Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Council to Demolish 600 Seat School without Review of Facts

Ewing School
On Thursday, January 29, 2015, the Montgomery County Council's Education committee will vote on whether or not to rob the Ewing School Center building of it's renovation funding. The Ewing School building has the capacity to hold up to 600 MCPS students.  If the building loses it's renovation funding the building will deteriorate and be demolished. Once demolished, those 600 seats will be lost to MCPS students forever.

Here is an open letter to the Montgomery County Council in response to the Memorandum from Council staff on this issueCouncilmembers will use the staff Memorandum to cast their votes.  Shouldn't Councilmembers have all of the facts before they decide to demolish a usable, paid for, 600 seat public school building?


January 28, 2015

Esteemed Council Members,

I am providing this email to refute much of what [County Council Staff member] Ms. McGuire has provided within her recommendation to the County Council regarding the relocation of the AEP [Alternate Education Program] program to the former English Manor School.

Here are a couple of links for reference:

The COMPLETED Ewing Center Renovations feasibility study (see Option #3) -

Please take these items into account during your work session. At minimum, please ask for concrete proof for what she states.

1) MCPS Attendees for the [January 29, 2015, Education Committee] work session. Only representatives from the Facilities Dept are attending. While they may have some ideas regarding structural issues, they are not the ones who have designed the AEP program and cannot reliably state that their construction plans for English Manor will truly serve the program better. MCPS Administration staff presence is vital for this session.

2) There are no developed construction plans for English Manor, this vote is really around defunding the Ewing School Center. No feasibility studies have been conducted, so any discussion of how much an English Manor renovation would cost is purely speculation. The memo states (on page circled 14) "With the revised AEP, if the architects were to compare the current facility with English Manor, the study would show that English Manor is better suited to support the AEP and would be more cost effective." This is speculation. No concrete documentation has been provided to support this statement.

The memo states that "the approved $16.6 million should be sufficient to make the systematic renovations to English Manor..." "Should be sufficient" is not enough. These funds are proposed for a relatively small number of students, while a much larger number are being put in portable classrooms. In this fiscal climate, "should be sufficient" is irresponsible and should not be allowed.

She repeats Superintendent Starr's assertion that if additional funds are needed, they will be requested in the next CIP. MCPS cannot support their assertions that $16.6 million will be enough for an English Manor renovation as they have not completed any feasibility studies.

3) The proposed approval of funds for an English Manor renovation is for a building that MCPS does not currently own. Ms. McGuire references state law and county regulations in regards to transferring the property back to MCPS, but she does not provide any specific citations. These laws cannot be considered until citations are provided to prove their existence. To the contrary, COMCOR clearly states at section 11B.45.02.03 that the County Executive must activate the schools reuse and must include the community's input.   Also in COMCOR 11B.45.02.04, the Planning Board also must be involved before any action is taken. None of this is included in her memo.

4) No site selection process. Ms. McGuire claims that MCPS looked at other sites for the programs, but a site selection process was NOT conducted. Based on Board Meeting minutes, there does not seem to be any discussion amongst the Board of Education regarding any alternative sites. She needs to provide documentation showing that these other locations were considered as well as what concrete evidence directed them to English Manor (other than the perceived convenience of moving a Bus Depot to the current Ewing location).

5) Ms. McGuire has not included the second Resolution from the Board of Education.  This Resolution was a request to transfer $100,000 of the approved Ewing renovation money to the bus depot Feasibility Study. This needs to be included as those funds are part of what was approved for the Ewing renovations.
Resolved, That the Board of Education requests an amendment to the adopted Fiscal Years     2015–2020 Capital Improvements Program to transfer $100,000 from the approved Blair G. Ewing Center Improvements project to the Facility Planning project to conduct a feasibility study for the redevelopment of the current Blair G. Ewing Center site for the Shady Grove Transportation Depot; and be it further

So in essence, the Council cannot vote on moving $16.6 million to English Manor as $100,000 of that total is being requested to move to the bus depot.

