Double raises for school system employees and a change in state law could threaten the budgets of other county agencies, according to a county Office of Legislative Oversight report released Tuesday.
Counties must provide, per-pupil, the same amount of education funding each year under Marylandís maintenance of effort law. When enrollments rise, education funding increases.
The county would have to divert money from other agencies to pay for the increased school funding if revenue does not also increase, according to the OLO report.
Early projections show Montgomery County government facing a $71 million budget gap going into fiscal 2014, thanks to in part to slow revenue growth and $30 million required to meet MOE and pension funding regulations.
Unless state law changes, Councilman Philip M. Andrews (D-Dist. 3) of Gaithersburg said it would be fiscally irresponsible to fund the school system above the statutory minimum.
Previously, counties could reassess their public school funding and reduce it if necessary, according to the OLO report. For fiscal years 2010 through 2012, when the county faced large budget gaps, the county gave the school district less than MOE.
The Maryland General Assembly changed the MOE law this year to give the state 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.
Should the county fund education above MOE, that amount would become the new minimum going forward, according to the report.
Factors including revenue and enrollment can tip the balance between education funding and money for other county agencies.
School board decisions will have a tremendous impact on the countyís ability to fund the countyís own budget, said Councilwoman Valerie Ervin (D-Dist. 5) of Silver Spring, chair of the councilís Education Committee.
Using a computer model, Aron Trombka of OLO showed the County Council how even a small increase in enrollment beyond what is projected or a modest increase above MOE without similar increase in revenue, could shortchange the budgets of its other agencies.
Any decrease in county funding of its other agencies, such has human services, risks hurting the children who depend on those services, said Councilman George L. Leventhal (D-At large) of Takoma Park.
Although the county met MOE for fiscal 2013 — enough funding for the school system to raise pay, restore jobs, reduce class sizes or any combination of the three — the Board of Education chose to raise employee base pay at both the beginning and the end of fiscal 2013, according to the report.
The second raise alone will cost a total $26.6 million, or $2.7 million more than combined cost to decrease class sizes by one student and add 150 jobs.
The council has no control over how the Board of Education spends its money, but some council members expect the pay raises could lead MCPS to ask for more than MOE next year.
The councilís fiscal and education committees will meet Oct. 22 to discuss the report.