Thursday, July 24, 2014

MCPS James Song Reliance on Purchasing Network is Detrimental to MCPS Budget

The disintegrating Walter Johnson
artificial turf.
At the Council's public hearing yesterday MCPS' Director of Construction James Song stated that MCPS "piggybacks" on artificial turf purchases through something called the Keystone Purchasing Network.  

Mr. Song does not put our Requests for Proposals or request Bids for any artificial turf projects. He claims he simply "uses" a price from the Keystone Purchasing Network.  

Yet, in reality the Keystone price is extremely high and in jurisdictions that have bid out their purchase of FieldTurf artificial turf they have achieved significant savings over the Keystone price.
Here's what the Board of Education paid for the FIELDTURF artificial turf at these two high schools:

5/25/2012    Gaithersburg High School    $4.47 per square foot

10/17/2012  Paint Branch High School    $4.47 per square foot

Pennsylvania's Keystone Purchasing Network price:  $4.89 per square foot

Now, here's the 10/23/2012 price a school system in Pennsylvania can pay for FIELDTURF artificial turf based on the COMPETITIVE BID they received from FIELDTURF:

$3.77 per square foot

Keep in mind that an artificial turf field is about 92,000 square feet.  So a savings of 70 cents per square foot on the two MCPS fields would have yielded savings of almost $130,000 on this one component of the project alone. (There are other parts to an artificial turf field installation.  None of the components are put out for bids by MCPS.)

The $3.77 price that the PA school system can pay for their FIELDTURF is a full $1.00 cheaper than the Keystone Pennsylvannia purchasing price that Mr. Song claims gives them such a "deal".

So is using the prices from the Keystone Purchasing Network really a good thing for Montgomery County taxpayers? 


The video below show the public comment and County Council discussion of the proposal to install another no-bid artificial turf crumb rubber infill football field at a MCPS high school.
This installation would be at Churchill High School.

July 28th at the Council's Education Committee

Montgomery County Council Education Committee
 July 28, 2014
9:30 AM - 3rd floor CCR

• Supplemental appropriation and CIP Amendment - MCPS - $250,000 for Winston
Churchill High School artificial turf (Lechenko)

 • Briefing - Innovative education (McGuire)

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Gazette: Federal probe clears MCPS - Rock Terrace School of labor violations

...The system spent about $104,000 on legal fees related to the department’s investigation, Edwards said.
Two attorneys representing the school system, including Muedeking, wrote a Feb. 28 letter to Pfeiffer arguing that Rock Terrace’s program does not fall under the Fair Labor Standards Act.
The lawyers said some of their arguments were based on the department’s criteria regarding whether educational programs have to follow the fair labor law.
The program is exempt from that law in part because it is educational and does not involve an employer-employee relationship, they said in the letter.
The attorneys described the program in which students learn work-related skills at local businesses or school system facilities.
“It is designed to teach the skills necessary for students to transition from the comfortable and familiar surroundings of Rock Terrace through a curriculum that is designed to provide ‘real-world’ educational experience while under the supervision of the Rock Terrace educators,” the letter states...
...Lyda Astrove, a Rockville lawyer and special-education advocate working with Rock Terrace parents, said she wants to see more information about the Labor Department investigation and wants to know if the department contacted the affected Rock Terrace families.
Astrove said she thinks the school and students are “absolutely” involved in an employment relationship.
“They’re generating W-2 forms,” she said. “That’s wages.”

MSI Sues Board of Education Over Turf Field Bidding Process - Bethesda Beat

MSI Sues Board of Education Over Turf Field Bidding Process - Bethesda Beat

Exclusive: MSI Soccer Says MCPS Bid Process, "highly irregular and rife with conflicts of interest, false statements..."

The Parents Coalition has obtained a copy of the public comment given yesterday to the Montgomery County Council concerning a proposal to install artificial turf on the Churchill High School football field.  Below is the cover letter from MSI to the County Council that details MSI Soccer, Inc.'s complaint.

