Changes in Capital Improvement Program Aim to Ease Overcrowding in Prince George’s County Schools

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by Lori Morrow

The Capital Improvement Programs (CIP) team provided a presentation on Enrollment and Facility Utilization at the Prince George’s County Public Schools Board of Education meeting on May 10, 2018. The slides provided an overview of projected K-12 enrollment over the next ten years, including a breakdown by elementary, middle, and high school levels. The presentation also included maps highlighting the over- and underutilization of school facilities and challenges associated with each. (Video of the presentation here.)

Here are a few highlights of the presentation:

  • The overall PGCPS K-12 enrollment has grown by 6,000 students since 2010 and is expected to increase by 8,000 students over the next ten years. Enrollment projections are established using the Cohort Survival Methodology that uses three inputs: births; historical ratio of students progressing from one grade to the next; and development in the area that includes typical “pupil yield” from each housing type.
  • Overutilized facilities (operating above the state-rated capacity) are heavily concentrated inside the beltway north of Central Avenue, while there are more underutilized facilities south of Central Avenue.
  • PGCPS currently has 542 portable classroom units, or “temps.” Some school sites do not have space for any additional units. Forty percent of the portables are 25+ years old and have exceeded their standard life cycle. PGCPS is planning to purchase 25 new units, at an installed cost of $95,000 each. This is the first PGCPS purchase of new portables in over ten years.
  • The top three projects on the CIP list (International HS at Langley Park, William Wirt MS, and a new Adelphi Area MS) could take 4-5 years to complete based on historical funding for capital projects, which does not provide immediate relief to those areas. In general, boundary changes and programmatic changes (like adding the Aerospace and Aviation program at Duval HS) are quicker solutions to addressing overutilization than building new facilities.
  • CIP Director Shawn Matlock presented information about a new CIP delivery method, designed to allow the completion of more facilities in a shorter amount of time. The plan would use alternative financing methods including Public-Private Partnerships (P3). The private entity would build the facility and maintain the building over a 25-year period. This method could be used for five to seven facilities (not yet fully identified). (Video link here.)
  • Under the new CIP delivery method, some facilities would receive “staged renovations” using only local PGCPS/county funds. This could speed up the process by eliminating state involvement. The list of “Cycle 1” schools recommended for modernization, staged renovation, or new schools is included in the FY 2019 Amendments to the 2017 Educational Facilities Master Plan.
  • CIP staff explained the difference between overutilization (facilities that exceed State Rated Capacity) and overcrowded classrooms. Overcrowded classrooms can also occur due to underutilization, where the number of students does not justify funding through the Student-Based Budgeting to support additional staff even though classroom space may be available. This can be especially challenging at smaller schools.
  • CIP staff and CEO Kevin Maxwell explained some of the challenges in shifting a large number of boundaries southward to balance the northern overutilization. In addition to potentially increasing transportation costs as students are moved further from neighborhoods, shifting boundaries is not always supported by the will of the communities involved.

The FY 2019 Amendments to the 2017 Educational Facilities Master Plan passed as a first reader at the May 10 meeting and is expected to return to the agenda on the June 7 meeting for action as a second reader. The document elaborates on many of the topics discussed and includes lists of schools in the first EFMP cycle. In addition, it identifies 18 planning areas recommended for possible boundary changes or school consolidation. Community engagement and forums are expected to start as early as the summer and continue throughout the fall/early winter.

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How a Handful of Parents Transformed Two Staff Lounges

by Robyn Kravitz

Our children spend almost as many waking hours at school as they do at home. And our teachers spend even more time at school than our students! So when a few parents learned about the drab teachers’ lounge at the Benajamin D. Foulois Creative and Performing Arts Academy, we knew we had to do something. We wanted the staff at the school to know that we loved them for loving our kids. We wanted the staff to know that those moments they spend making sure our kids eat their lunch, catch their bus, have their homework in their backpacks, and know they have a safe place are VERY noticed.

