County Budget Cuts Will Reduce Staff Services, Jobs

From+left%3A+Media+Specialist+Sherry+Weiss+talks+to+student+aides+senior+Lisa+D%E2%80%99Souza+and+junior+Avery+Eng.+IMC+hours+will+be+cut+due+to+budget+shortages.+--Camila+Torres

From left: Media Specialist Sherry Weiss talks to student aides senior Lisa D’Souza and junior Avery Eng. IMC hours will be cut due to budget shortages. --Camila Torres

From left: Media Specialist Sherry Weiss talks to student aides senior Lisa Da��Souza and junior Avery Eng. IMC hours will be cut due to budget shortages. --Camila Torres
From left: Media Specialist Sherry Weiss talks to student aides senior Lisa Da��Souza and junior Avery Eng. IMC hours will be cut due to budget shortages. –Camila Torres

Interim MCPS Superintendent Larry Bowers announced March 16 that over 400 positions will be cut in anticipation of shortfalls in the county budget due to decreased state funding.

The Montgomery County Board of Education proposed a $2.39 billion budget for next school year but there was concern regarding whether the county council will be able fund the entire budget. As a result, MCPS preemptively cut 370 school-based positions and 40 central services positions.

“While I am hopeful that the County Council will be able to fully fund our budget, we must prepare for the possibility that we will have to make additional reductions to our budget request,” Bowers said in a press release.

According to Principal Billie-Jean Bensen, RHS did not see drastic cuts. Nonetheless, Bensen said media and English departments did see cuts to hours for key positions in their support staffs. The county has allocation formulas for each position based on the size of a school, and the formula for media and composition assistants were changed. Hours were cut for both positions, which Media Specialist Sherry Weiss believes will have a drastic impact on the RHS library.

“It’s going to have a very broad negative impact. We will be closed after school totally because there’s no staffing,” Weiss said.

Weiss is also concerned as to whether or not she will continue opening the library before school since she usually oversees up to 170 students along with Media Assistant Pauline Bamdad, whose position was changed from full-time to half-time.

Weiss said that she and other high school media specialists in the county want the Board to know that a comprehensive high school media program needs a full-time media assistant, which only requires the restoration of four positions throughout the county.

Additionally, there is a proposal for countywide cuts to five media services technicians (MST) resulting in the remaining 20 being split between different schools. MST’s typically assist students and staff with audiovisual and TV equipment although RHS MST Steve Mirman often finds himself going beyond his job description, including helping to create the new IB career pathway in Broadcast Journalism, set to begin next year.

Mirman said, “I enjoy what I’ve built in just a year and I’d hate to see it fall apart or get passed off to somebody who doesn’t have the same vision that I do.”

The board submitted their budget requests to County Executive Isiah Leggett a week before he was set to make his FY16 operating budget recommendation. The county council will deliberate on the budget through public hearings this month and make a final decision in May.

However, this issue is not rare since the county has seen $2.9 billion in budget shortfalls in the past eight years, according to MCPS. Fluctuations in the budget are a result of many different factors, most notably school enrollment.

Bowers said he sent staffing allocations for the 2015-2016 school year to MCPS principals in March. However, Bensen said that she did not know to what extent RHS would be affected prior to that, but she was notified that it would not be a good budget year.

“We saw some cuts, but that happens in every school. They’re not something I like to deal with,” Bensen said.

Student course selections also play a role in the necessity for certain positions. Although the budget determines which classes are run based on funding, it is also an internal decision to make shifts in staffing, or possibly drop classes. Several classes have been cut at RHS next year, including IB Chemistry, theater, radio and creative writing.

However, other new classes have been added, such as the IB law program and IB Environmental Science.

MCPS said the reductions would result in a class size increase of one student per class in elementary schools and .5 students per class in middle and high schools that have the highest free and reduced-priced meals (FARMS) rates, one at other middle and high schools.

Schools have very little leeway as to how positions are allocated, Bensen said. “It’s all formula driven.”

RHS may see more cuts to other aspects of the school besides staffing, and these cuts will come later in the summer depending on how the county allocates its funds.

“It’s a big puzzle; I’m trying to make it all work,” Bensen said.