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Schools, County 'Working Toward Common End'

MCPS and the County Council are optimistic heading into budget season.

After weathering years of contentious debate and a threatened lawsuit, leaders of Montgomery County Public Schools and the County Council say they're ready to move on and work together to serve students during trying economic times. 

Members of the council and the Board of Education took questions from parents during Wednesday's Montgomery County Council of PTAs forum at Richard Montgomery High School, discussing the coming budget debate and the county's economic state.

County Councilmember Marc Elrich said he's optimistic the two groups can put their past disagreements behind them, and he has been impressed with new Superintendent Joshua Starr's commitment to reason and transparency.

"The tenor of the relationship has really changed," he said. "We're working toward a common end."

They'll have a chance to prove that soon, as the Board of Education recently approved a $2.13 billion budget request for 2013, which the County Council will vote on in May.

Board President Shirley Brandman said the request is the minimum allowed under Maryland's maintenance of effort law, and its approval is a sign of MCPS's commitment to fiscal responsibility in light of the county's economic situation.

Maintenance of effort requires that counties provide their school systems with at least as much money per student as the previous year, something Montgomery County hasn't done for the past three years.

County Council President Roger Berliner said he is pleased with the board's budget request, and that he's confident the County Council will meet maintenance of effort this year.

Standing in the way, however, are two potential expenditures that could drastically change the county's budget: a pending $26.2 million penalty from the state for not meeting maintenance of effort last year, and Gov. Martin O'Malley's proposal to transfer pension costs from the state to local governments.

Berliner said he is confident Montgomery County will be granted a waiver on the penalty. O'Malley's proposed budget did not include the $26.2 million, Berliner said, and there is currently a bill in the Senate to waive the penalty.

On the pension shift issue, MCPS and the County Council are united in opposition.

Brandman said that while pension costs have increased over the years, it's the state's fault for restructuring benefits in 2006 without identifying a revenue stream to support them.

County Councilmember Nancy Floreen said that if pension costs are forced upon the county, the council estimates it would have to cut up to 500 jobs to foot the bill.

"Montgomery County has nowhere to go to pick up this cost," she said. "These are serious implications."

Even if the pension shift is shot down, Montgomery County is growing, and MCPS is expecting to add more than 2,400 more students next year alone.

In order to continue to meet maintenance of effort, the county is going to have be creative with its resources, and that may include raising taxes, Elrich said.

"At some point, we have to talk revenues, and it's a difficult conversation to have," he said. "If demand continues to rise, we have to ask ourselves, 'What're we willing to do to maintain the resources we've come to value?'"

What do you think about MCPS's proposed budget? Share your views in the comments.

 


Theresa Defino February 16, 2012 at 06:28 PM
The REAL issue is that the county executive severely cut MCPS' budget request and now everyone is working with the County Council to restore those expenditures he cut. The only high school modernization program MCPS approved (over the initial budget of Dr. Starr) was Wheaton High School and Thomas Edison High School of Technology, so imagine our heartbreak when the county executive pushed it back, again. We are working to get the full amount restored. I testified last Thursday night in support of a 2013-2018 capital expenditure for the modernization of Wheaton/Edison. As I said then, these are unique schools that must no longer be ignored in favor of expenditures in more affluent portions of the county.
Jordan February 20, 2012 at 01:59 PM
It's been my experience that the more "affluent" portions of the county are actually passed over for resources more frequently than other areas. In fact, Jerry Weast's RedZone/GreenZone policy dictated that money come FROM some regions, and be allocated TO other regions. Potomac Elementary School was refused funds for reconstruction for many years. Decision-makers make prejudicial assumptions about some regions, and assume these can raise private funds for whatever they need, while offiicial funds to into other regions. This is not equitable, and the middle-class, hard-working tax payer paying exorbitant property taxes gets short shrift. There is already a revenue stream. It is called county and state taxes. A copious amount is collected at all levels in Maryland, more than sufficient to run an outstanding school system. There is no reason to root about grubbing for more money. If additional resources are needed, cut the budget somewhere else. MoCo maintains a huge bureaucracy that surely has some waste to cut, so that resources can be redirected to where it is needed, like renovating schools. As for the pensions, the persons responsible for negotiating and concluding those contracts should answer for why they are not able to meet these costs at the state level. If the burden is shifted to counties that had no input into the size of the pensions, counties, boards and parents should renegotiate them.
Theresa Defino February 20, 2012 at 06:03 PM
"In fact, Jerry Weast's RedZone/GreenZone policy dictated that money come FROM some regions, and be allocated TO other regions. Potomac Elementary School was refused funds for reconstruction for many years." As it should be. But that money didn't go to Wheaton, Silver Spring, etc. I also wouldn't call Potomac "more affluent." Or middle class. The stats I found, for 2009-2012 Free Lunch Students: 17 (2%) Reduced-price Lunch Students: 4 (0%) . More money was going into the BCC cluster than anywhere else in this last budget, including the lower income areas. There may be money that is "more than sufficient to run an outstanding school system," I don't know. I do know the distribution now, and in the past, has not been equitable.
Susan Byrne April 15, 2012 at 07:07 PM
"County Councilmember Marc Elrich said he's optimistic the two groups can put their past disagreements behind them, and he has been impressed with new Superintendent Joshua Starr's commitment to reason and transparency." But what has changed materially that supports the commitment to transparency? Do taxpayers have any better idea how funds are spent for direct services to students and can they verify that inefficiencies or waste have been eliminated?

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