Wednesday, March 31, 2010

ENCORE Follies

DCPS scraps special-ed database after spending millions on system | Washington Examiner

According to the Washington Examiner, the District of Columbia Public Schools decided to abandon the ENCORE special education online IEP system two years ago this week.

Now, Montgomery County Public Schools has also decided to abandon the ENCORE system, after spending at least $1.4 million dollars on on the software and licensing renewals. And that doesn't even include the staff time spent on training!

Also missing from Jerry Weast's memo explaining the change to the Board of Education (well after staff had already decided to abandon ENCORE and started to develop a new product): how much MCPS is now spending to develop a new online IEP system on the fly, and how much the taxpayers are coughing up to RDA Corporation to assist MCPS in cleaning up this self-made mess.

Reviewing the available documentation, MCPS initially paid for Encore in July of 2005, yet it didn't come on line until January of 2008, and was offline by the end of December 2009. A pretty short run for over $1,380,000 spent! Original price $540,000, plus the $210K in 2006, 2007, 2008, & 2009.

And what about the "consultants?" In the Answers to Budget Questions, we see that the Office of the Chief Technology Officer proposes to spend $381,000 (an increase of $155,000) on consultants for: Software testing for Online Curriculum and IEP PROJECTS in FY 2011(see page 3). How much of that large dollar amount is in addition to the amount already flushed away by Encore?

Oh, and did we mention that the Maryland State Department of Education offered all the local education agencies IEP software for a very reasonable price: FREE!

$540,000 here, and another few hundred thousand there, and pretty soon you're talking about real money. Too bad no one seems to exercise one whit of oversight over MCPS's spending practices. Just say "Technology" and for some reason the current and past Boards of Education feel free to fleece our wallets for the latest high-tech, high-cost project. Here's one taxpayer that won't be riding the PTA/MCEA bus to the county council to beg for more money for Jerry Weast to flush away.

Where do we go to get the $1.4 million dollars back?

Is Artificial Turf Really a "No Brainer"?

At a March 11, 2010 County Council Education Committee meeting (see video excerpt below), the legislative analyst starts the artificial turf (AT) discussion by paraphrasing from p 14 of the document : "MCPS states that at the moment standard POR (program of requirements) for high school still reflects a grass assumption. However they will bid (artificial) turf as an alternate, and depending on how costs come out, we may be able to put that in."

May be able to put AT in? But the document reads as 'shall':

If the AT is bid low - accepted.

If the AT is bid high - accepted. Then MCPS has to find some organization to help pay for the greater than $1 Million price tag, as they did for WJHS , and Richard Montgomery HS, with the added bonus of the partner organization - not the school or the community - getting preferential use of the field.

What about the natural grass bid? Oh, that's right. Grass - standard or organic with proper base - doesn't get to bid.

And how does MCPS determine whether a bid is low or high? What are the bids really compared to? How would a tax payer know how money is spent if MCPS reps, BoE members, or Councilmembers don't know?

"So how much is it saving us, grass vs turf?" Councilmember Ervin asks (see video excerpt). Pregnant pause. "Not sure we have that number but we'll sure look at it." Superintendent Weast replies.

Not sure? Who knows? Who cares? Apparently MCPS, BoE and the Council don't really care about costs in this nightmare economy. You know, the economy MCPS and the Council say is going to be worse in 2012.

Watch the excerpt and you'll also hear Superintendent Weast say 'no brainer' and 'late comin' to the party...gonna see if we can stay in the party' with regard to artificial turf installation.

Answering the question, it appears AT installation has been a 'no brainer'.

Are actual costs known? Apparently not, as noted above. Superintendent Weast also says in the video clip that AT is "very cost effective" - fuzzy math since he doesn't know what the numbers are.

Are disposal costs for artificial turf with its toxic rubber pellets known? Duh, no brain strain there from the MCPS.

Are artificial turf replacement costs known? No. MCPS is not forward thinking, contrary to popular belief. Forward thinking requires thinking and planning ahead. Other schools have experienced replacement cost with FieldTurf already and the limited warranty should give pause to our representative.

It's good to know the head of the 'world class' education system considers investing millions in artificial turf as something that does not require any stress on the brain.

