Prince George’s County executive’s proposed $3.4 billion budget expands school programs -- Gazette.Net


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This artcle was updated at 11:45 a.m. March 14, 2014.

Prince George’s County Executive Rushern L. Baker III’s (D) proposed $3.41 billion budget fully funds school system CEO Kevin Maxwell’s expansion of specialty schools, pay for 150 new police officer recruits and adds Sunday hours to four libraries.

“It continues to invest in our priorities. It reflects that we’re definitely moving in the right direction in our recovery from the recession,” Tom Himler, deputy chief administrative officer for Budget, Finance and Administration, said of the budget during a media briefing Wednesday. “It’s a good end to a very successful four years for Mr. Baker.”

Baker formally presented his budget to the County Council on March 13.

The budget is a 4.4 percent increase over the county executive’s $3.26 billion fiscal 2014 budget, during which the county used early retirements, position eliminations and employee furloughs to cover a $152 million budget deficit.

“There’s RIFs [Reductions in Force], no furloughs, no layoffs in this year’s budget,” Himler said. “We’re not doing any creative retirement incentive packages like we did last year. This is the first year we really haven’t had to look at doing those things.”

The budget includes a $13.7 million increase, or 5 percent, to the police department budget.

The additional funds will support 150 new police academy recruits, who would be ready to hit the streets in early fiscal 2016, Himler said. The budget also contains $3 million for additional overtime.

There is also a $8.7 million, or 6.4 percent, increase for the Fire/EMS Department, including funds to support a class of 35 new firefighter recruits.

The budget also provides $1.8 billion for Prince George’s County Public Schools from all sources, a 6.4 percent increase over last year’s funding, to accommodate many of the programmatic changes proposed by Maxwell.

Maxwell’s budget includes expansions for Montessori, language immersion and Talented and Gifted programs, as well as additional funding for parent liaisons, full-day prekindergarten, environmental science education and the arts.

“It’s about attracting people back to our school district and giving them options,” Maxwell said of his proposed budget. “It’s also about raising the academic achievement for those kids who are struggling.”

The school system is expecting an increase of $35 million in funding from the state compared to last year, due to increased enrollment and education initiatives.

“We’ve got new leadership in the school system that is more aggressive in looking at new programs, and now we have more funding coming to the school system as well,” Himler said.

The budget also includes $26.5 million for the Prince George’s County Memorial Library System.

Himler said Sunday hours will be added to four of the county’s 19 libraries: New Carrollton, Fairmount Heights, Hillcrest Heights and Spaulding. Three libraries, Oxon Hill, South Bowie and Hyattsville, expanded to Sunday hours last year.

Catherine Hollerbach, area manager of the Hyattsville branch, said the Sunday hours have been extremely popular ever since they began last Sept.

“We have people waiting outside the door when we open, and we have to shoo them out at the end of the day,” Hollerbach said. “I think a lot of people come who work during the week, and also a lot of students completing last-minute assignments.”

Himler said the expansion of hours is paid for largely through leftover funds from vacant positions and a reorganization of operations.

“They’ve been able to identify savings that have allowed them to redistribute funds and focus it towards Sunday hours,” said Terri Bacote-Charles, director of the Office of Management and Budget.

The library system’s budget is $700,000 less than last year, a 2.5 percent decrease. Bacote-Charles said the decrease is due to one-time grants that were used for technology upgrades, and do not reflect operational costs.

“That was understood to be a one-time infusion to bring in new computer hardware. It was supplemental,” Bacote-Charles said.

janfenson-comeau@gazette.net