The Montgomery County Council tentatively approved a $473.4 million school operating budget yesterday that would be used for hiring 260 additional teachers to cope with an expected influx of elementary school students, reducing class sizes at all grade levels and expanding kindergarten programs.
The funding for next school year represents an increase of 8.3 percent over this year's budget. It falls $3.1 million short of the school board's request, but is an increase of $1.7 million over the amount recommended by Montgomery County Executive Charles W. Gilchrist.
The council has until May 15 to approve a final school board budget.
"These were reasonable recommendations," said Superintendent Wilmer S. Cody, who was at the council work session. "They restored a substantial portion of the cuts made by Gilchrist."
Cody said the council had approved a higher percentage of what he asked for than in previous years, "and the highest dollar amount of improvements we've had in several years." Last year, the council approved $5 million worth of improvements; this year, it tentatively approved $9 million worth.
Under the council's plan, about 260 new teachers will be hired for next year. Among them will be 139 kindergarten and elementary school teachers, 38 junior high school teachers and 65 senior high school teachers. Kindergarten classes will be expanded to run all day at 10 schools under the new budget.
The council cut 13 secondary school teachers and four junior high teachers from the school board's request. "Still, this is an improvement because we will have fewer oversized classes," Cody said.
Gilchrist has said that he recommended hiring fewer teachers because there is no room for adding classes in elementary schools until new schools are built in the northern areas of the county, where rapid growth has caused a boom in enrollments.
"We're still concerned that there would be some squeezing," said Montgomery County Council member Scott Fosler. "We want to permit reduction of schoolroom size, but in a prudent way."
Among the cuts the council made from what the school board proposed was a $819,470 cut in administrative funding. School board President James Cronin decried the cuts, saying administrative costs include teacher training, minority student education, computer-related instruction and other activities related to the classroom.
Nonetheless, the $29.1 million proposed for administrative costs represented a 12.4 percent increase over this year's level.
And about $24.5 million -- or 16.6 percent more than this year -- will go toward student transportation costs, including improved transportation to magnet schools and to programs for gifted students.