UPPER MARLBORO — The Prince George County Board of Education passed a significantly reduced budget proposal last week after only having the proposal online for a few hours.
The board passed a $2.05 billion budget proposal Feb. 22 despite hesitation from some members over the significant, and seemingly sudden, decrease in the ask. Chief Executive Officer of Prince George’s County Public Schools, Kevin Maxwell, had made a $2.1 billion fiscal year 2019 budget proposal but brought a “more realistic” version of the proposal before the board for a vote during their regularly scheduled Thursday meeting.
“Before you tonight for approval is my amended fiscal year 2019 operating budget. Over the last several years I have proposed budgets that reflect what the school system needs to fulfill the promise of the strategic plan,” Maxwell said. “I know my message has been heard and, to a great extent, acted upon. However, fiscal realities must also shape our budget request.”
The move to pass a truncated budget came after three work sessions between the board and school administration. During those work sessions, Board Chair Segun Eubanks had asked the board and administration to consider working on a budget that was more in the realm of fiscal realities than one based on everything the school system wanted.
Maxwell said he reduced the budget to align with “expected revenues from all sources,” bringing the grand total of the request down by $59.2 million.
However, when the smaller budget came before the board for a vote Feb. 22, it took some on the board by surprise. Boardmember Raaheela Ahmed said she felt she did not have enough time to make an informed decision on the new budget, as the documents for the smaller proposal had been uploaded to the Board Docs website only minutes before the meeting.
“I feel shorted of my ability and feel like we as a board were shorted of our ability to do our homework and colleagues you know how much I value doing my homework before coming to board meetings,” she said. “So consequently I don’t know if I agree with all of the recommendations that are being presented in front of me.”
The new proposal cuts several of the school’s systems asks, but the documents uploaded to the online agenda system only show cuts in major categories, not by line items. The three-paged board action summary shows the budget is asking for millions less in several categories such as administration, instructional salaries, operation of plant, student transportation services and “other instructional costs,” but does not show where exactly the cuts between the proposed CEO budget and the budget now being proposed occurred.
Maxwell, however, gave several indications about what would be covered in the budget including employee compensation, charter school expansion, student based budgeting and program expansions. He also noted during the board’s rounds of questioning that funding proposed to bring school athletic directors to full-time rolls had been nixed.
While Ahmed shared her concerns about voting on a budget she had not had time to look over, Board Vice-Chair Carolyn Boston seemed personally insulted by the implication that there was not enough time to review the new proposed budget, saying board members should have been aware of the changes because they were made during the board’s retreat and through the finance, audit and budget committee.
“We talked in length about the fact that we needed to present a more realistic budget. We asked administration – there was numerous conversations about that – to bring back a budget that was more realistic,” she said.
Boston said the administration and the finance, audit and budget committee talked back-and-forth for weeks about the new proposal and noted that all the committee meetings were posted, are public and any board member could have attended.
“It’s not a secret. It was not a secret meeting,” she said.
Beyond discussions about the timing of the changes, Boardmember Edward Burroughs, III wanted to make alterations to the budget. He asked for $29.2 million to be added for contract negotiations and said the school administration could find something in the budget to cut to make up the amount.
“We are losing some of our very best and brightest teachers to (Washington,)D.C every single year and if we don’t properly compensate our educators, they will leave us,” he said. “If we are serious about retaining and supporting the current work force, then we must work toward putting our employees on their proper step.”
Burroughs said the potential for a 4 percent raise for teachers could help keep the district competitive with its surrounding jurisdictions. However Boardmember Curtis Valentine said surrounding jurisdictions are in different situations and while he wants to support giving teachers raises, he does not want to pull money from other resources that could potentially help students.
“Unless we can make a decision on where the money would come from and if that funding cut wouldn’t adversely effect educations in the classroom, then its hard for me to vote for this,” Valentine said.
Board counsel also warned the board that it was veering close to crossing a legal line about negotiating union contracts in public.
Ultimately the board passed the new proposal without alterations in a 9 to 3 vote. Ahmed later took to Facebook to express her feelings on the matter, again saying she felt there was not enough time to make an informed decision on the budget.
“Nine of my colleagues voted to approve a requested budget that cut $59 million dollars from the superintendent’s proposed budget - with only a 37 min advanced warning,” she wrote, later continuing, “As a result, I’ve lost a lot of faith in my colleagues as true stewards for our kids. I personally feel the weight of every vote I take and every decision I make, and often stay up at night wondering if I did the right thing. For others, it seems like they’ve checked out before they even entered the boardroom.”
The school system’s proposed budget is due to the county executive by March 1 and the proposal will be considered during the executive’s proposal process. The Prince George’s County Council will then consider the county executive’s proposal before making a final budget.
“We are barely midway through the fiscal year 2019 process,” Maxwell said. “We are eagerly awaiting the budget recommendations of the county executive next month, and a few months later the county council approves our final budget amount.”
Further adjustments to the budget are undoubtedly coming, Maxwell said.