May 26, 2010

STANDARD-BEARER: Yet again, Maryland BOE waives Montgomery Maintenance-of-Effort rules

BALTIMORE — The state school board agreed today to waive Montgomery County's maintenance-of-effort requirement for next year, just hours after local officials testified before the panel that the sagging economy made it impossible for them to fully fund education in fiscal 2011. With the 7-5 vote, the state school board allows the county government to fund the schools at a level below this year's funding.

Without the waiver of the maintenance-of-effort requirement, governments that fail to fund their schools at least at the previous year's level face a reduction in state education aid. County Executive Isiah Leggett's proposed county schools' budget for fiscal 2011, which begins July 1, was $137.7 million less than what the school system requested. The county sought a $137.7 million waiver from the state school board. Reasoning the school system couldn't take cuts beyond what already was proposed, schools' Superintendent Jerry D. Weast, who has been vocal against school cuts, supported the waiver request. He called the case for the waiver "overwhelming." Weast accompanied Leggett, County Council President Nancy M. Floreen and school board President Patricia B. O'Neill to the state school board meeting.

"I think we're fine," Weast said after the hearing. "We anticipate everything to go through as anticipated."

"Why is the victim punished by a reduction in state support?" O'Neill (Dist. 3) of Bethesda asked state school board members. "Our children must not be made victims of the recession."

Leggett said it was "wonderful" the state school board granted the county's waiver request. As for the board's reasons for granting the waiver, Leggett said the panel recognized the county's dire financial circumstances, which have necessitated furloughs, layoffs and the elimination of pay raises for the upcoming fiscal year.

Last year, the county government sought a $79.5 million waiver, but the state board denied the request and said government officials had not made a strong enough case. The state school board then decided to withhold $23.4 million in state aid from the Montgomery school system. The General Assembly agreed to overturn that decision, however. If the state school board did not waive the county's maintenance-of-effort requirement for fiscal 2011, the school system faced a potential $51 million reduction in state aid as a penalty. SOURCE: Gazette

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