Montgomery County Public Schools (MCPS) Superintendent Jack Smith. (Courtesy Photo)

ROCKVILLE – At his first media briefing of the year, Montgomery County Public Schools (MCPS) Superintendent Jack Smith spoke about building on the improvements of 2019, the district’s effort to combat hate bias in schools as well as recommendations for the Fiscal Year 2021 Operating Budget.

Smith started by talking about the increased enrollment in Advanced Placement (AP) and International Baccalaureate (IB) courses.

In mid-December, the school system announced an increased enrollment in higher-level high school classes. Despite the enrollment increases of Asian, Latinx, Black, and FARM students in these courses, their overall performance declined, according to a recent county report.

“Over the past three years, enrollment in AP and IB courses has increased by 6.8% throughout the district,” said Smith. “MCPS students accounted for 38.5% of AP exams taken by Maryland public school students.”

While Smith spent the first 15 minutes on the AP enrollment growth, his main topic of discussion was hate and bias in the community.

The county faced several incidents in 2019 of swastikas written on school property, including inside a bathroom at Silver Creek Middle School in Kensington. There were also students found giving n-word passes that supposedly permitted other students to use the word at Churchill High School.

Smith reiterated that this problem isn’t unique to Montgomery County and that there is more resistance in this county than in other places.

“As someone who served in the state department of education, there is probably more resistance against hate and bias in this community than in many places in the state and nation,” said Smith.

Building off Smith’s comments, Deputy Superintendent, Dr. Monifa McKnight, cited the county’s ACA policy that promotes equity and inclusion for all.

“We will not tolerate any form of discrimination, racism, anti-Semitism, or hate,” said McKnight. “These are our priorities to represent diversity and a safe space for our students — these are our elements in our environment that shouldn’t exist.

Policy ACA, which is also known as Nondiscrimination, Equity, and Cultural Proficiency, affirms the Montgomery County Board of Education’s desire to create an educational community guided by its five core values—Learning, Relationships, Respect, Excellence and Equity. It would also ensure that all students are supported, and all staff is empowered to do their best work, officials say.

Next month, MCPS plans to share more details on their system-wide plans on how to address incidents of hate and bias.

The last thing on the agenda was the Fiscal year 2021 Operating Budget. The recommendations for the county’s Operating Budget for 2021 were released and submitted to the board of education in early December.

The budget recommendation included a $121,119,258 increase, which is a 4.5% increase in the operating budget compared to the 2020 fiscal year.

About $1.8 billion of the proposed $2.8 billion budget would be funded by the local government, according to Smith’s budget proposal, a $72 million increase from the current budget. The budget also states that part of the proposed increase will be offset by the savings of $5,204,000 generated by efficiencies and reductions.

The budget would fund services for a growing number of students, the costs of operating the school system, and the county’s strategic bodies of work such as the Equity and Achievement Framework. It includes money to serve more pre-kindergarten students, create three new regional IB programs, and to add mental health support employees in schools.

“The spending increases are to support our students, support our work, and to be able to attract, recruit, hire and maintain a strong and diverse workforce,” said Smith. “Fewer people are going to universities and colleges to become teachers. This money will help us grow our own.”

The budget would add 377 full-time teaching positions to respond to enrollment growth, 135 new general teaching positions, 134 special education teaching positions, 38 to serve English language learners, 30 new bus drivers and bus aide positions, and three psychologists. A $2.2 billion of the budget will be allocated to staff salaries and benefits.

The governor’s budget release is planned to be out in the next ten days. When the budget is released to the general assembly, the county will adjust the budget based on the state money

He noted that he would continue to work with the county council and education & culture committee to represent the school system in an “accurate, clear, and understandable” way to the community.

“There is a culture of scarcity when there should be a culture of abundance,” stated Smith.

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