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Employment Up, Crime Down

March 2014

We are blessed to live in a community with so many wonderful attributes.  That is why I was so pleased in recent weeks to hear new statistics that shows that employment is up and crime is down in our County.

 

In late February, a report released by the Maryland Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation showed that the County's unemployment rate dipped to 4.1 percent in December 2013 -- the lowest level since 2008 and a nearly 30 percent decrease since its high in 2010.

 

In addition, as a member of the Council's Public Safety Committee, I was pleased to hear that total crime for 2013 in Montgomery County decreased 9 percent from 2012 -- part of a seven-year trend that totaled a 33 percent reduction in serious crime and a 26 percent decrease in all crimes.

 

The 33 percent drop in serious crime in the County was more than twice the decrease in crime nationally over the same time period -- and eight times lower than the rate of decrease for the previous seven years in the County (2000-06).

 

The 26 percent drop in all crimes in the County was three times lower than the 9 percent drop nationally and contrasted with an 8 percent overall increase in crimes in the 7 years before (2000-2006). This is encouraging news to hear on both these fronts, but there is more work to be done to ensure anyone who wants to work can find a job and all our communities are safe and secure from crime.

 

MCPS CIP Recommendations
February 13th, 2014 

In October 2013, MCPS Superintendent Dr. Joshua Starr released his FY 2015 Capital Budget and his FY 2015-2020 Capital Improvements Program recommendations. These

CIP recommendations reflect the Superintendent's proposals for additions and modernizations within our school system's facilities. In response to the Superintendent's recommendations, the Board of Education has recommended restoring some of the additions and modernization projects to their FY13-18 timetable. You can see their request here.

  
It is an ambitious ask and one that is, of course, merited.  The proposed additions and revitalization projects are vital to our schools -- not only to provide modern facilities in which we can deliver a nationally recognized level of education, but to sufficiently support the school system's growing enrollment.  Providing adequate 21st century facilities is one element of preserving MCPS's well deserved reputation of excellence.
  
Our District 1 school projects have been and will continue to be a top priority of mine as the council works to finalize our capital budget. Reconciling the vast array of budgetary needs in the County is never easy, but I am committed to funding as many school construction projects as we can afford in this budget cycle. My colleagues and I on the Council will continue to work with my colleagues on the Board of Education as we move toward finalizing the FY15-20 CIP this spring.
  
In the meantime, I will continue to advocate -- along with the Superintendent, the Board of Education, and the PTA community -- for more school construction funding in Annapolis in order to ensure our county gets our fair share of funding in the State budget.
  
Tour of A Wider Circle's Center for Professional Developmenet
Februrary 13th, 2014

I was fortunate to recently meet with the leadership of A Wider Circle and learn about their Center for Professional Development and tour their new facility in Silver Spring.

 

While we are blessed in Montgomery County with great resources, poverty is a very real issue facing us.  Luckily, District 1 and Montgomery County as a whole is home to a vibrant and diverse community of non-profit organizations that significantly contributes to our overall quality of life and provides a hand-up for our most vulnerable residents.

 

A Wider Circle is one of our best.  It is known mostly for its great work in distributing beds and other furniture to those who often have nothing more than a chair in their entire home.  However, under Executive Director Mark Bergel's leadership, and with the support of Deputy Director Anne Thompson and their fantastic staff, A Wider Circle has launched a terrific program to help people learn the skills they need to apply for and obtain higher paying jobs.  

 

It simply isn't enough to just provide a decent minimum wage.  We need to help people get the skills they need to sustain a family.  That is work that I am deeply committed to addressing.  There is a model that many states have adopted -- Career Pathways -- that I have been advocating for our county and state to embrace.  Stay tuned.     

 

I look forward to continue meeting with many more non-profit organizations in the future and telling just a part of their story.  

FY14 Budget: Montgomery County Public Schools and Montgomery College
May 23, 2013
The Council fully funded the school system's FY14 budget request, consistent with the County Executive's recommendation.  Applying about $10 million from MCPS's approximate $40 million fund balance, the Council fulfilled its obligation under the state Maintenance of Effort law and still provided 100% of the resources the school system requested.  

MCPS continues to be my #1 budget priority.  So many parents choose to move to or stay in Montgomery County because of our incredible school system.  I am particularly pleased that this budget begins to restore positions that MCPS eliminated in recent years -- positions like school counselors and paraeducators, for example.  I know that having these positions goes a long way toward improving teaching and learning and that they are a priority of our PTA community.

