Wednesday, April 27, 2011

WE NEED YOUR HELP!!  The stakes are way too high to not get involved.
On May 19, the Montgomery County Council will finalize the county budget for Montgomery County Public Schools (MCPS) and other county agencies.  The Clarksburg Cluster, comprised of the 9 schools in our area (Clarksburg HS, Rocky Hill MS, Neelsville MS, Clarksburg ES, Little Bennett ES, Gibbs ES, Daly ES, Cedar Grove ES, and Fox Chapel ES) testified to the Council on April 6 in support of fully funding MCPS to the Maintenance of Effort level.
We are a large cluster and really need to show the County Council that the education of our children and the services provided to them matters to us.  Remember, the Council determines the level of funding for the schools.  Please don't make the mistake of thinking someone else will do this.  We need you to send email to the County Executive and County Council members, urging them to fully fund MCPS to MOE levels.  A flood of emails will tell them we are watching, and will hold them accountable for their actions!

Montgomery County Public Schools (MCPS) has not received Maintenance of Effort (MOE) funding for the past two years, and our students are suffering.  MOE is still the law, and Montgomery County must obey the law, just as any citizen must follow the law.  Although we understand the challenging economic times, and the difficulty the Council may feel with funding to MOE, it shouldn't cause us to neglect our most vulnerable.  We must recognize that for our schools to remain top notch, full funding of our children's education is required.
Behind Public Safety (which is also underfunded), your number one responsibility as a government, to our citizens and our children, is Public Education.

Thank you all for your support!!  The stakes are way too high to not get involved.
Other Information for You
What are the County Executive and Council members’ individual email addresses?
County ExecutiveIke Leggett -

What are the consequences of failure to meet MOE funding level?
The way the state enforces its MOE requirement on local governments is it reduces state aid to school districts that do not meet MOE.  Specifically, it reduces state aid by the amount of increase in Thornton money over the previous year. Thus, for MCPS, if the County fails to fund the MCPS budget at the MOE level, the state could reduce state aid by about $22 - $30 million (depending on what happens in Annapolis the next couple days).  Cuts to the MCPS budget would thus be magnified. For the past two years, MCPS has been able to get a waiver of this penalty. It's not clear whether they would be able to go to that well again.
What do the different proposed funding levels mean in terms of possible MCPS program cuts?
The MOE level of funding as proposed by the Board of Education would provide for generally the same level of services (e.g., same class size standards, academic support teachers, maintenance staff, and other MCCPTA budget priority items) as in this year's budget; no cost of living increases for staff, but step increases and longevity pay; some cuts in central office staff and miscellaneous other savings like delaying bus replacements;  and a catch-up contribution of about $48 million of the required $55 million to staff retirement benefits fund ("OPEB").  The County Executive's proposed budget is $82.2 million less than what was proposed by the BOE. The County Council’s proposed budget as provided for in their Spending Affordability Guidelines is $123.7 million less than the County Executive's or almost $206 million less than the BOD request.

What is the size of the MCPS budget?
The Board of Education submitted a request to the County for a total level of spending for MCPS for FY2012 of $2.2057 billion in total funds from all sources (including state, federal, and other grants and enterprise funds).  Excluding private grants and enterprise funds, the "tax supported amount" from all sources is $2.069 billion, and the amount requested from the County's own, locally-generated revenues is $1.497 billion.

What is the County Executive's recommended funding for MCPS?
The County Executive's budget recommended that MCPS total funding  (that is, including revenues from local taxes and fees, as well as state and federal funding, enterprise funds) should be $2.123 billion; of which $1.987 billion is "tax-supported" from all levels of government, and $1.415 billion would come from the County's own, locally generated revenues.  Thus, the County Executive's recommended funding level for MCPS is $82.2 million less than what MCPS requested. Because MCPS's request was structured to a "maintenance of effort" level of funding, this is the same as saying the budget is $82.2 million less than the "maintenance of effort" level.

Why are some calling it a "flat" budget and emphasizing that MCPS will receive the same amount as last year, yet others are characterizing the County Executive's proposed budget as $82 million in cuts?
Because MCPS enrollment is projected to increase by 3,000+ students, this proposed budget represents a cut in "per pupil" expenditures. This means a cut in services per student compared to last year. To the extent that MCPS faces any rising costs, either because of inflation or because of an increase in the portion of students needing enhanced instruction, the reduction in spending per pupil could actually represent a larger cut in terms of instruction offered to our kids.  Due to the state law called Maintenance of Effort, counties are required to fund their school systems based on a dollar amount per pupil.   Since Montgomery County expects those additional 3,000+ students in August 2011, the county is supposed to provide funding that takes the additional students into account.

But why not try to do more with less?
3,000+ students will require teachers, bus drivers, para educators, etc.  And MCPS is seeing an increased need due to the increase in ESOL (English Language Learners), Special Education, and students needing Free and Reduced Price Meals.  Think of the influx of 3,000 new students as filling almost two high schools.  Staff and services are needed as a result.

Is County Executive Ike Leggett proposing specific program cuts to the MCPS budget?
The County Executive is recommending a total amount of funding for MCPS.  He's basing his recommendation on a number of factors (to include the all-important economic reality our county is facing).  The Board of Education will be the final decision-maker on exactly which programs will be cut based on the amount of funding approved by the County Council.  It is perhaps more accurate to state that the County Executive has recommended a reduction in overall funding of the MCPS Operating Budget that was proposed by the Board of Education.

So what exactly will be cut?
That's unknown right now.  If the County Council accepts the County Executive's proposed $82 million reduction in the MCPS FY2012 Operating Budget, then the Board of Education will have to find $82 million in savings.  If the County Council decides to reduce the MCPS budget even more, well...then more savings will have to be found.  At present, the Superintendent has issued a list of Potential Budget Reductions.  That is probably the best idea we have of the potential cuts to our schools.  Realize that his "list" adds up to $45 million so another $37 million will have to be found to equal the $82 million.

So where will that $37 million come from if the Superintendent hasn't listed enough reductions on his "list"?
Well... that gets a bit tricky. We know that the MCPS budget currently has funds set aside to catch up "OPEB" (which funds retiree benefits), and that in the past it has reduced OPEB funding to make up for budget cuts. However, we can't continue to do this forever and maintain bond ratings.  Our teachers are still negotiating for their salaries and benefits.  While County Council members have pointed to changes in these formulas as a source of savings, the Board of Education will be making those decisions.

What about cuts in staffing?
In preparation and expectation of a reduced budget for next year, the Superintendent announced staffing allocations in early March to reflect those potential cuts.  The timing is driven by the timing of the teacher job market.  Basically, it's easier to bring staff back than it is to have to transfer or cut them after the county budget process is finalized in June.  As a result, schools are working on the assumption that class size will go up.  In addition and as outlined on the "list", Principals are planning on reductions in academic intervention teachers, staff development teachers, counselors, para educators, media assistants, and the list goes on....

I heard that MCPS is receiving more state aid than they expected.  If MCPS is receiving so much in state and federal dollars, why should the county have to contribute any additional amount to the MCPS budget?
MCPS is not receiving an unexpected $82 million in state aid - more like $38 million. Moreover, the Maintenance of Effort law was implemented many years ago for just that reason.  The State wished to invest in education but saw counties reducing their own contributions towards their school systems.  The Maintenance of Effort law ensures that counties keep education as a priority and don't simply reduce their obligation if and when the State provides additional funding in an effort to promote higher quality education. A couple more points:  MCPS will not be receiving as much federal aid as last year and the Governor's recommended budget is not a sure thing until the State Legislature approves it.