The Prince George’s County Board of Education has proposed a $68.8 million capital improvement budget for 2016, with replacement or renovation of school facilities as a top priority, but the school system faces tough economic times in the future according to an auditor’s financial report. “Given the current fiscal situation from the state and county […]
The Prince George’s County Board of Education has proposed a $68.8 million capital improvement budget for 2016, with replacement or renovation of school facilities as a top priority, but the school system faces tough economic times in the future according to an auditor’s financial report.
“Given the current fiscal situation from the state and county level over the next couple years there are going to be some challenges,” said Raymond Brown, chief financial officer for the county school system. “What the school system is going to continue to do is to make sure that the resources allocated are targeted to needs of students and to improve student achievement,” he said.
At the top of the school system’s priorities are the replacement of Fairmont Heights High School in Capitol Heights for $5 million and renovation of Tulip Grove Elementary School in Bowie for $60,000.
Other top priorities addressed in the proposed budget include the Stephen Decatur Middle School Special Education Initiative, the limited renovation of C. Elizabeth Rieg Regional School, limited renovation of the Bowie High School annex and William Schmidt Educational Center. The school system requested state planning approval of these projects. If approved by the state, the projects will be eligible for state construction funding. The Prince George’s County Council already endorsed the proposed capital improvements budget.
Systematic replacements, including boilers and heating, ventilating and air-conditioning units, totaling $11.4 million at 39 schools in the county are also included in the proposed budget. Other replacements include roofs, windows and doors, as well as the replacement of other systems in order to extend the life of a school facility.
Still, there are schools in need of repair that are not included in the budget.
“There is simply not enough funding available to build new schools, repair or modernize existing ones and implement new initiatives and educational programs that physically impact facilities,” according to the executive summary of the school’s proposed 2016-21 capital improvement budget. Therefore, the proposed capital improvement budget addresses the highest priority needs, the summary said.
Outgoing school board member Peggy Higgins said William Wirt Middle School in Riverdale, which suffers from water leakage, is an example of a school not included in the budget. She said the school system is conducting a feasibility study of the middle school.
“We can’t meet educational needs of our students with substandard facilities,” Higgins said.
In recent years, several jurisdictions including Montgomery County, Baltimore City and Prince George’s County have asked for special construction funding from the state during the annual legislative session. In 2013, the Maryland General Assembly passed a $1.1 billion construction plan for Baltimore City to aid the city in paying for renovations and construction of new schools.
During the 2014 legislative session a coalition consisting of Baltimore County, Montgomery County and Prince George’s County failed to win passage of a similar deal, however Prince George’s School Board Member Segun Eubanks said the jurisdictions may consider a similar approach in 2015.
“Last year, Prince George’s County, Montgomery County and Baltimore County came together to the state and said, ‘We need a whole lot more support for building funds,’” Eubanks said. “We don’t know what the strategy will be this year, but that need has not gone anywhere. We have a significant need to upgrade our facilities. We will go back to the state and continue to tell that story.”
County Councilwoman Karen Toles, chair of the health, education and human services committee, also said forming a coalition to ask for construction funding from the state is a possibility.
“We ask for money every year for construction. This year won’t be any different,” Toles said. “I’m going to be more intimately involved working with House delegation to make sure we are advocating without school system.”
The school system will face tough economic times in the future, according to the 2014 Comprehensive Annual Financial Report (CAFR).
According to the report, the county school system saw county funding decline by 33 percent to $66.98 million from 2013 to 2014, while state funding also fell by 55 percent to $23.14 million. The report attributes the decline in funding to the completion of several large construction projects.
Additionally, according to the report the school system’s total revenues decreased from $1.97 billion in fiscal year 2013 to $1.933 billion this year, while total expenses increased from $1.97 billion in 2013 to $2.095 billion this year. Overall, expenses exceeded revenue by 7.75 percent.
Brown said the school system would begin to have discussions with county funding authorities and consider eliminating duplicate programs targeted at addressing similar issues.
“I’m optimistic that doing those things we can continue to move forward. Will there be challenges? Yes. But we will meet those head on,” Brown said.