School board reviews $2.75 billion budget, seeks comment
BY KIT SLACK
In a Feb. 3 interview, state Sen. Alonzo T. Washington said a top concern he hears when he knocks on doors in Prince George’s County is about school funding: “They all say, ‘Where does the money go?’”
This month, county residents have an opportunity to take a close look at county school funding and voice their opinions. The Prince George’s County school board is holding work sessions and hearings on a proposed $2.75 billion annual operating budget for the next fiscal year, which begins July 1.
Monica Goldson, CEO of Prince George’s County Public Schools (PGCPS), presented the draft budget to the school board in December 2022, saying her focus for the coming year will be on math, school climate and mental health.
Compensation and staffing
Goldson is budgeting for 20,857 full-time equivalent (FTE) positions next year to serve approximately 130,000 students attending the county’s 204 schools. This level of staffing represents an increase of about 500 positions.
During her presentation, Goldson highlighted a $94 million increase in employee compensation, which includes wage increases agreed to in the county’s contract with the local teachers union that was ratified in September 2022.
According to The Washington Post, some certified teachers in high-needs schools will see raises of as much as $22,000 next school year under the contract.
At a Feb. 2 school board meeting, Kristi Murphy Baldwin, PGCPS chief human resources officer, said that her office calculates that teachers who spend 20 years with the county school system make more money than teachers with any other school district in the D.C. area.
Baldwin also noted a crisis in teacher staffing at the meeting and discussed recruitment efforts at local historically Black colleges and universities, as well as local programs designed to encourage students and those seeking a career change to pursue teaching.
Employee compensation, including wages and benefits, come to $2.2 billion in the draft budget — more than 80% of the total. The second largest expense is for contracted services, about $355 million, or 13% of the total.
Goldson proposes adding 26 full-time school-based technology coordinators, each assigned to support a small cluster of schools, at a cost of $3.8 million. The budget also adds $4.7 million for 60 new FTE positions at early childhood centers.
Funding and process
Goldson’s budget forecasts that county schools will receive $1.4 billion from the state, $970 million from the county and $230 million from the federal government. About $74 million of the state contribution will come through the Blueprint for Maryland’s Future program, and targeting areas of concentrated poverty.
The state and county governments are each forecast to contribute about $110 million more than they did during the last fiscal year; this increase is due to changes in the state-aid formulas and required county contributions. Federal funding will decrease by about $84 million as pandemic relief programs expire.
Funds for school construction and repairs are part of a separate capital improvement budget. Last fall, the board approved annual expenses of $258 million for fiscal year 2024.
The school board can amend the operating budget this spring, after which it will go to the county council as a budget request and then back to the school board for final approval in June.
School board controversy receding; leadership in flux
Board-level budget meetings in January and February have been courteous and collegial, following two years of significant controversy among board members that often left the school board at an impasse.
Former Board Chair Juanita Miller refused to step down this summer after County Executive Angela Alsobrooks called on her to do so; Miller posted a public defense which remains on the board’s website.
In November and December 2022, a Maryland administrative judge held eight days of disciplinary hearings to evaluate charges that six current and former board members brought against Miller, accusing her of misconduct, neglect and incompetence. A decision has not been issued in that case.
According to Maryland Matters, in January, the citizens group Citizens for Accountability in PGCPS Board of Ed called for the withdrawal of state charges against Miller.
Miller is still on the board but stepped down as chair in December 2022. The board struggled to find a majority willing to support a replacement but finally elected former vice chair Judy Mickens-Murray on Jan. 12.
On Jan. 5, CEO Goldson announced her retirement, effective at the end of the school year, when her current contract ends. She cited political infighting among members of the board of education in an email announcement. Goldson has worked for PGCPS for nearly 20 years and has served as CEO of county schools since July 2018.
New oversight proposed
State Sen. Washington announced Jan. 27 that he is again advocating, at the state level, for establishment of a permanent office within PGCPS charged with reducing waste, fraud, and abuse. This office would be independent of the school board, and would replace the county schools’ internal audit department, which is budgeted in the draft for 28 FTE positions.
The Prince George’s County House Delegation supports the initiative, and Washington said that the county council does, too. Washington hopes that an independent, politically insulated office could help increase public confidence that money allocated to the county public schools is well spent.
The next public hearing on the county’s school budget will be held on Feb. 13 at 7 p.m.
For details on how to participate in a hearing, go to pgcps.org/offices/board-of-education/participate-in-a-board-meeting-or-a-public-hearing.
For more information on the draft budget, go to pgcps.org/offices/budget-and-management-services.