Walking into the teachers’ lounge wasn’t nearly as shocking as walking into the lounge for the food service workers. Both rooms were dirty, dark, and unloved. Something had to be done. So over the course of about two months, the four of us worked with our principal to develop a plan: We would paint, clean, decorate and give some life to both spaces. Our plan included using the school’s colors, blue and yellow, to give the space some spirit. We wanted to give the space a touch of practicality too, by doubling the amount of refrigerator space and providing more places for lunches to be cooked.

30582185_10101323766239168_7296234309162209730_nAfter we developed our plan, we scoured CraigsList, FreeCycle, Facebook Market Place, thrift shops, and worked with the management at our local Home Depot to stay within a very small budget — and a lot of heart — to fill the lounges with a new work station, new table, new decor, a new microwave and refrigerator.

30572264_10101323766403838_33446095655920337_nOver the week of PGCPS’s spring break, we went to work. We spent the first day cleaning. Everything from the chairs to the floors to the butcher paper, everything got a solid scrubbing. We spent days two and three painting the walls and cabinets, painting a chalk board sign for motivational quotes, and putting up vinyl decals to match our theme. The fourth day consisted of putting it all back together. Our Falcon blue and yellow teachers’ lounge now has a fun and spunky feeling with a quote that reads “Be the teacher who eats the last cupcake in the teachers’ lounge because we need teachers who are FEARLESS!” And the food service workers now have a room that makes it feel like spring has sprung!

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Notes on the Apr 25 Board of Education Meeting

by Laura Rammelsberg

To view the agenda for the April 25 Board meeting, go here.

Board members Patricia Eubanks (ill), Lupi Quinteros-Grady (ill), Mary Roche (expecting baby, due this week), and Beverly Anderson were not present.

All items under 8.0 Governance struck from the agenda.

At 17:03 in the video. Report of the Chair

Honored the lives of three middle schoolers who passed away recently.

This was the 31st season of the Science Bowl for PGCPS. Glen Arden Woods ES and Martin Luther King Jr. MS won the bowl this season. Congratulated the students.

Congratulated Brandywine ES, local partners and community volunteers for their outdoor garden/classroom. This effort reflects a great partnership with a community who helped to make the school more beautiful and ready-to-learn.

At 21:19. Board Member Raaheela Ahmed — April 12 she co-sponsored Bowie HS Annex challenge to raise their GPAs. 100 students enrolled in the challenge and 30% achieved the goal. This grassroots collaboration was a success, and Board Member Ahmed would like to see more projects like it across the county. Important to encourage growth in our students. Board Member Ahmed acknowledged some of the Bowie HS students and parents in the audience.

May 11 Board Meeting is at 5 pm.

At 23:53. Report of the CEO

PARCC is in progress in schools across the County. Students start this test in 3rd Grade. Parents should ensure students are well-rested.

Congratulated PGCPS Teacher of the Year Carolyn Marzke of Ridgecrest Elementary School, and the runners-up.

Washington Post Principal of the Year and Teacher of the Year — Denise Dunn, Principal of Ridgecrest Elementary School and teacher at Maria Wood of William Hall Academy were nominated for this honor and have made the list of finalists.

Please thank teachers during National Teacher Appreciation Week (May 8 – May 12). Theme is “Teachers Deliver.” Tag photos with #thankateacher to PGCPS twitter account (#PGCPS)

Legislative Report posted in BoardDocs, link to PDF here.

Board Committee Reports

At 27:43. Board Member Curtis Valentine, Chair of Policy & Legislative Committee — Established a priority at beginning of the year to review and assess current policies. Four main goals:

  1. student safety
  2. student equity
  3. health and wellness
  4. teacher quality and pipeline programs

Reviewed travel policy. Looked at Board Handbook to make sure meetings are timely and efficient. Active in participating in MD Legislative Session, testified in Annapolis. Represent Maryland Association of Boards of Education Legislative Committee. Review of minority-based enterprises policy to ensure equity. First Minority-based Enterprises Policy Advisory Board Meeting will be in May. Reviewing student safety/administrative leave policies. Rights of substitute teachers, rights of teachers to communicate with substitute in their absence. Ensuring timely case review. Their committee meetings are public and public can participate. Dates of their meetings are on their website. You can email him as well.

