Prince George’s County Executive Angela Alsobrooks plans to present a proposed budget to the county council by March 15 in which the majority will be focused on the public schools.
However, before Alsobrooks assesses the entire county’s spending plan, the school board recently approved seven budget amendments during a special meeting on March 1 as part of a $2.3 billion fiscal year 2022 budget.
One of the budgeted items at $57 million would come from a federal grant Elementary and Secondary School Relief Fund designated for school systems affected by the coronavirus pandemic. If received, the money provides for an option for schools in Prince George’s to open two weeks early next school year.
The other budget amendments come from recommendations from the school board’s operation, budget and fiscal affairs committee. The budget items totaling nearly $83 million include:
– $10 million toward English tutoring for students in kindergarten through third grade.
– $10 million to create a Bridge to Excellence schools for special education and limited English proficiency or “chronically low performing” students.
– $3 million in grants for nonprofit groups to mentor and tutor disadvantaged students;
– $2.1 million workforce development program for high school students.
– $500,000 creation of an annual summer Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Mathematics [STEAM] for 100 high school students.
– $100,000 audit on the school system’s special education programs.
“This money is to help make sure Prince George’s County public schools achieve …in the 21st century. Every one of these items are so important,” said school board member Belinda Queen, one of eight board members who approved the budget.
“I don’t feel like these items are useless because they are for our kids to make sure they have everything they need to succeed,” she said.
In December, CEO Monica Goldson presented a proposed school budget with a possible $110 million deficit due to declining revenues amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
One option to close the deficit focuses on a freeze in overtime and hiring (except school-based positions) and directing school leaders to reduce discretionary spending such as conferences and field trips. School officials project a $58 million savings this school year to be transferred into next year’s budget.
Another option would be $16 million in cuts in the school system’s central office.
Due to the millions of dollars included in the budget amendments and the school system’s short-term financial outlook, board member Curtis Valentine voted against the budget for the first time in his eight-year tenure.
“We are in a budget crisis,” he said. “These recommendations are done so without that in mind. There are other recommendations that’ve been put forth not founded on research or collaboration.”
Board Vice Chair Sonya Williams also voted against the budget.
Board members Pamela Boozer-Strother and Sandra Shephard abstained.
Board chair Juanita Miller did not attend the meeting due to a previous engagement.
Board member Edward Burroughs said the $3 million proposal would allow local community organizations to apply for money to work with students on mental health services, academic enrichment and alternatives to suspension.
“If we don’t invest in students on the front end at the first sight of crisis and exhibiting cries for help, then they will eventually end up in the criminal justice system,” said Burroughs, who voted for the budget. “There is a lot of research on this topic. This is an area of growth that is needed for the school system.”