ANNAPOLIS – Prince George’s County lawmakers Tuesday heralded the $573.9 million they took home from the General Assembly session that ended Monday, but they were less vocal about their failure to pass solutions to long-running school board problems.
Lawmakers held their post-session celebration without County Executive Wayne Curry, who told the Prince George’s Journal he had a previous appointment.
Curry could not be reached for comment Tuesday.
Legislators flaunted the $70.3 million the state allocated for kindergarten through 12th-grade education and the approximately $278.4 million in transportation projects, including $59.5 million for more access ramps on I- 295 and I-495.
“The transportation is off the charts,” said Senate delegation Chairman Paul G. Pinsky, a Democrat.
Other money for important projects included $2.5 million for Prince George’s Hospital Center; $3 million to revitalize Suitland Manor, an aging community; and $1 million for the Gateway Arts district, an older area that the county hopes to stabilize by making it an arts district, much like Adams Morgan in the District of Columbia.
“I think we achieved about 90 percent of what we wanted to,” said House delegation Chairman Rushern L. Baker III.
While Baker called education “the most important issue in Prince George’s County,” senators and delegates couldn’t agree on a bill to restructure the school board.
Lawmakers had sought to solve persistent problems in the Board of Education, including misspending, overspending and a lack of communication among the board, Superintendent of Schools Iris T. Metts and the Management Oversight Panel, the group in charge of overseeing reforms to the county’s schools.
Nine members elected from individual districts currently make up the school board. The bill would have reduced the number of school districts, and called for one member to be elected from each of five districts and four members to be elected from the county as a whole.
Senators couldn’t agree on changes to that original House bill.
“We were just not at the point of readiness,” Pinsky said.
Pinsky and Baker plan on meeting during the interim to discuss how the restructuring could be decided to please both sides.
The county House delegation spent more than 90 percent of its time on the school board issue, Baker said.
“It shows we’re thinking about education in the county and we realize changes need to be made,” he said.
The county’s success depends on education reform, Baker said, but until its education system shows “fiscal accountability,” it won’t get more money.
While delegates were disappointed changes weren’t passed, they acknowledged that both houses have the same mission.
“The consensus is that what we care about is the education of our children,” said Delegate Barbara Frush, also a Prince George’s Democrat. “We had hoped that they (the county’s senators) would smile on our bill,” she said.
House members and senators should have met beforehand to hash out differences before drafting the bill, she said. The delegations did unite on school system changes in budget language, Pinksy pointed out. Those changes, to last one year, include measures to make the county’s public schools more accountable to the county’s Management Oversight Panel.
They did have other bill successes: a nondiscrimination policy for the Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission and prohibiting a waste transfer station from being built within a two-mile radius of Bowie State University.
Lawmakers made it clear that Curry, who favored the original location, wasn’t happy about the transfer station bill. The building of the transfer station was stopped because the public wanted it that way, Pinksy said.
The senators and delegates “also represent some of the same people the county executive represents,” he said. “If someone’s unhappy, that’s life in the fast lane.”
Overall, legislators felt the session was fairly successful, and felt the amount of funding exceeded expectations. “We weren’t actually sure what we got,” Frush said, “until we got it all.”