Weekly Message From Montgomery County Executive Marc Elrich: “We Need an Operating Budget that Will Support Our Schools”

“Dear Friends,

As many of you may know, last week I was in Taipei, Taiwan, where I led an economic development mission to explore opportunities with businesses and universities. Our Montgomery County delegation was featured at the conference attended by more than 150,000 people and more than 600 exhibitors. The trip was incredibly productive, and next week I will provide an update on the trip after everyone who attended has recuperated from our long journey and a 12-hour time difference.

Since I was out of town last week, I did not have a chance to provide a weekly video. I want to thank former State Treasurer Nancy Kopp, former Montgomery County First Lady Catherine Leggett and former Maryland State Delegate Ana Sol Gutierrez for chatting with Jodi Finkelstein, the executive director of the Montgomery County Commission for Women. They talked about their lives, legacies and offered advice for the next generation of leaders of this County. We are grateful that these three history-making individuals shared their time and wisdom with us. It was a wonderful way for us to conclude Women’s History Month. I encourage you to watch these conversations.

Investing in Our Schools

It has been approximately three weeks since I presented my recommended Fiscal Year 2024 Operating Budget to the County Council. Recently, there has been some opposition to my proposal. I have seen petitions urging the Council to reject the budget as introduced and reject the proposed property tax increase. To be clear, without this funding, the Council will have to find more than $200 million in cuts that would significantly impact our schools and other vital services.

This year. Montgomery County Public Schools made an unprecedented request for a significant increase in funding. I am supporting this request because it is urgently needed to recruit and retain teachers and other staff. MCPS is dealing with increased pressures and responsibilities, while also facing many unfilled positions. This means teaching and support staff are stretched too thin. MCPS needs to offer competitive salaries—this is an expensive county to live in and it harms our ability to recruit and retain staff when they can find better paying positions in nearby counties with a lower cost of living.

The blue dots above show the current per-student spending. Right now, Montgomery County has the most students and the second-lowest per-student spending among the six largest jurisdictions in the State. The yellow dot shows that, if the budget passes as recommended, Montgomery County will be No. 3 among the six. Additionally, real spending (adjusted for inflation) per student is lower than 12 years ago. Yet, needs in schools have increased and the impact from COVID-19 has added to the challenges. The consequences of the pandemic on the well-being and development of our children are continuing and cannot be ignored.

The dotted lines on the chart show that when the per-pupil spending is adjusted for inflation, our spending per student is down—well below the height in 2010

Our school system is well known for its excellence, but if we do not invest in it, its future is threatened. Last year 1,100 teachers left MCPS and hundreds of positions remain unfilled. Teachers are leaving the classroom for better pay and less-demanding and more-respected work. The impact is larger classes and fewer people to meet the needs of students. The teachers in schools are burning out as they work to cover the vacant positions and the increased needs. The risk of teacher burnout rises with each unfilled job.

This is a choice –a choice to pay our teachers and other education employees a competitive salary. This is a choice to invest in our education system to ensure the long-term viability of Montgomery County. This is a choice to invest in long-term workforce development and economic development. We should not forget that our school system is one of the keys we have in terms of economic development in this County. It is one of the major things that make us attractive to companies and people on the outside looking in. Slipping in these categories will hurt the County’s property values far more and far longer than a property tax increase. Tax increases are never comfortable, but we need to invest in our future and our needs and priorities.

I believe the Council is working in good faith on funding these critical needs. I have told Councilmembers that my staff and I are ready and willing to work with them to answer questions and find solutions and possibly identify ways to reduce the amount of the tax increase in ways that would not reduce services and would still fund the schools. To those who choose to throw bombs from the sidelines and simply say “no” to everything, I challenge them to show the residents of Montgomery County what cuts they are proposing to critical services such as teacher salaries, healthcare, public safety or other needs to resolve this budget. There is no easy solution. We cannot find an additional $220 million to invest in the schools unless we are willing to do great harm to Montgomery County services. I continue to urge all residents to support the budget I recommended. It will help the County hire and retain talented staff, educate our children and fund the critical needs of the County. The first County Council hearing on the FY24 Operating Budget Public is Tuesday, April 11. I hope you lend your voice of support for this needed investment in MCPS.

Seeking Applicants to Serve on the New Development Review Workgroup: We are embarking on development review process workgroup next month with the Planning Department and the Montgomery County House Delegation to examine the County’s process for reviewing and approving development projects, with a special focus on ensuring the county remains economically competitive. The Development Review Process Workgroup will be made up of individuals that represent County, State and other jurisdictional representatives, but will also include representatives from the development community and broader community as identified below:

  • Three representatives of the broader community agreed to by the County Executive and Planning Board chair. These members will include one from the Upcounty area of the county, one from Midcounty and one from Downcounty (as these areas are defined on the planning board website here: https://montgomeryplanning.org/planning/communities/
  • Three representatives of the development community agreed to by the County Executive (or designee) and Planning Board chair. These members will include one who develops commercial/industrial projects, one who develops multi-family/mixed use projects, and one who develops single-family projects.

