Prince George’s Schools Team up with the Clean Water Partnership on Green Stormwater Retrofit Projects

by Carmel Jones

CWP Partners Nardi Construction and Soltesz reviewing design plans for L...

Eighteen schools in Prince George’s County were evaluated this year to receive green stormwater retrofits as part of the county’s Clean Water Partnership (CWP), a $100M public-private partnership with private company Corvias Solutions, to retrofit 2,000 impervious acres with green infrastructure in order to achieve regulatory compliance.

The CWP Schools program, designed to assist Prince George’s County Public Schools (PGCPS) with treating and managing stormwater runoff through the application of Best Management Practices (BMPs), will guarantee that PGC’s federal stormwater standards are met, while also providing an educational legacy for future generations committed to improving the water quality in our communities.

Courtyard Demolition at Capital Heights Elem. School

The program includes an educational component, and select schools will receive instructive signage, educating students about the benefits of managing stormwater runoff and displaying how installed BMPs will perform at each site. At the end of the summer, students and faculty from the schools will also have an opportunity to participate in a volunteer tree planting session that will support the installed BMP devices. These educational learning sessions will take place during school hours and will give students a hands-on experience in preserving our environment.

The initial eighteen schools identified to participate in the program include elementary, middle, and high schools in Prince George’s County. These schools include:

  • Bond Mill Elementary School
  • Calverton Elementary School
  • Capital Heights Elementary School
  • District Heights Elementary School
  • Frances Scott Key Elementary School
  • Friendly High School
  • Gwynn Park High School
  • High Point High School
  • John Hanson Montessori
  • Laurel Elementary School
  • Magnolia Elementary School
  • Oxon Hill Middle School
  • Parkdale High School
  •  Potomac High School
  • Rosa L. Parks Elementary School
  • Scotchtown Hills Elementary School
  • Templeton Elementary School
  • Walker Mill Middle School

Completed Retrofit at Rosa Parks Elem. SchoolIn the initial phase of the program, each school was given an individual plan, which included a customized package with pictures and concept designs, as well as a dialogue to help each school understand the purpose of the BMP devices. The retrofit needs for each school were pre-identified by the school’s students, faculty and maintenance staff, and customized to fit the unique needs of each facility. Since then, various types of BMPs, including bio-retention cells, sand filters and swales, to name a few, are now being installed by local workforce on the outdoor grounds of each location to capture and treat previously untreated stormwater runoff from the sites impervious surfaces.

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Tulip Grove Renovation More Than Two Years Behind Schedule

by Lori Morrow

IMG_8106 (1)June 20th , 2016 was my daughter’s last day at Tulip Grove Elementary School, and it was a bittersweet farewell. Tulip Grove students and staff were originally scheduled to return to a newly renovated building this summer. However, the Tulip Grove community is still waiting for construction to begin, though state funding was approved two years ago.

September 2012: The updated Parsons Report (or Facility Conditions Assessment) identified Tulip Grove Elementary School as one of three schools with a Facility Condition Index value greater than 75%, indicating the need for major repairs and renovation. (The Facility Condition Index is the ratio of the cost of repairs to the cost of replacement.) Tulip Grove had previously been identified as one of nine schools recommended for replacement in the May 2008 Facility Condition Assessment Study.

2011-2013: Meetings about educational specifications and designs took place over this two-year period. Ultimately plans for a major renovation and addition were approved, adding approximately 15,000 sq. ft to the current facility to meet newer school standards while maintaining the State Rated Capacity of 411 students.

October 2012: Funding Request was submitted for FY2014 funds

November 2013: Presentation slides from GWWO Architects, Inc. listed the following timeline:

  • Design Development (DD) Submission: Oct. 11, 2013
  • Construction Document (CD) Phase: October 2013-February 2014
  • Permit Submission: March 2014
  • Bid Phase: April 2014-June 2014
  • Construction: July 2014-December 2015

December 2013: Parents were invited to a preliminary community meeting with the PGCPS Capital Improvement Program (CIP) team to discuss swing space where children would be housed during the construction period. Initial options of transporting children to vacant PGCPS facilities at Berkshire Elementary or Middleton Valley Elementary were not received well as these schools are 19-21 miles from Tulip Grove Elementary School.

