Education Proponents Blast Elrich’s Budget Over Proposed Cuts to MCPS and Montgomery College
Last week, County Executive Marc Elrich released his proposed Fiscal Year 2020 Operating Budget for the coming spending year which will begin in July of this year. The budget was roundly criticized by education proponents for not fully funding the Montgomery County School Board’s request of $2.6 billion FY 2020 operating budget and Montgomery College’s request for $313.4 million.
The Total FY2020 Operating Budget for Montgomery County, of which MCPS traditionally accounts for the largest portion, is $5.7 billion. In February, the Board of Education approved a budget asking for $2,662,004,234 for MCPS, which included a $65.56 million increase from the previous year’s operating budget. The County Executive’s proposed budget reduces that number by $12.4 million to $2,647,500,000. The proposed allocation is a two percent increase over last year’s allocation, or $51.1 million more than FY19, and $2.5 million above the amount required by the State’s Maintenance of Effort legislation. However, it is $14.5 million less than what the Board of Education requested.
Elrich’s proposed budget also kept spending for Montgomery College at the same level as Fiscal 2019.
When the Board of Education transmitted their proposed budget to the County Executive’s office, Board President Shebra Evans called it a schools-first and student first budget.
“This budget will better position MCPS to support student success, close the achievement gap, and prepare all students to thrive. This is a schools-first and student-first budget. An investment in our students is an investment that will yield strong results for our community,” said Evans.
The reductions brought criticism from the County’s education proponents, with the harshest criticism coming from Councilmember Craig Rice, who chairs the County Council’s Education and Culture Committee.
“For the past three years,” said Rice in a statement on the budget, “this County has been proud to say that we have put forth ‘education first’ budgets. These budgets fully funded the Montgomery County Board of Education’s requests and supported Montgomery College to the extent practicable. It is with great regret that I can’t say the same about this year’s recommended budget. In fact, I believe that it’s exactly the opposite. It puts education last. This recommended budget jeopardizes many of the children and adults in our community who need the most help.”
“The County Executive’s proposed budget represents a divestment in education both at the K-12 and higher education levels,” said Rice. “This will endanger the great progress we have made in reducing the opportunity and equity gap in our schools. Montgomery County Public Schools and Montgomery College are experiencing an all-time high level of diversity that makes these recommendations even more troubling.”
“I spent the last two and a half years working on the Kirwan Commission on Innovation and Excellence in Education to advocate for more funding for our schools, so that principals, teachers and support staff can dive into the process of creating true equity for all students. Local jurisdictions relying on state money that is intended for this purpose to instead support day-to-day operations of the school system destroys the fidelity of the Commission’s recommendations. It also dismisses the work of those serving on the Commission,” continued Rice.
The School Board and Superintendent of Schools were more diplomatic in their response to the budget.
In a joint statement from Evans and Schools Superintendent Jack Smith, they thanked the County Executive for keeping the funding above the Maintenance of Effort level and acknowledged the financial issues the County is facing.
“Even as our County faces revenue challenges, Mr. Elrich recognizes that we must invest in our students now, to build the economy of tomorrow. As revenue in our County continues to fall below projections, MCPS is committed to being a fiscally responsible partner,” said the statement.
“School district leaders have worked collaboratively with the County Executive’s office as they developed this budget. While this budget did not meet the amount identified in the Board’s request, we believe we will still be able to implement our priority initiatives, including the expansion of prekindergarten. However, it will require us to reduce some planned efforts and delay others,” continued the statement.
Evans and Smith said the Board and MCPS intends to work with the County Council to restore some of the funding outlined in the initial operating budget request and to minimize the impact of any reductions on students and schools.
“As we look ahead to the Operating Budget for school year 2020-2021, we anticipate submitting a significantly larger funding request to our County leaders to align with the pending Kirwan legislation and to ensure that MCPS remains competitive in our continuous effort to hire and retain the most qualified workforce to serve our students.”
Rice’s statement pointed out which programs might be at risk if the FY2020 budget is approved as submitted by the County Executive. He listed the following program and service enhancements as being at risk:
• $3.6 million and 52.9 positions to reduce elementary school class size guidelines.
• $3.4 million and 44.7 positions for additional support for special education students.
• $1.4 million and 20.6 positions for additional support for ESOL students.
• $844,000 and six positions for additional elementary school assistance principals.
• $1.3 million and six positions requested as priorities by the Board to add elementary school counselors, an ESOL counselor, instructional specialist positions focusing on ESOL and reading and writing interventions, an adaptive physical education content specialist, and after-school activity funds for elementary and secondary schools.
