A proposed spending plan for Montgomery County Public Schools now includes additional funding to hire new school counselors and psychologists, support extended-year programs and bolster preschool education.

The county school board members on Tuesday reviewed and approved a list of recommended adjustments to the drafted fiscal 2019 budget and made a few tweaks of their own before giving the plan a preliminary vote of support. The revised plan calls for roughly $2.59 billion in spending, an increase of about 2.9 percent when compared to the fiscal 2018 budget.

The spending proposal now on the table is about $5.66 million higher than the version Superintendent Jack Smith introduced in December. Since then, Gov. Larry Hogan unveiled his state budget proposal, which contained about $16.2 million more in state education funding than MCPS had expected. On the other hand, County Executive Ike Leggett asked MCPS to reduce spending to help ease a county budget crunch.

The updated MCPS budget proposal would lighten the load on the county by lowering the local funding request by about $22 million. The school system will make up for that decrease with the additional state funding and by relying more heavily on savings from the current year, officials said.

Smith also proposed including several new items in the fiscal 2019 budget, and school board members approved the changes that would:

  • Allocate $2.5 million to summer and extended-day programming and additional seats for preschool programs;
  • Provide $2.7 million for extended-year programming at certain elementary and middle schools;
  • Include $2.1 million for seven assistant principals and to convert an assistant school administrator post to assistant principal at several high schools where MCPS wants to increase “graduation programming”;
  • Increase spending by about $402,000 for four full-time counselor positions. This change would add half of a counselor position at Title I schools where enrollment in kindergarten through fifth grade is greater than 650 students;
  • Designate about $179,000 for two additional 10-month psychologist positions; and
  • Include $295,700 for additional clerical and bookkeeping support at elementary schools.

During Tuesday’s meeting, board members also took action to temper some of the changes that Smith had recommended for central services. Smith has advocated for an MCPS reorganization designed to put resources and staff closer to the classroom.

“Every single dollar we spend in this building is not spent in schools,” Smith said during the meeting at the MCPS central services building in Rockville.

But parents and education advocates have objected to aspects of Smith’s budgetary realignment.

For instance, members of the Special Education Advisory Committee on Tuesday argued against converting six special education cluster supervisor positions to instructional specialist positions.

“The special education cluster supervisor is the go-to person for parents with questions or concerns about what the local school can or cannot provide,” SEAC co-chair Julie Reiley said. “[T]hey are an irreplaceable resource for families who have been unable to resolve concerns or disagreements about their child’s IEP (individualized education plan).”

Board members on Tuesday took a middle-of-the-road approach by opting to leave three of the cluster supervisor positions intact while changing the other three to instructional specialist positions.

They also voted to:

  • Restore a full-time management-level position to oversee Linkages to Learning, a program that helps connect students and families to community services;
  • Fund an additional position for a consulting teacher, whose job is to coach new and underperforming teachers; and
  • Retain a full-time arts content specialist.

The board’s changes will increase MCPS expenditures by about $400,000 in the proposed budget plan.

The school board is scheduled to adopt the budget Feb. 26, after which the proposal will go to the County Council for consideration.

Bethany Rodgers can be reached at bethany.rodgers@bethesdamagazine.com.