Daily journal, 12-7-11 (MCPS budget)

The big issue of the day was the budget proposal from the new superintendent of MCPS, Dr. Joshua Starr. I talk to Josh when I can at events in the community, and I’ve been impressed by his approach but also appreciative of his educational and child development philosophy. He has offered a specific critique of the prevailing dogma around education reform and No Child Left Behind that I and many parents also share.

A “budget address” by the MCPS superintendent is, for some reason, a very big affair. Hundreds of MCPS stakeholders gather to hear a presentation that feels sort of like a (government) version of Steve Jobs unveiling the next iPhone. I wonder if the County Executive has ever thought about doing something like that. The benefit of the address is it gives the chief executive the chance to explain the values, mission and strategy of the organization. The county government could use an exercise like that.

Theatrics aside, the new MCPS budget is a constructive proposal and one that I hope will get all parties working together in the right frame of mind. There are very modest compensation increases for MCPS employees, who have gone 3 years now without a raise. My hope is that the increase can be generally matched for county agencies (i.e., Department of Transportation, HHS, Libraries, and so on).

I don’t know if we can afford any improvements yet because we don’t know how much money we will have to work with. Nevertheless, the proposal is certainly reasonable and provides a good basis for discussion going forward.

One issue that we will have to work on is the $26 million state aid penalty resulting from the council’s reduction in per-pupil local spending. The reduction was necessary to bring spending down from levels that were sustained only by revenues from a real estate and financial markets bubble. If the state does not waive the penalty, the council will have to examine ways to offset it. At the same time, competing priorities such as police, fire service, parks, libraries and more – which also have taken heavy hits during the recession – will need adequate funding. So we will have a lot on our plate in coming months! Please keep in touch as we put together our budget.