By Sophie Gorman Oriani
With a new middle school in the works, Hyattsville parents are now shifting their focus toward younger children. At the Sept. 9 hearing for the county school system’s capital improvement budget, half a dozen Hyattsville parents spoke up about the pressing need to rebuild Hyattsville Elementary School (HES).
When a school needs work, the county can use funds from the capital improvement program to modernize the building to bring it up to current standards and codes, or to replace it entirely.
After a thorough evaluation of the county’s schools, the 2015 Master Plan Support Project had designated HES as a Cycle 1 school — a designation reserved for the highest priority. The county scheduled the school for replacement beginning in fiscal year 2018, with the intention of opening the new school in 2021. While the plan was carried over into the subsequent 2017 Educational Facilities Master Plan, it did not materialize, and both the 2021 and 2022 master plans continue to list HES as a Cycle 1 school.
HES did not appear in a list of nine schools to receive funding for rebuilding or major upgrades in the county capital improvement plan, as presented in the public hearing on Sept. 9 or to the school board for approval on Sept. 23.
Some parents hope that a public-private initiative supported by state level funding from the Built to Learn Act could support a HES rebuild before the next county capital improvement program budget comes before the county school board next fall.
P3 funding is a type of alternative construction financing in which the school system pairs with a private development team to build and maintain new schools. Advocates say the process delivers modern schools faster than can be accomplished through traditional financing, while critics say the process is too expensive.
County Councilmember Deni Taveras District 2), whose district includes Hyattsville, wrote in a Sept. 29 email that she is also pushing to have HES included in the next round of public-private funding, in part due to how engaged the Hyattsville parents are. “When I advocate I need the community’s support to help deliver,” she said.
The county school board continues to have trouble reaching consensus on the money to be spent for rebuilding schools. At their Sept. 23 meeting, the board of education considered amending the capital improvement program budget to lower caps on spending overruns. However, the board members could not agree whether amending the budget would constitute overruling the recommendation of the CEO Monica Goldson, which would require a two-thirds supermajority. Board Chair Juanita Miller, with the support of parliamentarian Bill Shelton, deemed the amendments to constitute an overrule of the CEO’s recommendation. The vote in favor of the amended budget was 7-6, and the amended budget failed. The board then voted to pass the budget without amendments, with seven board members in favor, four opposed, and two abstaining.
At the budget hearing, several county residents also spoke up in opposition to using public-private partnership (P3) funding to build more schools, in addition to those being traditionally financed.
Hyattsville Middle School is currently being rebuilt, along with several other county schools, as part of the county’s first P3 initiative. According to Jason Washington, the director of public-private partnerships at PGCPS, the demolition is proceeding on schedule and should last until late October or early November. Grading the site of the new school is slated to begin before the demolition is done.