At 32:21. Board Vice Chair Boston, Chair of Governance Committee­ — Congratulated Mr. Brown and team for recognition they received for their finance work. This Committee identifies activities to increase knowledge and skill sets of Board members — professional development of the Board. Last report was in November. Held January committee meeting. Board retreat held on February 3-4. At the retreat, board reviewed book, Courageous Conversations on Race, by Glen Singleton, that anchored a conversation on equity. Also had CEO/Administration presentation on Strategic Plan, updates from all Board committee chairs on their committees. Board was briefed on internal / external communications. March and April meetings discussed equity and Equity Task Force. First meeting of Equity Task Force was held on April 1. This task force will report to Board on a monthly basis. The first report is due on April 1, 2018.

Public Comment on Non-Agenda Items

At 40:30Mt. Rainer K-6 Language Immersion — Parent would like to implement language immersion in Mt. Rainer ES. Cultural mix of PGC is quite vast, our greatest needs are for investments in the future for the county and the country. America is becoming more diverse and he applauds the Board for the programs they are implementing to help the students to learn better. He commends the CEO for his letter to the head of Homeland Security and drawing a line of safety around our community.

At 44:00. District Heights ES — Parent gave very emotional testimony about chemicals released within the school. It is not a safe environment. Contractors walking in and out without badges who don’t sign in and just walk through the building. The children need to be moved until the work is done. The chemicals released today were harmful. The parent and her children had headaches. Other children feeling sick. 40% of the teachers weren’t there because they are sick. It is not safe for the children to be in that building. The children are there to get an education and not to get sick or die. The band-aids are fine, but get the children out while the rest of the work is done. They need help and they need the Board to do something.

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PGCPS Responds to Concerns About Lead in Water

Earlier this month, Prince George’s County Advocates for Better Schools published a blog post about lead in the water in the county schools. Here is the response from the Office of Communications of Prince George’s County Public Schools:

Thanks for your post about the safety of Prince George’s County Public Schools (PGCPS) students and staff.

Over the past 13 years, PGCPS has taken numerous steps to ensure the safety of drinking water in our buildings. Since 2004, PGCPS has implemented a methodical approach to water quality with drinking sources as our priority. We will soon launch the final phase of our four-pronged program. Prior actions have included sampling and testing all water sources; flushing, replacing or valving off fixtures; and providing bottled water when drinking water sources could not be cleared expeditiously. Our actions to date comply with EPA requirements.

The final phase of our water quality program will allow for retesting of all drinking sources currently in use and the installation of filtered water fountains throughout the system. You can find more information, including a timeline of steps taken to date, on the PGCPS website. We appreciate the community advocacy on this topic and the support from our government partners to complete this work.

Today, PGCPS issued a news release with further information about efforts to address water safety concerns.

What I Learned About Lead in the Water in Prince George’s County Schools

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The opinions expressed are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent the positions of Prince George’s County Advocates for Better Schools.
Update: See PGCPS’s response to this post here.

by Theodora Scarato

After the story of the Flint Michigan water crisis unfolded in the media last year, I read a news story reporting that lead had been found in the water at Ardmore Elementary School and that water fountains and sinks had been turned off. I became curious. Was the drinking water in our county schools safe?

So in January of 2016 I decided to write to PGCPS CEO Dr. Maxwell and began a long inquiry asking what tests had been done in Prince George’s County Schools to measure for lead. Here is what I learned:

The school system performed water tests from 2009 to 2012 and found that at least 88 schools exceeded EPA allowable lead levels. (Read the list of “Prince George’s County Public Schools Fixtures that are Valved Off” which was sent to me from PGCPS). The majority of  schools with lead contamination are elementary schools.

As of December 2016, the school system had not done anything to remediate this other than simply to turn off faucets in the majority of these schools.

At first, PGCPS told me that they were fixing the lead problem. I was sent a document titled “PGCPS Lead in Water Program” that explained a four-phase plan to fix the lead problem. This document said that a Request for Proposals (RFP) had been submitted “to remediate the remaining classroom water fountains and sinks throughout the system.” This was “Phase Four” of the plan.

