UPPER MARLBORO – It is Christmas time and the chief executive officer of Prince George’s County Public Schools (PGCPS) is asking for a $2.05 billion holiday gift. Kevin Maxwell is hoping the state and county will give the county school system a larger investment this year than in the pasts – specifically, a 6.4 percent […]
UPPER MARLBORO – It is Christmas time and the chief executive officer of Prince George’s County Public Schools (PGCPS) is asking for a $2.05 billion holiday gift.
Kevin Maxwell is hoping the state and county will give the county school system a larger investment this year than in the pasts – specifically, a 6.4 percent increase.
Last week, Maxwell gave his annual budget proposal presentation to the board of education and included a little something for everyone on his list, as it included desired salary increases for staff, matched stipends for board certified teachers, funds for increased math and reading coaches, and money for the expansion of PGCPS’ numerous specialty programs.
“PGCPS is a community of schools, but as the second largest in Maryland, Prince George’s County is an extremely large community. Given our size, reach and diversity, we have an ever-expanding list of needs to fulfill at all levels of the school system,” Maxwell said.
Maxwell’s proposal is broken down into five main “pillars” of focus that line up with the system’s strategic plan. Maxwell laid out each of these pillars during his presentation and described how and why each would be funded in his proposal.
Those categories included achieving academic excellence ($33.3 million), creating and obtaining a high-performance workforce ($90.6 million), providing a safe and supportive environment ($15.7 million), increasing family and community engagement ($303,270), and improving organization effectiveness ($2.1 million).
“These five focus areas ground us and guide us towards our overarching goal: outstanding academic achievement for all,” Maxwell said. “When we invest in our students, we move them toward greatness.”
Some specific instances of increases include money to add grade levels to existing immersion programs, expanding dual enrollment programs, increasing salary enhancements, adding more high school athletic trainers, funds for enhancing the ombudsman’s office, creating a new family communications portal online, adding bus drivers, and providing cultural training for employees.
While Maxwell’s proposal gives a little bit to many of the desires and asks brought up over the last year, it is not certain the school system will get all the funding it requests. This specific proposal is not only 6.4 percent more than the $1.92 billion approved last year, but is also an increase over last year’s $2 billion proposal, which was not fully funded.
The PGCPS budget is funded a number of ways, including grants and other money from the federal, state and county governments. This year’s proposal requests more than $1.12 billion from the state and nearly $818 million from the county, which is approximately $115 million more than the county’s maintenance of effort, or required level of funding.
The county council has almost always approved a spending budget for the school system above the required funding, but has historically given PGCPS less than it asked for.
Council Chair Derrick Davis said the county approved $21 million more than the maintenance of effort for the school system’s current budget and expects additional revenue for the school system this year due to MGM National Harbor opening.
“Under Council Bill-33-2015 the council required that 50 percent of MGM National Harbor gaming/ tax revenue, up to $25 million, is allocated annually for public education purposes, including Pre-K through 12, the Prince George’s Community College, career training, and county libraries,” he said. “This funding supplements money already allocated to these educational entities.”
Davis said the council will work hard this year to match its resources with the needs of the students.
However, for Shirley Kirkland, president of the Local 2250 school employees’ union, the school budget is about more than just support for students. It’s also about investing in PGCPS’s workforce and providing them with the support they need.
“It’s very important to invest in your employees because we are the support structure. So if your support structure is crumbling, then your system is going to crumble,” she said.
Over the past year, several groups Kirkland represents have attended board meetings to ask for wage increases and better working environments, especially for bus drivers.
Maxwell’s presentation last week specifically called for better support for school employees and he said the system’s capital improvements budget would call for funds to improve bus lots across the county.
Kirkland said she liked what she heard in the proposal, noting that she believes Maxwell has the employees’ interests at heart, but said she will be holding Maxwell to his word.
“He included everything. Now, we want to make sure that he, at least, will follow through,” she said.
Moving forward, the board of education will now embark on the long budget process. Segun Eubanks, chair of the board, said the board heard the budget proposal for the first time last Thursday night, along with the public, and would have a chance to dive deeper into the specifics over the holiday.
“The budget book is this big,” said Eubanks, holding his hands several inches apart. “So now we have homework to do, as a board, to really go through that in detail and go through some difficult conversations.”
The board will take Maxwell’s proposed budget and ask questions about specific funding while trying to balance needs and priorities. In the past, the board has made several changes to the budget to accommodate the board’s top priorities such as increased reading and math coaches and increased funds for special education.
“It’s not going to be easy. We’re passionate about it, we have great ideas and the choices we need to make are going to be really tough because we can’t have everything we want or need,” the board chair said.
Eubanks said the board also has to convince the community that the school system is worth the investment.
“We have a lot of convincing to do. That we’re going to use this money that we’re going to use it well and that it’s headed to the right kind of activities and strategies,” Eubanks said.
The public’s desires will also play a role in how the final asking shapes up. Eubanks said the board will hold three individual work sessions and public hearings on the budget before ultimately passing it.
The first of those work sessions and public hearings is on Jan. 24.
The board has until March 1 to finalize their proposal to the county. The budget is then handed to Prince George’s County Executive Rushern Baker, III who will include the PGCPS budget in his countywide budget proposal to the county council.