Montgomery County Council ed committee begins scrutiny of schools budget -- Gazette.Net


Montgomery County Council members say they are keeping the future in mind as they review Montgomery County Public Schools’ budget request for next fiscal year.

The council’s three-member Education Committee took its first look at the school system’s budget at a meeting Monday, reminding school officials that they have to consider what fully approving this year’s request will cost the county in future years.

The Montgomery County Board of Education is asking for a $2.23 billion budget for next school year, hoping the council will approve the request although it asks the county to provide $10 million more than it is required under state law.

The state’s Maintenance of Effort law requires the county to provide at least the same per-pupil funding level as the year before. The county provided $9,759 per student for 144,869 students this school year, for a total contribution of $1.42 billion.

Under Maintenance of Effort and with pension costs transferring from the state to the county, by fiscal 2017 the county will be required to give the school system a minimum of $100 million more, said Essie McGuire, a senior legislative analyst for the county.

Councilwoman Valerie Ervin (D-Dist. 5) of Takoma Park and Councilman Philip Andrews (D-Dist. 3) of Gaithersburg both pointed out the stress those requirements place on the county, stating that going beyond those requirements would put the county in an even worse position.

County Executive Isiah Leggett (D) has recommended that the school system’s budget be fully funded, but that the school system take the $10 million extra funding it is requesting from its fund balance, so that the county does not need to provide more than it is required.

Larry Bowers, the school system’s chief operating officer, said that would put the school system in a tight spot, as it is in the pattern of using reserves to fund future year budgets.

The school system already was planning to pull $17 million from its fund balance for next fiscal year; its fund balance is now about $40 million.

Ervin said she will not weigh in on the issue until she hears more from the school system. The council has six worksessions set up in the next month discussing school funding.

Ervin said she was interested in how the budget will help the school system close its achievement gaps; a worksession April 19 will focus on that question.

Montgomery schools Superintendent Joshua P. Starr advocated for full funding Monday, pointing out to County Council members that Leggett has called his school system the “crown jewel” of the county.