Staff pay raises may leave Montgomery school system with little to meet student needs -- Gazette.Net


Rising enrollments, and state laws, mean Montgomery County Public Schools will get $30 million more for fiscal 2014 budget, but county officials think the money will go for raises and pensions, and not for greater needs in the classroom.

Pension costs will eat up $7 million and the school system gets $23 million to meet current per-pupil spending under the stateís Maintenance of Effort law, according to Council Staff Director Stephen Farber.

The fiscal 2014 budget year begins July 1, 2013.

If school system requests the minimal budget under law, it will need to find enough money to meet the needs of more than 2,000 extra students, while also funding at least $22.5 million more in salaries as agreed in union contracts signed this month — a number that could grow as contracts are renegotiated next year.

County council members and staff said Monday the school system will have to make tough decisions in coming years to meet student needs, although Larry Bowers, the school system's chief operating officer, said it is too soon to tell.

Bowers said that the council is wrong to say, at this time, that the net effect of the school system pay increases will be $22.5 million. For example, the cost of raises estimated for the upcoming school year was $51.7 million, but after retirements and other staff changes, the cost will be closer to $20 million.

Savings will not be as large in fiscal 2014, Bowers said, but there will still be some. The $4.6 million in health care savings that the school system will realize from negotiated co-pays will probably remain, he said.

The contract includes 2 percent base pay increases, longevity increases, or one or two step increases for eligible staff.

The school system also receives funds from the state; the amount for fiscal 2014 is undetermined.

County officials disagreed with the decision to offer base pay raises.

Councilman Philip M. Andrews (D-Dist. 3) of Gaithersburg said he expects the school system to request more than MOE, which would lock the county into an irreversible per-pupil funding base.

The Maryland General Assembly changed the MOE law this year to give it the power to divert county income tax revenue to local schools if the county does not meet the MOE funding level. That change leaves the county no choice but to fund at that level, Farber and Senior Legislative Analyst Jacob Sesker said in a memo.

But the school system should not assume that the county will exceed MOE, county leaders have warned.

Exceeding it in fiscal 2014 would mean expanding a $71 million projected budget gap.

Council member Nancy Navarro (D-Dist. 4) of Silver Spring — a former member of the Board of Education — said that because of the lack of available funds, the council should be looking deeper into the school systemís budget and policy decisions.

Board of Education President Shirley Brandman (At-large) said the boardís decisions are always in the best interest of students.

She said that the school board worked hard to fit student needs within a MOE budget, and will work hard again to see that student needs are met.

But school board member Laura Berthiaume (Dist. 2) of Rockville said she agrees the school board will be in a tight spot in coming years because of the base pay increases. She was the only school board member to vote against the union contracts.

Berthiaumeís term on the school board is expiring this year and she will not run to reclaim her seat.