February 2014: The CIP Team returned for a second community meeting to discuss swing space. Most community members expressed a desire to find a location in the greater Bowie area. (Meeting summarized in City of Bowie memorandum)

March 2014: Swing space was still undecided although parents had been actively engaging with the PGCPS Board of Education since the February meeting. (See this story in the Gazette, and this story in the Capital Gazette Bowie Blade, both from March 2014.)

April 2, 2014: The Parent Teacher Association (PTA) President was notified that Prince George’s County would allow Tulip Grove to use the Meadowbrook facility, which had been the site of an elementary school that closed in 1981, as swing space.

June – August 2014: The Meadowbrook facility was renovated and prepared for use as a school again.

August 2014: Students began the 2014-15 school year at “Tulip Grove @Meadowbrook”. Because the school site was across a major road from the school boundary area, all Tulip Grove students are now eligible for bus transportation, increasing the number of bus routes from two to seven.

Fall 2014-Winter 2015: There was minimal communication from the CIP Team to the PTA regarding construction updates. Neighbors around Tulip Grove could see that little had changed at the old school site. Per the timelines provided by PGCPS staff, the project was behind schedule before students began the 2014-15 school year, but that information was not communicated to parents.

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Gardening at School: How We Made It Work

by Ingrid Cowan Hass
IMG_6547A few years ago parents of the PTA at our neighborhood elementary school started talking about adding some landscaping to the school grounds. The principal liked the idea of a pollinator garden in front of the school. There was also an abandoned courtyard garden that had been started with a grant by a teacher who was no longer at the school. We wondered if that could be revived.

The project began with just a few parents weeding over a period of time. Then, last spring, we created two garden beds out of the mound of grass and weeds surrounding the flagpoles in front of the school. We communicated with the school building manager about our plans. His schedule didn’t allow him to do more than mow the grass, so he was thrilled to have the extra help. We met with the principal, talked about the placement, and got approval to put up cedar edging to hold the earth and mulch. I weeded the existing raised beds in the courtyard and collaborated with a teacher about planting some lettuce and kale with her classes. We uncovered strawberries that we replanted with new compost. With the extra care, the strawberries produced a bumper crop!

IMG_8235I started taking a small bucket and gloves to school every day and weeding during drop-off and pick-up for 10 minutes. This generated conversation, awareness, and new volunteers among the other parents. We asked for parents to bring in flowering perennials from their gardens to plant in the new bed. Some dads brought mulch in their trucks. We visited a few other schools that had gardens to learn about what they were doing.

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What Baker’s Proposed Budget Means for the Schools

by Genevieve Demos Kelley 

On Thursday, County Executive Rushern Baker presented his proposed operating and capital budgets for fiscal year 2017.

  • The proposed fiscal year 2017 budget for Prince George’s County is $3.7 billion, an increase of 4.5% ($160.8 million) over the FY 2016 budget. The county expects an increase in revenue of about $160 million. Read the County Executive’s Budget in Brief document here. 
  • Schools CEO Kevin Maxwell had proposed a $2.1 billion operating budget for the schools; Baker’s budget proposes a $1.9 operating budget for the schools, roughly $100 million less than requested. Read CEO Maxwell’s statement on Baker’s proposed budget here. 
  • But a $1.9 billion operating budget is still $93.3 million more than the PGCPS operating budget for FY 2016. The $1.9 billion includes state and county funding, as well as a small federal contribution. The county’s contribution under Baker’s proposal is $700 million, an increase of $31.6 million compared with FY 2016. See p. 11 of the Budget in Brief document. Read about the CEO’s proposed schools budget here.
  • Baker’s budget is still only a proposal; the County Council will adopt a budget on or before June 1. Read about the County Council’s budget process here. 
  • Once the County Council approves a budget for the schools, the Board of Education must go through a reconciliation process so that the final version of the PGCPS operating budget is aligned with the spending levels approved by the County Council. Read PGCPS’s operating budget timeline here
  • Baker’s proposed capital budget — which is distinct from the operating budget — is roughly $615 million, $143 million of which is designated for new school construction and renovation in PGCPS. Projects over the next six years include a new building for Fairmount Heights High School ($93 million), planning for a new facility for the International School at Langley Park ($34 million), and a modernized Suitland High School complex ($165 million). See p. 21 of the Budget in Brief document. 

