By Mark F. Gray
AFRO Staff Writer
There is agreement among residents and educators for new school buildings in Prince George’s County. However, funding concerns remain an issue for most who live in the county, which has some of the highest property taxes in the region. Many can’t afford an increase during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Educators in Prince George’s County have been clamouring for new buildings as more homeowners reside in the D.C. suburb. During a virtual town hall meeting on Oct. 19, County Executive Angela Alsobrooks and Prince George’s County Public Schools CEO Dr. Monica Goldson offered their plans to build six new schools using private funding, which would alleviate the cost to taxpayers just days before the school board is scheduled to vote. It was also a preemptive decision to try and ease the concerns of the constituents who worry about how the school system proposes to pay for them
More than 17,000 residents participated in the virtual meeting, where the county executive and the PGCPS CEO offered specific details on an arrangement where the public and private sectors would focus on middle school construction in areas that have been neglected for almost two decades.The proposal is to build six public schools with private money at a cost of $900 million over 30 years.
Alsobrooks acknowledged that $8.5 billion is needed for improving the County’s crumbling infrastructure including schools that are, in some cases, 60 years old. She said $210 million is available annually through traditional funding, but admitted that is not enough to address the issues facing the County.
PGCPS would withdraw the money from its $211 million annual construction allotment, which is known as the capital budget. Those funds wouldn’t be taken from the school system’s $2 billion operational budget that pays teachers and everyday expenses. Instead, the school board would annually commit $30 million to the payoff of the school construction. The plan is similar to when home owners build a house and fund it through their long term mortgages.”We have to do better than that,” Goldson said, noting that most schools last about 50 years.
“While we can’t modernize every building, this is a start,” Goldson added.
The plan also calls for $1.3 billion in private money to improve conditions for approximately 8,000 students with six new schools being rebuilt. Fort Washington Forest Elementary, Hyattsville, Drew-Freeman, Isaac Gourdine, and Kenmoor Middle Schools It also calls for construction of new schools in Adelphi and Southern Prince George’s County. The schools that are targeted were built between 1938-1973 before the demographic shift in the County.
“[Students] deserve to attend schools worthy of their dignities,” Alsobrooks said. “The decisions that we make today speak boldly about the value that we place on our children.”
The Board of Education is expected to vote on the proposal Oct. 22. Construction would begin in January of 2021 and the new buildings would open by July of 2024 if approved.