A divided Prince George’s County Board of Education adopted a downsized $1.8 billion budget Thursday night, cutting programs that would have been funded by a proposed property-tax increase rejected by the County Council.
Schools chief Kevin Maxwell presented a revised budget to the board last week after County Executive Rushern L. Baker III (D) failed to generate the support needed for his ambitious plan to raise the tax rate 15 percent and increase school spending by $133 million.
The council instead approved a smaller tax increase that would produce about a quarter of the funding Maxwell says he needs to expand programs and boost student achievement.
Maxwell’s latest plan was approved by the school board on a 7-to-3 vote, with two abstentions. It maintains existing programs but does not include the rapid expansion he had sought for several initiatives. These included universal pre-kindergarten, dual-enrollment in high school and college courses, talented and gifted programs, digital literacy and the hiring of parent-school liaisons.
In addition, teachers will not receive increased retention pay or stipends for national board certification. Arts and foreignlanguage programs will also not spread to all county schools, and an effort to provide free breakfast to all students will not come to fruition.
“This is our best recommendation of how we move forward,” Maxwell said.
Board Chair Segun Eubanks said he was “satisfied, given our limitations, that we made the best choices we could make.”
But the cuts infuriated some board members, ratcheting up a controversy about funding schools designed specifically for first- and second-generation immigrants.
The budget preserves funding for two international high schools that would cater to English-language learners who are struggling in traditional classes. One would operate at a separate Bladensburg facility and the other within Largo High School.
The NAACP has criticized the schools, calling the initiatives segregation. Immigrant advocacy organizations such as CASA of Maryland say such schools exist across the country and provide options for a challenged population.
In debate before the vote, appointed board member Beverly Anderson proposed an amendment to restore $5.2 million for reading and math coaches for middle schoolers, saying she could not support a budget that singles out one group’s needs while neglecting another’s.
“English-language learners deserve specialized attention and instruction,” said Anderson, who abstained from the final vote. “But basic learners need specialized instruction and support so they, too, can become college- and career-ready. We’ve got to be equitable.”
Maxwell said the school system is committed to creating the specialized high schools for English-language learners, many of whom are from Central America and face not only linguistic but also cultural challenges.
“We believe that we are appropriate in the way that we fund for the various children in our budget, and we disagree with the amendment to change that,” he said.
Edward Burroughs III (District 8), who voted no, accused the schools chief of not listening to the board. “If our students cannot read and are not proficient in math, our students are not going to make it,” he said. “We have to get back to basics.”
Member Verjeana Jacobs (District 5), who also voted no, said the board had not had time to discuss the proposed changes and “did not want to be forced into a position to vote.”