Prince George’s parents push for Spanish immersion program at budget hearing

Most of the people attending the first community forum to discuss the fiscal year 2015 operating budget for the Prince George’s County school system on Wednesday night do not have children attending public schools.

At least not yet.

They testified Wednesday urging Chief Executive Officer Kevin Maxwell and members of the school board to improve the district’s specialty program offerings.

More specifically, they want a Spanish language immersion program created.

Many said they want their children to go to the public schools, and they want to stay in Prince George's County but they are concerned about what the district has to offer.

“I am advocating for a school system that nurtures early development of bilingual or multilingual children who excel academically across subjects, interact effectively with people from different cultures, and compete successfully in the global marketplace,” said Delores Millhouse, a Bowie resident and co-founder of My Bilingual Child, a parent advocacy group. “As a resident of the county I want to continue residing here but it is imperative that the county creates innovative program offerings that support the community’s goals of raising children who excel academically and socially on a local and global level.”

Millhouse, who is African American, said her 3-year-old son has been enrolled in a Spanish immersion program on Saturdays in Montgomery County since he was 2.

After the meeting, Maxwell, who will prepare his first budget this year, told the parents that he is conducting an inventory of the district’s specialty programs and deciding what can be expanded and what can be created. He has been exploring the idea of a dual Spanish immersion program. He said he is looking at how much the program would cost and where it could be located.

Other speakers testified that the school system needs to increase teacher salaries; improve the school system’s gifted and talented program; provide more art classes at elementary and middle schools, reduce the amount of money spent on standardized testing.

“It is disheartening to see many of my colleagues — the best and the brightest I might say — leave the county for surrounding districts for, in some cases, $20,000 more to do the same job,” said Erica Bennett, who has taught for 13 years. “It’s time to stop the trend. Be proactive rather than reactive.”

Residents who were unable to attend the forum and want to submit written testimony can make comments online on the school board’s Web site. Testimony will be accepted through Oct. 31.

Public hearings will be held in January and February, and the school board will submit its adopted budget to the county executive in March. The final budget must be approved in June.

Ovetta Wiggins writes about K-12 education.
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