Your Child’s Best Teacher is Probably Quitting

The writer is an employee of Prince George’s County Public Schools who wishes to remain anonymous. The views expressed are the author’s own.

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I am a PGCPS middle school teacher. Most of my coworkers have an exit plan. These are the reasons why.

My average class size is 34, but only because I teach in a smaller classroom. I have coworkers with as many as 42 students in a class. When class sizes are that big teachers do not have enough time to give each child the attention they deserve. We do not have enough time to calm the anxious, charm the shy, engage the advanced, and keep up with parent contact logs. We do not have enough space to provide preferential seating to the easily distracted, to separate the bickering, or to allow the fidgety to dance in a corner. We do not have enough co-teachers, para-professionals, or one-to-one aides.

We do not have enough guidance counselors or psychologists to support the students who need it. We do not have enough time to plan engaging lessons that are differentiated to meet the needs of every student, to grade every student’s work thoughtfully, or to give parents the detailed replies they deserve when they have questions or concerns unless we come to work hours before our contract time begins and stay hours after it ends. We don’t have enough support staff to keep student bathrooms clean, shovel snowy sidewalks, or get students through the lunch line in a timely manner. We don’t have enough pencils, enough tissues, or enough paper.

With all the things we don’t have, the majority of good teachers I know do have an exit plan. They are leaving high-poverty schools to teach in affluent neighborhoods where active parents’ groups mean gaps in resources get filled. They are applying to neighboring districts, charter schools, and private schools. Or they are leaving teaching entirely. The more experienced teachers are weighing the cost of retiring before they have a full pension. The newer teachers know how many years of experience the neighboring districts will accept when calculating their salary.

Teachers across the country are walking out to get better conditions for their students: West Virginia, Oklahoma, Kentucky, Arizona, Colorado, North Carolina, Los Angeles, Denver, Oakland. Teachers in L.A. went on strike for smaller class sizes, more guidance counselors, and full time nurses and librarians in every school. I hear the same wish list from PGCPS teachers. Some teachers are pinning their hopes on the next round of contract negotiations as the union moves toward Bargaining for the Common Good, but others are simply choosing to exit the system.

These are not the bitter teachers you imagine cursing the day they became teachers as they sneak a smoke by the cafeteria dumpsters. These conversations happen as teachers set out supplies for the day, as they stand in line to make copies, as they share tips on classroom management and grading strategies, as they share the stories of their students who need help that they cannot give because there simply is no time. These are women and men who love their students and work hard at their jobs, but are frustrated because they don’t get the support they need.

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Notes from PGCPS Budget Q&A Session

by Llew Brown

Prince George’s County Advocates for Better Schools (PGCABS), in collaboration with PGCPS staff, hosted an interactive Q&A session on the proposed operating budget on Wednesday, January 16, 2019, at Ernest Everett Just Middle School. Participants listened to a presentation from Mike Herbstman, Chief Financial Officer for PGCPS, and discussed proposed funding for various items including class size reduction, language immersion, transportation, and more. We captured several questions and as many responses as we could during the discussion. We will also post additional materials provided by PGCPS when available. UPDATE: Additional questions and answers from the PGCPS Budget Office have been posted here.

Questions addressed during the discussion

Q. Security staffing – how will that money be used?

  • Classroom door upgrades, and overtime
  • Second assignment (SA) – money to cover gaps in staffing. For example, an officer or teacher may be asked to provide extra coverage at another school. This is cheaper than hiring an additional person

Q. Explain funding for Community schools

  • If the pilot goes well, PGCPS will identify a school and implement the model at a school

Q. Special Education – please explain in more detail, how that funding will be used to address the various needs of special education students

Q. Is there a plan to increase positions of school nurses?

  • PGCPS has a long standing nursing shortage (10 years)

Q. Please be more creative with the way K-8’s are budgeted. Doesn’t feel equitable because the needs across grades are very different

Q. Immersion programs – what is the plan for expansion?

  • Expansion from 4th grade to 5th grade in this budget

Q. Buses are chronically late. Do we need more bus drivers to get buses to arrive on time?

  • PGCPS recently hired 95 drivers within the past two months
  • Problem is keeping drivers, PGCPS is working on retention incentives
  • About 10% of drivers don’t show up each day. Also working on attendance incentives
  • PGCPS has 4,000 buses. PGCPS will examine effect of incentives and continue to discuss interventions this spring.

