A forthcoming budget plan by Superintendent Jack Smith will call for trying a lengthened academic year at two elementary schools in Montgomery County.
Smith on Tuesday mentioned the initiative while describing in broad strokes the spending proposal that he will present to the school board later this month. The operating budget recommendation for fiscal year 2019 will not include class-size increases and will seek to expand opportunities for students, while preparing for the impact of the county’s fiscal struggles, Smith said.
“Whatever we do, we’re not going to freeze our schools and classrooms,” he told the school board.
Smith offered few details on his proposal for an extended academic year at two elementary schools in the county. Under the plan, the start date at both locations would line up with the rest of the Montgomery County Public Schools system, but classes at the two elementary schools would stay in session into July, he said. For most MCPS students, summer break begins in June.
As a result, students at the two elementary schools would get roughly 210 to 215 instructional days, about 30 more than their peers elsewhere, Smith said.
Nicola Diamond, MCPS chief financial officer, said the two schools haven’t yet been selected, and Smith will provide more information during his Dec. 19 budget presentation.
The spending plan also will fund the opening of a new elementary school in Rockville and the addition of eighth grade at Silver Creek Middle School in Kensington, he said. Smith also will recommend a staffing reorganization inside the school system’s central office aimed at providing better, quicker service for schools.
The superintendent said he wants to open up accelerated math and enriched studies programs to more elementary school students. The school system should make sure students aren’t missing out on rigorous instruction simply because of systemic bias and opportunity gaps, he said
However, education leaders in coming months will have to craft a proposed budget that recognizes the financial difficulties the county is experiencing, Smith said.
County Executive Ike Leggett has asked executive branch departments to cut 2 percent of their budgets in light of a budget shortfall estimated to total nearly $120 million. Smith said Leggett sent him a letter also, requesting the school system’s cooperation in addressing the projected deficit.
School board member Pat O’Neill said she’s concerned by the clouds she sees on the horizon as the state and county talk about planning for the next budget.
“I am really worried,” she said.
But at the minimum, MCPS should be entitled to an estimated $25.9 million increase in county aid because of growing student enrollment, Diamond said. State law mandates that counties fund school systems at per-pupil levels equal to or greater than the prior year.
Smith said the school system will try to work with the county, but he is not willing to compromise educational quality in the process. MCPS must continue to hire replacement teachers and buy school supplies, he said.
The school system has to begin the budget planning process without knowing exactly how much aid MCPS will receive from the state or county. Diamond said the first indication of state funding levels will come in January, when the governor releases his proposed spending plan. Leggett is expected to begin pitching his budget plan during community meetings in January.
Bethany Rodgers can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.