McKnight presented her recommended budget at a public meeting on Monday night. Credit: Em Espey

The $3.15 billion Montgomery County Public Schools recommended operating budget for fiscal 2024 represents an 8% increase over the current school budget and prioritizes staff retention and communication with families, according to Superintendent Monifa McKnight.

McKnight presented her recommended budget at a public meeting on Monday night at Northwest High School. Students, educators and county officials packed into the room to hear the presentation.

In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, McKnight said schools are seeing a surge in enrollment, engagement and extracurricular participation across the county. Over the past year, she said enrollment in dual education courses doubled, and the school system’s full-day pre-K program grew by 30%.

Board of Education President Karla Silvestre said MCPS has four budget priorities for the new fiscal year:

  • Improving math and literacy
  • Building a safe and inclusive school climate
  • Enhancing staff recruitment and retention
  • Increasing communication between schools and families

McKnight acknowledged that the school district is “behind where we once were” when it comes to accounting for inflation.

“Our per-pupil funding has remained flat since 2010 when adjusted for inflation, while our per-pupil needs have only increased,” she said.

Advertisement

While the emergency COVID-19 relief funding provided by the federal government gave MCPS a “much-needed boost,” the funding expires by September 2024. She said this means MCPS must come up with “new and different ways” to provide students with innovative education.

Despite having one of the highest costs of living in the region, McKnight said Montgomery County also falls in fifth place for starting salaries among Maryland school districts.

“We’re simply falling behind,” she said. “We’re working right now in collaboration with all of our employee associations to catch up.”

Advertisement

Efforts to improve employee retention include boosting staff salaries and compensation, reflected by $119 million in funds within the proposed budget according to an MCPS press release.

Other new budget investments include:

  • Making advanced placement and dual enrollment courses free ($6.3 million)
  • Creating a mobile app for parents to track students’ school bus routes ($5.2 million)
  • Increasing maintenance staff and professional development opportunities ($5.2 million)
  • Expanding early education opportunities ($2 million)
  • Adding two more “innovative calendar schools” with longer school years ($2.5 million)
  • Adding three more dual language immersion model schools—two in Spanish, one in Chinese ($591,000)

Overall, the recommended budget represents $235 million more in spending than the current fiscal year, an 8% increase that McKnight said will help the school district make up for lost ground due to the pandemic and stay ahead in an increasingly competitive environment.

Advertisement

“Now, I realize that this request is not small,” she said at the conclusion of her presentation, adding that, “Small isn’t what [our students] need right now.”

Next, the Board of Education will hold two budget hearings on Jan. 11 and 17 open for public comment. It will also undergo three internal budget work sessions before voting as a board to approve the operating budget on Feb. 7, 2023.

McKnight also addressed the antisemitic graffiti that had been found Saturday morning on the entrance sign at Walt Whitman High School. As students have returned to learning in person, McKnight said they are yearning to find a sense of community and belonging on their school campuses.

Advertisement

“Let me be very clear,” she said. “Belonging requires that our schools be free of any form of bias or hate, including the antisemitic graffiti found at one of our schools over this past weekend over the eve of this year’s Hanukkah celebration.”

The night prior, McKnight joined over 200 community members outside Whitman for a menorah-lighting.