Prince George’s schools officials, hoping cuts are done, await county action on budget

Prince George’s County Executive Rushern L. Baker III (D) cut $6 million from the county school system’s proposed budget as part of his overall $3.41 billion county spending plan. Now schools officials are hoping that the County Council keeps the rest of their budget intact.

“We are confident that at this funding level we will not have to cut programs or take more money from reserves,” said Segun Eubanks, school board chairman. “But any more reduction, I would not be able to say the same with this level of confidence.”

Schools officials say they already have figured out where to make administrative cuts in the school system’s $1.75 billion budget without affecting new programs and initiatives. There are no plans to reduce staff, officials said.

Max Pugh, a school system spokesman, said schools chief Kevin Maxwell has had extensive discussions with Baker and council members about the funding levels anticipated for the 2015 budget.

“The school system remains an exceptionally strong partner with the county and is one of the key building blocks in the county’s overall economic development platform,” Pugh said.

The budget was the first submitted to Baker by the reconfigured school board since Baker’s school-system overhaul last year. The proposal used what Maxwell called a “sizable chunk” of the school system’s surplus to help expand programs to boost academic achievement, increase parental involvement and provide more professional development for teachers. Elected and appointed members of the board hailed it as a significant step toward improving the school system.

Thomas Himler, a top Baker aide, said the county, which is recovering from the economic downturn, could not afford to cover the school system’s full request. The council will have until the end of this month to decide what other action, if any, to take on the budget.

“We don’t have enough money,” Himler said. “It was a matter of looking at priorities. We were trying to balance, and it became a matter of not doing public safety classes and some positions for sheriff, state’s attorney and police, in particular. Those had more of a critical need than the school system.”

Under Baker’s plan, there would be staffing increases at public safety agencies, with the police department getting the biggest benefit. The proposal calls for 150 new officers from three new classes of recruits, bringing the total number of sworn officers on the force to 1,740.

Maxwell’s schools budget calls for an increase in the number of schools that offer full-day ­pre-kindergarten classes, would expand art and foreign-language programs and would restore some parent liaison positions to improve interaction between school administrators and parents.

“We’re working to make sure the programs that [Maxwell] has laid out will still be able to get funded,” Himler said. “We think there is a way to protect the core programs that Maxwell, the board and the county executive support.”

The Board of Education submitted its budget to Baker in March, and it is now in the hands of the County Council for review. The council must approve the budget by June 1. After action by the council, the school board must reconcile its spending plan with the county’s approved budget.

Ovetta Wiggins writes about K-12 education.
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