Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Pension costs soar for Montgomery County schools

From The Examiner:
By: Rachel Baye 11/30/11 8:05 PM
Examiner Staff Writer

The Montgomery County school system will need to significantly increase its contributions to employee pension plans over the next two to three years, according to new findings by the County Council's Office of Legislative Oversight.


To prevent repeat confusion, the report advises the County Council to request semiannual financial reports from the Board of Education, timed to prepare the council for the budget process.

Read the entire story here.

Note: Parents Coalition first posted the entire report this past Tuesday, for that story and to read the report, go here.

Berthiaume will not Run for Re-election

Parents' Coalition has learned that Board of Education Member Laura Berthiaume (District 2), who lives in Rockville, will not run for re-election. Readers of this blog know her original district was carved into different districts by the Board of Education in the recent redistricting. The Board approved the overall redistricting plan unanimously. That redistricting plan was then approved by the General Assembly in Annapolis. More to follow...

Bus cameras could be "no bid" procurement

Gazette:  In Montgomery, cameras could catch drivers who pass school buses
Ervin said it is unclear how much the cameras will cost because they could be purchased through an existing contract for the county’s speeding and red light cameras.
The school system already has outfitted about 200 of its 1,264 school buses with exterior cameras — at a cost of about $500 each — but it is unclear whether those cameras comply with a state law allowing for the cameras, police said.
...So far this year, 231 drivers have been cited in Montgomery for passing a school bus illegally. In 2010, 291 citations were issued — down from 359 the year before, Didone said...

...each [bus] camera system would cost $5,000 to $10,000...

The Examiner reports on the proposal from the County Council to allow the Police Department to place cameras on the outside of school buses.

According to this article, the Police Department is now imagining "speed" activated cameras on the side of buses at a cost of $5,000 to $10,000 per system.

School-bus cameras proposed to fine passing drivers | Washington Examiner
...The bill, slated to be introduced by County Council Chairwoman Valerine Ervin, D-Silver Spring, on Tuesday, would authorize county police to install the cameras and fine offenders up to $250 for ignoring buses' flashing red lights and pop-out stop signs.
The exact mechanics of the school-bus cameras are still being worked out; however, they're expected to work like red-light cameras. Activated by cars' speed, the cameras would produce video that an outside vendor would cull into snapshots of the car ignoring the law, said Captain Thomas Didone, director of the police's traffic division...
...Didone estimated each camera system would cost $5,000 to $10,000, making a systemwide solution unrealistic. If the bill passes, police would work with the school board to determine which buses to outfit...

PTA Says Avoid Retaining Walls

From the Churchill Cluster PTA public comment to the Board of Education on November 14, 2011:
...School Security Systems - New schools need to have a Safety and Security
Representative in the planning process.  Following the construction of Bells Mill ES and
Cabin John MS, it has become apparent that a Safety and Security Representative
should be placed on all future new school construction and planning boards. Schools
would be able to avoid the following concerns: 
• The stairwells and many spaces in Cabin John MS are all glass.  Although very
attractive, during an evacuation due to severe weather or criminal activity the
stairwells are left unprotected and vulnerable to the situation. 
• At Cabin John MS large walls with approximately 15 foot drops were built.  These high walls in proximity to both athletic fields and walkways, should be avoided in future designs.  
• All schools have the need of security cameras and a security specialist will be able
to incorporate the most efficient use of a system in the planning of site...

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

$21 Million Slush Fund Explained

The Montgomery County Council has just released a report by their Office of Legislative Oversight investigating and explaining the $21 million MCPS "slush fund" that was revealed in the spring. The 65 page report on the one MCPS budget category (Category 12) involved in this review, including the response from MCPS, is at the link below.

Remember that the Director of the Council's Office of Legislative Oversight is the sister-in-law of MCPS' Director of Management, Budget and Planning. 

OLO Report 2012-2 a Review of Montgomery County Public Schools' Budget Category 12

$48 Million & the Roof Leaks

From the Churchill Cluster PTA public comment to the Board of Education on November 14, 2011, the brand new Cabin John Middle School roof leaks.
Note to PTA, the Board of Education will be more than happy to "inspect" this building and inspect it "as is" - leaky roof and all.  Building defects never stop the Board of Education from accepting a construction project. 
Churchill Cluster PTA:  Lessons Learned from Modernizations 
Cabin John MS Punch List - We request attention to the completion of the Cabin
John punch list.  Following construction of Bells Mill ES, the finalized punch list was
completed by the builder and other agencies in an expeditious and efficient manner. In
contrast, following Cabin John’s occupation, the construction company, the architect, administrators and others have been unable to eliminate the over 100 items left to be completed.
 Numerous requests have not resolved these unfinished tasks such as completion of the electrical work for the newly installed hallway televisions and television studio or the unpredictable repairs such as the leaking new roof.  The noncompletion of the punch list prevents the building from being certified as a Montgomery County Public School. 

