The school board meets in February in Rockville. Credit: File photo

The Montgomery County Board of Education on Monday gave its first approval to a $2.8 billion budget for the next fiscal year.

The budget, a $123 million increase from the current year, adds money to increase staff salaries, expand access to prekindergarten services and increase staffing for English language learners.

With the school board’s “tentative adoption on Monday, the budget will be sent to the Montgomery County Council for consideration.The council can make cuts or adjustments and the school board will take a final vote after the council’s review.

Board members said they are satisfied with the budget, but wish there were more money to fund additional initiatives.

“I wish we could fund all of the needs, but that’s not our reality, so we do what we can and I think this budget shows our interest in that,” board member Rebecca Smondrowski said.

Board members approved three amendments to include in the budget: three counselor positions, totaling $418,928; one staffing specialist to help recruit and retain teachers; and three learning and achievement specialists.

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The budget proposal is a 4.6% increase from the current budget.

About $1.8 billion would be funded by the county government, according to school system documents.

The proposed budget is about $43 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.”

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School board member Pat O’Neill said she is concerned that the county will not fully fund the budget. If there are cuts to the proposed budget, she thinks a proposed $750,000 allocation to fund the development and implementation of a cellular app for community members to track school buses should be the first initiative cut.

“I think this budget will be a challenge, and I do believe that this app, while it sounds like a good idea, if you’re hungry, you’re not buying filet mignon. You’re buying food that will stretch your budget,” O’Neill said. “I don’t think that will survive in June. To me, that would be near the top of the list for cuts as we go forward.”

Board members emphasized the importance of funding the initiatives in the budget that will expand prekindergarten and access to regional international baccalaureate programs. They also highlighted the need to keep pace with teachers and supporting services positions as student enrollment grows.

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The budget would add 377 full-time teaching positions to respond to enrollment growth.

“If we have more students, we need more resources,” board member Karla Silvestre said.

Other highlights of the budget include:

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  • a new after-school supervision structure, with $215,000 to fund security guards’ overtime to monitor high school events.
  • adding a fifth-grade level to the recently opened Snowden Farm Elementary School, which currently serves kindergarten through fourth grade
  • a $1.95 million investment in an “Equity and Innovation Fund” that will distribute money to high-needs schools
  • a new student information system.

The County Council will consider the budget proposal and send it back to the school board for final approval in May.

Caitlynn Peetz can be reached at caitlynn.peetz@bethesdamagazine.com