Q. Charter school – How can we make it more affordable to parents? Having no transportation, cost of uniforms, fees to pay sports, means a lot of money for parents out of pocket

  • Line item for charter schools accounts for enrollment. To fund charters, PGCPS examines Per pupil allocation for regular schools, then that cost per pupil is provided to fund the charter school
  • To understand a charter school’s budget, or to advocate for changes to the way funds are used, it’s most appropriate to talk to the board governing the charter school

Questions for future follow up from PGCPS

  • Special Education – How will th $718K be allocated?
  • Lead remediation (page 24) – is the goal for this line item amount to achieve 100% remediation next year? If not, what is the goal for the funding?
  • Page 24, what is the difference btw AC upgrades and Healthy schools HVAC?
  • Page 25, Under Maintenance of Plant, does this mean no change in the number of staff performing Maintenance?
  • Page 43, Chief Executive Officer, looks like a reduction of $380K, please explain the reduction. Is it a reduction in CEO salary, a reduction of an FTE on the CEO Staff? Etc.
  • We lost head start funding a few years ago. I believe $5mill/year, does PGCPS plan to apply for that grant again?

Note, PGCPS will host three public hearings on the proposed budget. The first will be Tue Jan 29th, 7pm, at Fairmont Heights

The PGCPS Budget Office has provided additional answers to these questions and other questions about the budget here.

PGCABS to Co-Host Budget Q & A Session with PGCPS Budget Office

by Tommi MakilaPrint

Budget season for Prince George’s County Public Schools is in full swing. The CEO’s proposed operating budget for Fiscal Year 2020 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. 20-25).  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 Wednesday, January 16 at 7:00 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 two years ago.

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 29 at Fairmont Heights HS, February 5 at Friendly HS, and February 11 at High Point HS, all at 7 pm. To sign up to speak at the hearings, call the BOE office at 301-952-6115, or sign up online. Each speaker will have three minutes to make his/her comments.

Question 1: Four Facts About the Casino Lock-Box Initiative

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by Llew Brown and David Duba

The 2018 mid-term elections will be held Tuesday, November 6th, 2018. In this election cycle, voters will make a number of choices that will impact public education in Maryland for years to come. Perhaps it’s poetic justice that the first amendment listed on the ballot is related to education funding, a key issue across the country in 2018. This past spring, teachers participated in large scale protests and went on strike in six separate states. These protests were inspired by wages being below the cost of living for school personnel and inadequate budgets for classroom supplies. They coincided with an incident here in Prince George’s County involving the inflation of pay for central office employees, and the early closure of schools throughout the county during the first week of classes due to an inability to adequately cool aging facilities. Given the array of issues facing public education, it’s reasonable to ask, “Where will money to fix public school issues come from, and how can we ensure adequate and equitable funding?” Read further to review a bit of history related to the use of casino funds, and the potential impact of question 1 on the future of public education funding in Maryland.

What is Question 1?

Question 1 on the ballot proposes a constitutional amendment that requires the governor to use casino revenue to supplement funding for prekindergarten through grade 12 in public schools, beyond the minimum levels prescribed by current funding formulas. Sometimes referred to as the “casino lockbox” amendment, passage of this ballot initiative could steer millions of dollars from casino revenues to fund public education.

Didn’t the law already require casino money to support education?

In 2008, voters decided to legalize gambling in the state of Maryland. Revenue from taxes on gambling was since added to the state budget each year. However, according to Maryland Comptroller Peter Franchot, general tax revenue that was used to fund education prior to 2009 has been regularly diverted from education funding as casino tax revenue has increased. Money that used to be spent on education from the general tax revenue is being diverted to other projects like road construction and employee salaries. Put another way, gambling revenue has replaced education funding, not increased it. By voting yes on Question 1, money from casino revenue will be used to supplement funding for education, per an amendment to the Maryland constitution.