Monday, November 28, 2011

Planning Board wants Closed Session related to School Land purchase?

Note:  In order for a public body to go into a Closed Session, they must first meet in the Open and vote to go into a Closed Session.  The public has the right to attend the Open Session of the meeting and witness the discussion and vote of the public body to Close the meeting.  

The Maryland Open Meetings Act favors Open meetings over Closed meetings and gives the public the right to observe when a public body decides to take a matter into a Closed session. 

Attend the Planning Board Lunch (See Agenda announcement below) on December 1st if you want to witness this public body's decision to go into a Closed session to discuss a matter relating to School Site Selection.  

Montgomery County Planning Board Agenda
Thursday, December 1, 2011
12:30 PM

Closed Session - REVISED

Pursuant to State Government Article Annotated Code of Maryland 10-508(a)(3) to consider the acquisition of real property for a public purpose and matters directly related thereto and pursuant to State Government Article Annotated Code of Maryland 10-508(a)(14) to discuss a matter directly related to a negotiating strategy or the contents of a bid or proposal before the contract is awarded or bids are opened, if public discussion or disclosure would adversely impact the ability of the Commission to participate in the competitive bidding or proposal process TOPIC: Joint MCPS/MNCPPC Working Group on School Site Selection

DCC Director of School of Performance to be Delaware District Superintendent

The Seaford Board of Education announced their selection for school superintendent on Wednesday, November 16th at a 9 am press conference.  Members of the Board met in public session to formally vote on their offer which was extended to Dr. Shawn Joseph of Maryland.

37% of Hispanic ESOL Students Graduate in 4 years

Montgomery's ESOL students making progress | Washington Examiner
...Helen Wang and Shahpar Modarresi, the report's authors and researchers for MCPS, recommended officials "provide more intensive English language instructional services to ESOL students in Grade 9, given that this grade level was least likely to meet the [testing] targets among all secondary grade levels."
...Among Montgomery County Public Schools students, 13 percent qualify for ESOL services, a number that has been rising as the county's population has become significantly more diverse. The majority of ESOL students speak Spanish as a first language.
The ESOL population has been a high priority for MCPS, as the students can come with challenges. Students with limited English proficiency are more likely to be chronically absent, missing 20 or more days of school, and to qualify for free or reduced lunch, the school system's indicator of poverty.
However, the gap is starkest when it comes to graduation rates. Systemwide, 86 percent of MCPS students graduate within four years, but that's the case for only 37 percent of Hispanic students with limited English proficiency. Given five years, still just 48 percent of these students throw their caps in the air.

" I ask Maryland to join states such as New Jersey, New York, and DC..."

November 16, 2011, Priorities Hearing of the Montgomery County Delegates
Testimony of Julie Reiley, Parent of an MCPS Fourth Grade Student

Good evening.  My name is Julie Reiley.  My son is a 4th grader.  He also has autism.  

Tonight I ask Maryland to join states such as New Jersey, New York, and DC (among others), and enact legislation lifting the unjust burden placed on parents of children with disabilities by the Supreme Court’s IDEA decision Schaffer v. Weast, 126 U.S. 49 (2005).  

The IDEA mandates that Maryland schools provide children with disabilities with special education services that provide a meaningful educational benefit.  These services are provided in an IEP (individualized education plan).

The burden of Schaffer - unless the state chooses otherwise - is that, when an IEP is disputed, the "party seeking relief” bears the burden of proof in any litigation.  This is unjust for two reasons: (1) in reality it places the burden on parents; and (2) , as Justice Ginsburg stated, “policy considerations . . . and fairness call for the assigning of burden of proof to the school district . . . .”  Schaffer, 126 U.S. at 63 (Ginsburg, J., dissenting).

The burden ends up on the parents because each year a child gets a new IEP, whose services take effect even over the parents’ objections.  Thus, each year the school district determines the nature or quantity of services provided, and if the parents object, they bear the burden of proving the district violated its mandate.  

