Selection of a new superintendent is topping the priority list for the Prince George’s County school board, but officials said they are also optimistic about budget planning in the new year.
"We are clearly, finally at a place where we're not looking at cuts, at downsizing," board Chairwoman Verjeana Jacobs (Dist. 5) said.
While the fiscal 2014 budget and school safety reviews are among the priorities, members said they can focus on more issues once they have selected the new superintendent. Former county superintendent William R. Hite Jr. left in September to lead the Philadelphia school system.
"We need to have an 'all hands on deck' approach to selecting the next person who will be leading and improving our system," said board member Edward Burroughs III (Dist. 8), adding that it’s important for residents to be involved in the selection process.
Board Vice Chairwoman Carolyn Boston (Dist. 6) said the large number of online responses — nearly 1,700 — to a recent superintendent search survey was heartening and shows the public wants to be involved in the process.
Burroughs said he would like to see the final candidates take their cases to the public, sharing their vision for improving county education. Board member Carletta Fellows (Dist. 7) said she would like the next superintendent to be someone with a “proven track record” of managing a majority black and Latino school system, with a focus on low-income students and students with limited English skills.
Interviews for the superintendent position are expected to begin in late February or early March, after which the board is expected to select its top three candidates for a final round of interviews. Applications have already started coming in, board members said.
At this time of year, discussion of the operating budget is also at the forefront of many board members' minds. On Dec. 13, Interim Superintendent Alvin Crawley presented an overview of his $1.68 billion proposed fiscal 2014 budget, which includes potential increases in state and county funding of $18.1 million and $1.4 million, respectively. The budget proposal is a 0.9 percent increase over the approved FY2013 fiscal plan.
Crawley said the priorities driving his budget-making decisions included ensuring a stable fund balance, a small amount of uncommitted funds allowing for flexibility in budgeting decisions during the year; continued investment in educational options such as charter schools; secondary school reform and alternative education; and investment in employee compensation.
Jacobs said she finds it encouraging that the county is finally in a position where it can talk about increasing compensation for employees.
Although Prince George’s County teachers recently received their first raise in more than three years, Crawley noted that the county ranks sixth out of 10 Washington, D.C., area school systems in terms of salary and benefits for teachers, and the topic of increasing compensation to retain quality teachers emerged frequently during public forums on the budget.
The budget will be discussed during a series of two work sessions on Jan. 29 and Feb. 19 at 5 p.m., followed by public hearings at 7 p.m., as well as a public hearing at 7 p.m. Feb. 13, before the vote to adopt the proposed budget and submit it to county officials on Feb. 21.
In the wake of the Dec. 18 school shooting in Newtown, Conn., school safety is also likely to be an item of discussion in 2013.
Crawley said the school system is reviewing its security and communications procedures. The school system is also encouraging parents to sign up for its email/text alert system through its website, www.pgcps.org.
“Certainly with the incident in Newtown, everyone is on a heightened state of alertness, but we should always be on the alert,” Jacobs said, adding that the school system should always be on the lookout for new ways to improve security.
Boston said she would like the school system to consider the establishment of a hotline where students could anonymously report suspicious activity.
Other items mentioned by board members as needing to be addressed in 2013 include academic improvement; school boundaries; infrastructure improvements to existing schools and construction of new schools, including a replacement Oxon Hill High School and a new elementary school in the Hyattsville area; and revising the state's education funding formula.