Stringent Efforts Continue to Limit Spending

March 12, 2003
Further spending reductions are being implemented this week as the Montgomery County Public Schools continues to grapple with rising expenditures, made worse by nearly $2.1 million in unanticipated costs for emergency snow removal and projected salaries for adding three make-up days to the school calendar.

Cost controls and expenditure reductions that were initiated last October have been steadily tightened to address the additional unanticipated costs. The goal remains to finish the year with a balanced budget without an emergency supplemental from the Montgomery County government, which also has been hit hard by rising costs and limited revenue.

The freeze already in effect has successfully reduced costs in administration, textbooks and instructional supplies and other instructional costs, plant operation and equipment, and maintenance. However, mandated and contractual costs for instructional salaries, special education, and student transportation have exceeded the budgeted amounts.

In a report to the Board of Education yesterday [Tuesday, March 11], Dr. Jerry D. Weast, superintendent of schools, said he has directed school and departmental staff “to sharply reduce expenditures for the rest of the fiscal year, limiting expenditures only to absolutely required items.”

Departmental managers are being asked to devise reduced expenditure plans, limiting funding to meet compliance requirements and to implement only high priority instructional programs.

These efforts are intended to offset higher costs in areas such as teacher salary accounts, which experienced lower turnover savings than was assumed when the current budget was first recommended during the fall of 2001. The projected deficit in the instructional salaries category is $1 million.

Other employers in the Washington metropolitan area and nationally also have experienced significantly lower turnover during the last two years. The school system also found that the more than 1,000 new teachers hired for the 2002-2003 school year entered at a higher rate than budgeted because they have greater teaching experience. In addition, MCPS experienced higher salaries than anticipated from the realignment and reorganization of positions in the FY 2003 budget.

Student transportation has been hard hit by rising diesel fuel prices and the increased costs associated with more staffing and transporting 300 more special education students than was originally anticipated, including more special education students transported to non-public facilities. The projected deficit in this area is $2.1 million. Rising fuel costs are expected to worsen.

Increased transportation costs also are associated with unbudgeted expenditures for transporting homeless students from shelters and temporary housing (including some from outside Montgomery County) to their former schools in the county, as required under federal law.

The projected deficit in the special education budget of $2.4 million (beyond the transportation expenditures) is caused, in part, by the greater number than expected of non-public placements and higher overall enrollment. The number of special education students in non-public facilities has grown by about 25 percent, compared with just two years ago. Increased state aid for private placements partially offsets these additional costs. Overall, special education enrollment has grown by more than 450 students this year.

The restrictions on spending initially avoided affecting school instructional programs, so only limited reductions in school staffing and expenditures occurred. However, that changed in December when more stringent controls were necessary to harden the position freeze and expenditure restrictions, including most teacher positions. Long-term substitutes, for example, continue to cover classes for the remainder of the school year in the event of teacher vacancies.

The projected savings from the expenditure reductions include $1.8 million in administrative expenditures, $2.7 million in textbooks and instructional materials and other instructional costs, and $1.0 million in support operations, including building services operations and maintenance of plant and equipment.

<<Back to browse