Although they are included in the Montgomery County Police Department's budget, and not the school system's, I am also pleased that the number of School Resource Officers will double next year.  Having these officers in place in our high schools is a proactive approach to school safety and I appreciate the ongoing collaboration between MCPD and MCPS to ensure that it is a successful program. 
 
Montgomery College is an outstanding institution that our County can be very proud of, as well.  The Council also fully funded the College's request, which held the line on tuition this year, ensuring that Montgomery College remains an affordable choice for our students and adult learners.  
MCPS Budget
April 3, 2013

Our outstanding school system has been and will continue to be my #1 budget priority.  MCPS provides a world-class education for our students and is among the top reasons why our county is so attractive to new residents and businesses, and why we continue to be a strong competitor in an increasingly competitive regional economy.   

 

The school system requested a FY14 budget of $2.2 billion.  I commend Dr. Starr and the Board of Education for including in that request restorations to positions that have been cut in recent years -- school counselors and paraeducators, for example -- that I know are very important to parents of MCPS students.

That is why I am pleased that, in his recommended budget, the County Executive fully funded the school system's request.  Not only does it meet the County's Maintenance of Effort obligation under state law, but it also funds 100% of what the Superintendent and the Board of Education asked for. 

It does so by applying an additional $10 million from MCPS's "fund balance" - cumulative dollars that MCPS had leftover in recent years and has rolled over from year to year - so that the school system's FY14 request is fully covered.  Even by applying this additional $10 million to the FY14 budget, MCPS's fund balance is projected to stand at $13 million by the end of this fiscal year.
Pedestrian Safety at Bethesda Elementary School
March 14, 2013
Bethesda Elementary School You may have heard about the recent pedestrian safety incident near Bethesda Elementary School on Arlington Road and Edgemoor Lane.  Thankfully, no one was hurt. 

Notwithstanding that fortunate outcome, I believe this incident underscores the continued need for the County to work harder on addressing pedestrian safety dynamics in this part of downtown Bethesda.  Particularly because of its proximity to Bethesda Elementary School, this area has a significant number of pedestrians.  And given that having parents and students walk to school is a goal that many of us on the Council and the Board of Education share, we need to be certain that the appropriate tools are in place to ensure the safety of our school children and all pedestrians in this area.
 
Along with the support of nearby residents, I am pleased that my advocacy with the State Highway Administration has already persuaded them to plan for the installation of enhanced pedestrian safety features near Bethesda Elementary School on Wilson Lane, later this Spring.  But given this latest incident on Arlington, I have written to the Board of Education, the Department of Transportation, and the Montgomery County Police Department to request their consideration of additional measures that could be implemented.  Each of these entities has some hand in this broader effort, and I look forward to working with them to further enhance pedestrian safety for Bethesda Elementary School students, parents, and all other walkers in the area. 
District 1 School CIP Update
March 14, 2103

Although we are in a CIP "off year," I am keeping a close watch on our District 1 schools' additions and modernizations.  These are the projects that help ensure our students have adequate facilities to learn and thrive, which I believe is a critical component to our their success.
 
The Council will not take a final vote on the CIP until late May, when we also take a final vote on the County's operating budget.  The chart below provides you with the latest recommended timeframes for improvements to our schools.  These important projects will continue to be a priority for me as I consider the County's capital budget.
 
Council and Board of Education Collaborate on Accelerated Funding for School Safety
February 11, 2013

Last week the Council approved a supplemental appropriation to the FY13 budget for Montgomery County Public Schools that will provide the necessary funding to continue installation of access control systems on the remaining elementary schools that do not yet have them.

 

A number of parents in District 1 contacted me in the aftermath of the terrible tragedy in Newtown, CT with their specific concerns about certain MCPS facilities that did not yet have an access control system installed. I understood those concerns, and shared them with my colleagues on the Council and the Board of Education. Our Council could not accelerate this work unless the the Board requested it. Gratefully, the Board did just that, and my colleagues on the Council and I voted unanimously to get this work done now - not later.
 

I want to thank members of the school community who wrote letters, sent emails, made phone calls, and testified before the Council regarding the need for the accelerated funding.  This is a terrific example of community engagement producing quick results from local government.  

Superintendent's Recommended FY14 Operating Budget
December 19, 2012
Last week, MCPS Superintendent Dr. Joshua Starr submitted his Recommended FY14 Operating Budget to the Board of Education, including a request to exceed maintenance of effort by $10 million.  The Board will then submit its budget request to the County Executive in January.   