Also good to know in wonderful MoCo that artificial turf is a matter of appearance; that keeping up with other school systems by 'stay(ing) in the party', as Superintendant Weast says, is most important.

Apparently taking on debt with capital improvements is a 'no brainer'; cutting teachers to save the operating budget must be as well.

Promethean Boards: Good Choice or Bad Choice?

As we all know, two years ago Montgomery County Public Schools purchased over $13 million dollars worth of Promethean Boards without proper purchasing authority or an appropriation by our County Fiscal Authority. Our Board of Education never took a vote, and there is no evidence of a signed contract.

That was a choice by our school administration. Just as it was a concurrent, albiet unstated, choice to have just one computer for every 3.8 students in our schools. Here's a little known fact: only 4 of Maryland's 24 school systems have a worse student : computer ratio than MCPS (source of data is the MCPS Master Plan).

Now we are left to ponder the possibility that if MCPS had invested the same $13 million of Promethean resources into student computers, our ratio could have been 2.2 students per computer, tied for best in the state.

Perhaps without realizing it, our school system administration made the choice that fancy electronic whiteboards were a higher priority than student access to computers.

Moreover, Montgomery County Public Schools spent $5000 per Promethean Board. While those boards do more than a computer projector, 95% of what they are used for is simple projection of the computer display on a screen. Was that a good investment considering a computer projector could have been purchased for under $700?

In other words: that same $13M could not only have allowed for a computer on one out of every 2.5 students' desks, and it could have simultaenously put a computer projector in every classroom.

So we are left to consider the question: will all these Promethean Boards, still not in every classroom, do more to raise student achievement then putting a projector in every classroom and increasing the number of computers available for student use by 50%?

Bob Astrove

Chicago Students Rebel for Healthier Food

Jaime Oliver on Mrs. Q.

Readers of this blog know that a teacher, Mrs. Q., is blogging about school lunches and that Chef Jamie Oliver has a show on ABC about school lunches and food in a West Virginia town.

Now see what Jamie Oliver has to say about Mrs. Q.!

Jamie Oliver: Blog Exposing School Lunches Is 'Brilliant'

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

The Big Picture: A conversation with Jerry Weast

The Big Picture: A conversation with Jerry Weast
Dr. Jerry Weast, superintendent of Montgomery County (Maryland) Public Schools, has spent more than 40 years in education. Although he says he’s “just a farm boy..."
...Now the county has a fully integrated platform: myMCPS, with firewalls and security access to different groups with limitations based on need to know. It created dashboards on which teachers, board members and students could provide data profiles; and it decided to change direction in order to come to decisions that make a difference in human lives...
 ...Principals can call up profiles at their desks when a parent calls and gather information with a keystroke...
... I think with my tech hat on...
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CBS: Bullying "Not Just a Part of Growing Up"

Expert Says Expressing "Utter Contempt" for Others Is Learned Behavior, and Schools Must Be Safe Harbor for Students

"I think some of the schools actually did," Coloroso said, "but my concern when I went back and talked to the kids and then talked in the community meeting was, again, going back to those three P's - how important it is that we don’t just write bullying off as 'Boys will be boys, girls just want to be mean, it's part of growing up.' 
"It’s not like a conflict - it's about utter contempt for another human being," Coloroso said. "And it's so important that we stop that in its tracks." 
She said there are three groups that need to be part of ending bullying: "The kids themselves, because bullying [often] happens under the radar of adults; the parents, because you have to be taught to put somebody outside of your circle of caring and make them an 'it' so you so can do anything to them and not feel any shame or compassion; and school officials. We have as educators a legal obligation to keep our schools safe for everyone." 

More pre-school spending bumps kindergarten preparedness | Washington Examiner

More pre-school spending bumps kindergarten preparedness | Washington Examiner

More than three-fourths of Montgomery County's class of 2022 entered school this year ready for the rigors of kindergarten -- up 15 percent since 2001.

The numbers were released as part of Maryland's annual analysis of school readiness, which tracks how well the youngest students perform on measures ranging from scientific thinking to social interactions.
"The rigors of kindergarten?"

"Scientific thinking?"

