ROCKVILLE – Community organizations are not happy with the proposed Montgomery County Public School operating budget for the 2013-2014 school year.
At the “Book Club Budgetpalooza,” members from the Montgomery County Civic Federation, the Parents’ Coalition of Montgomery County and the Montgomery County Tax Payers League went through the proposed $2.2 billion budget chapter by chapter.
Complaints about the budget included the absence of transparency in the budget process, secret meetings, sloppy documentation, a large percentage paid to direct overhead and lower pay for red zone teachers – teachers paid less than other teachers because of lower student scores.
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Paula Bienenfeld, education committee chair and first vice president of the Montgomery County Civic Federation, said most of the participants did not understand the budget.
“Happy with it? Most of the participants at the book club said, ‘I do not like this book.’ ‘It is confusing.’ ‘It is not well written,’” Bienenfeld said.
“It is obvious there is wasteful redundancy, no accountability metrics, and millions in slush funds or unaccounted-for dollars. Both the Board of Education and the County Council have a fiduciary responsibility and duty to the taxpayers to carefully review this budget and they refuse to do that,” she continued. “The BOE budget is a sacred cow that never gets a close look or any cuts, even though it makes up half of our entire county budget. The council needs to step up and do its job this year.”
County Councilman Craig Rice said the council does its job within the confines of the maintenance of effort law.
The maintenance of effort law requires local school boards to provide a constant level of funding over time as a condition of increasing state aid. Montgomery County applied for a waiver in 2011 that would allow lower funding, but the county withdrew its request in 2012.
Montgomery County spent an average of $15,582 per student in 2010, the second highest mark of any county in the country, according to 2010 census data.
“We have been hearing the criticism all along. But there is nothing we can do about it as a council,” Rice said. “Even if we found these things they’re alleging, we wouldn’t be able to do anything about it because of the limits within the maintenance of effort law.”
Dana Tofig, public information officer for MCPS, said the county is happy with its proposed budget.
“Dr. Starr builds his budget recommendation in collaboration with representatives of staff and parents in Montgomery County Public Schools. There are numerous opportunities for people to weigh in on the budget before and after Dr. Starr’s recommendation is released in December and before the board approves a request in February,” Tofig said. “Dr. Starr’s fiscal year 2014 budget proposal is 0.4 percent above the minimum funding floor required by state law and every dollar of that is accounted for in the budget.”
The 2014 fiscal year budget goes to the council for review later this month and, if approved, will take effect on October 1.