Sunday, September 30, 2012

A Stinging Indictment of MCPS

THE MARYLAND State Board of Education has upheld the firing of a Montgomery County teacher who engaged in a pattern of suspect behavior with students. The decision is far from vindication of the county’s handling of the case. Rather it’s a stinging indictment of a school bureaucracy that for almost two decades believed it had a problem but reacted with a seemingly endless flow of ineffective warnings, letters, reprimands and — most appalling — reassignments of the teacher to other schools and other students. Montgomery officials boast about their skill at weeding out troubled and ineffective teachers. This disturbing case should temper the boasts and cause some soul searching.
Daniel J. Picca, most recently a teacher at Kemp Mill Elementary School, also taught at Candlewood, Rachel Carson and Luxmanor elementaries. He was dismissed in 2011 for insubordination and misconduct in office. The proximate cause for his dismissal stemmed from an April 12, 2010, incident in which another teacher at the Silver Spring school reported what she viewed as alarming contact with a male student. Mr. Picca, as was detailed by a hearing examiner who heard the case in 2010 and affirmed by an administrative law judge in July of this year, had been admonished over a 17-year period about his contact with students, mainly young boys. Reported contacts included inappropriate touching, having boys sit on his lap, wrestling and inviting boys to an after-school “Strong Boys Club” in which students said they were encouraged to take off their shirts. One 1995 incident resulted in a finding, upheld in subsequent appeals, by county child protective services that named Mr. Picca responsible for “indicated child abuse.” School officials say that the system’s central personnel office did not become aware of the child abuse findings until June 2010 when information was requested from child protective services as part of its then- ongoing investigation of Mr. Picca.
Mr. Picca, in a telephone conversation with us, labeled as false any allegation that he did anything improper. He noted that — despite investigation by police and the state’s attorney in 1995 — he has never been charged with a crime. He characterized the proceedings against him as a setup, partly in retaliation for his advocacy as a union activist. He noted that the parents of the boy involved in the April 2010 incident said that their son was pressured into making a false statement.
But three principals and two superintendents over many years raised red flags. “The evidence is overwhelming,” Administrative Law Judge David Hofstetter concluded in his July ruling upheld last week by the state board, that Mr. Picca “engaged in a pattern of conduct over many years which was reckless, brazen, unjustified and, most importantly, of grave potential harm to his students.”
How could school officials for so long do no more than put another strongly worded letter into his personnel file and move him to another school? Read the letter then-Superintendent Jerry D. Weast gave to Mr. Picca in February 2000 and consider whether you would entrust your child to such a teacher. The letter instructed Mr. Picca not to engage in any “bodybuilding”-type of activities with students or have contact with them outside the classroom. Shouldn’t the expectation be, as the state board wrote, that “when confronted with such obvious inappropriate behaviors on the part of a teacher toward his students . . . that the teacher will be removed from contact with students with alacrity?”
Mr. Picca was judged to be an effective teacher. He received high ratings on performance standards, but disciplinary proceedings are kept separate from professional evaluations. It’s not clear whether his principals even were aware of all the information that had accumulated in his central office file; as the state board noted, it is as if each reprimand stood alone without reference to past directives. School officials told us that procedures have been tightened, notably better communication between child protective services and the school system. We hope that they are following the advice of the Maryland school board directed to all the state’s systems to scour their personnel files and review policies to ensure “there are no cases, like this one, lurking in their schools.” the rest of the Editorial at this link.

Friday, September 28, 2012

8 Out of 10 Black MCPS Graduates Are Not College Ready!

...I don’t want to be insensitive here, but it doesn’t take a genius to figure out that the vast majority of MCPS black seniors and seniors in high schools like Wheaton, Kennedy, and Watkins Mill are graduating not ready for college...

Superintendent Starr Tweets this is a "Must read."

This is the article that Superintendent Starr sends out to his Twitter followers
 ...The mass purchase of devices for schools is happening way too often without conversations with educators about what learning should be happening in the classroom. This is actually frustrating many teachers that I have spoken with; it just becomes another thing being dumped on educators, not something that is going to make learning better. There is definitely some value in playing with a device and figuring out the wonderful things it can do, but should we really buy these en masse for that purpose? Shouldn't we try to figure out what the learning looks like and then discuss the device?...
But, the video at the link below shows what Superintendent Starr says at the Board of Education table.  Watch the video and hear Superintendent Starr's justification for this major technology purchase.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Candidate Annita Seckinger responds to Parents' Coalition Questions

Annita Seckinger is running for the Board of Education seat in District 4.

