Montgomery council committee moves money to fund schools -- Gazette.Net


Rather than increase the amount that Montgomery County will have to provide to its public schools in upcoming years, the County Council is faced with a plan to use money from various school funds to meet the school system’s budget requests for the upcoming fiscal year.

But school board members are warning that the solution can’t become a regular occurrence.

The council’s Education Committee voted 3-0 Monday to approve a budget recommendation for Montgomery County Public Schools that meets the full amount requested by the Board of Education for fiscal 2015, which begins July 1, but does so by drawing from balances in retirement savings and other funds.

The recommendation is scheduled to be considered by the full council on Wednesday. The council is scheduled to tentatively agree on a budget on Thursday, with a final vote scheduled for May 22.

The recommendation would fund the school system at $1.476 billion, the amount required by the state’s maintenance of effort law, but then provide an extra $51.7 million from other funds to fully fund the Board of Education’s request, Council President Craig L. Rice (D-Dist. 2) of Germantown said Monday.

It would take $11.2 million from the public schools’ general fund balance, $13.3 million from the school system’s Retired Employees Group Insurance Fund balance and $27.2 million from the system’s fund to provide group insurance costs to retired employees, according to a county memorandum.

The council’s approved fiscal plan for FY15-20 will include $27.2 million more for the group insurance costs fund in fiscal 2016 and in future years.

The Education Committee didn’t want the schools to have to pick and choose which budget items to fund or to have to cut corners, said Rice, who chairs the committee.

Schools Superintendent Joshua P. Starr said in a release Monday that he appreciated Rice’s commitment to making sure the county’s students have the resources they need.

Starr said he looks forward to working with the county executive and council to figure out how they can fund the county’s schools in coming years.

Rice said he isn’t concerned that drawing from the insurance funds will become a regular way for lawmakers to fund the school system while avoiding increasing the amount required by maintenance of effort, which requires counties to provide the same amount of per-pupil funding from year to year.

The funds were well above the level that the bond agencies that oversee the county’s credit rating want to see, and the county has a strategy of maintaining at least 5 percent balances in funds, he said.

Taking the $13.3 million from the retired employees group insurance fund will still leave the fund at more than 6 percent, he said.

Board of Education President Philip Kauffman said in a statement Monday that the council has assured the board that the money taken from the trust funds will be replaced in the fiscal 2016 budget.

If it isn’t, the school system would face a deficit that could only be repaired through substantial budget cuts.

Board Vice President Patricia B. O’Neill said she was glad Rice had found a way to fully fund the budget request.

The funding would allow them to make significant improvements in English for speakers of other languages programs, reduce class size in some high schools and improve professional development for teachers, among other areas, she said.

But O’Neill said there’s a recognition that the maneuver was only for fiscal 2015.

“This is a one-time solution,” she said.