Weast's recommendations for fiscal year 2011 explained
This is not original reporting. All information has been compiled from The Gazette, The Washington Post and the Montgomery County Public Schools website. Silver Chips Online posts this news summary to provide readers with a forum for discussion.
On Dec. 9, 2009, Montgomery County Public Schools (MCPS) Superintendant Jerry Weast released his budget recommendation for the fiscal year 2011. Crafted with the hope that the school system will survive the recession unscathed, Weast's $2.2 billion budget proposal - a one percent increase over fiscal year 2010 - has nonetheless become the target of criticism from both the Montgomery County Council and many Parent Teacher Student Associations (PTSAs) concerned about potential cuts.The viability of Weast's plan hinges on the county's observance of a maintenance-of-effort funding requirement. In the event the County Council cannot fulfill its obligation to provide $106 million in aid to MCPS, Weast has announced his intention to make significant budget reductions. One of the budget cuts on the table is eliminating salaried positions at and transportation to magnet programs countywide, including Blair's Science, Mathematics and Computer Science Magnet Program and Communication Arts Program (CAP).
The maintenance-of-effort requirement controversy dates back to April 2009, when the Montgomery County Council requested a waiver on a state law mandating that local governments fund their school systems at the same level as the year before. This maintenance-of-effort law, which stipulates that counties and school systems can be subject to a fine for not meeting the requirements, includes a provision authorizing local governments to seek a waiver in times of economic hardship.
Tensions between Weast and the council escalated when he questioned the plan's legality in a letter to MSDE Superintendent Nancy Grasmick. In a ruling delivered Nov. 4, 2009, Attorney General Douglas Gansler declared the county's debt service option unlawful. Councilmembers expressed outrage at the ruling, which may provide grounds for the state to impose a $46-million fine on the county. Under the maintenance-of-effort law, this penalty would also be extended to the school system.
Potential budget reductions
Even before the maintenance-of-effort crisis unfolded, MCPS financial advisors struggled to write a sustainable budget that did not compromise the quality of county education. Countless sacrifices have been made to balance operating budgets in recent fiscal years. Last year, Montgomery County Education Association (MCEA) employees voted to give up cost-of-living pay increases, which saved the school system $90 million. A hiring freeze has also been in effect for three years, providing nearly $50 million in savings.
The first suggestion advises a 20 percent reduction in the MCPS special program teaching staff, a move that would remove an estimated $832,487 in costs from the budget. The second recommendation calls for the elimination of transportation to optional special programs outside normal attendance zones, which would save the county approximately $4.9 million. Other budget reductions on the table include purchasing fewer instructional textbooks and increasing class size by an average of one student per class to save a combined $1.7 million.
Weast, who asked for a $26.4 million increase in county funding, expects the Montgomery County Council to shoulder the burden of these additional costs. Unless MCPS is penalized for last year's maintenance-of-effort debacle, it should also receive 20 percent of its funds from the state of Maryland and five percent from the federal government.
Lauren Kestner. Lauren Kestner loves Trader Joe's chocolates, cheesy television soap operas, summer trips to Lake Anna, coffee ice cream from Coldstone Creamery, hikes at Northwest Branch and shopping at Heritage. Playing soccer for Blair or her MSC club team and running at the gym consumes much … More »