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March 13, 2016

Montgomery County Board of Education approves 2017 operating budget

by Randima Herath, Online Editor-in-Chief
The Montgomery County Board of Education (BOE) adopted the Fiscal Year 2017 Operating Budget on Feb. 9, 2016, which includes resources to serve additional students and improve the workforce as well as investments to close the achievement gap. Since 2009, Montgomery County Public Schools (MCPS) has been funded at or below the minimum amount required by the state's maintenance of effort law, including this school year.
Due to MCPS' growing rate of about 2,500 students per year, Blair now has over 3,000 students. Nicholas Fechner-Mills
Due to MCPS' growing rate of about 2,500 students per year, Blair now has over 3,000 students.

Interim Superintendent Larry Bowers requested a $134.9 million increase in December. According to Bowers, his increase was only enough to cover spending for increasing enrollment, pay raises and growing costs of benefits. The Board then proposed a $45 million add-on to Bowers' request to cover additional services and reduce class sizes due to MCPS' growing rate of about 2,500 students a year. At Blair, some students have seen the increase in class sizes as a problem. "If the county got more money, it would help make classroom sizes smaller which is really important because classrooms with too many students make it harder to learn. Students shouldn't be put at that disadvantage," junior Maia Pramuk said.

The add-on is organized into three tiers of about $15 million each, ranked by priority. The first tier will bring new full-time staff positions, which will reduce class sizes and provide black, Hispanic and low-income students with teachers focused on developing literacy and mathematic skills. According to Student Member on the Board of Education (SMOB) Eric Guerci, research shows that smaller class sizes can improve academic performance. "The data shows that this is particularly true at the elementary level and for at-risk students," he said. Some students believe that smaller class sizes will help improve their relations with their teachers. "I think that I will do better if I have a class with less people because I'll be able to talk to the teachers more and get help more easily if I need it," junior Abeselom Gebreyesus said. Additionally, a portion of the money will allow large MCPS high schools such as Blair to hold graduation ceremonies at bigger venues.

The second and third tiers include money for other costs related to MCPS staff and strategic enhancements for closing the achievement gap. These enhancements are aligned to further the MCPS Strategic Priority Focus Areas: equity and cultural proficiency, literacy and mathematics, career readiness, partnerships and engagement, accountability and results and human capital management. "While we are seeing signs of a narrowing of the achievement gap in MCPS, more can and must be done to ensure all students have the opportunities and resources they need to succeed," Guerci said.

The Board submitted their budget request to the Montgomery County Executive and the County Council on March 1. Montgomery County Executive Ike Leggett is expected to release his budget recommendation by March 15. The Montgomery County Council will hold public hearings on the county budget in April before passing a final budget in May.



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