Montgomery schools 2015 budget process underway

As the fiscal 2014 budget season closes with the Montgomery County Council’s final approval of a $4.8 billion spending plan Thursday, the school system is already gearing up for 2015 with a new budget process that will tap focus groups for input.

The focus groups will meet through the end of June. The teachers and principals unions, administrators, Montgomery County Council of Parent Teacher Associations and other community organizations selected members to serve in the groups. The district also is finalizing details for a round of focus groups open to the public in early June, said Larry Bowers, Montgomery County schools chief operating officer.

“In the past, the community really began to get involved in October when the board held public forums and then public hearings later,” Bowers said. But the switch aims to create “much more engagement of stakeholders at the front-end of the process and throughout the process.”

Bowers said more than 20 focus groups of about 250 to 300 members of the community and district are expected to be part of the focus groups to develop a three-year budget framework for the school system. Bowers said the focus groups — separated by members who will look at elementary, middle and high schools — will be tasked to help build a budget around narrowing the achievement gap, college and career readiness, implementing Curriculum 2.0 and other key elements of the school system’s strategic plan.

By taking a three-year look at the budget instead of just focusing on fiscal 2015, the district will be looking more at the broad goals of the system, rather than just adding and subtracting positions, Bowers said.

“This is not a Christmas tree approach with each group putting on ornaments and asking for a little of this and a little of that,” Bowers said. “We’re trying to work through all of these positions and figure out what are the priorities that will make a difference for our students and our kids.”

Lynh Bui is a Prince George's County public safety reporter and former Montgomery County education reporter.

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