Howard County Executive Calvin Ball (center) testifies before the Maryland Senate Budget and Taxation Committee on Feb. 19 in support of a $2.2 billion public school construction bill. (William J. Ford/The Washington Informer)
Howard County Executive Calvin Ball (center) testifies before the Maryland Senate Budget and Taxation Committee on Feb. 19 in support of a $2.2 billion public school construction bill. (William J. Ford/The Washington Informer)

Surrattsville High School Principal Katrina Lamont said additional money for public school construction would allow the school in Clinton to expand its career and technical education programs.

Glenn Dale Elementary Principal Heather Porterfield said the top option for her school would be a new structure altogether, as the building’s original foundation was built in 1928.

“Any new schools built in the northern part of [Prince George’s] County would benefit the students because it would alleviate overcrowding,” said Porterfield, adding that the building capacity is only 440 while the current student population stands at 597. “We are well over capacity. Classroom space at Glenn Dale is very tight. We also have nine temporary buildings outside Glenn Dale Elementary. The students still need that service because those are their learning environments.”

Similar stories from hundreds of educators, advocates and parents in the county echo the need for new buildings or renovations of existing ones to relieve classroom congestion.

So far, Maryland lawmakers are nearly in accord, as the House of Delegates overwhelmingly approved a $2.2 billion construction plan 128-6 this month.

Sen. Douglass J.J. Peters (D-District 23) of Bowie, one of the sponsors of the Senate version, said lawmakers in that chamber will work off the House version of the bill, which offers a few additions.

For instance, the House bill calls for opportunities for students to receive career and technical education programs “that lead to an identified job skill or certificate.”

The bill would also extend the public-private partnership (P3) agreement Prince George’s County will use from 2021 to 2022. The majority-Black jurisdiction will be the only one to use this option toward public construction projects, with the rest of the state obtaining money from bonds through the Maryland Stadium Authority.

The bill pushes for minority businesses and local hiring on various projects statewide.

Public school building projects still must meet the approval of the state’s Interagency Commission on School Construction, according to the legislation, titled the Built to Learn Act.

“On the whole, it’s an excellent work product,” Peters said of the bill sponsored by House Speaker Adrienne Jones.

On Feb. 19, several county executives banded together for the second time in as many months before the Senate Budget and Taxation Committee to champion the construction plan, part of a concerted effort by the executives to support the revamping of Maryland’s public educational system.

Although the Democrats control the legislature, Republican Gov. Larry Hogan presented a similar bill that would create an estimated 27,000 new jobs and $1.2 million in wages.

“That level of collaboration emphasizes that this proposed investment transcends party lines and geographic boundaries,” said Howard County Executive Calvin Ball. “We know that our children and our educators in Howard County and those throughout Maryland are counting on this historic investment.”

Phyllis Wright of District Heights in Prince George’s suggests incorporating mandates to ensure officials follow through on any work orders.

Wright transferred her two children, enrolled in third grade and fifth grade, to William Hall Academy in Capitol Heights after mold was discovered in 2017 at District Heights Elementary. The school closed for the 2018-19 school year and children attended the former Forestville High School building in the interim.

“I am so proud of my two girls,” she said. “When students [have] a place that is nice and clean, they have pride about their school. When you have a school that is run-down, it takes something away from the children.”

Coverage for the Washington Informer includes Prince George’s County government, school system and some state of Maryland government. Received an award in 2019 from the D.C. Chapter of the Society of...

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