Firm recommends closure of 29 county schools

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UPPER MARLBORO – A presentation by a firm helping the school system develop its master plan turned into a debate between members Prince George’s County Board of Education and Chief Executive Officer Kevin Maxwell about the vision for the future of the school system’s infrastructure after the firm recommended the closure of 29 schools.

Prince George’s County Public Schools hired Brailsford & Dunlavey, a national project management firm, in October 2014 to help the school system in prioritizing capital projects for its master plan. Representatives from the firm gave a presentation to the Board at a June11 meeting, suggesting a 20-year plan, which includes 140 total projects and will cost the school system $8.5 billion.

Erika Lethman of Perkins Eastman, an international planning, design and consulting firm working with Brailsfor & Dunlavey, said the focus of the project was school buildings built before 1999, but that more than 50 percent of schools are more than 40 years old. She emphasized the school system has not spent enough money to fully fund the number of projects in its capital improvements program.

“We’re not going to clear the backlogs of projects in 20 years’ time,” she said.

The presentation raised numerous questions from school board members about the equity of the distribution of funds in different areas of the county and determining which schools to close.

Board member Beverly Anderson raised concerns about the suggest plan spending most of the funds in the northern part of the county.

“I just need to get some clarity on why if the facilities with the greatest need for construction based on the physical plans appear in South County, why would the smallest percentage be used in South County?” Anderson said.

The firm made suggestions based on eight months of research, which included visiting schools, into how to better utilize the county’s schools, while also acknowledging needs of the separate areas of the county.

According to the presentation, utilization analyzes the total capacity of the school against the total enrollment. The Board set a utilization of 80 percent to 95 percent of the school capacity. The firm’s study revealed 50 percent of district schools were underutilized and 31 percent were over utilized.

The findings suggested 29 school closures—13 in the southern region of the county, 14 in the central area and two in the north. Brailsford & Dunlavey also recommended eight new construction projects, with five in the north and one in the central. If the school system follows the recommendations, Brailsford & Dunlavey estimated the county could save about $616 million savings from the projected closures over 20 years.

But some Board members, including Edward Burroughs, said they fear the recommendations would have an unfavorable impact on the southern region of the county and create significant public reaction to the announcement of school closings.

The southern part of the county has historically received less investment from the school system, and thinks the proposal “further perpetuates” the problem.

“My initial reaction is that I have some real concerns, equity questions about this. As someone who represents South County,” he said. “I take issue with building with two new elementary schools in the north, three new middles schools in the north, two new high schools in the north and closing two high schools in the south, closing 11 elementary schools in the south and there are some equity issues here.”

Maxwell said the report was only meant to help the school system make informed decisions when developing its master plan and future budget proposals, but he acknowledged the district may have to close some of its schools.

“We will have as we do every year, we will have some boundaries redrawn and I’m not sure whether 29 is the right number of closures overall but I think most people I hear from think we should be closings some schools and I think that, I don’t think that you’ll see a recommendation next year, for example, to close 29 schools,” Maxwell said. “We may have some conversation and close some schools as we look for inefficiencies, especially in this under-resourced environment we find ourselves in, but the only short-term decisions we have to make is for the CIP in the fall.”

Burroughs said he will fight to make sure the southern county sees an equal process.

“At the end of the day I feel like, you know, this is my role to protect and support the schools that I represent and equity is very important in South County. They’ve been fighting for it for years and we will continue to fight for it and I don’t want that to be jeopardized in any way.”

The school system will gather community feedback and recommendations in the fall and winter. Maxwell said he expects to present a final draft of the master plan to the Board in early 2016.

rroughs said he will fight to make sure the southern county sees an equal process.

“At the end of the day I feel like, you know, this is my role to protect and support the schools that I represent and equity is very important in South County. They’ve been fighting for it for years and we will continue to fight for it and I don’t want that to be jeopardized in any way.”

The school system will gather community feedback and recommendations in the fall and winter. Maxwell said he expects to present a final draft of the master plan to the Board in early 2016.

This presentation was given at the June 11, 2015 meeting, and is just now hitting the papers. Please watch the entire 4 hour board meeting – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6zy8rzxyrW0 – to figure out if any of our questions were answered. The county citizenry needs to get involved in these issues to make sure that everything is being done in a transparent manner and then ask tough questions. Remember that, once the schools are closed and sold to the highest bidder, you will need those same facilities as the population continues to grow.

via Prince George’s County sentinel  – Reform Sasscer Movement for Prince George’s County contributed to the report.

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