (D-Dist. 3) of Gaithersburg said it is important for people to know the school system could have chosen to restore school-based staff this school year, but decided against it.
Andrews said it all goes back to the school system’s decision this summer to give eligible school system employees two step increases in their pay, which the council criticized.
About 150 positions could have been restored this year if the school system would have devoted just one-sixth of the $47 million that was spent on salaries, Andrews said.
The public can comment on the budget in a series of public meetings this month, and the school board will approve a final budget request on Tuesday, Feb. 12. The budget will then be passed to Montgomery County Executive Isiah Leggett (D) and the County Council for review.