Included in the cover letter on Page 5:
...Mr. Song stated that "they" intended to issue a "rejection of all bids" ...MSI objected on the basis that the selection committee had previously stated that all negotiations had been completed and MSI had been informed that it had been selected.  Mr. Song responded "well, since nobody will be able to prove what was said in any of those meetings, we are just going forward with this process."...
Note to Montgomery County Council:  You have the power to subpoena witnesses and put them under oath.  Maybe it's time to consider swearing in MCPS staff when they come before the Council?  

Remember this? BOE Parties with Outside Attorneys - Venable LLP

BOE Parties with Outside Attorneys

Breaking News: MSI Soccer Sues MCPS over Selection of Private Clubs for High School Artificial Turf Fields

MSI Soccer was the losing bidder in the MCPS plan to put artificial turf on the Churchill High School field.
Apparently, MSI Soccer is not satisfied with the MCPS process for picking a private club to pay for this field.
MSI Soccer has initiated an appeal to the Maryland State Board of Education and simultaneously filed in the Circuit Court for Montgomery County against the Board of Education.

Court System:Circuit Court for Montgomery County - Civil System
Case Number:392421V Sub Type: OTHER LAW
Date Filed:07/01/2014
Case Status:OPEN

Plaintiff Information
(Each Alias, Address, and Attorney for the Plaintiff is displayed)
Address:7650 STANDISH PL 108

Attorney(s) for the Plaintiff
Address:SUITE 400

Defendant Information
(Each Alias, Address, and Attorney for the Defendant is displayed)

Issues Information

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Karl Racine - the new kid on the MCPS Legal Team

Guess who came to today's MoCo Board of Education Ad Hoc Committee for Review of Board Processes and Guidelines on Board Expenditures Meeting ?

MCPS's new legal hotshot, Karl Racine, from Venable LLP.  MCPS uses Venable a lot for outside legal counsel.  

You can check the MCPS Funding and Accountability Website for more information about the extent of the firm's billing. 

In 2013, the firm billed MCPS over $400,000 for legal services.  That's money that could have supported teachers.

Does Mr. Racine's name sound familiar?  
Currently, he's running to be DC's first elected attorney general.  He's also a prominent white collar crime litigator.

You can read all about him below.

Nice to meet you, Mr. Racine.

But we wonder if Mr. Racine's involvement indicates more than just another pretty face at the Board table giving legal advice?

Seems as if Phil and phriends got the similar advice - for free - from this blog and other media sources a few days ago.  

Maybe MCPS should crowdsource legal advice instead?  Or perhaps MCPS should just put the interests of the children in Montgomery County first?

Venable LLP _ Professionals _ Karl A

Exclusive Video: BOE Credit Card Committee July 22 Part 1 - Venable LLP Presentation

The Parents' Coalition videotaped today's Board of Education credit card committee meeting.

This is the first part of the meeting which includes the presentation by the attorney from Venable LLP.

After Controversies, Committee Recommends Montgomery Co. School Board Nix Credit Cards « CBS DC

LANHAM, Md. (WNEW) — After a few recent controversies surrounding the use of credit cards by Montgomery County school board members, an ad hoc committee has recommended eliminating the use of cards and switching to per diem allowances, instead.
The recommendations will go before the board Monday for consideration.
The committee was formed after board member Christopher Barclay charged more than $1,500 worth of personal items on his school system credit card,The Gazette reports.
In accordance with a request from the Parents’ Coalition of Montgomery County, the school board released expense records for other school board staff members, as well.
They showed that Ikhide Roland Ikheloa, the board’s chief of staff, had used his school system credit card to pay for several hundred dollars worth of personal items at Mr. Tire, Target, CVS and other stores. A school spokeswoman told The Gazette those purchases were made accidentally and that Ikheloa “quickly rectified the situation.”