1. Do you support an online checkbook for MCPS such as is used in a number of
other public school systems including Miami-Dade County Public Schools?

Yes, I do. An online check register allows taxpayers to see how the Districts spend
their money for products and services. It will also encourage the open bidding
process, and thereby assure money is being spent wisely.

2. MCPS has minority contracting goals—we want more business to flow to people of
color. Currently, do you believe the practice of awarding non-bid contracts supports
these goals? What would you do to make MCPS always use a fair and open bidding

I am completely in support of an open bidding process. One way to do this might be
to use a similar method as the checkbook or check register. The BOE needs to be
accountable for its spending since it is spending tax payers’ money hopefully in the
best interest of the tax payers’ children. After a bid is accepted, it should be posted
on line along the other bids that were considered but rejected.

3. Do you support a U turn away from a one-size-fits-all education and restoring
and improving wider choice of education opportunities for our children, including
restoring learning centers for special education students, restoring honors classes,
and restoring non-IT vocational education?

I more than support it. I intend to actively promote a wider choice of education
opportunities, including vocational education. I was one of those children who would
have benefited greatly from such programs. As someone who grew up with (at the
time undiagnosed) severe dyslexia, my school years were difficult to say the least.
Not all children are cut out to be academics, nor do they need to be. We need to
encourage and help our children develop their particular talents and potentials. It
is time we understood that what we keep referring to as learning disabilities are
actually different ways of seeing the world and different learning styles. We need to
respect, celebrate, and help promote them.

4. Do you support requiring new initiatives and new curriculum be required to
undergo a legitimate pilot study that meets the minimum standards from the U.S.
Department of Education for reasonable evidence before deploying to the whole
county? Do you support assessing all new initiatives against the minimum U.S.
Department of Education standard of "what works"?

I am definitely in favor of legitimate pilot studies, but need to learn more about the
US Department of Education standards, before committing to using this as a bench

5. If elected to the Board of Education, will you support or oppose MCPS' practice of
permitting principals to assess students fees to attend public school classes?

I oppose student fees to participate in public school classes. Public school is
supported by taxpayer dollars and any additional fees for classes are, both illegal,
completely unethical. The practice needs to stop. It is not benefiting our children at
all. We are here to do all possible to help out children, not hinder them.

6. Do you support a U turn from current policy of paying attorneys for advice on
how to skirt the Maryland Open Meetings Act to a policy of full compliance with
the Act and spirit of the law of open meetings, and even going beyond the legal
requirements of the Act?

Spending money on attorneys to defend an illegal action is an unscrupulous act,
and should not be support by anyone. These funds would be of better use to the
community if used in the schools, as would the complying with the Act in the first

7. Do you support returning the preparation of the MCPS budget to the public Board
of Education table?

I believe it should be transparent and public no matter where it is or who is involved.
Frankly, with the current Board’s lack of transparency I wonder if it would make a
difference. We need to solve the transparency issue of the Board as a first priority
before we assign them more things to hide.

8. Do you believe that the MCPS Educational Foundation should be transparent in its
sources of funds and its expenditures?

Believe? Absolutely. I am a firm supporter in transparency on any and all levels.

Known Child Abusers in MCPS Classrooms without Detection


Because MCPS does background checks on new employees, and then, never again

Once someone is hired by MCPS, any subsequent findings of child abuse are not discovered. Case in point, the Picca v. Board of Education opinion that was first made public by the Parents' Coalition blog yesterday.

Bottom of Page 26 of Picca Administrative law judge decision: 

"...MCPS continued for fifteen years to employ a teacher who had been found responsible for indicated child abuse."

But, MCPS and the Board of Education are fine with that.  For the MCPS Superintendent and the Board of Education they "acted swiftly". That is their official statement on this matter.  See The Washington Post digest quote from today's paper below.

2012Sept27 MCPS Child Abusers in Schools - No annual checks

"...superintendent has declined to meet with us..."

