- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 9, 2002

Prince George's County school board members yesterday expressed outrage that lawmakers tied funding increases for the school system to a bill that would replace the board's elected members with appointed ones for four years.
"In general, the increased funding is a good thing, but I do not support any of the increases tied to support for board restructuring," said board member Robert Callahan of Bowie.
The funding bill which would award all Maryland school districts an additional $1.3 billion in aid over six years, beginning next year was approved in the General Assembly over the weekend. The bill allots extra funds for students who are poor, disabled and are not proficient in English.
Prince George's County, which has a current school budget of $1 billion and receives $510 million in state aid, will receive an extra $350 million from Maryland over the next six years. The county will get an additional $10 million grant after the school board is restructured.
Montgomery County, which has a $1.33 billion budget and collects $274 million in state aid, will get an additional $152 million from Maryland from 2003 through 2008.
Montgomery County officials rejoiced over the passage of the funding bill. The school system initially opposed the funding formula proposed by the Thornton Commission, which formed the basis of the measure.
The bill that passed in the House on Saturday had several amendments, which increased Montgomery's share from the initially proposed $79 million to $152 million.
Based on recommendations of the governor-appointed Thornton Commission, the bill requires school districts to set up all-day kindergarten programs by the 2006-2007 school year. All students in Prince George's currently have access to all-day kindergarten, while Montgomery County offers the program in 34 schools with high concentrations of disadvantaged students.
Montgomery officials said the Thornton Commission's funding formula shortchanged wealthier districts, like theirs, which also have large numbers of disadvantaged students.
"Montgomery County has half the immigrant students in the state and a large number of impoverished students," said county school board spokesman Brian Porter. "This is a great achievement for us, and the Board of Education is very supportive of it."
Overall, school systems have the flexibility to implement changes as they see fit, said Tina Bjarekull, deputy state school superintendent for finance.
"School districts will have to develop a master plan addressing, for instance, how special-education students meet standards, and how they are addressing minority achievement," she said.
The first master plan will be due in October 2003 and will have to be updated annually.
School districts will receive nearly $78 million as a "down payment" next year and will go on a five-year plan proposed by the Thornton Commission starting in 2004, Mrs. Bjarekull said.
The state will raise the cigarette tax from 66 cents to $1 a pack to fund the first two years of the plan. Funding increases will exceed the tobacco-tax revenues after two years, after which the legislature will need to find a way to fund the balance.
Some Prince George's County school board members said they were glad some of the money was earmarked for needy students. "For the population of poor students and those who speak English as a second language, the answer is smaller class sizes," said board member Doyle Niemann of Mount Rainier.
Mr. Niemann said he would like to see some of the money go to remediation programs for children surrounded by a culture that devalues education. "We need to pay more attention to the cultural environment. We need programs that will bring children into the adult world by teaching them values like discipline and respect," he said.
Howard Tutman, vice president of the Prince George's County Council of PTAs, said the additional funding is a "good thing," but added that he hoped all students would benefit from it.
"By earmarking the money for special education and other programs, the legislature is handcuffing school administrators," he said.
Jabeen Bhatti contributed to this report.

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