The Prince George’s County Council held a town hall budget meeting at Prince George’s Community College on Feb. 28. The purpose of the meeting was to inform the public on the budget process, but it quickly turned into a session to save busing for magnet programs in Prince George’s County.
The school that showed up in the greatest numbers was Suitland High School and in particular, it’s Visual Performing Arts (VPA) program. Students and teachers alike swarmed the meeting dressed in purple to fight for their program.
“People all over the country know of our program,” said Jean Fadiga, a music teacher at Suitland. “They sang for President Obama’s inauguration. They sang for ‘Christmas in Washington,’ Ted Turner’s television program, this year under the auspices of the president and for the previous administration under President and Mrs. Bush.
“Our choir has won numerous awards, international competitions and they’re well known,” she continued. “Our students have the highest GPA at Suitland High School. They’re actually pulling the school up.”
Councilwoman Karen Toles, D-Dist. 7, attended the Black History Month ceremony the school produced earlier in the day and came away very impressed with the performance. However, she seemed to be just as pleased that the school showed up to the meeting in full force. “I mentioned to this morning that I was at a fantastic program and I want to commend you all from Suitland High School for being here,” Toles said. “That’s what it’s all about.
“This morning I spoke with your principal and he warned me, ‘They will be there’ and he was correct,” she continued. “I’m proud of you all.”
Many of the speakers asked the council not take away the program. Councilman Will Campos, D-Dist. 2, says the council has a delicate balance to manage the county’s funds after it first goes through the school board and county executive. Then it’s their job to create final numbers that make sense for the entire county.
“I can see your passion, but when you say we’re trying to take this away from you; we’re not,” Campos said. “We get put in a tough situation where we’re told ‘this is where the money is, this is what we want done and this is what we want cut.’ Then, ultimately, we have to figure out how it is that we make due. We have to balance that.”
Despite that, the council members all appreciated the turnout as they said it greatly helps to show which programs are important to the county’s residents. They ask that the community continue to reach out to them to help get through the budget process.
“We need your ideas, we need your thoughts and we need your prayers,” said Councilman Mel Franklin, D-Dist. 9. “We look forward to serving you. This is a customer service business and you are our customer. We look forward to this process and hearing much, much more from you.”