Rice said he would work with his fellow Councilmembers to attempt to restore funding to the schools budget. “Working with my colleagues on the Education and Culture Committee, the full Council and education advocates, I hope to do our work to restore funding for the education priorities that are incredibly important,” he said.
As for Montgomery College, College President Dr. DeRionne Pollard issued a statement calling Elrich’s proposed funding levels for the College, “tremendously disappointing and frustrating.” She went on say that the College worked to “propose an exceptionally lean budget for FY20.”
“Montgomery College has made tremendous strides in recent years to ensure access to quality post-secondary education at the lowest cost to students,” wrote Pollard in a statement. “In our FY20 budget request, student tuition and fees cover 28.7 percent of operating costs, down from 40 percent in FY13. This dedication to fiscal sustainability is why the College remains the most affordable higher education option for Montgomery County residents. While the county has been a strong partner over the years for keeping tuition affordable, the troubling funding recommendations announced today by the county executive could threaten educational programs and increase costs for students.”
“Last month, the College submitted a student-focused FY20 operating budget, adopted by the College’s Board of Trustees, to the county executive and the council with a total appropriation request of $313.4 million,” the statement continued. “The county’s share of our budget request is $145.2 million, which this year includes an additional $3.1 million to advance compensation adjustments. The College also proposed new or additional funding for scholarships ($160,000), student financial aid and scholarship counselors ($100,000), Early College coordinators and summer bridge program ($185,000), and new building operating costs ($216,000). The board’s budget request reflects our commitment to our faculty and staff, and aligns with the county’s drive for fiscally sustainable operations and our shared goal to provide quality education at the lowest possible cost for our students.”
“The College’s FY20 budget request to the county is the lowest increase in several years, and comes following the College’s implementation of a FY19 savings plan, requested by the county executive in January, that called for a 1.5 percent reduction (approximately $2.8 million) in spending of our tax supported budget funding,” wrote Pollard.
“The College carefully crafted a lean budget that embraces fiscal discipline and sustainability to help ensure affordability for students and excellence in education. Our budget leverages existing resources, manages costs, and strengthens our focus on student success. With these strategies in place, the College’s Board of Trustees and I will ask our county councilmembers to seek full funding of our $3.1 million request. We remain committed to work with our county partners to foster a vibrant local economy, a highly skilled and dynamic workforce, and a county filled with opportunity. The budget process will be completed in mid-May, when the council takes final action on the county’s budget,” the statement concluded.
Rice said, “The Executive’s recommendation is $3.1 million below the College’s request. This reduction could hamper their ability to expand critical services to address the achievement and opportunity gap and could result in additional tuition increases that impact affordability.”
Rice also took aim at the County Executive’s racial equality and social justice policies asking if this budget was in line with those concerns which have been championed by the Elrich Administration.
“If we are to truly focus on a County Racial Equity and Social Justice Policy that makes strides in advancing so many who have been left behind in our community, the County Executive’s budget just doesn’t cut it,” said Rice.
“The expedient thing to do would be to look past these inequities and focus on the overall good that a large portion of this budget represents,” continued Rice, “but I can’t do that. Leaving our children behind is something I just can’t do. I am issuing a call to action for all those who care about equity and want to see our schools and our children have better results to demand that we fully fund the budget for MCPS and Montgomery College.”
Rice has been sponsoring a number of School Budget Forums throughout the County including on Thursday, April 4 at Neelsville Middle School in Germantown, at 6:30 pm. Rice will be joined by Dr. Jack Smith, superintendent of Montgomery County Public Schools, and Dr. DeRionne Pollard, president of Montgomery College at the forums.
This is the fifth year that these county education leaders are hosting a countywide tour to talk about the education budget process and the priorities for Montgomery County residents. These annual forums present residents an opportunity to learn about and provide input regarding our county’s public-school system and our community college.
“These forums will provide an opportunity for residents to have their questions answered about the education budgets at both the State and County level from kindergarten to higher education,” said Rice. “We will discuss opportunities all residents have to help influence and shape budget decisions that will be made as the Council works to adopt the FY20 budget.”
The County Council will host public hearings on the operating budget which have been scheduled for Monday, April 8; Tuesday, April 9; and Wednesday, April 10. Those interested in testifying at the public hearings can sign up online at the Council website or by calling 240-777-7803. The Council also encourages residents to use #MoCoBudget2020 to communicate their views on the budget via social media.
File Photos by Germantown Pulse