School board president Karla Silvestre released a statement of support Wednesday for the county executive’s $6.8 billion proposed operating budget for the next fiscal year, which he intends to finance with a 10-cent property tax increase.
If approved, the budget would allocate Montgomery County Public Schools (MCPS) $3.2 billion, mirroring the operating budget passed unanimously by the school board in February.
County Executive Marc Elrich’s proposed property tax hike would give MCPS an additional $220 million in funds for fiscal year 2024. While Silvestre (At-Large) did not specifically endorse the tax increase, she wrote that the school board supports the county executive’s “willingness to do whatever is necessary” to fully fund the school operating budget.
Silvestre cited pandemic-related recovery efforts, the student mental health crisis, increased inflation and competitive staff salaries as reasons why the increased funds are needed. The MCPS operating budget for fiscal year 2024 represents an increase of 10% or $296 million over the current year.
“The youth mental health crisis that existed before the pandemic was made worse, and now schools are addressing trauma and mental health concerns,” Silvestre wrote. “Wellbeing programs provide counseling, mental health, restorative justice, social work support, and basic safety net services. [… A]ll of this is necessary and greatly increases the cost of education.”
MCPS is in the process of assessing its restorative justice practices, a “social justice platform” and approach to conflict resolution that focuses on “relationships, responsibility and accountability,” according to the school district’s website. Recent data and student accounts have called into question the effectiveness of the model in addressing school bullying and incidents of hate bias.
Silvestre also pointed to low post-pandemic math grades as a concern. Recent data from the state shows that middle school math proficiency within MCPS dropped from 42.5% before the pandemic to just over 23% in 2022, with success rates sinking further for students from underrepresented communities.
Competitive recruitment and retainment of school staff was another concern highlighted by Silvestre in her statement—an issue teachers have raised, as their union continues to negotiate the new contract with the school district. She noted that the Blueprint for Maryland’s Future—a long-term state-mandated plan to improve education—requires all school districts in the state to raise their minimum teacher salary to $60,000 by 2026. Currently, the minimum starting salary for a teacher in MCPS is $54,038.
“Again, all of these conditions are necessary and come with costs to our local government,” Silvestre wrote. “Let’s together take the right path at this crossroad to ensure a bright future for our kids and for Montgomery County. Our students need this and our whole community needs this. Our future depends on it.”
Elrich’s proposed budget now heads to the 11-member County Council for approval. Public hearings on the budget are scheduled for April 11.