Monday, March 10, 2014 6:59 AM
Published on: Thursday, April 11, 2013
By Holden Wilen
ROCKVILLE – Montgomery County Public Schools (MCPS) Superintendent Joshua Starr and members of the Board of Education met with the county council’s education committee Monday to begin review of the school system’s proposed $2.23 billion operating budget for fiscal year 2014.
The proposed budget represents an increase of more than $57 million, or 2.65 percent, from fiscal year 2013 budget. The tax-supported budget proposed for 2014 is just over $2 billion, which is $55 million more than the 2013 budget.
Starr said the requested budget is not the one he wants but it is one he can live with.
The committee’s scrutiny of the budget centered around two issues: the county’s local contribution to the maintenance of effort and pension funds, and the school system’s fund balance. The committee consists of councilmembers Valerie Ervin, Craig Rice and Phil Andrews.
Senior legislative analyst Essie McGuire told the committee the Maryland General Assembly in 2012 began requiring the counties to contribute local funds toward the cost of state pension plans for teachers. Ervin said the law will cost the county an additional $100 million by 2017.
“The new state law has required the county to fund this budget at a particular appropriation and we are now funding teacher pensions. It is a problem because taxpayers are going to have to pay a lot more money and it is going to impact the rest of the county’s budget in a way we have not seen before,” Ervin said.
The committee members questioned Board members Christopher Barclay and Phil Kauffman about the funded balance MCPS maintains. MCPS is prohibited by state law from ending the year in a deficit which results in a surplus every year. The surpluses have accrued to the point where MCPS has a fund with $40.7 in non-appropriated money. The funds cannot be spent by MCPS until they are appropriated by the Council.
For 2014, MCPS requested $17 million be reappropriated while Leggett recommended the council to reappropriate $27 million. MCPS is not required to maintain any amount of fund balance year to year other than not ending the year in a deficit.
Ervin said she thinks MCPS has been using the fund as a bank, which was not its intention. She said it is an issue which will be discussed in more detail in future committee meetings.
“We are going to ask a lot of questions about it and try to find a policy for means of taking care of it,” Ervin said.
Janis Sartucci, a member of the Montgomery County Parents’ Coalition, said she was happy to see the committee members bring up the fund balance because it was something which has not been discussed before.
“The fact that it was brought up was huge,” Sartucci said. “When you look at those balances and compare it so some other county agency I’m sure you will find it is enough to fund health and human services or something. My impression is this was never tracked. They never brought it up. What happened today was notable because they actually mentioned it and came up with three years of fund balances.”
One of the biggest increases in the budget is for the maintenance of effort. According to an overview of the budget request produced by McGuire, the maintenance of effort required by state law for 2014 is $1.413 billion. The Board requested a local contribution of $9.97 million above the required level, while County Executive Ike Leggett recommended funding at the required level. Due to projected enrollment increases the required maintenance of effort level required for 2014 is an increase in $21.5 million in county funds above the 2013 level.
Maintenance of effort is the minimum level of funding the county must maintain in order to receive state funding, said MCPS spokesman Dana Tofig. The level is calculated based on a per pupil amount, which for 2014 is $9,759. According to Bruce Crispell, the director the division of long-term planning for MCPS, the projected enrollment for 2014 for kindergarten through 12th grade is 147,253, an increase of 2,384 students.
Sartucci said her worry is about what happens when projections are wrong.
“They’ll project an enrollment, and the actual enrollment won’t be as high as they expect but they get the money anyway,” Sartucci said.
The next meeting between MCPS and council’s education committee will be held on April 19.