The newly elected Prince George's County Board of Education unanimously approved a $1.68 billion annual budget last night, increasing spending on public schools by nearly $200 million in an effort to bolster student achievement.
The 2008 budget is the first for both Superintendent John E. Deasy and a school board that took office in December. Increases in state and federal aid allowed Deasy and the board to add $22 million in spending to the initial proposal of about $1.66 billion.
The budget must be presented next to Prince George's County Executive Jack B. Johnson (D) and the County Council. The 2008 fiscal year begins July 1.
The budget includes $184 million in what Deasy has described as "program improvements." The centerpiece is Deasy's "Children Come First" initiatives, which will increase the number of students taking Advanced Placement courses and SAT tests as well as expanding the International Baccalaureate program. The initiatives also will funnel additional money and personnel into the system's struggling schools, provide extra training to students trying to pass the High School Assessment tests and target more funding toward teacher training and retention, among several changes.
"Those were the things that were critical," said R. Owen Johnson Jr. (District 5), the board's chairman. He gave credit to Jack Johnson's administration, which has substantially increased funding for education over the past several years.
"We're excited about the county executive, who has really stepped up to the plate," Owen Johnson said.
But the budget could receive a blow from a different direction if Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley (D) declines to fund the Geographic Cost of Education Index, a state measure to provide additional funding to school systems in areas with a higher cost of living. O'Malley has not included funds for the index in the state budget. Deasy has said he hopes O'Malley can be persuaded to change his mind before the end of the legislative session in April.
If not, Deasy warned earlier in the day that "we'll have to make $30 million worth of cuts." He said he did not know what programs would be cut to make up the shortfall.
Deasy and the board must also bear in mind future threats to state funding, which accounts for about 55 percent of the budget. The state faces a projected deficit of $1.3 billion next year.
Deasy's proposed budget also projected a growing revenue shortfall over the next several years. If there are no changes to federal, state, county and other funding formulas, Deasy estimated that expenditures would top $2.12 billion by 2012, against revenue of only $1.98 billion -- a deficit of $140 million.
In the short run, however, Deasy and the board members said they were pleased with the budget.
"I hope every budget is as good as this one," Deasy said last night. "I don't think they will all be as good as this one, but this is an amazing place to start."