MCPS plans for $43 million budget cut

MCPS released a series of proposed budget cuts Dec. 10 which, if passed, will go into effect for the 2010-2011 school year. The cuts would reduce the county’s budget by almost $43 million.

Superintendent Jerry Weast put together an operating budget in December 2009 for the 2011 fiscal year  that will be voted on by the Board of Education (BOE) in May. The amount of local funding the school system receives from the county council will influence how the BOE will vote on the proposed budget cuts.

According to Weast’s summary of potential budget reductions, if the budget cuts are approved, system-wide reductions will occur, ranging from extracurricular activities to staff positions. In order to save close to $3 million, staff development teachers, academic intervention teachers, counselors, psychologists, substitutes and pupil personnel workers would be laid off. Class sizes would also increase as a result of eliminating 240 classroom teacher positions on a countywide scale.

“Right now, MCPS is negotiating with teacher, administrator and staff unions to try and hammer out something,” Student Member of the Board Tim Hwang said. “Because of the bad economy, the county government and state government have big deficits.”

While the county is trying to save money, the paradox is that the county also needs it. According to the BOE, Weast is proposing a new budget of $2.22 billion, a one percent increase from last year. Schools need more money to support the two percent increase of students enrolled since last year, and the BOE also needs more money to support the growing number of students who are dependent on the free and reduced meals program.

“If the budget is not extended, [then these cuts] would be the worst case scenario,” BOE president Patricia O’Neill said.

The BOE must compensate for the money lost by cutting staff positions if the budget cuts are passed.

“We have cut thirteen percent of the central staff so far,” Hwang said. “That’s what the Board and the Superintendent have been doing. [But] we’re all trying to save money without cutting [too much from] education.”

Once the budget is finalized this summer, the county council will either release or take back money from the school systems.

“Certainly we don’t like [budget cuts],” Principal Joan Benz said. “[But] we understand we have to cut and prioritize where county money must go.”

If the budget cuts are approved, then students will be affected both academically and through extracurriculars.

According to O’Neill, students and their parents should write to the county council asking that the school system be fully funded. Students can also appeal to the BOE.

“I would fight tooth and nail to keep funding for high school extracurricular activities,” O’Neill said.