Montgomery Co. school system unveils $2.4B spending plan

WASHINGTON — The Montgomery County school system has unveiled a $2.4 billion operating budget for fiscal 2017, a 4.5 percent increase — or $134 million — over current school spending.

The increase is needed to maintain student services and handle another 2,500 pupils expected to enter the school system next year, said Interim Superintendent Larry Bowers.

The proposal comes at a time when, yet again, the county is facing a major budget shortfall. Still, Bowers said, the spending increase is needed to improve math and literacy skills, and prepare students for college, among other things.

Among the other budget goals: increased supports for fourth- and fifth-graders in math.

Bowers announced the proposed budget at the school system offices in Rockville. As he made the request, Montgomery County council members were getting briefed on the county’s budget outlook, which shows revenues falling short of projections by about $180 million.

The school system’s recommended budget also requests the Montgomery County Council to restore $24 million in one-time funding used for the fiscal 2016 budget. There’s a recommended $7.9 million to pay for teacher pension costs that have been shifted from the state to the county.

Asked about the budget pressures after the council meeting, council members Craig Rice and Nancy Navarro both noted that the school’s budget proposal doesn’t appear to answer their concerns about class size.

Both suggested the school budget request should be supported.

“It’s a catch-22,” Rice said, regarding the tight budget projections and the school’s request for increased funding. “There continues to need to be investment in education, there’s no doubt about that.”

Navarro, a former county school board president, said she’s sympathetic to the system.

“They are dealing with extraordinary pressures,” Navarro said. “I hear it from the teachers, I hear it from principals. This is our crown jewel and we need to do whatever we can to support it.”

WTOP’s Kate Ryan contributed to this report.

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