Montgomery County Public School Board approved the 2023-24 Operating Budget of just under $135 million in a regular meeting Tuesday, June 6, 2023.
The result was 5-1, with board member Penny Franklin voting in opposition to the budget’s approval.
The 2023-24 pay scale was also approved with a vote of 5-1. Franklin spoke during the discussion prior to the vote that she would again not be voting in approval.
“I don’t believe that it reflects what we should be paying our staff and our teachers and administrators,” Franklin said.
The teacher scale shows the current year’s salaries and the next year of salaries as recommended by the county administration. A decrease of $300,000 will go to the self-insurance portion of the budget, with an anticipated carryover of funds amounting to approximately one million dollars, this will also include a 13% premium increase resulting in an additional $300,000 added to the budget. The employee only insurance option will not increase but other combined family options would see an increase.
Penny Franklin “I don’t think that it is fair to put increases on our employees because one of the big draws for Montgomery County is because of our health care plan that doesn’t pull money out of our employees’ pockets.”
Insurance renews October 1, but the board hopes to approve a budget prior to this date so that employees do not see any changes in their insurance benefits.
“One of the things we are looking at and are actively pursuing in the process of doing right now, is carving out the prescription from our current provider,” Bragen said. “We will give that savings back to the employees.”
Dr. Annie Whittaker, Deputy Superintendent, introduced the new School Nutrition Supervisor, Michelle Knotts, before updating the board on the 2023-24 School Nutrition Program Budget. The board approved the budget with a unanimous vote of 6-0 for just over $5.2 million.
In other actions during the meeting, the school board approved the adoption of new middle and high School health textbooks with a 5-1 vote. The new health textbook will include 2,200 new licenses each year to students with access to virtual, bilingual texts. The cost of the new textbooks will be over $300,000. Board member Susan Kass voted against approval.
“I wonder if what we are really getting is what is necessary with this kind of expenditure. I think it is ridiculous to spend. I wish we would look a little closer at something like this,” Kass said.
Additional agenda items approved unanimously by the school board members were four federal program grants, The Boys and Girls Club grant proposal, a dishwasher for Harding Avenue, and the expansion of a welding program at the MCPS Governor School STEM Academy.
Citizens addressed concerns about the relocation of Mr. Brandon Keith to a different strand in Montgomery County Schools. Keith is currently the principal at Shawsville Middle School.
Gracie Walker, a Shawsville Middle School student, said “Mr. Keith has made a big impact in Shawsville Middle School this past year.”
Student Jackson Matherly of Shawsville Middle School told board members that this would be the fourth year that their principal had been replaced.
“I’ve been at Shawsville Middle School for 22 years,” Joshua Hollyfield, a teacher at Shawsville Middle School said. “Frankly, it scares me a little bit that someone who finds success in a building would be moved to somewhere else to fill a hole.”
Also, during the MCPS board meeting, Superintendent Bernard Bragen, Jr. reflected on his first six months in office. The superintendent discussed the successes of Montgomery County Public Schools in their infrastructure, staff, and achievement in both academics and extracurricular activities.
“At the end of the day, we are all committed to Montgomery County Public Schools,” Bragen said. “Our student achievement, almost on every metric, we are above the state average. And that’s just not in SAT scores, or SOLs, and other important metrics, but that’s also in CTE scores and performance for children that are getting training in vocational and career fields as opposed to going on to two-year or four-year higher education. Something to be proud of.”
Bragen also addressed the provision of additional counseling services. Initially, the superintendent did not think local counseling agencies would be able to provide the support the schools would need. However, after further consideration they are now going to put out an RFP (request for proposals) for local providers.
“We do believe we can use the ESSERs monies for that and we also believe there is a need that is present in our communities to provide those additional services,” Bragen said.
Other board members spoke in agreement with Bragen.
“I do think that at the end of the day we do all realize what a great school system that we have,” Kass said.
A presentation on the new Christiansburg High School project was shown by Josh Bower, Director of Architecture at Crabtree, Rohrbaugh & Associates. A video allowed those in attendance at the meeting to “walk through” a virtual representation of the building design during the Tuesday night recorded meeting on YouTube.
The phasing is still in development; however, Bower presented that Phase One will include the demolition of the counseling, nursing, and administrative areas of the high school. Employees working in these areas will be relocated to temporary spaces over the summer and remain there for the next 16 months as the construction continues. Once the addition is completed, they would then be able to move into the new area.
The school system has advertised to receive bids from contractors beginning on June 5 with bids opening on July 11, according to the project schedule shown to the board members and viewers.
The start of construction is proposed for August 1 and will aim to have construction already begun on the first day of the 2023-24 school year. All students, car or bus riders, will enter each day through the same entrance at the front of the building. Parking spaces will also be increased for staff, and visitor parking will remain in the front of the building.
“We received a lot of compliments on the level of security that we have designed for this,” Bower said.
The project is projected to be fully completed by December 2025.
“We do not want to go into calendar year 2026,” Bower said.
An update was also provided for other MCPS projects. Among the updates, a revised estimate has been made for the repairs needed to the Eastern Montgomery Elementary School fire sprinkler system and was shared by Dr. Whittaker. The school is still under a fire watch with dedicated staff to conduct walks around the school any time staff and students are in the building. A design study has also been completed for the Eastern Montgomery High School track, but funding has not been allocated at this time.
“We did get about $90,000, close to $91,000, in additional funding from the Board of Supervisors from the tax,” Whittaker said.
Strategic Plan updates were shared with the MCPS board members by Dr. Whittaker and can be found in the agenda on the mcps.org website.