Stop the madness. How about a developmentally appropriate curriculum in the early grades, that takes into account that these are young children we're talking about here, who need time for both play and outdoor exercise during each school day.

COMING SOON: Montgomery County Public Schools special education officials say that the population of kindergarteners and first graders who need to be physically restrained is "exploding." Could your young child be next?

Monday, March 29, 2010

Gazette: Churchill parents decry drama teacher's removal

Erin Donaghue writes in the Gazette:
Some parents at Winston Churchill High School in Potomac are crying foul after a popular drama teacher was reportedly removed from her duties as director of next school year's fall musical.

Parents have speculated that Jessica Speck's removal may be connected to last year's controversy over the musical "Chicago," which Speck directed. Shortly before the performance was slated to take the stage, Principal Joan Benz reviewed the script and edited the language.

Gazette: Seneca Valley High cancels spring musical

Meghan Tierney writes in the Gazette:
High schools across the county are gearing up for their annual spring musicals. But at Seneca Valley High School in Germantown, the stage will remain dark.

Seneca Valley's show was cancelled in late February due to expensive productions combined with low revenue and ticket sales over the past two school years. The drama department will focus on rebuilding the program through fundraising and garnering support from businesses and the community, director Maurice Johnson said.
Seneca Valley High School is one of several MCPS schools where student funds were improperly managed by the administration, according to MCPS internal audit reports obtained by the Parents' Coalition.  The audit released in January 2009 revealed that expenditures for staff appreciation items were recorded incorrectly, and that nearly the entire year's funding allocation for staff meeting refreshments had been spent by the end of September.

Since the time of the last audit, SVHS has seen a change of principals.  A new audit is due to be released shortly and will be published here when it becomes available.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Did these students drop out? Or were they "pushed out" by an inflexible, one-size-fits-all mindset?

MontCo dropout rates keep climbing | Washington Examiner

The number of Montgomery County students who dropped out of school citing a "lack of interest" more than doubled in the past 10 years, to about 900. Montgomery leads the state in the category.

Did these students drop out? Or were they "pushed out" by an inflexible, one-size-fits-all mindset that has been handed down from on high at the Carver Center?

Instead of the "Seven Keys to College Readiness" (oops: make that Six Keys, there was a defector on the "Algebra for All By 8th Grade" key), how about a developmentally appropriate curriculum in the early grades, a math curriculum that doesn't have math teachers quitting in frustration, a full continuum of special education placements and services, alternative schools for those kids who just need something different, or who face substantial personal challenges, gifted services for those kids who want to accept those challenges, remediation for those who need to "catch up," etc. etc.

You get the picture. Will the folks at 850 Hungerford Drive "get it" before we lose more kids as dropouts?

"Cheating was swept under the rug"

Huffington Post - Cari Shane Parvin: Cheating 201 (Part III)

Turns out teachers at a local DC school had been trying for years to turn in one of the leaders of the Churchill High School cheating scandal but the administration at the school kept telling them it wasn't worth the hassle...
"We had been waiting years for him to be caught. Years!" says a teacher at a different school who had taught one of the students at the center of the suburban DC cheating ring. "Every time we went to the administration about another cheating episode, we were told not to pursue it and the cheating was swept under the rug..."

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Weast Cuts 49 Central Office Positions...and 300 School Positions

In a memo to staff on Friday, March 26, 2010, Superintendent Weast announced the elimination of 300 school based positions and 49 central office positions. 

Superintendent Weast attempts to make a comparison of those cuts as "apples to apples" by lamenting the 18% cut in central office staff over the last 3 years. Are the cuts to MCPS' central office comparable to the elimination of classroom teachers?

As readers of this blog already know, Superintendent Weast could have cut 111 administrators and saved every single school based position.  

As a reminder, according to the Maryland Fact Book (page 9), MCPS has 6,709 non-instructional positions, cutting 49 hardly seems like a dent.

For your information, the Office of Organizational Development mentioned in the memo below currently employs 135 people with a budget of $25,194,941

If this office was REALLY being eliminated no classroom teacher positions would need to be cut at this time.


