Education Funding was the Hot Topic at Leggett’s Budget Forum
County Executive Ike Leggett came to Germantown on Monday night to hear from UpCounty resident’s regarding how to spend Montgomery County funds in the FY2017 Operating Budget. He wanted to hear from residents as their priorities and suggestions for a spending plan for the budget which will be proposed in March of this year.
Many residents came forward to ask for additional money for programs and departments ranging from Montgomery County Public Library to Avery House, an addiction treatment center in Rockville, to increasing the County’s funding of the Public Funded Elections Law. However, the overwhelming topic of discussion was funding of education.
The meeting was dominated by members of the Montgomery County Education Association, clad in purple MCEA tee shirts, urging Leggett to fund fully the $2.45 billion budget which the Board of Education would approve the following evening.
Also attending the meeting were, Board of Education President Michael Durso, and some Board of Education members including Rebecca Smondrowski, and Jill Ortman-Fouse, along with newly named Superintendent of Schools to be Jack R. Smith.
The meeting was also attended by a few members of the County Council including District 2-Germantown representative Craig Rice, and District 3-Gaithersburg representative Sydney Katz.
Leggett began the presentation at BlackRock Center for the Arts in Germantown by pointing out that a large portion of the County’s operating budget is made up of items which either through legal or practical obligations cannot be adjusted.
“If you look at schools, public safety, debt service, college, and retiree health, and you consider all of those things as combined, we have either a legal obligation or a practical inability to remove those items,” said Leggett. “Those items constitute about 85- or 86 percent of the entire budget. So before I can even start about programs, priorities, and services in the County 85- or 86-percent of the budget is tied up legal obligations because of schools which are tied into the Maintenance of Effort law, and the same thing goes for the college.”
“Beyond the school funding,” Leggett continued. “You’re not going to move too much of the 13 percent which is spent on public safety; that is a practical reality. Our debt service is a legal obligation. We need to pay that in terms of our mortgage. And finally, we have a legal obligation to our retirees. When you consider all those things together in the tax-supported budget, you are talking about 85- to 86-percent of the budget.
The actual percentage is somewhat less at 79.6 percent based on the figures provided at the event, but Leggett’s point remains valid.
The County Executive then went on to discuss the ongoing debate regarding the County’s monopoly on the liquor businesses in Montgomery County, and the potential dissolution of the Montgomery County Department of Liquor Control.
“People have said that we need to get Montgomery County out of the liquor business,” said Leggett. “I agree with that, I don’t think it is necessarily appropriate for the County to have a monopoly, but I don’t want to lose the $33- $34 million dollars. If someone could find a way for the County to make up that $34 million ever year, I am open to a consideration of the County getting out of the liquor business.” For more on Leggett’s take on the dissolution of the County, Liquor Control department read the Germantown Pulse’s story.
While the County’s liquor distribution business brings in $34 million to Montgomery County, it is a teeny-tiny portion of the funds needed (.77 percent) for the $4.42 billion operating budget of the County. Indeed, it pays for just 1.5 percent of the total MCPS operating budget, and it is the MCPS budget which dominated discussion among the members of the audience in attendance at the meeting.
According to Leggett, “49.2 percent of our budget goes to education K through 12. Well, it is a little more than that because within public safety and other areas and things that we are already providing in the public school system. We work on the Maintenance of Effort level in Montgomery County. I believe in that. If we are to ensure that we maintain our quality of schools, ensure that we can meet the programs and services for our school system itself, it is difficult for us to do so, in the current or future Maintenance of Effort budget.”
“Of all the things that I have heard people say that we need in the school system, such as enhanced programs and services, it is difficult to meet that demand within the Maintenance of Effort budget,” said Leggett.
“If we are to meet the current standards of programs and services of the existing budget, and the projected budget of Montgomery County, and given the deficit that we potentially face already — you cannot do that without substantial cuts or an increase in revenue. You can’t do that; the math will not work.
The first of many speakers asking for more funding for MCPS was Robert Chiappone, a Gaithersburg resident, and teacher at Poolesville Elementary School.
“Maintenance of Effort is not a cap. Maintenance of Effort is a floor. We need more than Maintenance of Effort,” said Chiappone, to a round of applause from the many parents and members of the MCEA, who were in attendance. “Class size has grown larger, the number of students has grown faster than it should have, and students that are coming into the system are coming in with more challenges than students in the past. We are working harder to make sure that our children are educated so that they will contribute to the community for a lifetime.”
Germantown resident Sarah Kessler urged Leggett to increase the funding for MCPS because she is seeing many of her neighbors opt to send their children to private schools due to the overcrowding issue in county schools.
“I moved here from New York 12 years ago,” said Kessler. “My property taxes are less now than they were 12 years ago. I am seeing residents in my neighborhood who can afford to go to private schools, making that choice to leave MCPS, when they realize how overcrowded our schools have become. “I occasionally substitute at schools. Last week, I subbed in an eighth-grade science classroom that had 34 kids in it. I was left wondering how the teacher made it through the day. It took me two weeks to recover. I can’t afford private school; I love MCPS, and I am a huge advocate. We need more money. We can’t cut any more funding from MCPS. I want to pay more in property taxes. I would happily pay $1,000 or $2,000 per year in property taxes. I think a lot of people are of the same mindset. We want to support our schools.”
Leggett will submit his Recommended Fiscal Year 2017 Operating Budget to the County Council in mid-March. The County Council approves the operating budget at the end of May.
Top: County Executive Ike Leggett speaking to residents at the Budget Forum event held at BlackRock Center for the Arts in Germantown on Monday, Feb. 8.
Next: A breakdown of spending in the FY2016 operating budget, provided to attendees of the Budget Forum on Monday.
Next: Poolesville Elementary School teacher, Robert Chiappone addressing his concerns about future funding for MCPS.
Next: Legget was met by a large crowd at the Germantown Budget Forum. Many of the attendees were members of the MCEA.
Next: Germantown resident, Sarah Kessler urged the County Executive to put a greater emphasis on education funding.
Photos by Germantown Pulse.