UPPER MARLBORO — The Prince George’s County Public Schools (PGCPS) Board of Education discussed the use of on-call architects, approved Arab-American Heritage Month and listened to comments from the public at their latest meeting on March 21.
Upon the request of Board of Education (BOE) Member Raaheela Ahmed, the BOE approved the recognition of National Arab-American Heritage Month.
“To my knowledge, this is the first time that this school district has ever recognized Arab American Heritage Month,” said Ahmed.
The approval of the proclamation comes a week after the attack on two Mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand where so people were killed, and many others were injured.
According to Ahmed, with the growing hatred towards Arab Americans and Muslim Americans, the recognition of Arab-American Heritage Month speaks volumes.
“This is a statement of support for the Arab American community, as much as it is a statement against bigotry, hate, and Islamophobia,” she said.
During the meeting, the board approved expenditure requirements for April totaling about $151 million that mainly go towards payroll and reassignment of about $500,000 in funds within the fiscal year 2019 budget, but they hit a wall when it came to approval of on-call architectural and engineering services.
PGCPS previously issued a Request for Proposal and 49 companies submitted. Of those, 29 pre-qualified on-call contracts for architectural and engineering services were chosen to perform site approvals, feasibility studies, systemic design projects equal to or under $10 million in value, design renovation and additions school projects of up to $20 million and design replacement or renovation along up to $50 million.
These on-call contracts are usually issued when the Department of Capital Projects requests design services and allow the school system to quickly repair, alter, modernize, maintain and construct school buildings. They are chosen through an application and interview process.
The board was divided when some members raised questions about the cost and specific projects associated with the proposal and suggested the item be tabled until the next meeting to discuss it further while other members thought it was important to move forward with it at this meeting.
“I don’t think that too many, and I won’t speak for everyone, board members can really say that we are completely informed about what this recommendation is given the supporting documents…I certainly can’t say with confidence, other than taking the administrations word for it, that this something the district does or doesn’t need or that these are the right people to be working in our county or not,” said Board Member David Murray.
However, Interim CEO Monica Goldson stressed the importance of moving forward with these projects because of the lack of time and the number of projects that need to be completed.
“What’s unfortunate is if we were to table it, we don’t get t come back to vote on this item until April 25,” she said. “The reason that there are a lot of projects is, unfortunately…we have a $2 billion backlog and an $8 billion renovation project plan. We have aging systems, our buildings are 49 to 50 years old. Time is of the essence.”
Director of Capital Programs Shawn Matlock added that having the on-call architects allows them to expedite the process so that construction projects are completed on time.
Despite the lengthy debate, in a close vote, the agenda item was passed.
The BOE also heard public comments on a variety of topics including transportation conditions, support for Saturday school and language immersion programs, special education and teacher compensation.
Bus drivers have come out for the past few BOE meetings to advocate for better working conditions in the bus lots, better pay and efforts to retain new hires.
“This is not just for the employees but is also just to hold everyone accountable for what they do. We also have to make sure we have better customer service on these bus lots because customer service starts at these bus lots,” said bus driver Martin Diggs.
“The bus drivers, we’re the first line to see some of the parents and see some of the kids in the morning, and some of these bus lots are unsafe. So we need to invest to make sure employees feel like their workplace is a safe environment for them.”
He suggested that Goldson and the rest of the board come down to visit the bus lots to observe the conditions first hand so they can see the urgency that the bus drivers have.
“Our main concern is the low morale at all the bus lots. You have hired a group of supervisors that are running transportation down,” said Lucinda Orange, another bus driver. “Because of lack of leadership, we are losing drivers daily. Transportation should be run with integrity, skill, understanding as well as providing direction, inspiration and guidance.”
She said that these supervisors are driving away new hires, making things harder for the drivers who choose to remain.
Several students from Robert Goddard Montessori School came forward to voice their support for their Saturday school program and the benefits it has had on their education while Prince George’s County Educators Association (PGCEA) member Michele Clarke came to talk about the needs of a teacher who are steps behind in pay.
“The overall common goal should be to create a positive school culture that supports that academic success of each student while incorporating the necessary engagement initiatives,” said Dolores Millhouse who came to advocate for language immersion programs and positive change in the school system.