Montgomery County Schools Superintendent Joshua P. Starr is scheduled to propose a budget Tuesday that would exceed the county’s minimum spending requirement by $10 million in the next fiscal year.
Requesting more than the minimum for schools probably will set up months of philosophical and political debate about how much the county should spend to maintain one of the best-performing school systems in the nation while balancing obligations to fund services such as public safety, transportation and aid to needy families.
The additional $10 million in Starr’s proposal would add or restore about 90 full-time positions in the public school system, with at least 52 of them deployed in the district’s 38 middle schools, according to budget documents.
Starr said focusing on middle schools will help the district address a persistent achievement gap, with differences in the academic performance of black and Hispanic students as compared with their white and Asian peers.
“Kids fall off in middle school,” Starr said Monday. “If they struggle too much, and they’re not caught up, then their chances of taking . . . rigorous course studies that prepare them for college in high school greatly diminishes.”
Starr’s proposal also focuses on the continued introduction of Curriculum 2.0 — a curriculum designed to meet new national Common Core State Standards — and keeping up with Montgomery County’s rising enrollment.
Overall, Starr’s budget proposal for fiscal 2014 is about $2.22 billion — a 2.3 percent, or $48.95 million, increase over the current fiscal year’s spending.
Starr’s request launches what will be a more than five-month budget process. The county Board of Education plans to have public hearings in January before it votes on a budget proposal in February. The board will send a budget request to the county executive in March, and the County Council will determine how much money to give Montgomery County Public Schools in May.
The county schools budget has been contentious in recent years under pressure from the state’s Maintenance of Effort law and fewer resources in a sour economy. Maintenance of Effort prohibits counties from decreasing the amount of money they spend per pupil from year to year. As a result, any increase in schools funding would commit the county to spending at least that much in future years.
The county already expects to spend an additional $29 million on the schools to keep up with rising enrollment and state pension demands.
Montgomery’s public schools account for about half of the county’s operating budget.
“Our job at the council is to balance all of the needs,” said County Council President Nancy Navarro (D-Mid-County). “We are mindful that there are other services that also have an impact on academic achievement.”
Council member Valerie Ervin, chairwoman of the education committee, said it is too soon to make any judgments about Starr’s proposal. The county still doesn’t know how much revenue it will receive from the state and the federal government or have a full picture of its own revenue collections.
“I’m just cautioning my colleagues to take a wait-and-see attitude,” said Ervin (D-Eastern County),
Starr said the budget plan doesn’t include any salary increases. He said his proposal of $10 million above Maintenance of Effort represents less than half a percent more than the minimum commitment required from the county — which he called a “reasonable request.”
“My job is to put forward a budget that enables us to do what our kids need and what our community expects,” Starr said. “I understand the county has very difficult choices.”