Analysts say school system should channel more funds to reducing class sizes and solving achievement gap
Montgomery County Council
Montgomery County Council
A County Council staff report recommends against funding full salary increases for teachers and school staff set to go into effect in September and next March, saying the council should push the school system to instead spend some of the money on reducing class sizes and solving the achievement gap.
Citing inflation numbers that remain low and the fact that Social Security beneficiaries won’t see a cost of living increase this year, the report also recommends against second-step increases already negotiated for county government employees and a decrease in the cost-of-living increase negotiated for county firefighters.
“The Council’s top priority is classroom initiatives that reduce class size and target the achievement gap,” read the report, which was prepared for a Thursday morning joint budget hearing before the council’s Government Operations and Education committees. “Channeling funds to these initiatives within the amount appropriated by the Council will require a reduction in proposed FY17 employee pay adjustments.”
Two years ago, the county’s Board of Education entered into the three-year agreement that calls for the 2 percent general wage increases in September with the three unions that represent more than 22,000 county school teachers, support staff, principals and administrators. The agreement also calls for a step increase in September that averages about 3 percent and another step increase next March averaging another 3 percent for some school system employees.
According to Stephen Farber, the council administrator who helped prepare the report, the county would have a nine-day period to renegotiate its agreements with county employee unions if council members support the recommendations at Thursday’s committee hearing and Tuesday’s full council session.
The Board of Education has authority over the school system’s contract agreements with teacher and staff unions. It would be up to the board to determine how to allocate the amount of funding approved by the council.
The council is set to approve the budget May 26 for the fiscal year that starts July 1.
The recommendations come as council members consider County Executive Ike Leggett’s recommendation for a 6.4 percent property tax increase to fund a proposed $5.27 billion budget for the fiscal year that starts in July.
Because the proposed increase would put the property tax rate above the county’s charter limit, it would likely require unanimous approval from the nine-member council. That has prompted a deep examination of the employee salaries and benefits included the budget.
A 6 percent increase in funding for Montgomery County Public Schools (MCPS) that’s $89.3 million more than the minimum spending required by state law was one of the driving factors behind Leggett’s property tax increase recommendation. MCPS funding would make up $2.45 billion of the county’s budget under Leggett’s proposal.
The council staff report points to the significant continued costs of salaries and benefits for county government employees, school system employees and employees of other county-funded agencies.
Salary and benefit costs for active and retired county government employees account for 80 percent of the $4.62 billion tax-supported portion of Leggett’s recommended budget. Salary and benefit costs for active and retired school system employees account for 90 percent of recommended school system funding, according to the report.
While saying MCPS employees have received similar pay increases as county government employees over the last six fiscal years, the report says “benefits for MCPS employees are especially attractive,” pointing to lower health care premium payments.
Leggett negotiated a 1 percent general wage increase for next fiscal year for most of the county’s more than 9,000 employees, a group that doesn’t include MCPS employees. The county employees would also get a step increase of 3.5 percent and there would be a second 3.5 percent increase for employees who had step increases postponed during the Great Recession-fueled economic downturn.
The county firefighters union negotiated a 2 percent general wage increase that the report recommends cutting to 1 percent.
The report says the general wage increases would cost the county $5.7 million for county employees, $31.5 million for MCPS employees, $4.2 million for Montgomery College employees and $1 million for Park and Planning employees—a total of about $42.5 million in additional costs for general wage increases.
Each of the agencies also include additional wage increase costs for step and longevity raises.