Sent: Friday, March 26, 2010 10:29 AM 
Subject: Budget Update from Dr. Weast 

March 26, 2010

To my colleagues,

When I wrote to you earlier this month, I made it clear that we would continue to communicate with you about the FY 2011 Operating Budget and the impact that it would have on you and your colleagues. I’m writing to you today to continue that conversation. 
As many of you are aware, the County Executive’s budget proposal for MCPS is $137.7 million lower than the budget submitted by the Board of Education. This translates to about $1,000 less per student for the next fiscal year. While we are working hard to minimize the impact on our staff and students, we have had to make some very difficult decisions over the past several weeks.
Earlier this month, we announced that we were planning to increase class size by an average of one student per class and make other changes that would eliminate nearly 300 positions in our schools. Principals are in the final stages of making those staffing decisions and notifying the affected employees.
This week, we announced $6.5 million in cuts to our central office staff that will include the elimination of 49 positions and of some specific initiatives, as well as lead to the reorganization of some of our central office functions. The biggest change is that we are eliminating the Office of Organizational Development (OOD).  The different units and functions within that office will be moved to the Offices of Human Resources, Curriculum and Instructional Programs, and the Chief Technology Officer.  A more detailed explanation of these changes will be included in the April 6 issue of The Bulletin.
As we have had to make reductions throughout the district, we have put a particular emphasis on protecting our classrooms and school-based services and our budgetary decisions reflect those priorities. Including the FY 2011 cuts, we have reduced central office services by 18 percent over the last three years. In that same time period, we have reduced school-based services by less than 3 percent. These reductions are requiring us to rethink the way the central office delivers services and support to our schools, but our commitment to excellence remains the same.
I want to emphasize that none of the changes or reductions we are making in central office or in our schools are a reflection of the performance of the people who are in the impacted positions. Many talented individuals are having their positions eliminated.  It is an unfortunate reality in these difficult economic times that such gut-wrenching decisions must be made. 
As we head into Spring Break, I want to say once again how proud I am of the work staff is doing on behalf of MCPS’ 142,000 students and of the professionalism you are displaying during these uncertain times.  I hope that everyone has a chance to relax and returns refreshed and ready to finish the school year strong.  Despite our economic challenges, you are doing outstanding work to provide a world-class education to all students.
Jerry D. Weast, Ed.D.
Superintendent of Schools

Friday, March 26, 2010

Update: Student Debtors Removed from Internet

Yesterday, this blog reported on the listing of the names of students who owed money to MCPS on the Internet.

As of this afternoon that posting has been removed from the Internet.

Now let's see the practice of making MCPS student debtors names public end permanently.

Weast bills students for 267 hours of security personnel

In an online article (see link below) from Montgomery Blair's student newspaper Silver Chips we learn that Superintendent Jerry Weast bills students for school security. 

The article details that MCPS had been holding on to "bills" for 3 years for security personnel on duty during Blair's theatrical productions. The "bills" have now appeared and are being charged to this year's students. 

Blair must do a lot of productions because the hourly rate for MCPS security is $30. An $8,000 bill equals 267 hours of security personnel. 

Apparently, Superintendent Weast has forgotten that student accounts are to be reconciled each year. That is, student fees are to go into the Independent Activity Funds at each school and be used for the students in the school that year. That is Superintendent Weast's own regulation enacted in 2008. 

At Blair, Superintendent Weast is attempting to charge current students for past years debts.  

This incident also shows how some schools are penalized. Do all MCPS high schools require 267 hours of security for theater productions? In 4 years as the parent of a thespian at Churchill High School I never saw school security at a production. 

Do some schools require more security personnel on hand for after school activities than other schools? Is it fair to bill the students for this staffing cost? 

Clearly, making students pay for school security puts some schools in a worse financial position than others when putting on after school theatrical productions. The schools that need more security have to do the productions that cost less to put on and have lower or zero script and music fees.  

At schools like Whitman High School some school security costs are picked up by the PTSA. Clearly an advantage to having a well endowed PTSA. 

Will any MCPS administrator stand up for this year's Blair theater students and protest this outrageous bill that is taking away from this year's production budget?

Of course not. 

Meanwhile, MCPS administrators are ordering lunch and dinner and charging their meals to taxpayers via MCPS American Express "procurement" cards.


