UPPER MARLBORO — The Prince George’s County Public Schools (PGCPS) Board of Education approved the next step in updating High Point High School as well as took several other final actions during their last meeting of the school year on June 20.
In addition to approving the updated feasibility study for High Point High School, the Board of Education (BOE) ratified their negotiation agreement with the Prince George’s County Educators Association (PGCEA) and added an amendment for school psychologists to their reconciled fiscal year 2020 operating budget.
“We all know that High Point High School has been a topic of discussion for many years and for us to be able to move this forward with this plan, it is very important that we do this in order to get over the challenge that we have of overcrowdedness in old buildings throughout our entire school system,” said Board Member Sonya Williams (District 9).
The school was originally built in 1954 and received several major and minor renovations in the years that followed.
According to Board Member David Murray (District 1), at this point, the school is nearly 150% over capacity. Additionally, there are problems with old windows and lights and classrooms that are too small. The building is in “disrepair,” he said.
“This is just a community that has been overlooked for far too long. It was my number one priority when I came onto the board two years ago, so I’m happy we’re making progress,” Murray said.
A feasibility study is required whenever the replacement of an existing facility is contemplated. A study was conducted in 2014 to determine the costs and options for renovating the school. It provided three options for updating the school.
At a board meeting in June 2014, the BOE adopted Option C, a partial re-use of the school option, which would have taken two and a half years to complete and cost $113 million.
However, since the original feasibility study was conducted, construction costs for all three options have nearly doubled, and PGCPS had to conduct a new feasibility study to determine which option would now be more cost effective.
In 2019, the previously chosen Option C would now cost PGCPS nearly $212 million. CEO Monica Goldson recommended that the BOE now go with Option A, a maximum renovation of the school, which renovates the original building in its current location with new construction where appropriate. In 2014, it cost $115 million, and now it costs $218 million.
Option A became the recommended option because it has a reduced risk of increased site development costs and extended project timeline due to soil conditions and stormwater management. These issues were seen during past construction projects on Oxon Hill and Fairmont Heights High Schools.
Option A also involves the potential to use more of the already existing building and has a greater pool of general contractors because of reduced bonding capacity requirements.
The BOE ended up overwhelmingly approving the use of Option A going forward with the school’s renovations.
“This sends a clear message to Beltsville and the surrounding community that they are seen, that they are heard and that they matter,” Murray said.
Additionally, the BOE approved the reconciliation and adoption of their fiscal year 2020 operating budget.
The BOE approved a total budget of $2.1 billion on Feb. 21. After it was passed by the county council and the county executive, additional charges such as negotiated salary step increase for labor partners and a high school CTE evening program were added leaving a deficit of $46 million remaining.
At a June 17 meeting, the BOE Operations, Budget and Fiscal Affairs Committee added an amendment of five extra full-time school psychologists to the budget which would add another $478,365 to the proposed reconciled budget.
To reduce the deficit, Goldson proposed strategies such as direct use of Kirwan Commission funding, restricted use of Kirwan funding with related reductions, phased implementations and fiscal and reserve changes.
“Us, our staff, this board, are working magic with limited resources…let’s not lose sight of the fact that we have to continue to fight for equitable and adequate resources for our children,” said BOE Chair Alvin Thornton.
Also, the BOE formally signed their contract with the PGCEA. The school system and the PGCEA had been in negotiations with the contract for several weeks for agreements the teachers union had been advocating for through their Bargaining For A Common Good platform.
The contract includes items such as increased salary for educators, sensible workloads for special educators, accountability with regards to the amount of time taken for mandated testing for students, safety and security against bullying, smaller class sizes and more.
“I just want to say how excited I am and how PGCEA is that we have reached this agreement,” said PGCEA President Theresa Dudley. “To maintain and retain the best and the brightest educators in Prince George’s County is a dream, and I feel that we are moving in that direction, and our teachers definitely feel appreciated today.”