The Montgomery County Board of Education is nearing an unusual agreement with unionized teachers and other school employees to divert $37 million earmarked for pay raises into initiatives to reduce class sizes and improve instruction.
The deal, expected to be completed by the end of the week, is a critical piece of the County’s Council’s $5.1 billion operating budget for the fiscal year that begins July 1. The council is considering two tax increases to help fund the spending plan: a 6.4 percent hike in residential property taxes and an increase in taxes on home sales. Most of the resulting revenue would be steered to schools. A final vote is scheduled for May 26.
The council has no direct control over how the school board spends money allocated to the 156,000-student system. But the council does sign the checks, and it is using that leverage as never before to shape education priorities.
Members are considering a $2.4 billion school appropriation for 2017, about $90 million above the minimum annual spending required by state law. In exchange for the robust increase, however, the council said it wants to see more money spent on programs to reduce class sizes and narrow the persistent achievement gap separating white and Asian students from black and Latino students.
On April 26, the council voted to reject teacher pay raises averaging 8 percent. In addition to wanting more money invested in classrooms, members said such a boost for teachers was untenable in a year when residents probably will be hit with a major property tax increase, inflation is low and those who depend on Social Security won’t see an automatic cost-of-living adjustment.
The council asked the school board to focus instead on instructional improvements and to cut raises to about 4.5 percent.
The message was received. In a letter Monday to Council President Nancy Floreen (D-At Large), board president Michael Durso said school officials and union leaders are “committed” to redirecting $36 million to $37 million from salaries to other classroom needs. These include reductions in class sizes, additional support for minority achievement programs and more counselors in large elementary schools.
“Our final budget will include a compensation package that is consistent with the Council’s decisions on April 26,” Durso wrote.
Chris Lloyd, president of the Montgomery County Education Association, said in an e-mail Tuesday that talks are progressing.
He said the union — which represents about 12,000 classroom teachers and other educators and support staffers — intends “to work with the council to bring the highest level of funding to MCPS, and honor the work of educators” with good pay. Any agreement with the school board, he added, would have to be voted on by union members.
Council members say they are pleased that the school board and unions appear to be on board.
“To have this where we’re going all in together, this is huge,” said council member Craig Rice (D-Germantown), chair of the council’s education committee.
At the same April 26 session, the council voted to reject pay increases of about 8 percent that County Executive Isiah Leggett (D) negotiated with unions representing police, fire and non-uniform employees.
The council, which has final authority over collective bargaining agreements in county government, asked that the package be renegotiated and cut in half.
Leggett told Floreen on Monday that he and union leaders had agreed to defer, but not cancel, most of the increases, which are worth about $2 million.
“Collective bargaining negotiations result in a package of provisions that must be viewed holistically, rather than as isolated elements,” Leggett wrote. “Changing one element, without a view as to how it shifts the package, risks a misunderstanding of the package as a whole.”
The council is expected to vote on the renegotiated pacts early next week. Floreen said members may not be content to merely defer the increases until 2018, as Leggett is proposing.
“I appreciate that this is the county executive’s best effort, but I don’t think it goes far enough,” Floreen said.