Montgomery County Council members will likely review policies this fall related to the public school system’s surplus money.
Members of the Education Committee said Monday morning that they want to discuss how the school system projects it would wind up with a $21.8 million year-end surplus when the Board of Education has been asking for increases in funding from the county to prevent staffing and program cuts.
Members of the Education Committee requested a discussion with Board of Education members and school system leaders during a presentation of the district’s quarterly financial report. The year-end surplus is about $3.6 million more than what the school system had projected in its April financial report to the education committee.
Councilwoman Valerie Ervin, chair of the education committee, said she wanted to learn more about the school system’s plan to use “unappropriated fund balances” to close the achievement gap.
The unappropriated fund balance represents the school system’s accumulated surplus over the years, which could come from savings or changes that cause the district to spend less on items than it had initially projected during the budgeting process.
Councilman Phil Andrews said the surplus shows that the school system’s “rhetoric” when it asks for more money to prevent cutting programs and staff doesn’t match the “results” seen in the fund balance.
The unappropriated fund balance represents about 1 percent of the system’s total operating budget, said Thomas Klausing, director of the office of management, budget and planning for Montgomery County schools.
Klausing said while the school system generally plans to spend all of the money it asks for from the County Council, “things do occur unexpectedly that result in these balances.”
During fiscal 2014 budget discussions, the Board of Education asked the county for $10 million over its minimum spending limit required under “maintenance of effort.” The council and county executive instead told school officials to find the $10 million in its reserves.
County officials have been wary of increasing funding to the school system amid the economic recession and under the the state’s “maintenance of effort” law. The legislation requires that Montgomery County must spend at least the same amount it did per pupil compared to the prior year, automatically the county’s spending base for the school system.
Schools superintendent Joshua P. Starr has said before that the $10 million spent from surplus funding works for this year, but it only offers a one-time solution since the money isn’t a regular source of income.