What Baker’s Proposed Budget Means for the Schools

by Genevieve Demos Kelley 

On Thursday, County Executive Rushern Baker presented his proposed operating and capital budgets for fiscal year 2017.

  • The proposed fiscal year 2017 budget for Prince George’s County is $3.7 billion, an increase of 4.5% ($160.8 million) over the FY 2016 budget. The county expects an increase in revenue of about $160 million. Read the County Executive’s Budget in Brief document here. 
  • Schools CEO Kevin Maxwell had proposed a $2.1 billion operating budget for the schools; Baker’s budget proposes a $1.9 operating budget for the schools, roughly $100 million less than requested. Read CEO Maxwell’s statement on Baker’s proposed budget here. 
  • But a $1.9 billion operating budget is still $93.3 million more than the PGCPS operating budget for FY 2016. The $1.9 billion includes state and county funding, as well as a small federal contribution. The county’s contribution under Baker’s proposal is $700 million, an increase of $31.6 million compared with FY 2016. See p. 11 of the Budget in Brief document. Read about the CEO’s proposed schools budget here.
  • Baker’s budget is still only a proposal; the County Council will adopt a budget on or before June 1. Read about the County Council’s budget process here. 
  • Once the County Council approves a budget for the schools, the Board of Education must go through a reconciliation process so that the final version of the PGCPS operating budget is aligned with the spending levels approved by the County Council. Read PGCPS’s operating budget timeline here
  • Baker’s proposed capital budget — which is distinct from the operating budget — is roughly $615 million, $143 million of which is designated for new school construction and renovation in PGCPS. Projects over the next six years include a new building for Fairmount Heights High School ($93 million), planning for a new facility for the International School at Langley Park ($34 million), and a modernized Suitland High School complex ($165 million). See p. 21 of the Budget in Brief document. 

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Thoughts After a Boisterous Hearing on School Closings and Boundary Changes

by Tommi Makila

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

The Prince George’s County Board of Education’s Public Hearing on Boundary Changes and Proposed School Consolidations on February 23, 2016 was an amazing and wild affair. If you were not able to attend the hearing, you may view a recording of it online.

The hearing was eye opening and thought provoking. The issues that generated the most comments were the proposed closures of Forestville High School and Skyline Elementary, as well as boundary changes in the Accokeek and Fort Washington areas.

As I was sitting at the hearing, many thoughts came to mind. It is hard to organize those feelings into a chronological narrative, so I am providing the following rather random list of thoughts:

  • CEO Kevin Maxwell did not attend the hearing. Yet, since 2013, when the school board was restructured (see Maryland House Bill 1107), it is the CEO — not the Board of Education — who has authority to close schools. Moreover, it was the CEO who introduced these proposals for school consolidations and boundary changes (see p. 17 of this document) to the Board of Education. It was a surprise not to see him there.
  • Sometimes people power works! The hearing was one of the most powerful public hearings I have ever attended—powerful enough to push the BOE to postpone all boundary decisions until next year. But residents and parents only seem to get involved when these kinds of drastic problems come up, issues that dramatically impact their children and families. In many ways this is natural, but we need to be engaged at other times too.
  • We need to keep the needs of our students first and foremost. The Skyline Elementary closure proposal was the most striking example of student needs getting lost in the shuffle. Skyline has a large population of autistic kids, and parents convincingly argued that the school provides high-quality services for them. Testimony from the Skyline parents was heartbreaking. It is obvious that we must find a way to maintain the existing special services for these kids.
  • Schools are important for communities. When we are looking at school closures or major boundary changes, we must work with the impacted communities and always try to find community solutions. Try to keep Accokeek students in Accokeek, Ft. Washington kids in Ft. Washington, Forestville in Forestville, and so forth. I believe that for local schools, strong community support and school pride are factors in their success.
  • When looking at school closures and boundary changes, central office personnel comes up with solutions that look fine on their spreadsheets and maps. But they may not be such great solutions for the people impacted. It is the responsibility of the CEO and Board of Education (BOE) members to work with communities to really understand all the issues and find the best solutions.
  • The process for handling these issues—school closures and major boundary changes—must be longer. While some community hearings on these issues were held in early December 2015, no specific plans were shared at that time. The first time actual proposals were made public was when the CEO presented his recommendations at the January 21 BOE meeting. The public hearing was held on February 23, and the BOE vote was originally scheduled for February 25. Considering the impact these changes have on communities, the process must be much longer and entail significant outreach and collaboration with local communities.

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Skyline ES Parents Fight to Keep Autism Program, School Open

by Genevieve Demos Kelley

Parents of children in the autism program at Prince George’s County’s Skyline Elementary School gave emotional testimony during last night’s Board of Education meeting.

