A committee of business, school and religious leaders is urging the Prince George's County Board of Education to create a new department of "equity assurance" to oversee the school system's fledgling efforts to bolster achievement among black males.
The new department, which could cost as much as $480,000 a year to operate, was among several recommendations the Advisory Committee on Black Male Achievement made this week as it unveiled its proposal for spending the first $2 million tentatively earmarked for black male achievement programs.
The 14-member committee also sees spending $540,000 for "multi-cultural" library materials, $120,000 for recruitment of black teachers and counselors and $275,000 for school and community-based mentoring and internship programs.
"We were trying to do things which could be accomplished within the current fiscal year, things which could be done to guarantee that the effort on this front is continued, and things that would have some direct, prompt impact," said Wayne C. Curry, the committee's chairman.
The advisory committee was established by Superintendent John A. Murphy a year ago to devise strategies for reversing the disproportionately high dropout and failure rates among black males. More than 60 percent of Prince George's students are black.
The recommendations come at a time when the school board is preparing to cut nearly $10 million from its $516 million budget to avoid an expected deficit. Curry and other committee members are concerned that the $2 million in black male achievment funds, which the County Council added to the school board's budget this spring, may be in jeopardy and have begun lobbying board members to protect them.
Although some school board members said this week that they expected the $2 million to be spared when the school board makes its cuts at a Dec. 13 meeting, others were less optimistic.
At the board's meeting Monday night, member Marcy C. Canavan closely questioned a committee representative on the rationale for creating a new department during lean times, when adequate funding for such fundamentals as hiring teachers may be lacking.
"I have to make my decision based on what is best for the kids. Increasing class sizes while we're adding administrators . . . . I just don't see it," Canavan said.
But Curry defended the committee's push for the new department. Such a division, which would have five employees and be headed by an associate superintendent, is necessary to ensure the school system's efforts to improve learning among black males "do not stall and appear to be this year's fad," Curry said.