Tuesday, April 16, 2013

My Intern's Perspective on the County Budget

My intern, Amanda Cohen, attended one of our public hearings on the budget last week. A junior at Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School, Amanda has an interesting perspective--one we don't always get a chance to hear, so I appreciate her thoughtful commentary. Here's her take:

The process of making the Montgomery County budget is not an easy one. Every year, Councilmembers and their constituents crowd into meeting rooms to discuss the needs of every service, program and agency in Montgomery County.

Before I came to intern at the Montgomery County Council, I had no knowledge of the County budget, or the fact that there was a budget at all. It is only now, after listening to the citizens of Montgomery County fight for their programs, that I understand how important this $4 billion budget is.
For many citizens, the money received by certain programs is a way to change lives. A speaker from the Korean Community Service Center told a moving story of how, with the help of County money, the center saved a young woman and her baby from an abusive husband. The Center is a like a home for some of the 45,000 Koreans that live in Montgomery County and has provided them will a place to celebrate their culture, adapt to America and find relief.
For other much younger citizens, this money provides an invaluable education. The numerous mothers in attendance on Thursday, April 11th, passionately explained the overcrowding that has been disturbing Montgomery County’s schools. As a current student, I can attest to this overcrowding; every day I push my way through thick crowds of students to sit in a stuffed classroom where most teachers pass out busywork because there are too many of us to have fair class discussions. Members from the Northeast Consortium and Gaithersburg Cluster discussed this overcrowding and the need for modernization. With less crowding in schools and modernized technologies, our public schools can retain their high standards and continue to progress as one of the top public school programs in the country.
After the school moms had given their speeches, John Mannes, Student Member of the Board of Education, gave a precise and passionate speech about the downfalls of the County budget. He believes that the current budget is doing the bare minimum to help our schools and the Council needs to approve more money towards teachers and students. While I do agree that the budget does not spend enough on teachers, I believe that our school system, as the best in the state, is doing far more than the bare minimum. Approximately 50% of the current budget goes to MCPS to give our County high schools a plethora of AP and IB courses, Student Service Learning opportunities, varsity sports and extracurricular classes.
The budget is too complicated for any one person to compute. There are so many parts and opinions to be taken into account the Councilmembers are lucky to have their staffs, constituents and each other to help make these tough decisions that shape our community.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Great to see this young woman introduced to the complex world of budgeting and balancing the needs and wants of constituents.

Of course, she seems smart enough to recognize there are always two sides to every coin. For instance, did you explain to her the difference between utilizing union contract workers for capital budget needs versus non-union and how that money may ultimately cost an entire project elsewhere? Or about defined benefit versus defined contribution?

Budget begging days are important to understanding the process, but so are the underlying assumptions. COLAs, service providing contract rules, empty pins budgeted for, etc, etc. As a taxpayer, it's frustrating to see the county spending money building a private bathroom for the County Executive due to "security needs" while folks are told no for a bathroom at a park. Priorities definine budgeting and yet sometimes they seem out of whack.