How much money is at stake? How can the money be used?

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Notes from the October 9 Budget and Operations Committee Meeting

by Lori Morrow

The Prince George’s County Public Schools (PGCPS) Board of Education Budget and Operations Committee met for a regular meeting on Tuesday, October 9. BOE Members present were K. Alexander Wallace (Committee Chair), Carolyn Boston, and Sonya Willams. Members Curtis Valentine (Committee Vice Chair) and Raaheela Ahmed were on conference call. The PGCPS Chief Financial Officer Mike Herbstman and Internal Audit Director Michelle Winston were also in attendance.

1.  The first agenda item was a review of the Committee Charter. Last spring, the PGCPS Board of Education unanimously passed Board of Education policy 8100 which did a full reorganization of the standing and ad hoc committees. The reorganization nearly doubled the scope for the Budget and Operations Committee, formerly known as the Finance, Audit and Budget Committee.

The larger scope for the Budget and Operations Committee includes business management services; human resources & talent development; information technology; pupil accounting, school boundaries & capital improvement (CIP); and supporting services. Last year mostly focused on Operational and Capital Improvement Budgets and Internal Audit.

2. The second meeting agenda item was the annual work plan for the Budget and Operations Committee: https://youtu.be/H_khPdyQaLA?t=498

The document outlines meeting dates and proposed topics for the committee this school year. There was a systematic request to meet twice per month from November to February as those are peak months in covering the Operational Budget. In the committee discussion, BOE members amended the work plan to add the topics of CIP, Public-Private Partnerships (P3), 21st Century Schools State Commission, and Procurement.

The Budget and Operations Committee will also be responsible for selecting locations for the January/February Budget work sessions and public hearings.

3.  Internal Audit Director Michelle Winston presented the annual Internal Audit report: https://youtu.be/H_khPdyQaLA?t=1333

The report included a summary of FY2018 Internal Audit operations and the plan for the FY2019. Ms. Winston presented data on the 97 total financial, operational, and fraud audits; 309 hotline report submissions; and 61 property inventory assessments completed in FY2018. An estimated total losses of $16M were averted through audit activities.  Actual losses identified in the audits were $1.8M, with $1.1M of that in property assets. Property items continue to be researched on an ongoing basis.

Internal Audit is responsible for school activity fund audits, hotline & special investigations, and property inventories. Special requests for 2018 included the Human Resources salary increases and Bus Lot Transportation payroll operations.

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How Schools Spend What They Have: Comparing the Budgets of PGCPS and Neighboring School Systems

by T. Carter Ross

When it comes to school spending, many people would agree that there is a need to increase funding for teachers, programs, and activities that have a direct influence on students. But how to achieve that is the difficult part.

To get an idea of exactly what Prince George’s County Public Schools spends and where, it is worth comparing how our school system allocates its funding versus other area school systems. Not that other systems are inherently better at how they spend money, but it is a way to benchmark and to look for ideas and opportunities.

PGCPS is the 21st largest school system in the nation (2014 data from the National Center for Education Statistics). It’s the second largest school system in Maryland and the third largest in the D.C.–Maryland–Virginia region. Montgomery County Public Schools is the largest school system Maryland and the 17th largest in the nation. Fairfax County Public Schools is the largest in the region and the 11th largest in the nation.

Because the Maryland State Department of Education requires county school systems to organize their operating budgets into standardized categories, it is relatively simple to compare how MCPS and PGCPS allocate their funds. (Adding FCPS to the comparison is more difficult because its budget does not detail spending in the same manner.) This comparison does not include the separate capital improvement budget each school system compiles annually.

