ROCKVILLE – Montgomery County Public Schools Interim Superintendent Larry Bowers has held back more than 400 positions this month, including 150 teachers, to prepare for budget cuts from the county and state.
“While I am hopeful that the County Council will be able to fully fund our budget, we must prepare for the possibility that we will have to make additional reductions to our budget request,” Bowers said. “We are taking this action now so that our schools and staff impacted by these changes can begin planning for next year.”
Bowers’ staff allocations cut about 370 school-based positions across MCPS and 40 central services positions in addition to 12 already cut in MCPS’s original proposed budget for fiscal 2016. The teacher cuts come from increased class sizes at all levels except kindergarten. The staff cuts also include some English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) teachers and special education teachers. The cuts also include support staff like reading specialists, staff development teachers, media assistants and instructional data analysts.
In February the board approved a $2.39 billion budget request to the county council, a 4.6 percent increase from the fiscal 2015 budget. The staff cuts come in reaction to Governor Larry Hogan’s proposed $25 million cut in state aid to MCPS as well as potential shortfalls at the county government level overall. County Executive Ike Leggett plans to release his recommended budget for the county on March 16.
“Based on what we know right now, we don’t have the dollars. So we lost $25-plus million from the state. Those are real dollars so those cuts reflect that possibility, and can we get those dollars back? I don’t know. We’re waiting to see what happens in Annapolis,” said Board of Education member Chris Barclay.
Board President Patricia O’Neill said the cuts are a sensible move for the school system.
“While it’s painful now and it’s going to be a lot of pain in the schools, I think it’s the prudent thing to do. And hopefully the county executive and the county council will come through and maybe there’ll be a restoration of some of the loss of state aid and so we won’t have to make these cuts, but it’s much easier to hold back these positions now then it is to try to get them back later,” O’Neill said.
O’Neill said the school system puts those in cut positions on an involuntary transfer list. From there they can then go to a job fair to try to find open positions at other schools.
Board members said they had already eliminated all the other costs they could before they removed staff positions.
“We’re hoping for the best, but if the dollars aren’t there, the dollars aren’t there and the majority of our budget is people. It’s salaries. There’s only so much paper and gasoline and copiers you can cut to really get to whatever the final amount is,” said board Vice President Mike Durso.
Barclay also said the central office had been cut to the “bare bones.” As part of the fiscal management committee, Barclay said he has seen how much the school system has to cope with increasing needs and decreasing revenue.
“I can tell you that every year we have encouraged and supported things that the administration has done to find more efficiencies. So we’ve audited our health care system to make sure that people don’t have dependents listed who are no longer dependents,” Barclay said. “We’ve done all kinds of things and if you listen to the financial report, we have a savings plan in place now.”
For grades 1 and 2, classes increase from 27 to 28 students at non-focus schools; for grade 3, classes increase from 27 to 28 for all schools; for grades 4 and 5, classes increase from 29 to 30 students. At the middle and high school levels, class sizes increase by .5 students at schools with higher Free and Reduced Meals (FARMS) rates and by 1 student at other schools. Focus schools generally get additional funding for more individualized student support.