Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Council District 4 Race -- The School Board and the Budget

This past Sunday the Sandy Spring Civic Association / Sherwood ES PTA held a debate at Sherwood ES. One of the first questions was on the three budget priorities for the school of the eight candidates (four Republicans and four Democrats).

This is a loaded question. Here's why: The school board takes over 50% of the entire MoCo Budget (about $2 billion annually) and we are facing a $297 million shortfall in the MoCo Budget. It is a critical question because it raises questions on how we can afford a 8% increase for school staff -- mostly union employees of MCEA (the teachers) and the SEIU (the support staff) -- during an economic downturn that was negotiated by the elected School Board, headed by Nancy Navarro. Personnel costs are 89% of the entire school budget and personnel costs are 80% of the entire MoCo Budget.

So answering this question of budget priorities for the school system gets to how we are going to fund our entire budget. Do we give the unions representing school employees an 8% increase (just under $100 million) during a recession? Or do we hold the line on increasing costs? If we agree to an 8% increase we need to find the money.

The revenue sources are limited. In MoCo we are at our tax cap on our local portion of the state income tax of 3.2% (generating $1.286 in FY08). That leaves us to find increases in property taxes (currently $12.07 million) or increases in transfer fees ($128 million) or Recordation Taxes ($72 million). The latter two (Transfer Fees and Recordation Taxes) are declining because of the downturn in the local real estate market. So if a candidate is for full funding of Montgomery County Public Schools (MCPS) then we have to either hack at the other 50% of the MoCo budget or increase our property taxes -- since the other revenue sources are capped (state income tax) or are declinding (Transfer Fees and Recordation Taxes). Source for all figures handout from Ike Leggett at a Town Hall Meeting on March 12, 2008.

So listen to the four Democrats and make up your own mind as how we should fully fund education in a recession.

As part of full disclosure here at Maryland Politics Watch (MPW), I am a District 4 Resident and I support Don Praisner. I came to that conclusion after sitting down with 2 of the candidates personally (Navarro and Ryan) and having brief conversations with the other two (Praisner and Kanstoroom). I come from a union household so pointing out the huge increases of the unions in MoCo: MCEA (the Apple Ballot) and the SEIU in a down market is something that I don't enjoy mentioning. But I see no other way to be fiscally responsible to all of us.

The question was what are the three budget priorities for the schools.

Three Republicans spoke first. The person immediately before Kanstoroom, John McKinnis, cited Council member Marc Elrich as saying that 45% of the incoming students to Montgomery College (MC) from the MCPS needed remedial training in reading and math. Another Republican Robert Patton claimed it cost $8,000 per year to educate a child in MoCo when the correct figure is just under $15,000 per pupil. Mr. Patton, it was $8k ten years ago.

The first Democrat to speak is Steve Kanstoroom. I failed to get the first minute of his speech but I have an audio recording of it. He said his first priorities were the addition at this location (Sherwood ES). Also he wanted accountability from the Superintendent of Schools, Jerry Weast. He said that there are no quarterly reviews of the school budget. He also talked about how the School Board (which was led by Nancy Navarro) went to the Attorney General to stop an Inspector General review of the school's budget during the Seven Locks ES debate of 2005-06. Now Steve speaks...

Next up is Don Praisner

Now let's hear from Pat Ryan.

And now here's Nancy Navarro.

Later in the debate a follow up question was asked to Nancy Navarro specifically, she was asked does she support going over the property tax limit to fund the budget. Her answer: "Yes". No rationale as to why. Now the question for her and the others is going over the property tax limit is this a blank check? Were is the oversight?

So we are faced with paying for an 8% increase in pay for education personnel during a recession without the funds to pay for it. Who were the people who worked on that agreement? The same people who meet at King Jerry's Castle for private meetings.