The Superintendent's recommendations come as our fiscal outlook for FY14 is just beginning to take shape.  While we are beginning to see modest signs of economic recovery, this next year is expected to bring its own share of fiscal challenges due to a number of factors - among them, changes to state law that impact our budget significantly, the fragile nature of our overall economic recovery, and the ongoing prospect of sequestration.

With that said, you should know that MCPS will continue to be my #1 budget priority as we look ahead to the FY14 budget.  We have a world class school system in MCPS, and we must continue to preserve its reputation of excellence.  I look forward to working with my colleagues on the Council and on the Board of Education as we collectively work toward that goal.
Walk To School Day at Wood Acres ES
September 25, 2012
One of my favorite events each fall is Walk To School Day.  It is a great opportunity for our students to enjoy the crisp fall air and spend some time outside getting exercise.  It is also a chance for me to get to know a particular school community a little better.

This year, I'll be walking to school with Wood Acres Elementary.  I have gotten to know the Wood Acres community over the years and look forward to spending some time with them in October.  If you're a Wood Acres walker, I hope to see you there!
Council Takes Straw Vote on FY13 Operating Budget and FY13-18 CIP
May 17, 2012

The Council has been hard at work finalizing our Fiscal Year 2013 Operating Budget and the FY 13-18 Capital Improvements Program (CIP).  We took our most significant "straw vote" today, essentially finalizing both budgets but for the formal vote a week from today.

 

It is a budget that, in my view, accurately reflects the tenor of our time, a time of both guarded optimism and lingering effects of the worst recession since the Great Depression. We stayed $32 million under the Charter Limit for property taxes and reduced our energy taxes by $11.4 million. These taxpayer sensitive decisions are even more important given the income tax increases passed by the State Legislature.

 

Our great school system and premier community college is fully funded; public safety was enhanced with 58 more police officers; and our safety net was strengthened. We have sought to improve the business climate in our county by partnering with the business community to attract and retain jobs for our county; provide more assistance to small businesses; and create more "innovation" to attract "new economy" entrepreneurs.

 

Our capital budget moves us toward a transit first approach to transportation without stinting on improving our road network; and makes significant investments in Wheaton and beyond.  I am very pleased that the Council was able to fulfill the Board of Education's requests for school modernizations, additions, and gymnasiums at all of our District 1 schools:

BCC Cluster

Bethesda Chevy Chase HS (Anticipated completion TBD)
Bethesda Chevy Chase MS #2 (Anticipated completion 2017)
Bethesda ES Addition (Anticipated completion 2015)
North Chevy Chase ES Addition (Anticipated completion 2015)
North Chevy Chase ES Gymnasium (Anticipated completion 2012)
Rock Creek Forest ES Modernization (Anticipated completion 2015)
Rosemary Hills ES Addition (Anticipated completion 2015)

Rosemary Hills ES Modernization (Anticipated completion 2021)
Westbrook ES Addition (Anticipated completion 2013)
Westbrook ES Gymnasium (Anticipated completion 2013)

Churchill Cluster

Hoover MS Modernization (Anticipated completion 2013)

Beverly Farms ES Modernization (Anticipated completion 2013)

Potomac ES Modernization (Anticipated completion 2018)

Wayside ES Modernization (Anticipated completion 2016)

 

WJ Cluster
Tilden MS Modernization (Anticipated completion 2018)
Ashburton ES Addition (Anticipated completion TBD)
Kensington-Parkwood ES Addition (Anticipated completion TBD)
Luxmanor ES Modernization (Anticipated completion 2018)
Wyngate ES Addition (Anticipated completion 2013)

 

Poolesville Cluster
Poolesville HS Modernization (Anticipated completion 2021)

Whitman Cluster
Bradley Hills ES Addition (Anticipated completion 2013)

Wood Acres ES Addition (Anticipated completion 2016)  

  

We have approved a budget that is lean but not without substance; a budget that makes strategic investments wisely; and a budget that restores vital services without being reckless. And it was a consensus budget that built upon the solid framework that was provided by the County Executive. A copy of my remarks upon the unanimous vote in favor of the budget can be found here, or check it out on Youtube here.     

Annapolis Update
March 13, 2012

Rarely has a state legislative session been more critical to the future of our County than the current one.  Since the start of session, I have spent a good bit of time in Annapolis meeting with our delegation on a range of items that will have a tremendous impact on Montgomery County.

 

The Pension Shift


You may have heard that Governor O'Malley, as part of his recommended state budget for FY13, has recommended shifting the responsibility for paying teacher pensions from the state to the counties.  For Montgomery County, the proposed pension shift would cost $47 million in FY13 and $315 million over the next five years.