After Controversies, Committee Recommends Montgomery Co. School Board Nix Credit Cards « CBS DC

Gazette: Montgomery County school panel: Get rid of credit cards for members

The Montgomery County school board should stop letting its members use district-issued credit cards entirely, a board committee said Tuesday.
The ad hoc committee has been examining guidelines and practices for members’ expenses and use of these cards. During their June 12 meeting, the panel’s members had discussed scaling back acceptable uses so board members would be allowed to use cards only for expenses related to travel outside the county.
On Tuesday, they went a step further...

NBC4: Panel: Take Credit Cards From Montgomery Co. School Board

Board of Education Committee Recommends Eliminating Credit Cards - Bethesda Beat

"An MCPS spokesperson did not immediately know Tuesday afternoon how much the law firm was paid."

Board of Education Committee Recommends Eliminating Credit Cards - Bethesda Beat

Firm investigates questionable spending by Montgomery Co. school - DC News FOX 5 DC WTTG


Firm investigates questionable spending by Montgomery Co. school - DC News FOX 5 DC WTTG

Attorney recommends policy changes in wake of Montgomery Co. school board credit card scandal |

Attorney recommends policy changes in wake of Montgomery Co. school board credit card scandal |

Breaking News: Law Firm Tells BOE to Cut Up Their Credit Cards

At today's Board of Education "not a committee" meeting a presentation was made by an attorney from the Board of Education's outside counsel from the firm of Venable LLP.  The presentation to the committee was made in public and the Summary Report was distributed to those in attendance.

Note that this report does not mention what should be done with the 1,400+ MCPS credit cards floating around the rest of the school system. 

Here's the report: 

Making School Lunch Healthy Is Hard. Getting Kids to Love It Is Harder. This Lady Did Both.

From Mother Jones. reporter Kiera Butler, Fri. July 18, 2014  for the whole story go here.

Striding past samples of Pop Tarts and pizza and cookies, Jessica Shelly made a beeline for a booth selling individually packaged sliced fruits and veggies. She picked up a pouch of sliced peaches and let out a yelp of delight. "This could be really fabulous," she said. "I'm thinking yogurt. I'm thinking granola. I'm thinking make-your-own breakfast parfait!" She waved the peaches around in the air triumphantly. People began to give us odd looks.

Before meeting Shelly, I hadn't known it was possible to muster quite this much enthusiasm for sliced peaches. Then again, someone with any less energy probably wouldn't be able to do Shelly's job: As the director of food services for Cincinnati's public schools, she is wholly responsibly for providing nutritious breakfast, lunch, and snacks to 34,000 public school students, three-quarters of whom are on free or reduced-price meals.

Here in the exhibition hall at the annual conference of the School Nutrition Association (SNA), the group that represents the nation's 55,000 school food professionals, Shelly wasn't the only one with a tough job—all 6,500 attendees had their work cut out for them. They had to find food that would appeal to kids, otherwise it would go right from a child's tray to the garbage can. The food must be easy to prepare; some school kitchens are too small to do anything more than heat up a prepared meal. It also has to be very, very cheap. Most of the nutrition directors told me that once they pay overhead costs, they are left with only a dollar or two per student.

This month, their job got harder still. A new set of federal nutritional standards—including a requirement that students must take a fruit or vegetable with lunch and a rule that half of foods served must be composed of at least 51 percent whole grains—went into effect on July 1. Even stricter rules are coming: In 2017, the sodium limit will be further reduced. * (Read Mother Jones' Alex Park's guide to the food companies that lobbied on the new rules here.)


...Shelly has found that with a little creativity, it's possible to tempt kids to the lunchroom. Ohio tightened its nutrition standards several years ago, so Shelly has had some time to develop tricks. One winning strategy, she says, is to encourage kids to personalize their meals. She worked with her produce distributor to create affordable salad bars, where kids can load up on the veggies they like. She also installed spice stations—think ranch, lemon pepper, and hot chili—so that kids could decide how to season their food. One day a week, she invites teachers into the lunchrooms to model healthy eating. On these mentoring days, teachers eat free.