Below, I have noted the points in the board meeting video where each parent who spoke on behalf of their autistic child began their comments. I have also included a few sentences from each parent’s testimony.

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Board Votes to Postpone Decision on Boundary Changes

by Genevieve Demos Kelley

It was standing room only at last night’s public hearing on the proposed boundary changes, school closings, and grade reorganizations. At three and a half hours, the meeting lasted so long that video of the proceedings was posted in two separate parts on PGCPS’s Youtube channel.

You may watch Part 1 here (the first three hours) and Part 2 (the last thirty minutes) here.

After nearly two hours of testimony, Board Member Verjeana Jacobs (District 5) made a motion to postpone the voting on the boundary changes — originally scheduled for February 25th — until this time next year. (Watch Ms. Jacobs’s motion and the ensuing discussion beginning at 1:51 in Part 1 of the video.) The motion was met with loud, sustained applause from the audience, with many in the crowd rising from their seats. Though opposed by Board Chair Segun Eubanks, the motion carried with a near-consensus. The item appears to have been removed from the agenda for the February 25th meeting. After the vote on the motion to postpone the meeting, public testimony continued for the next one and a half hours.

Alternatives to School Closings: One Resident’s View

The following is written testimony submitted by community member and longtime youth advocate Denise Joseph in advance of tonight’s Public Hearing on the proposed boundary changes, and school consolidations. The views expressed are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the views of Prince George’s County Advocates for Better Schools.

Greetings,

I would like to provide some ideas and suggestions as testimony for upcoming school decisions to be considered to help improve schools:

I would like to see PGCPS apply for grants to renovate and improve schools. Some grants to be considered are from the Gates Foundation, Microsoft, U.S. Department of Education or other organizations that specialize in grants for CIP funding.

I propose that Fort Washington Forest Elementary should become an ESOL or Spanish Immersion School to help populate the school so that it does not have to be part of the consolidation plan. I think that you should also consider a home school partnership program to help with the under enrollment, since the home school population is high in this area.

Please consider creating a middle years program at Stephen Decatur Middle to help with the enrollment and reduce the overcrowding of nearby schools.

I would like to see the creation of a 6-12 grade model, secondary school at Friendly High School, similar to Hayfield Secondary in Fairfax County Public Schools

Bring back the military academy to Forestville High School and make it a military career academy and partner with several branches of the military and possibly Andrews Air Force base. You can also partner with colleges that specialize in the military like VMI and Navy to encourage high school graduation and help students to become college and career ready. This will help with enrollment but will also help capture a portion of the students that might not go directly to college after graduation or drop out before graduating. This in turn will help the Prince George’s economy and tax base and provide hope to students that feel hopeless and trapped, because they feel like their only option is college.

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The December School Boundaries Community Discussion

by Natalie Barnes

On December 15, 2015, I attended the Community Discussion on School Boundaries, Modernization, and Consolidation held at Northwestern High School in Hyattsville.  The meeting consisted of three parts: a PowerPoint presentation by district personnel, small group discussion to share concerns and to brainstorm potential solutions, and brief presentations by each group to share the highlights of their discussion.

The PowerPoint presentation by district personnel reviewed the Educational Facilities Master Plan and the Capital Improvement Program.  Pupil Accounting and School Boundaries then shared information about funding, enrollment trends, concerns about current facility usage, and potential solutions to consider.

The small group discussions focused around the following:

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Speak up About Proposed Boundary Changes

In a news release dated Friday, February 19th, Prince George’s County Public Schools announced a public hearing about proposed school boundary changes and consolidations. The public hearing will be hosted by the Board of Education on Tuesday, February 23rd at 7 pm, in the Board room of the Sasscer Administration Building.

To register to speak at the meeting, sign up by calling 301-952-6300 before 4:30 p.m. the day of the hearing. Speakers will be limited to three minutes.

The CEO’s recommendations include consolidating Forestville High School into Suitland High School and consolidating Skyline Elementary School into William Beanes Elementary. It is also proposed that the 6th grade at certain K-6 elementary schools be reassigned to the feeder middle schools. The Board of Education will vote on the CEO’s proposed boundary changes at its February 25th meeting.

Keep reading to find more specifics about the boundary changes, consolidations, and grade  reorganizations that are on the table. Scroll to the end to find links to documents with more details about the proposed changes.

Recommended Changes:

New feeder pattern. Assign all Calverton Elementary School students to Martin L. King Jr. Middle School for grades 6-8. Currently, Calverton students feed into Buck Lodge Middle School, which is over capacity. Martin L. King Jr. has open seats.

