Board of Education Members Say Report on Spending is Wrong and ‘Offensive’

Board of Education Members Say Report on Spending is Wrong and ‘Offensive’

County Council report criticized school system for not using $47 million in 'compensatory aid' at higher-poverty schools

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The Montgomery County Board of Education

Aaron Kraut

Five members of the Montgomery County Board of Education on Friday called a report critical of the school system’s spending strategy at schools with poorer students “offensive” and said that it “wrongly interprets” state law.

Board President Patricia O’Neill and members Phil Kauffman, Chris Barclay and Judy Docca along with student member Eric Guerci released a statement rebuking the report, released last week by the County Council’s Office of Legislative Oversight (OLO).

The report, which examined how Montgomery County Public Schools (MCPS) focuses resources at schools with higher levels of poverty, faulted the school system for not spending $47 million in what’s called compensatory aid at those schools.

The state provided $151 million in compensatory aid to MCPS for the 2014-2015 school year. The money is prescribed for programs in high-poverty schools to help close the academic achievement gap, but MCPS is not legally required to spend the funds on those programs.

After the OLO report came out, Interim Superintendent Larry Bowers said MCPS needed to spread $47 million of the funding across the entire school system to make up for spending shortfalls due to years of tightening budgets.

Board members said “the report blithely misinterprets state education financing” according to the 2002 state law that allowed compensatory aid to be spent at a school system’s discretion.

“More puzzling and troubling, by its own admission, the OLO ignores in its analysis a huge list of well-funded programs and initiatives dedicated to narrowing achievement gaps,” the board members continued, pointing to programs including the Minority Achievement Program and Summer School as well as bringing the International Baccalaureate program to Watkins Mill and Seneca Valley high schools.

Board members also said they realized report authors Elaine Bonner-Tompkins and Natalia Carrizosa “were veering away from the initial stated charge of this report—to discover how MCPS differentiates resources,” while the report was being compiled. The changes MCPS asked for in the final report apparently didn’t make it into the final report.

“Very few of those changes made it into the report,” the board members alleged, “leading us to wonder if the OLO ever had an interest in presenting a fair, balanced picture of resources and staffing in MCPS.”

Board members said MCPS provides as much as $4,000 more per student to schools with greater needs.

The report is the third since April 2014 in which the OLO has criticized aspects of MCPS. Last month, the OLO issued a report claiming the system MCPS uses to prioritize school renovation projects was based on outdated information.

In April 2014, the OLO released a report that showed while the achievement gap on some student performance measures had decreased, minority students were increasingly enrolled at lower-performing high schools in the east part of the county and the Gaithersburg area.

The OLO is tasked by the County Council to analyze and provide independent findings about county government spending and activities.

After the report was released, County Council member Nancy Floreen questioned the school system’s spending strategy, alluding to tension with the school system over its more than $2 billion annual operating budget.

“Why should the County Council ask taxpayers to chip in more resources for closing the achievement gap when MCPS hasn’t used all the money it already has precisely for that purpose?” Floreen asked in a prepared statement.

In their statement Friday, the five school board members chose to highlight council member Craig Rice’s statement, which took a gentler tone and praised MCPS for providing more resources to students it has determined need them the most.

“As our student enrollment continues to grow and change, the Board is very interested in being an effective partner with the County Council to meet the needs of our most impacted students. But that conversation cannot center on giving more resources to some at the expense of others,” the board members wrote. “We must have a productive conversation about how we can invest more in education and ensure we get a strong return on that investment. That is the morally right thing to do.”

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