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

image (1).png

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?

Continue reading

Three Upcoming Opportunities to Advocate for School Funding

Print

by Llew Brown

In our personal life, we have lots of wants, but limited resources require us to make tough choices. In the end, the way we spend our time and money reveals our priorities.  If you want to shape the school system’s priorities for next year and beyond, follow these three tips and let your voice be heard:

#1: Testify at a School Board Hearing

The last of three Budget Public Hearings to be held by the school board this year is on Tuesday, February 6, 2018, 7:00 PM at Oxon Hill High School. If you register in advance to speak, you have three minutes to voice your concerns directly to the school board and CEO Kevin Maxwell. Find the proposed budget and timeline here:

http://www.pgcps.org/budget/index.aspx?id=200115

#2: Speak at one of County Executive Baker’s Budget Listening Sessions

The next opportunity is  February 8, 2017, at Prince George’s Community College. To view dates for additional sessions, and to register to speak for three minutes, go here:

https://www.princegeorgescountymd.gov/2404/Budget-Listening-Sessions?utm_medium=email&utm_source=govdelivery

The County Council is hosting a Budget Town Hall meeting on Tuesday, February 20th

https://pgccouncil.us/CivicAlerts.aspx?AID=423

#3: Contact your State Legislator 

Several Maryland legislators are proposing changes intended to channel more casino revenues towards  public schools.  Here’s one article discussing the issue:

http://www.baltimoresun.com/news/maryland/politics/bs-md-mcintosh-amendment-20171222-story.html

Learn what legislative district you belong to here, then follow the link below to contact your legislator and share your opinion on this issue.

http://msa.maryland.gov/msa/mdmanual/07leg/html/gacopg.html

Don’t delay: the budget bill for the current legislative session is due to be decided by April, 2018.

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?

Continue reading

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.

Continue reading

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.” 

Continue reading

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.

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. 

Continue reading