You can imagine my surprise to learn that in fact the information PGCPS had sent me was not accurate. When I asked PGCPS to share the details of the “Phase Four” plan, they responded on October 7, 2016 with an email saying that they had made a mistake.

According to this October email, the “RFP issued in 2012 was published but not awarded to an acceptable vendor. Staff prepared to re-issue the RFP again in 2014, but the funding had to be re-allocated for remediation efforts at Ardmore Elementary School and other priority projects in the Building Services Department.”  

If I correctly understand the information I have been given, little has been done to remediate elevated levels of lead found in testing done over the last decade. Despite remediation work at Ardmore Elementary — which did result in reducing but not eliminating lead levels — the water fountains are off. To my knowledge, nothing has been done in other schools other than simply turning off faucets and drinking fountains.

After a year-long email exchange with PGCPS, I recieved water tests reports for the years 2009 through 2016. I repeatedly wrote to PGCPS asking about how they were fixing the problem and ensuring safe drinking water for all students. I have since received a letter providing each school’s name and listing each fountain and faucet which was turned off. Read it here.

According to this December 2016 letter from PGCPS, parents were not notified about elevated levels of lead during any of the years from 2004 to 2016 by the Environmental Office, and it was unknown whether notification was received from the Communications Office. Only at Ardmore, where parents advocated for safe water, was any remediation done, as far as I am aware.

Despite this, the Lead in Water Document sent to me by PGCPS in September states that, “Prince George’s County Public Schools continues to aggressively address lead in drinking water. PGCPS is confident that all schools have water sources that are free of lead.” I do not believe such statements to be accurate.

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Every Comment From the Jan 24 Budget Hearing

by Genevieve Demos Kelley

The Prince George’s County Board of Education held its first public hearing on the fiscal year 2018 operating budget on January 24, at Charles Herbert Flowers High School. A Board of Education budget work session immediately preceded the hearing.

Fifteen members of the public spoke at the hearing. Their comments are recapped below:

