Weast unveils budget proposal

Dec. 13, 2002, midnight | By Jared Sagoff Stephen Wertheim | 18 years, 1 month ago

Superintendent Jerry Weast unveiled his budget for next year at Blair on Dec 12 amid fears that a budget shortfall could necessitate a reduction in funding for Blair's Magnet program among other significant cutbacks.

As the local economy is struggling and the state is running a deficit, Weast pleaded for more than $36 million in local funds, just enough to "pay the bills," he said. If Weast does not receive the additional money, the county will be forced to make "significant" cuts. "If we don't get the increase, it'll be a big step backward," he said.

Magnet Coordinator Eileen Steinkraus called the Magnet "vulnerable" to budget cuts because unlike in previous years, funding now is not earmarked specifically for the Magnet. Instead, the county allocates the money.

At the beginning of this school year, Steinkraus had to submit to MCPS a budget plan of Magnet expenditures anticipated over the next five years. This is the first year Steinkraus has been asked to do so.

Steinkraus noted, however, that although MCPS seems to warn every year about a tightening budget, the Magnet's budget has remained about the same for the last ten years.

Marshall Spatz, director of MCPS' budget department, has heard no discussion of cutting the Magnet, and said the Magnet's funding is not in danger. "[The Magnet] is one of our most important programs," said Spatz.

At more than $1.5 billion, next year's projected budget for MCPS is the largest of any county's in state history, and Weast's new funds request exceeds the money already allotted to MCPS.

MCPS will not create any new budget initiatives for next year. Weast said he supports retaining existing programs.

In addition to budget cuts, the partial freeze on school spending that MCPS imposed on Oct 1—leaving Blair unable to hire a full-time registrar—will remain in effect throughout this school year, according to MCPS Communications Director Brian Porter. Last year, the freeze saved the county $10 million, Porter said.

Weast said his proposed cuts affect mostly administrative costs, which account for two percent of the operating budget. Weast believes cuts will also be necessary in the areas of curriculum, staff development, technology and maintenance. Some instructional assistants and support staff positions will be eliminated, said Weast. "We're cutting programs that directly affect our instructional programs," he said.

Spatz predicted no reduction in funding for the Downcounty Consortium, slated to begin in 2004 with Blair as one of five consortium high schools. "The Board [of Education] is committed to the Downcounty Consortium," he said. "I don't see any change at all."

Funds for the construction of Northwood High School, a downcounty school whose upcoming renovation is intended to relieve Blair's overcrowding, have already been allocated in a separate budget. MCPS Project Manager James Song called Weast's recommendation of $16.5 million "adequate" for the construction of Northwood.

The new fiscal demands on MCPS stem from an increase of 1,900 students expected in MCPS' enrollment next year, said Spatz. He is concerned mostly with funding provided by the state, which now faces deficits and, he said, will face a deficit again next year.

While state funds shrink, MCPS ranks as the nation's twelfth-fastest-growing school district, according to Porter, who said many of the new students face economic and language difficulties.

In a Nov 18 memo to the Board of Education, Weast wrote that demographic changes continue to "transform the landscape of the school system." Of the county's 2,059-student enrollment increase over the past year, 920 students do not speak English, Weast wrote, and they are "heavily clustered in the most urbanized region of the school system, a central core stretching from Takoma Park to Germantown." Weast concluded that in this core, which includes the Blair district, poverty and diversity are becoming increasingly concentrated.

While MCPS faces a "severe" budget shortfall, Weast assured that MCPS is handling available funds with care. "We believe we have taken more than the necessary steps to be fiscally responsible," said Weast. "Each office must justify every cent spent."

The Board will debate the proposed budget in three public forums in January and vote on it in early February before sending it to County Executive Doug Duncan and the County Council for approval.

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Jared Sagoff. Jared Sagoff, a Silver Chips Managing News Editor, was born on April 17, 1985. However, a possibly more significant moment occurred when he was selected to the Silver Chips staff for this, his senior year, two springs ago. Jared is proud to serve on the … More »

Stephen Wertheim. Co-editor-in-chief Stephen Wertheim is deeply committed to reporting, even when it conflicts with such essential life activities as food consumption, sleep and viewership of Seinfeld reruns. In addition to getting carried away with writing and playing violin, Stephen thoroughly enjoys visiting and photographing spots around … More »

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