- The Washington Times - Friday, June 24, 2005

The $1.3 billion operating budget for Prince George’s County public schools that increases spending on teachers and students also depends on millions in state funding the system has had difficulty collecting.

School officials are still trying to collect $40 million withheld by the state this year because of an overdue 2004 financial audit.

John White, a school system spokesman, said yesterday that he was confident the county eventually would collect the money withheld this year and receive all the state money budgeted for next year.

“We will certainly have bills to pay for this year, and we will certainly use the money,” he said.

Mr. White also said officials planned to have the 2004 audit completed yesterday. The 2005 audit is due later this summer.

The Maryland State Department of Education holds payments to school systems in $10 million increments for every month an annual financial audit is late. The withholding is capped at $40 million.

School officials have said a financial investigation of the school system conducted this spring by outside consultants would assist in completing the 2004 audit.

The investigation found evidence that former schools Chief Executive Officer Andre J. Hornsby awarded a $1 million contract to a company that employed his live-in girlfriend, and that he gave another contract to a company to which he had ties.

Mr. Hornsby resigned last month just before completion of the investigation. He is also the target of an FBI probe into the misuse of federal funds.

The operating budget approved by the school board Thursday for the 2005-2006 school year increased spending $105 million, or 8.3 percent, from last year. It includes teacher raises, 145 new school buses, technology upgrades, more pre-kindergarten classes and 140 more special-education positions.

“The investments we are making as a county and a school system will pay long-term dividends for all children,” board Chairman Beatrice P. Tignor said.

The school board originally requested $1.42 billion, and sent its request to County Executive Jack B. Johnson to be included in his budget recommendation to the County Council.

Some of the money for schools eventually had to be cut because of revenue reductions from the county and state. The council adopted the county’s budget last month.

This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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