Montgomery school budget includes layoffs, larger classes

By Michael Birnbaum
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, June 4, 2010

Montgomery County public schools next year probably will see fewer new textbooks, reduced support staff and some layoffs as the system faces its first year-to-year budget cut in recent memory, officials said Thursday.

The latest proposals were released Thursday in response to the final county budget approved last month. Taken as a whole, the cuts will be felt most deeply by teachers, as professional development and supplementary services are cut and salaries frozen.

Average class sizes will increase by one, as the school system eliminates 252 teaching positions, and other programs also face the ax as the system deals with a 4.4 percent budget cut next year, along with an expected 2 percent increase in enrollment.

"It's not what any of us want," said Board of Education President Patricia O'Neill (Bethesda-Chevy Chase). She said that she expected the following year to be tough, too. "We haven't come out of the valley yet."

The school board will vote on the final budget Tuesday.

Some of the worst cuts that had been on the table were averted, such as a proposal to eliminate bus transportation to optional education programs outside attendance zones, such as magnet schools. Nervous parents had said that changes of that sort could threaten the viability of the programs.

Still, officials said that the cuts would hurt.

"Class sizes is a huge change in direction," said Larry Bowers, the school system's chief operating officer. He said that he could not remember a time, certainly not within the past 40 years, when the school system had had to contend with an outright cut to its budget.

In December, when staff members were developing the budget, the worst-case scenario anticipated was a flat budget, he said. But then the county's fiscal outlook worsened.

Bowers said that about two dozen employees would be laid off, about 20 of them teachers. He said that teachers would be notified of layoffs Monday and that cuts were generally confined to subjects with low enrollment.

More than 380 other positions are being eliminated through retirements, reassignments and other attrition, he said.

Other moves include cutting the textbook budget by 30 percent, getting by with six fewer maintenance workers and no after-school buses for elementary school activities, which probably will limit the types of clubs available and the range of activities they can do.

Central office funding is also being reduced by $6.5 million. Bowers said it had been reduced 18 percent since 2008.

The total schools' operating budget is being cut by $97 million for fiscal 2011, to $2.1 billion.

© 2010 The Washington Post Company