Approved Operating Budget Falls Short of Board’s Request

by Genevieve Demos Kelley

In a letter dated May 25, 2017, the Prince George’s County Council transmitted an approved operating budget of $1,975,443,500 for Fiscal Year 2018 to the Board of Education. The letter also outlined approved expenditure allocations by major category.

For each expenditure category, the table below compares the approved amount for FY 2018 with both the FY 2017 estimated expenditure and the FY 2018 requested amount.

BudgetReconciliation_pgcabs

1FY 2018 Requested Board of Education Annual Operating Budget, p. 39; 
2 Letter from County Council Chair Davis to Board of Education Chair Eubanks transmitting the approved FY 2018 operating budget

As the table shows, the approved budget of $1.975 billion represents a 2.7% increase over FY 2017 estimated expenditures. But it’s a much smaller increase than the school system asked for. The operating budget approved by the county council is $75.3 million less than the amount requested by the board of education in March.

Yet, in most of the expenditure categories, the difference between the requested budget and the approved budget is small (less than 1%), and two categories even show a significant increase over the amount in the requested budget (food services and “other instructional costs”). The $75 million shortfall is largely absorbed in the “fixed charges” category. Fixed charges expenditures are approved for $76.5 million less than was requested for FY 2018 (a reduction of 16.7%), and $57.2 million less than the estimated expenditures in FY 2017.

That is, PGCPS is supposed to spend 13.1% less on fixed charges than they did the previous year. This is the only expenditure category to see a decrease in approved spending, compared with the estimated spending from FY 2017. In fact, several categories, such as maintenance of plant, and administration, are seeing major increases in allocated funds.

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More Questions Answered on FY 2018 Budget

A previous post featured budget-related questions from the community, along with answers prepared by the Office of Budget and Management Services, under the direction of John Pfister. These questions were submitted in advance of the Jan 23 PGCPS Budget 101 Event, co-sponsored by PGCPS and Prince George’s County Advocates for Better Schools.

Five additional questions, submitted after the Budget 101 Event, and their answers, prepared by the Office of Budget and Management Services, are found below (and available in PDF format here). It may be helpful to refer to the proposed Operating Budget for Fiscal Year 2018, found here.

1. Are total budgets and/or school based budget amounts per each school available anywhere? Either proposed amounts for next year or actual amounts for the current year. It would also be interesting and helpful to see actual per student funding for each school.

The school based budget for each Prince George’s County public school is available on our website at:

http://www1.pgcps.org/sbb/sbb2017.aspx

2. What exactly will the proposed charter school program expansion entail (37.6 FTE, $3.9 million additional funding)?

The FY 2018 proposed budget includes $3.9 million and 37.60 FTE to support existing charter school enrollment increases and the expansion of grade levels at the following Charter schools:

  • Chesapeake Math and IT Academy (6-12) – adding 10th Grade
  • College Park Academy (6-12) – adding 11th Grade
  • Imagine Foundations Phase II (Morningside K-8) – adding 8th Grade

3. There is a significant proposed increase for the per pupil allocation for charter schools (page 71 of the budget document), from $9,812 to $12,977. What explains this?

The overall increase in the per pupil allocation (PPA) for charter schools is directly related to the $122.6 million budget proposal for FY 2018. Although this is a proposed budget, the Charter School – Per Pupil Allocation Formula takes this amount into consideration when projecting the FY 2018 allocation. The PPA will be revised based on the Board’s requested and approved budgets.

4. PGCPS spends over $50 million per year to send students to private schools. I believe this is for special needs students. Has there been an evaluation if it would be more cost effective for PGCPS itself to provide at least some of these services?

The non-public budget for PGCPS is $53 million. In an effort to address this area of concern, PGCPS’ Department of Special Education conducted an analysis of the disability categories served in non-public schools in FY 2016. The analysis was conducted to determine which disability categories are predominately served in non-public schools. Results indicated that, of the 847 students served in non-public schools, 39% had a specific learning disability. The data indicated that these students are served in non-public schools to address their needs in the area of reading. In an effort to address this concern, the Department of Special Education is in the process of examining the use of appropriate reading interventions to ensure students with deficits in this area can be served within the school system.

