Prince George's County School Superintendent Iris T. Metts intends to request a budget increase of $126 million for next school year, pushing the system's total operating budget over $1 billion for the first time, sources who are familiar with her plans said yesterday.
Metts also has drafted a plan for spending an additional $2 billion over five years to build new schools and renovate others, the sources said.
The funding request for the year that begins in July represents a 14.4 percent increase over the $876 million in this year's budget, with the extra money targeted to increase teachers' salaries, lower class sizes and upgrade technology. The five-year capital improvement program would include building 26 new schools, renovating dozens of others and getting rid of the 410 classroom trailers in the 130,000-student system, the sources said.
Metts also will present a five-year academic improvement plan--which includes strengthening magnet programs, creating all-day kindergarten classes throughout the county, and reemphasizing basic skills through extra reading programs for children whose skills are below grade level.
Metts, who declined to discuss the specifics yesterday, said she hopes that by presenting the integrated needs of the system--which also will include accountability measures by which the public can judge her progress--she will win support from county and state leaders.
"We have to be clear about what we want to do and get the leadership to buy into that," said Metts, who intends to announce her plans at a news conference Thursday. "This will be a chance to talk about the specific steps it will take to get there."
County leaders, while praising Metts's efforts to come up with a top-flight school-improvement plan, said it would be virtually impossible to fund the plan without significantly more help from the state. Many Prince George's leaders say they have trouble raising money for schools because of a voter-imposed property tax cap.
"It's up to her to tell us what she needs for the system, but does that mean the council will have the ability to pay for it? No, it doesn't," said County Council Chairman Dorothy F. Bailey (D-Temple Hills). "If we had the money, we'd like to fund it. . . . Is there that kind of money out there? No, there's not."
In past years, relations between school and county officials have been strained over money, but Metts has worked hard to improve them.
Last year, Metts's predecessor, Jerome Clark, proposed a budget increase of $80 million, but he ended up with just over $30 million in extra funds. County Executive Wayne K. Curry (D) denied a $17 million request for teacher salary increases, saying he could not trust the school system to spend it wisely.
School leaders point out that in neighboring Montgomery County, School Superintendent Jerry D. Weast, whose system has about the same number of students, is asking for a $1.2 billion operating budget. Weast also is seeking $665 million over six years in school construction funds.
Metts's operating budget request will include $17 million for new technology in a system whose central office data systems are considered inadequate. She will ask for a large increase in teachers' and principals' salaries as part of a plan to make them competitive with neighboring jurisdictions within three years, sources said.
"Our children deserve everything Montgomery County children deserve. We've fallen so far behind them because we've been underfunded," school board member Catherine A. Smith (Cheverly) said. "I applaud her efforts to ask for what's really needed."
At a news conference yesterday at Highland Park Elementary in Landover, Curry, Metts and other leaders gathered to present the county's legislative agenda for the upcoming session in Annapolis. The theme was written on the back of one of Curry's placards: "UNITY."
Curry and county delegates to the General Assembly outlined an ambitious plan to share in the state's $4.4 billion in tobacco settlement money and the state's billion-dollar surplus to help pay for schools, revitalize older communities and fund the proposed National Harbor project in Oxon Hill.
"The reason we're here is to bring girth to our plan and vision to our priority," said Curry.
Curry said at the news conference that he's "aware of the [school system's] needs, but I'm also aware of our resources."
Staff writer Tracey A. Reeves contributed to this report.
CAPTION: Superintendent Iris T. Metts is expected to ask for a $126 million budget increase.