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The Black and White

The Student News Site of Walt Whitman High School

The Black and White

The Student News Site of Walt Whitman High School

The Black and White

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February 26, 2024

MCPS reviews proposed operating budget, community members push for full funding

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Vassili Prokopenko
Over the course of the analysis, Board members hosted student, organization and parent testimonies at two open community forums.

From Jan. 18 to Jan. 30, the MCPS Board of Education (BOE) reviewed former Superintendent Monifa McKnight’s proposed 2025 budget throughout three work sessions. Over the course of the analysis, Board members also hosted student, organization and parent testimonies at two open community forums. 

The proposed 2025 fiscal year budget is a $157.3 million increase from last year. The majority of this increase goes towards staff salary and negotiated contract increases. The proposal also expects to slightly increase per-pupil expenditures from $19,263 to around $19,540. However, the county will lose $130 million from the federal COVID-19 Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) Fund in 2025. As a result, the county will focus only on the vital services that the ESSER Fund provided. 

“We know that our students continue to recover from the pandemic socially, emotionally and academically, so the challenge for us as a school system and as a community is: how do we continue that recovery without this additional federal funding?” said MCPS Chief Operating Officer Brian Hull at the first work session. “As we provide for food insecurity and social and emotional needs, we are literally doing more with less.”

Using the ESSER funds, MCPS implemented restorative justice approaches, like hiring specialists and additional social workers. Many of the students at the community forums, like Samantha Ross, a junior at Montgomery Blair High School, believe in the importance of these approaches.

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“These items have been moved from ESSER, but we cannot bend to the possibility that they will not be fully funded,” Ross said in a speech at the first forum. “If we want to make real change in the well-being of our students, we must keep our social workers, restorative justice positions and these practices in place for this year and many to come.”

At both forums, community members cited low literacy levels of Black and Latine students and pushed for more literacy education funding. According to MCPS data for fifth graders and above, approximately 60% of Black students and 70% of Hispanic students are below benchmark literacy levels. Although MCPS saw an 11% increase in elementary school literacy levels after increased educator training in 2023, members from the NAACP and the Black and Brown Coalition stressed the need to support older students as well.

Community member Byron Johns, a member of both organizations, urged for the funding of an “early warning system” that identifies struggling students and crafts individualized student literacy success plans.

“Identifying struggling students early on and tailoring interventions to meet their specific needs is essential for their academic growth and for the district’s goal of being an equitable, world-class school system,” Johns said at the first forum. “Let’s create an environment where every student has the opportunity to thrive, and where our educators are empowered to lead the way in shaping the future.”

Due to the tighter budget for 2025, the Board focused on efficiencies, which are spending plans that save funds but have little impact on learning and teaching. They also focused on reductions to make more space in the budget. The efficiencies and reductions add up to just over $14.3 million less spending. Notable efficiencies include lowered costs for textbooks, instructional materials, contractual services and buses while notable reductions include the removal of ineffective services like GoGuardian. 

The BOE is also discussing potential professional development funding reductions in the Career Pathways Program, which provides training and direction to help staff realize their career aspirations. Through this program, staff members like building service workers can train to become IT professionals, and paraeducators can train to become teachers or administrators, though there are more possibilities too. 

The proposed budget also plans to cut paraeducator training funding in half. Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 500 President Pia Morrison commends McKnight for providing a three percent raise for staff, but she worries about the lack of support for workers in MCPS.

“To cut these programs and the staff who oversee them sends a clear message that workers’ futures are not a priority of this school system,” Morrison said at the second forum. “We cannot continue to operate under the misguided assumption that it is acceptable for staff to do more work with fewer resources — that an already overwhelmed staff will simply pick up the work.”

In response to the proposed cuts, many groups have advocated for funding in their sectors of interest. On Feb. 22, the BOE will decide on a tentative adoption of the operating budget. After the Board approves a budget, they will send it to the County Council.

McKnight anticipated that the 2025 budget would be difficult to finalize, calling the year the “ESSER cliff.” 

“We’ve gone through the budget and tried to keep those successful and innovative practices. As we continue to go through our budget sessions, we will have to prioritize, but I am always optimistic,” McKnight said at the first community forum. “Tonight we were talking about additional things we need, but we need to keep what we already have too, so this conversation will have to continue.”

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Vassili Prokopenko, Online Production Head
Grade 12 Why did you join The B&W? To improve my art and design skills. What is your favorite board game? Blokus

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