Board of Education battles before passing budget

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UPPER MARLBORO – The Prince George’s County Board of Education engaged in one of its most bitter battles in recent memory while giving approval to changes to the school system’s 2016 budget.

Despite two motions to amend the budget and a motion to table the discussion, the Board passed the 2016 fiscal year budget as proposed to them by Prince George’s County Public Schools CEO 7-2 with three abstentions.

Board members could not agree on anything, such as which items to vote on together and which to separate. Both the budget and the ratification of the local 2250 union, the Association of Classified Employees American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, were introduced under the budget consent agenda. Originally the two were separated for voting, but after Board Chair Segun Eubanks questioned separating the agenda items, Board Member Cutis Valentine motioned for them to be voted on together, and later refused to separate them after objection from other members to them being tied together.

“The motion is for 7.4 (2250 contracts) and 7.5 (the budget). We can have a discussion on 7.4 and 7.5 right now, can we not? I’ve been told that if this does not pass and someone makes a motion to accept 7.4, someone will second it, we will have a decision on it, it will pass or it will fail,” Valentine said. “Then someone will make a motion on 7.5, someone will second it, we’ll have discussion, it will pass or it will fail. We can have a discussion right now on 7.4 and 7.5 as we would if the motion does not pass.”

However Board Member Verjeana Jacobs said she felt the process the county and the school system have used for recommending the budget this year has eroded the public’s trust in the Board. For example, she said, she was not aware of County Executive Rushern Baker III’s plan to propose a 15 percent tax increase for education until she went to the grocery store and a constituent asked her about it.

Board Member Edward Burroughs III said he was disappointed by the “political games” he believes some members of the board have played at the expense of employees.

“I’ve been on this board since 2008, longer than anyone else up here except for one person, and this is the worst I’ve seen it,” he said. “I am taken aback to be honest. I think to tie the budget vote to the negotiated union contract was despicable, because we negotiated with that union for months and that union’s negotiations and their step increases and the things that we promised them had nothing to do with that budget vote. But some decide to play games instead of working through tough issues and that’s what you saw and that has no place in a district like ours and that will not move our district forward”

Rosalind Johnson, a former teacher, student and Board of Education member in Prince George’s County, said during the public comment that she was disappointed in the board, the budget it had created and its lack of funding for what really matters to children.

“There are questions that need to be answered and to understand how this budget benefits Prince George’s County Public School system now and in the future. I’m going to end my statement by saying, school systems were set up for children, adults are essential, but we must make sure the needs of our children come first,” she said.

During the meeting board member Beverly Anderson moved to amend the budget and have $5.2 million shifted from international schools to services for students failing both basic literacy and mathematical skills. She said the school system could not afford a separate or new building for international schools and the budget, as it is, does not reflect the Board’s desires.

While other members agreed low-level learners are in need of more funds and programs, Maxwell said, with his voice raised, there is no intention of housing the international schools in a new facility and the majority of the funding for the new program is from a grant.

“To the particular issue of paying $5.2 million with money from one (English-language-learners) school, I would say that as we stated at the workshop last week, the appropriation reflected in this budget for the ELL schools is a total of $2.8 million not $5.2 million,” Maxwell said. “Secondly, half of that is $1.4 million and we’ve said over and over again in the months before this, that the Carnegie folks and the international schools have indicated that there is a likelihood that we will be asked to return half of the $3 million to Carnegie if we don’t open two schools as we agreed to do.”

Anderson’s amendment failed after a 6-6 vote. Further discussion broke out over whether the vote needed two thirds to pass or only a majority, but Eubanks said either way the amendment failed and attempted to continue the budget discussion.

Jacobs then moved to have the full day pre-kindergarten program increased to 20 sites instead of the 10 allocated in the budget.

John Pfister, the director of budget and management services for PGCPS, said the new locations would cost an additional $1.3 million, which again caused questions of where the funds would come from. Pfister and Maxwell both said it would take time to “move the needle” and move funds from another already funded program.

The pre-kindergarten amendment failed 7-5.

Board Member Zabrina Epps then moved to have the budget and the 2250 contract tabled until June 30, citing her lack of confidence in the budget’s representation of the will of the Board. The school system must have a budget in place by July 1.

Epps’ motion also failed 6-5 with one absention.

The budget and union contract both passed with no amendments in a 7-2 vote with three abstentions.

Before the meeting, Anderson, who chairs the Board’s finance, audit and budget committee, released a report wherein she voiced frustrations with the bureaucracy of the school system and claimed her committee from providing input during the development of the budget.

“Unfortunately, the Board chair did not allow the opportunity for the Board to dialogue with the Committee on its findings and recommendations. Further, the chair appeared to minimize the involvement of the Committee during the hearing and thwart the efforts of the Committee,” she wrote in her statement.

Anderson refused to comment on her report, but did express to Sherrie Johnson, a spokesperson for PGCPS, that her report was “accurate and true.”

Eubanks said he had read Anderson’s report, but was not aware of any specific accusations.

“I think Dr. Anderson is doing a great job. I think the work of the finance and budget committee has gone well. I think we had a very interesting and challenging budget season, as you just heard, but I look forward to us continuing to work together and I have a great deal of respect for Dr. Anderson and her work and I couldn’t be happier with the work she has done on the budget committee and I plan on spending a little time with her and working that out,” Eubanks said.

Burroughs, who also served on the committee said he agrees with Anderson and said the board needs to stop “playing games on the back of our students.”

“At some point we have a decision to make and that is are we going to continue to run the system as we’ve always run it?” Burroughs said. “Are we going to continue to use the school system as a playground for political games or are we truly going to move the district forward. And we can’t do that without accountability, we can’t do that without performance audits, we can’t do that without a clear vision.”

The board will not meet again until early August.

via Prince George’s County Sentinel

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