With everything from contract close outs and change orders to the facilities master plan, a charter school contract and location choices for the two new middle schools on the plate, the board of education had a lot of decisions to make for the future of Prince George’s County Public Schools (PGCPS).
At the end of the night the board voted 9 to 1, with three abstentions, to pass the facilities master plan and voted unanimously for the two new middle school locations and for a slightly amended contract for the College Park Academy charter school.
At the forefront of the conversation were concerns about equity for students throughout the county and the future of some schools.
Although the facility master plan does not call for the closure of any schools within the next year, some board members still worry about the impact the plan will have on possible closures in the future.
Edward Burroughs III, who represents District 8, said he was glad to see Friendly High School was not slotted for closing any time soon, but Sonya Williams, who represents District 9, said she did not like the listed state rated capacity for Frederick Douglass High School and fears it may set the school up for possible closure.
“What that does to their population is, that puts them at 60 percent below state rated capacity, which is detrimental to that school’s capacity,” Williams said.
The current listed state rated capacity for Douglass is more than 1,400 students, but Williams said she would prefer the number return to its former 1,283. However, Monica Goldson, the PGCPS chief operations officer, said the number takes into consideration the space of all of the classrooms and was reviewed by the principal.
Williams said that made her uncomfortable as the sitting principal had only served the school for a year when the number was created and she does not feel that is enough time to adequately gauge the capacity.
Goldson said the capacity was already submitted to the state department of education, however, and has been on the books for a year.
“If this number had changed to 1,400, this is the first we’re hearing about it in this report that was in July. So, I just do not feel comfortable with it being at 1,400,” Williams said.
Williams was the only member to vote in opposition to the plan.
Perhaps one of the biggest votes of the night was the passing of the sites for the two new middle schools in the northern area of the county.
The two middle schools will be created to help alleviate overcrowding in northern county, particularly in the Buck Lodge/Nicholas Orem middle schools area and the William Wirt/Charles Carroll area. Although the schools are being placed to relieve crowding, school officials said there have been no official discussions of boundaries or existing school populations the two new middle schools will pull from.
Boardmember Dinora Hernandez, District 3, said the schools are warranted for the area based on a severe need.
“This is based off what we know as a need in the north and that’s the massive overcrowding in our schools. We cannot have any more temporaries. We cannot have children uncomfortable in their classroom,” Hernandez said.
Lupi Quinteros-Grady, who represents District 2, agreed and said she has had to sit down and discuss with principals how to work their daily bell schedules to create enough space to accommodate students in overcrowded schools. Quinteros-Grady said the overcrowded classrooms are impeding instruction.
The vote for the placement of the schools was made despite PGCPS only conducting two community meetings on the probable locations. The first middle school will be built on the same site as Mary Harris Mother Jones Elementary School at Adelphi Park off Adelphi Road. It will cost approximately $71.6 million.
The second school will be built at Glenridge Park, a site currently owned by the Maryland-National Capital Parks and Planning Commission that rests between Glenridge and Beacon Heights elementary schools. To build there, PGCPS will likely have to deal a land swap with the commission, and the estimated cost of the project is $74.4 million.
Although Quinteros-Grady, Hernandez and Zabrina Epps (District 1) all expressed the need for the two middle schools, both Burroughs and Beverly Anderson expressed some concerns with the idea of the schools.
Anderson said she fears the locations of the school will create unintended segregation by building schools in areas that pull from predominately Hispanic and Latino populations. Since Greenbelt was not listed as a defining area like William Wirt or Nicholas Orem, she said she fears the new schools will not help alleviate overcrowding in Greenbelt. Anderson said she would support the building of one school, but would like a thorough study into where to place the second school so as to “maximize diversity.”
“We don’t want to have any re-segregation of schools. I don’t think that’s what we want to do, but that appears to be the direction in which we are moving and that’s where I have an issue,” she said.
Burroughs also raised issue with the schools and said the southern portion of the county also has temporary classrooms and overcrowding, yet it seems the school system is telling those students they are not deserving of new buildings and comfortable classrooms.
“We have temps in the south. We have overcrowding in the south. We have asbestos and mold in the south. We have half the building hot, another half of the building cold in the south as well,” Burroughs said. “I recognize we don’t have the massive overcrowding as the north, but does that mean these conditions are acceptable and will remain acceptable for the schools in the south?”
Goldson said they were “definitely not” and said the school system had just received $39 billion to tackle projects across the county. She said PGCPS is not just working on the new schools, but also for aging sites as well.
Burroughs also raised issue with the one-year extension contract with College Park Academy, a charter school run in partnership with the University of Maryland. Part of the reasoning behind an only one-year contract is the school is considering holding seats for children of the university’s staff and students in College Park.
Burroughs said he is worried about the idea of reserving seats for “the elite” and said opportunities like the academy should be open to all students in the county. In an attempt to make that point clear he made an amendment to add language to the motion saying the “board wants to ensure equity quality and access for all students.”
Although Kevin Maxwell, chief executive officer of PGCPS, said the language did not change the contract, Board Chair Segun Eubanks was confused by the motion and if it was in order since the motion was already on the floor.
This confusion led way to heated exchange in which Burroughs said the motion was in order and Eubanks told Burroughs to “shut up and let the parliamentary answer the question.”
Burroughs in turn told the chair that he should not tell another member to shut up while on the microphone and reminded him that Burroughs was elected to the board, while Eubanks was appointed.
The tension also included Burroughs having to repeat his amendment, which was accompanied by a hard stare to which Eubanks said “You’re staring me down now Edward, really? “ and “That’s where we’re going? Come on now young man.”
And Burroughs responded with “I’d love to see an election.”
The board unanimously passed the amendment and subsequently the yearlong contract. Burroughs and Eubanks made up after the meeting with a conversation and a hug.
The board also approved nearly 30 different change orders and project closeouts during the May 12 meeting.