Prince George’s County parents and politicians say they want six new public schools either built from the ground up or substantially modernized.
There has been no rabid public outcry among Prince Georgians concerning the potential to raise taxes and fees and/or create new taxes. But there is measurable agreement about the need to begin erasing the county’s $8.5 billion backlog in modernizing schoolhouses, most of which are 45 to 55 years old.
Well, the Prince George’s County Council disagrees, and somebody, ahem, should set them straight.
On Tuesday, the 11-member council unanimously rejected a proposal to build the new schools via a public-private partnership.
Essentially, the plan would cost $1.24 billion to build five middle schools and a K-8 school in three years — projects that usually take five or six years per school. Prince Georgians would cover $29.8 million in initial investment costs, while the private-sector partners would be repaid with interest.
Over the course of the 30-year contract, the contractors would be responsible for maintenance and repairs at the six schools — responsibilities often dictated by unions and their collective bargaining agreements.
Know that county leaders have been pondering upgrading public school facilities for two years, with two thumbs-up from parents, teachers and other stakeholders.
Moreover, public-private partnerships are hardly novel. Donald Trump helped build two public ice rinks in New York City. NFL, soccer, basketball, baseball and hockey teams lean on public-private deals, with municipalities usually footing the bill for infrastructure projects such as water, public transit and right of way.
Prince Georgians know as much. After all, the county is home to the former Washington Redskins and, statewide, Marylanders helped pay for the twin stadiums in Baltimore for the Ravens and the Orioles.
You also could say that the University of Maryland is a 19th-century product of public-private partnerships: The College Park campus began on land owned by George Benedict Calvert, who used slaves for agricultural innovations before founding the Maryland Agricultural College on his land. That site is now the flagship of the University of Maryland System, where County Executive Angela Alsobrooks attended law school.
And public-private educational programs are rooted in school segregation. Yet another wealthy American businessman, Julius Rosenwald (think Sears department stores), used his philanthropy to help fund the construction of more than 5,000 schools and teachers’ houses for mostly Black and poor folks south of the Mason-Dixon Line and westward through the Bible Belt. The first, opened in 1913 in rural Alabama, was managed by educator and civil rights advocate Booker T. Washington, founder of Tuskegee University.
Rosenwald granted seed money to the schools, and residents raised additional money and donated the blood, sweat and tears to build the schools and homes. Rosenwald worked with local leaders on the partnership.
Several Rosenwald Schools were built in Prince George’s County and other parts of Maryland, and one of them stands today as a museum-school administration site.
With such a rich history, why in the world are Prince George’s lawmakers barely lukewarm on the proposal? Two reasons: One is rising costs to battle the COVID-19 pandemic. Understood.
Reason No. 2 is the Democratic Party. Marylanders love Democrats almost as much as they love the Chesapeake Bay’s blue crabs, and the Dems have their socialist claws gripped on some lawmakers. You know, down with government privatization, down with government outsourcing, and Big Government today, Big Government tomorrow, Big Government forever.
Before the Board of Education votes next week, supporters of the public-private option must appeal to Prince Georgians, the very people who elected them, and explain that even amid these times of fiscal uncertainty building safe, secure, 21st century schoolhouses is a must — and not just for Black and brown children.
They need to shake the Democrats’ herd mentality, get ahead of the anti-privatization curve and lobby on behalf of the future of Prince George’s and its children.
What are the Big Government anti-partnership folks afraid of? Oh, that’s right.
School Board Chairman Alvin Thornton should remind them.
• Deborah Simmons can be contacted at [email protected]