BOWIE – Parents and residents are still fighting the construction of a cell phone tower on Benjamin Tasker Middle School land, expressing concerns about adverse health effects and a lack of policy transparency.
The Board of Education approved the construction of cell phone towers on public school grounds on Nov. 11, 2010, during a public meeting. The leasing master agreement between Prince George’s County Public Schools and Milestone Communications, the cell phone tower provider, was signed on Feb. 7, 2011.
Milestone selected 73 potential school sites, according to the leasing agreement. For each tower, Milestone would have to pay the Board a one-time fee of $25,000 and 40 percent of gross revenues generated from each tower built.
No towers have been built yet, but the application process for individual school sites is already underway. Green Valley Academy of Temple Hills, Benjamin Tasker Middle School in Bowie, and Charles Carroll Middle School in Carrolton are among the first schools to be approved as sites for cell phone towers.
According to the county planning department, Milestone has not applied for a special exception because the county’s zoning ordinance does not require a special exception for monopoles built on public property standing less than 199 feet high. The tower proposed for Tasker Middle School will be 151 feet.
Deborah Lumpkins, director of Mothers Raising Sons and Daughters, said the Board of Education did not do enough to inform the community about the towers.
Lumpkins has three grandchildren at Benjamin Tasker Middle School. Lumpkins said she feels the Board of Education doesn’t have the public’s best interests in mind anymore.
“It’s all about their pockets,” Lumpkins said. “This is a sellout for them to make money for the school.”
According to the lease agreement the Board unanimously approved on Nov. 11, 2010, the Board gets paid $25,000 and 40 percent of the revenue generated from the tower. The school system declined to comment on how much the school itself will get. The leasing master agreement between the Board and Milestone was signed on Feb. 7, 2011, by former Superintendent William Hite.
Janis Sartucci, a member of the Parent’s Coalition of Montgomery County who has been assisting parents in Prince George’s County, said the Board of Education is still the land owner and must have the final approval on land use decisions.
“The Board of Education is trying to stay out of these decisions,” she said. “They want to hide. They are public officials and they don't want their names on these decisions.”
According to the 2010 Board policy, the Board had final authorization and approval for cell phone towers on public school grounds
But in 2013, the Board of Education amended the policy and deferred authorization to the school system chief executive officer.
According to the 2013 policy, “the Board directs the CEO to implement and administer an administrative procedure governing the process for selection and authorization of sites for the location of wireless telecommunications facilities.”
Milestone gave a presentation about the proposed cell phone towers on public schools in Bowie in front of the Bowie City Council in early February. The council did not object to the project.
Bowie Mayor Frederick Robinson said the health threat “was not significant enough” to affect the decision. The installation of more cell phone towers is determined by consumer demand, he said.
“It comes down to do you want a product or service?” Robinson said. “Then capacity has to be increased.”
Councilmember Diane Polangin said the construction of more cell phone towers is practical.
“Everybody wants to be connected,” she said. “People don’t want their calls dropped. Dear Lord, even elementary school kids have cell phones.”
Polangin said the location of the towers does not really matter.
“You don’t really notice them,” she said.
Ultimately, building cell phone towers on public school grounds is a school board issue, Robinson said.
“We reviewed the matter and deferred it to the school board – it’s their property, their issue,” Robinson said.
Eric Martin, a board member of Mothers Raising Sons and Daughters, said he strongly opposes cell phone towers on school grounds because of health concerns. Martin has a 12-year-old son who attends Samuel Ogle Middle School in Bowie, one of 73 potential schools in the county for building a cell phone tower.
“If they put a cell phone tower there, I may have to enroll my son in private school,” Martin said.
Lumpkins and Martin said they plan to raise awareness about the issue and petition against it this summer.
“If people don’t start talking, don’t start saying something, they’ll just make decisions without us,” Martin said.
Greenbelt resident Thea Scarato said she has similar health concerns.
“Schools should be a safe place, a safe learning environment,” said Scarato, a mother of a 9-year-old and a 12-year-old.
“I think every parent needs to be informed about this issue in order to make an educated decision or have an opinion on it,” Scarato said.
Scott Peterson, spokesman for County Executive Baker said Baker supports the school system’s decision.
“(Baker) is confident that the decisions the system is making are being made with the utmost concern for the safety and health of the students, faculty, staff as well as the surrounding community," Peterson said.