  1. At 1:45:23 in the video, special educator: Increase the amount of funding for special education beyond what is proposed in the budget. “Special educators are leaving the county and field of special education in droves.” Special educators spend twelve to fourteen hours a week on legally required compliance paperwork. “Time spent on compliance paperwork is time spent out of the classroom and away from servicing our students.
  2.  At 1:48:02, special educator, paraprofessional in autism program: Adequately budget for our special education and autism programs. Our special education programs are not adequately staffed to safely manage the students. Special educators are close to burnout. “How many times must I document that a student ran away or tried to throw himself down the stairs before an additional staff person is approved? Also, when a specialist comes to observe our students to assess staffing or proper placement, why not have him or her actually do the job for an entire day instead of making an assessment based on a 15 or 20 minute slice of time?”
  3. At 1:50:57, special educator: It has become increasingly hard to do the job without adequate staffing. Describes a “day in the life of a special education teacher,” including assessing newly referred students to special education, writing IEPs, preparing paperwork for meetings, collecting data, collaborating with teachers, completing follow-up paperwork for IEP meetings, writing progress reports, providing assessment accommodations for students, as well as general school duties such as lunch duty. It is often necessary to spend several hours over the weekend working on
  4. At 1:53:42, special educator: “Special educators often fulfill two distinct jobs: We’re case managers, and we’re specialized instructors. However, we only have 45 minutes of planning time to fulfill these dual roles. . . .The overwhelming amount of time required to complete paperwork diminishes the amount of time that we have to provide supports in the classroom, with less specialized instruction for students with disabilities. . . I’m here today because so many of my colleagues leave the field of special education each year, due to the overwhelming pressure of compliance, as paperwork often becomes a priority over teaching.” Increased special education funding is needed for additional special educators, instructional specialists, and IEP clerks.
  5. At 1:56:43, parent of 9th grader at Bowie High School who has recently transitioned from private school: “As my daughter complained about sweltering classrooms at the start of the school year and frigid classrooms last month, I have to ask, is academic excellence really a priority? As my daughter has had a substitute teacher for science the entire semester and about three weeks for math, I must ask, how can we expect her to excel on the standardized tests . . . ?” Pay attention to a hierarchy of needs. There are tough choices to be made. Should such items as culture training for teachers (at around $610,000) and additional world languages funding ($1.2 million) compete for basic needs such as heating and cooling, or instruction in math and English?
  6. At 1:59:45, parent of a 5th grade Heather Hills Elementary student: There is confusion surrounding next year’s placement of some rising middle school Talented and Gifted (TAG) students from Heather Hills Elementary. Students who had anticipated attending the TAG center at Kenmoor Middle School next year received a letter stating that they must enroll in the TAG program at Benjamin Tasker Middle School instead. However, there has been no other mention of a TAG center at Benjamin Tasker Middle School. After numerous phone calls, parents were able to learn nothing about a potential TAG center at Tasker. The request is that students should be permitted to remain at Kenmoor until the TAG center at Tasker is fully operational.
  7. At 2:02:24, community member and parent of PGCPS alumni: Was hired in 2011 as a senior purchasing specialist, and subsequently discovered and reported waste, fraud, and abuse in the school system. The Strategic Plan implemented in 2016 and scheduled to go through 2018 does not actually address the goals of academic excellence, high-performing workforce, safe and supportive environments , family and community engagement, and organizational effectiveness. “How is it that we have a plan that went from 2016 to 2018, and you have not shown us any data or statistics that support what you’re doing?”
  8. At 2:05:25, community member and “watchdog advocate”: The budget document contains several discrepancies, and it is difficult, in some cases, to track where the money is going. For example, 17 Full-Time Equivalent (FTE) positions are listed at a cost of $2.8 million to develop the Strategic Plan and obtaining grants in support of the plan.
  9. At 2:08:13, student at Whitehall Elementary School: School lacks adequate heating. “It is hard being so cold in my classroom. Sometimes when I write, I shiver . . . It can be hard to take tests too, because all I can think about is how cold I am.”
  10. At 2:09: 14, PTA president at Whitehall Elementary School: There are currently 833 open work orders related to heat for the 208 schools in the county. Whitehall’s heat is not working properly, even after months of requests for repairs. Classroom temperatures have been documented to be as low as 49 degrees, and kids are wearing coats and long johns in the classroom. Whitehall Elementary is overenrolled, with 576 students at a school that has a capacity for 420 students. “Please consider allowing room in your budget to repair so many of our buildings that our failing your scholars. You cannot continue to have high expectations academically while requiring such low maintenance standards of yourselves.” 

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Parent Asks for Expansion of Language Immersion Programs

Delores Millhouse presented a version of this testimony during the public comment portion of the September 22 Board of Education work session. Ms. Millhouse is the co-founder of My Bilingual Child, a parent advocacy group for Spanish Immersion programs in Prince George’s County Public Schools. The views expressed are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the views of Prince George’s County Advocates for Better Schools.

by Delores Millhouse

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As the co-founder of My Bilingual Child, a parental advocacy group that has advocated very strongly for Spanish Language Immersion programs, I thank you for the broadened program offerings that include Spanish and Chinese Immersion programs. Today, I come before you to recommend that before you approve the PGCPS FY 2018-2023 Capital Improvement Plan (CIP), that it is clearly outlined in the plan, the use of underutilized facilities or the construction of new facilities that will accommodate the expansion of language immersion programs, such as Spanish and Chinese, that are not currently budgeted for middle and high school immersion tracks from grades six through twelve.

Your prior commitment to providing more rigorous programing and increased specialty program options has answered the call of many families who felt that their options were relocating and/or enrolling their children into private schools. My Bilingual Child has an army of parents that support our advocacy efforts. These parents and community members are pleased with their decision of enrolling their children in the PGCPS language immersion programs and are working very closely with us to support the administration and BOE decision to ensure the expansion of these programs is successful.

My son is currently enrolled in the first grade at Phyllis E. Williams Spanish Immersion School in District 6. He is enjoying what he calls a new challenge because he is able to learn all of his subjects in Spanish — not just Math and Science, as he did at Capitol Heights Elementary School. He has stressed to me his desire to master Spanish so he can start learning Mandarin and Arabic. Therefore I stand before you to stress the importance of continuing your support of “high-demand” programs to include the expansion of Spanish and Chinese language immersion programs.

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