Another part of the job, she says, is marketing. She regularly asks students to score foods served in the cafeteria. When she changed the name of a sandwich from "chicken patty on a whole grain bun" to "oven baked chicken sandwich," the students scored the sandwich three points higher on average. She also made lunchrooms more inviting, ditching the long tables for booths she picked up for cheap at restaurants that were going out of business. During a conference session she led, she underscored the importance of letting parents know that healthy food was available at school. "They don't know," she said. "They think we're feeding them carnival food. They think I'm making mystery meat in the back kitchen with road kill."

Her tactics seem to be working. While the rest of the nation's lunchrooms have seen historic declines in attendance over the last few years, cafeterias in Shelly's program have actually grown more popular—and turned a $2.7 million profit.

Planning Board Postpones Farquhar Middle School Modernization Agenda Item

Item 5
William H. Farquhar Middle School Modernization
*A.William H. Farquhar Middle School Modernization and Batchellors Forest Residential: Site Plan Amendment No. 82008019C
Request to amend the Site Plan and Final Forest Conservation Plan to include construction of the William H. Farquhar Middle School on a parcel previously dedicated to the M-NCPPC as part of the Batchellors Forest Residential, located on the north and south side of Batchellors Forest Road, approximately 3,000 feet south of the intersection with Doctor Bird Road, 93.64 acres, RNC Zone, Olney Master Plan
Staff Recommendation: Approval with conditions
B. William H. Farquhar Middle School Modernization: Mandatory Referral No. 2014028
Located on the south side of Batchellors Forest Road approximately 3,000 feet south of the intersection with Doctor Bird Road, 17 acres, RNC Zone, Olney Master Plan
Staff Recommendation: Approval and Transmit Comments to MCPS
F. Boyd

City Gets Artificial Turf for $357,401 Less Than MCPS .@GburgMD .@mcps #artificialturf

The City of Gaithersburg bought new artificial turf for a new installation on a City park.

But, the City of Gaithersburg is only going to spend $942,599 for the brand new artificial turf football field.

Walter Johnson High School
artificial turf shredding
Summer 2014
What is wrong with those folks? Don't they know that for another $357,401 they could have bought the exact same brand of artificial turf that the Board of Education has chosen as their sole source/no bid supplier?

You know, the same brand of artificial turf that is currently shredding over at Walter Johnson High School after only 5 years and is in line to be purchased for Churchill High School.

...Hellas Construction submitted a bid for just over $1.14 million this past winter. It was the only company to submit a bid proposal for the project to the city during the month-long solicitation period, which ran from Feb. 7 to March 13, acting Public Works Director Ollie Mumpower said at the meeting.
To bring the bid price more in line with the city’s estimate, staff worked with the company to locate savings, according to Mumpower. After shaving off some unnecessary costs, the new bid came in at $942,599...

No need to lose any sleep over this overspending, the Montgomery County Inspector General is fine with the Board of Education overpaying for no bid artificial turf. What's a few hundred thousand of tax dollars here and there?
...Montgomery County Inspector General Edward Blansitt confirmed with The Town Courier that, in response to two complaints in 2012, his office conducted a preliminary, “thorough” inquiry to see whether the cost-benefit analysis used to select the supplier, FieldTurf, was flawed. “The findings were [that the methods used were] consistent with those conducted by other organizations nationwide after weeding out the influence of both the natural and synthetic turf industries. … We found there was no reason to spend staff time and resources on whether the cost-benefit analysis was done flawlessly,” he said.
Blansitt said his office did find that M-NCPCC had relied on expertise from a specific consultant with ties to FieldTurf in selecting the supplier’s standards. The investigators have since “adjusted their standards,” he said, and MCPS did not rely on the consultant in question...

Monday, July 21, 2014

Maryland gets waiver extension for teacher evaluations

From our friends at the Baltimore Sun.
Reporter Liz Bowie 

For the complete story go here.

Maryland can put off using test scores to evaluate teachers through the next school year under a waiver to federal law.

The U.S. Department of Education granted Maryland a one-year extension that will allow it to put off using annual test scores, given in grades three through eight, as part of a teacher's evaluation. The extension was expected, and Maryland legislators had already passed a law prohibiting the use of test scores until the 2016-2017 school year.