Montgomery County Schools Superintendent Joshua Starr recently said he wants to focus on the achievement gap and community engagement.Last spring, he said his record budget request was "bare bones" and then gave all teachers two pay raises. Before that, our teachers were paid 15 to 20 percent more than Howard and Fairfax County teachers, but this hasn't bought us superior academic performance.
The money for raises went disproportionately to teachers in wealthier (green zone) schools, where our school-by-school analysis showed there is no correlation between pay and performance.Teachers in our higher-poverty (red zone) schools are paid on average 4 percent less.
Since the red zone is where the achievement gap lives, why don't we pay red zone teachers more for taking career risks to tackle the achievement gap?Wouldn't this attract the best principals and teachers to schools that need the most help?Why doesn't the strategic plan detail intervention strategies and link to the budget?
Now what? Can we expect innovative academic strategies? As for community engagement, the superintendent has declined to meet with us.
Gordie Brenne
Board member, Montgomery County Taxpayers League, Silver Spring

Guest Post: Are the no-bid synthetic turf fields in Montgomery County even safe??

See here:

The story isn't just isolated to the U.S. and the National Football League.  See here for a Canadian angle on this story:

Fairfax Board Goes Public while MCPS Hides

As of September 24, 2012, the Fairfax County Public Schools Board of Education is live streaming the video of their WORK SESSIONS.  

Meanwhile, over here in Montgomery County, where our Board of Educaiton has dramatically increased the amount of off-camera work sessions this year, our BOE was once again in a lengthy off-camera meeting on Monday.  

The topic for our BOE off-camera meeting this week?  Goal setting for the Superintendent.  You know, boring stuff that the public doesn't need to hear about! 

Take a look at the Fairfax BOE work session.  Do you see a buffet like our BOE gets for these meetings? Maybe that's why our BOE hides. They don't want you to see the buffet that they bought with your tax dollars. 

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Firing upheld of MontCo teacher who touched boys |

Firing upheld of MontCo teacher who touched boys |

Breaking News! State BOE "shine a light on abusive conduct..of school staff toward children" Picca v. BOE

September 25, 2012, Opinion from the Maryland State Board of Education in the Picca v. Montgomery County Board of Education matter :
"...Recent child sex abuse cases have shone a bright light in that dark corner.  We think that this case can shine a light on the abusive conduct, albeit infrequent, of school staff toward children.  We ask local boards to review and put in place a policy addressing teacher and staff conduct with students, and make it a part of the message in staff training and meetings.  We ask local boards to inquire about the safeguards that are in place to assure that the type of persistent conduct that occurred in this case does not occur in their schools..."

$1.2 Million for Wootton High School No-Bid Artificial Turf

Look what's on the Consent Agenda for the October 9, 2012, Board of Education meeting! The BOE won't discuss this purchase, but we will!  

4.0 Consent Items
4.1.1 Contracts of $25,000 or More (A)#
4.2.1 Thomas S. Wootton HS—Artificial Turf (A)#

"Consent Items" means that these are NO DISCUSSION items for the Board of Education. 

We know that MCPS pays top dollar for artificial turf, so the Wootton artificial turf field will cost at least $1.2 million dollars.  $1.2 million is a trivial amount of money in the MCPS budget and not worth the time of the Board of Education, so no discussion needed.  

We also know that MCPS does not put these procurements out for competitive bids so the project will use FieldTurf artificial turf (they have exclusive deal with MCPS), and the same group of companies will install the field as have done all the other MCPS fields.  The artificial turf purchase won't be put out for competitive bids, and neither will the services of the multiple construction companies involved.

Best of all, we know this means another 120 TONS of crumb rubber dumped into our environment!  And, Wootton High School's football field sits right next to a county stream! 120 tons of crumb rubber running off into that stream will make for a great community service project for students.  They can get SSL (student service learning) hours for picking the little crumbs out of the stream by hand because the County Council has now declared that the chemicals in crumb rubber are hazardous to our streams and lakes!

Aren't you glad the BOE isn't going to waste anyone's time discussing this purchase? This purchase is on the BOE Agenda for one meeting, and one meeting only.  This Agenda item will not lie on the table until the next meeting.  There will be no opportunity for public comment on the proposal, whatever it is.

We are MCPS. We are flush with cash and good ideas for keeping students busy. 