In addition, due to the rising increase in the number of students with autism, the Department of Special Education is preparing to consult with a national expert to develop and design services to address the needs of students with significant cognitive and behavioral needs. This multi-year plan will enhance and expand access to services within the school system.

5. At the Budget 101 session, it seemed somewhat unclear what the budget plan for building maintenance is. Is there an overall increase or decrease in building maintenance expenditures? Which specific line items related to building maintenance are being adjusted and what is the reasoning for those changes?

In the FY 2018 proposed budget, there are two significant increases in the overall budget for Building Services. The line item for Maintenance Supplies was increased as well as the line item for Overtime. Both of these increases were made to reflect historical spending levels.

You may find the first set of community questions and answers regarding the FY 2018 Operating Budget here

Every Comment From the Jan 24 Budget Hearing

by Genevieve Demos Kelley

The Prince George’s County Board of Education held its first public hearing on the fiscal year 2018 operating budget on January 24, at Charles Herbert Flowers High School. A Board of Education budget work session immediately preceded the hearing.

Fifteen members of the public spoke at the hearing. Their comments are recapped below:

  1. At 1:45:23 in the video, special educator: Increase the amount of funding for special education beyond what is proposed in the budget. “Special educators are leaving the county and field of special education in droves.” Special educators spend twelve to fourteen hours a week on legally required compliance paperwork. “Time spent on compliance paperwork is time spent out of the classroom and away from servicing our students.
  2.  At 1:48:02, special educator, paraprofessional in autism program: Adequately budget for our special education and autism programs. Our special education programs are not adequately staffed to safely manage the students. Special educators are close to burnout. “How many times must I document that a student ran away or tried to throw himself down the stairs before an additional staff person is approved? Also, when a specialist comes to observe our students to assess staffing or proper placement, why not have him or her actually do the job for an entire day instead of making an assessment based on a 15 or 20 minute slice of time?”
  3. At 1:50:57, special educator: It has become increasingly hard to do the job without adequate staffing. Describes a “day in the life of a special education teacher,” including assessing newly referred students to special education, writing IEPs, preparing paperwork for meetings, collecting data, collaborating with teachers, completing follow-up paperwork for IEP meetings, writing progress reports, providing assessment accommodations for students, as well as general school duties such as lunch duty. It is often necessary to spend several hours over the weekend working on
  4. At 1:53:42, special educator: “Special educators often fulfill two distinct jobs: We’re case managers, and we’re specialized instructors. However, we only have 45 minutes of planning time to fulfill these dual roles. . . .The overwhelming amount of time required to complete paperwork diminishes the amount of time that we have to provide supports in the classroom, with less specialized instruction for students with disabilities. . . I’m here today because so many of my colleagues leave the field of special education each year, due to the overwhelming pressure of compliance, as paperwork often becomes a priority over teaching.” Increased special education funding is needed for additional special educators, instructional specialists, and IEP clerks.
  5. At 1:56:43, parent of 9th grader at Bowie High School who has recently transitioned from private school: “As my daughter complained about sweltering classrooms at the start of the school year and frigid classrooms last month, I have to ask, is academic excellence really a priority? As my daughter has had a substitute teacher for science the entire semester and about three weeks for math, I must ask, how can we expect her to excel on the standardized tests . . . ?” Pay attention to a hierarchy of needs. There are tough choices to be made. Should such items as culture training for teachers (at around $610,000) and additional world languages funding ($1.2 million) compete for basic needs such as heating and cooling, or instruction in math and English?
  6. At 1:59:45, parent of a 5th grade Heather Hills Elementary student: There is confusion surrounding next year’s placement of some rising middle school Talented and Gifted (TAG) students from Heather Hills Elementary. Students who had anticipated attending the TAG center at Kenmoor Middle School next year received a letter stating that they must enroll in the TAG program at Benjamin Tasker Middle School instead. However, there has been no other mention of a TAG center at Benjamin Tasker Middle School. After numerous phone calls, parents were able to learn nothing about a potential TAG center at Tasker. The request is that students should be permitted to remain at Kenmoor until the TAG center at Tasker is fully operational.
  7. At 2:02:24, community member and parent of PGCPS alumni: Was hired in 2011 as a senior purchasing specialist, and subsequently discovered and reported waste, fraud, and abuse in the school system. The Strategic Plan implemented in 2016 and scheduled to go through 2018 does not actually address the goals of academic excellence, high-performing workforce, safe and supportive environments , family and community engagement, and organizational effectiveness. “How is it that we have a plan that went from 2016 to 2018, and you have not shown us any data or statistics that support what you’re doing?”
  8. At 2:05:25, community member and “watchdog advocate”: The budget document contains several discrepancies, and it is difficult, in some cases, to track where the money is going. For example, 17 Full-Time Equivalent (FTE) positions are listed at a cost of $2.8 million to develop the Strategic Plan and obtaining grants in support of the plan.
  9. At 2:08:13, student at Whitehall Elementary School: School lacks adequate heating. “It is hard being so cold in my classroom. Sometimes when I write, I shiver . . . It can be hard to take tests too, because all I can think about is how cold I am.”
  10. At 2:09: 14, PTA president at Whitehall Elementary School: There are currently 833 open work orders related to heat for the 208 schools in the county. Whitehall’s heat is not working properly, even after months of requests for repairs. Classroom temperatures have been documented to be as low as 49 degrees, and kids are wearing coats and long johns in the classroom. Whitehall Elementary is overenrolled, with 576 students at a school that has a capacity for 420 students. “Please consider allowing room in your budget to repair so many of our buildings that our failing your scholars. You cannot continue to have high expectations academically while requiring such low maintenance standards of yourselves.” 

