Hundreds of Prince George's residents rally in Annapolis against school cuts
Delegate says discussions are under way to find alternative saving measures
Ana Palma of Colmar Manor was laid off 18 months ago as a construction project manager and said she cannot afford proposed cuts to the Prince George's County Public Schools budget that would require her to provide transportation for her daughter to attend Landover's Kenmoor Middle School.
"These are the kids that are probably going to run the country, and they're the ones being hurt," said Palma, whose daughter, Natally, is a seventh-grader enrolled in the Talented and Gifted program at Kenmoor; her neighborhood school does not offer the program.
To fight the cuts, Ana Palma joined approximately 200 students, parents and school staff to rally in Annapolis on Monday a day schools were closed due to Presidents Day against a proposal to cut $20.8 million in state funding from the county school system's $1.6 billion fiscal 2012 budget, in which bus transportation for TAG students is among several proposed items on the chopping block.
Three buses left from Gwynn Park, Largo and Laurel high schools, and rally participants split into groups according to legislative district. Once divided, they packed the individual offices of legislators such as Del. Geraldine Valentino-Smith (D-Dist. 23A) of Bowie and Del. Michael Summers (D-Dist. 47) of Cheverly, pleading with them to provide more state funding for county schools, oppose school budget cuts and urge their colleagues to cut money from elsewhere.
Theresa Saunders, president of the Prince George's County Council of PTAs, said the rally was pulled together in a week's time by members of Prince George's County United, a combination of several groups such as the Prince George's County Parent-Teacher Advisory Council, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and the Prince George's County Educators Association, which pooled money to charter buses. An overall state rally against proposed education cuts is scheduled for March 14, Saunders said.
The crowd gathered in front of the State House and walked to the Maryland House of Delegates Office Building chanting, "What do we want? More funding! When do we want it? Now!" as they lined up to enter.
"Most of these kids have never been to a rally," Saunders said. "They've never been up to visit their delegates, so it's exciting and educational."
More than 1,100 jobs could be on the chopping block, including layoffs of library media specialists and the elimination of a reading recovery tutoring program, said county school board Chairwoman Verjeana Jacobs (Dist. 5) of Bowie. The elimination of middle school sports and a reduction in JROTC programs in county schools are also being considered.
"The cuts are deep, and we're going to feel them and the kids we'll feel them," Jacobs said.
Dezmon Brown, 14, of Largo is a member of the Air Force JROTC at Springdale's Charles H. Flowers High School. Brown, a freshman, said he is excited to have the chance to advocate on behalf of his school and peers to keep programs like JROTC funded and that his instruction gives him discipline.
"The people going into the Air Force, they're getting the training they need now," Brown said.
Susan Peterson, a library media specialist for five years at Greenbelt's Eleanor Roosevelt High School, said schools need library media specialists to maintain high school certification through the Middle States Association of Colleges and Schools, which accredits schools after evaluating the school's education and policy standards and better connects high schools with colleges and universities.
Peterson, who also testified Feb. 10 before the school board, said Roosevelt's library serves 600 students per day and is a meeting place for many after-school clubs, study groups and sports teams.
"The library is truly the hub of the school," Peterson said.
Del. Aisha N. Braveboy (D-Dist. 25) of Mitchellville said elected officials are in ongoing discussions with fiscal committees and the appropriations committee about the proposed cuts and what money could be pulled from elsewhere to cover them. She said that part of the reason Maryland's education has been rated No. 1 is because of the gains made among minority populations, and she does not support a budget that would cut millions from county schools. Braveboy, a 1992 Largo High School graduate, said she was encouraged to see so many students visit their elected officials.
"They have the most to gain and the most to lose, and the fact they're here strengthens my resolve," Braveboy said.
Jacobs said rallies like the one held Monday are proof that the word about the county's funding struggle is spreading. She said her confidence level is high about getting the $20.8 million, but she still proceeds with caution.
"Our constituents are saying they're willing to go the extra mile to say we need the funding," Jacobs said of the turnout.