Board of Education President Christopher S. Barclay wrote the following message to the community about the FY 2012 budget. Media outlets are encouraged to use this column as deemed appropriate.
Funding Our Children's Future: the Right Thing to Do
By Christopher S. Barclay, president, Montgomery County Board of Education
On February 14, 2011, the Montgomery County Board of Education approved a $2.2 billion FY 2012 operating budget request for Montgomery County Public Schools (MCPS). Mindful of the economic climate, the Board adopted the minimum funding level mandated under the state’s Maintenance of Effort (MOE) law, which requires counties to fund education at the same per student level each year. In order for Montgomery County to meet MOE, it must increase local education funding by $82 million to address increased enrollment of more than 3,300 students. If the county fails to meet its minimum funding obligation under MOE, as a penalty, the school district may lose at least $22 million in additional state aid. The Board’s adopted budget request, which includes no new programs, will now be submitted to Montgomery County Executive Isiah Leggett and the Montgomery County Council for consideration.
As a Board, we have been careful fiscal stewards. When there were federal stimulus dollars available, we were able to assist our county in closing the deficit. In the last two years alone, we have worked hand-in-hand with the county to waive $250 million dollars owed to MCPS. Over the past three years, MCPS has saved more than $300 million through budget cuts and expenditure controls. This has resulted in the loss of hundreds of positions, drastic reductions in central administrative services, and an increase of class size by an average of one student. In fact, MCPS is now spending $1,000 less per student this year (FY 2011) than it did last year.
The superintendent has released a sobering list of non-recommended cuts that amount to approximately $50 million. The Board has not taken action on specific cuts, but it is likely that we will need to make reductions before this budget is finalized. The challenge would be to make reductions that are not so deep that they do lasting damage to our schools. If we have to take the non-recommended cuts as proposed by the superintendent, the effect on direct delivery of instruction will be devastating. Regardless, every student in every school across the county will be affected by the reductions that are coming. We have concerns about the ability of the central office to manage the school system with the cuts being proposed. Some officials believe we can continue to absorb cut after cut without affecting student outcomes. They are wrong. Increases to class size, and cuts to counselors, paraeducators, special education and other teachers, special programs, sports, after-school activities, and other staff and programs will have devastating impacts that will be difficult, if not impossible, to reverse.
The Board’s action on the budget followed the good news that Governor Martin O’Malley has recommended providing the school district with $37.2 million more in state aid than had been anticipated in the FY 2012 operating budget. These recommendations are needs-based and speak eloquently to how much Montgomery County has changed over the past decade; it is no longer the wealthy enclave that people think it is. The governor’s actions signal how much he appreciates the need to keep MCPS a top-functioning school system renowned for its commitment to academic success for all children. The Board thanks Governor O’Malley for standing by the children of Montgomery County at a time of great fiscal anxiety and exploding enrollment. Many more of the students coming to us are living in poverty and bring greater needs into the classroom than ever before.
Some County Council members have suggested that while they support the intent of the MOE law, its requirements should be relaxed in times of fiscal crisis. These suggestions come at a time when the federal stimulus dollars for public education have dried up and the state has signaled its intention to shift the cost of pensions to local school systems. The Board agrees that the MOE law should be amended--for different reasons. As currently written, if the County Council does not fund the school system at the maintenance of effort level, and a waiver is not granted, the penalty hits the schools’ budget directly, and penalizes our students twice. The Board intends to work with all the other school systems in Maryland to effect a change in this law in Annapolis. We salute our County Council and county executive for their past support of our school system. MCPS is a recipient of the 2010 Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award and was a finalist for the Broad Prize for Urban Education because of our community’s tradition of demanding and funding excellence in education. We ask our leaders to simply obey the law and fund our budget at the minimum MOE floor level. It is the right thing to do.