Community members’ message on Wednesday night was clear: The school district and county government should fully fund the next Montgomery County Public Schools operating budget.
Dozens of people testified in support of the budget during a hearing in Rockville, calling for funding for more school counselors, arts programming, special education services and expanded support for English language learners.
Hundreds of teachers gathered outside the MCPS central offices before the hearing, rallying in support of fully funding the proposed $2.8 billion budget for the next fiscal year. Led by the Montgomery County Education Association — the county’s teachers’ union — people who attended the rally underscored the need for adequate funding to support teacher salaries, student mental health services, support for English language learners, smaller classes, and art, music and health curriculum.
“The time is now,” Chris Lloyd, president of the teachers’ union, told the crowd. “Our students can’t wait.”
MCEA officials are in the middle of contract negotiations with the school board. Negotiations occur every three years. MCEA officials said in social media posts on Wednesday that they were also advocating during the hearing for fair contracts that support student learning.
Inside, after the brief 30-minute demonstration, approximately 50 community members testified to the board, largely on the same topics.
Wednesday’s hearing will help guide the school board’s deliberations as it begins vetting the budget MCPS Superintendent Jack Smith proposed in December.
About $1.8 billion of the proposed $2.8 billion budget would be funded by the local government, according to Smith’s proposal, a $72 million increase from the current budget.
The proposed budget would be about $47.2 million higher than what the district would legally be required to fund. School systems must provide per-pupil funding that is at least as much as what was provided in the prior fiscal year, a concept known as “maintenance of effort.”
But every dollar is important, community members said on Wednesday. And many felt that areas of the budget lack adequate funds.
Gumei Liu, a Wootton High School cluster coordinator, said more money could be used to support a growing population of special education students and to hire more school counselors.
Ted McAllister said it is “disheartening” that there isn’t more funding to support elementary music curriculum.
“County support for instrumental music is subpar. As our enrollment increases, our staffing does not,” McAllister said. “Essentially, instrumental music is being slowly cut from our schools, and students are losing access at an important, formative age.”
Hana O’Looney, a sophomore at Montgomery Blair High School, pushed the board to add money to its budget to provide feminine hygiene products in secondary schools. She said it could keep students from missing class to find products they might not be able to afford.
“To say that our public schools cannot afford to spare a couple of extra dollars to buy pads, or to say that requiring schools to provide menstrual products is a health concern, is ridiculous,” O’Looney said. “Keeping feminine hygiene products out of our school bathrooms is keeping girls and those who menstruate from getting an equitable education.”
The school board will hold its first work session about the budget on Jan. 22. It is scheduled to vote on Feb. 10 to send its finalized budget request to the County Council.
Caitlynn Peetz can be reached at email@example.com