The Parents' Coalition of Montgomery County, Maryland stands by the facts as stated on our blog postings based on documents that have been made public by the Board of Education, Superintendent Jerry Weast, and Montgomery County Public Schools (MCPS) staff.
Unfortunately, at this time the public documents and the statements of MCPS staff detailed below cannot be reconciled and the public is left with more questions than answers.
Here is the timeline for the events leading up to this week's ABC7 news report by Julie Parker:
June 8, 2008: Superintendent Jerry Weast informs the MCPS Board of Education in a memo on artificial turf installations that, "The 10-year life-cycle cost to install artificial turf is approximately the same as the 10-year life-cycle cost to install and properly maintain a natural grass field." MCPS staff informed the Montgomery County Council that the cost to sod a football field was $210,000 and the cost of an underground sprinkler system and irrigation was $55,000. In addition, lines for a grass football field were $7,500, one year of water was $6,000, and one year of maintenance was $40,000.
June 19, 2009: Thanks to the on scene reporting of ABC7 reporter Greta Kreuz the public is made aware that a brand new natural sod football field with underground sprinkler system was in the process of being installed at Walter Johnson High School.
June 22, 2009: In response to the disclosure of the installed natural sod field and underground sprinkler system MCPS Director of Facilities Joe Lavorgna stated to the Board of Education (minute 10 of video):
"Last fall we sodded the field. Um...Anticipating that we had to meet the permit requirements, and had we not sodded the field and planted grass seed, it would have been washed away with the recent weather we have had. So we had to sod the field. Um...We will... when the artificial turf goes in, remove the sod and re-use it in other fields that have to be rehabilitated. There is a misconception about the cost of the field. The sod and the sprinkler system together are about $125,000. All of it will be reused or recycled in other athletic fields in the county."
January 5, 2010: The Parents' Coalition obtains photographs of the Walter Johnson High School natural sod field being excavated.
January 11, 2010: The Parents' Coalition obtains photographs of huge piles of dirt on top of the sod on the Walter Johnson High School football field. Cars and trucks are seen in the photographs parked on the sod football field.
May 11, 2010: MCPS Director of Facilities James Song, when asked about the temporary grass football field at Walter Johnson High School, states to the Board of Education "We saved about 80% of the sod." Mr. Song also reveals, for the first time, that Wheaton High School (located in Wheaton, MD) was the recipient of the used Walter Johnson High School football field sod and the associated underground sprinkler system.
August 16, 2010: ABC 7's Julie Parker reports on the results of a Maryland Public Information Act request by the Parents' Coalition of Montgomery County, Maryland for the costs associated with removing and relocating the used Walter Johnson High School football field sod and sprinkler system. The story states, "Hearing that a grass field and irrigation system was torn out after five football games at a cost of $86,000 of taxpayer money isn't sitting well with some parents."
August 18, 2010: MCPS Public Relations Director Dana Tofig releases a Press Release stating:
WHAT HAPPENED TO THE TEMPORARY FIELD: The sod and soil, and the sprinkler system, were removed from Walter Johnson High School this year and the artificial turf was installed. The sprinkler system and the top soil were moved to Wheaton High School, which was in need of a field renovation. MCPS stored the actual sod from the temporary field in a warehouse to use at Wheaton, but the long winter and wet spring delayed installation and in mid-May we learned that the grass did not survive. The renovation of the Wheaton High School field cost $86,493.50, including the transfer of the soil and sprinkler system from WJHS and the purchase and installation of other materials and new sod. A full field renovation normally costs in the neighborhood of $150,000. The Parents' Coalition claims “the "relocation" of the grass football field cost taxpayers $86,493.50.” This is false.This statement from the MCPS Public Relations Department contradicts previous statements by MCPS staff as to the successful removal of the natural sod. This statement also brings into play a new cost, that of the warehousing of sod for the winter. The Parents' Coalition has not seen any public documentation of the cost of warehousing this sod. Today,a Maryland Public Information Act request was filed with MCPS for this information. We are hoping for a prompt and complete response from MCPS.
