PGCPS Parents: Speak Up About Next Year’s Budget

by Lori Morrow

Prince George’s County Public Schools (PGCPS) have started soliciting public input for the Fiscal Year 2019 Operating Budget. CEO Kevin Maxwell hosted a forum on Monday, November 13th to hear from members of the public about budget priorities. He was joined by Chief Operating Officer Wesley Watts, Budget Director John Pfister, Board of Education Chair Segun Eubanks, Board of Education Vice Chair Carolyn Boston, and Board of Education Member Sonya Williams.

The short meeting started with an overview of the budget process by Mr. Pfister.  Seven registered speakers shared their feedback, including four parents from Robert Goddard Montessori School advocating for teacher training, materials, and reduced class sizes.  Additional speakers included a parent from the Maya Angelou French Immersion program and a representative from the Education Support Professionals union. Prince George’s County Advocates for Better Schools (PGCABS) member Tommi Makila thanked the administration for these efforts to engage the public. He also argued that the PGCPS operating budget should focus on things that most directly touch classrooms.

After public comment concluded, the administration shared that PGCPS is testing a new online platform, Let’s Talk, to collect inputs about next year’s spending priorities. This survey will be available through November 27th so that the administration can review comments prior to the CEO’s Proposed Budget presentation to the board of education on December 14th.

Additional public comment forums will be held at locations throughout the county in January and February as the Board of Education shapes the budget request to send forward to Prince George’s County Executive. PGCABS is also working with the PGCPS Budget Office to host a public question and answer forum about the operating budget this winter.

Please take a few minutes to share your thoughts about FY 2019 Operating Budget priorities with the PGCPS CEO here before November 27th.  Historically, feedback tends to be low in these early stages of the budget process but the Operating Budget impacts our students at every level. If you are not sure where to start, consider using the survey to answer one of these questions:

  1. What programs work well and should be kept/expanded at your school?
  2. What programs are not working well and should be eliminated, or may need increased funding to be effective?
  3. Are there programs that you would like to see added within your child’s school or within the county school system?
  4. What additional resources do you feel would benefit your child’s school or classroom (technology, books, field trips, etc.)?
  5. Do you feel that your school has the correct staffing level to meet students’ needs (classroom teachers, aides, special ed, support staff, etc.)?
  6. Do you feel that class sizes at your school are appropriate?
  7. What maintenance concerns do you have about PGCPS facilities?
  8. Do you feel that support services like transportation and security are adequate in PGCPS?

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Notes on the June 22 Board of Education Meeting

by Laura Rammelsberg

To view the agenda for the meeting in BoardDocs, go here.

All Board Members Present

2.0 Adoption of Agenda

At 3:19 in the video. Motion by Board Member David Murray to add to the agenda (as an an emergency item) a discussion of the proposal to update administrative leave policies , given the “record-breaking numbers of teachers, bus drivers, principals, assistant principals, guidance counselors, employees at all levels of the system that have been caught up in our administrative leave policies and are out unjustly, some without pay, some with pay, for extended periods of time . . .”

8 ayes/6 nays — to add Board Member Murray’s motion to the agenda. Required a two thirds majority vote; motion did not carry.

At 5:35. Motion by Edward Burroughs to allow all members of the public who signed up prior to the deadline to speak during the public comments. Motion ruled out of order by Dr. Eubanks.

4 ayes/8 nays/2 abstains — vote to overrule the chair’s decision to enforce public comment policy. Motion did not carry; policy limiting public comments to 15 remained in force.

Minutes from June 7, 2017 board work session and June 13, 2017 operating budget public hearing were approved.

Report of the Chair

At 13:19. Gave honor to two members at their last board meeting. Student Board Member Blocker was thanked for his service with a $5,000 scholarship for college and a certificate.

At 14:18. Student Board Member Blocker (remarks) — Showed photograph of himself with the late Principal Tanya Washington and honored her for supporting him. Thanked his family and community. It takes a village to get a person where they are. He held true to his promise that he would advocate and vote his conscious and get more students involved politically and civically. Words of advice to colleagues: it is an honor to serve the students. He is concerned with the amount of politics that gets in the way of helping the students.”We will continue to be second to the bottom if we continue to let politics get in the way of our decision making.” Thanked Board Members Murray, Ahmed, Burroughs and Dr. Anderson. There is a lot of work to do. Encourages the community to be as active as possible. 2018 is a big year; vote out certain individuals.

