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.

Continue reading

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

HB 1107: Putting Last Night’s Five-Hour Board Meeting into Context

by Lori Morrow

Last night, I attended the PGCPS Board of Education Meeting to hear the members vote on the CEO’s Proposed Operating Budget. The five-hour meeting provided an interesting glimpse into our local county politics. (Click to watch Part 1 and Part 2 of the video of the meeting.) Nearly two hours of the meeting were spent listening to students, parents and community members discuss the impact of recommended school closures and consolidations in southern Prince George’s County. Having faced a similar situation in my Tulip Grove Elementary School neighborhood years ago, I empathize with those families and understand how frustrating the uncertainty can be. As yet, no final decisions on school closures have been made.

A comment I heard multiple times was that the Board Members are elected by us.  However, since House Bill 1107 passed in the 2013 Maryland legislative session, that is not entirely true. HB 1107 changed the structure of the Board of Education and made changes to the position of chief executive officer, formerly known as superintendent of schools. The impact of those changes was evident last night.

Nine of our Board of Education members are elected, and four are appointed by the County Executive.  Moreover, the Board needs a 2/3 majority to override a decision of the CEO, other than a personnel decision. HB1107 also transferred many powers directly to the CEO, appointed by the County Executive.  Under the new law, the PGCPS Board of Education is charged with only two responsibilities: 1. Raise the level of academic achievement of the students in the Prince George’s County Public School System; and 2. Raise the level of engagement of parents, students, and community as a whole. Other responsibilities, including school closures, belong solely to the Chief Executive Officer. It is an important distinction, as the voter’s influence in choosing the CEO comes from our election of the County Executive rather than the Board of Education.

Continue reading

Every Comment from the Feb. 9 Budget Hearing

by Genevieve Demos Kelley

The Prince George’s County Board of Education held its third and final hearing Tuesday on the fiscal year 2017 operating budget. The hearing was well attended, and many of the speakers and audience members arrived on a bus chartered by Casa de Maryland in Langley Park. Video coverage of the meeting will be posted on PGCPS’s Youtube channel.

Board Chair Segun Eubanks reminded participants that comments would be limited to three minutes per person. He also noted that the Board is scheduled to adopt the budget at the February 25th Board meeting, after which it will be sent to County Executive Rushern Baker.

Fifteen people spoke at the hearing. Their comments are recapped below:

Continue reading

Session Materials Available from Budget Q & A

by Tommi Makila

The budget question and answer session organized by Prince George’s County Advocates for Better Schools on February 4th was a success. Despite the need to reschedule the event due to the snowstorm, the meeting was well attended.

The agenda for the meeting was straightforward. PGCPS Budget and Management Services Director John Pfister provided an overview of the budget, followed by a lively and informative question and answer session. Among the many topics discussed were special education funding, student based budgeting, technology expenditures, philanthropic donations to the school system, building maintenance, professional development, and the proposed parent university. Mr. Pfister and his staff also had prepared answers to previously submitted questions by PGCABS members.

Residents are encouraged to provide input on the CEO’s proposed budget. See this recent blog post for information about the February 9th public hearing and other ways to make your opinion heard.

Mr. Pfister’s presentation and other handouts from the Q&A event are helpful resources for those interested in the budget:

Continue reading

Give Input on Next Year’s Budget at Oct. 13 Forum

by Genevieve Demos Kelley

CEO Kevin Maxwell and his team are already developing the Fiscal Year 2017 operating budget for Prince George’s County Public Schools and will present a proposed budget to the Board of Education some time in December. On Tuesday, October 13 at 7 pm, members of the community will have the opportunity to present testimony in the Sasscer board room regarding budget priorities for FY 2017. This public input will be shared with CEO Maxwell.

Speakers will be given two minutes to speak at the forum and must register by 4:30 p.m. on the day of the forum by calling 301-952-6001. Read more details in the Oct. 7 news release.

Wondering why we’re already talking about the 2017 budget? Here’s a quick review of the budget process:

  • The Fiscal Year 2017 budget actually goes into effect in 2016. It covers the period from July 2016 through June 2017.
  • The CEO and his team begin crafting a budget during the summer, a full year before it will go into effect. The CEO then presents a recommended budget to the Board of Education some time in December.
  • After work sessions and public hearings, the Board of Education adopts a version of the budget, using the CEO’s proposed budget as a starting point. Once the Board votes on the budget (probably in some time in February), it is known as the “requested budget” for the next fiscal year.
  • Why “requested”? Because the Board then sends the budget to the County Executive and County Council for approval. The County Council may or may not decide to fully fund the Board’s requested budget. (In the case of the FY 2016 budget, the Council gave PGCPS less than they asked for.)
  • Once the County Council has approved a spending level, the Board of Education must go through a process of reconciliation — making the budget fit the constraints set by the Council’s funding decision.
  • The Board of Education then votes to pass a final budget in June.