The burden of proof rightfully belongs on the school district for many reasons.  Among them, the district has superior access to critical information; litigation forces parents to ask principals and teachers to testify against their employers.   The district, “familiar with the full range of educational facilities” and how similarly situated children have fared at them, is in a far better position to demonstrate compliance.   Schaffer, 126 U.S. at 64 (citations omitted).  Placing the burden on the districts “will strengthen [their] resolve” to place the educational needs of these vulnerable children over budgetary concerns.  Schaffer, 126 U.S. at 65.  Finally, parents typically lack legal training.  In short, parents have numerous factors against them in litigation.  Burden of proof should not be one of them.   

Thus, I ask Maryland to restore fairness to the IEP process, and place the burden of proof on the school districts.   

Attached via email:  Schaffer v. Weast, 126 U.S. 49 (2005); Brief of the Common Wealth of Virginia and Eight Other States as Amici Curiae in support of petitioners in Schaffer v. Weast, 2005 WL 1031635 (2005).

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Police to Put Exterior Cameras on School Buses

On Tuesday, November 29, 2011, the Montgomery County Council will introduce the bill shown below to permit the Montgomery County Police Department to operate cameras on the exterior of MCPS buses.
But, no worries. The bill already has 4 sponsors so it should pass without a problem.  Council President Valerie Ervin had already lobbied for this bill to her fellow councilmembers in a November 22nd memorandum.
The cost of this project is not disclosed by the Council memorandum.
But, we already know that it's about $500 per bus to install an exterior camera to photograph drivers.  How do we know that? MCPS has already bought 202 exterior cameras.  

But, the Council memorandum states that the MCPS exterior cameras might not be compatible with the Montgomery County Police Department requirements.  So, the 202 exterior cameras already purchased might not be usable. 

Not disclosed in the Council memo is that MCPS has 1,273 school buses.  

1,273 buses at $500 per exterior camera will be about $636,500.  

Update:  Frederick County Public Schools has purchased exterior cameras for 11 buses at a cost of $1,350 per bus. 
Police to place Exterior Cameras on School Buses

Debate on whether cursive writing should still be taught

As someone whose children did not learn cursive in MCPS elementary schools, I found this interesting. Did your child learn cursive? Is your child's handwriting legible? In-class college exams are usually handwritten. The SAT essay is handwritten. At what point did MCPS teachers decide cursive is of no relevance to an educated person?

From The Baltimore Sun:
By Liz Bowie
November 26, 2011

Darius Riley displays the concentration of a tightrope walker as he fastens his eyes on the lined paper in front of him and grips his No. 2 yellow pencil down to its point to make his most perfect curly letters.

"I would rather do it in print because it is faster," Darius, a fifth-grader at Highlandtown Elementary School near Patterson Park, said of his cursive writing. Even his typing would probably be quicker, he says.

Cursive is not included in the so-called common core standards, which will govern teaching and lesson plans in 46 states including Maryland beginning next year, leaving states free to shift away from a subject taught for centuries. Hawaii and Indiana have already dropped it.

With technology pervasive in society and fewer documents that need a cursive signature, some educators say there is no need to bother kids with the tedious, time-consuming lessons on cursive. They argue that we soon may no longer need to sign our names on legal documents or credit card receipts; a scan of our eyeballs or a thumbprint may be all that is needed to identify us.

But there's more than just necessity that should be considered, historians say.

"Cursive writing is a matter of discipline and training in our culture. Is it necessary to the future of sustaining our culture and our understanding of our past? I believe it is," said Maryland State Archivist Edward C. Papenfuse. He believes children should learn it "not only as a means of sustaining communication with the past, but also an exercise in maintaining small motor control."

And he's the first to admit: "As one who has very messy handwriting and nearly illegible script, I have always preferred typing."

The Maryland State Department of Education will continue to suggest that cursive be taught in schools. Mary Cary, assistant state superintendent for instruction, said that every school district is given flexibility to make its own decision. Baltimore City schools leave the choice of whether to teach cursive up to each school principal, as does Anne Arundel County. Baltimore and Howard counties still require students to use cursive in elementary grades.


Research on the importance of cursive writing is mixed. Because not all students have access to computers at school, kids do most work there in handwriting, according to Steve Graham, an education professor at Vanderbilt University. Studies show that legibility makes a difference.

When researchers had student work graded in both typed and written form, the paper's legibility affected the grade."If your handwriting is not legible then you will pay a price," Graham said.

To read the entire story go here.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Comptroller Franchot reports MCPS has lost track of financial property

According to the Maryland Comptroller's Unclaimed Property Web Site, MCPS has lost track of at least four of their bank accounts or other financial accounts.  A search for MCPS (in the Last Name field) yields a list of accounts that MCPS has reportedly forgotten about for three or more years.

