UPPER MARLBORO — The Prince George’s County Public Schools (PGCPS) Board of Education held its first meeting of the year on Sept. 5 where they heard comments about necessary renovations to Parkdale High School, overcrowding and increased health insurance costs for teachers.
Board of Education Chair Alvin Thornton opened the meeting by welcoming everyone into the new school year and expressed his outlook for a productive school year ahead.
“I’ve just been encouraged,” Thornton said. “I’m an old head, been around for a long time, but I have not seen the excitement about our babies that I am now seeing from elected officials…and we want to continue this throughout this whole year, not just a one-day event.”
Thornton acknowledged that there would be hiccups that the school system will have to address. However, he encouraged everyone to keep up the positive energy shown on the first day of school and continue to teach PGCPS students that the school system and community care for them.
PGCPS CEO Monica Goldson expressed similar sentiments for a positive year and thanked the community for their overwhelming support in getting the school year started on the right note. However, she did address a significant challenge that arose on the first day of school: transportation.
“Today, I went to a bus stop myself to monitor on-time arrival and to experience what our parents experience firsthand,” Goldson said. “I understand parents worry (and the) frustration and anger over a late bus, a missed bus, pickup or even a drop-off.”
A problem that has carried over from the last school year is transportation as PGCPS is still experiencing a shortage of bus drivers. Children are being picked up late and routes are not being covered, leaving available drivers to work multiple shifts to make up for the vacancies.
Goldson explained that the issue is not unique to Prince George’s County as there is a national shortage of bus drivers. PGCPS is doing everything it can to improve the situation and will improve communication with parents about late buses.
“I apologize personally to any parent whose child has had a negative experience on our bus during the first week of school and ask for your continued patience,” Goldson said.
During the public comments section of the meeting, three members of the Parkdale High School Student Government Association (SGA) came to express the school’s need for a turf field and an auditorium.
“We decided to come out today because we feel time after time that Parkdale is overlooked in regards to getting new, I guess, pieces of infrastructure to our school,” said Parkdale SGA President Jordan Cooper.
Cooper explained that Parkdale is one of several high schools in the county without a turf field, which becomes a major concern for the safety of the students and their ability to play games. Due to Parkdale’s location, rain causes their field to flood canceling games and practices, which is “disheartening for athletes.”
The students also advocated for the addition of an auditorium to their school. Because of the large population, there is no place big enough to hold an assembly for the entire school. Students have to be broken up into groups to have separate assemblies over the day, or a few days, which interrupts instruction time.
In addition to holding assemblies, an auditorium would allow Parkdale students, as well as the surrounding community, to have a space for holding events such as performances and academic presentations.
Crystal Young, a member of the Whitehall Elementary School PTA, came to bring the issue of overpopulation in her school to the attention of the board. She thanked the board and CEO for their responsiveness in addressing her concerns in the past. Young, however, brought up the challenge of the school’s traffic pattern, a problem that became especially apparent on the first day of school.
The area cannot support the number of cars that come in every day and it is becoming a problem for the residents in that neighborhood. Additionally, with 640 students currently in the school, there are not enough restrooms or cafeteria space.
“I know a new building cannot happen tomorrow,” Young said. “Realistically, I understand logistically there are a lot of things that have to happen, but we have to look into that, look into maybe a bigger cafeteria because, again, this is a traffic jam that starts from the start of the day to the end of the day.”
Later on, Prince George’s County Educators Association (PGCEA) came to the board to talk about the increase in healthcare premiums for teachers. According to President Theresa Mitchell Dudley, July 25 the PGCEA was informed on health care rates for employees would go up to $24.13 a month, an average of 13%. With this being an average, new educators lower on the scale will see higher percentages of their salary taken out by the increase in medical benefits. The current policy on increases does not allow teachers to maximize their benefits and collaboratively contain costs, Dudley said.
“This has come as a great concern to a number of people in our building. Among other things, most people say it’s great, you just got us a raise and now they are taking it back,” said PGCEA Member Michele Clarke.
Dudley recommended that the board establish a policy on health insurance that includes a council who will study and make recommendations concerning items such as health insurance benefit design and cost for active and retired employees.
Following public comments, the board passed several proclamations, including recognition of acclaimed author Toni Morrison’s life and legacy, World Space Week, National Day of Writing and Attendance Awareness Month as well as food service contracts.
The board of education will hold a Capital Improvement Program (CIP) public hearing on Sept. 12 and will further discuss the CIP at their next meeting on Sept. 19.