The Prince George’s County Council voted last week to send a letter to the county inspector general’s office requesting an investigation into claims of wasteful spending on school construction projects.
The letter calls on Richard Henry, Maryland’s education inspector general, to investigate claims of poor fiscal practices for county school construction projects, including the inflation of administrative costs and high unidentified project cost estimates.
The claims stem from the council’s retreat in December where two presenters, Andrew Onukwubiri and Bret Waskiewicz, accused the county and its school board of poor resource management for several school construction projects.
Onukwubiri, who previously served as the school system’s capital programs supervisor, is the managing director of the Ainahgroup, a school construction company. He pointed to the discrepancy in new school construction costs between Prince George’s County and neighboring jurisdictions such as Montgomery County.
Three high school replacement projects in Prince George’s County, including Suitland High School and High Point High School, each received a cost estimate of at least $257 million in the school system’s 2023 budget. However, two projects in Montgomery County to replace Northwood High School and construct the new Crown High School cost $138 million and $136 million, respectively.
At the December retreat, Waskiewicz also called out the county’s maintenance of existing schools. Eleven out of 78 assessed schools are deemed to be “adequately maintained,” according to the maintenance effectiveness assessment.
PGCPS CEO Monica Goldson responded to the proposed letter with one of her own to the county council, and said the accusations raised at December’s county council retreat were false.
“[N]o current PGCPS staff members were invited to provide the Council with current, factual information, and it is concerning that publicly shared inaccuracies could prove detrimental to our joint mission to deliver an inventory of safe, modernized public school facilities to the deserving students across our county,” Goldson said.
The measure to request an investigation into these claims had overwhelming support from the council. Eight members of the council supported the measure, and council members Wanika Fisher and Sydney Harrison abstained.
Edward Burroughs, the education and workforce development committee chair, explained how an investigation is necessary to justify the county’s significant investment in the school system.
“It would be negligent not to investigate,” Burroughs, who is a former PGCPS school board member, said. “Referring these matters to the proper agency to investigate will ensure oversight and accountability.”
District 7 council member Krystal Oriadha echoed Burroughs’s sentiments and emphasized the importance of having an objective investigation into such a critical issue.
“We have to make sure that we bring in someone that has the ability to look objectively and take the time that it takes to really look at how we are spending residents’ dollars,” Oriadha said.
But Harrison, who represents District 9, questioned why the county council didn’t wait to hear from the school board prior to escalating the issue to a state level.
Council chair Thomas Dernoga acknowledged Harrison’s concerns and said he will invite Goldson and school board chair Judy Mickens-Murray to speak with the county council regarding the claims.