UPPER MARLBORO – Tough choices are before the Prince George’s County Board of Education and with less money to work with than needed to fully fund expanding programs, the board will have to pick between the school system’s greatest needs. Although the Prince George’s County Council has allocated more money to the Prince George’s County […]
UPPER MARLBORO – Tough choices are before the Prince George’s County Board of Education and with less money to work with than needed to fully fund expanding programs, the board will have to pick between the school system’s greatest needs.
Although the Prince George’s County Council has allocated more money to the Prince George’s County Schools (PCGPS) system than last year, the school system is still looking at less money than what would be needed to open a new office for parental engagement, fulfill the recommendations of the Student Safety Task Force, expand programs within the county, and provide pay increases to its employees.
Raymond Brown, the chief financial officer for PGCPS, gave a presentation to the board of education at a work session last week where the board dug into the proposed reconciliation of the budget.
Brown said, although the county council gave both more than the required maintenance of effort and more than fiscal year 2016, the money allocated to PGCPS will not be enough. In fact, he said the school system is running into a structural deficit.
“Our current fiscal reality, and I hope to have some analytics on this in the next 90 to 100 days, is we have a structural deficit,” Brown said. “In other words, if you look at the horizon potential for revenue growth versus commitments and other costs associated with managing a school system, there’s a built-in structural deficit.”
Board Chair Segun Eubanks also expanded upon the county council’s decision to reduce the PGCPS budget from the asking amount of $2 billion to $1.92 – a $2.5 million cut from the county executive’s reduction. Eubanks said despite the funding nearing a 5 percent increase from fiscal year 2016, it is essentially a decrease in what the school system can offer.
“It’s ironic and it’s tough because it’s true. It’s a 4.5 percent increase over (last) year, but it’s a fundamental decrease in services that we’re able to provide in our district because of the ongoing cost of what we’re already doing,” Eubanks said.
In addition to the decrease of the proposal from the council, PGCPS is also expecting an approximate $11 million loss in revenue from grants and federal programs expiring.
In total, Brown said, PGCPS is expecting $82.3 million in revenue while they expect the mandatory costs and cost of doing business (i.e. pensions, health insurance and bills) at more than $182 million, which is a nearly $100 million gap.
To combat some of the losses in proposed revenue from the county, Kevin Maxwell, chief executive officer of PGCPS, and Brown’s team made various suggestions to the board to reconcile the difference.
Suggestions included increasing the amount of fund balance used in fiscal year 2017 by $7.5 million; deferring or putting off lease purchases for technology and textbooks for a year, saving $4.7 million; increasing the salary lapse to $10 million, requiring vacant positions to remain vacant during the year and a rolling hiring freeze for critical vacancies such as classroom based jobs; department reductions of $12.4 million; and reducing funding for board priorities to save approximately $26.7 million.
With these cuts, Brown said PGCPS could balance its budget. However, board members expressed concerns with some of the cuts from the original board-approved proposal. Specifically, many members saw concern with reducing the desired addition of 14 literacy coaches and 20 math specialists to just five additional apiece.
Recommendations also eliminate 25 systemic classroom teacher additions, 34 teacher additions to reduce class sizes, 10 English Language Learner support additions, five additional psychological services employees, six additional Science Technology Engineering and Math (STEM) staff and the five positions for the new middle college (or teacher academy).
Twenty-five additional bus driver positions and 21 proposed additional second shift maintenance slots were also eliminated.
Additional funding for items such as alternative education supports, the summer youth employment program, vocational education equipment improvements, dual enrollment and curriculum writing were axed completely.
The budget does include, however, an additional $614,000 for the expansion of varsity lacrosse, 24 new positions for charter schools at $6.5 million, $520,000 for the Junior Achievement Finance Park, an additional $1.9 million for the International High Schools, and $259,000 for career academy program expansions, which was reduced from a proposed $778,168.
Boardmember Beverly Anderson expressed her continued dissatisfaction with the low funding for reading and math specialists in the 25 lowest performing schools and said she did not believe the recommendations reflected the board’s priorities, to which Boardmember Edward Burroughs III agreed.
Burroughs said he would like to either see a consolidation of central office departments that handle similar items or see the reduction of other line items to fund the tutors and assistance for low performing students.
“Everything is important, but when we’re talking priorities, I think we have to be willing to have the conversation what we’re willing to cut to redirect that money to things we know that work to benefit kids,” he said.
The new parent university is something Burroughs said he would be willing to lose. At a cost of $475,168, he thinks the money could be better used to directly support students. However, Vice Chair Carolyn Boston and member Patricia Eubanks both emphasized there is only so much the school system can do if the parents are not engaged and not educated on how to help their students.
“We cannot educate our kids without parental engagement. We can do all the literacy coaches, do all the math coaches, we can do all of that, but if we don’t bring the parents to the table to be partners with us in educating our kids, a lot of this is all for naught,” Boston said.
Throughout the meeting board members debated their priorities for the budget and what items could be reduced for increases in others. Brown said the budget staff will use recommendations from the meetings to create a final reconciled budget for the board to vote on during the June 14 meeting.
“Based on the feedback we get here we will get out the scrub brush and scrub the numbers,” Brown said.
Eubanks compared the decisions to cutting bone, but Brown said it was like cutting marrow.
“We’re not cutting bone, we’re cutting bone marrow,” he said.