The Prince George’s County Board of Education has been marred by infighting, accusations and a lack of trust and goodwill as it has tried to lead its way through a litany of struggles and financial difficulties. And it was all on display at a board meeting on Thursday, Sept. 28.
Board members fired insults at each other and struggled with the proper procedures and compliance with the Open Meetings Act requirements — all of that after taking fire from several parents whose children are enrolled at Hyattsville Elementary School and who accused board members of ethical violations.
In the end, however, the board agreed to move forward with the next phase of school construction, which will build eight new school buildings, including a new elementary school in Hyattsville. The seven schools receiving the new construction are:
- James Duckworth Elementary School in Beltsville
- Fairwood Area Elementary School in Bowie
- Brandywine Area PK-8 Academy
- Springhill Lake Elementary School in Greenbelt
- Robert Frost Area PK-8 Academy in New Carrollton
- Margaret Brent Elementary School in New Carrollton
- Templeton Elementary School in Landover
Board moves forward after contract updates
The two-hour discussion on that topic was fiery, as parents closed out their statements by calling on the board to “build the damn schools.” When the board asked parents to speak without profanity, one closed out by saying, “build the beep schools.”
The frustration was evident after the board scuttled plans to move forward with the next phase of construction under a unique public-private partnership the county calls Blueprint Schools, due to a lack of a required project labor agreement.
A week later, the Board did approve the plan — after changing the wording so the consortium of private companies building the schools, PGC Education Collective, would be required to enter into such a project labor agreement.
“We did not have them in Phase One and we realized that was something we need to ensure is in place,” said Jason Washington, the director of Alternative Infrastructure Planning and Development. “That is in the contract right now.”
“We have a fiduciary responsibility to ensure that the school system is engaging in contracts that make sense and that we are bettering our work and ourselves every single day,” said board member Jocelyn Route. “We did well in Phase One and we’ll do better in Phase Two.”
Board members clash before vote
From there, things got dicey, with board member and former Chair Juanita Miller clashing with current Chair Judy Mickens-Murray. At one point, Mickens-Murray relinquished her position as chair so she could respond to some of the criticism from others on the board.
“It is clear to me that several board members are attacking Judy — me, Chairman Judy Mickens-Murray — and you used procedural things and the things you’re accusing me of are the exact things that you do,” she said.
Mickens-Murray added, “Attacking me in public to create discord, this has been done over and over to me since Jan. 20. I am letting the public know that not only is it four or five board members that consistently do this — they also have outside assistance.”
That led Miller to start laughing over Mickens-Murray for a moment in the virtual meeting.
“It sounds like everyone wants to point the blame and point the finger about people playing politics — this is the politics,” said Route, the other board member. “We’ve heard from more than 50 parents and community members about action.”
Then, she lambasted her colleagues for “arguing like elementary-aged students” as the meeting dragged on. Route then called for support in favor of the construction so “these schools are available for our students.”
‘Build the damn schools’
The arguing between board members frustrated parents like Lauren Vulanovic, the Parent Teacher Association president at Hyattsville Elementary.
“I was dismayed at the way board members who were swayed by special interests hijacked the Sept. 21 meeting in the name of equity — but if you want to talk about equity, let’s talk about equity,” said Vulanovic near the beginning of the discussion.
Then she started listing off problems at Hyattsville Elementary, from broken HVAC systems to raw sewage running through classrooms to pest infestations inside temporary classrooms. The school doesn’t have a parking lot.
“We’re not asking the board to solve all of the world’s problems. We’re not even asking you to solve all the county’s problems,” she said. “You’re worried about equity? Build the damn schools.”