Top Montgomery County Public Schools officials reiterated their demand for a fully funded operating budget Thursday ahead of a key County Council vote — even as the Greater Capital Area Association of Realtors called for officials to resist increasing property taxes that the group said would “further exacerbate the affordability crisis.”
The County Council is expected to take a straw vote Friday morning on the school district’s $3.15 billion operating budget. To support it, County Executive Marc Elrich has proposed a 10% property tax increase that he has said would put $220 million toward the school system. The council’s Education & Culture Committee has voted instead to recommend adopting a 9% increase, with 7% being labeled “high priority” and 2% labeled as “priority.”
The council on Tuesday also approved an increase in the recordation tax on real estate sales to fund capital projects, including renovations to county schools.
On Thursday, Superintendent Monifa McKnight, Board of Education President Karla Silvestre (At-large) and the presidents of the school district’s three employee unions all gave remarks outside the Carver Educational Services Center in Rockville at 5 p.m. The press conference was announced online just an hour prior.
After the district spent months in negotiations, Silvestre announced new three-year contracts have been approved between MCPS and its three employee unions—contracts including “competitive wage increases,” she said.
McKnight said the only way for the new agreements to be followed is with full funding.
“Our employees are the backbone of our school community,” she said. “We ask that your importance is acknowledged tomorrow by fully funding our budget.”
Silvestre also seemed to indirectly address an op-ed published Thursday by MoCo360 and authored by Council President Evan Glass (D), in which he called for more transparency from MCPS and suggested a state law might be required to ensure school funds are appropriately used.
“We’re committed to fostering and providing a culture of accountability,” Silvestre said, adding that the school board had written a letter to Glass outlining the ways they continue to provide accountability and oversight to MCPS.
On the same day, the realtors association released a statement decrying this week’s approval of the recordation tax increase and casting it and the proposed property tax increase as forces that will make housing less affordable in an area beset with high prices and in a period of high interest rates.
“In the following days, the Council will decide whether to approve hundreds of millions of dollars in new government expenses by increasing property taxes to support this spending spree,” the group wrote. “When combined, these troublesome tax hikes will further exacerbate the affordability crisis at a time when Montgomery County homeowners are already facing higher property tax bills due to rising property assessments.
“We call on the Council to demonstrate fiscal responsibility and hold the line against raising property taxes.”
Other pro-business entities, such as the political nonprofit Empower Montgomery and the county GOP, have mounted advertising campaigns assailing the proposed property tax increase.
On Tuesday, Montgomery County Education Association members disrupted a County Council session with a demonstration, forcing council into recess.
MCEA president Jennifer Martin said Thursday she was grateful to be “at a place of closure” with the approval of the new contracts, which she called “truly historic” with wage increases never before seen in the county.
“We’re now at a very pivotal point,” Pia Morrison, president of the Service Employees International Union-Local 500, said at the rally. “Council has the opportunity to be heroes for our students.”