PGCPS Faces Ongoing Budget Problems

Carla Peay | 12/1/2009, 7 p.m.

The Prince George€s County Public School System is facing a $113 budget deficit this year, which is cause for concern among parents and students as school officials try to achieve and maintain high academic standards.

Linda Thornton Thomas (Dist. 4) Prince George€s County Public SchoolsE Courtesy Photo
But the budget deficit could have even more far reaching complications than the initial $113 million shortfall. Under Maryland State law, Counties are required to provide their school systems with the same or additional funding as the previous year, a law known as Maintenance of Effort (MOE).Since the County was unable to comply due to the County€s own budget crisis, County Executive Jack Johnson requested a waiver of the MOE law earlier this year, but was denied by state lawmakers.

Johnson and the County Council then charged the School system $11 million in fees for services that the school system once received at no charge. The school system is fighting back, but if they lose, PGCPS could face a penalty of nearly $26.8 million in what school board officials call a €dual punishment.€

€It€s totally unfair to tax two of the largest public school districts in the state of Maryland when everyone in the state is facing a tsunami of financial difficulties,€ said Sharif Salim, principal of Oxon Hill Middle School. Salim previously served as the Director of Development for PGCPS where he worked on developing partnerships for the school system with the local business community.

€Our schools are running at a bare minimum with the consolidation of schools, a loss in labor force and cut backs in basic services both in the needs of our students academically, and in some of our physical plants,€ Salim said.

At a school budget meeting held on Wed., Nov. 18, Chief Financial Officer of PGCPS, Matthew Stanzi, said that because the funds are not there, tough decisions would have to be made.
€At this time, we€re working on a solution with the state and with the County Executive on how to manage this situation,€ said School Board member Linda Thornton Thomas (Dist. 4).

€We don€t want a deficit in the school system or in the County. We understand the state€s position; what they€re doing is part of their general policy. But we need a remedy that will not harm the county or the school system,€ Thornton-Thomas said.

The budget deficit has already caused the school board to make cuts to several programs, including the parent liaison program and the Advancement via Individual Determination Program, which helps prepare students from low income families for college.

€I think the state should wave these penalties and work on preventative measures as opposed to punitive ones. Instead, they are trying to collect money that would capsize our schools€ operating budgets,€ Salim said.

The next school budget meeting is scheduled for Wed., Dec. 16 at the PGCPS Administration Building in Upper Marlboro.

€There is no right or wrong answer to this [school budget deficit]€, Thornton-Thomas said. €We need to find a solution that doesn€t cause a hardship for the county or the school system, because the two are dependent upon each other.€