Approved FY2019 Budget MCPS PGCPS difference
Administration $52,513,673 $71,750,345 $19,236,672
Mid-Level Administration $150,805,386 $129,343,441 $(21,461,945)
Instructional Salaries $1,020,207,902 $709,270,428 $(310,937,474)
Textbooks & Supplies $29,064,773 $18,237,720 $(10,827,053)
Other Instructional Costs $17,237,407 $83,104,311 $65,866,904
Special Education $346,234,807 $279,824,683 $(66,410,124)
Student Personnel Services $12,903,312 $22,612,038 $9,708,726
Health Services $1,590 $20,374,722 $20,373,132
Student Transportation $109,325,393 $107,688,015 $(1,637,378)
Operation of Plant & Equipment $140,888,137 $132,297,375 $(8,590,762)
Maintenance of Plant $38,122,427 $40,699,436 $2,577,009
Fixed Charges $609,638,690 $423,611,677 $(186,027,013)
Community Services $865,163 $3,300,272 $2,435,109

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Changes in Capital Improvement Program Aim to Ease Overcrowding in Prince George’s County Schools

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by Lori Morrow

The Capital Improvement Programs (CIP) team provided a presentation on Enrollment and Facility Utilization at the Prince George’s County Public Schools Board of Education meeting on May 10, 2018. The slides provided an overview of projected K-12 enrollment over the next ten years, including a breakdown by elementary, middle, and high school levels. The presentation also included maps highlighting the over- and underutilization of school facilities and challenges associated with each. (Video of the presentation here.)

Here are a few highlights of the presentation:

  • The overall PGCPS K-12 enrollment has grown by 6,000 students since 2010 and is expected to increase by 8,000 students over the next ten years. Enrollment projections are established using the Cohort Survival Methodology that uses three inputs: births; historical ratio of students progressing from one grade to the next; and development in the area that includes typical “pupil yield” from each housing type.
  • Overutilized facilities (operating above the state-rated capacity) are heavily concentrated inside the beltway north of Central Avenue, while there are more underutilized facilities south of Central Avenue.
  • PGCPS currently has 542 portable classroom units, or “temps.” Some school sites do not have space for any additional units. Forty percent of the portables are 25+ years old and have exceeded their standard life cycle. PGCPS is planning to purchase 25 new units, at an installed cost of $95,000 each. This is the first PGCPS purchase of new portables in over ten years.
  • The top three projects on the CIP list (International HS at Langley Park, William Wirt MS, and a new Adelphi Area MS) could take 4-5 years to complete based on historical funding for capital projects, which does not provide immediate relief to those areas. In general, boundary changes and programmatic changes (like adding the Aerospace and Aviation program at Duval HS) are quicker solutions to addressing overutilization than building new facilities.
  • CIP Director Shawn Matlock presented information about a new CIP delivery method, designed to allow the completion of more facilities in a shorter amount of time. The plan would use alternative financing methods including Public-Private Partnerships (P3). The private entity would build the facility and maintain the building over a 25-year period. This method could be used for five to seven facilities (not yet fully identified). (Video link here.)
  • Under the new CIP delivery method, some facilities would receive “staged renovations” using only local PGCPS/county funds. This could speed up the process by eliminating state involvement. The list of “Cycle 1” schools recommended for modernization, staged renovation, or new schools is included in the FY 2019 Amendments to the 2017 Educational Facilities Master Plan.
  • CIP staff explained the difference between overutilization (facilities that exceed State Rated Capacity) and overcrowded classrooms. Overcrowded classrooms can also occur due to underutilization, where the number of students does not justify funding through the Student-Based Budgeting to support additional staff even though classroom space may be available. This can be especially challenging at smaller schools.
  • CIP staff and CEO Kevin Maxwell explained some of the challenges in shifting a large number of boundaries southward to balance the northern overutilization. In addition to potentially increasing transportation costs as students are moved further from neighborhoods, shifting boundaries is not always supported by the will of the communities involved.

The FY 2019 Amendments to the 2017 Educational Facilities Master Plan passed as a first reader at the May 10 meeting and is expected to return to the agenda on the June 7 meeting for action as a second reader. The document elaborates on many of the topics discussed and includes lists of schools in the first EFMP cycle. In addition, it identifies 18 planning areas recommended for possible boundary changes or school consolidation. Community engagement and forums are expected to start as early as the summer and continue throughout the fall/early winter.

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