The budget of the Montgomery County Public Schools for FY 2015 is in the early stages of formulation. This budget of over $2 billion is close to 50 percent of the tax-supported budget of Montgomery County. So who are the players who will influence this budget at this critical stage?
It is the Budget Steering Committee. The members of this committee are the deputy superintendents, the employee union leaders representing the Montgomery County Association of Administrators and Principals, the Montgomery County Education Association (teachers), the Service Employees International Union Local 500, and the Montgomery County Council of Parent Teachers Associations.
These are all undoubtedly important players and represent important sectors of the Montgomery County Public Schools. Every member of this committee has a vested interest in increasing the budget for many and various reasons.
Why is the school board not represented? It is true that they will eventually get the budget for approval but they do not have the analytical capability at that late stage to ask the hard questions. Also a little known fact: The charter of the board allows only those questions to be asked of the school administration if all members have an interest. Individual questions from individual board members are not entertained — and this for a $2 billion budget.
Now that the maintenance of effort law has stripped the County Council of its operating budget oversight role, virtually turning the council into a spectator with power of the purse only over capital spending, there is even greater need for outside representation. Matching MCPS resource requirements with other county priorities no longer takes place in public. In effect the formulation of the MCPS budget is left to folks with an inherent conflict of interest.
Would the committee gain from the inclusion of other members such as those who might question the long-range implications of Budget Steering Committee decisions, who might inquire about the effective and efficient use of current dollars, who might ask about the crosswalk between strategies and funding and between funding and performance?
Could the MCPS budget process be improved with more citizen-group participation? Could an independent study of the MCPS budget, as we proposed to the superintendent last Spring, be beneficial?
We suggest that the committee be expanded to include representatives from the County Council, the office of the county executive and even, perhaps, from a civic group. Because what is missing from the equation are the interests of the Montgomery County taxpayer. It is telling that he who pays the MCPS piper does not call the tune.
Joan Fidler, Bethesda
The writer is the president of the Montgomery County Taxpayers League.