by Lori Morrow
Last night, I attended the PGCPS Board of Education Meeting to hear the members vote on the CEO’s Proposed Operating Budget. The five-hour meeting provided an interesting glimpse into our local county politics. (Click to watch Part 1 and Part 2 of the video of the meeting.) Nearly two hours of the meeting were spent listening to students, parents and community members discuss the impact of recommended school closures and consolidations in southern Prince George’s County. Having faced a similar situation in my Tulip Grove Elementary School neighborhood years ago, I empathize with those families and understand how frustrating the uncertainty can be. As yet, no final decisions on school closures have been made.
A comment I heard multiple times was that the Board Members are elected by us. However, since House Bill 1107 passed in the 2013 Maryland legislative session, that is not entirely true. HB 1107 changed the structure of the Board of Education and made changes to the position of chief executive officer, formerly known as superintendent of schools. The impact of those changes was evident last night.
Nine of our Board of Education members are elected, and four are appointed by the County Executive. Moreover, the Board needs a 2/3 majority to override a decision of the CEO, other than a personnel decision. HB1107 also transferred many powers directly to the CEO, appointed by the County Executive. Under the new law, the PGCPS Board of Education is charged with only two responsibilities: 1. Raise the level of academic achievement of the students in the Prince George’s County Public School System; and 2. Raise the level of engagement of parents, students, and community as a whole. Other responsibilities, including school closures, belong solely to the Chief Executive Officer. It is an important distinction, as the voter’s influence in choosing the CEO comes from our election of the County Executive rather than the Board of Education.
In the end, the CEO’s Proposed Operating Budget was approved by the Board last night without any amendments. It took a couple hours of discussion, debate, and a necessary recess to reach that point. However, the budget process is far from over. The school system’s budget will now move forward to County Executive Baker, who will then propose a budget to the County Council in March. In late spring, the County Council will vote to approve a budget for PGCPS, and — as happened last year — that approved budget may be smaller than the budget that the Board of Education has requested. We must stay engaged to see that our schools are funded at the levels Prince George’s County children deserve. We must also continue to make our priorities known to the Board of Education, as the budget line items will be adjusted in May and June based on the level of funding our elected County officials approve.