By Kevin O’Rourke
Amid concerns that the requested operating budget for Montgomery County Public Schools will not be fully funded, Interim Superintendent Larry A. Bowers is reducing positions across the district for next school year.
Bowers is holding back more than 370 school-based positions that are included in the Montgomery County Board of Education’s budget request, including more than 150 teaching positions that will be reduced by raising class sizes. The move means that class sizes in all schools will increase.
“While I am hopeful that the County Council will be able to fully fund our budget, we must prepare for the possibility that we will have to make additional reductions to our budget request,” Bowers said. “We are taking this action now so that our schools and staff impacted by these changes can begin planning for next year.”
In February, the Board of Education approved a Fiscal Year 2016 Operating Budget Request that includes a four percent increase in spending compared with this year’s budget. The Board’s $2.39 billion request accounts a cut in state aid and includes savings and reductions beyond what was in the superintendent’s December budget recommendation. The Board’s budget request assumes that the county will provide $23.3 million needed to restore one-time revenue sources used to fund the current FY 2015 budget.
Bowers and the Board of Education are concerned that the Montgomery County Council will not be able to fund the Board’s entire budget request given recent reports about lagging tax revenues and a budget shortfall in the county. The difference between the Board’s request and the minimum funding level required by state law — called Maintenance of Effort — is about $80 million.
In January, Rose Glavinic, of the Montgomery County Office of Management and Budget told a crowd of residents gathered for a meeting with community members at Black Rock Center for the Arts in Germantown that the County was facing a budget gap.
Glavinic said that when the county begins fiscal year 2016 on July 1, it will be faced with a $237.9 million budget gap between the projected revenues and expenses. The largest portion of the overage expenses comes from $209.5 million for reserves and retiree health insurance, the rest is made up of $26.8 million for cash for the Capital Budget and $25.3 million for debt service.
County Executive Ike Leggett expressed concerns over the amount of state aid the county could count on in light of the change of parties and power in the Governor’s mansion.
MCPS is working closely with its legislative delegation to urge Gov. Larry Hogan to restore $25 million in state aid cuts he has recommended for MCPS. In November, the district put expenditure and hiring restrictions in place, saving additional money that will be used to fund next year’s budget.
“We have taken prudent, necessary steps to plan for next year and will continue to fight for additional state funding,” Bowers said. “But we must be ready should the County Council be unable to fully fund our budget.”
On Friday, principals received their staffing allocations for next school year, which reflected a reduction of 370 school-based positions across the district. The district will also cut about 40 central services positions beyond the 12 positions already eliminated in the Board’s budget request. The staff reductions will save about $27 million in the FY 2016 budget.
More than 150 of these positions are being reduced by increasing class sizes at all grade levels. These class size changes will impact every school in the district, but will have a lesser impact on those with highest Free and Reduced-price Meals (FARMS) rates.
The staffing formulas for class sizes will change as follows:
Elementary Schools: Grades 1 and 2 increase from 27 to 28 at non-focus schools only; Grade 3 increases from 27 to 28 at all schools; and Grades 4 and 5 increase from 29 to 30 at all schools.
Middle Schools: An increase of 0.5 at schools with higher FARMS rates and 1.0 at other schools.
High Schools: An increase of 0.5 at schools with higher FARMS rates and 1.0 at other schools.
Among the other positions being held back are some of the allocations for English for Speakers of Other Languages teachers; special education teachers and support staff; reading specialists and staff development teachers; and media assistants and instructional data analysts.
Bowers emphasized that MCPS will not know its funding level for next year until the County Council passes a final budget. If the final budget funds some or all of the held back positions, they will be allocated to schools as quickly as possible.