A construction contract for a new elementary school was approved Feb. 27 by the Charles County Public Schools board. 

Also at the meeting, the system’s chief financial officer noted they will be getting more funding from the state for the 2024 fiscal year, which will result in them asking for $3 million less from the county commissioners. 

Other topics during the work session included future school calendars, town halls and discussion about planning for the Blueprint for Maryland’s Future. 

District 1 board member David Hancock speaks during the board’s Feb. 27 work session. Credit: Screenshots by Caleb M. Soptelean

The board unanimously approved a $45.4 million construction contract with Keller Brothers of Montgomery County for Elementary No. 23 in the Highlands Neighborhood, which is located off St. Charles Parkway in the Villages of Wooded Glen subdivision. A 2019 county planning document showed 200 single-family homes and 540 townhomes in the neighborhood. 

Michael Heim, chief of operations and supporting services, said the 94,000-square-foot school will open in the fall of 2025 with a capacity of 778 students. 

The cost is within the system’s projected budget, Heim said. Bids were opened Jan. 27 and Keller was the lowest of four bidders. None were from Charles. The closest geographically, and the next lowest bid, came from Scheibel Construction of Huntingtown, which was about $1 million higher.  

The map shows the location of the Highlands Neighborhood off St. Charles Parkway.

Responding to a question from board member Dottery Butler-Washington, Heim said, “We don’t have very many general contractors in Charles County.” He added that the system has used some smaller ones from the county as subcontractors in the past. 

Heim noted that the system is slated to have two more schools in the Wooded Glen and Piney Reach subdivisions in the coming years. 

The construction plan includes a list of 10 alternatives, including a stone maze/learning garden, according to a board document. 

The school will have a geothermal system like those at Billingsley and Mudd elementaries and St. Charles High School, Heim said. 

Budget funding

Chief financial officer Karen Acton noted she was recently notified that they will get $7.7 million more than anticipated from the state. The new state aid figures were released on Feb. 17 “the day after we approved our budget,” she said. 

CCPS Superintendent Maria V. Navarro speaks on Feb. 27. Credit: Screenshots by Caleb M. Soptelean

The state will fund $35.67 million more instead of $27.94 million additional. In the 2023 fiscal year, the system got $220.6 million but now would get $256.3 million. 

The additional funds would allow for $500,000 more each for teachers pensions and the nurses’ contract, Acton said. In addition, it would result in a boost of $152,000 for materials and instruction. 

The additional funding means that the school system will be asking for $3.1 million less from the county commissioners, she said. This would result in a request of $6 million more than last year’s total of $212.6 million instead of $9.22 million more. This still represents $10 million above the state’s “maintenance of effort” standard, so the commissioners could decline the request or fund less than the school system wants. 

Superintendent Maria V. Navarro called the extra funding “a pleasant surprise.” 

“I think all of us were kind of surprised that we were getting more money,” board chair Michael Lukas said. 

If the county commissioners decline to add more funding, the school administration and board will have to prioritize their budget requests, Navarro said. 

Blueprint planning 

In regard to planning for implementation of the state’s Blueprint law, Chris Mulhollan Miller, district innovation coordinator, said “this is a long marathon,” adding that it will go through 2032. 

The plan for Phase 1 is due by March 15, she said. That plan includes expansion of pre-kindergarten, which will include cooperation with the College of Southern Maryland next year. 

Other goals include increasing teacher diversity, national board certification of teachers and college and career readiness of students, particularly in reading and math. 

There are roadblocks in trying to implement the plan’s four pillars, Miller said, including finding private partners for pre-kindergarten expansion, a national teacher shortage, finding tutoring and funding for college and career pathways and a workforce shortage in school counseling. 

Calendars

One board member asked about adding more religious holidays,  but staff attorney Eric Schwartz said the system can’t have days off for religious holidays unless they are experiencing significant absences on those days, which isn’t currently happening. 

Board member David Hancock said he would like to have the school calendars in conjunction with neighboring counties, including St. Mary’s. He said several days are different among the two counties. 

Town halls

The board discussed hosting a town hall once a quarter but the details have yet to be ironed out, according to Lukas. 

Board member Nicole Kreamer suggested having them on a day other than Tuesdays since the county commissioners meet on that day. 

Student board member Amira Abujuma, a senior at North Point High School, noted that she hosted a student town hall last November with questions submitted beforehand. 

Hancock said it was “very well put together.” 

He suggested a town hall be hosted by board members in each of their four districts. Butler-Washington agreed, but Lukas said “board members can give decidedly different responses in different meetings.” 

“We’ll put something together, and I’ll send it out and set up a framework,” he said. 

During public comment at the beginning of the meeting, a student named Sam who identifies as a transgender woman spoke of receiving hate speech from other students. 


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