Montgomery County Public Schools in Maryland will get the largest chunk of the county’s $6 billion budget proposed for the coming fiscal year.
County Executive Marc Elrich’s proposed spending plan for fiscal 2022, unveiled Monday, would give $2.7 billion to the public school system. Elrich noted that the plan he’s supporting for County Council approval would fully fund the budget requests from MCPS and Montgomery College and does not include new taxes.
Montgomery County Council President Tom Hucker called the budget proposal “a strong starting point” for the council’s work on the final budget.
He added, “We recognize what a difficult year this has been for business owners, public health professionals and all of our residents. We will be taking all of this into consideration these next two months, as we finalize a budget that will make the investments necessary to restore our public health and put our County on the road to financial recovery.”
The debate over the future of policing is reflected in the budget with the proposed elimination of positions currently in the Police Department’s School Resource Officer program.
Elrich told reporters in a news conference that the positions filled by sworn officers will be moved to other areas for community policing.
“They will not be stationed in the schools; they’re not going to be parked in the parking lot; they are not going to be walking on the grounds. They will literally be out in the community, available to the schools,” he said.
Elrich called that decision part of his “reimagining” of the police department’s mission in the community, but the union that represents sworn officers in Montgomery County, the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge #35, made its objections clear in a tweet Monday morning, writing that Elrich was “DEFUNDING the police” and adding, “Not a smart move from the CE.”
Elrich said his plan still complies with the state law enacted as the Safe to Learn Act of 2018, the law that requires police coverage for schools. The legislation followed a fatal school shooting at a high school in St. Mary’s County in March 2018.
Public safety will also see a shift in emphasis, as Elrich proposes adding six positions to the Mobile Crisis and Outreach Team in the county’s Department of Health and Human Services.
While Elrich is shaving positions from the county’s police department in his budget, he proposes adding firefighter positions. He also proposes putting cellphone technology on all fire department apparatus to support telemedicine programs and to provide backup communications.
“We greatly appreciate County Executive Marc Elrich’s steadfast commitment to public education as our county, state and nation face significant impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on operating costs and projected revenues,” Board of Education President Brenda Wolff and Superintendent Jack Smith said in a statement.
They added, “Investments in our students will advance equity and excellence for all students in MCPS and ensure a strong future economy for our county.”
The added stresses that the coronavirus pandemic have placed on vulnerable families as they worked to help their children’s online learning generated more funding for programs that provide wraparound services for families. Elrich’s plan would include an additional $550,000 to expand mental health services for the Linkages to Learning sites at county schools where there’s a high concentration of families living in poverty.
It would also add $250,000 for mental health services for MCPS students and their families.
Elrich is also proposing creating a new 15-person unit to assist residents who speak languages other than English. The Multilingual and Multicultural Communications Unit would assist residents in accessing county services. Contract staffers would also be provided to assist non-English speakers as they use the county’s 311 system.
An additional $100,000 would go toward the Montgomery Coalition of Adult English Literacy. The program provides a range of services aimed at helping residents improve their English-language proficiency.
The budget proposes $312 million for Montgomery College, $165 million for the Maryland National Capital Parks and Planning Commission and more than $93 million for retiree health insurance.
Elrich said the county absorbed a number of costs associated with dealing with the coronavirus pandemic, but received $183 million thanks to the CARES Act to help offset those expenses. He also noted that the county remains “confident” that the county will be reimbursed by the Federal Emergency Management Administration for a number of the up-front costs taken on to deal with the pandemic.
Among other items in the budget:
- $15 million for the Working Families Income Supplement program
- $5 million for residents who have taxpayer identification numbers
- $1 million in additional money for the county’s rental assistance program
- $12.5 million for the county’s Early Care and Education initiative
Hucker said in his statement, “Some of the shared priorities in the recommended operating budget include: fully funding the budgets for Montgomery County Public Schools and Montgomery College, making significant investments in affordable housing, early care and education, reimagining public safety by enhancing mental health services and crisis response, supporting safety net services and ramping up funding for the Earned Income Tax Credit that will put more money in the pockets of our residents.”
In his statement on the budget, Elrich said the county ended fiscal 2020 with reserves at 8.9% of adjusted governmental revenue.
He said, “This budget presents a plan to restore the reserves to our policy level within three fiscal years, and the actions taken in my budget will bring our expected FY22 reserve level up to 9.6 percent.”