Prince George’s County school officials face one of the most troublesome budgets in recent memory due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, especially with a possible $110 million deficit.
Budget work sessions and public hearings are scheduled next month to start reviewing a proposed $2.3 billion fiscal year 2022 budget with a focus on mental health programs, increase technology services and enhanced cleaning and maintenance of buildings.
The budget would be $200 million more than the current spending plan of nearly $2.1 million.
Just like other jurisdictions in Maryland, the majority Black school system with more than 132,000 students, needs federal and state support.
“It is impossible for us to do this alone,” schools CEO Monica Goldson said during a special school board meeting Thursday.
Although students haven’t entered any school buildings since mid-March, the school system continues to provide meals at least twice a week by delivering meals to various neighborhoods. The school system proposes a $15 million expenditure Food and Nutrition Services Subsidy, which could be exhausted this month.
The budget also proposes $2.5 million toward mental health services and programs that include investments in the 65 community schools, which are designated in areas with high concentrations of poverty.
Another expenditure of $8.5 million would go toward maintenance supplies and services to prevent COVID-19.
Some money to help with the upkeep of school facilities comes from the federal government’s Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Securities (CARES) Act. However, that will soon be exhausted.
Unless Congress approves a stimulus package and other financial relief, state governments including Maryland could be forced to cut essential services.
“We need the federal help,” Gov. Larry Hogan said during a press conference in Annapolis. “We are exhausting and draining every resource we can to keep every Marylander alive. If [federal lawmakers] don’t [help], we’re going to be in a real crisis situation economically.”
Several Maryland school systems are banking on the continuation of the Blueprint for Maryland’s Future, labeled one of the most ambitious education programs in state history.
The majority Democratic legislature approved the annual $3.8 billion education plan this year based on recommendations instituted by the Commission on Innovation and Excellence in Education.
The group nicknamed the Kirwan Commission after its chair, former University of Maryland system chancellor, William E. “Brit” Kirwan, worked on the plan for about three years to expand early childhood education, increase teacher salaries and offer counseling and mental health services.
Hogan vetoed the plan in May, but state lawmakers could override his veto when the General Assembly convenes Jan. 13.
According to the Blueprint document approved this year, Prince George’s could receive the most in state aid at $724 million.
For the past five years, the county government’s allocation for education has increased an average of $29 million per year.
Although enrollment decreased this school year, Goldson wants to maintain the same county contribution at nearly $816 million because more students are expected to return after the pandemic ends.
However, federal revenue sources may decrease by $28 million from $154 million to $126 million.
State revenue could decrease by $10 million from $1.28 billion to $1.27 million.
Goldson outlined three main sources to help close the $110 million funding gap: a freeze in overtime and hiring (except school-based positions) and each school’s top official is to cut discretionary spending, such as conferences and field trips. The school system projects savings of $58 million this school year and transferred that into next year’s budget.
The budget proposed another $16 million in cuts in the school system’s central office.
One board member is departing and will be absent from the budget process.
Board chair Alvin Thornton submitted a resignation letter to County Executive Angela Alsobrooks, who appointed Thornton two years ago. His last day will be Jan. 8.
“Between now and then, I will do all I can to facilitate the transition in leadership of the board to make sure there is no interruption in the great work that this board has done in the past two years,” he said. “I won’t have any more to say about that.”