How much is $47 million?  It pays for the jobs of nearly 500 teachers, firefighters, police officers, and other vital County personnel.  It is more than the County's general fund budgets for housing, transportation, and environmental protection combined. Our entire budget for libraries is less than $30 million.

The state's pension shortfall is not of the County's making.  It has raised pension benefits to unsustainable levels without providing adequate funding.  Our County cannot be asked to assume financial responsibility for this - we have cut services to the bone and we are at the charter limit in terms of local taxation. 

Over the last few weeks, my colleagues and I, along with representatives of the PTA, labor, the arts, the disabled community, park users, and other civic organizations have united to deliver a clear message to our delegation:  we simply cannot afford this shift.  I would encourage you to visit www.stoptheshiftmd.com to learn more, and find out how you can help.


Maintenance of Effort
 
Many of you are familiar with "MOE", or the state's Maintenance of Effort law, which requires counties to maintain per-pupil funding for education from year-to-year.  Montgomery County, until the Great Recession prevented us from meeting MOE, consistently exceeded its MOE obligation.

The broad consensus is that MOE needs reform.  And I believe there are a number of areas where the various stakeholders can arrive at common ground.  I was pleased that the original version of Senate Bill 848, began to lay the groundwork for that common ground-approach to reforming MOE.  Unfortunately, SB 848 has been amended to take a very different approach.  It is now a dramatic overreach that needs serious rethinking.  In its current form, the Bill disincentivizes a County from ever exceeding education funding requirements under MOE in the future and jeopardizes our County's well-guarded AAA bond rating.  The County Executive and I wrote to our Montgomery County Delegation yesterday to express our deep concerns with this bill. 
Bethesda-Chevy Chase Middle School #2
November 21, 2011

Like many of you, I was very surprised to learn that MCPS Superintendent Dr. Joshua Starr recommended convening a new site selection process for the new middle school in the Bethesda-Chevy Chase Cluster.  Given that his FY13-18 CIP recommendations, submitted to the Board of Education the Friday before, made no reference to a new process, this was a particularly unexpected change of course.

 

Nevertheless, the Superintendent believes a new site selection process can be undertaken without causing delays to the project's expected 2017 completion.  I have reiterated to the Superintendent and to my colleagues on the Board of Education that it is absolutely critical this project remains on schedule.  

 

It is also true that the process used by the school system was flawed:  notwithstanding that all of the sites under consideration were public sites, the process was not open to the public generally.  Instead, selected representatives of the cluster met in the early part of 2011 and worked hard to come up with two top recommendations.  

 

The first choice was nixed when our Planning Board made it clear that they would not allow the use of park land, on which the school system does not retain recall rights, for a new school.  The second choice -- Rock Creek Hills Park -- remains viable, but has also been met with resistance, particularly by the immediate neighbors. Unless some unprecedented public/private partnership arises, and can be closed in time, I personally will be surprised (not for the first time obviously) if the new look arrives at a different conclusion.  

 

Nonetheless, I recognize it is the school system's prerogative to make these sorts of calls -- and I know both the Superintendent and the Board of Education share my commitment to providing adequate facilities that give our students the best educational environment to thrive.

 

Ultimately, my concerns -- that the new middle school provide enough capacity to provide relief to the cluster's severe overcrowding and that the project is completed as soon as possible -- remain the same.  It is with these objectives in mind that I hope the new Site Selection Advisory Committee completes its work thoroughly and switfly.

Additional Crossing Guard at North Chevy Chase ES
August 11, 2011

North Chevy Chase Elementary SchoolEarlier this summer, I met with members of the North Chevy Chase community regarding their concerns related to pedestrian safety in the area of North Chevy Chase Elementary School.  This area is already a congested area for pedestrians, and it will most likely get worse next month because of BRAC.  As you may know, due to the closure of Walter Reed, National Naval Medical Center is expected to see 2500 new employees and could get up to one million visitors over the course of a year starting in September


One concern of theirs I took particular interest in was the pedestrian crossing of Manor Road and Jones Bridge Road, near the elementary school. With students headed back to school at the end of the month, I share the community's concern that students crossing at this intersection to get to school could be in even greater danger due to the increased traffic activity. That is why I wrote to the Board of Education to express my support, and likewise ask for their support, in adding an additional crossing guard at this intersection. I believe it would go a long way in making our students at North Chevy Chase ES safer and maybe even put their parents� minds slightly more at ease on the first day of school.

 
FY12 Budget: Education June 2, 2011

I believe the quality of our public schools directly contributes to our overall quality of life in Montgomery County - and that is why Montgomery County Public Schools is my number one budget priority.   I have heard from an overwhelming number of constituents who have told me they moved here because of MCPS's stellar reputation - a reputation that is entirely deserved and is a credit to our excellent educators and MCPS staff.  

