Tuesday evening Prince George’s County Public School Superintendent William R. Hite Jr. presented a leaner version of the school systems FY 2012 proposed budget, following the announcement that the County would be receiving less than anticipated funding levels from the State. Characterized by the elimination of over one thousand positions, increases in class sizes and early childhood program cutbacks, the budget is projected to save the County $155 million, bringing the bottom line to $1.6 billion. The Washington Post reports,
“We are looking to continue the academic progress that we have made over the past several years,” Hite said at a news conference. “We’re also looking to protect, as much as we can, classrooms and schools. However, we know this is going to be a painful process.”
The school system, like many in the Washington area and nationwide, is struggling with lagging tax revenue and the end of federal stimulus money that cushioned recent budgets.
Several board members expressed frustration over the need for deeper cuts, calling the proposed budget “dire.” The school board is expected to vote on the budget by the end of February.
It was not clear how many of the job cuts would come from attrition, such as retirements and resignations, and how many would come from layoffs. But the cuts would fall most heavily on non-teaching positions. The system, which has about 1,000 workers who are eligible for retirement, is considering offering retirement incentives.
In the past four years, Prince George’s schools have cut hundreds of positions. County schools now have about 18,200 employees, of whom 8,821 are teachers. The number of teachers is expected to fall to 8,693, school officials said.
In previous years, many positions were kept vacant and normal attrition took care of most of the cuts, Hite said. But this year, “we are unable to find vacant positions or positions that we can address through attrition,” he said.
Several board members questioned a proposal to move evening high school classes online. Right now, about 465 students are enrolled in programs at three high schools. School officials said that moving the program online would allow them to cut seven positions and save $3.3 million.
Board member Edward Burroughs III (District Eight) said an online program might not offer enough support for those students, some of whom work during the day, are not fluent in English or have children. “These students need more support, not less. It’s a very fragile group,” he said.