All In: Building Our Budgets
I can’t believe it’s already October, and the budget season is well under way. We started the process of building the Fiscal Year 2019 operating budget last December, shortly after the 2018 proposed budget was presented to the Board of Education and the community. Simultaneously, we have been building the capital budget, which is used for large projects, including the construction of new schools, major renovations, and air conditioning, heating, and roof replacements. The budget process is continuous, with one budget rolling into the next.
I sometimes find budgets hard to write about because they have yin-yang components. The process is technical and the execution precise, yet budgeting is highly emotional as well. Budgets reflect our values and priorities in concrete ways; they profoundly affect our students, families and employees.
The technical process (the easy part)
The operating and capital budget processes run simultaneously but are separate.
The operating budget process is fairly straightforward. During the summer and fall, the superintendent, working with input from staff, employee associations and community stakeholders, builds a budget for the next school year that is proposed to the Board of Education in December.
The Board reviews it and accepts testimony and written feedback from interested parties, including employees, parents, students, and community and advocacy groups. Based on that input and the Board’s strategic priorities, it makes changes to the budget.
The capital budget is developed through a detailed and complicated process, which includes multiple opportunities for public input, and is based on a five-year Capital Improvements Program. Since funding comes from both the State and county, the process runs through both governments.
A majority of the MCPS operating budget (66.1 percent this school year) comes from Montgomery County. The Board must propose a budget to the county government by March 1. In mid-March, the County Executive proposes a county budget (which includes school system funding) to the Montgomery County Council. The County Executive may increase, decrease or leave unchanged the Board of Education’s request for funding. But, according to State law, this request must adhere to the Maintenance of Effort law, which requires maintaining at least the same level of per-pupil funding as the previous year.
MCPS receives a small percentage of its budget (27 percent this school year) through the State budget, but this amount is entirely driven by a formula.
The County Council holds public hearings, and subsequently approves a county budget by the end of May. That process also involves the setting of tax rates. The County Council can raise or lower tax rates or leave them at the current rate. The county budget includes the school system’s operating and capital budgets, which accounts for 49 percent of the county’s budget.
It is important to note that both the operating and capital budgets compete for the same funds at the local level because the county government budget must include both the cost of running the school system and building, renovating and improving schools.
So, this dynamic leads to …
Deciding how to spend our money (the hard part)
Budgets are never easy because they involve adding, eliminating and prioritizing the many interests of students, families, employees and community members. It is hard to eliminate or reduce a good program in favor of adding, keeping or expanding another good program. With budgets, an increase in one area means a decrease in another.
In making these decisions, it is imperative that we consider input from a variety of stakeholders and that we remain focused on increasing student learning and supporting the social, physical and emotional well-being of our students.
I find that I must constantly go back to our vision, mission, core purpose, core values and strategic priorities.
All of our students must be able to walk off of the stage at graduation with a diploma and choices for career opportunities and higher education. We must prepare them for their futures and for the future of this community. This is not easy. In fact, it is hard. But it is important, and we can do no less.
For statewide budget information and to see how Montgomery County compares to other Maryland districts, see The Fact Book, produced by the Maryland State Department of Education.