Recently, Montgomery County Public Schools (MCPS) Interim Superintendent Larry Bowers released his recommended Fiscal Year (FY) 2017 MCPS Operating Budget, a $2.4 billion budget with a spending increase of 5.8%, or $134.9 million, from last year. The increase in expenditures will be used to fund previously negotiated agreements, same level services to a growing student population, rising inflation costs, and strategic enhancements.
Currently, MCPS is undergoing a harsh fiscal climate. Last year, a lack of funds from both the local and state governments in response to increasing enrollment rate led to increased class size, overextended resource allocations, and multiple staff layoffs. Mr. Bowers proposed budget aims to tackling the growing student population by expanding expenditures for K-12 Education, Special Education, ESOL Programs, new schools/additional space, transportation, and continuing salaries/employee benefits.
The budget also recommends $2.8 million allocated towards Strategic Priority Enhancements, that aims to close the achievement gap, implement the Common Core State Standards, and ensure that students are college and career-ready.
If the budget is fully funded, 81.1 percent of expenditures will go to classroom instruction while the remaining 18.9 percent will go to self supporting enterprise funds, system-wide support, or school support services. However, adjustments in these sectors will have to be made if MCPS does not receive the requested amount of revenue from respective sources.
Most sources, such as enterprise funds, fund balances, and the federal government, most often follow the recommended budget requests. On the other hand, the state and local governments, which together make up the vast majority of revenues, often do not.
In these jarring economic times, Eric Guerci, MCPS Student Member of the Board (SMOB), remains realistic.
“Mr. Bowers proposed budget is not everything we want, nor is it everything we need; it represents a strong foundation with a simple message: we cannot cut anymore. Over the next few months, I look forward to mobilizing our student body to fight for the funding we desperately need,” he said.
Another budget issue facing the county is the alarming effect of Maintenance of Effort (MOE), a state law that requires a minimum funding increase per student every year. Noting that MCPS has been funded at or below MOE since 2009, Mr. Bowers argued in a presentation that MOE is not sustainable enough to address inflation costs, employee benefits, salary increases, and classroom utilities. With rising inflation costs and increasing enrollment, Mr. Bowers hints funding MCPS at the minimum funding level required by state law could potentially lead to funding less per student than before.
The Board took public feedback on the proposed budget at public hearings on January 7th and January 14th at the Carver Educational Services Center. MCR-SGA, the county student government for high schools, had released a countywide budget priorities survey beforehand and announced the results in a testimony delivered by Michael Yin, MCR Educational Policy Deputy. Testimonies from organizations like Montgomery County FIRST and Minority Scholars Program were among others.
Prim Phoolsombat, a junior at Montgomery Blair High School and the Vice President of MCR-SGA, offered her opinion of the current budget situation.
“Personally, as a student at Montgomery Blair, the largest high school in the county, I see each year enrollment rise at a startling rate. This is true for the rest of the school system, at all levels, but MCPS is unable to fund to a level that corresponds to our enrollment. With the FY2017 budget, I understand that the Superintendent and Board of Education have to propose something reasonable to the County Council and state, but as MCPS continues to grow, we cannot afford any more sacrifices to our funding. Before expanding on the budget, I’d implore the County Council and state to fully fund us, beyond maintenance of effort and without withholding GCEI funds. Overall, I think the current proposed budget is a reflection of the reality MCPS officials have to face when other institutions do not give them the funds that make us a top school system”
The Board is set to submit their revised budget recommendation to the County Executive and the County Council on February 6th, 2015.
Article by the MoCo Student staff writer Omisa Jinsi of Churchill High School