While Prince George’s County Public Schools (PCCPS) will receive funding for building modernizations, three School Board members are now unsure about the ultimate cost of the funding. (Courtesy Photo)

By Mark Gray
AFRO Staff Writer
mgray@afro.com

On Oct. 22, the Prince George’s County School Board voted 8-3 to build six new schools to replace buildings that had been obsolete for at least 20 years. However, the public private partnership, known as the P-3 promoted by County Executive Angela Alsobrooks and CEO Dr. Monica Goldson, has fallen under scrutiny from members of the board about the cost to taxpayers. This critique comes following a broadcast report detailing concerns about the integrity of the vote based on what a person close to the county executive earned during the interview process.

Fox 5 News in D.C. first reported they were provided an audio recording that was part of the interviews conducted by Erica Berry Wilson, who is an adviser for Alsobrooks. The audio seems to create the perception appointees were supposed to vote as the county executive wanted by influencing their decisions after Wilson supposedly prepared them with information or guidance. When confronted about the recording by the reporter during a press conference confirming the vote, Alsobrooks appeared shaken by the accusation as she responded.

“That’s a L-I-E,” said Alsobrooks. “I hate to say it that way. I wasn’t allowed to say the word ‘lie’ when I was growing up in my household. But that is just so untrue.”

“I respect the members of the school board. I’m a person who values integrity and transparency and these are professionals who don’t need me to tell them one way or the other what to think,” the county executive added.

Prince George’s County has been dealing with an overcrowding problem and 10 schools in the county were closed because they were no longer considered safe for students. The county plans to build and fund five new middle schools and one K-8 building in conjunction with five contractors: Fengate Asset Management, Gilbane Development Company, Gilbane Building Company and Stantec and Honeywell, with a cost projected to be $1.24 billion for the construction to be completed by 2024. 

County taxpayers are projected to absorb $29.8 million in costs for the initial investment. The plan also includes a 30-year contract with the companies that would be repaid with interest. Over those three decades, the contractors are supposed to be responsible for the maintenance and repairs needed on the schools. Goldson claims Prince George’s County Public Schools will be the first school district in the nation to fund the construction of schools through a P-3 partnership model. 

“I am proud to lead the first school district in the nation that seeks to build and maintain schools through this innovative approach,” said Goldson in her public statement. “Patchwork replacements prevent our buildings from functioning effectively. I am happy to have Prince George’s County Education and Community Partners join our program as we modernize our aging infrastructure to meet the 21st century needs of our students.”

However, not all members of the school board believe the numbers will stay in line with the CEO’s projections. Board Member Jolene Ivy said  she initially felt comfortable with the figures, but recently became wary of the potential for increasing expenses that would be passed on to taxpayers like the state’s other P-3 project, the Purple Line light rail extension.

“Two years ago when we started this process, this was a great idea,” Ivey said during the virtual town hall meeting on Oct. 20. “But at this point I don’t know. Two years ago we didn’t know we’d be in the middle of a pandemic and our economy would be very different.” 

Ivey and councilmembers Monica Anderson-Walker, and Thomas Dernoga,  were the three dissenting votes against the school board’s plan.