UPPER MARLBORO – A state delegate’s proposed bill to put artificial turf fields at all of the county’s high schools has received the Board of Education’s support, allowing it to get one step closer passage. The Board of Education voted 10-2 during its legislative review session on Thursday to support sponsor Delegate Jay Walker’s bill, […]
UPPER MARLBORO – A state delegate’s proposed bill to put artificial turf fields at all of the county’s high schools has received the Board of Education’s support, allowing it to get one step closer passage.
The Board of Education voted 10-2 during its legislative review session on Thursday to support sponsor Delegate Jay Walker’s bill, PG 407-15, which would require the installation of a turf field at every Prince George’s County public high school by 2020. Oxon Hill High School is the only county public school currently with a turf field, but turf will also be installed at Dr. Henry A. Wise High School and Gwynn Park High School.
However, the Board only supports the bill if it incorporates amendments recommended by the Board’s Policy, Legal and Legislative Committee (PLLC).
According to Demetria Tobias, associate counsel for the Board, the first amendment predicates the installation of additional turf fields upon the receipt of additional funding. The second amendment clarifies that the funding for the fields will come from external sources and not the school system’s operating budget. The third and final amendment requires the Board to approve the order of installation for the fields.
During the Board’s discussion of the PLLC’s recommended positions for General Assembly bills, Board member Daniel Kaufman asked to pull the turf bill for a separate discussion, but Board member Edward Burroughs, who chairs the PLLC committee, motioned to accept the committee’s recommendations for all of the bills. Board Chairman Segun Eubanks denied Burroughs’ motion, however, because he said Burroughs was out of order.
Burroughs claimed some Board members were up to “political shenanigans” but Kaufman denied the claim and said he wanted to pull the bill aside because he did not think the installation of turf fields should be a top priority for the Board.
“This bill, even with amendments, imposes a requirement on the system that we are to replace all the fields with turf fields,” Kaufman said. “The legislature is imposing its will on our district by saying this is some you must make a priority.”
Kaufman said he would prefer the school district use a case-by-case approach in determining when turf fields may be necessary. However, Burroughs said new fields are necessary for the school district to keep up with neighboring jurisdictions.
“If you go to Anne Arundel, Charles County and Ballou in D.C., they play on high-quality fields,” Burroughs said. “When I go to Crossland, Potomac and Friendly, more often than not they can’t even play.”
Board member Beverly Anderson said she finds it “confusing” why Board members would consider the installation of turf fields a priority because the total cost for all of the high schools would only be about $20 million, which she said is a small part of a total $1.8 billion budget.
Anderson also said she found it “confusing” why the Board would not want to support the bill.
“We have issues of health and public safety and we have a suggestion on how we can address health and safety on our fields without using our own money,” Anderson said. “I’m trying to understand why we don’t want to support this bill. What kind of signal is it sending to the public when we have our legislators expressing concerns about safety in our schools and we take a position of we disagree or no position? I don’t understand that either.”
Prince George’s County Public Schools CEO Kevin Maxwell, who oversaw the installation of turf fields at all schools in Anne Arundel County, said he did not see a reason for the Board to oppose the legislation if the amendments were included. But without amendments, Maxwell said the bill “is a nonstarter.”
“I want to make it clear the school system is not going to pay for (the installations),” Maxwell said.
After the discussion, Kaufman motioned for the Board to oppose the bill, but his motion failed. Then, Burroughs motioned to accept the PLLC’s recommendation, which passed 10-2.
Following the discussion of turf bill, the Board also discussed its position on a bill proposed by Walker and Delegate Alonzo Washington which, if passed, would put to referendum a sales tax where the revenue collected would be used for school construction.
Kaufman motioned for the Board to take no position on the bill. While the bill sponsors have good intentions, he said, the county should look for alternative sources for funding.
Anderson said she does not like the idea of more taxes, but the county needs more money because the school district does not get as much from its property taxes as other counties.
“We’ve got a $2 billion bill in front of us in the very near future because our schools are crumbling,” Anderson said. “The question is how do we get that money? …I think the bill provides an avenue where we can get not all of the money but can get some of the money.”
Eubanks said he had concerns about the bill because the county executive’s office opposed the bill, and the County Council was leaning towards opposing it.
“We are in a battle to make this a great public school system and we know we have a lot of work to do,” Eubanks said. “I believe at some point we are going to have to come to our citizens and say we have a plan and we have proven to you we are on the right track and we need your support. When that time comes we need to be ready and have a plan. This doesn’t represent it to me.”
Eubanks also expressed concern about the state funding the county would receive in the future if the bill passes. He said the state may look at the tax as an “opportunity to save a few bucks.”
“I want to keep pressure on our state government to give us what we rightfully deserve,” Eubanks said.
Burroughs advocated for the bill, saying the Board “needs to do something.” He said the school district asks for more money year after year and he does not believe there is a plan. If the county wants to have a world-class school system, Burroughs said, it needs to have world-class facilities.
In the end the Board voted 8-3 to take no position on the bill.