County budget crisis leads to cuts, but not furloughs

With the nation’s economic struggles continuing to affect everyday life, and governments across the nation being forced to reduce spending and extinguish deficits, Montgomery County is attempting to make further cuts to the school system’s budget for next year.

Although the school system already outlined budget cuts totaling $137.7 million for Fiscal Year (FY) 2011, the county needs to cut an additional $24.4 million. According to a May 19 joint union press release, the cuts will come from the operating budget and from funds for construction and technology.  The press release also stated that MCPS employees will not be furloughed.

Furloughing MCPS employees could have caused major problems, according to Principal Joan Benz.

“Basically, the furloughs [would not have solved] the problem,” Benz said. “The problem is that the money has been spent and [the superintendent of MCPS, Jerry Weast] does not want the Council to come back and say that the school system will get less money.”

Though mandatory furloughs for 5-10 days for the entire school system could have saved an estimated 33.7 million dollars, requiring furloughs within the system could create transportation, food service and teaching problems.

“If a bus driver has to take a day off, would there be no transportation?” Benz asked. “We’re not trying to be different from firefighters and policeman; we have different jobs.”
If employees had been required to take time off, it would most likely not have been cost efficient to hire substitutes, and for some positions, substitutes are hard to find.

According to Benz, mandating employee furloughs would have shortened the school year because the school simply cannot function with so many people not working. However, closing schools could create further problems for the children of poor families, who rely on the school for their main meals everyday.

The county has until May 27 to determine the budget for next year, and according to the May 19 press release, the unions are “confident that the additional cut can be absorbed without resorting to furloughs.”

Despite the upcoming budget cuts, the county will take on an additional fee–the salaries of 17 Educational Facilities Officers (EFO). The current 33 EFOs are on the police payroll, though that number will be reduced to 17, and the county will now assume responsibility for their pay

“It is wonderful that MCPS is going to pick up the expenses because they have added greatly to the school environment,” Benz said.