Some on the Montgomery County Council signaled a fight may be brewing over Montgomery County Public Schools’ recommended operating budget for next year, released today.
At issue is the recently strengthened state maintenance of effort law, which requires counties to fund their school systems at the same level as the previous fiscal year or face fines and reduced state aid. Schools superintendent Josh Starr today presented a recommended budget $10 million more than what’s required for maintenance of effort.
With funds tight, council members have countered funding schools at maintenance of effort level could already mean a 4.9 percent cut in other county services.
“Our analysis shows we’re looking at a five percent reduction if MCPS is funded at maintenance of effort level,” said Councilman Phil Andrews (D-Gaithersburg) today, during a review of the county’s six-year fiscal plan. “This draconian maintenance of funding law handcuffs the county’s ability to deal responsibly with its fiscal challenges. It would not make sense at all for the county to further handcuff itself by voting to fund the schools above the maintenance of effort level. We can’t make one-time investments.”
MCPS presented the $10 million in question differently, pointing out that it was less than 0.5 percent over the minimum. It also argued the money was necessary to deal with a school system that has grown by 11,000 students since 2008 with staffing levels that have remained flat.
“After years of cutting around the edges and doing more with less, it is time for us to invest in areas that will have the biggest impact on student achievement and success,” Starr said in a statement. The total MCPS recommended budget is $2.217 billion, an almost $49 million bump from last year.
Projections in the fiscal report the Council discussed today said without the maintenance of effort law, overall cuts would have been limited to one percent.