March 11, 2011

Facing $300M shortfall, schools & county continue to fight

Less than a year after pledging to improve communication, Montgomery County's Board of Education and its funding authority, the County Council, are fighting again over education spending. Last week, the school board asked the state to step in to protect its $2.1 billion budget. And on Thursday, Council President Valerie Ervin (D-Dist. 5) of Silver Spring sent the board a letter asking it to withdraw the state petition and concede that the council has the authority to cut education spending.

"The council will vigorously defend its authority and responsibility under the Charter to balance the county operating budget equitably between the public schools and other vital services," Ervin said in the letter to Board of Education President Christopher S. Barclay (Dist. 4) of Takoma Park.

Last year, the school board threatened to sue the county over possible cuts to its budget, using the same legal argument it cited in its March 2 memo to the state Board of Education.

In that memo, attorneys for the county school board requested that the state board advise the County Council that it cannot fund the school system below a state-imposed standard — the maintenance of effort. The county board also requests that the state board force the council to approve the level of school funding included in County Executive Isiah Leggett's (D) budget, which he will release Tuesday.

Leggett has said the county cannot afford to fund the school system at maintenance-of-effort levels in his proposed fiscal 2012 budget. Montgomery County is facing a $300 million budget shortfall. Maintenance of effort requires counties to fund their public schools at the same per-pupil level as the previous year, in order to receive increases in state aid for those schools.

"It's not helpful when one agency in effect sues another," said Councilman Philip M. Andrews (D-Dist. 3) of Gaithersburg, comparing the school board's recent petition to last year's lawsuit. SOURCE: Gazette

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