Consolidations. Consolidate Forestville High School into Suitland High. Consolidate Skyline Elementary School into William Beanes Elementary. Assign 6th grades from both schools to Drew-Freeman Middle School.

Accokeek Area Boundary Changes. 

  • Change the boundaries of Accokeek Academy so that some neighborhoods are reassigned to Fort Washington Forest Elementary School and Gwynn Park Middle School.
  • Fort Washington Forest Elementary students will feed into Gwynn Park Middle and Gwynn Park High School.
  • Potomac Landing Elementary School will feed into Gwynn Park Middle and Gwynn Park High, instead of Accokeek Academy and Friendly High.

Grade adjustments. For the following elementary schools, the 6th grade will be reassigned to the feeder middle school:

Francis S. Key Elementary, Longfields Elementary, William Beanes Elementary, Ardmore Elementary, Kingsford Elementary, Cora L. Rice Elementary, Highland Park Elementary, Rose Valley Elementary, Flintstone Elementary, Glassmanor Elementary, Oxon Hill Elementary, Valley View Elementary

Read more:

Find the January 21st presentation to the Board of Education on the proposed boundary changes here: School Boundaries Board Presentation 2016 (1)

Find the community discussions on school boundaries, consolidations, and modernizations presentation here: Community Discussions Presentation (12-14-15)

Weekly News Roundup: School Lunches, Arts Integration, Saturday School, and Standardized Testing

CEO Responds to School Lunch Reports:  As part of National School Lunch Week, PGCPS CEO Kevin Maxwell invited FOX 5 along to a Bowie school to have lunch and discuss the recent reports of substandard quality in school lunches.  FOX5

PG County School Closed Due to Fire:  Samuel Chase Elementary School in Temple Hills, MD, was closed Wednesday and Thursday due to a fire caused by an overhead fan.  Students were relocated to a nearby high school.  WTOP

State Lawmakers Investigate Overtesting Complaints:  Lawmakers in the State House and Senate hold a hearing to investigate the common complaint of too many standardized tests in schools.  WBALTV

PGCPS Officials Look to State for School Repair Funds:  Maryland Comptroller visits Suitland High School in a bid by PGCPS to have the state provide matching funds for renovations to ailing schools.  CBSDC

Arts Integration Gains Momentum:  An initiative in PGCPS to integrate arts into the classroom has expanded from 15 to 41 schools over the last year.  This follows a national trend as research emerges showing how combining arts with academics can improve learning.  The Washington Post Continue reading

Weekly News Roundup: Construction Delays, Maintenance Concerns, Literacy Coaches, Openings for Bus Drivers and Nurses

Accokeek Academy middle school students thought that they would begin the new school year in a newly renovated building, but due to construction delays, they are still in portable classrooms. The Academy is a K-8 school, and the elementary school portion of the renovation was completed in 2014. However, the new HVAC system has not worked properly since the upgraded building opened. (Sentinel)

In a September 24 meeting, the Board of Education discussed the need for better maintenance of facilities and debated whether there is inequity between schools in the southern and northern regions with respect to the system’s responsiveness to maintenance needs. (Sentinel)

In 2014, only 12% of PGCPS students who took the SAT demonstrated college readiness, compared with a 41% of students in the state of Maryland. PGCPS hopes that literacy coaches in schools will help to change that. (ABC 7)

Arne Duncan’s departure as Education Secretary — happening in December — has been met with a wide range of reactions. The Washington Post publishes a roundup of reactions, from Duncan’s critics and supporters. (Washington Post)

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Weekly News Roundup: Moldy Classrooms, Politics, National Merit Semifinalists

Students were removed from eight classrooms at Samuel Chase Elementary School, so that mold could be remediated. Some parents had complained that mold was causing illness for their children (ABC 7). Samuel Chase Elementary had been in the news earlier this year when a parent complained that her daughter was suffering from allergic reactions caused by mold in the building (ABC 7).

Maryland Del. James Proctor died on Thursday, at age 79. Proctor had been with PGCPS for more than 30 years (as teacher, principal, and transportation supervisor), before becoming a lawmaker in the Maryland House of Delegates, representing Prince George’s County (Washington Post). Both County Council Chairman Franklin and County Executive Baker have issued statements of condolence (See here and here).  Proctor’s widow seeks to fill the seat (Associated Press via Washington Times).

Three Eleanor Roosevelt High School students have been named National Merit Semifinalists for 2016. The students are David Gardner, Clara Janzen and Vinaichandra Rachakonda. (PGCPS)

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