The above statement by MCPS also contradicts the MCPS documents provided in response to a public information request that was made for the removal and transfer costs of the Walter Johnson High School temporary sod field. Again, the documentation on this project is incomplete and these numbers cannot be reconciled with out additional cost data and a break down of the specific costs. The Parents' Coalition can only make public that which it receives from MCPS. If the Board of Education and MCPS believe clarification is necessary, we anxiously await the details.
In addition, the MCPS August 18, 2010 Press Release makes the following statement:
THE COST OF PUTTING GENERIC SOD ON WJHS’ FIELD: The site work and grading for the new WJHS field was performed before the 2009-2010 school year. A temporary field and sprinkler system were installed after the site work was done to prevent erosion and to allow the field to be used before the installation of the artificial turf. The cost for the sod, top soil and sprinkler system was $56,264. The Parents’ Coalition claims the temporary field for WJHS cost $432,500. This is false. They derived that figure from a report to the County Council on the estimated cost to develop a high-quality Bermuda turf field from scratch. That field was not built.This statement is in direct contradiction to what MCPS' previous Director of Facilities, Joe Lavorgna told the Board of Education on June 22, 2009 (see video of statement at link) about the cost of the temporary sod field at Walter Johnson High School. At that time Mr. Lavorgna informed the Board of Education that the temporary sod field and underground sprinkler system had cost "about $125,000."
In sum, here is what the public now knows, or doesn't know:
- Walter Johnson High School's football field was covered twice within approximately a one-year time period; once with natural sod and once with artificial turf.
- MCPS installed a temporary natural sod football field with underground sprinkler system for one season of use at Walter Johnson High School.
- The public does not know the total cost incurred by the installation of the temporary sod football field and underground sprinkler system.
- MCPS has all of the relevant invoices and documents to provide the public with the total cost of the two-field project at Walter Johnson High School.
- Wheaton High School was apparently the recipient of the used sod/soil and sprinkler system parts from Walter Johnson High School.
- The Walter Johnson High School artificial turf project cost less than the budgeted $1.2 million. The public does not know how the surplus funds were spent.
The Parents' Coalition of Montgomery County, Maryland advocates for transparency and accountability in the $2.2 billion MCPS budget. MCPS is about to enter another budget cycle where belt tightening will be required. The Parents' Coalition stands ready to assist MCPS in these lean budget times.
Further, MCPS must revisit their sod storage policy and procedures as the winter storage of the Walter Johnson High School sod was not successful, which apparently resulted in the loss of sod worth many tens of thousands of dollars.
The Parents' Coalition hopes for a new day in Montgomery County Public Schools where public procurement documents are readily accessible to the public.
About The Parents' Coalition of Montgomery County, Maryland: The Parents' Coalition of Montgomery County, Maryland was formed in 2003. The group seeks to achieve the goals of coherent, content-rich curriculum standards; high expectations combined with timely remediation and acceleration; a wider range of educational options for parents and children; greater transparency and accountability; and meaningful community input.
In May of 2009, the Montgomery County Civic Federation awarded the Parents' Coalition the Gazette Award for Public Service. The Civic Federation's Gazette Award is given annually to an individual or group who demonstrates outstanding public service to the people of Montgomery County.
On June 4, 2009, The Washington Post had the following to say about the Parents' Coalition:
"The coalition might be the best-known parent advocacy group in the region. Its members represent several constituencies, including parents of special education and gifted education students and fiscal watchdogs. The group's defining victory came this school year when the school system scaled back the fees charged to families for course materials. Coalition leaders have drawn attention to the misuse of funds collected from students for activities, the broadcast of a commercial radio service on school buses and, with their "Weast Watch" blog, the travel habits of Weast and his lieutenants."
On June 15, 2009, the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood wrote the following about the Parents' Coalition in comments to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC):
The Parents Coalition of Montgomery County (“PCMC”), a very active parent advocacy group and educational watchdog, was unaware for several months that BusRadio had been installed on a trial basis in fifty buses in Montgomery County. Incredibly, even Montgomery County Superintendent Dr. Jerry Weast was unaware of his district’s arrangement with BusRadio. When PCMC members and other parents learned that BusRadio was being used in Montgomery County, they flooded the school board and superintendent with calls and letters and the service was ended within days.
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