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Montgomery schools chief trims county budget request in wake of more state aid

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Montgomery County’s schools chief has reduced his budget request from the county in the wake of an unexpected increase in state school funding. But he is also seeking more money to fund new teacher positions, professional training and the expansion of some school programs.

Superintendent Joshua P. Starr said in a report released to the Board of Education that the amended budget request reflects input from public hearings and feedback from the community.

In his original request in December, Starr sought $10 million more than the minimum the county was required to spend on schools for the 2014 fiscal year. He dropped that amount to $3.8 million after learning that Gov. Martin O’Malley’s state budget provides more funding for schools than the county had expected. The current budget request would amount to a total operating budget of $2.2 billion.

Concerns about boosting funding for public schools have been raised in recent years, as Montgomery has felt the squeeze from the economic downturn and county agencies have had to compete for money against the school system.

Starr has requested an additional roughly 28 positions on top of the 90 full-time positions he requested in December. Those new positions include five school psychologists, about six high school teachers, two elementary school counselors and five special education paraeducators. The spending increase would also be used to expand the International Baccalaureate programs at Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Roberto W. Clemente middle schools. There is an additional $100,000 for programs that support closing the achievement gap for African American and Hispanic students.

Starr has also proposed boosting the amount spent on teacher training and staff development as the system rolls out its Curriculum 2.0 to meet education standards guided by the Common Core initiative.

“Since the budget was released in December, a considerable amount of feedback has been received from teachers and administrators, which indicates that additional resources are necessary for professional development to ensure successful implementation,” Starr said in the report. “As a result, an additional [$2.1 million] is recommended for teachers to work on curriculum development during the summer, training for K-5 teachers, and substitutes to provide teachers time for collaborative planning.”

Starr’s recommended operating budget reflects a 2.4 percent increase, or $51.3 million over the current year’s spending plan.

The Board of Education is scheduled to vote on Starr’s budget Monday and send it to County Executive Isiah Leggett (D) and the County Council on March 1.

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