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Council questions Maxwell on budget reconciliation

Kevin Maxwell commisioner 123UPPER MARLBORO – Changes between the Prince George’s County Public Schools (PGCPS) dream budget and the realistic one passed in June caused some confusion during a county council committee meeting last week.

The Prince George’s County Council Health, Education and Human Services Committee met with PGCPS leader Kevin Maxwell and members of his budget team to talk about the differences between the budget of their dreams and the reality they are working with.

“The last time we were before this committee we were discussing the needs of our school system and the fiscal year 2018 budget request. At that time we anticipated a reconciliation would be needed to reduce the board of education’s request,” Maxwell said.

The meeting on Sept. 28 focused on direct line items in the budget and where the money the county council approved for the school system is going to be spent. The budget reconciliation numbers directly represented the difference between the proposals the school system made early in the year and what it was actually able to budget once the county council approved a total amount for the fiscal year.

PGCPS and Maxwell had proposed a more than $2 billion budget to the county executive and the county council. In June, the council approved a $1.97 billion budget to the school system, which was approximately $75 million less than they asked for.

Maxwell, at the time, had said tough decisions were ahead for the school system that hoped to grow programs and start new ones while maintaining the level of service already underway. The county board of education made several changes to the budget before it was passed in June that included moving funds that were proposed for certain areas or departments around to other causes.

“We know it is not everything we wanted, but compromises had to be made,” said Board Vice-Chair Carolyn Boston during the reconciliation meeting in June. “I fully support those compromises.”

However, the county council committee members seemed not to be aware of many of the compromises the board and the school system made and that confusion was on full display during the committee meeting last week.

While the council contribution to PGCPS did increase over the previous years, it did not meet up with the ideal number the school system had proposed. Because of that, some of the line items in the budget reflected a slight decrease in budgeted money. That, however, does not mean funds for those line items were all decreased and in fact those perceived reductions only show the difference between the dream number and the reality.

Maxwell and Raymond Brown, the chief financial officer, also noted that several of the departments, categories and projects did in fact see increases in their budgets overall, just not as much as they had hoped to see when the team formed the budget proposal in winter.

“It is not a reduction to the base. It’s a reduction to the request in increase,” Brown said.

Still, this fact did not resonate with several of the committee members, who continually asked why certain projects saw decreases.

Councilwoman Andrea Harrison asked about the perceived reduction in budgets for building services, the student safety task force and for literacy and numeracy, and asked how those reductions would affect those departments.

Maxwell responded by saying the budgets for those categories are still growing, just not at the rate he had hoped.

“We were adding (literacy) coaches and we just weren’t able to add as many as we wanted,” he said. “Because something’s got to give somewhere and we have to be able to meet our contract obligations and those things. So, we are still expanding but just not as rapidly as we would have liked.”

Committee Chair Karen Toles asked about the funds set aside to pay for background checks, which adults need to take and pass in order to volunteer in the schools, and how PGCPS would pick who has their fees paid. She also questioned the “decrease” in funding for building maintenance.

Councilwoman Deni Taveras asked about lease purchases for buses, funds for cultural training and student expulsion options. She asked why the school system would eliminate funding for those critical areas.

However, Brown and Maxwell noted that funding was not eliminated for cultural training, but it was not increased beyond the amount budgeted in the previous year.

“So again, it’s a reduction in an increase, not a reduction in what we were doing last year. So we’re still funded at the level that we were last year,” Maxwell said

Still, despite explanations and an hour-long conversation, members of the committee still expressed displeasure with the way the budget ended up and several asked for reconsideration of specific priorities in the upcoming year.

Maxwell reemphasized that no matter how much he or the council wants to get accomplished, the funding has to come through first.

“Well we’d love to be fully funded one day,” Maxwell said. “And I’m sure you’d love to fully fund us, but we’re thankful for the funding that you do provide and (we) do the best we can with it.”

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