The Prince George’s County school system was forced to return $1.4 million in state funds this year after it failed to approve school construction contracts within a two-year deadline.
The county lost the funding in May after it failed to sign agreements with contractors to handle upgrades to science classrooms at Potomac and Crossland high schools, according to David Lever, executive director of the Maryland Interagency Committee on School Construction, which oversees school projects in the state. Lever said it is unusual for a school system to miss such a deadline and lose funding.
“We have had some jurisdictions that have come to the cliff,” Lever said. “But it is rare to go over. . . . We’re working with them to make sure it doesn’t happen again.”
Prince George’s County officials were “in the process” of awarding contracts for the work when the deadline hit, schools spokesman Max Pugh said. He said they missed the deadline because of unforseen hurdles.
“Delays in the award were due to difficulties in the bidding process, as well as some delays completing the designs,” Pugh said.
The state allocated $25.3 million to Prince George’s in May 2011, to build schools and renovate and repair the county’s aging facilities. The school system had two years — until May 31, 2013 — to award contracts, or the funding would be rescinded.
In a July 26 letter to Clarence Stukes, the county’s chief of supporting services, Lever blamed the school system’s “apparent late start . . . in initiating design and procurement.”
“It is extremely troubling that the awards of contracts have been made at virtually the last minute after the elapse of two years from BPW [the state Board of Public Works] in the spring of 2011,” Lever wrote.
State Sen. Joanne Benson (D-Prince George’s), who serves as the education chair for the county’s Senate delegation, was upset to learn that the school system lost a significant amount of money meant to improve county schools.
“I am absolutely disappointed that this money was not spent, particularly when the legislature in Annapolis works so hard to make sure that money comes back to Prince George’s County,” Benson said. “We desperately need this money. We have furnaces that are not working. We have so many issues, particularly inside the beltway. It is definitely not good news.”
This is not the first time the county has lost money for construction projects because they failed to meet a deadline. In 2010, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development reclaimed $2 million from the county meant for affordable housing projects.
Lever said the school construction funds went back into a statewide contingency account and will be made available for other school systems to use.
State Del. Jolene Ivey (D-Prince George’s), the chair of the county House delegation, said losing the money seemed to be “collateral damage” from the school system’s leadership instability during the past several years. Former Superintendent William R. Hite Jr. resigned in September 2012 and was replaced by Alvin Crawley, who served a one-year term as interim superintendent. Kevin Maxwell became the schools chief executive officer in August. In July, the school system hired Sarah Woodhead as its Capital Improvement Program (CIP) director, following a year with temporary leadership.
“It’s just another reason that I’m glad that Kevin Maxwell is at the helm,” Ivey said.
Lever said he recently met with Maxwell and about 10 members of his staff to discuss the county’s school construction needs and its recent problems.
“It’s a red flag that has to be taken into account,” Lever said, meaning the lapse could be taken into account when the state considers future funding for county projects. “They have to assure us that the money that is allotted is going to be spent.”
The revelation about the forfeiture of funds comes as the county begins the process of deciding which construction projects will be part of its five-year Capital Improvement Program.
According to the Fiscal Year 2015 capital program, which the school board is scheduled to preliminarily approve Thursday, the school system is requesting $330.3 million in county and state funds to build, renovate and repair schools.
Nearly $51 million would be spent on renovations and about $70 million on other projects, including replacing roofs, sprinkler systems, pipes and ventilation systems at some schools.
During a recent hearing on the funding proposal, several educators, community members and parents asked school board members to consider their schools for repairs.
Anita Studgeon, the PTA president at Robert Goddard Montessori School, said there is only one operating water fountain at her child’s school in Seabrook. Brown water flows from the others, she said.
Kevin Kendrick, who works at William Wirt Middle School in Riverdale, asked that his school, which was built in 1964, be reconstructed. He said water fountains are not usable, brown water flows from bathroom faucets and employees found sewage seeping into a lockeroom shower last year.
The 2015 plan includes $5.9 million for systemic renovation for doors and windows at William Wirt. No money is allocated for Robert Goddard Montessori.
Meanwhile, Pugh said the county still needs the work done at Crossland and Potomac high schools and plans to ask the state for the funding.