 "This is only a one-year agreement to live through the on-boarding of the new assessment," said Maryland State School Superintendent Lillian Lowery.

Only On 7: John Land, Janice Land charged with locking up sons with autism in dungeon-like basement |

Only On 7: John Land, Janice Land charged with locking up sons with autism in dungeon-like basement |

John Land, who works as a maintenance supervisor at Martin Luther King Junior Middle School in Germantown, allegedly told investigators his sons were "totally non-verbal" and "had a history of running from the house."

Read more:
Follow us: @ABC7News on Twitter | WJLATV on Facebook

Phil's Pheeding Phrenzy

Phil - I am really surprised.

The more I read your proposed policy on Board members expense reimbursement,   the more disappointed I get.

As I've stated before, I don't like your proposed policy.  But - I was willing to let you and your phriends on the Board of Education go to two meetings and two "events."  However, the more I look at the "events" list, the more disappointed I get.

For example, your policy says that MCPS events are not eligible - so why do you have the MCCPTA Principals and Presidents Dinner?   PAY YOUR OWN WAY.

Annual Latin Dance Competition?  It says MCPS, so take it off the list and pay your own way.

Committee for Montgomery Legislative Breakfast - this is political so take it off the list and pay your own way.  Same for the Minority Legislative Breakfast.

Finally - another cut at what should come off the list?

Any event where one of your Board members or Board staff sits on the Board of the sponsoring organization.  Good bye Gala for Community Services for Autistic Adults and Children.

I'll check the list and get back to you will additional deletions.

Anyone else care to comment?

The next meeting of  to discuss the policy on Board members "compensation and expense standards" will be the July 22, 2014 meeting of the Ad Hoc Committee for Review of Board Processes and Guidelines on Board Expenditures.

Let Phil know that the credit card issue is out of control and embarrassing. Tell Phil and the other Carverites to stay home, pack a bag lunch, and stop the feeding frenzy.

Contact for Phil: 

Contact for Board of Education:

Board of Education Office

Montgomery County Public Schools
Carver Educational Services Center
850 Hungerford Drive, Room 123
Rockville, Maryland 20850
Tel: 301-279-3617
Fax: 301-279-3860
Facebook logo 16x16 Facebook |  Twitter 

"The teacher said it is apparent that some students have lost interest in excelling, seeing the same grade awarded for varied levels of success, the teacher said."

...One Montgomery teacher, who asked not to be named to speak freely, said the grading system was overly ambiguous, with P’s covering too wide a range of work. The teacher said it is apparent that some students have lost interest in excelling, seeing the same grade awarded for varied levels of success, the teacher said.
Jeffrey Thames, a PTA president at two Silver Spring elementary schools and founder of the nonprofit Hope Restored, said the report card has been “extremely challenging” for families with limited English ability or little experience with school advocacy.
“The parents are finding out too late that the child is struggling, especially in the minority community and in the immigrant community, due to the unfamiliar format,” Thames said...
The Washington Post:  A plethora of P’s on report cards confound parents in Montgomery County

Exclusive Video: BOE Credit Card Committee - Pat O'Neill "These are adults. They should know - Obviously, in these last couple of days, I question that..."

The Parents' Coalition has exclusive video from the July 3, 2014, off-camera Board of Education committee meeting to discuss Board members' use of MCPS credit cards. Documents reviewed at that meeting can be found on the Board of Education website at this link.

At minute 20 the BOE committee is discussing Board members attending conferences and whether or not they need pre-approval to attend a conference.

BOE Vice President Patricia O'Neill makes the following statement at minute 23:
"...I think if this is something that requires pre-approval and went through that process, it wasn't approved that's done. I mean it's done. I think in the pre-approval there should be an appeal
I can't even believe that we are in this world of - I mean, these are adults. They should know - . Obviously, in these last couple of days, I question that...

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Phil's Still In the Dark on Expenses

Phil, Phil, Phil - you just don't get it, do you?

