County Executive’s Budget Drawing Fire from Education Leaders

Proposal falls short of public school, Montgomery College funding requests

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The first draft of next year’s Montgomery County budget is drawing scrutiny from school leaders who say a lack of funding will adversely impact students.

County Executive Marc Elrich set aside $2.65 billion in his $5.72 billion budget proposal for public schools, a $51 million increase from the current year’s budget, but about $12.5 million less than the school board’s request.

The school board had asked for $2.66 billion for its next budget, a roughly 2 percent increase from this year.

School leaders said the lack of funding could impact some key initiatives, including reducing class sizes, adding assistant principal positions to schools without them and expanding access to mental health resources and counselors.

“Over the next two months, we will work with our partners on the County Council to determine if there are opportunities to restore some of the funding outlined in our initial operating budget request and to minimize the impact of any reductions on students and schools,” school board president Shebra Evans and Superintendent Jack Smith said in a joint statement.

County Council member Craig Rice, chairman of the council Education and Culture Committee, blasted Elrich’s budget proposal as a “disinvestment in education” and said it threatens progress the county has made to address an achievement gap in learning between white and minority students.

Evans and Smith said they believe its initiative to expand pre-kindergarten programming will not be affected, as Elrich has set aside $7 million to begin a “four-year action plan” focused on the same goals.

Elrich, a former elementary school teacher, said he is confident the county will receive more school funding than in past years from the state legislature to offset his proposal, citing ongoing discussions about how to fund recommendations from the Kirwan Committee that provided an extensive list of recommendations about how to improve Maryland schools.

When Gov. Larry Hogan released his recommended budget in January, it included $735 million for Montgomery County schools, a roughly 4 percent increase from this year’s contribution.

“If the schools are able to find additional savings without cutting into things, which we believe after talking to them they could find, the difference is smaller than it appears to be,” Elrich said Friday, when his budget plan was unveiled.

In his proposed capital budget released in January, Elrich recommended not funding the school board’s request for $37 million in new money to support building projects that would address safety and crowding issues.

Last year, the school board requested a 3 percent increase to its budget, which was fully funded by then-County Executive Isiah Leggett. The county government funds the majority of the school budget, with about 35 percent coming from the state and federal sources.

Montgomery College President DeRionne Pollard called Elrich’s budget “tremendously disappointing and frustrating” after the college proposed an “exceptionally lean” budget and cooperated with a request from the county executive to save $2.8 million from the current budget.

Montgomery College submitted a request for $145.2 million from the county next fiscal year to supplement its total $313 million budget, but Elrich’s proposed budget falls $3 million short. The $142 million proposal represents no increase from this year’s budget.

“While the county has been a strong partner over the years for keeping tuition affordable, the troubling funding recommendations announced today by the county executive could threaten educational programs and increase costs for students,” Pollard said in a statement.

Elrich and County Budget Director Rich Madaleno said the college’s enrollment has declined this year, so more funding isn’t necessary when accounting for the state’s maintenance-of-effort law that mandates the same or greater dollar amount per pupil be spent each year.

“If they had more students we’d have more per-pupil funding, so they actually get a bump in per-pupil funding,” Elrich said.

Rice, a member of the state Kirwan Commission, issued a statement urging “a call to action for all those who care about equity and want to see our schools and our children have better results to demand that we fully fund the budget for MCPS and Montgomery College.”

Caitlynn Peetz can be reached at caitlynn.peetz@bethesdamagazine.com

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