After a tense budget work session, Montgomery County Councilmembers agreed in a straw poll that they would not pass a 10% real estate tax increase and would find other sources to fully fund the Montgomery County Public Schools (MCPS) budget.
“What was presented to us by the county executive is that MCPS can only be funded with a 10% tax increase. That’s not true,” Council President Evan Glass (D-At-large) said. “What you’ve been seeing the council do over these past months is find savings in other areas.”
The work session came after a strained week between the council, MCPS officials and members of the teachers’ union over school funding, which included a protest at a council meeting and contrasting op-eds.
“My trust has been broken tremendously in the way things have been handled,” councilmember Dawn Luedtke (D-Dist. 7) said during the work session about the discussions between the council and the school system about the budget deliberations.
County Executive Marc Elrich (D) introduced a 10-cent property tax increase in mid-March that he said would provide an additional $220 million for public schools this upcoming fiscal year. The proposal needs to be approved by six of 11 council members in order to pass—a vote that will take place May 17. On May 5 the Education & Culture Committee voted to recommend adopting a 9% increase instead of 10%, with 7% being labeled “high priority” and 2% labeled as “priority.” This was the proposal the council agreed to on Friday.
In response to the committee’s recommendation, members of the Montgomery County Education Association teachers’ union staged a sit-in during a proclamation for Teacher Appreciation Week at Tuesday’s council meeting, leading Glass to call a recess of the meeting.
Later that afternoon, two top MCPS officials and presidents of three MCPS employee unions published a letter to the County Council asking for an 8% funding increase for next year’s school operating budget.
On Thursday, Glass released an op-ed to MoCo360 calling for more transparency from MCPS in the budget process, and suggested the need for state legislation requiring more transparency in the school budgetary processes.
In response, the Board of Education released their own op-ed in MoCo360 Friday, defending their budget process and suggesting Glass was more critical of the “diverse, all-female Board of Education” and Black woman superintendent.
Councilmember and Education & Culture Committee chair Will Jawando (D-At-large) proposed changing the priority trances with 8% being labeled as “high priority” on Friday. Councilmember Kristin Mink (D-Dist. 5) withdrew her second, which took the motion off the table.
Jawando said he wants to increase the priority to 8% because he is concerned MCPS doesn’t have money “hiding in the couch cushions” to use to fund the budget.
“There’s no 10% tax increase on the table,” Jawando said. “It’s not happening.”
Superintendent Monifa McKnight urged the council at the meeting Friday to recognize these are “challenging times” in public education.
“Look at all of our children as high priority–every single one of them,” McKnight said. “I see it no other way.”
Councilmember Gabe Albornoz (D-At-large), a member of the Education & Culture committee, argued that the council has always wanted to prioritize children.
“Of course we think all of the children are high priority. So the insinuation we would make a decision that would somehow harm the students is disingenuous,” Albornoz said on Friday. “We’re doing our best to balance the needs of the entire county with the fiscal reality that is staring us straight in our face.”
During the meeting, councilmembers shared the sentiment that it is a top priority to fund teachers’ salaries.
“I don’t think that’s ever been in question,” said councilmember Andrew Friedson (D-Dist. 1). “I don’t think anyone on this dais has ever suggested otherwise.”
On Thursday, the Board of Education announced new three-year contracts have been approved between MCPS and its three employee unions—contracts including “competitive wage increases,” Board of Education President Karla Silvestre said.
McKnight said the only way for the new agreements to be followed is with full funding.
MCPS Chief Operating Officer Brian Hull voiced concern Friday that without the tax increase to fully fund the proposed budget, there would be a $40 million gap.
“Nobody has offered a solution to closing that gap,” Hull said.
Essie McGuire, a senior legislative analyst for the council, told the council Friday that teacher salaries could still be funded within the 7% high priority model.
“The collective bargaining process has been used to make us the villains and stoke anxiety,” Luedtke said.
She said she believes there is a “false impression” that the council has control over what happens with teachers’ contracts and salaries, when that is all handled by MCPS.
Councilmember Kate Stewart (D-Dist. 4) said the council’s passage of a recordation tax rate on Tuesday that will help fund MCPS capital projects cannot be ignored when it comes to the council’s recognition that the schools are “in great need.” She said she’s passionate about making sure faculty is supported, as her children are both MCPS graduates.
“My children would not be the people they are today” without the support of MCPS teachers, Stewart said.
The council will take a final vote on the budget May 17.