Correction: A previous version of this article misstated Board of Education member Peggy Higgins’s district. It has been corrected here.
Prince George’s County Schools Chief Executive Officer Kevin M. Maxwell proposed a $1.75 billion budget that increases full-day pre-kindergarten in a few high poverty communities, expands art, foreign language and secondary school reform programs and restores some parent liaison positions to improve interaction between school administrators and parents.
Maxwell, who became the schools chief in August, presented the budget plan to the county Board of Education on Thursday night.
The audience filled with community leaders, parents and school employees gave him a standing ovation following the presentation.
The proposed operating budget for fiscal 2015 represents a 3.9 percent increase over current spending and calls for $46 million to be taken out of the district’s surplus.
Maxwell said he is using a “sizeable chunk of the district’s available fund balance ... to meet the needs of our students.”
“I truly believe that the programs and initiatives I have proposed here will enable us to move our school system forward in student achievement,” Maxwell said.
Maxwell took the reigns of the state’s second largest school system as part of an effort by County Executive Rushern L. Baker III (D) to improve the struggling school system.
Board members said they were pleased with Maxwell’s presentation.
“It was very impressive,” said Peggy Higgins (District 2). “I’m just waiting to see the numbers.”
Board Chairman Segun Eubanks said the board will study the document and ask the tough questions.
“Is it progressive enough? Is it equitable? Is it going to accelerate the pace of student achievement that we need it to?” Eubanks said. “It has to be innovative but sustainable.”
Eubanks said the board will also look at whether using $46 million from the district’s $144 million surplus is fiscally responsible.
“We’re going to have to look at that,” he said. “But many of the things we have said we have to have, things that parents have said they wanted, are in there.”
The budget provides for eight additional full day pre-kindergarten programs, bringing the district’s total to 16. Thirty-one parent liaisons will be hired to help in schools with a growing Hispanic population, bringing the total to 61.
The proposed budget also sets aside $25.2 million for union negotiations, professional development and a new peer assistance review program for new teachers.
Kenneth Haines, the president of the Prince George’s County Educators’ Association, said he has tried unsuccessfully for years to get a peer assistance program launched in the county.
“I’ve tried three times,” he said. “Every time I got close, a superintendent leaves.”
Haines said Maxwell, who saw the benefits of the professional development program during his time in Montgomery County, embraced the idea, which will cost the system about $2 million in its first year.
The budget will also pay for 20 new reading specialists, 10 mentor teachers and 150 roving special education assistants, which was part of a labor negotiation agreement.
Maxwell said the budget will support a new arts program at the Hyattsville Area Elementary School, which opens in August.
“Each year we receive many more applications for these programs than we have available seats,” Maxwell said of specialty programs and the need for expansion.
Maxwell said that with a new creative and performing arts program at the new Hyattsville Area Elementary School, “our students will have a continuous path in the arts from elementary through high school.”
Maxwell’s plan to expand the county’s foreign language offerings include a dual language Spanish program, a full immersion program and a partial immersion program in the Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) field. He said the budget also allows for a kindergarten class added at both Montessori schools and the Robert Goddard French Immersion school.
Dolores Millhouse, who has advocated for Spanish immersion in the county schools, said she was elated to hear about Maxwell’s proposal.
“I’m just very ecstatic that my child will have access to opportunities in our public school system, opportunities that I thought I would have to pay for,” said Millhouse, who has questioned whether she would send her three-year-old son to the county’s public schools when he reached school age.
“I feel like our system is now realizing that it has to focus on the children and providing all the opportunities and programs that they need to be competitive not only with other counties, and other states but with other countries,” Millhouse said.