Thursday, May 26, 2016

Council Passes "Education First" Budget

This year we set out to make a major course correction. We committed ourselves to the core goals of closing the educational achievement gap; reducing class sizes across the board; making decisions that are both achievable in the short term and sustainable over time; and ensuring that residents see results for any additional investments we ask them to make.
Two of the four goals relate directly to the classroom, and that’s why we created a historic partnership with the Board of Education to pass an “education first” budget.

With this budget, students and parents can look forward to more teachers, paraeducators, counselors and other student support positions, in addition to expanded programs to support achievement goals and enhance college and career readiness. What’s more, we will be able to construct school revitalizations and additions sooner than expected. Our schools are bursting at the seams, and this relief is long overdue.

While this is an “education first” budget, it isn’t an “education only” budget. As much as many people care about our outstanding school system, we know that others have different priorities. This budget is very much about those people as well.

This budget provides a much-needed boost to police and fire and rescue services as we will be adding more police officers and firefighters and giving them the equipment they need to continue to make this one the safest counties in America. This budget is about libraries, recreation, parks, the safety net, Montgomery College, and transportation programs that help get people around this county better.

This budget means that no matter where you live in the county, if you call an ambulance, you can count on a life-saving response time. Our police force will now be equipped with body cameras. Potholes will be filled, snow will be plowed, grass in parks and on playing fields will be mowed and trees will get planted in the right-of-way. While our unemployment rate has fallen steadily over the past couple of years, our newly privatized program for economic development promises an even better job market in the future. We are going to help new businesses in their early stages and hope they will remain here once they become successful. We are going to aggressively seek to get established businesses to relocate here and we are going to fight to keep the great businesses of all sizes that already call Montgomery County home. Our avid readers and researchers will appreciate the interim Wheaton Library and extended hours at several branches. And students will have better access to after-school enrichment programs.

I want to be clear that this year’s decisions represent more than a one-year budget. They represent a plan for the future. For the first time in eight years, we opted to raise the property tax over the Charter limit. That wasn’t an easy decision, but I am optimistic that we’ve set up a structure that is responsive to our community’s needs and is sustainable over time.

See my full comments on the approved budget or read the press release for all the details.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Holiday Schedule for Memorial Day

Here's our holiday schedule for Memorial Day, Monday, May 30:

  • County Offices – closed 
  • Libraries – closed 
  • County Liquor stores – all Country liquor stores will be open from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.
  • Recreation – all indoor and outdoor aquatic facilities will be open; administrative offices, senior centers and community recreation centers will be closed 
  • Montgomery Parks - Montgomery Parks – Holiday schedule available at
  • Ride On – Will operate on a Sunday schedule
  • Metrorail –Will operate on a Sunday schedule. Additional information available at
  • Metrobus – Will operate on a Sunday schedule. Additional information available at
  • TRiPS Commuter Stores (Silver Spring and Friendship Heights) - closed
  • Refuse/recycling pickup – no collection, all collections scheduled on or after the holiday will be made one day later in the week. Monday collections on Tuesday; Tuesday collections made on Wednesday; Wednesday collections on Thursday; Thursday collections on Friday; and Friday collections on Saturday
  • The Shady Grove Processing Facility and Transfer Station - closed 
  • Parking at public garages, lots, curbside meters – free
  • MCPS Schools and Administrative Offices – closed
  • State offices and courts – closed

Thursday, May 19, 2016

My Remarks on Today's Budget Decisions

Today the Council unanimously reached a preliminary agreement on the Fiscal Year 2017 operating budget and the Fiscal Years 2017-22 Capital Improvements Program. Here are my complete remarks on today's vote:

Leadership is about setting the stage in which difficult conversations can occur. Leadership is about undertaking personal risk to achieve the larger good. Leadership is about the strength to persevere in the face of sustained opposition. Today, leadership is the face of Board of Education president Mike Durso, along with vice president Judy Docca and board members Chris Barclay, Phil Kauffman, Pat O’Neill, Jill Ortman-Fouse, Rebecca Smondrowski and student member Eric Guerci. Leadership is reflected in the coalition formed by union representatives, the Montgomery County Council of PTAs, agency heads and stakeholders all over the county. Leadership is here at this dais. Thank you for your willingness to think about our budget, our educational system, and our future in new ways, to forge a historic new partnership and to take bold action even in the face of extreme pressure to maintain the status quo.

