When it comes to the budget for Prince George's Community College, I don't think the Board of Trustees' decision to spend $10,000 for a country club golf membership for the school's new president was cause for concern.
But then I'm not on the County Council. Some council members chose to complain about the golf perk during the recent budget process. I'll be the first to say I'm not the most politically savvy county resident--but the ruckus over this little perk seemed pretty petty.
Are we a bunch of country bumpkins or are we trying to become a major player in attracting the very best people to run our institutions?
The college trustees decided as part of the compensation package for its new president, Ronald A. Williams, to include the use of a corporate membership at the Country Club at Woodmore in Mitchellville.
I've covered business for quite a number of years and have seen a lot of perks. Compared with the lavish ones many chief executives get in the private sector, forking over 10 grand for a golf membership is nothing to fuss about.
In the real business world, deals are commonly struck while players are trying to strike a little white golf ball. This is one of the many ways economic development is done these days. It's just business. So grow up.
Where would those council members--upset enough over the expenditure to threaten to cut the school's budget--want Williams to take business executives or alumni who might want to give money to the college? Maybe they were thinking the new Six Flags amusement park?
It's not as though there's a wealth of fine dining or entertainment spots in the county to choose from. Thank heaven for BET SoundStage, which is just a few traffic lights from the college.
Still, and I mean no disrespect to BET SoundStage, it won't always be appropriate for Williams to have a business lunch or dinner in a restaurant where half-naked women are gyrating on screens above his head.
What the council and the rest of us should be raising Cain about is the contributions the county has been giving the college over the years. Like the county public elementary, middle and high schools, the community college should be a top priority.
Instead of fighting over the small stuff, we should be happy that Prince George's Community College finally got a little bump in its budget for the coming year. The County Council tentatively approved the school's overall $50.4 million budget, up from $46.4 million, an 8 percent increase over the current fiscal year.
The college also will receive $14 million, or roughly a 17 percent increase, from the state in the next fiscal year. Hooray for the state.
The council and county executive were kind enough to boost the county's contribution--to $11 million, up from $10.5 million. The $500,000 increase is a boost of 5 percent in the county's contribution.
It's about time.
It's still not enough.
"If you look at the data, the college hasn't received a real increase in new monies for the most part of the '90s," said Fred Nunley, vice president for administration and finance at the community college. "The $500,000 is certainly a beginning. Hopefully, it is part of a trend that will increase in years to come."
In the last two fiscal years, the county's contribution to the college's budget hasn't increased at all. In 1997, the portion the school received from the county decreased nearly 8 percent, going from $11.4 million to $10.5 million. Public financial support for the college increased less then 3 percent from 1993 to 1997 but failed to keep up with inflation, which rose 10.7 percent over the same period, college officials said.
Even with the recent increase, the level of county support compared with what other jurisdictions give to their community colleges is pitiful. Prince George's gets the lowest contribution compared with its peers. Last year, the county's contribution accounted for 23 percent of the school's budget. The state average is 36 percent. In 1998, Montgomery's got 44 percent and Howard County's received 38 percent of their budgets from their county's coffers. Their politicians obviously understand the importance of community college funding.
To be fair, part of the reason the contribution from the county is lower than elsewhere is because of voter-imposed restrictions on taxing and spending in Prince George's.
However, here's the thing: Many of the students who enter Prince George's Community College come unprepared. According to college officials, 72 percent of the students who entered the college in the fall of 1998 were found to be deficient in at least one of the three basic skill areas of reading, writing and math. About a quarter of the students lacked proficiencies in all three areas.
Further, of the students coming from the county's own high school system, more than two-thirds needed remedial help in at least one of the three academic areas. A quarter of them needed help in all three areas.
I know that traditionally the local community college is where many students go who are not ready for the prime time of a four-year university. But the level of students entering Prince George's college who are lacking sufficient academic skills seems unreasonably high, especially, but not surprisingly, those coming from our own public school system.
For me, that means we shouldn't be quibbling over a golf membership for Williams, who will need a lot of dough to help those students bring their academic skills up and become good job candidates for all those companies county officials want to lure to the area. If the county can't or won't fork over more money to help the college, then I say we are getting off cheap with a golf membership. If teeing off on a lush green golf course is going to help Williams bring in more money, then I say let him swing away.
Talkin' Money appears every other Wednesday in the Prince George's Extra. If you have comments or column ideas, send me a letter or e-mail. You can write to me in c/o Talkin' Money, 14402 Old Mill Rd., Suite 201, Upper Marlboro, Md. 20772. My e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org
Trends in Percent of County Contribution To Prince George's Community College
Year PGCC Budget County Contribution % of PGCC Budget
FY94 $41,349,334 $11,032,466 27%
FY95 $42,025,034 $11,382,466 27%
FY96 $41,350,000 $11,382,466 28%
FY97 $41,938,692 $10,482,754 25%
FY98 $43,913,692 $10,482,754 24%
FY99 $46,381,417 $10,482,754 23%
FY00 $50,434,200 $10,982,800 22%