School Spending Plan

Deserves a Closer Look Dr. Iris T. Metts, the chief executive officer of the Prince George's County public schools, together with the chair of the Board of Education, have transmitted to the citizens of the county the CEO's annual operating budget for fiscal year 2004. An aspect of this communication is "the commitment of the community as a whole" to the proposed budget.

I think it is worth examining this budget carefully prior to the board's work sessions and its submittal to the county executive and the County Council for approval. The overall increase of about 23 percent from FY 2003 to FY 2004 has been widely reported. Page i-13 of the proposed budget is useful as it tabulates the "major changes" -- components of this increase amounting to more than $256 million.

About $13 million is allocated to class size reductions in grades 4, 5 and 6. According to the School Staffing Resources Program described on Page 4, the student-teacher ratio in these grades would be reduced from 30.58/1 to 25/1. Estimating the total number of students in these grades at 31,000 suggests an increase in the number of teachers by 226. This means about $58,000 per teacher, including 21 percent in fringe benefits. However, there is no mention of the provision for 226 additional classrooms.

Slightly more than $8 million is added as "nonpublic tuition" for "special education" students. In the extreme case that all 282 (Page i-27) of these students were to enroll in nonpublic schools, the tuition for each would amount to more than $28,500.

An increase in transportation costs of $12,241,471 attributed to "enrollment increase" amounts to $4,258 per additional student per school year, or $23.66 per student per school day. Taxi fare? It is worth noting (gasp!) that total expenditures for student transportation are proposed to reach almost $98 million (Page i-19), nearly a 37 percent increase over the prior fiscal year.

The 163-page section entitled "Program and Services Overview and Analysis" (PaSOvaA) includes interesting details. Technology education is budgeted at a grand total of $31,000, intramural sports at $63,000, instrumental music at $56,000, "other operating expenses" for the chief accountability officer at $258,000, the Board of Education at $1,621,791, the CEO at $1,217,419 and five regional executive directors at a total of $5,712,713.

Kenneth Fox