As we embarked on this budget process, we committed ourselves to the core goals of closing the educational achievement gap; reducing class sizes across the board; making decisions that are both achievable in the short term and sustainable over time; and ensuring that residents see results for any additional investments we ask them to make. As a result, we have completely recalibrated the County Executive’s proposed budget.

I really want to acknowledge our taxpayers, who are partners in this restructuring effort. With the increase in the property tax, the owner of an average-priced home will pay less than a dollar a day more. This is a price to be sure, but a modest one for enhanced services and educational opportunities, and I am certain that this investment in our future will enhance property values to everyone’s benefit.

Thanks to our unprecedented collaboration with the interim superintendent, the Board of Education and the employee unions within the school system, Montgomery College and across County Government, we have been able to achieve a significant course correction and make considerable progress toward our core goals. In particular we have been able to rebalance compensation and benefits packages in a way that allows more resources to go directly to the student experience and other key public services. This is unprecedented.

This “education first” budget differs significantly from the County Executive’s proposed budget as we reallocate more than $36 million:
  • To reduce class size by two students in many schools.
  • To lower student to staff ratios by increasing the number of para-educators.
  • To add focus teachers to impacted schools to provide targeted support in literacy and math.
  • To add parent community coordinators, psychologists and pupil personnel workers to provide support for our most vulnerable students and their families.
  • To add school counselors to impacted elementary schools.
  • To expand the Achieving College Excellence and Success program to more schools.
That is not all. With the change in the rate of the recordation tax, we will generate an additional nearly 200 million dollars over the next six years. This is substantial. This money will go predominantly to fund school construction.

Let’s be clear. Nobody likes the idea of increasing taxes of any kind, but our needs are great. The recordation tax, as we have approved it, is the most progressive approach to meeting the needs our residents have clearly identified as their top priorities.

I want to thank the Greater Capital Area Association of Realtors for their many helpful suggestions. Because of their recommendations, we are increasing the exemption from the recordation tax to 100,000 dollars, thereby benefiting every single party that engages in a real estate sale or refinancing in Montgomery County. And we are delaying its impact by two months.

As we have promised, taxpayers will see results for their investment. In fact, we are able to fulfill even more than the Board of Education requested for its Capital Improvements Program. Some specific projects that will benefit from this new revenue are:
  • Wootton High School revitalization/expansion is now scheduled for completion in 2021, avoiding a one-year delay.
  • Poolesville High School revitalization/expansion is scheduled for a 2023 completion, also avoiding one-year delay.

  • Clarksburg Cluster Elementary School scheduled for 2019 completion, avoiding a one-year delay.
  • Greencastle, Woodlin and East Silver Spring Elementary Schools, which previously had not been funded at all, are scheduled for a 2022 completion.
  • HVAC and roof replacements throughout the County will also be accelerated.
The County Executive’s recommended Capital Improvements Program could not have funded these and other vital projects at the same level or on the same schedule.

As parents well know, and testified to earlier this spring, our schools are bursting at the seams. With more than 156,000 students, our school system is the 17th largest in the U.S. This budget brings our schools CIP funding to a record $1.7 billion and will provide some long-overdue relief for our students and teachers.
I want to take this opportunity to recognize the hard-working employees who are the engines of County Government, Montgomery County Public Schools, Montgomery College and the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission. Our employees drive our government’s success, and our employees have indeed helped to make Montgomery County a model in the nation. Our employees are contributing significantly to this year’s budget adjustments and to our squaring up in the long term. I really regret that this has been painful, but I have worked to keep the lines of communication open, and there have been no surprises. We have some of the best employees around, and although many had hoped for more, I’m pleased to say that most of our personnel will receive a 4.5 percent pay increase this year. That is more than most people employed in the private sector or other governmental jobs, and certainly more than people living on Social Security.

While we have focused primarily on education this year, there are many other items in the budget that will have a direct impact on residents’ lives. We’re asking homeowners to pay more in their property taxes this year, and with that increase we’re focusing on some of the items that residents have identified as their top priorities.

For example, we’re investing heavily in public safety with larger recruit classes in the Police and Fire Departments and in the Sheriff’s Office. We are restoring funding for a paramedic engine at the Hyattstown Fire Station as well as staffing at the Hillandale and Burtonsville stations. And we are providing funding for all police officers to be equipped with body cameras.