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FY 2018 Budget Questions Answered

Monday’s budget information session was a lively event, with more than 50 attendees and a slew of questions about funding for such areas as maintenance and repairs, Pre-Kindergarten education, Student Based Budgeting, and transportation. In advance of the event, the Office of Budget and Management Services, under the direction of John Pfister, prepared answers to 29 questions that members of the community had submitted.

The questions and their answers are found below (and available in PDF format here). It may be helpful to refer to the proposed Operating Budget for Fiscal Year 2018, found here.

1. Is there any increase or decrease in the amount of funding proposed for home and hospital tutors and/or one-on-one aides?

There has been no request to increase or decrease in the level of funding for home and hospital tutors for FY 2018.  To date the funding level is projected to remain the same as FY 2017.

2. Is special education instruction receiving additional funding under the proposed budget?

Yes, there was an increase of $2.6M in Special Education for FY 2018. This increase in funding for Special Education will provide supplemental resources such that budgeted amounts will support anticipated costs based on prior year expenditures. 

3. How much is budgeted to pay substitute teachers and how does that compare to prior budgets?

The FY 2018 Proposed Budget contains $16.8 million for substitute teachers as compared to $17.4 million for the FY 2017 Approved Budget and $19.7 million for the FY 2016 Approved Budget.

4. The Budget in Brief Document reflects a decrease in Federal funding in the amount of $6,493,626. Is this the loss of head start funding? Is there funding included in the proposed budget to make up for the lost federal head start funding? What’s the earliest that this funding could be restored from the federal government?

The decrease in Federal revenue of $6,493,626 in the Budget in brief reflects the loss of funding for the Head Start program. There is no funding in the proposed budget to replace the federal Head Start program funds. However, current students in the Head Start program will be absorbed into the district’s existing Pre-K program at a cost of $5.1 million and require additional staffing of 68.0 FTE. If the district were to seek Federal funding for the Head Start program, application for the funds would have to occur by May 1, 2017 and would cover the time period of August 1, 2017- July 31, 2018.

5. Focus Area 1: Academic Excellence includes Diversity Specialist & Supports at a change of $289,568. Does this represent the salary of one person?  How much of this is salary, not including benefits?