Individuals interested in becoming a workgroup member should send an email expressing their interest to both the County Executive and the Planning Board chair by Monday, April 17. The email should include why you are interested in the becoming a workgroup member, and why you would be a great fit for the role. You can read the Letter of Intent about the Workgroup at https://www.montgomerycountydelegation.com/2023/Documents/Letter%20of%20Intent.docx.pdf

MCFRS Chief Retires

Montgomery County Fire and Rescue Service Chief Scott Goldstein announced this week that he will leave this summer after 36 years of service to our residents and communities. His last official day will be June 30. Chief Goldstein started serving Montgomery County in 1987 as a volunteer with the Kensington Volunteer Fire Department. Three years later, he was hired at MCFRS and eight years ago became our fire chief. I want to thank him for his service to our County and his dedication to the men and women of MCFRS. Over the last 18 months alone, Chief Goldstein has had to deal with deadly fires, floods and building explosions, as well as the highly unusual event with a plane entangled in a utility transmission line. I have appreciated his leadership and decision-making skills during these major incidents and his work to improve public safety. I wish him all the best moving forward with his new chief’s position in Kelso, Wash. Here is a link to the press release with more from Chief Goldstein.

Earth Month: Food Scraps Recycling Program

Throughout April we will be highlighting programs, like food scraps recycling, to help the public be more environmentally friendly for Earth Month. Montgomery County’s Department of Environmental Protection estimates that every year 124,000 tons of food scraps are thrown away. That includes vegetable and fruit peelings, stale baked goods and food left on plates after meals. Setting up a food recycling program can save energy and resources used for farming, processing and handling food. Companies that have established food recycling programs report that employees and customers are happier knowing that the business they support cares about the environment. It impacts pride in the workplace and helps business owners save money on trash costs.

Montgomery County has programs that help residents save food scraps at home as well, but they are in a limited pilot stage. Click here for more information on which area are being served now. Programs are adaptable so even people living in multi-family communities can participate. Home food scraps recycling is typically done with a static compost bin or a dual chamber tumbler. Both are rodent-proof. There is also a growing industry of dedicated food scraps collectors. Food waste commercial recycling is growing. I hope people understand the value in keeping food waste out of our trash system because it can be used in compost and eventually reused as soil. If you would like to learn more about food scraps recycling, visit the County’s Department of Environmental Protection website. Please keep an eye on my weekly newsletter and our County social media pages this month for more information on ways to help the environment in the lead up to the Earth Day.

COVID-19 Update

The pattern of COVID-19 infections impacting Montgomery County has been easy to spot for a while now. We look for new breakout variants and watch case counts and hospitalizations go up until the wave breaks. Cases have receded to the point that it seems like even the threat of an outbreak is a long way off. We thought the same thing going into last summer—and then saw cases rise around Memorial Day. We are still tracking the virus—not only in Montgomery County, but globally, because the pattern has been that the virus springs up across the ocean then comes to the United States.

Bivalent boosters have been available since September and should be taken by everyone to stay up to date on vaccine protection. Soon, Federal funding for COVID-related expenses like vaccines and testing will expire and many of these protections will come out of family budgets. The County’s budget is going to provide money for retaining some of these services, but it will not be to the same level we funded these measures before. Two months ago, the State recorded a seven-day average of more than 9,400 COVID tests being taken daily. Now that number is down to just over 3,100 COVID tests being recorded every day. That is a good sign that transmission of the disease is far lower than it was in February, but also a reminder that we should not let our guard down even as fewer friends, neighbors and family members get sick.

Many Celebrations This Week: This week marked the start of Passover. Easter is this Sunday. And on Tuesday we recognized Ramadan with a proclamation and our annual dinner celebration here at the County Executive Office Building. I wish all those observing these holidays joyous and peaceful gatherings. This week is also National Public Health Week. After the last three years in which the pandemic has been at the forefront of our minds, I think we all have gained a new appreciation for the importance of public health and the professionals that keep us healthy and safe. I want to take this opportunity to thank the more than 650 public health workers across Montgomery County who have and continue to work tirelessly to serve our health and wellness.

Beyond COVID-19, they focus on a range of community threats such as mental health, accessibility to health care, food and nutrition issues and reproductive and sexual health. Public health workers play a significant role in this County, and they do it because they care deeply about the people they serve. It is important to recognize the work done by our public health workers to help improve our overall quality of life in Montgomery County. They really are unsung heroes. Every chance I get to remind people of what they did for us through the pandemic, I do.

As always, my appreciation for all of you,

Marc Elrich

County Executive”

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