Md. Senate head may cut school aid for pricey areas

Local,Kathleen Miller
Maryland Senate President Mike Miller told Montgomery County leaders on their home turf Monday that he may ax or alter a formula that sends tens of millions in extra funding to the Prince George’s and Montgomery school systems.

Last year, state legislators agreed to provide supplemental school aid for the first time to 13 jurisdictions including Montgomery and Prince George’s counties to compensate for the higher costs of education there. Montgomery County schools expected about $18 million in extra state money from the formula this year.

Montgomery County Executive Ike Leggett told Montgomery County legislators and Miller himself Monday in North Bethesda that he wanted to “draw a line in the sand.”

“We’re going to protect what we have at a minimum,” Leggett said. “If we take any further steps back, the challenges and difficulties we face will be severe.”

Last year Maryland legislators approved the largest tax increase in the state’s history, including raising the income tax rate for people earning more than $150,000 a year, many of whom live in Montgomery County.

“We are not a giant ATM machine for the rest of the state,” Leggett said. “The ATM is depleted.”

Miller, however, told Montgomery County leaders at a Monday breakfast there will be $400 million in state cuts this winter, and the “geographic cost of education index” funds are on the table.

“We might have to back off the [cost of living] formula,” Miller told the roughly 700 people in attendance. “There’s going to be some give and take.”

In October, Maryland Budget Secretary T. Eloise Foster proposed eliminating half of the $75.8 million the state sets aside for areas where education costs more. Gov. Martin O’Malley did not include the reductions when he slashed roughly $300 million from the budget just two months ago, but state officials hinted further budget woes could put the program back on the chopping block.

Miller said the state would eliminate merit pay increases, cost of living adjustments and institute furloughs for its own work force.

Last week, Montgomery County teachers and other school employees agreed to forego 5 percent cost of living adjustments included in their contracts this year.

“What we are looking for from the state is just the share of funding we’re due next year,” Montgomery schools spokesman Steve Simon said.
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