Silver Chips Online:

Drama department faces deep debt

The [Montgomery Blair High School] drama department is currently $8,000 in debt to Montgomery County Public School (MCPS) for play security personnel invoices that have not been paid in three years, according to Blair Financial Specialist Donna Franklin. Drama department head Kelly O'Connor was notified of the debt in the fall...
...In June 2009, MCPS began sending bills to the drama department dating back to 2006...
...Without knowledge of the security invoices, O'Connor gradually overspent on materials for stage productions...

WAMU: Weast says Styrofoam is safe

WAMU:  Grade School Students Reject Styrofoam Lunch Trays

March 24, 2010 - By Elliott Francis
..."Styrofoam is made from styrene which is a neurotoxin and suspected human carcinogen. That means its bad for your brain and we think it causes cancer," says Brooks.
School superintendent Jerry Weast disagrees with that. In a memo issued back in 2009, Weast wrote, the Styrofoam is safe and affordable...

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Student Debtors Posted in Public Place - Again

Once again we see a MCPS school posting the names of students who owe fees in a public place. This time on the Internet.

Articles have been written documenting that names of student debtors are posted and the Whitman High School school news program even did a segment that included video of the lists on the wall at Whitman High School. Walter Johnson High School has posted student identification numbers on their website to identify student debtors.

And then there was this incident reported on by The Examiner.

In December 2008, Delegate Brian Feldman questioned Board of Education member Shirley Brandman about the practice of listing the names or id numbers of student debtors in a public place. Board member Brandman feigned no knowledge of this practice, even though the practice of posting lists of student debtors was occurring at the school her children attended. The video of her response is here at minute 2:12.                                       

And so it continues. Again we see a public listing of students who owe MCPS fees. See screen image at left.

The MCPS Board of Education and MCPS Superintendent have failed to establish a firm policy against the practice of posting student debtor names, and have failed to respect the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act.


The Parents' Coalition has blocked out the names of the students on this list and we aren't providing a link to this blog. We expect that the listing of these student's names will be removed from the Internet within the next 24 hours, hopefully sooner. 

Thanks to the county parent that forwarded us this information. Maybe someday the MCPS Superintendent and Board of Education will resolve to protect the privacy rights of students.

UPDATE 3/26/10: Student Debtors Removed from Internet

PTA Sponsors Union Rally

The following flyer is being distributed by PTA's in Montgomery County, Maryland. It shows the county wide PTA organization (MCCPTA) as a sponsor of a teachers union (MCEA), support personnel union (SEIU), and administrator union's (MCAASP) rally on April 6, 2010, at the Montgomery County Council building in Rockville, Maryland.

The flyer shows that it was authored by Tom Israel. Tom Israel is the Executive Director of the Montgomery County Education Association (MCEA).  The flyer lists school related services that will be eliminated if $137 million is cut from the proposed MCPS budget. Where did that list come from? When the Board of Education met earlier this week Superintendent Jerry Weast reported that no decisions had been made about what would be cut from the FY11 proposed MCPS Operating Budget. 

Weast told FOX5 that he: 
"promises to try to protect programs-- despite a budget $137 million less than what the Board of Education requested. He says the school system will work to  avoid furloughs."

Is it required that the cuts listed on the union/PTA flyer would happen if $137 million was cut from the MCPS proposed budget? No.

Could $137 million be cut from the MCPS proposed budget without impacting classrooms? Yes.

Is anyone looking closely at the MCPS budget and evaluating options in light of the dire financial situation our county finds itself in?

What could be trimmed without impacting the educational experience for our students?

Any suggestions?

Correction to flyer: Please note that the administrator's union is actually the Montgomery County
Association of Administrative and Supervisory Personnel (MCAASP).

Food Revolution - school lunches

Watch Episode 1 of Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

California Questions on Promethean Procurement

In an article this week on the FBI investigation of the procurement of Promethean Boards in Sarasota, Florida, the Promethean company is quoted as saying they have "won" four major contracts in the USA. 

