Montgomery school board to begin debate over $56 million budget increase Thursday

Amid public concern about the number of guidance counselors and bilingual staff in Montgomery County’s schools, elected leaders will begin a discussion of budget priorities Thursday evening.

The session, delayed by two days because of the week’s severe weather conditions, is the first of two school board work sessions on the proposed operating budget for the next fiscal year. It will be followed by a session Jan. 28, with a Feb. 11 vote planned.

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The discussion Thursday is slated to focus on k-12 instruction, special education and programs designed for early childhood, gifted and magnet students, and those who are English language learners.

Superintendent Joshua P. Starr started the budget process in December, with the release of a $2.28 billion proposal. The plan would add 340 positions and boost spending in Maryland’s largest school district, with 202 schools, by $56.4 million.

Starr said at the time that his proposed 2.5 percent budget increase would address a surge in student enrollment and help narrow the achievement gap, while preparing students for “the new” at a time of change in the curriculum and the modern workplace.

Starr’s proposal does not include costs linked to labor contracts now being negotiated.

At public hearings in earlier in January, a number of parents and students called attention to what they view as a shortage of guidance counselors in elementary schools. Other requests included more Spanish-speaking staff and a second registrar at Montgomery Blair High School in Silver Spring.

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