Teacher, staff jobs at risk in new Montgomery County budget proposal
By Kevin Sieff,
Montgomery County School Superintendent Jerry D. Weast said Friday that he is formulating a budget that could endanger more than 600 teaching and support positions as the system prepares to absorb more than 2,000 additional students this fall.
Weast said his budget plans would be "painful" as they raised class sizes and froze teachers' salaries during the coming school year.
Weast's budget proposal is shaped by the state's "maintenance of effort" law mandating that per-student spending remain constant in every Maryland school district. For Montgomery, that would require school system spending of $2.2 billion for the coming budget year, for an increase of $82 million over current levels.
But both Weast and county officials say it is unlikely that a budget of that size will get approved. In his remarks on Friday, he outlined $82 million in potential cuts likely to be made if school funding is held flat. The formal proposal is due to the County Council in February.
The proposed cuts touch teachers, counselors and service workers across the district. The potential staffing reductions outlined by Weast on Friday would increase class size by an average of one student per class.
County officials said they do not plan to meet the state's per-pupil funding requirement. Failing to meet the state law could provoke a $22 million fine, though state officials gave a waiver in a similar situation last year.
"The county cannot starve its other agencies in order to meet an unrealistic" maintenance of effort requirement, said Phil Andrews (D-Gaithersburg-Rockville). "We need to break this cycle."
Weast's budget attempts to make up for an expected funding shortfall in "the least harmful way possible." But he said the cuts will be noticeable.
"We've gotten 6,300 more kids in the last 36 months, mostly poor, not speaking English," Weast said, alluding to a population in need of support services that the district will struggle to provide because of budget cuts.
Other Montgomery officials agreed that tough cuts are likely to be ahead.
"We have a $300 million shortfall to fill, and our schools make up 52 percent of the budget. Schools are going to have to contribute to filling that shortfall," said county spokesman Patrick Lacefield.
In February, the school board will consider Weast's proposed budget cuts and will possibly introduce its own austerity measures. In the spring, when the budget is handed over to the County Council, officials will have to decide whether to apply for a waiver of the maintenance of effort funding requirement or to accept a penalty.