Budget increases 4.5 percent or $103 Million
Montgomery County Public Schools Interim Superintendent Larry A. Bowers presented the recommended $2.45 billion Fiscal Year 2017 Operating Budget to the Board of Education on Tuesday, Dec. 8. The budget calls for a 4.5 percent increase in new spending designed to strengthen the system’s foundation, which has been squeezed by eight years of difficult economic times.
“This budget solidifies our foundation and prepares MCPS to make investments in future years to address the growing needs of our students,” said Bowers, who plans to retire in June 2016 after serving MCPS for 38 years. “I recognize that the economic times are still challenging but we cannot cut our budget any further and, in fact, we have to begin investing again if we are going to give our students the education they deserve.”
The $103.0 million increase Bowers’ is recommending will pay for the same level of services for more than 2,500 additional students and includes investments to improve students’ literacy and math skills; build the cultural proficiency of staff; foster stronger partnerships with the community and families to support students; and better organize the district to ensure every student is prepared for college and careers.
The $103 million increase is almost the same figure that was recommended by then Superintendent of Schools Joshua P. Starr at this time last year as the FY 2016 Operating Budget was introduced. Last year, Starr asked for an increase of $103.6 million. Starr would leave MCPS two months later in February of 2015.
The FY 2016 budget which as approved by the Board of Education was later cut by $10.3 million in anticipation of lower-than-expected funding from the state of Maryland, and MCPS was later forced to cut an additional $53 million from the budget by the Montgomery County Council.
With this new budget, Bowers is reiterating his warning that Montgomery County can not continue to fund the school system at the minimum level required by state law, called Maintenance of Effort.
In his comments to the Board of Education on Tuesday, Bowers made it clear that the community must change the way the budget has been funded over for the past eight years. Since 2009, MCPS has been funded at or below the minimum funding level required by the Maintenance of Effort law. Such funding has resulted in class size increases, reduced essential professional development, and has left students with fewer supports and interventions than they need to be successful.
“We cannot continue to fund the budget as we have in the past and expect the school system and our schools to meet our targets and close the achievement gaps,” said Bowers. “We cannot continue to fund the at the minimum level of funding of maintenance of effort and continue to use one-time resources including hiring freezes and expenditure restrictions to build the fund balance to fund the next year’s budget. This is a disinvestment in education, and a disinvestment in the future of our children in our county.”
“Maintenance of Effort is a misnomer — it simply means the same dollar amount per student, not the same level of services. It doesn’t cover the increased costs related to inflation, utilities, salaries, or any new programs,” said Bowers. “In fact, a two percent increase in inflation alone requires about a $50 million increase. If you only get the minimum Maintenance of Effort funding, that means you have to cut $50 million from your budget. Ultimately, Maintenance of Effort means a disinvestment in education, and our children cannot afford that.”
The superintendent’s presentation of his recommended budget is the beginning of the Board of Education’s consideration of the operating budget. The Board invites public feedback on the budget recommendation and provides two opportunities for the public to testify. The public hearings will occur on January 7 and 14, in the Carver Educational Services Center auditorium. The Board also will conduct public work sessions in January to delve into the details of the budget as part of its extensive review of the superintendent’s recommendation.
“We greatly appreciate Mr. Bowers’ thoughtful and responsible budget recommendation for next year,” said newly elected Board of Education President Michael Durso. “Now, our process begins as we examine the details and hear from our community. We look forward to a robust dialogue as we all work together to finalize a budget that positions MCPS to deliver a high-quality education for each and every one of our students.”
In a letter to the Board of Education, Bowers wrote, “Between FY 2009 and FY 2016, we have eliminated more than 1,800 positions and $210 million from the budget. Nearly 300 of these positions and more than $53 million have been from central services. Simply put, we cannot cut more positions from the budget and expect to maintain and improve our students' performance in the classroom.”
Bowers is also calling for the County to restore $24 million in one-time funding used for the FY 2016 budget and an additional $7.9 million to pay for teacher pension costs that have been shifted from the state to the county. With these two items, the budget increase totals $134.9 million.
The projected enrollment for the 2016-2017 school year is 159,016, or 2,502 more students than what was budgeted for the 2015-2016 school year, Bowers wrote to the Board. “This is the eighth year in a row that our enrollment has increased by at least 2,000 students, and the trend is expected to continue. While most of the growth during the past several years has occurred in elementary schools, we are anticipating dramatic increases in secondary school enrollment in the coming years as this current enrollment bubble moves into the middle and high school. By the 2021-2022 school year, enrollment is expected to reach 166,598 students, an increase of more than 10,000 students from the current fiscal year.”
In order to manage the expected growth in student enrollment, Bower’s budget would add more than 247 positions, including 140 general elementary/secondary positions, 58 positions for special education services, and 32 positions to serve our growing population of students who receive English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) services.
Bowers also said that the district will also require 35 new positions to open the new Clarksburg/Damascus Middle School and open a new middle school in the Bethesda/Chevy Chase Cluster, and open additional space at several existing schools.
Bowers is recommending $2.8 million in targeted, strategic enhancements to improve student achievement and close the achievement gap. All of the enhancements are aligned to the district’s five Strategic Priorities and District Implementation Plan. The enhancements include both new and realigned resources for maximum efficiency and effectiveness and fall into six Strategic Priority Focus Areas.
These enhancements are reflected in each of the district's five strategic priorities including: (1) strengthen the foundation for academic success; (2) focus on accountability and results; (3) focus on human capital management; (4) strengthen partnerships and engagement; and (5) enhance our culture of collaboration and respect.
To that end, the budget includes recommending 13 new positions to support efforts that build on addressing long-standing challenges in new and innovative ways. “The enhancements will help our mission to close the achievement gap, implement the Common Core State Standards, and ensure that students are college and career ready,” wrote Bowers.
The Board will adopt the budget on February 9, and transmit it to the County Executive and County Council for their consideration. The Council adopts its final operating budget, which includes the MCPS budget, in late May.