I just got the budget in the form of a thick binder. It's about 1000 pages but it will affect your schools and your education directly. It's extremely complicated and can get very confusing. But let me try and break it down for you in a "Sparknotes" version:
We're asking for a 1% increase in our budget to just over $2.2 Billion. That's it. Nothing else. Dr. Weast described the situation here at the Board perfectly when he said, “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. 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.”
So, I know a lot of you looked at the potential reductions list. And I know you guys have a lot of questions. So let me try and break some stuff down for you guys.
Q: How does the budget work? Why do people say there are going to be cuts?
A: There is a common misconception here. The Board of Education does not tax or anything. It has no power over the money. The budget that the Board of Education is asking for has NO CUTS. We're not asking to cut ANYTHING. The Board of Education gets its money from the County Government (72%), the State Government (20%), the Federal Government (5%), and Other (3%). So, the budget that the Board of Education passes will be sent to the County Council and the County Executive so they can sign off on it.
But if the County Council and the State Government choose not to fund it, then MCPS will be forced to make cuts because its hands are tied. As you can see below, if the County Council and the State Government don't give money to the Board of Education, cuts have to be made to MCPS. Let me make this very clear: no one wants to cut our budget - not the Superintendent, not the Board of Ed, not the County Council, not the State. No one is to blame for this crisis but the economy itself.
Now, I'm a visual guy, so let me try and show you how it goes down:
Step 1: The Board of Education Recommends a Budget
Step 2A: If the County Council gives money to the Board of Education for everything:
Step 2B: If the County Council does not give money to the Board of Education for everything.
Q: Tim, why do we need an increase in money when we're already in a bad economy?
A: We have more kids basically. As I said before, in my post about Maintenance of Effort. Recap: the County Council has to fund the Board of Education budget at the same level as last year. If they funded $10,000 per student in 2008, they have to do that in 2009 or more. This year, we saw unprecedented growth: 2% growth or 2500 kids. And we're asking for more money so that we can keep up with the growth. In addition we just got 4000 more students on Free and Reduced Meals (FARMS) - 10% growth! We have more kids on FARMS than DCPS has public school students! So, we're asking for no new programs. No new initiatives. We just want to fund our budget at the same level as last year.
Q: Why can't the Board cut something else? What did the Board already cut?
A: Your teachers, administrators, support staff, etc. have made incredible sacrifices so far. Last year, the Board had to cut over $200 Million in spending through reductions, reorganization, cutbacks, etc. Your teachers, administrators, staff, etc. chose to give up their Cost of Living Adjustments to save the school system $90 Million (thank them!). A hiring freeze was put in place to save $50 Million. And $80 Million was cut in services. We cut 13% of central staff so far. That's what the Board and the Superintendent have been doing. We're all trying to save money without cutting education.
Q: What's going on in terms of the budget right now? Is it final?
A: No. Right now, MCPS is negotiating with teacher, administrator, and staff unions to try and hammer out something. No one knows what's going to happen. Because of the bad economy, the County Government and State Government have big deficits right off the bat. Tax revenues that fund both the county and state are down because of the economy. So they may choose not to fund the budget for MCPS. In addition, because of the Maintenance of Effort situation (MCPS loaned money to Council to satisfy MOE law, State said it was no good and will charge fine), MCPS will have to pay a fine. And looking further down the road, no one knows what's going to happen when the ARRA (Stimulus Package) funds run out and zap our federal funds.
Q: I hear class sizes are going to go up. What's up with that? Are they firing teachers?
A: No. Because more students are coming into the county, the Board of Education is asking for more money to hire more teachers. But, if the County and the State don't fund the budget, then no teachers can be hired and class sizes will eventually go up because of the growth in the county not because we are cutting any teachers. We are all working so that teachers are NOT cut.
Q: What's up with this Potential Budget Reductions Sheet? Are they really going to cut all this stuff? Are they really going to cut magnet/IB/Consortia busing? Are they really going to cut extracurriculars? How much are they going to cut in the end?
A: Who knows. Right now, nothing is final. Please know that these are NOT final cuts. They're not even close. Again, nobody wants to cut anything. If anything we, and I'm guessing the County Council and the State, want to INCREASE money for all of these things. I just want you guys to know that at the end of the day, the amount of money that the County Council and the State Government appropriates to the Board of Education is going to force MCPS to do one thing or another. If the budget is NOT funded, then these cuts will have to be made. But we're trying our best to preserve education in the classroom at ALL COSTS. That's why no existing teacher positions will be removed.
All the cuts listed are potential. No cuts have been proposed as the Board will be sending the County Council and the State Government a full budget with no cuts at all. In the worst case scenario where these cuts have be made, the classroom will be the most important priority. Who knows? If the County Council and the State don't fund the budget, then more cuts could be made and this sheet could be just the tip of the iceberg. You have to realize that it is not the fault of the Board of Education or Dr. Weast. It is the fault of the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression. And at this time, the Board of Education is shouting at the top of its lungs to get the FULL budget funded by the County Government and the State Government so that no cuts have to be made. If the county and state don't appropriate the funds, then we could see a backtrack in the tremendous progress we have made in the past couple of years.
Q: We can't let this happen!! How can I help?
A: On January 13 and 20 the Board of Education is going to have its own hearings. On March 1, we're going to present this budget to the County Council. During April, the County Council will have its own hearings and on May 20th, the County Council will finally vote on whether or not to fully fund the budget or not. Depending on what they choose, this will determine whether or not cuts will be made. It's all about prioritizing. We need to tell the County Council and the State that education should be at the very top of their list.
I need you guys to contact your County Council and tell them that we need to get what we deserve! I need you guys to come out and make your voices heard to the Council during April, 2010 and tell the County Council to give us what we deserve. We need to show that the 142,000 students of Montgomery County care about their education and their futures. I will be posting the exact dates as we get closer.
The MCR-SGA General Assembly just voted unanimously to urge the County Council to fund the Board of Education's budget to the full and to lobby all out in favor of getting everything funded. I urge you to join them when they begin those lobbying efforts.
Q: Where can I read this budget?
A: In the spirit of transparency, the budget has been put up online here. You can read the budget, you can ask questions, and give feedback directly to MCPS staff.
Hope that helped guys!