One of the contracts cited was for the San Diego, CA school district. We know that there was no Request for Proposal (RFP) put out for the interactive white board procurement in MCPS, nor any contract for the MCPS installations, so how did San Diego choose their interactive white board product? Here's a recent San Diego article that addresses that very issue.  Legal Questions on How Schools Chose Their Whiteboard Brand
February 25, 2010
Emily Alpert

In a recent story, I wrote about why teachers and parents are split about whether new classroom technology is worthwhile and should have been prioritized ahead of other needed school repairs...
...One outside attorney who specializes in cases dealing with public bidding questioned whether the school district stretched the rules when it singled out Promethean. Attorney Jason Thornton of Marks, Golia & Finch, said if government agencies used the same reasoning as San Diego Unified, they could block companies from competing for business. A school district could equip one or two schools with a specific brand of a product, then match other schools to the same equipment.
San Diego Unified argued that Promethean "uniquely met the district's requirements," according to school district attorney Sandra Chong...
...Instead, San Diego Unified ended up ruling out the two companies that an internal team otherwise ranked highest because they didn't have existing contracts to install Promethean products -- the only brand the school district would accept. Pete Spencer, a local businessman who wanted to install the whiteboards, sued the school district, challenging whether that was a fair reason to designate a specific brand. He settled with San Diego Unified and the two winning installation companies for $42,000 earlier this year.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Fox 5: Md. School Kids Say No to Styrofoam in Lunchroom

Montgomery Blair High School Admits Overcharge to Students on Graduation Fees

Today, Montgomery Blair High School in Silver Spring, Maryland, rolled back its mandatory senior fees.

Although the school has yet to provide a budget or other cost basis for its imposition of its $35 surcharge for its seniors to attend graduation at DAR Constitution Hall on June 4, today Principal Intern Myriam Rogers announced that the school would not be asking its students to pay the $500 honorarium for its commencement speaker, Dr. Leonard Haynes III, Executive Director of the White House Initiative on Historically Black Colleges and Universities.

The refund calculates to $0.83 cents per student, but the school graciously decided to round to the nearest dollar, and will now only assess $34 for each attendee.

Another success on the graduation front - Blair HS alums have donated 24 used graduation gowns!   This will allow 24 additional students to attend the ceremonies who could otherwise not afford the cost of attendance.

The ESOL coordinator made a pitch to parents for extra donations to permit all 59 ESOL students to attend the ceremonies.  

The initial graduation fee sheet indicated that 100 students needed full or partial assistance to attend the ceremonies - does this mean that Blair has already covered their costs or that they are not going to DAR?

The bigger question is why a school like Blair needs to supplement public funds to hold a ceremony that isn't within the budget provided by taxpayer dollars.

Is this fee consistent with the Maryland Constitutional guarantee of a free public education?    

One dollar down, $34 more to go before Blair HS students get their constitutional rights restored.

San Diego Reader | School Fees Are Illegal

San Diego Reader | School Fees Are Illegal
...At the café, in between bites of her chorizo burrito, Smith leafed through the hundreds of pages of documents from the manila folder. She stopped at a copy of a 1984 lawsuit, Hartzell v. Connell. It is this lawsuit, she said, that guarantees free education at public schools. “The free school guarantee reflects the people’s judgment that a child’s public education is too important to be left to the budgetary circumstances and decisions of individual families,” read the California Supreme Court decision.
 “This court holds that all educational activities — curricular or ‘extracurricular’ ” — must be free. Having a fee-waiver policy for needy students is not acceptable, the opinion said. “The stigma that results from recording some students as needy was recognized early in the struggle for free schools.”

Weast gets an “F” in Gardening 101

Washington Post - All Opinions are Local

Jerry Weast's garden lesson

By Pamela Oerth Kolesnik
Montgomery County Public Schools Superintendent Jerry D. Weast gets an “F” in Gardening 101...

CT group to interview students and teachers this week

A group from Norwalk, Connecticut will be in Rockville this week to interview students, teachers and school officials as part of the interview process for the next Superintendent of schools for Norwalk, CT.

MCPS Associate Superintendent Susan Marks is up for the job of Superintendent in Norwalk, CT. Currently, Marks is director of personnel for MCPS. 

What students and teachers will be interviewed as part of this process? Is this a typical part of the Superintendent selection process in all school systems? 

Next year will MCPS be sending a team to interview in the home area of MCPS Superintendent candidates? Has MCPS done this in the past? 

