School board adopts budget for public hearing

Following Monday’s Board of Supervisors meeting, which reduced school funding by $540,000, the Montgomery County School Board adopted a 2017-2018 budget on Tuesday for public hearing.

The Board of Supervisors’ decision to cut school funding came as a surprise to school board members who had been discussing the possibility of salary enhancements for the district’s highest earning employees just several weeks earlier.

“What happened last night was one of the worst examples of political bullying I’ve seen in this county,” said District F representative Connie Froggatt. “It was appalling.”

Of the $540,000, $390,000 will be used to construct new ball fields in Riner and Shawsville and $150,000 will be allocated for the ACCE program.

However, Board of Supervisors Chair Chris Tuck (District B) told the school board that they could count on receiving $540,000 later in the year from the county’s carryover funds.

Unfortunately, that money will only be able to be spent on one-time purchases, not salaries or health insurance. “With this, we really have no options in terms of insurance,” Superintendent Mark Miear told the school board Tuesday.

Unfortunately, that money will only be able to be spent on one-time purchases, not salaries or health insurance.

“With this, we really have no options in terms of insurance,” Superintendent Mark Miear told the school board Tuesday.

Miear supported the first of two budget options the school board has been looking at over the past couple months. This option ultimately passed 6-1, with only James Lyons (District C representative) dissenting. Lyons said he was not convinced the county would provide the $540,000 later in the year, and said he believed a budget shouldn’t be passed with the assumption those funds will become available.

The adopted budget includes a salary raise at the beginning of the year for all employees who are not yet at the top of their pay scale. It also involves a deductible increase, spousal surcharge and premium increase for employees.

Additionally, several areas initially part of the school’s budget were completely cut, including a $30,000 program providing internet access to underprivileged students; $104,400 to replace technology equipment; $29,670 for vehicle replacement; $375,400 for school bus replacement; and $204,400 for capital improvements.

School bus replacement has been a topic of discussion at recent school board meetings because cutting funds may cause the district to fall behind on its replacement schedule.

Rebecca Mummau, head of MCPS’s transportation department, said it is recommended that buses are replaced when they reach 150,000 miles, or they may end up requiring major work, such as a new engine, to keep them operational.

There are currently 17 school buses in the district that already have over 160,000 miles and the district’s current replacement schedule means the district must purchase 75 school buses between 2019 and 2025. The budget adopted Tuesday does not allow for any bus purchases during the 2017-2018 budget cycle.

“I’m concerned that the supervisors really don’t get this,” said District E representative Marti Graham.

For District B representative Penny Franklin, increasing the cost of insurance for employees was a difficult decision.

“This one has been a real struggle for me, especially the insurance which has always been a sacred piece of the budget for me,” Franklin said.

District D representative Jamie Bond expressed frustration over the allocation of county funding.

“Once again, you’re giving money to a small group of people who will reap from it, but everyone would like that money,” Bond said.

Several school board members accused the supervisors of playing political games with education funding.

“Everyone needs to start speaking out against this, because it’s ridiculous,” Franklin said. “This is politics going into our education, and it needs to stop.”

Froggatt said she believed political pork was at work, pointing out that supervisors Gary Creed (District C) and Todd King (District D) both represent areas that will receive new baseball fields, and that Tuck is on the Fire and Rescue Commission, which will benefit from the new requirement that ACCE program participants must complete their volunteer work for local fire and rescue departments.

Froggatt also criticized the Board of Supervisors for slipping the $540,000 cut into the county’s budget after a public hearing had already been held on the budget.

“Not only did they do a great disservice to the purpose of democracy, but to our citizens, to our employees and worst of all: our children, which are our county’s future,” Froggatt said.

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