Accountability—one of the three pillars of reforming education according to Dr. A. Duane Arbogast, Prince George’s County Public School’s Chief Academic Officer—was one of the main focuses of Monday night’s forum that aimed to give a snapshot into the progress and future of the public schools in the area.
Arbogast talked about the “Three A’s of Reform”, attendance, access and accountability, all items of discussion and of concern at Monday’s forum, and said that there needs to be a shift in how topics are taught in the classroom and applied by students.
Increasing students understanding of complex texts, teaching students how to effectively argue their points, and using tools and models to effectively solve problems were among the examples of planned improvements the school system plans on implementing.
One of the major shifts Arbogast talked about was the shift in the budgetary control on the side of the county.
“For the first time principals will be able to make decisions about how they spend their money,” he said. Right now about 98 percent, of a school’s budget is controlled by the county, but Arbogast says that will shift to closer to 50 percent, giving the principals more control to cater how they spend their money in the school based on the needs of the community.
School Board Chairperson and District 5 Board Member Verjeana Jacobs gave an overview on how the county board of education functions in its different capacities and how it interacts with the schools, parents and superintendent to figure out the best way to tackle problems. One of the major problems, she says, is the way that the funding for schools in Maryland is allocated.
Funded by number of students and wealth calculation, Prince George’s county is regarded as the wealthiest when it comes to educational funding, according to Jacobs.
She explained the reason is the date by which the wealth index is calculated, and said there’s a loophole that the county has been having a hard time to get reversed.
According to Jacobs the first year that date was used to calculate funding, it cost the county upwards of $25 million and continues to misallocate funds that could be coming to the schools in Bowie and around the county. “That’s money on the table that belongs to Prince George’s County that we do not get,” she said.
Being that other counties may have higher incomes, Jacobs said that richer people tend to file taxes later than those who have less money, because those on the lower end are more eager to get their tax refund. She also said that the board is working to get the legislature changed and that they will continue with the efforts.
Parents and community members echoed the demand for accountability on every level but were skeptical how it could be maintained when teachers have to take on more work and students without any more resources.
With tightened budgets the struggle to keep classroom sizes down is a big factor as well. Arbogast estimated that it would cost about $12 million to reduce class size by an average of one student per classroom across the county. The current average in Prince George’s County is 26 students to each teacher.
Arbogast cited a study on schools in California that were mandated to reduce class sizes in which the benefits were heavily outweighed by the costs and schools saw a reduction in the quality of teachers to keep up with the demand.
“Our solution in a short budget year is to get the most effective teacher into whatever class size it is,” he said. “It really does come down to being an effective teacher and using the tools that you have.”