At its regular meeting last Tuesday, Feb, 9 the Montgomery County Board of Education approved the FY2017 Operating Budget and voted to ask the County Council for an additional $45.7 million over and above the $2.45 billion included in the approved budget.
The Board of Education is asking for a total of $2.50 billion in the FY2017 operating budget, which is $45.7 million more than what interim Superintende
nt Larry Bowers recommended to the Board in early December. The additional funds are to be considered in three tiers of roughly $15 million each, after the County Council fully funds the approved $2.45 billion budget.
In a statement released after the vote, the Board of Education said the budget “includes funding for continued enrollment growth, increases in the cost of goods and services, negotiated salary increases for our staff, the replacement of one-time funding sources for retirees’ health care costs, and the continued shift of state pension costs to MCPS. Together, these factors result in an operating budget increase of $134.9 million. State funding provides an additional $25.4 million, leaving $109.5 million of funding needed from the Montgomery County Council, which is $88.5 million more than the minimum funding required by Maintenance of Effort. The budget also assumes that MCPS will generate enough savings in FY 2016 to cover the $33.1 million of fund balance that was used by the County Council to fund this year’s operating budget.”
“In reviewing the superintendent’s budget recommendation,” said a statement from Board President Michael Durso, “the Board appreciated the enhancements as well as the realignments and reorganization that have been recommended to address the Board’s operating budget interests. The budget outlines a comprehensive strategic approach to ensure that all MCPS students will be college and career ready when they graduate from MCPS. However, in listening to the public testimony as well other communications that the Board has received during the past month, the Board believes that it is necessary to ask the county executive and the County Council for additional funding beyond the interim superintendent’s recommendation.”
Durso’s statement went on to say, “Board members fully support the recommendation but believe more resources are needed to close the achievement gap for African-American, Latino, and economically disadvantaged students. As Mr. Bowers stated in his presentation of the operating budget on December 8, 2015, we cannot continue to fund the budget at the levels that we have over the past seven years and expect the school system and our schools to close the achievement gaps.”
“We cannot continue to fund the budget at the minimal funding level of Maintenance of Effort and continue to use one-time sources to fund the budget, including hiring freezes and expenditure restrictions to build the fund balance to fund next year’s budget. We simply have to find a way to invest more in public education in Montgomery County. We cannot cut our way out of this any longer,” said Durso’s statement.
“It is not possible to address revenue shortfalls through the elimination of more positions. Since 2009, enrollment has increased by more than 17,000 students; however, budget funding has not kept pace with this growth, which has resulted in the elimination of more than 1,800 positions. During this period, enrollment has grown by 12.4 percent, but staffing has increased by only 3.3 percent. Any further disinvestment in education is a disinvestment in the future of our children and our county.”
The Board is proposing asking the County Executive and Council to address the additional budget requests that should be considered only after the Superintendent’s FY 2017 Operating Budget is fully funded. “If the County Council is able to fund more than the superintendent’s recommended amount, then the first tier should be considered for funding,” said the statement. “If the Council can fund more than this, than the second tier should be considered for funding. If the Council is unable to fund beyond the superintendent’s recommended amount, then these tiers should be the basis for a multi-year budget plan that needs to be funded beginning in FY 2018.”
“The Board wants to make it clear that the resources identified in these three tiers do not represent everything that the Board believes is required to address the needs of all of our students and close the achievement gap for African-American, Latino, and economically disadvantaged students. However, these additional investments will better position the district to support student success, close the achievement gap, and prepare all students to be college and career ready,” said the statement.
The Board’s statement continued, “The Board is not recommending the restoration of all 1,800 positions that have been eliminated since 2009. However, our top priority is to reduce class sizes to the 2009 levels which will require an additional 384 teachers, all of which are included in these three tiers. In addition, the Board and the superintendent had agreed in prior years to support a multi-year strategic enhancement plan that has not been fully funded. Some, but not all, of the items in this multi-year plan, have been included in these three tiers. Other items will need to be considered in the development of the FY 2018 Operating Budget and beyond.”
During last Tuesday’s meeting when the budget and the amendments were approved by the Board of Education, Board Member Rebecca Smondrowski said, “I truly believe that we should be asking for a what-we-need budget. We are shortchanging our students by not letting the County know — not just the County Executive or the County Council — but our community know what it is that we actually need. As far as I am concerned, these additions from the amendments should be part of the budget.”
Smondrowski, who represents the southern portion of Germantown, and Gaithersburg and Rockville as the District 2 representative on the BOE said, “We have gotten to the point where we have accepted so much less, that now for us to ask for what we really need, and what our students and staff deserves makes us look like we are being greedy or asking for too much. The fact of the matter is that is not asking for too much. It is asking for what we should have. It is asking for what our children, our staff, and our County deserves.”
Dr. Docca, who represents District 1, which includes northern Germantown, all of Clarksburg, Poolesville, Damascus and all of the UpCounty including Laytonsville, spoke about the need to close the achievement gap in Montgomery County at the Feb. 9 meeting.
“The gap is there, it has been there,” said Docca. “Can we say, ‘you have to education everybody, but you have to wait a little bit longer.’ That is what we have been saying. ‘We just don’t have it right now. Wait a little longer.’ I am not comfortable with that at all.”
Docca continued, “We can’t just kick this down the road as we have been doing. I am passionate about this, and you all don’t get passionate about it this whole County is going to go down, because if we don’t educate the people in this County — all of them, then we are just not going to be a really great County.”
While At-Large Board member Jill Ortman-Fouse called the approved budget, a foundation budget. “We can’t continue to live on the foundation; we have to start building the upper levels. We can’t keep our kids in the basement. That is why I believe this amendment is going to be so important... We have got to ask for more. I realize this is a foundation. We have to make this investment in our kids. Our foundation is cracking,” said Ortman-Fouse.
However, it seems unlikely that the Board will get the funding it is requesting. The night before the Board approved the budget and the amendment asking for additional funding, County Executive Ike Leggett held an Operating Budget Forum in Germantown where he told community leaders including many of the members of the Board of Education, Michael Durso, Rebecca Smondrowski, and Jill Ortman-Fouse, along with newly named Superintendent of Schools to be Jack R. Smith, that the County will not be able to meet the last year’s requested FY2016 operating budget amount of $4.42 billion within the current fiscal constraints.
“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,” said Leggett.
Photos by Germantown Pulse