BOE Has Spent $200,000 in Legal Fees on Brickyard Middle School

As of this week, the Board of Education has spent in excess of $200,000 defending their actions in leasing the Brickyard Road school site to Montgomery County so the county can lease the same 20-acre site to MSI [Soccer] at $1,500 a year for 10 years. Not much of a return for the cost of keeping an unwise decision in place. With this continuing financial bleed on taxpayers in mind and in the hopes of finding reasonable solutions and rectifying past mistakes, the plaintiffs in the case have made the Board of Education a formal proposal offering to end their litigation if a few simple conditions are met.
  • 1) The Board of Education, pursuant to their lease with Montgomery County, ask for and receive the land back.
  • 2) Upon reclamation, the Board of Education agrees that any future use of the site will be determined by an open process with citizen comment.
  • 3) That the Board of Education consider agricultural/environmental educational use of the site which would involve maintaining the certified organic status of the land...
Read the rest of the Potomac Almanac article:

MCCPTA Support of No Bid Promethean Board Procurement

The following e-mail from the MCCPTA President was forwarded to the Parents' Coalition.  As a reminder, the MCCPTA President has a seat at the secret MCPS Operating Budget meetings
All: Wanted to share with you some information on the technology proposal the Board of Education reviewed and approved at its meeting this week. Briefly, if MCPS receives approval from the County Council, every school in the county would be outfitted with wireless networks and all elementaries would have Prometheans in all classrooms by the start of the next school year.  Here is the story that ran in with more detail. 

From our MCCPTA Summer Area meetings in June, it was clear that access to technology for every child was a core concern of PTAs and parents from every corner of our county.  This initiative seeks to eliminate discrepancies between schools, and create an equitable, consistent base of technology across our school system. Stay tuned.

Janette Gilman
MCCPTA President

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Longtime Gaithersburg HS football coach Kreg Kephart has an affinity for playing on natural grass surfaces...

Gazette: Gaithersburg set to debut new field
Trojans become fourth public school in county with artificial turf

...“Call me old school, but I would prefer that football be played in natural elements on real grass,” he said Friday following a 20-7 loss at Springbrook. “The artificial stuff is much better than it used to be, but I don’t know...

Observer: Promethean boards installed in elementary schools. "We order lunch on it."

Churchill Observer article on Promethean boards installed in elementary schools in the Churchill Cluster.
...Wang uses the board for a number of activities including lunch count, sign-in, gathering data for a consesogram, modeling how to answer BCR questions, morning announcements, and showing video, and photos...
...“My teacher does problems and we order lunch on it,” Bells Mill third-grader Ilana Trembisky said. “We get to drag our names to the lunch that we want to order. It makes learning more fun because you write on an electronic board with different colors.”...
...“Promethean boards are very expensive and eat up a large chunk of money,” Jones said. “Putting Promethean boards in is limiting funds that can be spent on other...
...Many teachers without Promethean boards at the high school level find that they can manage just fine. According to Ancient and Medieval History teacher Douglas Kraus, as one of the two social studies teachers without a Promethean board in his classroom, he does not feel that he is at a disadvantage....
...“It’s just another tool,” Kraus said. “Every teacher is different. Some teachers like it better than others. It doesn’t fit with my style of teaching.”...
...A lot of teachers use them just for PowerPoints...
...“I also believe that old-fashioned teaching still has a place in teaching today,” Wang said. “Good teaching is good teaching.”

Monday, September 24, 2012

Four children hurt in Montgomery bus crash |

Four children hurt in Montgomery bus crash |

SAT Hispanic/white GAP INCREASES for STARR'S first official senior class (2012)

Source:  MCPS

SAT black/white GAP INCREASES for STARR'S first official senior class (2012)

Source:  MCPS


Washington Post staffers say higher education reporter Daniel de Vise* has been MIA since the Texas Observer reported in late July that he shared at least two drafts of a story with PR people at the University of Texas at Austin and let them suggest edits...
*Mr. de Vise previously covered Montgomery County Public Schools for The Washington Post.  How many draft stories about MCPS did Mr. de Vise share with MCPS administrators when he was reporting on MCPS?  How much editing did MCPS administrators get to do of those stories?   

Friday, September 21, 2012

Pearson - MCPS Curriculum 2.0 Deal Tanking. No Royalties until after 2014.

On Monday, September 24, 2012 at 9:30 AM, the Montgomery County Council's Education committee will hold a hearing on the Pearson-MCPS Curriculum 2.0 deal that was pushed through in 48 hours by Superintendent Jerry Weast.

MCPS parents should pay close attention to this hearing.  Parents can attend the hearing in person, watch the hearing on the county cable channel or the Council's website, or parents can call in to the Council and listen to the hearing over their phones. 

