State education waiver denied

June 5, 2009, midnight | By Rebecca Guterman | 12 years, 11 months ago

The Montgomery County Council recently approved the Fiscal Year 2010 (FY 2010) budget, which takes effect July 1 of this year, despite cuts across the board due to a rejected maintenance waiver to the state.

A month or so ago, County Executive Isiah Leggett requested a waiver for $94 million from the state of Maryland to not meet the maintenance of effort requirements for MCPS next year, according to county budget management specialist Charles Goldsmith. Goldsmith said that the maintenance of effort is the amount required by state law that each county has to spend on the school system. It is determined by calculating the per student cost of the previous year and then multiplying that by the number of students expected to enroll the following year.

With the request for a waiver, Montgomery County had to demonstrate the dire economic need of the county, Goldsmith said, so that they could take the money and spend it in other budget areas. "There is only a certain amount of money to go around for all the county," he said. He said that Maryland refused the waiver, saying that Montgomery County was not in a worse situation than its other 22 counties.

In order to compensate for the lost funds caused by the denied waiver, Goldsmith said that the county will issue and pay interest on bonds like they have always done, but that money will count as being spent on MCPS. Steve Simon, MCPS director of public information, said this situation will probably continue for about a year. "For one year we're going to transfer the cost of paying bonds to the school system," Simon said.

County Councilmember Phil Andrews said that MCPS did have to make some reductions: reduce staffing, eliminate certain middle school magnet and other specialty programs, recreation programs and some afterschool Sports Academy locations. Specifically, Andrews cited that 28 out of 38 afterschool recreation programs will continue to be offered in the county. Overall, he said that the budget cuts were not overly severe and the current budget provides funds at the level of about 99.5 percent of what was originally requested by Leggett. "MCPS came out very well," Andrews said.

Due to economic hard times, Andrews said that many cuts were made in the county budget that effect county and school employees. He said that among other alterations, cost of living adjustments for county-funded employees will not occur next year, saving $125 million by maintaining the current salary rates for 33,000 employees. "We appreciate the sacrifice our employees are making," Andrews said.

According to Andrews, revenue from property taxes and income tax receipts have decreased due to decreased employment rates throughout the county, so the budget tried to stay away from eliminating "safety-net programs," which help those who have trouble affording everyday necessities, like food and shelter. "We focus on protecting real basic needs," he said.

Andrews acknowledged that this year has been difficult and the economy may not get better. He said that property taxes may continue to decline or at best level off. None of these conditions bode well for future county budgets. "The budget is tight," he said. "I expect next year will be difficult as well."

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Rebecca Guterman. Rebecca Guterman loves being on Silver Chips! In what little spare time she has left over, she loves to play the piano, dance really badly, and listen to music. Above all, seeing and talking to friends 24/7 is a must. Even though most of her … More »

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