UPPER MARLBORO – Tough decisions are ahead for the Prince George’s County Board of Education as it begins to dig into a budget that is $75 million less than ideal.
Last week, on June 7, the board began reconciliation talks with the $1.97 billion budget given to Prince George’s County Public Schools (PGCPS) from the county council. The budget is several million dollars short of the $2.05 billion request the school system sent to the county executive a few short months ago.
“To close this gap, tough choices have to be made and they have to be made quickly,” said Kevin Maxwell, chief executive officer of PGCPS. “In the past few weeks since we were informed of our total, my administration and I have developed a reconciled budget proposal that provides funding for the current negotiated commitments, continues prekindergarten expansion, addresses our early literacy and numeracy concerns, insures vital program continuation and funds mandatory and other costs of doing business.”
Raymond Brown, the chief financial officer at PGCPS, and Maxwell said the budget team worked diligently to shift through the budget and find any and all places where the school system could afford to move money from, or eliminate the expansion of altogether.
The approved budget from the county council is $22 million from the school system’s fund balance, $4.7 million set aside for the county executive’s initiative to raise graduation rates at Northwestern, Bladensburg, High Point and Central high schools, and $500,000 set aside for the second phase of the performance audit recommendations.
Brown said the school system was able to identify $75 million in funds that the school system could reallocate, pull from internally or eliminate. The $22 million in fund balance is factored into that as well as $35 million in salary lapses and $18.5 million in generally redirected funds.
After reallocating, Brown said the system had $61 million outside of the base budget to spend. Of that, $28.7 million would go toward mandatory (or legally bound) expenditures such as minimum wage increases, charter schools, the P-Tech high school, employee retirement and special education fund increases.
Cost of doing business, such as health insurance payments, legal fees, textbook purchases and facility maintenance account for $16.3 million. The expansion of multiple programs such as prekindergarten come in around $10.1 million while $2.1 million is proposed to pay for safe environments in the form of student safety task force recommendations, security assistants and athletic trainers.
An additional $4 million is proposed for items under “academic excellence” such as the teacher academy, fee payments for Advanced Placement, International Baccalaureate and PSAT tests, literacy supports and world language staffing.
“Are we able to do everything we want to do to move our system forward? No, but this reconciliation I’m proposing uses a balanced methodology to get us the most bang for our buck,” Maxwell said.
The budget total is a $39 million increase over the current year’s budget, but the school system is faced with making tough decisions over whether to halt expansions of programs, or where to cut back on additional funding for wanted items.
Brown said the proposal before the board does not include funds for universal Healthy Start Breakfast. Seven additional mentor teacher positions were slashed, an additional $6 million for overtime maintenance was eliminated, nine positions for alternative education out as restorative practices funding and funding for student expulsion options were also eliminated.
There is also no change to transportation staffing, but there is a reduction in the amount of money going toward the Student Safety Taskforce recommendation. Funding for an additional communications specialist was axed and cultural training is no longer on the table.
Boardmember Carolyn Boston, along with several other members, expressed concern about not increasing the amount of mentor teachers. Brown said the originally proposed seven positions were off the table now and that those positions would cost PGCPS more than $800,000.
Boston said she knows money is tight, but would like to see those positions added back into the budget.
That was a theme throughout the entire work session as almost every single member of the board commented that they would like to see something that was eliminated added back into the budget.
Boardmember Edward Burroughs, III said he would like the board to fund AP fees for all students and not just those on the Free and Reduced Meals program. Boardmember Beverly Anderson wanted to see more literacy supports and she, Burroughs and other members wanted to see all funding possible for negotiations with the school system’s employees.
“I would ask you to please leave pre-k and literacy harmless because those are areas that we really need the funds,” Anderson said.
Board Chair Segun Eubanks and Boardmember Raaheela Ahmed both asked if the money in the budget that was set aside for specific projects, like the $4.5 million for the county executive’s graduation initiative and the P-Tech high school, could be used to reach other ends.
Maxwell said in the case of the P-Tech high school, the state is expecting PGCPS to follow through on a grant promise and he would highly discourage the board from not doing so – especially if they want to be considered for future grants.
For the most part, the board thanked Brown for his work on the reconciliations, noting that many of the priorities the board set at the beginning of the year, such as literacy and numeracy coaches and the teacher academy, were still reflected in the budget in some way.
However Burroughs still showed frustration with the process and said the board should take a deeper look at the base budget to find departments and programs that are wasteful.
“If I have to pick between having a TV station or a ‘chief of I’m not really sure,’ I’m going to choose the math and reading specialist. I’m going to put that money toward properly compensating all of our employees,” Burroughs said, saying the board needs to have a real conversation about cuts.
A balanced budget must be approved and sent to the state education department by June 30.