Prince George’s Co. proposal to use private funds for public schools raises concerns

Prince George’s County is trying to find ways to build more public schools to address a backlog of construction in the Maryland county but the latest proposal to use private money is raising concerns among residents.

During a virtual town hall meeting Monday night, residents were given a detailed breakdown of what a public-private partnership, or P3, would mean for taxpayers and county schools. If the plan is approved, Prince George’s County would be the first county to do it.

Supporters say the $1.24 billion would be used to build six middle schools in 3 1/2 years, compared to the six years it takes to build one school in the county using public funds. The plan would be under a 30-year contract that would be repaid with interest.

Concerns surround how much control the school district would be giving up, the terms of the contract and the cost.

“Public-private partnerships are expensive, risky and often secretive deals signed behind closed doors,” said Jeremy Mohler, spokesman for the think tank In the Public Interest.

“With the Purple Line P3 stalled and no end to the COVID-19 crisis in sight, Prince George’s County would be foolish to rush this process without community input.”

With an interest rate anywhere from 10% to 25% during the life of the contract, those opposed to the plan are urging school officials to review the plan in detail and weigh the benefits and risks before moving forward.

“If we can possibly go the public route, it is a far healthier way to go than to simply say we can’t do it so come and do it for us,” added Suchitra Balachandran, of Our Revolution Prince George’s.

The proposal goes before the county council Tuesday and the school board will vote next week.

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