Norwalk News - The Hour: BOE group to observe Marks in Md. - Norwalk News - The Hour - Norwalk's Newspaper

The Norwalk Board of Education will send a group of five people to Rockland, Md.,[Rockville, Md.] this week to observe its finalist for superintendent of schools Susan Marks in her current role as associate superintendent for the Office of Human Resources for the Montgomery County Public Schools. 

The group, which will leave by train on Wednesday morning and return Thursday evening, will also talk to Montgomery school officials, teachers, and students about their impressions of Marks. Glenn Iannaccone, Board of Education chairman, said the purpose of the visit is to obtain "firsthand information" on the board's top pick to become the next superintendent of schools.

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Monday, March 22, 2010

MCPS $1.4 million short for Year 4 Promethean lease payment

As readers may recall the thousands of Promethean Boards that landed in MCPS classrooms at the start of school in August 2008 weren't free or from a "grant". In fact, through a Maryland Public Information Act request the public learned that thousands of Promethean Boards had been purchased through a Four Year Lease plan. Not only weren't the Promethean Boards from a grant, they weren't paid for.

The press release put out by Superintendent Jerry Weast at the start of the 2008-09 school year only noted a "$3.3 million expansion" but neglected to state that $3.3 million was only the first year lease payment on 2,600 Promethean Boards, not the total cost for 2,600 boards.

Next, the public learned that MCPS had been holding on to federal rebates received for installing internet access to schools for the last 10 years. More on those funds here and here.  MCPS stated they would use those rebate funds to make the lease payments on the 2,600 Promethean Boards. (There is no connection between the rebates and the Promethean Board purchase. The rebates come back to the school system and into the general fund to be used by the governing authority as they desire. The rebates could have been used for school construction or teacher salaries, however, Superintendent Weast made the unilateral decision to use the rebates to purchase Promethean Boards.)

The final payment on 2,600 of the Promethean Boards in MCPS classrooms is due in 2011. (We don't know how the other thousand + Promethean Boards are being funded. That information remains out of the public view.)

There's just one problem. There isn't enough money in the rebate fund to make the full Year Four Lease payment on 2,600 Promethean boards in 2011.

On March 11, 2010, the Montgomery County Council's Education Committee (page 11 at link) discussed the $1.4 million dollar shortfall in funds needed to make the Year Four Lease payment on the 2,600 Promethean Boards.

They had a little chuckle about this. Here's the video:


Superintendent Jerry Weast submits a Master Plan for Montgomery County Public Schools every year to the Maryland State Department of Education. Have you ever seen the Master Plan?

Here is the 2008 Master Plan:

Montgomery County 2008 Final Update - Master Plan - MSDE

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Public Opinion and Gaithersburg West

I don't usually cross post from other blogs, but this poll from Maryland Politics Watch hits home - really, honestly, truly, impacting the neighborhood where I live and the quality of life in Gaithersburg and Rockville.

Read the companion piece from Donna Baron, and then cast your vote.

Does the plan make sense?  You decide.

MCPS was major "contract"

Interesting statement in Florida article about MCPS being one of the big Promethean "contracts". But here in Montgomery County we know that there was no contract. A public information request for the Promethean contract, Invitation for Bids (IFBs) or Request for Proposals (RFPs) yielded only separate purchase orders and 3rd party leases. The MCPS Board of Education never discussed or voted on a contract to purchase Promethean Boards. Promethean did not "win" a contract in MCPS. There was no competition. 

If Promethean has a contract with MCPS, let's see it. 

Herald Tribune: Sarasota County schools' supplier linked to Arizona scandal
By Anthony CormierTiffany Lankes & Doug Sword Staff Writers
Before a British company became entangled in an FBI investigation over a $13 million contract to put electronic white boards in schools in Sarasota and Iowa, the firm was accused of giving gifts to Arizona school officials who also bought their products.
That same year the company sold $2.4 million worth of products to the Tucson (Ariz.) Unified School District -- and after the deal was secured, Promethean invited top officials to a lavish conference, giving them free hotel stays, gift cards and even an iPod... 
...The big push in the United States came after 2005 and the company specifically points to four major contracts it won in San Diego, Calif.; Fort Worth, Texas; Montgomery County, Md.; and Sarasota County.

