Prince George’s County Schools need to improve. Residents and county officials agree on this point. It’s the method proposed to fund a $1.839 billion school budget that is being debated. County Executive Rushern Baker has suggested a 15 percent property tax increase to the County Council that will finance an ambitious improvement program for schools, but some homeowners are not happy. The council is scheduled to approve a final budget for the county on June 1.

PGCS Chief Executive Officer Kevin Maxwell said the 2016 budget represents a 2.5 percent increase over this year’s spending and is designed to jumpstart his strategic plan for all students to receive high-quality education by 2020. The goal is for all children in the county graduate high school ready for college and careers.

“We can overcome our historical rankings at the bottom,” he said during a budget forum at Charles H. Flowers High School. “We’re
just not funding our education system the way we should.”

The budget proposal includes $68.7 million from the state of Maryland and $177.2 million from the county. Recommended use for these funds includes building literacy skills by adding reading specialists and all-day kindergarten programs; expanding language immersion programs, International Baccalaureate programs and Montessori models; and increasing technology. The budget also calls for $39.3 million to ensure a “high-quality” workforce.

“We pay to recruit them, professionally develop them, and then they get taken right out of the district by another who can pay them more,” Maxwell said referring to 7,100 teachers who left PGCS since 2007. “You can’t have that kind of turn-over and be successful. Our kids deserve to have teachers who are invested in them.”

But the mother of a county high school graduate said it’s the parents that make the real difference in student achievement. After owning a home in the county for over 30 years, she says the hike in taxes is “irresponsible” with such a high foreclosure rate. She wrote to her councilman to voice her opposition to what could be the first increase in the county’s property tax in 35 years.

“What makes a school system great is the parent participation and kids coming to school ready to learn, kids coming to school knowing their numbers, letters, colors, and kids coming to school ready to learn, not being hungry, not being tired, and not being in a dysfunctional environment,” the resident said. “I just don’t understand how increasing the property tax and throwing more money into the school system is going to change the school system.”

As a resident with two children currently attending county schools, Board of Education member Curtis Valentine admits that houses in the county are in low demand because the public schools are not attracting buyers. He is, however, willing to pay more in property tax to improve the quality of his children’s future by preparing them for college.

He acknowledges that over 75 percent of PG County residents lack a direct connection to the school system, saying that many parents of the richest Black county in the country are choosing private schools, which deprives public schools of active parent engagement from college-educated people.

“The population is not reflected in the school system,” Valentine said. “If we don’t pass this budget, you’ll see an even larger exodus of middle class parents in addition to the cuts to our teaching core which results in increase of student-teacher. The time is right for the change. I think the issue is how to do it.”