HCPSS Operating Budget Review Committee
by Erica Qin
In Howard County, the Operating Budget Review Committee (OBRC) is commissioned by the Board of Education to assist in overseeing the Howard County school budget, ensuring that money is being spent wisely and efficiently to ensure quality education. The committee has representatives from various community groups, along with representatives for each member of the Board of Education. The Chinese American Parent Association (CAPA) is one of the organizations that holds a chair in the OBRC.
“[Everyone] has influence in the process, and the final budget will reflect all the inputs of the people from each community,” said Thomas Liu, the current CAPA representative on the OBRC. By involving themselves in the budget process, CAPA is able to ensure that they have an oversight on where money is extended to in the upcoming budget.
The Chinese American Parent Association has come a long way from where they started. In the beginning, CAPA did not have a representative on the committee. Jean Xu, the founder of CAPA, first joined the OBRC as an individual in 2017. Two years later, CAPA had a seat in the OBRC, allowing them to send a representative each fiscal year in order to offer input in the upcoming budget. Each representative has brought various successful initiatives, representing their communities in the budget process.
One such success that CAPA has had in this process is the increase in liaisons for international students. Xu described how the number of liaisons at that time was not enough to support the number of immigrant families and international students in Howard County. Through years of the efforts of CAPA as well as the rest of the members on the committee, the number of liaisons for international students has now been expanded to 12 for the county in the school year 2022-23.
Another major change that has been implemented through the OBRC was the moderate increase in class size in the budget for the school year 2018-19. “I personally felt that was the right thing to do because we were in a big budget deficit [at that time],” Xu said. After many sessions of discussion and debate, the OBRC decided to move forward and recommend that the Board increase the number of students in each class by one to avoid a cut in major programs, such as GT and the music program.
“Every group may have a different agenda, so this is really a platform for people to toss these issues,” said Liu. “Some groups want to secure funding for special ed, others may want funding for immigrants, some may want funding for mental health support.” The OBRC is a congregation of members from various communities, each trying to ensure adequate funding for the overall communities and the interests of the group they represent while balancing the budget. In this committee, they have a platform and can actively push for the needs of their respective communities, which may otherwise be overlooked. The committee makes recommendations to the Board of Education, which makes final decisions on the school budget. Through this system of checks and balances, the final budget will be able to accurately reflect the inputs of the community members.
Liu urges community members to offer their support by engaging with these processes. Participation in OBRC is important to gain hands-on knowledge and experience on how the school budget is developed and where the money is spent. It is also important to learn the perspectives of the school system and those of other community groups. “I think for anyone who’s really interested in the Howard County public school system, this is an important starting point,” said Liu. Those interested can help their community by attending OBRC meetings, where they can converse with various representatives and engage with different perspectives.
The budget process is long, time-consuming, and complicated at times, as various community groups must work out their differences to settle on the final recommendations to the Board of Education to satisfy the needs of all communities in Howard County. The OBRC participation requires much commitment and sacrifice of personal time. For those who are interested in understanding the Howard County school system or participating in public services or simply wish to do more for their community, the OBRC may provide a valuable opportunity for them to get involved.