6) The memo is wrongly comparing the potential solutions of English Manor with the EXISTING structure of the Ewing Center. This document needs to compare these solutions with those presented in the completed Ewing renovation feasibility study (link provided above). That study solves all of issues that this memo asserts can only be solved by English Manor. Here are some examples -
  •  A) The memo states that in the current Blair Ewing facility (circled page 15), "the specialty classrooms (Le. art, music, science, drama, and PEl are located in different parts of the facility, which would create more interaction between middle and high school students than desired." Page 41 of the Ewing renovation feasibility study shows that option #3 puts all of these classrooms in the same location, thus eliminating the issue being cited.
  • B) The memo states that (on circled page 14) "In addition, due to the current building layout and multi-levels [of the Ewing Center], it would be difficult to create a clear circulation path or improved supervision .." yet, the plan for English Manor is to locate the students on multiple levels as well. The completed feasibility study for the Ewing renovation states (page 44) "The corridors are able to widen create locker commons. These moves remove the institutional feel of the current building and provide students with 21st Century Learning Environments on par with their home school."
  • C) From a footprint standpoint, this memo states twice that the facility size of English Manor is much smaller than what is required of the AEP program.On circled page 14, "The current Blair Ewing site is approximately 22.5 acres compared to English Manor which is approximately 8.25 acres. The Blair Ewing facility is over 85,000 GSF compared to English Manor which is approximately 50,000 GSF. Based on the student population and program needs for the revised alternative education programs (AEP), approximately 70,000-75,000 GSF is required to support the programs." Also on circled page 15, "Although the current English Manor facility was a former elementary school and the square footage is smaller than what is required for the AEP, the proposed addition would allow MCPS to provide the specialty and career technology education (CTE) classrooms needed to support the program." Considering that the site acreage is significantly smaller than the Ewing property, how is there space to add enough square footage as the memo states is needed? Again, no feasibility study so any statements around English Manor are speculation.
  • D) The memo states (on circled page 15) that each Ewing Center classroom has their own bathrooms. Staff would like these removed. Page 47 of the Ewing renovation feasibility study shows that individual bathrooms have been removed as requested.
6) Ms. McGuire mentions nine testimonials, but does not include them in her memo. Three of the four who testified in support of the plan were MCPS employees under Mr. Starr, and not members of the public. Second, a number of people submitted written testimony against the plan, and this should have been counted as well.
A large number of questions have been raised by the community and virtually none of these have been answered or even addressed in any forum. Hundreds of separate communications, including phone calls, emails and testimony have poured in to the BOE and the County Council.
    1 - No responses have come.
    2 - The 'recommendation' doesn't even acknowledge the numerous questions raised, completely ignoring the overwhelming rejection of this plan by the public.
In reality, the response from the public was overwhelmingly negative and not balanced as the document suggests.

7) No community involvement before the School Board Vote. The memo states (on circled page 15) "The addition would provide a new building elevation to the neighborhood. For all school design projects that MCPS conducts, if the feasibility study is approved, the adjacent neighbors and neighborhood associations would be invited to participate in the feasibility study and subsequent schematic design process to share their concerns and input into the design of the project." Involving the community after the fact, is the equivalent of asking forgiveness rather than permission. That is too little too late for the community.
"Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed" (Declaration of Independence). Despite efforts by the BOE to paint another picture, the public is almost uniformly opposed to this plan. In this case, there is no way that it should go forward.

I implore you to push for facts and not the fiction included in that memo. The residents in and around Aspen Hill are vehemently opposed to this plan and you owe it to us to be as thorough as possible when making your decision.

Thank you for your time and consideration.
-David K. Rowden

Delegate Carr Proposes Change to Process for Filling BOE Vacancies

Montgomery County Delegate Al Carr has proposed legislation that would provide that in the event of a vacancy on the Montgomery County Board of Education a special election would be held.  

Under current law, vacancies on the Board of Education are filled by the current Board members appointing a new Board member to fill the vacancy. 


For the purpose of providing for the conduct of a special election to fill a vacancy for an elected member on the Montgomery County Board of Education; repealing the authority of the elected members of the county board to appoint an individual to fill a vacancy for an elected member on the county board; providing that, under certain circumstances, the special election shall be held concurrently with a regularly scheduled general election in the county; requiring the County Executive for Montgomery County to establish the date for the special election; providing that a local special election to fill a vacancy shall be conducted by mail if the proclamation of the chief executive officer or county executive of a charter county directs that the election be conducted by mail; and generally relating to a special election to fill a vacancy for an elected member of the Montgomery County Board of Education.

