Community's MCPS budget wish list includes data security measures, better toilet paper

Community’s MCPS budget wish list includes data security measures, better toilet paper

Community weighs in on proposed $2.8 billion spending plan

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Community members testify at a public hearing about the MCPS operating budget on Monday evening in Rockville.

Caitlynn Peetz

Sekayi Fraser had an unusual request of the Montgomery County Board of Education on Monday night.

Fraser, a student at Cabin John Middle School in Potomac, asked the school board to consider buying better quality toilet paper for students across the county.

“It feels rough as sandpaper and very thin, which has led to many uncomfortable circumstances for students,” Fraser said of his school’s toilet paper. “On top of that, the toilet paper dispensers are extremely inefficient and only allow for 2 to 3 squares to be broken off at a time. … Please allocate more funds toward upgrading to quality toilet paper, as right now schools can only purchase the low-quality variant.”

Fraser’s request (which would cost more than $236,000 to accommodate, according to MCPS staff members) was made during the school board’s first public hearing about the proposed Fiscal Year 2021 operating budget for Montgomery County Public Schools. His request was one of many from community members as the school board begins deliberations of the budget that governs the operations of the state’s largest school district.

The $2.8 billion proposed budget covers everything the school system needs to operate, from teacher salaries to classroom supplies.

About $1.8 billion of the proposed $2.8 billion budget would be funded by the local government, according to Superintendent Jack Smith’s budget 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.”

In November, the school board voted to approve a $1.82 billion, six-year construction plan. Smith at the time said he has “very real anxiety” about getting full funding from the county government for that budget.

At Monday night’s meeting, about two dozen community members called on the board to ensure adequate funding for arts education, school counselors and psychologists, and additional security staff.

Anne Dardarian, president of the Montgomery County Association of Administrators and Principals, lauded the recommended budget, put forth by Smith, for allocating money for six full-time security assistant “rover” positions and increased after-school security. The rovers will primarily respond as needed to elementary schools.

“Since elementary schools do not have security personnel, administrators have had to serve in this capacity with little to no training or expertise,” Dardarian said. “Unfortunately, violence in schools and society has increased, and security support for elementary schools should no longer be considered optional. It is a necessity.”

While most speakers seemed pleased with the budget, everyone had a wish list, hopeful for more funding to ensure pedestrian safety, staffing for music and band programs and support staff for special education programs.

Michele Riley, a Montgomery Blair High School cluster coordinator, called attention to a massive breach last year that exposed the personal data of approximately 6,000 students. She said she was disappointed to see no new funding to prevent a similar attack in the future.

“MCPS must anticipate that, statistically speaking, it is likely another breach will occur and in anticipation of that eventuality, implement training programs that can at least minimize the damage,” Riley said.

The school board will hold a second public hearing about the proposed budget at 6 p.m. Wednesday in Rockville.

The board is expected to finalize its budget request Feb. 10. It will then be sent to the County Council for consideration.

Caitlynn Peetz caitlynn.peetz@bethesdamagazine.com

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