Battle Brews Over Montgomery College Budget
After executive trims request, council committee recommends full funding
VIA MONTGOMERY COLLEGE
A County Council committee is signaling its intention to fully fund Montgomery College’s budget request, which is getting no additional funding in the county executive’s budget recommendation.
Citing decreasing enrollment, County Executive Marc Elrich released a recommended $5.7 billion budget in March that included $142 million for Montgomery College, about $3 million less than the college’s request. Elrich’s proposal represents no increase from this year’s budget.
Education and Culture Committee Chairman Craig Rice said the drop in enrollment doesn’t justify not fully funding the college’s recommended budget, which was “lean to begin with,” and suggested there may be underlying motives.
“For me it seems something afoot that’s more than being conservative in budgets, especially when we understand you prepare people to become better citizens, some who are giving back by teaching or creating nonprofits in the community,” Rice said at a committee meeting Friday.
“Either way, I’m tired of it. I’ve told the county executive in the media and in person, and I’ll say it again: I’m sick and tired of us attacking Montgomery College, an institution we know is valued and makes tremendous contributions to our community, and yet continues to be attacked,” Rice said. “It needs to stop.”
Rich Harris, a county employee involved in crafting the budget, made a rebuttal on behalf of Elrich, saying the executive is supportive of the college, specifically workforce development programs, but “at the same time, he has to balance the budget.”
“The county executive recognizes the county has been very generous to the college the past 5 to 7 years, and revenues are not supporting the level of funding the college is requesting,” Harris said. “His budget is fiscally responsible in light of the current fiscal situation.”
Harris emphasized Montgomery College, the largest community college in the state, has shown a 25 percent decrease in enrollment in the past six years, but county funding has nearly doubled in the past 15 years.
Rice, however, argued that Montgomery College has been equally fiscally responsible, citing data that shows there has been a reduction in part-time staff and, while new buildings “that need staffing” have opened, there’s been no net increase of new hires.
Montgomery College President DeRionne Pollard said she and her staff have worked to remain fiscally responsible and aware of the county’s budget constraints, but people often don’t realize the achievement gap – differences in academic performance between white and minority students – persists in higher education.
Pollard said her staff does important work creating opportunities for students and should be able to receive respectable salaries and wage increases, like other county agencies, without having to drastically increase student tuition.
“I have some of the most talented and dedicated faculty and staff that I’ve ever had pleasure of working with, and I’ve worked at colleges across this country,” Pollard said. “I don’t know how I go back to them and say we as a county believe in the work you do, the county believes you are part of the economic engine of this county and you are a people-centered organization, but we are not going to compensate you at the same level as others.”
Council President Nancy Navarro agreed, saying budget analyses for the college is “too simplified by numbers and graphs,” and it is an economic development imperative to ensure the college has enough funds to operate at the highest level.
“As much as we talk about equity, it doesn’t register for some that just because there’s decreased enrollment doesn’t mean students that are there don’t require constant attention and the same level of resources and level of support,” Navarro said. “This is just a no-brainer to me.”
Caitlynn Peetz can be reached at email@example.com