E-mails Reveal Direct Communication Between Cell Tower Vendor and Board of Education Members

Daly Elementary cell tower in Germantown, MD
The Maryland Coalition to Halt Cell Towers at Schools (MCHCS) is releasing e-mails and correspondence that show direct communication between the Prince George's County Board of Education cell tower vendor, Milestone Communications, and individual Prince George's County Board of Education members.
This information came to the MCHCS through e-mails released by the Prince George's Board of Education in response to a Maryland Public Information Act request.
The MCHCS notes that individual actions of Board of Education members acting on behalf of the board are in direct violation of Maryland law and Prince George's County Board of Education Policy.
The e-mails that MCHCS is releasing detail a Milestone Communications representative attempting to get Board of Education member Sonya Williams to state that she has no objections to cell towers for the Old Croom Vocational High School and Burroughs Middle School sites.

In the first e-mail of this packet, the Milestone Communications representative states that they had previously contacted Board of Education Member Burroughs, Board of Education Member Jacobs and Board of Education Member Higgins to determine if those Board members had any objections to cell tower projects in their districts.
The January 31, 2014, e-mail from Maureen Smith of Milestone Communications to Board member Williams states:

As part of the implementation of the existing lease process, Milestone must inform the School Board Member for the Districts where subject properties are located and determine that the Board Member does not object to the proposal.  Then, we move forward to request a Letter of Authorization to Proceed...from Dr. Maxwell.  In the body of the request letter we confirm that the School Board Member has been notified and does not object to the proposal(s).

This behind closed doors communication with individual Board members has, heretofore, been unknown to the public and is not part of any publicly known cell tower approval process.

Maryland Coalition to Halt Cell Towers at Schools


MCPS Says It’s Closing Achievement Gap As Graduation Rates Improve

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

WPost: Montgomery County schools chief’s tenure in doubt

The future of Montgomery County Schools Superintendent Joshua P. Starr appeared to be in doubt as the eight-member Board of Education prepared for a Wednesday executive session to discuss renewal of his contract, two county officials with direct knowledge of board deliberations said Tuesday evening...

Starr Lacks School Board Majority for Renewal of Contract, Sources Say - Bethesda Beat

Starr Lacks School Board Majority for Renewal of Contract, Sources Say - Bethesda Beat

...While most school board members have declined to comment publicly on the situation in recent days, knowledgeable sources indicated that four board members – Judith Docca (District 1), Michael Durso (District 5), Jill Ortman-Fouse (at-large), and Rebecca Smondrowski (District 2) – are prepared to vote against granting Starr a second four-year contract...

Opponents of Blair G. Ewing Center Demolition Plan Rally (VIDEO)

 Opponents of the Montgomery County Public Schools’ plan to demolish the Blair G. Ewing Center off Avery Road and replace it with a bus depot for nearly 400 buses are planning a rally on Thursday in front of the County Council building...

...Rockville’s Mayor Bridget Newton talked about the issue in this MyMCMedia Extra.

WPost Editorial: Montgomery school board is prepared to cut ties with superintendent Joshua Starr

Where was the reporting that went into this Editorial?

January 27 at 7:20 PM
THE MONTGOMERY County Board of Education is unlikely to renew the contract of Schools Superintendent Joshua P. Starr when it expires June 30, sources tell us. The prospect of a search for new leadership, less than four years after Mr. Starr took the helm, underscores the need to appraise what might have gone wrong. Did Mr. Starr not live up to expectations, or did the board have the wrong expectations of what was needed for the 154,000-student system? It’s not an academic question but one that will be critical to any effort to recruit a new superintendent...

Fewer gimmicks in Hogan’s billion budget; solves deficits for 3 years by capping spending hikes

Maryland  Fewer gimmicks in Hogan’s billion budget; solves deficits for 3 years by capping spending hikes

...But Montgomery and Prince George’s, despite the cuts, do see small net increases in their aid. Montgomery gets $11 million more than this year (1.3%), and Prince George’s gets $34 million more (2.9%). Baltimore City gets $40 million less (-3.3%)...

 - See more at:

Edison High School Still Charging Students for Free Public Education

The Maryland Constitution guarantees all public school children a free public education.  That means that anything related to curriculum must be available to all for free.