The Diversity Office increased by 1.0 FTE under the Interpreting and Translation Services. The FY2018 Proposed budget includes a 1.0 FTE for an ELL Family Engagement Specialist at an estimate cost of $ 76,608 plus $ 30,975 in benefits. Interpreting and Translation Services proposed an increase of $ 181,985 to support existing contracts for translation. Language Links and Transact need additional funds due to increased use.

6. Focus Area 2: High-Performing Workforce: What is a Mentor and Peer Assistance & Review (PAR) Teacher? (7 FTE’s, $813,775)

The Mentor and Peer Assistance & Review (PAR) Teacher includes Mentor Teachers to provide coaching, demonstration lessons, shared lesson planning and professional development sessions for teachers with a focus on Framework for Teaching. COMAR regulations (13A.07.01) recommends a maximum ratio of 15:1 (mentees/mentors), and this additional staffing will allow PGCPS to get closer to meeting that recommended ratio. The Peer Assistance and Review (PAR) program uses expert teachers to provide regular, consistent support to struggling new teachers to ensure their future success in the classroom.

7. Communication Specialist (Board of Education), $140,423 – Is this a newly created position?

The Communication Specialist in Board of Education Office is a newly created position proposed for fiscal year 2018.

8. Overtime supporting services $6,000,000. Please describe what this pays for? How does this compare to the amount spent on this expenditure last year?

The FY 2018 Proposed Budget includes $6.0 million to support overtime in the division of Supporting Services to align the budget closer to historical expenditure levels.  This brings the total appropriation for all funds for FY 2018 to $9.1 million.   These funds are to support overtime for Transportation, Maintenance and Plant Operations.  Overtime within these departments has been increasing due to absences, mid-day runs and additional routes. Expenditure for FY 2017 were $12.1 million. Management is researching alternatives to reduce overtime usage in the future.

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PGCABS to Host Budget Q & A Session

by Tommi Makila

Budget season for Prince George’s County Public Schools is in full swing. The CEO’s proposed operating budget for Fiscal Year 2018 is now available on the PGCPS website. If you don’t have time to read the whole budget, consider reading the introduction, which includes specific changes in expenditures compared with last year’s budget (p. 16-19), as well as information on capital improvement projects (p. 20-24).  A less-detailed Budget in Brief document is also available.

Prince George’s County Advocates for Better Schools (PGCABS) is hosting, in collaboration with PGCPS staff, a question and answer session about the proposed operating budget on Monday, January 23 at 6:30 pm at Ernest Everett Just Middle School. This will be an excellent opportunity for interested residents to pose questions to the PGCPS budget office staff about the proposed operating budget. PGCABS hosted a similar Q&A session on the budget last year.

Questions about the budget can also submitted in advance of the meeting by clicking here (or send an email to pgcabschools@gmail.com). PGCPS budget staff will prepare answers in advance of the meeting. Emailed questions need to be submitted by Monday, January 16.

The Board of Education will host three public hearings during which residents will have an opportunity to comment on the CEO’s proposed budget. These hearings will be held on January 24, January 31, and February 7, at 7 pm. To sign up to speak at the hearings, call the BOE office at 301-952-6115. Each speaker will have three minutes to make his/her comments.

Parents, Board Address Transportation Issues

by Genevieve Demos Kelley
IMG_6355The Prince George’s County Board of Education held its last meeting of the school year on June 14th and adopted—in a 9 to 4 vote—a $1.93 billion Annual Operating Budget for Fiscal Year 2017. Dissenting votes were cast by Edward Burroughs III, Beverly Anderson, Verjeana Jacobs, and Zabrina Epps.

The budget was significantly smaller than the $2 billion that the Board had requested from the County Executive in February. Dozens of cuts were made during the budget reconciliation process, including the $1.27 million proposal to hire 25 additional bus drivers for the 2016-2017 school year.

While the issue of bus transportation was by no means the only topic of the evening, it got plenty of attention from parents, students, Board members, and PGCPS employees. Here are some highlights of the transportation-related comments made during the meeting.

