- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 3, 2000

The Prince George's County, Md., school administration will release revised school budgets today, altering some draconian cuts announced last week that prompted widespread outrage.

"We hope this will be an improvement, although I don't see how," said one principal who asked not to be named.

At the same time, board members Angie Como, District 1, and Robert Callahan, District 5, plan to introduce a motion asking the administration to delay implementing any cuts for one year.

At issue is the Comprehensive School Improvement funds, supplemental money dispersed to individual schools to pay for additional staff, textbooks and supplies. This year, the superintendent cut the fund from $24 million to $20 million to divert the money to teachers' raises and full-day kindergarten.

As a result, half of Prince George's County's 180 schools lost anywhere from $3,000 to $150,000 in supplemental funds one month before school starts. The other schools gained by that much, The Washington Times reported last week.

Meanwhile, school officials are trying to quell the outrage over the news of slashed budgets by saying the figures were preliminary and released prematurely.

"We were concerned that [the old] formula did not provide for an equitable distribution of the funds," wrote schools Superintendent Iris T. Metts in a letter this week to state Senate Minority Leader Martin G. Madden, Howard and Prince George's County Republican. "The changes that resulted were dramatic. However, in an effort to lessen the impact for schools that have been receiving large percentages of the funds in the past, we made a decision to phase in the cuts over a two-year period."

Mrs. Metts said that the administration "felt that this was a moral issue" that state money for schools with large concentrations of students who receive free or reduced-price lunches was being improperly allocated and that the system needed to act to "comply with the law."

The schools chief added that principals received their budgets so late because the school system's budget was not finished until June 30.

But the administration's explanations are not satisfactory to the dozens of parents and educators who have signed up to speak at tonight's board meeting or the state legislators, teachers, principals and school communities that plan to protest the cuts.

"[The administration is] backing off once again," one principal said of the revised budgets. "We were given detailed instructions on spending that money, including a mandate to save 20 percent of it until the end of September. How is that preliminary?"

As for the legality of how the money was allocated, Tina Bjarekell, assistant superintendent for business administration for the Maryland Department of Education, said the county has not done anything wrong so far.

"The old formula has been applied satisfactorily," she said. "If the system changes its application of state funds, we will need to approve the change by Sept. 15."

The board tonight will also consider approving state Delegate Carolyn J.B. Howard, Prince George's Democrat, to the position of director of grant funds. At a salary of $89,000, she would oversee and conduct searches for local, state and federal grants. Mrs. Howard currently oversees federal grants for the school system.

One school board member who plans to vote against Mrs. Howard said the appointment presents a potential conflict of interest.

"Does it make sense to appoint someone to oversee the disbursement of grants that she initiates and approves in the State House?" she asked.

Mrs. Howard is a member of the Ways and Means Committee.

In order to accept the appointment, Mrs. Howard will have to get special dispensation from the joint committee on legislative ethics, a panel composed of fellow lawmakers, according to a law passed in 1999 that prohibits lawmakers from taking new jobs in state or local government.

Mrs. Howard was unavailable for comment.

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