Forestville High School is one of three high schools that may be closed in 2017 from a proposal by the public school’s Department of Capital Management. (Courtesy Photo)

As Prince George’s County continues to fight its way back from an economic downturn marked by the losses – of tax revenue, homeownership, and the thriving middle class – its public schools now face potential closures to remedy budget shortfalls. In response, the school system’s Department of Capital Programs recently introduced a plan to fund renovations of several schools by closing others.

“Given the magnitude of the unfunded capital improvement needs in the district, maximizing state participation is extremely important,” school officials said in a statement. “Efficient utilization of our existing schools is a factor that the state looks at to determine when and where to fund school construction.

The proposal recommends closing one of three high schools – Forestville, Friendly, or Frederick Douglass – as soon as 2017.  Seven other grade schools, Capitol Heights Elementary, Clinton Grove Elementary, Concord Elementary, Mattaponi Elementary, Seat Pleasant Elementary, Skyline Elementary, and Tanglewood Regional Special Education, would be phased out by 2018 – and suggested the closure of 29 of its 198 schools by 2035. Renovation costs of $8.5 billion for 132 school buildings, which along with the closures, according to the proposal, would save an estimated $616 million.

Jasmine Barnaby, whose children attend Seat Pleasant Elementary, said she is dismayed by the County’s willingness to close schools rather than find alternative resources to fund them. “It sounds as if paying for repairs for some schools will come only by cutting other schools from the budget entirely, but my child’s education should not be compromised because the County is unable to manage its facilities budgets better,’ Barnaby told the AFRO. “Treating asbestos and lead are necessary, but closing down schools is not the way to pay for it.”

The consulting firm Brailsford & Dunlavey conducted an assessment in 2015 that found about half of Prince George’s County schools were aging and in desperate need of major overhauls to electrical, plumbing, heating, and air conditioning, in addition to needing widespread structural repairs and treatment for toxins like asbestos.

Sherrie Johnson, a spokesperson for the school system, said in a statement that although the proposal was submitted, no official decision had been made to follow the plan created by Brailsford & Dunlavey. “There has been no official recommendation by the administration for closures of any school, she said.  “The Master Plan Support Project made a number of recommendations on how to address school construction projects, consolidations, but the district has not made any official recommendations.”

Still, weary parents and school administrators have already begun signing petitions and protesting aggressively the closure of the schools – particularly Forestville High School – where a online campaign, which at press time had 1406 signatures, actively attempts to keep the closure at bay.