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Friday, January 7, 2011

Dr. Weast's Budget Will Not Be Funded?

This article, from the Sentinel, describes some of the budget conflicts we encountered on Monday night at the MCCPTA Budget Forum.

County can't afford schools
By Paige L. Hill

Montgomery County simply can’t afford Superintendent of Schools Jerry Weast’s budget demands, according to Councilman George Leventhal (D-At large), who spoke Monday evening at the annual operating budget meeting hosted by the Montgomery County Council of PTAs.

“Let me just say that one of my biggest regrets as I look back on my years on the county council is that we did not set aside more when times were good,” Leventhal said. “What we don’t have is a cushion, and we literally ran out of cash in the spring.”

Weast proposed a $2.6 billion plan in December to accommodate more than 3,300 new students next school year, or a 2.8 percent increase over last year’s $2.1 billion budget.

“We are not going to fund his budget request – we don’t have the money,” Leventhal said.

He estimated that if Weast’s budget requests, as is, were fully funded by the county, it would represent 62.3 percent of total county spending. When the budget for fiscal year 2011 was approved the county allocated 57 percent of the budget to MCPS and still fell short of the state-mandated “maintenance of effort” law, which requires the county to meet a per-student budget each year, regardless of the ever-increasing student population. The state was able to make up for the difference, but the process of deciding on a budget last spring pitted the county council against Weast bitterly.

Weast’s proposed budget includes no new school programs, and no cost-of-living increases or raises for employees, but that did not appear to be good enough for the outspoken Leventhal, who stressed that county employees across the board would be “taking home less in 2012.” Likewise, Councilwoman Nancy Floreen (D-At large) said the budget-cutting process needed to be a “team effort.” Councilman Roger Berliner (D –Dist. 1) added that the team effort would begin with a frank discussion regarding the maintenance of effort requirement.

“In a county that has done more for schools than any other in the state, we are not parsimonious when it comes to our school system,” Berliner said as Weast wrung his hands and looked at the ceiling. “But when we are in the midst of a great recession … there are no good choices and there are no good options.”

School and PTA board members shot back that the county needed to mind that the maintenance of effort requirement is a state law that simply needed to be met.

“This year, things are just as uncertain as last year, and this year, the situation is close to catastrophic,” Board of Education President Christopher Barclay said. “We have to figure out how to craft things in the county to keep us on the path to success.”

Since the operating budget for fiscal year 2012 has not been finalized, Weast said there is no way to know how deep the cuts will be this year. The Board of Education is on a calendar that requires it to finalize the school’s operating budget on Feb. 8, but the county council won’t be done with their budget work until May.

“We don’t know how bad it is or how bad it’s going to be,” Weast said. “We will do everything we can to minimize damage, but there will be damage.”

Weast projected that damage would affect class size, hiring teachers and approving bus routes and busses. One audience member asked the panel to consider parent testimony and questions in the county council’s budget-making process, but Weast interjected that there would simply not be enough time.

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