Proposed MCPS budget exhibits first contraction in over a decade


Christina Xiong

Superintendent Jack Smith has proposed a lowered MCPS school budget for the 2021–22 school year.

By Lily Freeman

MCPS Superintendent Jack Smith released his proposed school system budget for the next fiscal year on December 17. For the first time in over a decade, the suggested plan asks for less money than the previous budget.

The proposed budget prioritizes continuing an online learning option, maintaining staff employment, strengthening MCPS’ commitment to equity, supporting students who are struggling with virtual school and increasing access to mental health support.

“Many students have done well, but many more are struggling with remote learning,” Smith said in a December 17 video address. “For some learners — those impacted by poverty and other challenges at home — virtual learning has been especially difficult. We must double our efforts so that learning now and in the future is an equitable experience.”

The budget reaffirms the school system’s emphasis on helping students succeed amidst the pandemic, said MCPS Director of Communications Gboyinde Onijala.

“Our commitment remains the same: ensuring that we’re providing a world class education to all 160,000 students,” Onijala said. “This budget is a reflection of all of the challenges people across the globe are facing.”

Smith’s $2.7 billion proposition marks a 1.5% decrease from the prior year, a loss of $42.6 million. The decline reflects MCPS’ expectation that the school system will lose substantial tax revenue at county and state levels, according to the December 17 presentation.

Though Smith said it’s unclear how much funding the school system will miss out on, the presentation mentioned that MCPS’ budget is “under threat like never before.” In addition to reductions in tax revenue, the district predicts that state funding — which school enrollment determines — will decline by approximately $10 million. Enrollment dropped by roughly 5,000 students this year.

“Planning for next year’s financial needs is unlike any other year in our lifetime,” Smith said. “The pandemic impact on students and school operations is profound.” 

The enrollment drop could also cost MCPS an additional $39 million which it is seeking from the County Council. Maryland’s “maintenance of effort” law requires school systems to receive at least the same amount of money per pupil as the previous year; because of the enrollment drop, Smith requested $39 million over the minimum amount to make up for the projected loss.  

The Board of Education, however, anticipates that the state Legislature will waive the maintenance of effort law, Board member Patricia O’Neill said.

“They’re going to have to make some kind of fix; otherwise every school system in the state will be dramatically hurt,” O’Neill said. “Everybody has lost enrollment.”

MCPS may also lose around $27 million without funding from the Blueprint for Maryland’s Future Act, a multibillion-dollar education bill that Governor Larry Hogan vetoed in May. The state Legislature will reconvene in January and potentially overturn Hogan’s rejection, but Smith’s presentation described a loss in revenue as “expected.”

Increases in staff members’ health care costs and a continued need for online learning may also impede MCPS’ funding, according to the presentation.

The school district could lose roughly $100 million in a “worst case scenario” revenue slashing, O’Neill said. In such a situation, the Board would focus its funding efforts toward students who are struggling in a virtual learning environment. O’Neill believes that Smith’s plan would do an adequate job of addressing such education loss issues, she said.

The Board of Education will hold work sessions and hearings in January to analyze the proposed plan. After Governor Hogan puts forward a budget and the state releases funding guidelines, the Board will submit a modified proposal to the county executive in March. The Board and the Montgomery County Council will then revise the county executive’s budget, and the new plan will take effect July 1.  

“I expect it’s going to be a rather dramatic budget season,” O’Neill said. “We’re going to play in for the best case scenario and cross our sanitized fingers.”

Throughout the December 17 presentation, Smith affirmed his belief that MCPS will overcome challenges that losses in funding pose.

“Someone mentioned to me, we grow through what we go through,” Smith said. “If we do this well, if all of us are united for our future, we will remain deserving of the name Montgomery County Public Schools.”