As required by state law, the funds from the four abandoned MCPS accounts have been forwarded to the State Comptroller's office, waiting for their rightful owner to submit a claim.

The forgotten MCPS accounts are shown below.

Claim No. Last Name First NameMI  Address

Searches for individual MCPS school names reveal numerous additional accounts that have been turned over the State Comptroller's Office. Entities related to Walter Johnson High School appear to have lost track of at least three accounts.  And a search for "Wheaton High School" yields a list of five accounts, although at least one of the accounts appears to be affiliated with a school reunion group.

Sloppy account tracking isn't unique to MCPS.  Additional searches of the Comptroller's Unclaimed Property Web Site reveal numerous forgotten accounts that belong to Montgomery County government, Maryland State agencies, and even the Montgomery County Council of PTAs.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Montgomery school bus driver arrested on child-porn charges

A Montgomery County school bus driver in the Poolesville area was dismissed last month after he was arrested on ­charges of possessing and distributing child pornography.
County police said Charles H. Acker IV, 33, was arrested Feb. 10 after authorities linked him to an IP address that had downloaded videos of “prepubsescent children either engaged in sexual conduct or in a state of sexual excitement,” according to court records...

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Happy Thanksgiving

Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours from the Parents Coalition.

Why do smart people in Montgomery County oppose openness and transparency?

by Joseph Hawkins

Recently, via email I received an invitation to the Montgomery County Executive’s Ball. Click here to go to the Ball’s homepage: Who knew that an annual Ball has been happening for 25 years? This year’s Ball proceeds go to the Friends of the Library (Montgomery County). The receiving County charity rotates annually. Click here to go the Friends’ homepage: .

I suspect I received the email invite because I have donated to previous Ike Leggett election campaigns. Normally, I read and delete these kinds of emails, but the invite bothered me a little and so I emailed the contact with a few pretty simple questions: 1). Is a donation to the Ball or to the Friends tax-deductible? 2). Are there financials for me to review? I was especially interested in both the Ball’s and the Friends’ financials. Call me crazy, but I’m a donor that evaluates a charity’s financials before handing over my cash.

The person handling the Ball’s communications responded to me quickly; however, no specific information was shared about financials (e.g., how much does the Ball typical raise and how much of that amount is donated to the County charity?). And if one visits either the Ball’s or the Friends’ websites, you will not find any links to financials. Nothing!

Why do smart people in Montgomery County oppose openness and transparency?

So, when it comes to financials what exactly am I looking for? Specifically, it would be nice to see two key documents—the charity’s IRS 990 and its annual audit financial report or statement. Together, these documents would allow the smart donor to figure out if his or her charity is spending their cash honestly and efficiently—avoiding waste, for example, on managing the charity or paying too much in office rental space.

The Ball’s email exchanges got me thinking and looking for models of charities that seem totally open and transparent about their financials. Using the November/December issue of Bethesda Magazine, which profiles nearly 50 county non-profits, I found two great models, Shepherd’s Table and Manna Food Center. Why great? Because donors can easily link to their financials. Shephard’s puts a direct link to its IRS 990 and its most recent audit report right on its homepage. Manna does not have a direct link on its homepage, but there is a “financials” link under “about,” and that link provides their last five IRS 990s and four annual reports (this is like transparency to the 10th power). You can link to these two wonderful County charities here and here

I was so impressed with Manna’s openness, and the fact that they are a highly rated charity, I made a donation. Click here to read details about Manna’s independent evaluation:

So, what happens when smart people are truly open and transparent? I donate. And when they aren’t I push the delete button on my computer.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Councilmember Leggett on school fees: "No way I would support that"

Washington Post, March 10, 1994
... council member Isiah Leggett (D-At Large), another member of the education committee, said he is adamantly opposed to fees for students.

"Rich parents will be able to afford it, and poor students will get waivers, which means we would be riding [on] the backs of the middle class, and there's no way I would support that," Leggett said.
MCPS continues to charge lots of fees, including illegal curricular fees.  Ike, what happened?

Scroll to the bottom of the article for Leggett's quote. 

Leggett - No way that I would support fees

Council may have to reconsider ‘forward funding’ projects

Gazette:  State school construction dollars fall way short: Montgomery councilman

...Ervin also expressed concern about the county’s forward-funding of school projects. In this arrangement, the county pays for projects due to receive state aid as they are planned and built, and the state eventually pays the county back.
Projects are eligible for state aid only after they have been approved by the council. For fiscal 2013, the school system has asked for $17.8 million from the state for forward-funded projects that are either under way or finished.
An analysis from County Council staff said that unless the state distributed more aid for eligible projects, officials would have to reconsider forward-funding projects and whether to defer their construction.
“We don’t know where we stand at all,” Ervin said.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Justice Department's New FOIA Regulations: Still Worse than Reported

From the Sunlight Foundation:

John Wonderlich
Nov. 18, 2011, 3:53 p.m.