 

I know that some members of the school community are disappointed in the decisions this Council made with respect to the MCPS budget.  As the parent of two MCPS graduates, I know first-hand what a world-class education our MCPS students receive.  Given the significance of this part of our budget, I shared my thoughts with you on it at some length (as is my habit) two weeks ago.  So, I will not go on and on now, but I will say that I think this Council did the best it could to achieve the necessary budget savings while minimizing potential cuts that will impact the classroom.  

 

I also think it is worth noting that the total tax-supported budget for MCPS is actually a $31 million increase over FY11.  This in a year when the budgets for other County departments and agencies are being further cut from their already significantly reduced levels.  MCPS has benefited from an influx of State Aid this year that our tremendous Montgomery County Delegation helped secure.  You should know that this Council always has and will continue to appropriate all state aid for education to MCPS.  This State Aid will protect MCPS from having to sustain the kind of reductions other departments and agencies are facing.

 

I want you to know that it is with the most careful consideration that I work through these decisions.  I understand that some of you still may be disappointed - but I do believe that a total budget that represents a $31 million increase over last year and that minimizes impacts on the classroom is a budget that fulfills our obligation to our MCPS students and one that preserves our world-class school system.

Message on FY12 MCPS Budget
May 18, 2011

As the Council comes down the homestretch of finalizing the Fiscal Year 2012 Operating Budget, you probably have heard a lot about and may even have been contacted about one of its most challenging aspects: the budget for Montgomery County Public Schools (MCPS). I wanted to offer you my perspective on the matter, in real time, in the hopes of clearing up any inconsistencies you may have heard. I do hope that if you've got questions regarding the MCPS budget, you will find answers to them in this message.

 

HighlightsI have received countless emails and phone calls in support of the MCPS budget - and rightfully so. I believe the quality of our public schools directly contributes to the quality of life we so value. Indeed, I've heard from an overwhelming amount of residents that they chose to live in Montgomery County in large part due to the outstanding reputation of our public schools - a reputation that is entirely deserved and that is a credit to MCPS's dedicated and talented staff. As the parent of two MCPS graduates, I know first-hand the excellent education our students receive.

 

I believe that each and every stakeholder involved shares a common goal: a world-class education for MCPS students and the continued success of our school system as a whole. Indeed, there is much we can and do agree on when it comes to our superb school system, and whatever differences we may have - almost exclusively with respect to funding - lie on the margins of our common commitment to our County's students. Regrettably, due to the weakened economy and issues of affordability, those differences have become more pronounced. Quite frankly, there's less money to go around but I continue to hold MCPS as my number one budget priority - and I believe my colleagues on the Council would agree.

 

Given that the MCPS budget is by no means a simple one - it is comprised of several distinct funding sources and impacted by complex state and county laws - it's no surprise that throughout the budget process, confusing data can reach the public and is easily spread through mailers, robo-calls, and emails. You have probably been the recipient of one or maybe all three. I believe that as your Councilmember, it is incumbent on me to present the facts in a way that considers the big picture - the same way my colleagues and I have to consider each decision we make.
 

Each year, the MCPS budget is largely comprised of funding from three sources: County, state, and federal dollars. (Other sources of revenue, like student activity fees and programs funded through private grants for example, comprise a small portion.) If you'll take a look at the chart below, which illustrates County, state and federal funding over the last nine years, you'll see that County funding of MCPS continued to increase through 2009, was essentially flat in 2010, and for the first time fell in absolute terms in FY2011.

MCPS Funding in Dollars
Source: FY03-FY07 figures from the Office of Legislative Oversight's Report "Key Fiscal Indicators for Montgomery County Public Schools" (2007), found here; FY08-FY11 figures from the MCPS website here.

In examining this data, you may wonder how it is that the County's funding of MCPS has been characterized differently. If you forgive the use of a pastry analogy, beginning in FY04 - when times were good and the County's coffers were flush with revenue - the "pie" that represented total County revenue started getting bigger and bigger. And while the "slice of the pie" that represented County funding allocated to MCPS increased, the size of the pie itself continued to increase as well - and at a higher rate. What does this mean? Well, if you were to use percentages to draw comparisons in year-to-year funding - instead of dollar figures - it would mean that the data could be characterized in such a way that makes it appear the Council's commitment to MCPS began to wane in 2004. I for one do not believe that to be the case, and that the total funding figures simply do not support that view. Moreover, it's useful to note that since FY03 until FY11, the BOE has received at least 97% of their funding request. In FY03, FY05, FY07, and FY10, they actually received more than they asked for. See the chart below.