But, we live in Montgomery County and in our county, our elected officials don't believe in the Maryland Constitution and don't believe in free public education for all.

Our Board of Education is so bold that they actually put right on the Edison High School application (page 4) that any children that apply for an Edison program will be charged to attend the school.

Yes, if your child dares to apply for classes at Edison High School in Silver Spring, the Board of Education will deny your child a free public education.  

From the Edison High School application packet:

Monday, January 26, 2015

BOE Schedules 4 More Hours of Closed Sessions

The Montgomery County Board of Education has scheduled two hour Closed Session for 10 AM on Tuesday, January 27, 2015, and another two hour Closed Session for 10 AM on Wednesday, January 28, 2015. 

Once again, the subject of these Closed Sessions is someone's employment contract. 

By now the public gets that these meetings are about discussing whether or not Superintendent Joshua Starr's employment contract should be renewed.  
Why not just disclose the subject of these meetings?

Jan. 30th 6 PM: Hearing on New Special Taxes for Montgomery County Residents

In a surprise move last, Thursday, County Executive Ike Leggett sent "late" bill MC 24-15 to our Montgomery County delegation in Annapolis asking for authority to create an Independent Transit Authority funded by a tax added to our property tax that is not subjected to current limits on that tax's increases. The bill is late because it was submitted seven weeks after county bills were due. Most County submitted bills are discussed in public hearings in Rockville in early December. The late submission means there was no public, transparent consideration of the bill – despite the fact that the consultant’s report that formed the basis of this bill was submitted to the County Executive more than one year ago, and was never presented to the Rapid Transit System steering committee.

This bill needs approval by the state legislature before the County can move on it. Late bills are considered on a fast track in Annapolis . The Montgomery County House delegation on Friday voted 19-4 to accept this legislation, and it may well be voted on by both houses before the scheduled April 13 adjournment. In response to a flood of protests from civic activists, legislators have agreed to hold a required hearing in Rockville instead of Annapolis on Friday, January 30, at 6pm.
If passed, this bill will allow the County to create an Independent Transit Authority (ITA). The County needs State authority to create such an agency. Concern among budget and legislation watchers is that there was a lack of transparency leading up to the submission of this bill and no public discussion, yet it gives authority to a new independent agency – and gives the agency authority to circumvent the County Charter 's limit on property tax increases.

Whether an Independent Transit Authority is a good idea or not, the details and impacts of this legislation need to be publicly debated and discussed before it goes to Annapolis for approval. The stealth with which this bill was developed and submitted lead many to think that quiet negotiations have cleared the road to approval both at the State level and in the County Council. We urge you to write to the Montgomery County House delegation and ask them to send the bill back to the County for public discussion, delaying any state action until County residents and taxpayers have had an opportunity to study and discuss the bill. Legislator email addresses are below.

The proposed Independent Transit Authority is somewhat akin to setting up another WSSC, run by a compensated board and self funded. Instead of "rates," the ITA would be funded by an extra fee on your property tax collected from "special tax areas," which could encompass the whole county, areas along particular transit routes, or whatever parameter the authority chooses. That extra property tax fee would not be subject to the County Charter limit that restricts property tax increases and puts a ceiling on the total amount of property taxes collected by the County. This charter limit was approved by the County residents in 1990.

Right now, as part of our property tax and under the charter limit, we pay a $0.04 per $100 assessed value "mass transit tax." That is not enough to fund the additional public transit projects proposed to reduce congestion in the County. The ITA, as described in the bill, could fund BRT, light rail, bridges, tunnels, property acquisition, parking lots, and garages, and even acquire property by condemnation, and probably even take on the debt on the Silver Spring Transit Center . But it won't have to present a budget to the Council every year like WSSC does.

The ITA, according to the legislation, could also issue bonds and incur debt that will not affect the County's debt ceiling or bond rating. In fact, the County could move debt off their books and onto the ITA's, and then increase spending and debt. The ITA debt will be guaranteed by future special taxes it can collect through the new separate tax on your property taxes. The County "may not require the ITA to submit capital or operating budget to County for approval."

If you think that MC 24-15 should be rejected by the Montgomery County delegation to the State legislature because it has not been properly introduced and discussed among the residents of Montgomery County, please write to the County’s state legislature delegates asking that they reject MC-24-15. Mr. Leggett can re-introduce the legislation next year.

