UPPER MARLBORO — During their latest meeting, the Prince George’s County Board of Education (BOE) unanimously approved their requested operating budget for fiscal year 2020.
However, members of the public brought with them concern on the final budget, on Jan. 21.
The budget currently totals about $2.10 billion emphasizing academic excellence, employee compensation, organization, and school safety. The final proposed budget also includes $10 million in amendments from various BOE members.
According to BOE Vice Chair Edward Burroughs, this is the first time the board has unanimously passed a budget in decades.
Although the budget passed, some people at the meeting thought it was not enough, and those important things were left out such as the money to hire more school psychologists.
“Recent health studies have shown that when we address the social and emotional needs of our students, we improve academic achievement, reduce exclusionary discipline, and raise graduation rates,” said Dr. Donna Christie, a school psychologist as Charles H. Flowers High School and William Paca Elementary School. “This leads to their positive long-term outcomes such as improved public health, improved economic prosperity and safer communities.”
Backed by a group of about 10 school psychologists, Christie told the BOE how much a need for more school psychologists there was and that without adequate staffing they cannot fully address the needs of the students in PGCPS.
Additionally, she said it would end up costing more in the long run if the needs of the students are not addressed proactively.
Board Member Raaheela Ahmed agreed with the need for school psychologists, pointing out that in fiscal year 2017 alone, PGCPS suspended over 8,800 students and arrested 600 students in 2016.
She specifically advocated for amendments that were included in the budget which include $4 million worth of school psychologists and social workers.
“With all the testimony brought before our board this budget season, and over the years, it’s clear that we need mental health supports for our students to build a safer and more supportive school environment,” she said.
Michele Clark, a Prince George’s County Educators Association (PGCEA) member and early childhood education teacher, asked the BOE to make an effort to include adequate salary compensation for teachers pointing out that many PGCPS teachers are four steps behind and are being deeply affected.
“The bottom line is my colleagues who left this county for a year or two and came back were put on that same adjustment scale on their correct step. So as another member said, we have a loyalty penalty in Prince George’s County. The people who stay are still behind with no end in sight of being caught up at this point. The people who leave and return come in right where they should be. Where is the equity in that?”
Most of the comments from the public came from transportation staff who said that they, often ignored in the school system, need more representation in the budget from better working conditions, higher pay and more equality between bus drivers and bus attendants.
A lot of the problems, they said, comes from a lack of pay which led to a lack of retention in bus drivers. Getting paid at minimum wage for less than eight hour days and having to pay for their health insurance, union dues, etc., led to low paychecks and drivers go elsewhere to be able to make ends meet. Those that do stay end up having to take on a larger workload and were not compensated for it.
“The bus drivers are leaving and they’re going to Metro. The attendants are leaving, they’re going to (Washington) D.C. because they pay more and then the senior drivers here are stuck with the load,” said Angela Herrod.
“We need more help, and we need more money, we need more incentive to stay because once metro put an incentive out, or Virginia or D.C. put an incentive out for the drivers to come in an eta $1,200 sign in bonus. What do you think the PG drivers are going to do? They’re going, they’re leaving us, and we’re stuck.”
In addition, they said they deal with harsh behavior of their supervisors which leads to low morale in the workplace, the difficult task of having to wash the buses by hand and increased disparity between the pay and benefits of drivers and attendants.
Although the BOE approved the requested budget, they assured the group that the work does not stop here. Now that the budget will be taken to the county executive and county council for approval, the advocacy of the community for the issues that they care about needs to continue until the final budget is approved.
“The work of the citizens of Prince George’s County does not end,” said Board Member Sonya Williams. “We need to follow this budget to the county executive in support of not only the ten that’s here but the entire budget, and then you follow it to the county council to ensure that we get this money that we’re asking for because when it returns to us in March or April. We will be discussing what we have.”
Now that the budget has been passed, it will then go to the county executive to be approved in March and then on to the county council for their approval. Afterward, the BOE will review what they have, and the final operating budget will go into effect at the beginning of the fiscal year on July 1.