At 18:46. Dr. Eubanks gave honor to Dr. Beverly Anderson, who has served with great skill and integrity. Pushed to advance student achievement and make program offerings stronger than ever. Thanked her for her hard work and dedication. A plaque presented to her.

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One Parent’s Budget Priorities: Happy Teachers and Engaged Students

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A poster that the author created for Teacher Appreciation Week.

The views expressed are the author’s own and do not represent the views of Prince George’s County Advocates for Better Schools.

by Lori Morrow

I originally planned to speak during the public comment portion of the Prince George’s County board of education meeting on June 22. However, I was informed on June 20 that the BOE had reached its limit* of 15 speakers.

The text below is from an email I sent to the CEO and board of education members, with the subject line “PGCPS Budget Priorities: Happy Teachers and Engaged Students”:

I’ve been encouraging people to send inputs in advance of the Thursday meeting, so here is my short list…

Things I want:

1. Whatever the teachers want, including the freedom and resources to be innovative and keep students engaged with hands-on activities

2. Resources to meet the needs of students at all levels of the academic spectrum, including math & literacy support and TAG training for teachers

3. Language exposure at neighborhood elementary schools through programs like ICAL [International Culture and Language, used at Talented and Gifted centers] or sharing language teachers like we do for art and music

4. Maintenance funding to ensure safe, functional buildings for our students and staff

5. Focused interventions and support for students impacted by lack of core teachers due to administrative leave issues this year (Get creative…use executives & central office staff as tutors once a week if necessary. Perhaps more interaction with schools and students will help remind everyone that students should ALWAYS be our central focus.)

Things I do not consider priorities:

1. Things that do not touch classrooms or students

2. Programs that only benefit a few students through the lottery and increase transportation needs/cost

3. Test fees for all students (I believe students should need to demonstrate financial need and/or a minimum grade in their courses to justify reimbursement).

4. The start of new programs before we have met basic needs at neighborhood schools.

I support PGCPS teachers’ priorities because happier teachers will be more effective. Our teachers should have the freedom to teach in creative and innovative ways without being mired in paperwork and restrictions. They should also have the resources to make learning fun and engaging for our children. Additionally, our county’s students should have opportunities for language exposure and gifted programs in every neighborhood. They should not have to literally “win a lottery” to access programs that challenge them academically.

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Parent Asks PGCPS to Engage the Public in Budget Reconciliation Process

On March 1 of this year, the Prince George’s County board of education sent a requested operating budget of $2.05 billion for fiscal year 2018 to County Executive Baker. The county council’s approved budget fell short of this request by about $75 million. Now the school system is in the process of reconciling the budget, i.e. adjusting the requested budget so that it is line with the amount approved by the county council. The board of education will adopt the reconciled budget on June 22.
Here, one parent advocates for an increase in transparency and stakeholder involvement during the budget reconciliation process. Below are her suggestions for the PGCPS administration and board of education. A version of this letter was sent to CEO Kevin Maxwell and to her board of education representative.

by LaShayla Clark

It has been brought to my attention that the proposed budget from earlier this year was not approved and is now being modified. I have a few requests for the CEO and school board to consider in the process.

1. Please invite and include the public in the process. We have thoughts on what is a priority for our children’s academic future in this county. Please take our thoughts into high consideration as you make your decisions.

2. Please make this process more transparent. I looked on the website to try to learn more and I did not find anything regarding the current reconciliation process as far as what is being considered to receive less money. Most of what I have learned has come from other sources. Please provide explanation on the categories that are being considered to receive less funding than previously approved.

3. Please make your decision student centered. As I look at reports, I see a growing trend of higher student-to-teacher ratios and lower SAT scores. Please put more quality teachers in the classroom and in positions that directly affect our students and fewer people in top-level administrative positions. Students are falling through the cracks in these large class sizes. Teachers want and deserve quality benefits and an enriching work environment. Please do not remove or decrease incentives that attract and retain a quality workforce.

Thank you for your consideration.

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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