Montgomery County Public Schools Superintendent Jack Smith on Thursday released a proposed $2.7 billion operating budget for fiscal year 2022.
The proposed budget, which will go through a lengthy review process by both the school board and Montgomery County Council, is about $42.6 million (1.5%) less than the current budget.
It was not immediately clear when the last time MCPS’ budget request was not an increase from the prior year, but MCPS officials said it was likely in 2008, during the Great Recession.
The proposed budget, however, asks for about $39 million more in funding from the county government than is required by the state’s “maintenance of effort” law. Maintenance of effort requires county governments to fund their local public school system at least at the same level per pupil as the previous year.
Because MCPS’ enrollment is down more than 5,000 students this academic year, largely attributed to the coronavirus pandemic, the County Council could choose to provide $39 million less than Smith has requested.
MCPS expects most of the students to return when the district returns to in-person instruction, so it is important to have the funding to support them, Smith said.
MCPS is also expecting state funding — also based on enrollment — to decrease by about $10 million. And the future of funding from the Blueprint for Maryland’s Future, a landmark education bill that aims to provide millions in funding to school districts across the state, is unclear, again painting a dark cloud over the district’s budget. If funding from the bill does not come through, MCPS would lose out on another $27 million.
In essence, MCPS is asking the council to help buffer against the projected decrease in state funding by providing more money than is required by state law.
It is the minimum amount possible to maintain operations, Smith said.
“An operating budget is a reflection of our goals and values,” Smith said. “… We must double our efforts so learning now, and in the future, is an equitable experience.”
There are still many unknowns about the budget, Smith said during an 18-minute recorded video announcing the budget, highlighting that the Maryland General Assembly will convene in mid-January, and will consider the Blueprint legislation and possibly bills that “mitigate the impact the loss of students … will have on state aid.”
Gov. Larry Hogan will release his proposed state budget on Jan. 20.
Smith’s proposed MCPS budget does not include any layoffs, but in a memo to the school board earlier this month, Smith wrote that the school district will “look to reduce unfilled positions wherever possible.”
In that memo, Smith wrote that funding in the next fiscal year will be critical as MCPS looks to rebound post-pandemic.
“Frankly stated, the COVID-19 pandemic should be considered an existential threat to public education and our students’ futures,” Smith wrote. “Now, more than ever, MCPS must work together with our community and county and state officials to support this school district’s budget and support our share of available funding.”
According to Smith’s presentation, the proposed budget for the next fiscal year focuses on:
• Increasing access to mental health services for staff and students
• Providing additional support for students who have struggled during virtual classes
• Maintaining a virtual option for those who choose to use it
• Keeping staff employed
• Deepening MCPS’ commitment to equity.
The school board will hold its first public hearing about the proposed budget on Jan. 11.
Caitlynn Peetz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org