The Council's Education committee released a packet for the hearing.  The packet is shown below.  What is notable about this packet is that it contains two memos from Superintendent Joshua Starr to the Board of Education that have not been made available to the public prior to today.  Why was the BOE and the Superintendent hiding these important Pearson-MCPS Curriculum 2.0 updates?

Also, noted in the Council's packet is that MCPS has received no royalties from the sale of the Pearson-MCPS Curriculum 2.0, and no royalties are even expected until after 2014.  MCPS staff have already been on the convention circuit hawking this Pearson-MCPS product.  Yet, no buyers so far? 

The bottom line on the Pearson-MCPS-Curriculum 2.0 project is that it is just about out of cash.  This is the last year of the U.S. Department of Education grant funding, and the Pearson payment to MCPS was dramatically slashed from Superintendent Weast's original proposal.

Hope everyone likes the new curriculum, because the funding for the new curriculum is just about gone.

20120924_ED1 Pearson Curriculum

...well-meaning doesn’t make it right, or fair, or sensible.

The Washington Post:  The Answer Sheet
...Meanwhile, report cards for young kids now don’t look like report cards for young kids. In Montgomery County Public Schools in Maryland, kindergarteners get marked in the following subjects twice a year...[see report card shown below]
The grading goes like this:
P — Meets the grade-level standard by demonstrating proficiency of the content or processes for the Measurement Topic
I — In progress toward meeting the grade-level standard
N — Not yet making progress or making minimal progress toward meeting the grade-level standard
M — Missing data – no score recorded
NEP — Not English Proficient; may be used for a level 1 or 2 ESOL student for no more than two marking periods
Surely the people who put this together were well-meaning.
But well-meaning doesn’t make it right, or fair, or sensible.

Rethinking the Classroom: Obama’s overhaul of public education

...Under Obama’s framework, teachers with weak ratings tied to student achievement could lose their jobs, while high ratings could mean bigger paychecks. And children in 45 states and the District of Columbia will for the first time follow a set of common standards aimed at raising achievement, with a third-grader in Hawaii expected to know the same things as a third-grader in Maine. One result will be that children at all levels will read less literature and more speeches, journalism and other “informational texts” to prepare for life after graduation...
The Washington Post article here.

Pissed Consumer - Montgomery County Public Schools - MD

In what appears to be a first, a parent takes to a consumer complaint website to report Montgomery County Public Schools.

Pissed Consumer - Montgomery County Public Schools - MD

MCPS' Sherwin Collette at the Promethean Booth in San Antonio

Promethean: Booth #9104The Countdown Ends…Monday. June 30th. Noon. Booth #9104.Be there for prizes and fun.
Promethean is proud to be a Platinum sponsor of ISTE/NECC 2008. We invite you to experience the Activclassroom at Booth #9104. Prizes will be awarded daily.
Activboard + 2. One Powerful Source of InspirationWe are pleased to announce our enhanced Activboard +2 and Activboard +2 Fixed classroom solutions. Both options come equipped with our PRM-10 short throw projector, speakers, and well as our award-winning lesson development software.
Activexpression. Giving students a voice.Activexpression gives students a voice by allowing them to respond to lessons by texting words, phrases, symbols, and numbers.
Promethean Learning. Be a Super Teacher.With Promethean Learning, educators can now work their way through a series of online courses which adapt to fit their busy schedules, and allow for group interaction and sharing of best practice with fellow users.
Don’t miss our CEO Spotlights!
Monday, 11:00 am - noon, room 204Sarasota’s NeXt General Learning Plan with Promethean ActivboardsMike Horan, Director of Instructional Technology, Sarasota County Schools
Tuesday, 11:00 am - noon, room 204Integrating Interactive Technologies to Transform Instruction and Nurture Critical ThinkersSherwin Collette, Chief Technology Officer, Montgomery County Public Schools
See you in San Antonio!Leslie S. Conery, PhD, NECC 2008 Conference ChairDonella Evoniuk, NECC Conference Director

[BOE Election] Patch: Chicago Nightmares for Montgomery County

...The MCEA (the Apple Ballot's authors) are increasingly no longer representing the interests of most teachers or students.
For teachers, the MCEA is fighting a rear-guard action to hang on to a benefits structure that will benefit few, if any of the younger teachers. There simply is not enough money to support the promises that have been made. Instead of facing up to facts, the MCEA is using scare tactics to hold onto a benefit for the few without looking out for the future of the many.
For students, it is worse. The Apple Ballot no longer is a document that represents the interests of the students. To hang on to the last few years of an unsustainable system, MCPS has had to make staff cuts and increase class size. The impact on today’s students is terrible...