Since the last time we wrote about the DOJ's newly proposed FOIA regulations, as part of signing on to EPIC's comments on the proposed rule, not a whole lot has changed.

The DOJ sent a letter to respond to Congressional concerns about their lying about the existence of records. The letter hardly paints a clear picture, but basically says that the DOJ will withdraw a section of the proposed regulations, but that their conduct won't change, and that they'll continue to mislead requesters about whether records exist or not.

Unmentioned in the letter, however, are all the steps backward on FOIA that the DOJ is proposing in their rules. In a package completely at odds with President Obama and Attorney General Holder's public FOIA rhetoric, the new DOJ rules throw up new roadblocks and hurdles to requesters, and generally make it easier to deny requests. One has to wonder what possible motivation DOJ has for forcing elementary schools to pay for FOIA requests, where they used to qualify for fee waivers. Have elementary school students' FOI requests become a burden?


In just one example, the new regulations change this:

Records will not be disposed of while they are the subject of a pending request, appeal, or lawsuit under the FOIA. this:

Records that are identified as responsive to a request will not be disposed of or destroyed while they are the subject of a pending request, appeal, or lawsuit under the FOIA.

The difference is minor, but important. The new regulations permit records to be disposed of as long as they haven't been affirmatively "identified as responsive." Ill-intentioned FOIA officers would face a new choice when confronted with an inconvenient request: attempt to identify new records, or perhaps just destroy them, in order to avoid identifying any responsive records.

A similar pattern repeats itself throughout the proposed rules. Requesters "must" address requests to the appropriate department. Insufficient requester detail becomes grounds for dismissing a request. News stories can no longer be used to justify the urgency of a request. Businesses are no longer required to affirmatively justify the withholding of trade secrets. Media requester status is bestowed based on the "intended use" and must be re-established for each request.

For more go here.

Friday, November 18, 2011

MCPS Fibs to Feds

But it was just a little lie.
And MCPS was awarded $66,000 from the USDA for telling it.
So who cares?  

On January 27, 2011, MCPS submitted an application for 131 elementary schools and 1 special school to the US Department of Agriculture for the HealthierUS School Challenge - Bronze Award.

If  MCPS met the criteria for a Bronze Award for each school, MCPS would be paid $500 per school for a total of $66,000.  

All MCPS had to do was check all the appropriate boxes on the application and supply some information about school meals.  And they did. MCPS was awarded $66,000, plaques and banners in an awards ceremony at Arcola Elementary School in September.

Glenallen Elementary School
As part of the Bronze Award application, MCPS certified to the USDA that the school system has a Policy and Practice that neither denies nor requires physical activity as a means of punishment (For example, students who misbehave are not denied recess.) See the MCPS application page below obtained by the Parents' Coalition from the USDA. 

But MCPS parents know that isn't true.  MCPS doesn't have a "recess policy" and recess is taken away from students that misbehave at schools all over the county. 

So what difference does it make if MCPS doesn't really have a Policy and Practice about using recess as punishment? Ask the kids. Ask them if they would rather have $66,000 for administrators or guaranteed recess?    

Garrett Park Elementary School

MontgomeryCPS 8  pg 11 wellness policy and regs

MCPS Principal starts his own blog...

Marc Cohen's Blog: There are those moments in every principal's tenur...: There are those moments in every principal's tenure when they sit back, look around, and realize that they may just have the best job on th...

Congress pushes back on healthier school lunches

From Bloomberg Businessweek.

Congress wants to keep pizza and french fries on school lunch lines, fighting back against an Obama administration proposal to make school lunches healthier.

The final version of a spending bill released late Monday would unravel school lunch standards the Agriculture Department proposed earlier this year, which included limiting the use of potatoes on the lunch line and delaying limits on sodium and delaying a requirement to boost whole grains.

The bill also would allow tomato paste on pizzas to be counted as a vegetable, as it is now. USDA had wanted to prevent that.

Food companies that produce frozen pizzas for schools, the salt industry and potato growers requested the changes, and some conservatives in Congress say the federal government shouldn't be telling children what to eat.


The school lunch proposal was based on 2009 recommendations by the Institute of Medicine, the health arm of the National Academy of Sciences. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said they were needed to reduce childhood obesity and future health care costs.