MCPS Funding as Percentage of Board of Education's Request

There's also concern that the Coucil intends to "divert" or "misuse" State Aid for education. MCPS has been very fortunate in recent years to receive full formula funding of State Aid, and I assure you that the Council has always and will continue to appropriate all State Aid for education to MCPS. We are grateful for the hard work of our Montgomery County Delegation in Annapolis in securing these dollars. In speaking with members of our Delegation, I have found them to be sympathetic to the circumstances, understanding of the County's economic situation, and supportive of the decisions this Council has made in terms of funding MCPS. In fact, the influx of State Aid has protected MCPS from the worst of the budget reductions in the past three years that other County departments and agencies have faced. The first year that total MCPS funding decreased was FY11, in the midst of the Great Recession, by approximately 1%. The same year, the Montgomery County library system experienced a decrease of 23%; the Parks Department 16%; the Department of Recreation 15%. MCPS has benefited from State Aid like no other County agency or department has - and the same will be true this year as well.

Exceeding MOE

As most of you may know, in order to be eligible for an increase in state aid, the county is required to fund schools at a Maintenance of Effort (MOE) level. This requirement, one which our County has exceeded regularly, requires funding to increase significantly even in the midst of a great recession. We have fought unsuccessfully in Annapolis to amend the law to recognize that there should be some flexibility when revenues are plummeting and when cost saving measures are both appropriate and necessary. Having failed to obtain any flexibility, the County decided not to seek a waiver from the law and instead face a potential penalty in FY13. I say potential because we may still obtain relief from the rigidity of the law. Even assuming there is a penalty in FY13, it will be up to the Council then to determine how the penalty should be allocated. It is an open question as to whether, and to what extent if any, this penalty would be borne by the school system. Our decision not to seek a waiver will allow us to put our school budget on a much more sustainable path, and should permit us to meet MOE in the future.



That brings us to the present day. All Councilmembers agree that reductions that impact the classroom should be miniimized - and I am pleased that outcome is achieved by the Education Committee's recommendations made yesterday morning. The Education Committee, chaired by Council President Ervin, who is herself a former member of the Board of Education, proposes making several reductions to the MCPS Maintenance of Effort budget that would not have a programmatic impact.

 

� Reducing employee "step increases", which are salary icreases employees receive every year for longevity. Elimination of steps, in addition to cost of living adjustments (COLA), was a measure that all County agencies employed in FY11 and are likely to employ again in FY12 as a means of reducing expenditures. (All other County agencies actually went one step further and imposed employee furloughs in addition to eliminating COLAs and steps in FY11 - the Board of Education did not see fit to make the same imposition on the school system's employees however.) Eliminating MCPS employee steps represents a reduction of $28 million.  

 

� The Committee also recommends reducing the OPEB (Other Post-Employment Benefits) allocation by $27 million, which is identical to the County Executive's recommendation. This step does not impact actual teacher salaries or pensions.

 

One of the other Education Committee recommendations deals with MCPS employee benefits. The effects of the Great Recession have forced both the County Executive and this Council to consider employee benefits for not just MCPS, but for all County agencies, in a way that we have never had to before - and I consider these decisions to be among the most difficult of the difficult decisions. The County Executive included in his budget recommendations that would have significantly increased the share of health care costs expected to be shouldered by non-school employees. These changes would equate to roughly $5,000 less in take home pay for our employees next year - a burden that I continue to believe was more than we should or could expect our employees to bear on top of all the other sacrifices we have asked of them.

However, that impact on take home pay can be greatly ameliorated if the sacrifice is shared, at least in part, by all County employees - not just our policemen, librarians, Ride-On drivers, and so forth. To that end, the Education Committee recommends reducing funding in "Category 12, Fixed Charges", the MCPS funding category that deals with employee benefits, by $18.7 million. That amount is equivalent to the savings achieved if the Board of Education asks its employees to contribute another 5% towards the cost of their health insurance and if pension reforms equivalent to those made by the state are adopted. With respect to the health care costs, currently, most school employees only pay 5% of their health insurance premiums. By contrast, other Montgomery County Government employees - police, librarians, Ride-On drivers, firefighters, social workers, etc - contribute 20% or more to their health care premium. This disparity has long been a bone of contention for our non-school employees and this proposal moves towards greater equity. This is another structural change that has my support. Finally, the Education Committee recommends an overall reduction of approximately 1%, reductions that could, depending on the choices made by the Board of Education, directly impact the classroom. This amount, as shown below, is almost idntical to the reductions proposed by the County Executive, reductions that the Board of Education characterized as "balanced" as recently as May 17th.


