The school board in Prince George’s County, Maryland, approved alternative financing to build six schools.
The board voted Wednesday night, 11-1 with one abstention, to approve a public-private partnership to finance, design and build the schools and maintain them for 30 years. In exchange, the school system will pay $1.2 billion over 30 years.
Prince George’s County Public Schools CEO Monica Goldson said when students at Drew-Freeman Middle School in Suitland return to classes Feb. 1, 2021, they will see the same outdated building.
“They will enter a school building that is 60 years of age and nothing has changed,” Goldson said. “All we have done is a Band-Aid and patchwork. And unfortunately, Drew-Freeman is not the only school.”
Goldson told reporters that the county school system is facing a backlog of $8.5 billion in school infrastructure replacement and renovation. She also stated that over 40% of the school buildings are over 60 years old.
County Executive Angela Alsobrooks was one of the speakers at a news conference Wednesday, calling for support of the partnership.
“It is well-needed and well-deserved by all of our families who have said to us they did not want delay. They did not want us to be bound up in bureaucracy. They wanted action,” Alsobrooks said.
According to the school board, the partnership with Prince George’s County Education and Community Partners would allow for faster construction of five new middle schools, including Drew-Freeman, and one K-8 school.
Under traditional public funding, it would take up to 16 years to complete, while the partnership projects are expected to be completed in three.
Under the partnership, private firms would build the six schools and maintain the facilities for 30 years.
The school system would pay off the $1.24 billion price tag for the project, which would include interest, over that 30-year period.
“If we wait, our student enrollment will only continue to increase and our school buildings will grow older,” Alsobrooks said. “And we cannot predict that the state budget will make adequate funding available for school construction.”
Opponents argued that work with a private group could cause problems like those seen on the Purple Line project. They were also wary of transparency and the terms of the contract.
But for supporters, such as former teacher Elsie Jacobs, who spent years at Drew-Freeman Middle School, the time is now.
“The heat didn’t work; the air didn’t work. It is time that somebody do something for these kids in this community,” Jacobs said.