The Montgomery County Board of Education requested $838,995 in emergency funds from the county yesterday to pay for additional teachers needed to cope with an unexpected increase in enrollment of 831 students.
The emergency funds will pay for 35.5 more teacher positions needed to relieve overcrowding in 533 classrooms, according to the board. The administration has hired 23 teachers already.
Without the money, the school system will be forced to make cuts in school programs to pay teachers already hired and will not be able to hire additional teachers, said school official Larry Bowers, who prepared the budget request. He said 600 more students are expected to enroll during the year.
Board member Suzanne Peyser, a former teacher, said that "the children are suffering, they are not learning as much as they could" because of the large classes. She said there was a "dire emergency" to reduce class size and asked the board to include in the resolution a request that the county move unusually fast in meeting the request.
"We are not requesting this so that teachers can do something new or different," said Peyser. "We're requesting this because hundreds of students showed up at our doors."
County Council member David L. Scull said the school board had not yet informed the council of its request, although the two groups were meeting over dinner as he spoke. But he added that the council had a good record of trying to reduce class size.
"We always respond to genuine emergencies with sympathy and money," he said.
The increase in enrollment marks a reversal of a decade-long trend in which the declining number of students forced the system to close dozens of schools. "We're in a different mode now," said Bowers. "We haven't been in this growth for five years. We can't even anticipate the growth" that will occur in the future.
Accelerated development in the upper and southeastern parts of the county is adding significant numbers of students, school officials said. In addition, children of a recent baby boom have come of school age and, in Montgomery County, this meant 375 more kindergarten students than expected this year.
The largest unexpected increases in enrollment occurred in kindergarten throughout the county, senior high schools in the southern end of the county and in the non-English-speaking student population, which grew by 110 students more than school officials had anticipated.
"We can't allocate any more positions" without additional county money, said Bowers. He said county refusal to support the funding request would "definitely" create an unnecessary hardship for students and school personnel. Of the 35.5 teachering positions needed, 18.5 will be for secondary schools and 23 for elementary schools.
The vast majority of the 533 crowded classrooms have two to five more students than the maximum class size, which is 24 in kindergarten, 25 in grades one to eight and 24 in high school, said Bowers.
Although there was no immediate indication of when the council would discuss the school board's request, the school system waited five months last year before it received money under a similar request. The school system sought $431,472 from the county to hire 30 teachers needed after school began, and it received $295,000 for 12 teachers and eight full-time substitutes.