Hours after County Executive Isiah Leggett presented his operating budget for fiscal year 2016 on Monday, March 16– a budget which fell short of the funding total asked for by the Board of Education -- Councilman Craig Rice held a Budget Forum focusing on shortfalls and concerns associated County’s education budget. Rice was joined by interim Montgomery County Schools Superintendent Larry A. Bowers and DeRionne Pollard, president of Montgomery College.
The event, held at Kingsview Middle School in Germantown, was the fourth of five budget forums Rice has been holding throughout the county to shed light on the important issues surrounding the MCPS and Montgomery College budget issues.
Rice addressed an audience of roughly 50 people, many of whom were MCPS employees, and talked about Supplemental Public School Construction Matching Fund Program, which is Maryland State Senate Bill 228. The bill introduced in February by nine Democratic state senators, would have the State pay for public school construction projects at a ratio of $1 of state funding for every $2 of county funding. Montgomery County would qualify for based on the size of the school system and the County’s AAA bond rating.
“We are going to have to start looking at different ways in which we are going to be doing things in we are never going to receive the true amount of funding necessary to meet the needs of our current school system,” said Rice. “And that means looking at schools differently, looking at boundary areas differently, looking at all kinds of things to get our heads around what this might mean for us.”
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 operating budget request accounts for a cut in state aid and includes savings.
“These numbers are not significant increases,” said Rice. “This is not recognizing that Montgomery County Schools are trying to do more with less. This is just keeping us consistent. And the Board of Education already done its part by reducing its request by $10 million. Our school system is trying to whatever it can with the resources it has, but it needs help. The help has to come from the State and some has to come from the County as well.”
Leggett’s budget which was introduced earlier this week includes $2.2 billion in funding for the Montgomery County Public Schools – the Maintenance of Effort level required by State law. In the proposed FY16 budget MCPS will receive a 1.4 percent increase over last year’s budget, which equates to $30.7 million. The $2.2 billion in funding for MCPS is 98 percent of the Board of Education’s requested budget for FY16.
“MCPS has 17 percent of the student body in the State, but we have gotten around 12 percent of the State construction funding for a number of years,” Bowers told the audience. “Another piece of that is we are the fastest growing jurisdiction. Not only are we not getting a fair amount, we should be getting more just because of the growth and the need to build more schools.”
Back in December, MCPS assumed that it would receive an increase of $15.2 million in State aid, but Governor Larry Hogan’s actual increase in State aid to MCPS was $4.9 million, according to Bowers. “If the governor had fully funded the Geographic Cost of Education Index and fully funded the inflation factor which is part of current law, we would have gotten $30.4 million in State aid,” said Bowers.
The Geographic Cost of Education Index was put in place in give more aid to districts such as Montgomery and Prince Georges counties which have a higher cost of living than other Maryland jurisdictions. “It is an important part of our funding,” said Bowers of the GCEI. “It was supposed to be $34 million this year, the governor reduced that to $17 million. It is important for us to get that additional funding from the State.”
While it is possible that some or all of these fund may be restored by moves which are currently being made by the Maryland Legislature to fully fund schools systems hit hardest by Hogan’s cuts, nothing is certain.
Dr. Pollard spoke of the important role that Montgomery College, which is the largest public college in the state, plays in educating the County’s preparing a large portion of the population of the county. Montgomery College requested a $54.9 million total capital budget for fiscal year 2016, which includes a construction appropriation of $6.1 million for the Germantown Science and Applied Studies Building. The FY16 operating budget request is $253.7 million.
Leggett’s proposed budget called for funding 98 percent of the requested Montgomery College budget, an increase of $3 million or 2.6 percent. According to Pollard, Governor Hogan’s budget calls for $1.2 million less to Montgomery College than was allocated in FY 2015.
“A disinvestment in education is not a sound economic development policy,” said Rice who believes that Montgomery County is in the midst of an identity crisis. “We did not want to acknowledge, for a very long time, the fact that we had poor people coming into Montgomery County and that Montgomery County was changing,” said Rice. He contends that County leaders waited a long time before we changed the perception of Montgomery County as a being full of millionaires who could afford whatever they wanted. “That was never a reality. We just never acknowledged it.”
“Last year, law makers in Annapolis reduced our school construction funding,” Rice told the audience. “And this year they doubled down. They reduced our construction funding and our operating budget funding. We got hit twice and this is especially troubling.”
Rice called on residents to advocate for increased school funding from Annapolis by finding out who their local legislators are by going to www.montgomerycountydelegation.com and contacting them regarding the need for great State education funding for Montgomery County.
Photos by Germantown Pulse