2020 | Schools

MCPS might spend $450K on ‘anti-racist system audit’

Some skeptical as school district expects budget problems next year

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This story was updated at 5:48 p.m., Nov. 9, 2020, to include a comment from an MCPS spokesperson.

The Montgomery County school board on Tuesday is expected to authorize Superintendent Jack Smith to spend up to $450,000 on an “anti-racist system audit,” intended to find areas in which the school district could improve inclusion and diversity.

Consultants with Bethesda-based Mid-Atlantic Equity Consortium will be tasked with the one-year project if the school board approves a contract on Tuesday. The cost of the contract is “not to exceed $454,680 for Fiscal Year 2021,” the current fiscal year, according to school board documents posted online Monday afternoon.

“The anti-racist audit will provide an opportunity to both examine our systems, practices, and policies that do not create access, opportunities, and equitable outcomes for every student’s academic and social emotional well-being,” documents say. “The audit will provide the opportunity to examine not only the student experience; it presents the occasion to analyze our policies and practices that impact staff, as well.”

Documents do not say how many proposals were submitted for the project.

The school board will discuss the audit and contract during a meeting on Tuesday.

Critics have chided the school district for undertaking the audit during the coronavirus pandemic, which has strained state and local budgets.

The anti-racist audit contract would equal about 0.02% of MCPS’ $2.6 billion current operating budget.

But as school district officials anticipate a budget cut in the next fiscal year of up to $155 million, school board members have begun sounding the alarm about making ends meet next year. MCPS’ enrollment is down more than 3,000 students from last year, which will decrease the amount of funding the county government is required to provide.

MCPS spokeswoman Gboyinde Onijala said that the school district understands there are “so many priorities” but addressing systemic racism “absolutely has to be one of them.”

“There’s so much going on in our world, but systemic racism didn’t take a break,” Onijala said. “As a system, we have to make sure we’re doing absolutely everything we can to address systemic or institutional things in our district that are hindering any of our students from succeeding.”

In a recent school board meeting, Deputy Superintendent Monifa McKnight said the pandemic, paired with national examples of police brutality against Black people, has underscored the urgent need for the review.

Over the summer, more than 6,000 people signed a petition, penned by three Springbrook High School graduates, calling on MCPS to incorporate “anti-racist” lessons and materials into its curriculum, implement mandatory staff bias training, and build stronger relationships with Black community members.

“I continue to say it is about us learning from every experience that we have as a community in Montgomery County, and working on making a commitment to build a better community through the lens of support and unity,” McKnight said. “And that’s what this anti-racist audit is all about – looking at our systems of support, figuring out who they’re working for and who are they not working for.”

During that meeting in October, McKnight said there is money available through the school district’s “innovation fund” and the curriculum budget. She said the school district will provide more information about other proposals during the school board’s meeting on Tuesday.

Since introducing the anti-racist audit, MCPS has been met with skepticism from some community members and board members who question what will be different about this audit, compared to previous equity initiatives. Smith said during a recent school board meeting that it is intended to “bring everything together” and take a more comprehensive look at the school district.

He said he’s hoping the exercise will encourage more employees to recognize and call out inequities in MCPS.

The Mid-Atlantic Equity Consortium’s mission is to “promote excellence and equity in education to achieve social justice,” according to its website.

The consortium “believes that by increasing educator awareness, understanding, and skills to address factors which contribute to inequities, clients will become change agents and create positive learning environments where all students can succeed.”

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