What happens now?

Montgomery County Board of Education President Christopher Barclay warned this morning of dire consequences now that the County Council has all but given final approval to a fiscal 2012 school budget that’s $107 million less than school officials requested.

“The Council has stated that they support the school system and that its cuts will not hurt the classroom. That simply isn’t true. Every school will feel the effects of these cuts,” Barclay said in a statement.

“We are extremely disappointed that the County Council decided to, once again, take state funds meant for education and use them to balance its side of the budget,” he said. “With this budget, the Council will have taken 90 percent of our increases in state aid meant to help poor students and used it for non-educational purposes. That is $144 million out of $160 million. This is unacceptable.”

But what does this actually mean for MCPS’s 144,000 students? How many teachers will lose their jobs? How many programs will be cut back or eliminated?

Superintendent Jerry Weast’s list of $45 million in non-recommended cuts, released in March, would increase class sizes by eliminating 168 classroom teachers. Other proposed cuts include instrumental music teachers, school counselors, media assistants, academic intervention teachers and staff development positions as well as cuts in programs.

And that $45 million doesn’t even cover half of the $107 million.

There are no answers yet, but Barclay said the board will immediately begin working with staff to deal with the council’s budget cuts.

“Next year, we will be spending $1,500 less per student in local funding than we did in 2009,” he said. “The Board of Education members are very concerned that these cuts will eventually undermine the tremendous progress we have made.”

Council members stood by their funding decisions during Thursday morning’s tentative approval of the county’s $4.4 billion fiscal 2012 budget. Council President Valerie Ervin stressed that they “had no choice but to hit the reset button” to bring school spending more in line with other county services, which also faced funding cuts. The council will formally approve the budget May 26.

The council and school board have sparred this budget season over the council’s decision not to seek a waiver from the state’s Maintenance of Effort law, which requires MCPS to spend $82 million more next year because of projected increases in enrollment. MCPS will face a state fine of possibly $26 million in fiscal 2013 for not meeting the requirement.

Council members decided that MCPS needed to bear its share of the county budget crisis, noting there is no maintenance of effort law for police, fire and other county services. The extra $25 million on top of the $82 million was focused on achieving savings in school employee benefits, they said.

Council member Nancy Floreen noted that the council supports maintaining a “world-class” MCPS even though it cut school funding. “Our commitment will not change. It never will. What has changed is the economy,” she said. “We have every confidence that the Board of Education will implement this budget in a way that will not impact the classroom.”

How that will be achieved remains to be seen.

Julie Rasicot

Julie Rasicot can be reached at julie.rasicot@bethesdamagazine.com