Nutrition advocate Margo Wootan of the Center for Science in the Public Interest said Congress's proposed changes will keep schools from serving a wider array of vegetables. Children already get enough pizza and potatoes, she says. It would also slow efforts to make pizzas -- a longtime standby on school lunch lines -- healthier, with whole grain crusts and lower levels of sodium.

"They are making sure that two of the biggest problems in the school lunch program, pizza and french fries, are untouched," she said.


Specifically, the provisions would:
-- Block the Agriculture Department from limiting starchy vegetables, including corn and peas, to two servings a week. The rule was intended to cut down on french fries, which some schools serve daily.

-- Allow USDA to count two tablespoons of tomato paste as a vegetable, as it does now. The department had attempted to require that only a half-cup of tomato paste could be considered a vegetable -- too much to put on a pizza. Federally subsidized lunches must have a certain number of vegetables to be served.

-- Require further study on long-term sodium reduction requirements set forth by the USDA guidelines.

-- Require USDA to define "whole grains" before they regulate them. The rules would require schools to use more whole grains.

To read the story go here.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Save Rock Creek Hills Park!: Board Rescinds Park Choice, Restarts Site Search.

Save Rock Creek Hills Park!: Board Rescinds Park Choice, Restarts Site Search.: This evening, at the recommendation of Montgomery County Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Joshua P. Starr, who began in that position on J...

MCPS hiding public information, again?

Once again a citizen is having trouble getting PUBLIC information from the Montgomery County PUBLIC School system. 

From a PATCH article:
...Morris Panner, a parent of students at Somerset Elementary School, has requested permission to appear before the Ethics Panel to speak in support of reinstating the program, but “the MCPS will not tell me who is on the panel … since it relates to a personnel matter [i.e., whether the physical education teacher is allowed to offer the program to his own students] and we are not supposed to contact them directly,” Panner said....

The Board of Education's Ethics Panel is a PUBLIC committee.  Here's the web page that discusses their duties (unknown what was left off after the last "and").

Here's the Board of Education Ethics Policy.

Here's who is on the Ethics Panel now.  These committee members are appointed by the Board of Education at public Board meetings.  It's public information!

Peter F. Rose                   July 1, 2011 to June 30, 2014

Holli Beckerman Jaffe    July 1, 2009 to June 30, 2012
Arleas Upton Kea           July 1, 2009 to June 30, 2012
Donald G. Zauderer        July 1, 2009 to June 30, 2012
Arielle Grill                       July 1, 2010 to June 30, 2013

Having trouble finding out when a PUBLIC committee meets? Let the Maryland Open Meetings Compliance Board know and they will make sure the Board of Education understands the law.

Having trouble getting PUBLIC information from our PUBLIC school system? 
Let the boss know:  Joshua_Starr  @ 

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Joshua Starr and Special Education: Suggested Reading

Last night, Joshua Starr came to a special meeting of the Special Education Advisory Committee. For the first time in 12 years, a Montgomery County Superintendent met with parents to share his views on special education. I'm posting the following so that Josh can do some reading, and get filled in on the history of special ed in MCPS so he knows "how we got here" and why it was so important for him to show up last night. Here's the email I sent him this morning:

Dear Josh:
Thank you for coming to the Special Education Advisory Committee last night. For the first time in 12 years, our superintendent reached out to our community and spoke frankly with us. I am looking forward to continued dialogue. I have been very closely involved with MCPS special education for the last 22 years as a parent, advocate, attorney, committee member, volunteer, etc., and if you'd ever like an "oral history" of the last 20 years of MCPS special education, and how we got to where we are now, I'd be happy to chat with you at any time.

That said, I wanted to pass along the links that I suggested you visit so that you can begin your research on "where are we" in MCPS special education, and "where do we need to go", particularly with regard to regaining parental trust and "buy-in."

The link to the Office of Shared Accountability report on the phase-out of the Learning Centers:

The link to MSDE reports on special education dispute resolution: (scroll down to "reports")

The link to the special education legal fees report through March of last school year:

The outside legal services contract that provides that outside counsel will be paid $6,000 a day (yes!) per day of litigation is not online, but I have a copy of it, and will be happy to share it with you. The absurd result is that in many instances, MCPS spends more money fighting families over services than it would cost to provide the services in the first place.


Lyda Astrove

Gazette: School officials downplay mistake by facilities staff

The Parents' Coalition blog broke this story on September 21, 2011, with the video of MCPS' Director of Facilities James Song giving the Board of Education incorrect information regarding land ownership, prior to their vote on the Farquhar Middle School modernization.