We are also beefing up our safety net with an increase in the Working Parents Assistance program’s subsidies for child care; an increase for initiatives for homeless veterans and chronically homeless adults; an increase for the Smartsacks program, which provides food for elementary school children; and numerous other support programs for our most vulnerable residents.

Many of our County’s avid readers and researchers will be glad to see a 2.3 percent increase in this year’s library budget, which includes funding for the interim Wheaton Library while the new Wheaton Library/Recreation Center is under construction. Library users will enjoy extended hours at four branches and additional support for the arts.

Residents in Tobytown will receive bus service, and residents all over will see improved roads, more trees, and more stump removal. And our seniors will now ride buses for free on Saturdays.
Did I mention that we are putting more resources into the program that affects just about everyone? I think we get more e-mails on this than any other subject—and that is roadway maintenance. Much greater detail about this large and complex budget is in a news release which can be accessed from the Council web site at

I want everyone to know that we wouldn’t be here today without our incomparable Council staff—Steve Farber and our outstanding team on the fifth floor, as well as the Office of Legislative Oversight, which has provided us volumes of background information over the course of the year. I know that all of us Councilmembers rely heavily on our personal staffs. I am particularly grateful to my staff, especially my chief of staff, Judy Jablow, who has handled this particularly challenging budget with the right combination of intellect, grace and patience.

This budget is unprecedented. It realigns our spending priorities in a way that is more responsive to those of our residents. It respects employees and taxpayers alike, and it sets us up for a future that will be responsible, nimble and sustainable.Thank you, Councilmembers, for your hard work and collaboration. You are the definition of leadership.

We have made history here. No other Council has done what we’ve done. It has been really hard. Many of us have had to prioritize our county’s future--our children’s education--over our residents’ very valid concerns about affordability, and our employees’ very legitimate commitment to the sanctity of the collective bargaining process. Many of us have had to risk the disappointment of groups that have supported us personally and politically in order that we might serve the greater good.

In a time where, on the national level, extremists routinely malign principled and disciplined decision-making, you (my colleagues) stand out as a strong, collaborative and responsive team of governmental leadership at its best. It has been a true honor to lead you through this very difficult budget process. You should be very proud of what we have achieved.

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Two MCPS Students Named Intel Finalists

Today we had the opportunity to congratulate Josephine Yu and Arnold Mong, the highly motivated seniors at Montgomery Blair High School who were named two of the 40 finalists in the prestigious Intel Science Talent Search competition and who competed in a high-profile event in Washington, D.C. The Intel competition is the nation's oldest and most prestigious pre-college science competition, and it honors exceptional high school seniors across the country for their scientific research and for their potential as future leaders in the science community.

In her project, Lattice and Continuum Models of Solitons and Vortices in Bilayer Graphene, Josephine developed a theoretical model to study two stacked sheets of graphene, a material that holds potential for use in electronics and biomedical applications. For his project, Exposing Non-Classical Properties of the Greenberger-Horne-Zeilinger States in Perfect Correlation Cases, Arnold designed a test that could potentially improve the encryption of data in communication by detecting whether transmitted data has been modified or intercepted.

There were nearly 1,800 entries this year, and 14 MCPS students made the semi-final round. Projects were judged in three categories: basic research, global good and innovation.

Monday, May 9, 2016

FDA Rules Similar to Council on Electronic Cigarettes

Did you see that the Food and Drug Administration issued sweeping new rules that regulate electronic cigarettes and ban their sale to minors?

Last year the County Council unanimously approved my bill to ban the use of electronic cigarettes wherever traditional tobacco smoking is prohibited and to require child-resistant packaging for liquid nicotine. At that time, we knew that the FDA was looking at electronic cigarettes, but we didn’t know if or when the agency would take action. I was not willing to gamble with our kids’ health and urged the Council not to wait.

I was concerned about health effects of the nicotine and other potentially harmful chemicals found in e-cigs. Perhaps swayed by the belief that electronic cigarettes are safe, or emboldened by the fact that e-cigs have little odor that parents could detect, teens who have never tried traditional cigarettes are using e-cigs, putting themselves at risk for nicotine addiction, nicotine poisoning or exposure to harmful chemicals.

Now, I am very pleased that the federal government is following our lead and is taking aggressive steps to keep electronic out of the hands of minors.