June 9, 2010

As Montgomery Schools pass $2.1 billion budget, Weast cries "broke"

The Montgomery County school board Tuesday approved a $2.1 billion fiscal 2011 spending plan for the school system that eliminates several teaching positions, increases class sizes and scales back on the purchase of new textbooks, among other cost-saving measures.

"I am concerned about what next year will bring," Superintendent Jerry D. Weast told the board during its all-day meeting in Rockville. "I wish I could say this is the end of our fiscal difficulty, but I'm afraid I can't foretell."

With the 6-1 vote, the board also agreed with a school system recommendation to cut $6.5 million from the central office. When funding gets tight for the school system, county parents and activists typically press school administrators to eliminate positions in the central office rather than in the classrooms. School board member Laura V. Berthiaume voted against the fiscal 2011 budget because of what she said was a lack of input on the spending plan.

"I do not believe that a single board member has affected this budget. I know I haven't," said Berthiaume (Dist. 2) of Rockville. "Why are we here? Are we merely window dressing?"

Not so, said school board Vice President Christopher S. Barclay (Dist. 4) of Takoma Park.

"I've got purpose," he said. "I'm very clear that we give guidance to this budget."

School board President Patricia B. O'Neill (Dist. 3) of Bethesda said she and then-President Shirley Brandman (At-large) of Bethesda began discussing the fiscal 2011 budget with school system officials in September, so board members had input on the spending plan. For fiscal 2011, which begins July 1, the board agreed with a school system recommendation to eliminate the Office of Organizational Development, which sought to train schools' employees. Eliminating that office is expected to save the school system $1.2 million.

This year, with the county and the nation in the midst of a recession, school leaders have said there was no way to shield students from budget cuts. For example, the spending plan eliminates 24 academic intervention teaching positions, at a savings of $1.5 million. Those teachers work directly with struggling students who are economically disadvantaged.

Reducing the number of academic intervention teachers could affect the school system's ability to reduce the achievement gap between black and Hispanic students and their white and Asian American peers. The approved budget also adds one student to each class, at a cost savings of $16.2 million. The increased class size will put further constraints on teachers' time and limit their availability to give one-on-one assistance to students, according to the school system's budget recommendation.

Also next school year, students will have to read from older textbooks and workbooks. The school system will not be buying new textbooks, at a cost savings of $9.4 million. STORY SOURCE: Gazette

VIDEO SOURCE: Parents' Coalition of Montgomery County

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