Montgomery County Schools Prepare For Lawsuit Against Council Cuts

In a curious battle over county government powers and authority, centering on Montgomery County’s potential funding level for public schools in FY 2011, the schools have tentatively approved a lawsuit against the County, claiming that the Council does not have the legal authority to reduce funding levels proposed by the County Executive.

From the Washington Post‘s coverage:

The Montgomery County school board unanimously approved legal action against the county Tuesday if its budget is cut further, ramping up a confrontation between two branches of the county government.

School officials had not protested in the weeks since County Executive Isiah Leggett (D) proposed giving schools $137 million less than the board had requested. But after County Council members began saying two weeks ago that they wanted additional cuts in the school budget, school officials unveiled the unusual maneuver.

The council has long set spending for public schools and other public agencies. But Superintendent Jerry D. Weast and the school system’s lawyers have argued that state law prohibits the council from cutting deeper than the county executive’s proposal, if the county already is dipping below the state minimum for school spending, which it is.

The county’s lawyers said that the law has ambiguities, but they wrote an opinion for the council last week saying it would probably prevail against a legal challenge by the schools.

Only once in the past decade has the council cut school spending below the level proposed by the county executive, said county spokesman Patrick Lacefield. That was in 2005, but the funding was well above the state minimum.

At issue is $33 million that council members think could be saved if school employees were to take a weeklong furlough. Many county employees are facing furloughs, but Weast has argued that furloughing teachers would have dire educational consequences and has held out against that move.

Michael Sanderson

Executive Director Maryland Association of Counties

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