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Opinion: Prince George’s kids need new school buildings now


Opinion: Prince George’s kids need new school buildings now

Sep 27, 2023 | 6:30 am ET
By Guest Commentary
Opinion: Prince George’s kids need new school buildings now
The Prince George's County Public Schools headquarters in Upper Marlboro. Photo by Danielle E. Gaines.

This article was written by several parents of Prince George’s County Public Schools students. The full list of names is below.

$8.5 billion.

That number is larger than the Gross Domestic Product of more than 33 countries.

It is also the dollar amount needed for the Prince George’s County Public School (PGCPS) system to rebuild schools and make repairs to bring our facilities up to an acceptable level. And it is more than 30 times the annual budget that the Capital Improvement Program office gets to conduct these rebuilds and repairs.

Yet at the Sept. 21 Prince George’s County Board of Education meeting, a critical vote to build eight new schools funded by the Maryland General Assembly’s 2020 Built to Learn Act failed. We explain why.

Parents see every day why the Built to Learn Act was necessary — and the urgent concerns facing our students. Burst pipes leaking raw sewage into classrooms. Emergency school facility closures for indefinite periods of time. Exposed black mold and asbestos. Bathrooms without doors because ventilation is so bad. Students learning in animal-infested trailers.

How can children learn in that kind of environment? How can teachers instruct with those conditions? They’re completely unacceptable, and this injustice, which is a result of some terrible policy decisions rooted in the systemic racism that our school system endured over decades, needed to be fixed yesterday.

Enter the PGCPS first-in-the-country Alternative Construction Financing (ACF) program. Phase One has been a national model — enabling our school system to build six brand new middle schools in a record two-year construction cycle. These new schools have replaced unsafe, crumbling buildings, while awarding two of the biggest contracts of the program to union firms, paying the prevailing wage, and awarding 35% of contracts to minority-owned businesses. The program, as it is, is effective and delivers schools on time and on budget.

Phase Two of the ACF program was on the board meeting agenda last Thursday and it should have been an easy vote of approval to build eight additional schools for 9,500 PGCPS students. However, several board members chose to hijack this process at the 11th hour, holding PGCPS students hostage by prioritizing an outside special interest demand that the board support a blank check Project Labor Agreement (PLA). It was reckless, completely shortsighted and puts this entire successful program at risk.

Sadly, some members of the Board of Education appear more interested in rewarding big-dollar campaign donors than doing what is right for PGCPS students and teachers. It’s the same perceived campaign cash for kickbacks formula that has harmed Prince George’s County’s reputation for decades. Parents and community members see firsthand the high-quality education our schools and teachers provide, and we know PGCPS deserves better than these games. Our schools and students cannot be for sale.

The Maryland General Assembly gave PGCPS this funding to build new schools. Period. It is not for rewarding donors with favored contracts, and if we squander the General Assembly’s trust, we are failing every other school that will need construction funding in the future.

This Phase Two program — created by the PGCPS experts who successfully delivered six brand new schools already — and supported by those board members not caught up in this campaign contributions for votes conflict of interest — already states the board’s expectation that the builder engage with building trade unions on a PLA. It also includes construction timelines, important cost controls to protect PGCPS and taxpayers, transparency around who will be building new schools, and detailed commitments to ensure minority and county businesses — both union and non-union — can participate in building the future of PGCPS schools.

This demand from the Laborers International Union of America — the same union that has directly funded several Board members for years — includes none of those important protections. In fact, it asks the Board of Education to blindly agree to a secret PLA document many members have never even seen. It would hurt many Black-owned businesses in Prince George’s County. It could reduce the number of schools built, put state funding at risk, and lead to delays that leave students in distant “swing space” buildings far from their homes for years. For students and staff waiting their turn for a new building, prepare to be stuck in dilapidated facilities even longer.

For far too long, political games have gotten in the way of what matters most: the children of Prince George’s County. PGCPS parents and community members have had enough — and it’s time to hold county leaders accountable. Our kids need new school buildings now and the adults who serve them have no excuse to be playing games with their health and their future.

Daniel Broder

Magalie Salas

Dr. Debbie Van Camp

Timothy Meyer

Jenni Pompi

Lauren Vulanovic

Jamie McGonnigal

Sean McGonnigal

Patrick Paschall

Sara Bendoraitis

Dr. Amanda Nahm

Kristen Wares

Matt Gembecki

Louis Tartaglia

Molly Tartaglia

Marsha Wright

Godfrey Kelly

Aimee Chappell

Joel Parker

Dr. Amy Parker

Lauren Siegel

Sarah Weber

Anna Yong

Dr. Joel Chan

Emily Robbins

Jorge Bogantes

Julia Crooks

Matt Crooks

Kay Schooley

Zak Schooley

Nate Groenendyk

Rebecca Lee

Rachell Cain

Lee Cain

Krissi Humbard

Dr. Matt Humbard

Kimberly Crockett

Jennifer Sheppard