Antonio Logan, a pre-kindergarten teacher at William Beanes Elementary School in Suitland, helps students to learn words that begin with certain letters in the alphabet. (Anthony Tilghman/The Washington Informer)
Antonio Logan, a pre-kindergarten teacher at William Beanes Elementary School in Suitland, helps students to learn words that begin with certain letters in the alphabet. (Anthony Tilghman/The Washington Informer)

After Prince George’s County Executive Angela Alsobrooks was sworn in as the county’s new leader in December 2018, she stressed that education would be one of her top priorities.

In the proposed fiscal 2021 budget, education represents about $2.3 billion, or nearly 60 percent, of the $4.5 billion spending plan. The education figure represents a 5 percent increase from the current budget.

The education proposals for the county that houses the state’s second-largest school system include: $76.2 million in pay increases for school employees; $12.3 million to increase pre-K enrollment for 400 new students with a goal of reaching 10,000 in five years; and $2 million to incorporate a universal meals program for 45 community schools where the majority of students receive free and reduced lunch.

“This administration will provide a high-quality education and a safe environment for our students,” Alsobrooks said. “We are proud to make the point that everyone in our school system is important.”

One unfamiliar financial burden rest with the state’s ongoing education plan known as the Blueprint for Maryland’s Future, based on recommendations started three years ago by the Commission on Innovation and Excellence in Education, or the Kirwan Commission, named after its chair, former University of Maryland System Chancellor William E. “Brit” Kirwan.

As of Thursday, March 13, the $3.8 billion investment includes $2.9 billion from the state and $864 million from the 23 counties and Baltimore City through fiscal year 2030.

The funding formula allocates Prince George’s to receive the most in state aid at $724 million. However, its contribution would rank as the second-highest amount at $183.5 million behind Montgomery County at $234 million.

The plan includes expansions of early childhood education for children 3 and 4 years old, incorporate college and career readiness standards and provide additional counselors in communities with high concentrations of poverty.

“Whatever happens there, our county has to be ready to meet our financial obligations,” Alsobrooks said. “We believe that Kirwan will pass.”

Another financial uncertainty also comes from the novel coronavirus that the World Health Organization categorized as a pandemic. According to data at 1:30 a.m. Friday, March 13 from the Center for Systems Science and Engineering at Johns Hopkins University, health officials recorded slightly more than 128,300 confirmed cases worldwide of the novel coronavirus, also known as COVID-19. About 1,663 cases are in the U.S.

On Thursday, the fourth confirmed case in Prince George’s represented the first in the state of a man in his 60s to contract the virus through community transmission and not from overseas travel.

“We need to make sure we have the resources … to protect our citizens from the potential impact and provide them with the services they need,” Alsobrooks said. “We must also ensure we have the appropriate finances to account for any economic impact caused by the virus.”

According to a Feb. 25 PowerPoint document, the county projects a $30 million fund balance that includes $20 million dedicated to the county’s contribution to the Purple Line light-rail project. The remaining $10 million “is for undefined, one-time expenses.”

Regarding public safety, about 21 percent of the budget that includes $2.6 million to purchase hundreds of body cameras for officers in the Police Department’s Bureau of Patrol. Those are the officers who mainly interact with the community.

The county began with a pilot project more than five years ago to incorporate body camera cameras, but one of the most expensive endeavors police departments would need to pay for deals with equipment to store footage. Prince George’s currently has 80 officers with body cameras, a number that will expand to 1,000 by the end of the year.

The proposed budget also includes construction of a $16.8 million homeless shelter, $7.4 million in pedestrian safety improvements and $7 million for the popular Summer Youth Enrichment Program (SYEP) to provide 6,000 for those ages 14 to 22.

In terms of revenues, the county anticipates receiving 70 percent in residential property taxes and 30 percent in commercial taxes.

The county still aims to boost development around its 15 Metro stations. An 11-story regional medical center near the Largo Metro station is slated to open March 2021.

The 11-member County Council reviews and holds various meetings before it formally approves the budget by June 1.

“The council is committed to an open, inclusive and participatory budget process,” said Council President Todd Turner (D-District 4) of Bowie. “We are supportive of the priorities detailed in the executive’s budget proposal and we look forward to our continued partnership with County Executive Alsobrooks, county residents and all stakeholders to produce a final FY 2021 spending plan.”

Coverage for the Washington Informer includes Prince George’s County government, school system and some state of Maryland government. Received an award in 2019 from the D.C. Chapter of the Society of...

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