Budget Calls for No New Initiatives, Seeks to Fund Growth and Changes in Student Enrollment
Montgomery County Public Schools (MCPS) Superintendent of Schools Jerry D. Weast submitted to the Board of Education a $2.2 billion operating budget proposal for Fiscal Year 2011 that calls for no new initiatives or programs, but allows the district to keep up with its growing and changing student enrollment.
“This budget will simply allow us to maintain the same level of programs and services we are offering our students now,” Dr. Weast said. “It also will allow us to keep up with our enrollment growth and provide for the needs of all our children.”
The proposed budget calls for an overall 1 percent increase—about $25 million—to pay for rising student enrollment and changes to the student population, including jumps in the number of students receiving Free and Reduced-price Meals (FARMS) and English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) services.
“We are asking for a 1 percent budget increase to help offset a 2 percent growth in enrollment, 10 percent growth in the number of students receiving FARMS and 6 percent growth in the number of students receiving ESOL services,” Dr. Weast said.
“Even in difficult economic times, the best investment we can make is in the education of our students,” he said. “We cannot allow short-term difficulties to distract us from the big picture: Our students are making tremendous progress, and we are edging closer to our goal of making sure every child is college-ready when he or she graduates from Montgomery County Public Schools. We can’t back away from our commitment now.”
The FY 2011 budget proposal was built on a foundation that has already required a tremendous amount of sacrifice by employees, Dr. Weast said.
“Over the past two years, we have saved more than $200 million through budget reductions, efficiencies and program cutbacks,” Dr. Weast said. “We have been good stewards of taxpayer dollars, and our employees have made very difficult sacrifices for the benefit of our students.” Among the savings:
• MCPS’ 22,000 employees voted to forego their cost-of-living increases for FY 2010, providing the school system and county ongoing savings of almost $90 million.
• For the past three years, the school system has enacted hiring freezes and expenditure restrictions that resulted in one-time savings of nearly $50 million, but shifted more work and responsibility to the already busy staff.
• Over the last two years, a total of $80 million has been cut from existing services, including the elimination of more than 120 central office positions.
These savings also include operational reorganizations and efficiencies that have been implemented over the past several years, including centralized management of computers and copiers, energy conservation efforts, increased accountability and transparency, and much more.
The superintendent’s recommended budget includes no new initiatives or programs, but seeks an additional $106 million for expected increases in operational costs, including:
• $15.8 million for increased enrollment and new school expenditures
• $25.9 million for continuing salary costs and benefits for current employees
• $33.1 million for increases in health insurance, life insurance, social security and other costs for current and retired employees
• $30.9 million for Other Post Employee Benefits (OPEB), which safeguards insurance benefits for future retirees.
These rising costs will be paid for from two main sources.
First, the school system is requesting a $26.4 million increase in funding from the County Council. This meets the minimum “maintenance of effort” (MOE) that is required by state law and mandates that the county provide the same per-pupil contribution in FY 2011 that it provided in FY 2010. Since the district’s enrollment has gone up, the county’s contribution must also go up in order to meet MOE. Otherwise, the school system could again face a fine of more than $20 million–$40 million, as it does this year.
Secondly, the school system is repurposing the $79.5 million placed in the budget by the County Council in FY 2010 to pay for county debt service. Instead, that money will be used to meet rising costs.
The entire proposed $2.2 billion budget is funded by several different sources: 72 percent from local county contribution, 20 percent from the state of Maryland, 5 percent from the federal government, and 3 percent from other sources.
Being Prepared for Reductions
This budget proposal was built amidst some very uncertain circumstances. There are many variables that could affect the school system’s budget, including:
• On-going contract negotiations between MCPS and its employee associations
• Undetermined budget deficits at the state and county level
• A fine from the state for the county’s failure to meet MOE in FY 2010
• The overall state of the economy at the national and local level.
Dr. Weast said he is optimistic that the county and the state will be able to fully fund its commitment to the students of Montgomery County. However, he said it is important that the school system is prepared in case the budget comes in below the mandated maintenance of effort level. To that end, the superintendent’s recommendation includes a list of areas that would be considered for budget reductions, should it be necessary.
“I want to make it very clear that I do not want to have to make these reductions, and I will fight for every dollar that our staff and students deserve,” said Dr. Weast. “I do worry that these cuts could jeopardize the tremendous gains our students have made over the past decade due to the hard work of our staff.”
Dr. Weast also emphasized that these are not set-in-stone recommendations.
“Should it become necessary to make budget reductions, the Board of Education and I will work closely with our employee associations and the Montgomery County Council of Parent–Teacher Associations (MCCPTA),” he said. “These will be difficult decisions, but we will make them collaboratively and carefully.”
Dr. Weast thanked the MCPS employee associations and MCCPTA for their ongoing efforts to help build a responsible budget for the district.
“We don’t always agree, but we share a common vision—providing a world-class education to the 142,000 students of Montgomery County Public Schools,” he said. “I am grateful for their cooperation and their commitment to this district, our employees and our children.”
Dr. Weast encouraged the MCPS community to stay involved in the budget process by visiting the budget home page. To learn more about the FY 2011 budget proposal and how to let their voices be heard.
(Some dates subject to change)
Dec. 23, 2009: Sign-up begins for BOE Operating Budget hearings
Jan. 13, 2010: 7 p.m., BOE Operating Budget hearing
Jan. 20, 2010: 7 p.m., BOE Operating Budget hearing
Jan. 27 & 28, 2010: 6 p.m., BOE Operating Budget work sessions
Feb. 9, 2010: BOE Operating Budget action/adoption
March 1, 2010: Presentation to the Montgomery County Executive and County Council
April, 2010: County Council budget hearings (exact dates to be determined)
May 20, 2010: County Council approves Operating Budget
June 8, 2010: Final BOE action on the FY 2011 Operating Budget