$40.2 million requested increase is lowest in over 20 years
Montgomery County Public Schools (MCPS) Superintendent Jerry Weast presented his budget proposal for fiscal year (FY) 2010 at the Carver Educational Services Center (CESC) on Dec. 11. The roughly $2.1 billion budget contains no new initiatives and calls for a net increase of 2 percent, or $40.2 million, over FY 2009, less than half of last year's 5.6 percent increase over FY 2008. The MCPS Board of Education will finalize and vote on the budget on Feb. 9.
Weast canceled his traditional evening budget presentation, which was to take place at Richard Montgomery High School, due to a lack of funding for new programs. "He felt that it would be better to forgo it this year because it's a lean budget year and there are no new initiatives," MCPS spokeswoman Kate Harrison said.
Weast's requested record-low budget increase, which contains significant reductions, faces a turbulent economic environment. Montgomery County's FY 2010 budget deficit is projected to increase to as much as $500 million. "This is a budget that reflects the harsh realities of a global economic crisis that is impacting us all, nationally, regionally and locally," Weast said.
Filling the gap
Of the $2.1 billion budget, 80 percent will go towards instructional programs, 14.8 percent will go towards school support, 2.7 percent will go towards miscellaneous expenses such as food services and 2.5 percent will go towards system-wide support such as central administrative costs, according to the information compiled by the MCPS Public Information Office web site.
The budget proposed by Weast closes a $176 million gap in the MCPS budget without increasing taxes or class sizes. Instead, the gap, which includes $26 million in additional employee benefit costs and $20.5 million for a new elementary school in Clarksburg, is being sealed by a combination of salary, benefit and other budget cuts. Cuts include $11 million saved through the postponement of future retiree healthcare costs and another $89 million saved after teachers' unions agreed to forgo annual cost-of-living wage increases. "I know how difficult it is for employees to forgo their wage increases, especially in such uncertain times. But this is the reality we are facing," Weast said in his address.
The budget also contains another $35.5 million in reductions over FY 2009. The largest cuts, constituting 40 percent of the reductions, are in school-based resources, closely followed by a $10.5 million cut from central services. Employee benefits are also being cut by $4.8 million, while support operations lose $3.5 million. A total of 278 positions will be slashed as a result of the reductions. "There's been a real effort not to concentrate [reductions] in any one area," Harrison said.
The remaining $40 million of reductions will come from $20 million in savings passed on from FY 2009, as well as a further $20 million in state aid. Given the economic climate, financial assistance from the state is not guaranteed; however, Weast stated that the Board of Education would not shy away from political conflict. "Our Board is prepared to fight for what is owed their children," Weast said.
After the Feb. 9 vote by the Board of Education, the budget will be presented to the County Council on Feb. 27. A series of Operating Budget Hearings will be held by the Council throughout April before final approval is given on May 21. The Board of Education will take final action on the resulting FY 2010 budget on June 9. Public hearings concerning the budget will be held on Jan. 14 and 21 at 7 p.m. in the CESC auditorium. Sign-ups to speak at these hearings will begin on Dec. 26.
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