Montgomery schools will save and receive more money than originally projected next budget year, allowing Superintendent Joshua P. Starr to sprinkle funding to areas that he believes need it most, and make room for employee raises.
Starr released an amended Montgomery County Public Schools budget Thursday that takes into consideration $7 million more state aid than originally projected, realizes $15.15 million in cost savings, mostly in employee health care, and adds a $12.43 million “placeholder” for employee compensation increases and $3.99 million for more psychologists, counselors, curriculum training, special programs and more.
The budget is about $6.2 million less than Starr’s preliminary budget, still totaling about $2.2 billion.
Starr’s request still teeters $3.8 million over what the county is required to provide under Maintenance of Effort, a state funding law called that requires the county to supply at least the same amount of money per-pupil each year.
Members of the Montgomery County Council have said that they will not approve anything over the minimum; Starr’s budget was originally $10 million over.
Starr stated in a press release Thursday that he used feedback from the community and the Montgomery County Board of Education to make the changes.
Several school counselors and psychologists testified at the first school board budget forum last month, and several community members spoke of the need for greater teacher supports for the implementation of the school system’s new Curriculum 2.0.
In his new proposal, Starr adds five school psychologists and restores two counselors that were cut at elementary schools, and adds $2.13 million for Curriculum 2.0 implementation. Curriculum 2.0 encompasses new ways of teaching students, particularly in elementary grades.
Debra Wotherspoon, president of the Montgomery County School Psychologists’ Association, said these restorations show that the board and superintendent realize the importance of giving students adequate psychological support.
Wotherspoon said it would have taken 30 more positions — up from about 70 — to ensure that each school psychologist’s caseload is down to two or three schools each, but this is a good first step.
The addition of counselors is a “huge step in the right direction,” said Jennifer Jones, a counselor at Highland View Elementary and chair of the school system’s elementary counselor leadership team.
About 14 elementary schools have only a half-counselor position, and this would make it so four of those schools are back to having a full-time counselor, Jones said.
“We were hoping for more but anything is better than nothing,” Jones said.
Tom Israel, executive director of the Montgomery County Education Association, said he was pleased to see the extra funding for Curriculum 2.0. Starr’s original request had already included $1.55 million for added curriculum supports.
The teacher’s union felt that more should be included, and worked with the school system over the last few weeks to determine what additional supports were needed for next year, he said.
The extra funding will allow for more training for all elementary teachers this summer, a curriculum summit this summer for teachers to help “fix holes” in the curriculum, and more money for substitutes so that teachers can take planning time, Israel said.
Israel said he could not say how much of a pay increase the $12.43 million placeholder for employee compensation would allow for. The three unions that represent school system employees are still in contract negotiations with the school system for next budget year.
Israel said the teacher’s union is waiting to hear from County Executive Isiah Leggett (D) how much of an overall increase county employees will receive, as a percentage of the county’s wage base. Details of the county union contracts were released earlier this month, showing that county employees will receive a base raise for the first time in three years.
This is after County Council members criticized the school board’s decision last year to provide base salary increases for employees, when county employees only received a $2,000 bonus.
Council members said then that all county employees should be treated fairly.
Israel said the union wants the same thing.
“Fairness is an important factor,” Israel said.