Comparison of CE & County Classroom Impact

While I wish that we were in a position to fully fund the MCPS budget, I would highlight that only $27.9 million - or approximately 1% of the Board's request - might impact the classroom, depending on the BOE's allocation. As I said earlier, my colleagues and I continue to believe there may be alternative approaches to achieving these savings that should not affect the classroom, and we are still considering how to allocate this reduction by categories to minimize the impact on the classroom.
 

Finally, it should be noted that even though the Council has had to make tremendously difficult decisions regarding the school system's budget, MCPS's total tax-supported budget as it stands now is an increase of $31 million over its FY11 tax-supported budget. I believe the following chart, that represents the percentage change of agency budgets FY09-11 and the County Executive's recommendation for FY12, is a compelling illustration of the commitment this Council has demonstrated to our school system during a time of unparalleled economic downturn.

MCPS Tax-Supported Budget FY09-12 Compared to Other Departments


I want you to know that it is with the most careful consideration that my colleagues and I work through these sets of issues. We take none of these decisions lightly, especially when it comes to MCPS. I do believe that a total budget that represents an increase over the prior year's funding and that minimizes impacts to the classroom is a budget that fulfills our obligation to our students and one that preserves our world-class school system.
 

A New Middle School in the BCC Cluster April 15, 2011

 

BCC Middle SchoolYou may have heard that there are plans for a new middle school in the Bethesda-Chevy Chase Cluster.  The new middle school will address what is now and what it is expected to be severe overcrowding at Westland Middle School and will allow the sixth grades to move out of North Chevy Chase and Chevy Chase Elementary Schools.

 

Montgomery County Public Schools convened a Site Selection Committee that was comprised of numerous PTA representatives; MCPS staff; elected officials from Somerset, Chevy Chase, and Friendship Heights; Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission staff; and County staff.  The Committee reviewed an extensive list of potential sites that would serve the cluster - some sites the Committee found to be prohibitively small; others presented challenges with accessibility; still others might only exacerbate current traffic issues in the area. 

 

Ultimately, the Committee has recommended the Rosemary Hills / Lyttonsville Local Park site.  According to their report, the site "offers the best range of site characteristics including access, cost, availability, location, and consistency with LEED criteria."  The Board of Education will take action on this recommendation at their meeting on April 28.  If you would like to weigh in on their recommendation, I would encourage you to contact your Board of Education members before that time.  You can read the Committee's report, which discusses how they arrived at their recommendation, here.

County Executive's Recommended CIP March 8, 2011
 

Last month, the County Executive submitted his recommended Capital Improvements Program (CIP) Budget Amendments.  This is an "off year" in the biannual CIP schedule, but the Council is in the course of considering these amendments now and will take a final vote on them, along with the Operating Budget, in May.

 

The amendments reflect good news for District 1 schools: all of the CIP projects remain on schedule.  For a complete list of school CIP projects in District 1, including information on where your elementary or middle school's capital project stands, click here.  Other good news includes new funding for much needed projects related to the White Flint Sector Plan, so that implementation of this important development remains on course.  One such project is a traffic study, the results of which will better enable the Department of Transportation to understand the plan's traffic implications and mitigate impacts to existing neighborhoods.

 

Unfortunately, there are also some disappointments in the Recommended CIP Amendments.  The planning and design funding for the Davis and Potomac Library projects have been delayed one year due to fiscal constraints. 

 

The item that I found particularly alarming was the Executive's recommendation to completely close out the North Bethesda Recreation Center project.  I know that residents in North Bethesda have been waiting a long time - too long - for a recreation center near their homes.  I sent a memo to my colleagues on the PHED Committee urging them to reject the County Executive's recommendation to close out the project, and am pleased that following that PHED Committee worksession, Executive staff agreed to formulate a revised plan that would present an alternative option to having to drive to Chevy Chase or Potomac for the residents of North Bethesda.

Walk to School Day 2010 October 20, 2010

Walk to School Day

October 6 was Walk To School Day. This year, joined by District 16 Delegate Bill Frick and Principal Charlene Garran, we celebrated with the parents, teachers, and students at Ashburton Elementary School.  I was pleased to see so many kids and adults alike ready to walk to school! Thank you to Ashburton Elementary for having me there to proclaim "Let's Walk!"