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Thoughts After a Boisterous Hearing on School Closings and Boundary Changes

by Tommi Makila

The views expressed are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the views of Prince George’s County Advocates for Better Schools.

The Prince George’s County Board of Education’s Public Hearing on Boundary Changes and Proposed School Consolidations on February 23, 2016 was an amazing and wild affair. If you were not able to attend the hearing, you may view a recording of it online.

The hearing was eye opening and thought provoking. The issues that generated the most comments were the proposed closures of Forestville High School and Skyline Elementary, as well as boundary changes in the Accokeek and Fort Washington areas.

As I was sitting at the hearing, many thoughts came to mind. It is hard to organize those feelings into a chronological narrative, so I am providing the following rather random list of thoughts:

  • CEO Kevin Maxwell did not attend the hearing. Yet, since 2013, when the school board was restructured (see Maryland House Bill 1107), it is the CEO — not the Board of Education — who has authority to close schools. Moreover, it was the CEO who introduced these proposals for school consolidations and boundary changes (see p. 17 of this document) to the Board of Education. It was a surprise not to see him there.
  • Sometimes people power works! The hearing was one of the most powerful public hearings I have ever attended—powerful enough to push the BOE to postpone all boundary decisions until next year. But residents and parents only seem to get involved when these kinds of drastic problems come up, issues that dramatically impact their children and families. In many ways this is natural, but we need to be engaged at other times too.
  • We need to keep the needs of our students first and foremost. The Skyline Elementary closure proposal was the most striking example of student needs getting lost in the shuffle. Skyline has a large population of autistic kids, and parents convincingly argued that the school provides high-quality services for them. Testimony from the Skyline parents was heartbreaking. It is obvious that we must find a way to maintain the existing special services for these kids.
  • Schools are important for communities. When we are looking at school closures or major boundary changes, we must work with the impacted communities and always try to find community solutions. Try to keep Accokeek students in Accokeek, Ft. Washington kids in Ft. Washington, Forestville in Forestville, and so forth. I believe that for local schools, strong community support and school pride are factors in their success.
  • When looking at school closures and boundary changes, central office personnel comes up with solutions that look fine on their spreadsheets and maps. But they may not be such great solutions for the people impacted. It is the responsibility of the CEO and Board of Education (BOE) members to work with communities to really understand all the issues and find the best solutions.
  • The process for handling these issues—school closures and major boundary changes—must be longer. While some community hearings on these issues were held in early December 2015, no specific plans were shared at that time. The first time actual proposals were made public was when the CEO presented his recommendations at the January 21 BOE meeting. The public hearing was held on February 23, and the BOE vote was originally scheduled for February 25. Considering the impact these changes have on communities, the process must be much longer and entail significant outreach and collaboration with local communities.

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Skyline ES Parents Fight to Keep Autism Program, School Open

by Genevieve Demos Kelley

Parents of children in the autism program at Prince George’s County’s Skyline Elementary School gave emotional testimony during last night’s Board of Education meeting.

Below, I have noted the points in the board meeting video where each parent who spoke on behalf of their autistic child began their comments. I have also included a few sentences from each parent’s testimony.

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Board Votes to Postpone Decision on Boundary Changes

by Genevieve Demos Kelley

It was standing room only at last night’s public hearing on the proposed boundary changes, school closings, and grade reorganizations. At three and a half hours, the meeting lasted so long that video of the proceedings was posted in two separate parts on PGCPS’s Youtube channel.

You may watch Part 1 here (the first three hours) and Part 2 (the last thirty minutes) here.

After nearly two hours of testimony, Board Member Verjeana Jacobs (District 5) made a motion to postpone the voting on the boundary changes — originally scheduled for February 25th — until this time next year. (Watch Ms. Jacobs’s motion and the ensuing discussion beginning at 1:51 in Part 1 of the video.) The motion was met with loud, sustained applause from the audience, with many in the crowd rising from their seats. Though opposed by Board Chair Segun Eubanks, the motion carried with a near-consensus. The item appears to have been removed from the agenda for the February 25th meeting. After the vote on the motion to postpone the meeting, public testimony continued for the next one and a half hours.