New Montgomery County Superintendent Jerry D. Weast will propose a nearly $1.2 billion budget tonight that recognizes that the "world-class" system is really two systems and that both need help.
Weast's budget proposal for fiscal 2001 calls for an $80 million, or 7 percent, increase over the current budget. It includes programs such as pilots for the rigorous Singapore math curriculum for the high-achieving students for whom the system has always worked, as well as an intense focus on programs for needy students who have floundered.
"We are a long way from ensuring that every student in every classroom in every school receives high-quality instruction and support every day," Weast said in a draft budget message. He'll present the budget publicly to an anticipated full house tonight at Wheaton High School.
Much of the increase is simply to keep up with the boom in enrollment, which has hit 131,000 students and is anticipated to climb still higher. And nearly $30 million, a 2.7 percent increase over this year, is targeted for Weast's initiatives to "raise the bar and close the gap," as he wrote in his "Call to Action" plan, between African American and Hispanic students and their higher-scoring white and Asian counterparts.
The total is expected to increase even more as school officials negotiate new salary and benefit contracts with teacher, support staff and administrator unions.
"The biggest help and the most important thing he is proposing is the quality of the teaching program," Montgomery County Executive Douglas M. Duncan said. "We will find that money to make sure that happens."
Duncan (D), who outlined several education initiatives of his own last night in his speech on the state of the county, estimated that the new contracts would put the total increase at $100 million, or 9 percent over the current year.
Perhaps the signature of the proposed budget is its emphasis on the classroom. By redirecting funds and asking for new money, Weast proposes to spend $13 million to add 463 positions in the fiscal year that begins July 1 to lower class sizes from kindergarten to second grade, increase teachers and the number of all-day kindergarten programs from nine schools to 30 and add teacher trainers to each of the county's 183 schools.
Weast proposes $1.3 million to expand into third grade the Reading Initiative, which uses new strategies and a 15-to-1 student-teacher ratio to teach first- and second-graders to read.
And most board members are pleased.
"We're looking not only at programs for gifted students but at support for those that need it," said board member Kermit V. Burnett (Silver Spring). "There's training for teachers, training for staff, even training for support workers. The number of school psychologists is increased. Everything people have asked for for years is there."
Weast's proposal includes $122,000 for a new system of evaluating teachers and assessing principals and $600,000 for new staff to help schools better use technology.
Board member Nancy J. King (Upcounty) said the "sizable" budget has been thoroughly vetted by county officials and staff in the most collaborative effort she has seen. She added that its focus on literacy and early childhood development is critical.
Other budget highlights include:
* $200,000 for graphing calculators for high school students who can't afford them.
* $100,000 to pay SAT, PSAT and Advanced Placement test fees for needy students.
* $1.2 million for 20 elementary literacy teachers and eight reading teachers.
* $100,000 for the high-level William and Mary language arts program.
* $176,000 for six assessors and a new high school improvement program.
Staff writer Scott Wilson contributed to this report.