Montgomery school board approves budget that includes $18.6 million in raises for 2014

February 26, 2013

The Montgomery County Board of Education approved a budget Monday night that would fund $18.6 million in employee raises, setting up a possible fight with the County Council over education spending.

Superintendent Joshua P. Starr’s amended budget request, released last week, set aside $12.4 million for employee raises, but he increased that number by more than $6.1 million ahead of Monday’s budget approval.

Starr said the budget figures are tentative as the school system continues contract negotiations with employee groups. He defended his budget, however, calling it a “reasonable” and “responsible” request that reflects the “values and interests of the community.”

“Our goal now must be to work together as one team in order to obtain full funding for this budget from the county executive and the County Council,” Starr said.

Last week, Starr had reduced his funding request to the county after receiving more in state aid than expected when he released his first budget proposal. But the proposed increase in employee compensation this week brings the school system’s funding request to the county back to the spending level Starr sought in December — nearly $10 million more than the minimum Montgomery must legally spend on education for the 2014 fiscal year.

Officials in the school district estimate that asking for $10 million over what the county is required to spend on students this year averages to about $70 to $80 more per student.

The $2.23 billion operating budget passed by a vote of 6-1, with board member Michael A. Durso dissenting.

“I do remain confident that as we go through further negotiations over the next several months, not only internally but also with the county executive’s office and the County Council, that we will reach a point in June where we will all be together on the same page,” Durso said.

The board expects to send its budget request to the county executive’s office for review on Friday. In recent years, county and district officials have been at odds over how much Montgomery should spend on education, with some contending that school spending and teacher raises has sapped resources from other county agencies.

The board’s $2.23 billion operating budget request is a $57.5 million increase over what’s budgeted for the current fiscal year, a jump of about 2.6 percent.

Board President Christopher P. Barclay said Monday night’s budget approval “is a moment that we are stepping out and taking a stand.”

“The PR campaign that has been going on over the last two years to demonize the investment the county has made in our children is one that has to be countered,” Barclay said. “One of the ways to counter it is for this body to be able to make the request of our county executive and our county council for the resources we need for our children.”

Board member Patricia O’Neill worried about the fight the board would have to wage to get the budget through Montgomery County Executive Ike Leggett and the County Council.

O’Neill, however, said she backed both the compensation increases and position restorations in Starr’s budget.

“Both are needs that we’ve been hungry for here at MCPS for quite some time,” O’Neill said. “It’s about us all compromising to find a budget that we can live with that we can advocate for.”

Lynh Bui is a Prince George's County public safety reporter and former Montgomery County education reporter.
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