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Montessori parents ask PGCPS to rethink student-based budgeting

PGCPS logoUPPER MARLBORO – Monday night provided the community with its first opportunity this year to weigh in on Prince George’s County Schools’ (PGCPS) budget needs, and the parents of students at Robert Goddard Montessori wasted no time in asking the system to rethink its student-based budgeting equation.

Budget season is underway again for PGCPS and Nov. 13 was the first public forum on the fiscal year 2019 school system’s operating budget. The forum brought out eight speakers who each had two minutes to make their pitches to the chief executive officer, chief operating officer and the director of budget services.

About half of those registered to speak at the forum came representing Goddard Montessori and had a list of four requests, which each parent repeated. Among other requests, the parents asked for there to be considerations to add prekindergarten population totals to the formula for student-based budgeting.

“Student-based budgeting is not equitable for our school,” said Hugo Lam, a parent of a 4-year-old at Robert Goddard. “We need our pre-k, 3-year-olds and 4-year-olds, to count in the student-based budgeting. Our 4-year-old, second-year pre-k students are all-day students, yet they are not counted in student-based budgeting for ‘specials.’”

Student-based budgeting is a budget tool the school system uses to determine how much money each school in PGCPS is allocated. The formula, developed by the school system, allocates funds to schools based on enrollment numbers and also on weighted needs of students.

John Pfister, the director of PGCPS Budget and Management Services, said the system is set up to make sure that schools with similar populations and needs are receiving the same funding.

“The formula is based on the needs of the students, set within a priority of what the total allocation can be for that particular budget year,” he said. “Generally it’s based on the academic demographics of the students there. So, if you have the same students, same needs in this area versus this area, they get the same resources.”

Pfister called it a “very complicated formula” that also factors in poverty, academic needs, test scores and English as a second language, but is heavily restricted by the total amount PGCPS can afford.

Currently, the equation does not account for the impact preschool-aged students attending the schools have on non-core classes such as art, music and Spanish known as “specials.”

“I think student-based budgeting really needs to look at these special circumstances,” Stephanie Lansing, a parent of two students at Robert Goddard, said. “We shouldn’t have to buy out our specials … that should be part of our current budget.”

Prekindergarten students are funded separately, Pfister said, but budget staff is going to look into how to better calculate for those students’ impact on “special” to see if changes must be made to the formula.

However those possible changes will not come without a cost. While the student-based budgeting equation may be altered to better reflect the realities of some schools, that does not mean the school system would receive more money or there would be any change in the total of the budget.

“It would cost dollars. Everything costs dollars, but we’d have to look at it to see exactly what that dollar breakout would be,” he said. “It goes up like everything else. So, if we need five or 10 more teachers then that’s five or 10 more teachers worth of something else that we can’t do.”

Likely, if the cost of student-based budgeting were to increase due to a formula change, money would be pulled from elsewhere in the budget. To add further complication, the state does not give local school systems funds for prekindergarten education, meaning there are zero added dollars from the state to cover the costs of early education, Pfister said.

But PGCPS is still fighting this.

“We get zero pre-K funding. We get K through 12 funding from the state, so that has some issues as well. We’re going to be advocating that, if we’re teaching the kids, we should have the funds as well,” he said.

Other requests made at the public forum included the Robert Goddard community asking for the school to receive more resources for Montessori textbooks and supplies, and for there to be more paid Montessori training for staff and teachers.

Outside of that one school, school system stakeholders asked for more funding for technology updates, proper compensation for educations, support staff, and school workers, and for more of PGCPS’s money to go directly into the classroom.

Moving forward, budget staff will begin to solidify a budget proposal from the input from the community and the list of priorities from both the Prince George’s County Board of Education and from Chief Executive Officer Kevin Maxwell.

The final proposed budget will be presented on Dec. 14. Further public hearings will be held in January and February.

Until then, county residents can make their budget desires and needs known by filling out a comprehensive survey on the PGCPS website. The survey was launched Tuesday, is on the homepage of the website and will remain open until Nov. 27.

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