Less than three weeks before the Nov. 3 general election, roughly seven dozen people listened to five candidates tout their platforms on why they should serve on the Prince George’s County school board and represent Maryland’s second-largest public school system.
The county’s Young Democrats hosted a virtual debate Monday, Oct. 12 on topics that included COVID-19, school resource officers, virtual learning and even a candidate’s favorite dish.
Although board Vice Chair Edward Burroughs III has a challenger for his District 8 seat, he gave a reminder to those listening.
“I am a Democrat and my opponent [Gary Falls] is a Republican. Just thought I would mention that,” he said. “I think your party says a lot about your values and I think it’s important where people stand.”
Martin Mitchell, president of the Young Democrats, said Falls declined to participate in the debate.
Voters could choose up to three new members on the 14-member board to craft policies, approve budgets and establish curriculum for a jurisdiction with more than 136,000 students. A student member also serves on the board, but isn’t allowed to vote on personnel matters, budgetary items and school closings.
Monday’s two-hour debate expressed a few lively exchanges on several topics such as mental health.
All the candidates agree students need more mental health support, but Burroughs brought up a June 11 vote that pushed a proposed plan from happening sooner.
The board voted 8-6 to hold a discussion in September on whether to cancel a contract for police departments to hire and place school resource officers (SROs) in the schools.
Within the discussion item on SROs, board member David Murray proposed school administrators assess the SRO training and reallocate $5 million to hire more social workers, mental health professionals and counselors.
Incumbent Bryan Swann, who represents District 4, voted with the majority. He works as deputy director of the Office of Financial Management for the U.S. Department of Treasury. He formerly worked for the Obama administration.
In regard to SROs, Swann said they aren’t needed in the schools. However, he said some people believe they do.
“I’ve had students call me crying about their relationship and not to remove them,” he said. “It needs to be a very thoughtful approach.”
His opponent, Shayla Adams-Stafford, doesn’t support SROs and said mental health services are needed now.
“When [Swann] had the opportunity to amend the budget to add more supports for our students given this time of crisis that we’re in, he did not make any amendment,” said Adams-Stafford, an instructional coach training teachers who also runs a nonprofit organization called “RemixEducation,” which seeks to provide resources for first-generation college students.
Another topic focused on school officials continue to review a $1 billion proposed public-private partnership school construction plan, also known as P3.
The goal would be to build six new schools by July 2023. The schools are Adelphia Area, Drew Freeman, Hyattsville, Kenmoor and Walker Mill middle schools and Southern Area K-8 school.
The two candidates seeking to become the new District 7 board member had slightly different views.
Kenneth Harris II, who works as a mechanical engineer at NASAs Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, said the plan could work, depending on how much the county may need to spend.
“New housing developments are going up which could help [alleviate] overcrowding, but what are we are the hook for and how quick would we need to run around this money,” he said.
Alexis Branch, 22, a 2019 graduate from Bennett College in Greensboro, N.C., and a current graduate student at Bowie State University, said P3 could cause future tax increases.
“P3 is signing on for a bunch of credit that we’re eventually, meaning the public, will have to pay back,” she said. “Our pockets have been hit enough.”