A Review of the PGCPS FY 2013 Budget
With little fanfare, the Prince George’s County School Board recently approved the FY 2013 Budget following the implementation of the new School-Based Budgeting Process. Only about a dozen speakers testified at one of the two public hearings, in stark contrast to last year when more than a hundred showed up to express concerns about the FY 2012 Budget. Part of the reason the community was silenced is because, in large part, the status quo was maintained and no significant cuts were made. The other reason that it was less controversial, I believe, is because the focus of the process was shifted to schools, rather than the Superintendent and central office.
In general, I applaud the shift to School-Based Budgeting. I think that, over time, it will allow each school’s community to collectively decide what they value most, and what is no longer necessary, to provide a high quality education to our children. Next year, principals should solicit the community to become more engaged in the process as it unfolds by holding their own forums and public input sessions. As we ask the community to consider what’s most important to pay for with limited resources, we will develop an army of advocates and engaged parents who are more committed to their responsibilities in educating our children.
As each school prioritizes their individual budgets, there’s a significant opportunity to expand the role of parents, churches, nonprofits, and other community partners. Principals should consider creating line items in their budgets where monetary resources are not available, but the needs could be filled by parent volunteers, tutoring sessions sponsored by nonprofit and community groups, or sports and extracurricular enrichment activities hosted and paid for by local businesses, churches, and other community partners. We are all responsible for educating the next generation, and delineating roles for all to participate could help supply unmet needs.
I still have serious concerns about spending on central office administrative functions. The School Board could potentially have as many as five new members, and this presents a real opportunity for change. I would encourage all candidates to consider how they would approach union negotiations that determine the salary scales for administrative staff versus teachers, and I hope that the School Board will take a more serious look at (1) reducing salaries that are not in line with the market for positions such as secretaries and data entry clerks; and (2) eliminating additional positions in the central office that are not part of the core mission of PGCPS.
The School Board should also request that next year’s budget provide more details about the line item for “Contractual Services” within each division. While some divisions spend only a few thousand dollars on contracted services, others such as the Department of Information Technology will spend $6.5 million in FY 2013. Complete transparency will ensure that (1) the contracted services meet a legitimate need; and (2) that taxpayers have an opportunity to hold PGCPS and School Board members for any questionable contract awards to vendors with whom they may have personal investments or relationships.
In summary, the PGCPS Budget for FY 2013 is a step in the right direction, but only a step. We still have a lot of work ahead of us to ensure transparency and accountability for spending our limited tax dollars wisely on education. However, it will also require personal responsibility from all of us to make sure that our children receive the education they deserve, and that will prepare them to be college and career ready.