-Public Information requests for documents pertaining to arrival of thousands of Promethean Boards in MCPS classrooms in August 2008.
-Parents' Coalition webpage on Promethean board purchases in Montgomery County Public Schools. 
-Parents' Coalition blog posts on MCPS' presentations on Promethean boards in London Sarasota, Florida,  San Antonio, Texas, and Washington, D.C.

Selecting a superintendent - sharing experiences

Seideman: What I learned from Newton’s superintendent search - Newton, Massachusetts - Newton TAB

...Most of the time and effort were spent on the leadership profile that would define what we were looking for in a superintendent. Our consultants, Hazard, Young, Attea & Associates, told us our search was unsurpassed. Would anyone expect anything less? We’re Newton and this is the way we do things when it comes to our kids’ education.
However, a quick Google search for “leadership profile” and “HYA” will yield dozens of profiles nearly identical to ours, from the biggest to the smallest school districts, coast-to-coast. They all want what we want — educational leaders who are risk-takers who can integrate technology and sell the system to the public. All of them.
After going through this process with so many different school systems in recent years, why didn’t HYA just tell us what it knew we’d ultimately get to? Was it really a search for leadership qualities? Perhaps it was a means to justify a consulting contract or a way of selling the process, rather than the result, to the public. After all, there was no guarantee a search will lead to favorable results...

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Friday, March 19, 2010

AP students must stay awake during exams!

Apparently nodding off during AP exams is a problem at Churchill High School in Potomac. 

Take a look at the notice below that students must sign to take an AP exam. Stay awake or else!

The College Board Bulletin cited by this Churchill HS memo doesn't mention that AP tests will be taken away if a student falls asleep. The "Sleeping During AP Exams Penalty" appears to be a situation specific to Churchill HS.

Of course, part of the problem might be that AP exams at Churchill High School are mandated for all students in AP classes. It's probably hard to be motivated to take an AP test when you know the subject area isn't your best, or your intended college won't take the score.

All a Churchill student has to do to get out of a course's graded final exam is pay the $86 for the AP exam and stay awake!

Is this really about the AP experience; or, is this is about getting a high rating on Jay Mathews' Challenge Index that measures tests taken but not scores?

The extra fees collected just sweeten the pot for the local school.

The College Board doesn't charge a LATE fee and only charges a $13 fee for unused tests. But read the form below.  Churchill is charging a $39 late fee (gotta love the $39 - sounds so authentic!) and will only refund $50 for cancellations, not $73.

Where does the money go that isn't sent to the College Board organization to pay for the AP exams? We know the money doesn't go into the MCPS Operating Budget but stays at the local school to be spent at the discretion of the principal. Those AP exams are a great little fundraiser!

Winston Churchill High School AP Exam Inflated Late Fee and Mandatory Test Sign Up

FBI investigating Promethean Activboard purchases in Florida and Iowa

Waterloo superintendent named in FBI probe

WATERLOO - Waterloo Community Schools Superintendent Gary Norris told The Courier Thursday he is among three people being investigated by the FBI for the purchase of Promethean Activboards in Florida and Waterloo.
Norris said in an interview that he does not know why he is a subject of the investigation. The Waterloo school district is installing Activboards in all classrooms at a cost of about $3.5 million. The interactive electronic white boards work as a computer screen and can be used by teachers for streaming videos or to create lesson plans.
"I've never received a dime from Promethean that I can think of," said Norris, who gave copies of a subpoena naming him to The Courier. "I don't know that I've taken anything of value from them."
Norris is named in the subpoena issued to Waterloo Community Schools and the Sarasota County (Fla.) School District by the U.S. District Court in Tampa, Fla. Robert and Lora Hanson, a Florida couple that did consulting work for Waterloo Schools, are also named in the subpoena...(continues at link above)

-Parents' Coalition webpage on Promethean board purchases in Montgomery County Public Schools. 

-Parents' Coalition blog posts on MCPS' presentations on Promethean boards in London,  Sarasota, FloridaSan Antonio, Texas and Washington, D.C.

UPDATE 3/19/10:  FBI seeks records from Sarasota County school district