You are the President of the Board of Education, a trained lawyer, and you still haven't identified the central problem behind the Board members out of control spending?

Yes, you say that you are drafting a new policy on Board members "compensation and expense standards."  The draft policy will be discussed at the July 22, 2014 meeting of the Ad Hoc Committee for Review of Board Processes and Guidelines on Board Expenditures.

You can't even get past the title without making a mistake.  Compensation has no place in the policy.  You don't set the compensation standards.  Compensation is a matter of state law.  You are confused if you think that the expense reimbursement is part of the compensation package.  Its not.  BOE members are part time, not full time.  And therein lies your second mistake.  You don't let part timers spend taxpayer money as if they are employed full time.

Now, I've looked over your proposed policy, and, yes, I realize that you think this is just one of those pesky little administrative matters that doesn't need public input.  Here is your third mistake.  You are spending taxpayer dollars, and the taxpayers need to know how public funds are expended.  Every year we hear how the school system needs more money.  Our teachers spend their own money on classroom supplies, and kids come home from school with stories for example, that the school ran out of copy paper, textbooks, crayons, whatever.  Please can we have some more?  

Sorry, Phil.  You are now leading a group that is in crisis mode.  You collectively have not demonstrated the due care you owe to the public.  Time to start from scratch.  Be careful.  Go slowly.

I've marked up your policy, since you seem so intent on going down this path, but here are some overarching principles that you should adopt.

1.  Increase the transparency of the process.  Expenses should be approved in advance by the full board during the public portion of the meeting.  No more hiding in a conference room to discuss.  After the expense is reimbursed, post the transaction on the website for the public to see.

2.  Bring your own lunch, drive your own car, and sleep in your own bed.  If you get hungry and forget your lunch - don't skip a meal, but don't expect the taxpayers to pick up the tab.  Limit the reimbursement to the cost of a sandwich - we don't need to pay for fancy restaurants, you just want your tummies to not rumble.

3.  Cut the credit cards.  Collectively, a spenders anonymous program seems more in order than this new policy.  Pay cash, or use your personal card.  You need to exercise discretion as you would for your personal expenses.

4.  Limit the amount of meetings to two per year.  You are part time, right?  Go to what you absolutely need to attend.  For the rest?  Try Skype, use Adobe Connect, Google Chat - whatever technology, we seem to have a lot of it and its time you used what we already have inhouse.  And after that?  Spend your own dime, not mine.

5.  The approved  events list needs to be cut down.  This looks like you are still eating out on the taxpayer dime and having fun.  Go to the event, but leave before dinner or pay for your own. Again, if you really believe these events are important, I suggest limiting this to two events per member.  Only one member needs to represent the Board at any event.  Remove the County Executive Ball.  That leaves a list of 21 events and so if each of you attends two events, that only leaves three without an MCPS presence.  If you need to really go to the last three?  Pay your own way.

6.  Don't pay for home offices.  Who in 2014 doesn't have a computer, telephone, or the internet at home?  Who doesn't carry their own cell phone?  And, how do we know that the taxpayer funded home internet will only be used for official business?  We could probably scrounge up a laptop or IPAD from MCPS inventory, again, we seem to invest in a lot of technology already, no sense in buying more, but the rest?  You can always come in to Carver or go to your local library for internet access.  We don't need to have you set up at home for your part time job.

7.  Dispute resolution is not needed.  Denials of expenses or attendance at events when approved by the Board should not be appealed.  

8.  Finally, you also seem a bit confused about whether this policy also applies to Board staff.  Wrong again.  Board staff are not elected, and while some seem to have trouble with expenses and reimbursements, they need more than a paragraph (your paragraph 9), and should have their own policy.  More work for your committee, but its taxpayer money and we deserve to see that the spending is in line with the public good.

Phil, I stand ready to work with you but honestly?  You have a lot of work to do on this policy before you can hold the Board members accountable.  

In the interim?  The policy should be no reimbursement.  Pay your own way or stay at home until you can be responsible for expending taxpayer money.