The Washington Post

Prince George's school board budget in the hands of the county executive

Prince George's County Executive Rushern Baker III (D) (Matt Houston/Associated Press)

The Prince George’s County Board of Education sent over a $1.7 billion budget to County Executive Rushern L. Baker III on Friday that sets aside money for raises for teachers and other staff members, provides more resources for principals to decide how money is spent in their schools and expands secondary school reform programs.

The board approved the budget last week in an 8 to 1 vote. Board member Carletta Fellows (District 7) opposed.

Unlike previous years, when the board was forced to furlough employees and make drastic cuts to academic programs, Interim School Superintendent Alvin Crawley said the school system finds itself in an “exciting time where we’re not in the position of making those tough decisions.”

The budget includes $23.5 million to provide “across the board” increases for staff. The money has been placed in reserve while the board continues to work the various collective bargaining units, Crawley said.

Money was set aside to increase benefits, including $1 million for tuition reimbursement and $3 million to adjust salaries when staffers receive advanced degrees.

“These are things that we have not done for three years,” Crawley said. “They have been identified as areas that we feel impact our recruitment and retention efforts.”

Teachers received a one-time 2 percent salary increase under the current $1.6 billion budget.

The salary increase was the first pay hike some teachers had received in three years.

“I’m proud of our efforts,” Crawley said. “I’m confident that the budget reflects the needs of families, students and staff. I think it supports our strategic plan goals of high student achievement, effective teaching, safe and supportive schools, efficient operations and community partnerships.”

The board invested $420 million in its student-based budget initiative, which gives principals flexibility on how money should be spent in their schools. Money is distributed to schools based on the population and needs of students.

Crawley said $8 million has been placed in reserve for the initiative to address unanticipated issues that might crop up in schools throughout the year, including overcrowding in a classroom.

The budget also provides funds for 100 additional students at the middle college program at Prince George’s Community College and a new visual and performing arts academy at Northwestern High School.

The school system will also use $6.6 million from the county to address after-school programs, social service needs and to improve parent engagement in areas that are a part of Baker’s Transforming Neighborhoods Initiative, an effort to solve social problems in six troubled inner-Beltway areas of the county.

Fellows voted against the budget because she said she was concerned about the “lack of disclosure and transparency” surrounding the proposal.

Ovetta Wiggins covers Maryland state politics in Annapolis.

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