 

The "Cabin John Wall" July 8, 2011

 

If you live near Cabin John Middle School in Potomac, you have probably heard about the now-infamous retaining wall that took the community by surprise.  While the surrounding community and the local PTAs continue to be supportive of the school's modernization, many residents were surprised and alarmed when they witnessed a large retaining wall being constructed along the perimeter of Gainsborough Road near the intersection of Bells Mill Road.
 

Unfortunately, this retaining wall was not presented to the community via pictures, or otherwise, at any of the community outreach meetings held by MCPS regarding this project. This was a terrible mistake and should not have happened. The school system has acknowledged that there was a failure in communication, and I couldn't agree more.
 

At my urging, MCPS officials agreed to meet with the Cabin John community. That first meeting, quite frankly, was not terribly successful. As a result, I picked up the phone and conferred directly with Dr. Weast who gave me his personal commitment to work collaboratively with the neighborhood to alter the design of the wall and mitigate its impact on the surrounding area. Together, community leaders and MCPS staff created a menu of five design options for the retaining wall and in the end, option four, which calls for a two-tiered wall, was selected by a nearly unanimous vote.
 

While in this case, an acceptable solution was found in the end, I regret that the community had to be put in the situation it found itself.  Had the community been informed of the plans for the retaining wall in advance, much angst could have been avoided, but this was not the case and it highlighted a gap in our process - MCPS's internal process and the County's planning process.  As a result, I have proposed an additional step in the Mandatory Referral Process required of all governmental agencies.  I believe that when there is a substantial change to an original site plan/design already approved by the Planning Board, the community and Planning Board should be notified.  Currently, the County's Mandatory Referral Process does not require this step which is why I have asked the Planning Board to consider adding language to the guidelines that would require an amendment to be filed when a substantial change in design is made. This step would provide greater transparency and trigger the notification process so that communities would not be caught off guard in the future.

State Board of Education Approves Maintenance of Effort Waiver for Montgomery County May 27, 2010
During our budget deliberations, one of the major concerns expressed by many parents was that further cuts to the school system's budget would threaten big financial penalties that would truly harm the system.  The penalty parents feared could have come about because the budget fell below the State's "maintenance of effort" requirement.  Gratefully, this fear will not come to pass. 

 

On May 25, the Maryland State Board of Education granted Montgomery County a waiver of the State's Maintenance of Effort law for Fiscal Year 2011. The law requires jurisdictions to appropriate at least as much money per pupil to its public schools as it did in the previous year.  Montgomery County has historically exceeded State funding requirements for the school system because education has always been, and will continue to be, a top priority for the County.  Even in the current difficult fiscal climate, more than 56 percent of our total combined agency expenditures will go to our public schools.
 
I am grateful to County Executive Isiah Leggett, Council President Nancy Floreen, Superintendent of Schools Jerry Weast and Board of Education President Pat O'Neill for presenting a united front in requesting the waiver before the State Board. By granting the waiver for FY '11 thus eliminating the threat of a penalty, the State Board of Education has made a decision that is the right one for the children of Montgomery County.

A Robust CIP is Good News For District 1 May 27, 2010

Even as we struggle with our "operating budget", the FY11-FY17 Capital Budget brings much good news for District 1.  Because of low construction costs, favorable interest rates on bond financing, and the opportunity to employ the construction trades at a time when employment figures are lagging, this was a particularly good time to finance construction of capital projects, including many long-awaited school capacity projects and modernizations. 

 

There are many schools in District 1 and beyond that have been overcrowded for far too long, recreation centers in communities that have deferred maintenance and expansion needs, bicycle/pedestrian paths, fire station and library renovations/expansions, storm drain improvements and other worthy projects that this Capital Budget will address.

 

District 1 School Projects
 
I am pleased to share with you that the approved Capital Budget includes funding for eleven modernizations, five additions, five gymnasiums, and several restroom renovations that serve our District 1 children.  The projects that received funding are as follows:
 
Modernizations:  Rock Creek Forest ES, Farmland ES, Garrett Park ES, Luxmanor ES, Walter Johnson HS completion, Carderock Springs ES, Beverly Farms ES, Seven Locks ES, Wayside ES, Cabin John MS, and Hoover MS.
 
Classroom Additions:  Somerset ES, Westbrook ES, Wyngate ES, Bradley Hills ES, and Viers Mill ES.   In addition, there are four potential classroom additions under review by MCPS for Bethesda ES, Chevy Chase ES, and Rosemary Hills ES.
 
Gymnasiums:  Carderock Springs ES, Cold Spring ES, North Chevy Chase ES, Seven Locks ES, and Westbrook ES.




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