ROCKVILLE—The Montgomery County Council’s committee on education and culture met to discuss providing more funding to Montgomery College than the County Executive had initially recommended in his proposed budget.
The Education and Culture Commitee, chaired by Councilmember Craig Rice, met on April 12 along with officials from Montgomery College to hear more about funding decisions for the local institution.
On March 15, County Executive Marc Elrich presented to the public his proposed operating budget for the coming fiscal year. In a press conference Elrich explained that his budget is designed to withstand the volatility seen in tax revenues in recent years.
The budget focuses a great deal of funding toward Montgomery County Public Schools (MCPS), at about 46.3 percent of the total operating budget. That equates to about $2,647.5 million in funding for MCPS – an increase of about two percent or $51.1 million compared with the last fiscal year.
Elrich campaigned on bolstering access to early education and care services for children in Montgomery County.
Although the county council has said it recognizes the importance of early education and public school funding, not all the councilmembers were pleased with the layout of the proposed budget
Rice was vocal in disapproving of the cuts to Montgomery College’s budget. The budget, according to the college’s president Dr. DeRionne Pollard, was already slim and conservative and included the college’s own cuts.
For fiscal year 2020, Elrich’s budget recommended $310 million, as opposed to the $314 million the college had originally requested.
“The County Executive’s recommendation funds 99.5 percent of the Board of Education’s request,” the Office of Budget Management wrote in their budget overview.
Pollard was also vocal in expressing her disappointment in the proposed budget.
At the Education and Culture Committee meeting, Pollard described her effort to make the college’s budget request low.
“Our total appropriations request is lower this year than it was last year; in fact, this is our lowest request in seven years,” Pollard said. “We did this by doing several strategic things; we met the county’s savings plan that they asked us to do, we also cut approximately $8 million to our budget ourselves before even submitting it and then we have a proposed tuition increase that our board just approved, begrudgingly, earlier this week.”
Pollard said that Montgomery College is profoundly aware of the challenges facing the county and that the college has been responsive to the status of the county in past years.
The faculty at Montgomery College was understanding of the funding situation the county has been facing as well, Pollard said. She went on to explain that two of the three unions working within in the college have already agreed to compensation adjustments for employees not to exceed 2.5 percent for the coming year. Pollard said she hopes that the third union agrees in the coming week.
“Our employees came to the table knowing the circumstances that we’ve been in these last few years in the county and they met us where we could meet them,” she said. “So, as a result of that, I don’t know how I would go back to them and say, ‘at the end of the day the county believes in what you do, but we’re not going to compensate your people at the level we’re compensating others.’”
Richard Harris, who is a professional staff member within the Office of Budget Management, attended the meeting to give input on the reasons for the cuts to Montgomery College from the perspective of the county executive.
Harris explained that Elrich is supportive of the college and holds particular interest in the programs Montgomery College offers that focus on workforce development.
“At the same time, he has to balance the budget, and he recognizes that the county has been very generous to the college in the past five or seven years,” Harris said. “And in light of that, the college’s revenues just aren’t supporting the level of funding that’s requested.”
Harris noted that enrollment in the college is down about 25 percent from what it was in 2013.
“The fact remains that in 15 years the college’s request was for more than twice as much it was funding, as it received to educate fewer students,” Harris said. “The county’s budget is fiscally responsible in light of the current fiscal situation.”
To that point, Rice argued that part of the job as county officials is to understand where to wisely invest. Council President Nancy Navarro also agreed.
“In every conversation we have about economic development and about expanding our tax base, we talk about Montgomery College,” she said. “Just because you have decreased enrollment doesn’t mean that the challenges and the barriers for students that are already there go away. They still need those resources and that support.”
Craig Howard, a senior legislative analyst, pointed out that wage adjustments for Montgomery College employees have been very small.
“In total wage adjustments, when we talk about cost containment, are one of the smallest if not the smallest over the last few years, of all the county agencies,” Howard said.
The committee eventually voted 3-0 to provide the extra funding to the college.
“I think it’s clear that we support the $3.1 million, so I would recommend that we just put the $3.1 million in totality on the reconciliation list,” Rice said.
The committee’s recommendation will now go to the full council for a vote in mid-May.