Then, on November 7, 2011, this blog posted the memo from Superintendent Joshua Starr to the Board of Education, apologizing for Mr. Song's incorrect information before the Board vote.  

Now the Gazette follows up on this story with reaction to these events from MCPS staff.  But really, isn't it more important what Board of Education members have to say about this?  They were the ones that voted based on incorrect information given in response to a direct question. 

Gazette:  Montgomery education officials are downplaying a recent error by the school system’s building management team that led to a public correction from the schools chief... 
...In a Sept. 16 memo to the Board of Education, Starr wrote that the Department of Facilities Management provided incorrect information to board members about the ownership of land adjacent to William H. Farquhar Middle School in Olney, which school officials are planning to modernize. 
The ownership of the land is crucial because, under a plan approved by the school board, it would be the location of the new middle school. 
The department’s director, James Song, incorrectly informed board members in a Sept. 13 discussion that the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission (which oversees land use issues in the county) owned land adjacent to the school that would be used in the modernization process as part of a land exchange...
...Song also said Starr’s memo to board members did not upset him, and that he hopes the land exchange option will proceed once the commission gets the title.“There was really no negative impact as a result,” he said...

Towson U Prof: "I am firmly opposed to enrolling students in AP courses by the droves."

Here's what a Towson University professor has to say about the push to put all students in AP classes. (Reminder that The Washington Post's Jay Mathews' "Challenge Index" ranks high schools by how many AP exams are taken, not by how successful students are on the actual exam.)
I am writing to express my support for some of the parents of students at Towson HS. I have taught mathematics at Towson University since 1971, was a founder of the Maryland Coalition for Mathematics and Science, and just stepped down from a 14-year term as the Secretary of the Mathematical Association of America (MAA).  What my colleagues and I are seeing at the collegiate level is an
erosion of rigorous and strong preparation for college-level subject matter, especially in mathematics...
...The proliferation of AP classes and the disappearance of high school honors and gifted and talented courses have hindered most of the students we see coming into the university... 
...Students need to have courses available that are suited to them.  Something between "standard" and AP must be offered, and the success of the AP program in any school must be measured by the official AP exam grades of the students selected for the program, not by the number of students enrolled...
Read Professsor Martha J. Siegel, Ph.D's letter to parents here.

Follow the advocacy of Baltimore County Public School parents on this issue at their website

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Starr speaks

Here's something new, the Montgomery County Public Schools Superintendent actually speaking about an incident at a public school.  

Remember when the B-CC High School homecoming week story first broke, the quote was from the MCPS Public Relations Director.
"This week is homecoming week," school spokesperson Dana Tofig told News4, "and a few students were showing spirit."
And that's the way it had been during the tenure of the previous superintendent.  Incident at a school? The response would come from the MCPS PR department, not the superintendent.  

But today, The Washington Post story on the B-CC incidents during homecoming week starts off with a quote from the actual MCPS Superintendent.  
“Whether you call it hazing or rites of passage, I’ve seen unacceptable behavior in high schools,” said Montgomery Superintendent Joshua P. Starr. “Our older kids should be helping our younger students succeed in school, not making them feel afraid.”

Opt-Out of MSAs Petition Started by Anne Arundel County Parents

In Anne Arundel County several middle schools eliminated all ability groupings this year—without parents' knowledge and consent—and heterogeneously grouped all students in what they claim are all “advanced” classes. Superintendent Kevin Maxwell refuses to even answer our letters of concern and the Anne Arundel Board of Education refuses to get involved. So we are organizing county-wide MSA opt-outs. We hope to present the initial list of signatures at this Wednesday’s Anne Arundel Board of Education meeting. We believe that every child deserves an opportunity to achieve his/her academic potential and that advanced students are currently being denied this opportunity. 

Why not go state wide with this effort? Here’s the email we are using to gather support.

Petitioners and Friends:

This coming Wednesday, November 16, at 7 p.m., Anne Arundel Board of Education, 2644 Riva Rd., Annapolis, we will present Superintendent Kevin Maxwell and the Board of Education with a group letter of intent that will include the names of parents who do not want the Maryland Student Assessments (MSAs) administered to their children next March. If you would like to join us in having your name listed in this letter, please reply to this email and let me know by this Wednesday morning, November 16. Be sure to indicate which school your child attends, as this is a county-wide effort. I will email the letter to those listed at noon on Wednesday for final review before it is distributed that evening.
Here is how the letter will read:

The undersigned hereby notify Dr. Kevin Maxwell, Superintendent, Anne Arundel County Schools, and the Anne Arundel County Board of Education that their children shall not be administered the Maryland Student Assessments (MSAs) for the 2011–2012 school year.  We take this position for the following reasons:  (a) Without any input from or dialogue with parents, this school administration instituted heterogeneous groupings at various schools throughout the county, thereby eliminating the necessity of placement testing at these schools; (b) Neither the school administration nor the Board of Education has indicated any willingness to reconsider its position despite countywide concerns expressed by parents and research that clearly support those concerns; (c) There is literally no benefit to the students from undergoing the rigors of the MSAs in light of heterogeneous grouping.

