UPPER MARLBORO – Prince George’s County Public Schools CEO Kevin Maxwell decision to leave a county council budget work session early in order to attend a gala has caused one councilmember to signal she may vote “no” to tax increases next month.
County Councilmember Karen Toles asked Maxwell about how the additional funding the school system is asking for would help raise graduation rates around the county, but Maxwell said he would leave it up to Ray Brown, the school system’s chief financial officer, to answer Toles’ questions.
“I’m more troubled by your boss leaving because it shows the council doesn’t get respect,” Toles said. “I’m not the one asking for $1.9 billion – he is. And that just, really, it increases my no even further.”
Toles said she felt disrespected by Maxwell leaving the work session before it adjourned because she and her colleagues had been meeting with various departments since 10 a.m. She said her colleagues had previous engagements as well, and she understands that, but the budget must be done.
“We’re all in this together, and sometimes our schedules will run together. We’re all having schedules run together. I wanted him to stick around for the discussion – it probably wouldn’t have lasted much longer,” Toles said.
The council and other officials are at a heightened stress level with what is going on, Toles said, and emotions can run high. Toles said their discussions were important and she did not want to feel like Maxwell was walking out when the stakes were high.
“When you’re talking about laying off county employees, that is important to me. These are people who make the government run,” Toles said. “And these are also budgets that we don’t really control. Once we give the money, they can say what they are going to do with the money, but we have to make sure that we stay the course and we have these conversations because this is an unprecedented amount of money.”
Should this funding not go through, Maxwell said, the school system will not have the means necessary to meet the goals of its strategic plan. He said they will have to reprioritize as a school system, even if the state is granted the rest of the Geographic Cost of Education Index (GCEI) funding from the governor’s office.
The General Assembly passed Senate Bill 183, which says the governor should fully grant GCEI funding to all jurisdictions in Maryland instead of cutting the funding at 50 percent as originally proposed in his state budget.
“Pretty much none of this is going to happen (if we aren’t funded) and the expansion of some of the programs that we already have in place is not going to happen,” Maxwell said. “If we achieve half then we’ll have to go back and reprioritize that. It’s going to affect the outcome that we were asked to produce – that’s the bottom line.”
Deputy Superintendant Monique Davis said the school system will use the money it has requested to help improve graduation rates in the county and bring them to a high level according to the school system’s new strategic plan, which has a goal of making PGCPS a top 10 school system in the state by the year 2020.
“We have a target of 3 to 5 percent in graduation rate for most of our high schools. Most of our high schools made that 3 percent last year and that is how we got the increase for the county,” Davis said.
Davis said graduation rates are on the radar; the school board is looking to use state help to continue to increase graduation rates.
The school system has been funded more than $300 million in increases over the last four years, Toles said, and needs to have results to show for it. Toles said the council talks with public safety about staying under on their overtime pay expenses at $20 million, but crime has dramatically reduced and the county is seeing results.
“We know public safety crime has gone down. The numbers reflect it. We can see what they have done, we see the results of them doing more with less,” Toles said. “But if we’re getting on them for doing more with less, I want to know what (the school system) is doing with their money.”
The previous night, in a town listening session at Dwight Eisenhower Middle School in Laurel, Dr. Alvin Thornton, Chairman of the Commission on Education Finance, Equity and Excellence, said citizens need to write letters to the governor’s office granting the jurisdiction the rest of the GCEI funding.
“The legislature has ended, but the governor still has to make a decision. He should give in to you as citizens and release those funds,” Thornton said.