County, Schools Arrive At Plan For Fully Funding Board of Education Budget

County, Schools Arrive At Plan For Fully Funding Board of Education Budget

Reimbursement from the state will help close $2.1 million funding gap

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County officials and school system leaders said Monday they have worked out a way for fully funding the Montgomery County Public Schools budget for the coming fiscal year.

The Montgomery County Council agreed to supply the county’s public schools with $1.663 billion during fiscal 2018, enough when combined with state and federal aid to cover the $2.522 billion spending plan backed by the school board. The equilibrium was attainable thanks to reimbursements from the state, which helped close a $2.1 million budget gap, officials said.

Council member Craig Rice, who chairs the education committee, praised the proposal for school spending as supporting achievement for all 159,000 students in MCPS.

“I think we have taken our system in a new direction, and the sky is the limit,” he said.

Superintendent Jack Smith thanked the council for its collaborative approach and continuing to invest in education.

The council’s decision on Monday wouldn’t increase the county contribution from the amount recommended by County Executive Ike Leggett. The $1.663 billion funding level suggested by the county executive is about $19 million above the state-required minimum, but it still left a roughly $2 million hole in the school board’s budget plan.

Officials addressed this shortfall with money from the state, which provided a one-time reimbursement for costs related to the county’s state pension contribution. MCPS received about $4.1 million in fiscal 2017 and was able to carry over about $2.1 million to next year’s budget, which goes into effect July 1, according to a staff report.

The council is expected to finalize the MCPS budget later this month.

Though the plan for the 2017-2018 academic year increases overall spending by about $64 million compared to the prior year, it does trim costs for some parts of the school system as education leaders seek to refocus resources. Smith has said he wants to channel more money toward battling the opportunity gaps that create student disparities. The district’s proposed budget directs funding toward language learning, creating alternative paths toward graduation, reducing student fees and expanding access to rigorous courses.

However, the MCPS plan also saves about $6 million by eliminating more than 90 elementary and middle school data analyst positions.

The proposal would also continue a focus on reducing class sizes. Last year, the council boosted funding for the school system so that MCPS could put $38 million toward adding teaching positions and making other classroom investments. Smith said the class-size reductions should be even more noticeable in the coming year because MCPS will have more time to hire.

Council member Nancy Floreen asked for more class-size data showing the county is getting a return on its financial investments.

“We need to have some markers of success,” she said.

While some officials were exultant over their ability to close funding gaps, council member Marc Elrich said he was wary of projecting too much jubilation.

“I don’t think everything is rosy,” he said.

Elrich said he has complete confidence in Smith’s leadership, but recognizes that changing course takes time. Officials shouldn’t lead residents to expect an immediate turnaround in the achievement gap or other areas of parental concern, he said.

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