Montgomery Co. Council debate school system budget as final vote approaches

The Montgomery County Council in Maryland approved a plan to cut nearly $25 million from the school system’s $3.2 billion budget request, with roughly $200 million placed on a budget reconciliation list for further consideration.

County Executive Marc Elrich proposed a 10% increase in the county’s property tax, with the revenues going directly to the school system. But council members have been cautious about committing to Elrich’s proposal, suggesting that a plan consisting of budget “increments,” each at $22.3 million, could be voted on during the budget reconciliation process. The council is scheduled to vote on the plan Thursday.

The move came after, at times, a heated discussion on Montgomery County Public School’s request for a $3.2 billion operating budget, with Superintendent Monifa McKnight urging the county not to “balance that budget on the backs of our children” and several council members responding with irritation.

In the discussion over whether to adopt two spending categories for the school budget, some in “high priority” and others in “priority,” Council member Gabe Albornoz addressed the superintendent directly, saying, “Of course we think our children are ‘high priority,’ and so the insinuation that by making difficult budget decisions that somehow they aren’t, is disingenuous.”

Council member Dawn Luedtke told McKnight that the school system’s collective bargaining process had been “used to make us the villains in this process, and stoke anxiety and create a very false impression that it’s up to the county council” to make sure that contracts for teachers and MCPS employees were fully funded. Luedtke took the opportunity to emphasize that while the county council votes on the MCPS operating budget, it is the Board of Education that negotiates and approves employee contracts.

Council member Natali Fani-González called on the school system to do more, saying, “We are failing our children. Let me make that clear.” Fani-González cited data showing reading levels, particularly among children of color who are lagging. “The data is shameful,” she said, adding that she was speaking as a parent when she added, “I need to see results!”

School officials continued to push for their requested budget. Officials said they face budget pressures of as much as $45 million due to inflation and the expected influx of as many as 2,000 additional students in the coming school year. MCPS Chief Operating Officer Brian Hull told the council, “If that $45 million is not funded, it will, it will mean cuts to the classroom,” he said.

The council will hold additional work sessions on the budget on Wednesday, with the straw vote on the operating budget planned for Thursday.

Kate Ryan

As a member of the award-winning WTOP News, Kate is focused on state and local government. Her focus has always been on how decisions made in a council chamber or state house affect your house. She's also covered breaking news, education and more.

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