Prince George’s County school officials said the budget outlook may be even better than initially expected, allowing for more money to be set aside for union negotiations and possibly boosting compensation-reform efforts.
On Jan. 29, interim superintendent Alvin Crawley presented a revised fiscal 2014 budget proposal of $1.69 billion, a $7.8 million increase over the proposed budget he presented in December, and $23 million more than the current year fiscal budget.
Thomas E. Sheeran, acting chief financial officer for the county school system, said the difference is due to state estimates indicating an increase in money the school system is expected to receive from the state, to the tune of $15.5 million. The additional funding is partially offset by an expected decrease in dedicated funds the school system receives from the county, through telecommunications tax and energy tax revenues, which are expected to be lower, Sheeran said.
The bulk of the increase, $5 million, is allocated to go to a reserve fund for “negotiated compensation improvements”, funds for employee raises and benefits that may be negotiated at a future date and which would be in addition to $11.9 million initially budgeted for negotiated compensation, Sheeran said.
That fund is a vital tool when the school system negotiates salary and benefits with employee unions, said A. Duane Arbogast, deputy superintendent for academics.
Crawley noted that Prince George’s County is currently sixth out of the 10 Washington, D.C.-area county school systems in terms of money spent per student and teacher compensation.
Several board members urged the school system to work to retain experienced and qualified personnel.
“When we’re looking at our compensation around negotiations, we need to make sure we’re not losing good employees to our surrounding counties,” said school board member Carolyn Boston (Dist. 6).
Board Chairwoman Verjeana Jacobs (Dist. 5) said a broader discussion regarding compensation needs to occur.
“We have to re-examine teacher effectiveness, we have to re-examine salary lanes, we have to re-examine what experience actually means, and we have to re-examine what roles and leadership our people have in the building, and we have to compensate them according to that,” Jacobs said.
Arbogast said that type of compensation reform, such as tying benefits to student outcomes, is something the school system is looking at, and that a reserve will give the school system something to bargain with in negotiations.
“The way we’ve paid people over the past couple of years, or not paid people over the past couple of years, has been from a position of weakness, and we need to return to a position of strength,” Arbogast said, adding, “Prince George’s County is really poised to have a legitimate conversation about compensation reform.”
Education activist David Cahn spoke out against setting aside reserves, calling it “immoral” for a public body to do so, and in terms of employee compensation, saying it distorts the bargaining process.
“It would make more sense to adjust the timing of negotiation, budgeting and then implementation of, I assume, higher wages for our employees, rather than budgeting for an increase first, then negotiating, then putting it into play,” Cahn said.
Two further budget discussions will follow on Feb. 13 and 19, with work sessions at 5 p.m. and public hearings at 7:05 p.m. both days. The board is scheduled to adopt a budget at its Feb. 21 meeting and submit it March 1 to the county executive.