Prince George's Notebook
Thursday, March 5, 2009
If there were an Olympic event for endurance at public meetings, the Prince George's County Board of Education would be a hot contender for the gold this budget season.
The school board typically holds public meetings twice a month. Last month, it met no less than nine times. In the days after Presidents' Day, some members met with parents and Del. Joanne C. Benson (D-Prince George's) over school closures Tuesday, held a budget work session Wednesday, gave an update on the search for a permanent superintendent Thursday and held a morning meeting Saturday.
But that was nothing compared to their pièce de résistance: a monster of a meeting last Thursday, at which they finally approved the budget.
The tape rolled for 7 hours, 52 minutes and 44 seconds, which doesn't count the two hours the board spent in closed session preceding the meeting. For those who endured it, it was like a long flight to another country where the movie was in a foreign jargon of "out-year funding impacts" and "language in the MOU," as the term "memorandum of understanding" is often abbreviated. At least there was plenty of legroom.
The meeting went on so long because the board was tackling two issues that couldn't be postponed: cuts to a $1.6 billion budget and a wide-ranging, complex proposal that would adjust boundaries at about 70 schools. About two dozen people spoke about issues including the music and technology program at Berwyn Heights Elementary School and the relocation of some Thomas Pullen School students.
Eventually some board members called for a halt. Before beginning a 93-page PowerPoint presentation on the boundary adjustments, a tag team of board members Rosalind Johnson (District 1), Heather Iliff (District 2) and Pat Fletcher (District 3) said they should tackle the subject at a separate meeting.
"I am Generation X and been feeling that we've been meeting for eight hours now. This is a complicated situation," Iliff said but then added, "I'm willing to sit tonight if that's the pleasure of the board."
The board's chairman, Verjeana M. Jacobs (At Large) piped up: "As one who lives on 18-hour days, I'm pretty much, I'm used to it."
But Johnson then said: "I think it's time to call it a day."
Board member R. Owen Johnson Jr. (District 5) added: "I know that I'm past my bedtime now. But I'm willing to hang in there. While we're out here, we might as well get it done."
"We've spent the last 10 minutes" talking about this, Jacobs said. "We probably could have gone through five slides by now."
The board proceeded with a shortened presentation. Almost two hours later, with the board wrapping up its lengthy agenda, Rosalind Johnson said she'd had enough.