Only a handful of people from outside the school system take part as schools superintendent Joshua Starr draws up his budget.
Montgomery County Taxpayers League President Joan Fidler thinks more leaders of civic groups could be included to ensure efficiencies.
“It could be us,” Fidler said. “But it doesn’t have to be.”
On Thursday, the league grilled one of those people allowed inside Starr’s inner circle: Janette Gilman, president of the Montgomery County Council of Parent Teacher Associations. League members wanted to know just how involved she is when it comes to school system budget talks.
The MCCPTA president, along with a few other MCCPTA members, and leaders of the county’s three school-based unions are the only people outside of school system staff allowed in the private budget meetings before the superintendent’s request is released publicly. Not even school board members are included in these talks.
Gilman said she walks into the budget discussions to communicate to school staff what parents’ priorities are, not looking to pick apart how the school system spends its money.
The questions come just days after the Montgomery County Board of Education approved a $2.23 billion budget for next fiscal year, which begins July 1.
The taxpayers league comprises Montgomery County residents who track the way the county spends public tax dollars; about 10 people attended Thursday’s meeting, but more subscribe to the group’s email blasts.
After Starr released his request for next budget year in December, the MCCPTA came to public hearings in full support of the school system’s budget.
The members of the league question several portions of the school system’s budget, such as the costs of employee health care benefits and how effective programs and positions are that are meant to close the achievement gap.
Fidler, and other members, asked Gilman on Thursday if during initial conversations the MCCPTA ever disagrees with school officials or the unions, or if the organization is always “in lock step with them.”
Gilman said that during the meetings, if she has a question about how the school system is spending its money, she is always free to ask.
The group also asked Gilman if Montgomery should set specific, system-wide benchmarks for closing achievement gaps between student groups of different races and social backgrounds. Starr added $263,089 into next year’s budget for positions meant to address the gaps.
Gilman said her group is more interested in communicating priorities, which this year were curriculum supports, technology funding and overcrowding at schools.