I know that many of you have been pushing for this action for awhile. We have gone through the proper channels to make our concerns known and we have been ignored. I hope you will join me in sending a strong message to Dr. Maxwell and the Board of Education in a language they will no doubt understand.

Karen Colburn

kcolburn  @

Senator Garagiola Responds

Senator Rob Garagiola's response to letter from Meher Desai.
From: Garagiola, Rob Senator (District) []
Sent: Wednesday, September 14, 2011 4:13 PM

Sent: Wednesday, September 14, 2011 4:13 PM

Ms. Desai,                 
Thank you for contacting my office about this important issue.  My Legislative Director shared your information with me and I wanted to respond to your concerns. Since my election in 2003, education has been a top priority of mine.  My wife is a public school teacher and I have three children in Montgomery County Public Schools, so I am keenly aware of the necessity to wisely spend allocated education dollars. In these challenging economic times, Maryland made a number of spending reductions, during the 2011 Legislative Session, in order to close the $1.6 billion budget gap.  Despite significant cuts I worked with my colleagues to ensure that Maryland continues to maintain our commitment to education.  Fiscal year 2012 State K-12 public education funding is $5.8 billion, and while many counties will see reductions in funding, Montgomery County will receive $560 million, a 7.6% increase from last year’s funding support for our students and teachers. I am proud to report that Maryland’s emphasis on education has resulted in our schools ranking number one in the nation and in advanced placement testing both for the third year in a row.  These are great accomplishments for all who are involved in our education system, most importantly our students and teachers. As a Maryland State Senator, I am only capable of working with my Montgomery County colleagues to secure the maximum amount possible for our public schools.  I am unable to deliberate on specific spending decisions, such as the ones you have raised with the rebuilding of  Cabin John and Herbert Hoover Middle Schools.  This has historically been the precedent set for public K-12 education funding.  It would be incongruous for me to use my position as an statewide elected official to influence the decisions of the locally elected School Board or County officials.  My office is only able to serve as a mediator between constituents and those elected representatives, who have authority over these decisions.  As such, my staff would be more than happy to convey your concerns to the appropriate parties. I would certainly urge you to contact your local elected school board members and your County Councilmember to share your views.  Their contact information can be accessed through the following links: -          School Board -          County Council - Please contact my office if you have any further questions or concerns.  Again, thank you for taking the time to share your views on this issue.  Please do no hesitate to do so in the future.  
Rob GaragiolaState Senator - District 15104 James Senate Office BuildingAnnapolis, MD 21401301-858-3169301-858-3607 (fax)

Monday, November 14, 2011

DOJ cites MCPS for violations of ADA

On August 16, 2011, the Department of Justice entered into a Settlement Agreement with Montgomery County, Maryland over violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) at Montgomery County facilities.

Included in the facilities that now must be modified within 14 months to comply with the ADA are 10 public schools, including the recently modernized Walter Johnson High School.  These public schools were included in the DOJ review because they can be used as emergency shelters.

Remember that the WJ construction project had a $413,577 "surplus" in the construction fund that was used by the Board of Education to buy a temporary natural grass football field with underground sprinkler, and then the grass was replaced with an artificial turf football field at the school in the same year.

Why weren't the ADA requirements taken care of when the the WJ project had the funds to do so?

Here is the list of MCPS buildings that were cited for ADA violations in the DOJ Settlement Agreement: 
Springbrook High School
John F. Kennedy High School
Sherwood High School
Watkins Mill High School
Walt Whitman High School
Damascus High School
Seneca Valley High School
Walter Johnson High School
Rockville High School
Gaithersburg High School

This Settlement Agreement explains why Superintendent Joshua Starr has created a new Capital Budget priority list and put ADA compliance in the #1 position!
MCPS finally has to make these ADA mandated modifications at these specific schools to comply with a DOJ Settlement Agreement.
What about the rest of the MCPS facilities? Will it take action on the part of DOJ, or will all MCPS facilities finally be brought into compliance with the American's with Disabilities Act?