School system battles tough budget

Feb. 9, 2011, 11:32 a.m. | By Maureen Lei | 9 years, 8 months ago

MCPS Superintendent Jerry Weast recommended a $2.16 billion operating budget for Fiscal Year (FY) 2012 on Dec. 15. The budget is $60 million more than the FY 2011 budget.

Montgomery County Executive Ike Leggett (D) announced that the county will not fund MCPS at Maintenance of Effort (MOE) levels, state mandates that require each school district to spend at least the same amount of money per student as it did the previous FY, on Jan. 26.

In response to Leggett's announcement, Weast released a list of potential budget cuts, including teaching, administrative and security positions on Jan. 28. According to BOE member Phil Kauffman, the cuts are not definitive. "We may not adopt the cuts on that list," he said.

According to Patrick Lacefield, spokesman for Montgomery County Executive Ike Leggett (D), it is too early in the budget process to know how much money the county government will ultimately give to MCPS.

According to Student Member of the Board of Education (BOE) Alan Xie, MCPS will face difficulty if it applies for an MOE waiver because of a promise it made when it obtained a waiver for FY 2011. "Last year when we didn't meet [MOE] we got a waiver and said we wouldn't turn back again and reapply," he said.

Under the current law, MCPS will have to meet MOE based on FY 2010 levels and spend at least $10,664 per student, which it failed to do in FY 2011, according to Marshall Spatz, director of the MCPS Department of Management, Budget and Planning.

If MCPS does not meet MOE requirements, the state will fine the school district by withholding $22 million in funding for the budget, according to Kauffman.

However, according to Maryland State Senator Karen Montgomery, the state senate is considering Senate Bill 53 (SB 53), an amendment to the MOE law that would create funding flexibility for Montgomery County by changing the criteria the Maryland State Board of Education (MSBE) must use to grant waivers. Seven senators, including Montgomery County representatives Richard Madaleno and Robert Garagiola, sponsored SB 53.

According to County Council Vice President Valerie Ervin, the County Council initially pushed the Maryland General Assembly and the Montgomery County Delegation to the Maryland General Assembly to amend the MOE law. "We want to be able to temporarily get out of the requirement when the county cannot reach what MOE is that year," said Ervin.

According to Lacefield, the county government supports SB 53 because of growing MOE requirements. "We're very supportive of the amendment. The problem with MOE is that it punishes Montgomery County for doing well. We've gone above and beyond for many years and MOE keeps getting higher," he said.

MCPS will lose $54 million in federal stimulus funds in FY 2012 because the economic stimulus package guaranteeing those funds, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, will expire after FY 2011, said Xie. According to Kauffman, MCPS would receive $37 million more from Maryland than initial budget projections suggested under Governor Martin O'Malley's proposed FY 2012 Operating Budget for Maryland. Because the state budget will not be finalized until May 31, the increased funding is not guaranteed, said Montgomery.

The BOE is currently reviewing the budget and will submit an official request for funds to Leggett and the County Council by March 1, according to Spatz. According to Kauffman, the board will continue to push for MOE. "We will ask for a MOE budget, but it goes through several steps," he said.

Despite financial setbacks, MCPS saved $15 million during FY 2011 that will go towards funding the FY 2012 budget, according to Kauffman. He identified reduced spending on textbooks and instructional materials, a hiring freeze and a spending freeze as responsible for the savings.

As part of the deliberation process, Leggett will make his recommendation regarding the budget to the County Council by March 15. After a series of hearings and worksessions, the County Council will approve the budget by May 19. The BOE will then review the budget and finalize it by June 16.

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