Prince George's School Cuts Draw Crowd, Concerns
County public school parents, teachers and students express concerns over superintendent's proposed FY2012 budget.
Budget cuts here, there and everywhere seemed like a poor solution to the 130-plus students and teachers who turned up Thursday evening to be heard at an administrative building in Upper Marlboro.
And while their audience — a panel of 10 Prince George’s County Board of Education members — may well have agreed with them all, an $85 million shortfall remains a looming problem all the same.
Just ask schools Superintendent William R. Hite Jr., whose proposed 2012 fiscal budget now includes the elimination of more than 1,100 jobs from the school system. It is unclear just how many of these jobs would be of layoffs, as opposed to early retirements.
Other budget-jugglers within the proposal include cutting full-day pre-kindergarten classes down to half-days, along with a $3 million program aimed at first-graders struggling to read.
The school board remained mum during the public hearing, except for chairman Verjeana Jacobs (Dist. 5), who moderated the event.
“The purpose of this forum is to listen to you,” she said.
The meeting lasted for over an hour and totaled 20 speakers.
Some decried cuts in certain full-time positions, including a small contingent of media specialists in attendance, while others focused on the impact of larger classroom sizes and the replacement of evening high-school programs with on-line courses on the county and its students.
While solutions to the shortfall varied throughout the evening, one message remained clear – $85 million in cuts would do the county and the kids no good.
“Enough is enough,” said Lew Robinson, executive director of the Prince George’s County Educators Association, a 9,000 members-strong union. “If the organization is too large and reductions must be considered, no reductions should take place until you as a board have first examined and exhausted all alternatives available to you.”
Among others, Robinson’s alternatives included the closure and consolidation of certain schools, the identification and screening of non-resident students, as well as the suspension of athletic and other after-school activities.
“Shut our buildings down if you want to save money,” he said.
Others, such as Nicole Nelson, PTA president at John Hanson Montessori School, took a different angle.
“Teachers, custodians and school-based administration are the foundation,” Nelson told the board.
“Instead of chipping at the foundation, my suggestion is to streamline some of the administrative offices (and) conduct an internal audit at administrative offices. Whether it is reality, or just perception, there is a belief that several people are on the school system rolls accepting pay checks without doing anything to stabilize the foundation, but only make it weaker.”
Teresa Weston, president of the PTA council for the county, was more specific.
“We need to look at how we’ve allocated our funds,” she said, referring to the school district’s low academic ranking within the state. “We have at least 723 people that are making over a $100,000 dollars each (year) … We should not be (ranked) number 22 out of 23."
"Someone is not being effective or efficient as a manager,” she said.
Following the hearing, board member Edward Burroughs III (Dist. 8) said he felt "encouraged" by the feedback offered to him at the forum.
“I absolutely will not vote to cut evening high school classes, and I think we have enough votes to take that out of the budget," he said.
Full-day pre-kindergarten classes and the Reading Recovery program were two other “top priorities” Burroughs said he would fight to save.