The Prince George's Board of Education tomorrow will approve an extra $6.5 million to increase teachers' salaries and an additional $1 million to recruit teachers, board members say, but some programs will be scaled back to pay for those incentives.
The board then will vote on the final version of its $876 million budget for next school year, and although board members have agreed on the teachers' salary piece, they are still working out the final details about which programs to cut.
The board already has promised $24 million to give teachers cost-of-living and step-scale pay increases, and it initially proposed earmarking an additional $17 million for raises. But County Executive Wayne K. Curry (D) declined to give additional money to the board, saying he supports the salary increases but wants to see a more detailed plan about how other school system money is being spent.
School board members say that by trimming other programs they hope to devote an additional $6.5 million to teachers' salaries. They will press Curry and the County Council to match that amount by the end of the summer and add it to the school system budget.
Many school officials believe salary boosts and other incentives are needed to help the 128,000-student school system keep and attract teachers. The county needs to hire about 1,400 teachers by mid-August, and the director of the personnel office says that hundreds of the new hires will be uncertified.
About 18 percent of the county's 8,000 teachers are uncertified, the highest percentage in the state. State leaders have said the number of uncertified teachers needs to be reduced in the next few years for Prince George's to get more money from the state.
But finding the extra money to lure and keep teachers is not a simple task. The school board is considering dozens of cuts to existing programs. During a budget work session last week, Superintendent Jerome Clark offered a plan that would cut programs including the William S. Schmidt Environmental Center, an outdoor camp where students learn about the environment, and an alternative high school for troubled students.
But board member James E. Henderson (Seabrook), who heads the budget committee, said that those two programs likely will be spared.
Instead, the board is looking at eliminating the door-to-door busing for magnet school students. Under a new plan, those students would be asked to transport themselves to a centralized bus stop. Officials say that would save about $2 million a year.
And the board might cut back some funding for the $1.7 million Project Success, a dropout prevention program designed to bring academically and socially disadvantaged students back on track.
About 40 percent of the funding proposed for fine arts also would be trimmed according to Clark's plan, eliminating the coordination of musical festivals as well as honors performances. A study to determine whether various racial groups have equal access to quality school facilities will be deferred, according to the plan. Libraries and media centers would lose more than $400,000 in funds for materials, equipment and supervisors.
Although most board members said the teachers' salary package was important enough to justify the cutbacks, board member Marilynn Bland (Clinton) said: "Some of the same parents who supported teacher salaries didn't know it was at the expense of programs. This is shameful."
Improving Parent Involvement
The County Council of PTAs held its first-ever countywide summit last weekend, and about 200 parents, teachers, school administrators and government leaders showed up to discuss ways to increase parent involvement in the school system.
Parents identified several reasons they aren't more involved: School administrators often fail to keep parents informed about issues; parents feel intimidated by the bureaucracy of the state's largest school system; teachers don't give parent volunteers meaningful roles because they fear being second-guessed; and parents are too busy to volunteer or simply believe they cannot make a difference.
The parents suggested several ways to increase involvement: hiring a parent liaison and setting up a Web site at each school; holding workshops with agendas instead of the traditionally more social back-to-school nights; establishing peer mediation programs for parents, so they can express frustrations to other parents who have been at the school longer; and creating a parents resource center in each school library.
The County Council of PTAs intends to compile the ideas and send them to the PTA presidents at each school, said Minerva Sanders, president of the organization. The council also is planning follow-up forums for the fall, and it will debut a twice-monthly television show on a local cable channel.
"For someone who tells me I can't get involved, give me a phone call," Sanders said. "I can get them in the door, and they can get involved."
Pajama Party for One
Principal Susan Bachmann thought she had made a deal with the students and staff at Capitol Heights Elementary School: Everybody would wear pajamas to school June 8 to celebrate collecting more than $100,000 in Giant grocery receipts to redeem for computers and other academic equipment.
Bachmann kept her end of the bargain, but there was a big surprise waiting for her when she showed up to work in her satin-trimmed flowered pajamas and matching slippers.
"I walked into the school, and I'm the only one that had on pajamas," she said.
The staff and students had schemed to play a good-natured joke on their leader.
"Her mouth dropped wide open when she stepped into the school and saw the teachers standing at the door with our Capitol Heights T-shirts on," said Rose Timmerman, coordinator of the school's Talented and Gifted magnet program. "She's the kind of person who likes to play little tricks. This was a comeuppance."
But it was all for a good cause. The school surpassed its goal, collecting $106,000 in grocery receipts. The receipts were redeemed for three Alpha Smart desktop computers, accompanying printer cables, six computer carrying cases and four overhead projectors.
Capitol Heights Elementary, which has about 480 students, is among the system's best-performing schools. Bachmann, who is in her fifth year as the school's principal, said the school sets a goal each year and determines what kind of equipment the receipts will be used to purchase.
This year, the focus has been on technology, she said.
With other grants, the school has put new computers in every classroom and equipped a computer lab.
The school decided this year to supplement its lab of Alpha Smart computers, which are mini-word processors designed to fit on a desktop. The computers are especially helpful for students who have trouble with handwriting.
CAPTION: Building a Better Sign: Darnell Queen, a masonry student at Crossland High School's technical academy center, does detail work on new sign in front of the school. For the last three years, masonry students have worked on projects around the high school in Temple Hills.
CAPTION: The old sign at Crossland High School will be replaced by the new sign, being worked on in the background by students from the school's various programs: masonry, welding, electrical and landscaping-horticulture.