During the Public Comment portion:

A parent at 49:34 in the video of the meeting:

I was disappointed to see that the additional 25 bus drivers were cut in the reconciliation budget. The ongoing shortage of bus drivers has led to doubled-up routes, significant delays, and even the inability to answer the transportation hotline in the morning, because staff are needed to drive . . . Without the additional drivers, I sincerely hope that the transportation department is spending the summer looking for a more efficient way to get students where they need to be, because what we have now is not working well. Students cannot learn if they cannot get to school.

A Northwestern High student representing the Hyattsville Teen Advisory Committee at 1:11:17 (this is a must-watch testimony):

We did some research to find out what was causing the problem of late school buses, and we found two causes: poor pay and poor working conditions [boisterous applause from audience].  .  . [Bus drivers] are often disrespected by students on the bus, and students say that they don’t even know their bus drivers’ names. We recommend that all schools include bus drivers in their orientation at the beginning of the year, and the principal introduce the bus drivers to students and review the rules and consequences for riding the bus [more applause from audience]. We recommend that the school board pass a bus driver appreciation day for the district to honor and recognize the work of bus drivers who support our students and their schools.

Jossalyn Ford, chief steward for the Transportation Chapter of Local 2250 bus driver at 1:17:26:

We work very hard every day to transport the children who attend Prince George’s County Public Schools to and from safely. As we approach the end of the year, we are short of help. As you have very well know that we are doubling, tripling runs. We are tired. We’re doing our very best to transport these kids every single day. But as we do so, we have bus attendants also working with us who have been waiting two or more years to become permanent, to have benefits. HR keeps saying, ‘We don’t have the positions.’ They don’t have the money to hire these people.  .  . And we, as a local, can’t defend a sub-employee .  .  . But I’m telling you right now, we cannot go into next year doing what we’re doing this year.  .  . We have meetings on a month-to-month basis, where we come together and try to address all these issues, and nothing is being done.

A parent at 1:25:16:

I’m mom of a third grader at Tulip Grove Elementary, and for the past several weeks, we’ve been experiencing inconsistent and unreliable bus pickups in the morning. In particular, because of the doubling up on the routes and the tripling up on the routes, you know, sometimes it will be fifteen to thirty minutes before the children are picked up to go to school. We’ve had occasions when the bus just hasn’t appeared .  .  . [W]e could use some communication in some way shape or form, some kind of system in place that could notify parents of an issue, if a bus is going to be late, if a bus is not going to arrive. I’m thinking something similar to bus ETA, like what WMATA uses, something like that. Where we can have warning of notice of a late arrival time . . .If we know, as parent, what’s happening, what to expect, we can make other plans to get our children to school and to get ourselves to work on time. . . I would really urge you to reconsider the staffing levels for bus drivers, because we need to get these kids to school, rather than leave them standing out on the corner for 30 minutes in the morning.

During the Budget Consent Agenda Discussion:

Board member Verjeana Jacobs’s comments at 1:35:03 regarding the value of hiring additional bus drivers vs. adding Lacrosse as a varsity sport:

It’s really disheartening that our employees, bus drivers included, have gone years without adequate funding in the budget, and every year we expect them to just accept that we don’t have money, and it’s just not acceptable .  .  .  A lot of people in my district [District 5], let’s just be clear, love lacrosse. And I do too. But not at the expense of bus drivers who have to get our kids safe here every day, and not at the expense of class size, math specialists, and reading specialists.

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PGCPS Elementary Foreign Language Offerings

by Katherine McElhenny

IMG_7154Have you ever wondered about the foreign language offerings at your local elementary school? Or how your school compares to others in the district?

No? Neither had I until recently.

Our family was out at a restaurant when we ran into a friend whose daughter had attended nursery school with my daughter. Immediately, the two kindergartners began comparing their schools. Our friend was proud of her brand new uniforms and Chinese classes. My daughter boasted of her Russian classes.

The parents were taken aback.

Chinese? Russian? Who knew? What was offered elsewhere? My curiosity was piqued.

A compilation of the district’s foreign language offerings was nowhere to be found on the PGCPS website.  Instead, the chart below was cobbled together from emails and calls to the World Language Office along with teachers and staff at individual schools.

Is your elementary school one of over one hundred that is not listed?  According to PGCPS, those students do not receive any foreign language instruction.

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