Money would be used to add teachers, concussion testing

Montgomery County Superintendent Joshua Starr is proposing a $2.217 billion budget for the school system, about $10 million more than the minimum funding level the County Council warned him to stick to, as Starr says he is looking to build up the schools after years of cuts.

"While this is not a multiyear budget, I want people to think about it in terms of three years. We're going to be building back up," Starr told reporters at a briefing Monday afternoon.

Teachers and other school employees would not receive pay raises under the budget, which Starr is scheduled to present to the school board on Tuesday. Although annual raises are usually included in Starr's initial proposal, the board gave all employees a raise in the last budget cycle -- and 57 percent of employees got two years' worth of raises -- with the understanding that raises were not guaranteed this year.

Doug Prouty, president of the Montgomery County Education Association, declined to comment. "It would be premature to discuss it," Prouty said.

Instead of paychecks, the bulk of the extra funds, or $48.95 million over the current fiscal year, would go toward the 2,300 additional students expected to enroll in Montgomery County Public Schools in the fall.

Legally, Starr had to request about $39 million more than last year to keep up with "maintenance of effort," a state law requiring the county to maintain or increase its per-pupil spending each year. The extra $10 million would go toward the expansion of a new curriculum into the fourth and fifth grades, positions that provide support for middle school teachers, a program to test for concussions in student athletes, 10 more elementary school math teachers, five more elementary school music teachers and other initiatives.

By exceeding the legal funding floor, Starr is going against the wishes of the County Council. Under state law, if the county funds the schools above the minimum, that "above and beyond" funding level becomes the new legal minimum and locks the county into higher payouts.

"Do we want them to go above [the minimum]? No. That's what we've told them for the past year. They know that," said Councilwoman Valerie Ervin, D-Silver Spring, and chairwoman of the council's Education Committee. "[This proposal] doesn't mean that's where the budget will end up."