As noted earlier, the Montgomery County delegation has agreed to hold a rare "late" bill public hearing in Rockville instead of Annapolis on Friday, January 30 at 6 pm. This does not substitute for internal public discourse between citizens and the County Executive . The presence of a significant crowd at the hearing would show our legislators that this is not the right way to do things. So please – come to the County Council Building, 100 Maryland Avenue in Rockville on Friday, January 30 at 6 pm.

Here is the voting list showing who in the Montgomery County Delegation voted to allow this bill to move through the legislature this session.

BOE Member Docca Absent for 1/23 Closed Meeting

On January 23, 2015, the Montgomery County Board of Education held a 3 hour closed session to discuss "someone's" employment contract.

The public doesn't know whose contract was being discussed, but a good guess would be that the meeting was to discuss whether or not Joshua Starr's contract should be renewed for another four years.

In the video of the vote of the Board to go into the closed session, Board of Education member Judy Docca's seat is empty.  It appears that Ms. Docca was not present for this meeting.

Friday, January 23, 2015

Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School Teacher Indicted on Child Pornography Charges - Bethesda Beat

Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School Teacher Indicted on Child Pornography Charges - Bethesda Beat

MCPS already denying Child Porn Arrest relates to school

Again?  Last time MCPS tried this they were flat out wrong.  How about we all wait to see the actual indictment and charges?

"MCPS spokesperson Dana Tofig said he is gathering info on the indictment but that the charges are not related to the school."

Special education teacher indicted on child pornography charges - DC News FOX 5 DC WTTG

Special education teacher indicted on child pornography charges - DC News FOX 5 DC WTTG


BREAKING: Mont Co spec ed teacher Peter Flynn arrested on fed chgs of child porn poss & dist. wks at BCC HS. @wusa9


Councilmember Craig Rice Supports "blink of an eye" school planning. OK to skip public process. #72hours #no1cares #mcpswaste

...“(The County Council) should ask the Board of Education why they’re tearing schools down and then asking for money for school construction. It makes no sense. It’s waste,” said Jamison Adcock, vice president of the Aspen Hill Civic Association...

...The quick change does not seem unusual to [Councilmember Craig] Rice, as new research comes to light.
“We change parameters all the happens in the blink of an eye and you start changing your thought process,” Rice said. “Feasibility versus really providing students with what they really need are two different things.”...

 ...[MCPS Planner] Crispell reached out to the neighborhood about 72 hours before the board’s Capital Improvements Program (CIP) hearings on Nov. 12 and 13...

...“Based on what I’ve heard, unfortunately I don’t think the community felt as though they were engaged and involved in the process. That’s unfortunate and it should never be that way,” Rice said. “What I don’t want to say is that alleged transgressions of the school board change the decision before us.”

Cultural and Linguestic Diversity of MCPS Students and Staff Report

The Montgomery County Council Education Committee will discuss their just released report on Cultural and Linguistic Diversity of MCPS Students and Staff on January 26, 2015, at 9:30 AM.  The meeting will be televised and webcast.

OLO Report 2015-1, Report at this link: Cultural and Linguistic Diversity of MCPS Students and Staff

Superintendent Joshua Starr's response to this report is on page 14 at this link

WPost: The school system spent $716,917.25 defending the cases between July 2012 and December 2014...

...Between the jury award and legal expenses, the cases have cost the county schools more than $1 million. The school system spent $716,917.25 defending the cases between July 2012 and December 2014, according to information obtained through a Maryland Public Information Act request.
Late last summer, a jury awarded $350,000 to a former English teacher, who accused the school system of discriminating against him because he is white. Jon Everhart said he was forced out of his job by Simpson-Marcus, who is black, because of his race. Months later, the school system settled a second case, filed by a former employee, a black secretary, who sued because she said she was retaliated against for reporting Simpson-Marcus to supervisors...

Starr Demolishing 85,400 sq. ft school, calls Governor Hogan "shortsighted"

...Montgomery County Public Schools Superintendent Joshua Starr said it was “shortsighted” for the governor to think that the education cuts will not have an impact on the economy in the long run...

For information on the usable 85,400 sq. ft. public school building that Superintendent Joshua Starr is demolishing click here