Despite asking for $10 million more than state-mandated minimums, Montgomery County Public Schools looks to get no more than the county is required to give.
Montgomery County Executive Isiah Leggett (D) recommended, in his fiscal year 2014 budget, providing a county contribution to the school system at maintenance of effort, but his proposal also says it funds 100 percent of the school system’s $2.2 billion request.
Leggett’s budget includes a county contribution of $1.4 billion plus $27 million in carry-over funds among other sources including $605.4 million in state aid, $34.5 million for teacher pensions.
Superintendent Joshua P. Starr’s budget asked for $10 million more from the county and used only $17 million from the school system fund balance.
“We are saying, use your reserves,” county spokesman Patrick Lacefield said of the subtle difference.
The state’s maintenance-of-effort law requires the county to fund the school system at least at the same amount per student as the year before.
At that level, the Leggett budget provides more than 99 percent of the school system’s $2.2 billion request; the extra $10 million is reflected in carryover funds.
Leggett said he believed the school system would have the flexibility to find the other $10 million it is seeking within its own funds.
If that money came from the county’s contribution, he said, he would have been forced to reduce his proposed funding for libraries, public safety or other county department.
Board of Education President Christopher S. Barclay (Dist. 4) of Takoma Park said there is still a chance the county council could find merit in the board’s request.
“We’re disappointed they didn’t invest a little bit more in education,” he said.
Council Vice President Craig Rice said the executive has proposed a very reasonable budget, noting his decision to fund the schools at maintenance of effort.
“I think that the approach to our school system is fair,” he said. “Honestly, you heard the county executive say 99.6 or 99.4 percent of their requested budget, so I think we’re on track.”
Though the executive’s county contribution toward education misses the school system’s budget target, school funding still would increase $55.8 million.
Barclay said the extra money the system will receive under Leggett’s proposal only reflects increased enrollment. The extra $10 million Starr requested and supported by the school board would have paid for the staff and resources to educate those added students, Barclay said.
“We have to deal with our growth,” he said. “We have more students. We have to have more teachers to teach those students.”
Final budgetary discretion rests with the County Council.
“We don’t know what they’ll do,” Barclay said.
But while the council could choose to provide the schools more, Barclay also said council members will use the budget as a “proxy” for their personal concerns about the state maintenance-of-effort law.
Council members vocally opposed a change last year that gave the law more teeth.
Changes approved last year by the General Assembly allow the Maryland comptroller power to divert income-tax revenue to education should county funding fall below funding minimums and empower the State Board of Education to decide waiver requests.
The executive’s budget funds Montgomery College at 99 percent, or all but about $2 million of its $229.5 million request, increasing its overall budget 4.2 percent, or about $9.2 million.
College President DeRionne P. Pollard said she is grateful for the executive’s proposed increase, which would go to provide college employees raises forgone in leaner years.
“We’re very pleased,” Pollard said. “I think the executive recognizes, obviously, the power of what we’re doing in the community, but also represents or recognizes the sacrifices our employees and students have made over the last several years.”