Possible litigation discussed in closed session Monday
This story was corrected on May 3, 2010. An explanation follows the story.
Montgomery County Public Schools officials will sue the county if the council cuts the system's operating budget beyond what has been proposed by County Executive Isiah Leggett, a council attorney told The Gazette on Monday.Council attorney Michael Faden said that he could not discuss many details of the possible litigation because they are confidential."The council hopes that litigation does not proceed, and I think that's clear," Faden said.Dana Tofig, a spokesman for the Montgomery County school system, refused to discuss any possible litigation, only saying that "all options are on the table, but we hope that's an option we don't have to do."On Thursday, the council's management and fiscal policy committee unanimously recommended that all county agencies furlough employees for a minimum of five days. That same day, Councilwoman Duchy Trachtenberg (D-At large) of North Bethesda said the school system might have to accept furloughs for its employees or face additional cuts to its budget.Currently, the school system is the only county agency to spurn furloughs for its employees; its employees make up about two-thirds of all county workers. The council met Monday afternoon in a closed session to discuss the potential litigation.Council President Nancy M. Floreen (D-At large) of Garrett Park said she would not discuss the details of the meeting."I think it's really important to be clear. We are in no position to require the school system to do anything," she said, referring to the furlough issue.The school system has said it could sue the county based on the state's education law, which includes restrictions on when and how a school system's budget can be cut, Faden said.He said the school system believes the council is limited to appropriating only what the executive has proposed — or more money than that amount.The county, Faden said, disagrees."That would be a really radical change in what has always been the case," he said. "The council is the final fiscal authority."The school system has an operating budget of about $2.2 billion."In three of the last 15 fiscal years, the council has reduced the school budget beyond the executive's reduction," Faden said. "And there was never any hint of litigation."The state's maintenance-of-effort requirement has not been mentioned as a reason for the lawsuit.By state law, maintenance of effort requires county school systems to spend at least as much on education as they did the previous year.Today, the county was expected to request of the state school board a waiver of its maintenance-of-effort requirement for fiscal 2011. That waiver, according to county information, is for $137.7 million. The school system already is making cuts in its budget, its employees aren't getting pay increases and the system is increasing class size by one student.If MCPS furloughed all its employees for five days, it would save $33.7 million, according to data from Stephen B. Farber, the council's staff director.Leggett has proposed 10 furlough days for some county employees to save $15 million. However, if all county employees, including those who work for MCPS, were furloughed the same amount could be saved in 1.5 days.The council has not taken any action on the school system's budget, but a decision will be made by May 20.Staff Writer Marcus Moore contributed to this report.The original version of the story said the school system would have to accept furloughs for its employees or face additional cuts to its budgets, however, that is not a definite. This story was also clarified to include a committee recommendation on furloughs.
Comment from the PC Blogger
Ethics Alert: Isn't Michael Faden married to a retired Central Office administrator and elementary school principal from Fallsmead ES? Does he have a foot in both camps? Perhaps Mr. Leggett should consider legal counsel without a potential conflicting financial interest - even if this is ethics free Maryland.