June 2, 2010

Schools face budget sting, but not irreparable damage

The county's school board members want to make one point clear: Although money is going to be tight next school year, the school system's financial struggles could have been a lot worse. On Tuesday, the county school board is scheduled to approve a $2.1 billion operating budget for fiscal 2011, which is $159 million less than the school system's initial proposal. If the board accepts the new proposal, school administrators next year will purchase fewer textbooks, use older school buses to transport students and defer purchasing some furniture, school board President Patricia B. O'Neill said.

"We can live with older textbooks; it's been done before," said school board member Judith R. Docca (Dist. 1) of Montgomery Village, a former middle school principal in the county. "I'm concerned about the workload we're putting on people. They'll have more to do; we'll all have more to do."

Next school year, county teachers will have one additional student in each of their classes, because the school system increased class sizes to save money. There is also a proposal from the school system to cut some of its academic intervention teacher positions, said school board Vice President Christopher S. Barclay. Those teachers provide additional support to struggling students.

"How do we make sure our struggling students get the support that they need to continue to be successful?" said Barclay (Dist. 4) of Takoma Park. "We can't afford to be stagnant. We've got some big challenges in front of us."

But there's also a silver lining in the budget. Under a recommendation from schools Superintendent Jerry D. Weast, administrators will not cut transportation to magnet, International Baccalaureate or language immersion programs, or reduce stipends that support high school sports. School board member Laura V. Berthiaume said she was "glad" that Weast decided not to cut transportation to special programs.

"Personally, I think it would've been bad policy to cut the magnet transportation," said Berthiaume (Dist. 2) of Rockville.

In February, the school board approved a $2.2 billion fiscal 2011 operating budget and acknowledged that significant cuts could be coming. A month later, County Executive Isiah Leggett (D) proposed a schools budget that was $137.7 million less than what the school system sought. SOURE: Gazette

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