WAMU: MCPS Considers Baseline Concussion Testing For Athletes

MCPS Considers Baseline Concussion Testing For Athletes

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Examiner: Montgomery looks at new concussion tests for student athletes

Montgomery County Public Schools hopes to create a systemwide program to test for concussions in student athletes, following years of requests from concerned parents.Superintendent Joshua Starr told the school board Tuesday that he was convening a work group to create a request for proposal for vendors to run the program...

Gazette asks, takes no for an answer

Gazette Editorial:   Plugging gaps in Montgomery school achievement
...A report by the school system’s Office of Shared Accountability has looked at the efforts at 38 middle schools. Only 10 — about a fourth — showed improvement on the Maryland School Assessments from the 2008-09 school year to the 2010-11 school year. The report also looked at student performance in Algebra 1 or higher math classes.
The report does not name the 10 schools. School system spokesman Dana Tofig said the goal of the report was to go beyond showing where the gaps are, but rather to identify some of the characteristics of middle schools that have had success in narrowing the achievement gap...
 ...taxpayers have a right to expect progress. It’s about time they received it.

Don't readers of The Gazette have a right to expect facts.  Why is The Gazette writing an Editorial without the facts to go with the story?  Why doesn't The Gazette investigate the names of the middle schools in this document, and report to the public?  If The Gazette wants advocacy on education issues, they have to do their part.  

Apple TV eliminated need for Promethean Boards!

AppleTV starring as... an Interactive Whiteboard!When I first got my Promethean board, I was quite concerned about being anchored to it constantly. I like to roam the room while teaching; I like to be able to engage the kids through proximity and movement. I first started using the SplashTop app to remotely control my computer through my iPad. It worked quite well as you can see in this clip. When I added the AppleTV to the mix, I realized that I no longer even needed the Promethean Board. I could simple create presentations directly on an iPad and stream them to a projector or TV as I had done through AirPlay. Using an App like Educreations, I could turn any wall into an interactive whiteboard using a projector and my AppleTV.  Now, that's super...
Read full blog posting at this link: 

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Gazette Letter: AP exams not a priority for Starr

...Take, for example, one entire class of third-grade students from Cedar Grove Elementary School. These students were advanced enough that they studied third-grade math last year while enrolled in second grade. This year, however, Curriculum 2.0 has been implemented in both second and third grades. An excerpt from a letter sent by Principal Lee Derby to the parents of these students describes the issue faced this year because of the new curriculum: 
“One of the requirements of Curriculum 2.0 is that all students be enrolled in on-grade-level math, thereby prohibiting us from continuing our former practice of enrolling students in above-grade-level math courses, as we did last year with your child.”...

Is MCPS saving Promethean World, LLC from collapse?

Promethean World, LLC, a British company, has had a huge presence in MCPS for several years. MCPS has spent millions of dollars purchasing their interactive whiteboard products, and MCPS administrators have even promoted Promethean World products at trade shows and conventions.

But who is Promethean World, LLC from a business perspective? Are they the Apple of the smartboard industry, or are they headed down the same path as Palm and Blockbuster?

A look at the Promethean World financial data (stock symbol PRW on the London Exchange) should give us some insight. It can be found at:

As an investment, PRW hasn’t been so hot. On the day of the initial public offering (IPO) 2½ years ago, the stock price declined from 2.00 GBP* to a market price of 1.96 GBP ($3.18 US).  Today's price of 0.23 GBP ($0.37 US) represents a market price decline of about 88%. In comparison, the S&P 500 index (an indicator of stock prices in general) has gone up about 22% since PRW went public.

PRW: Short sellers have done well with these shares

A dollar invested in PRW when the company went public 2½ years ago would be worth about $0.12 today. A dollar invested in an average US company over the same time period would be worth about $1.22 today.

In the first half of 2012, PRW earnings were -0.73 GBP per share, which is -$1.19 per share.  For a company the size of PRW, that's a huge loss. 

To conserve cash, PRW recently stopped paying a dividend.

PRW is a fairly small company. The total market capitalization is 46 M GBP, or about $75 million. To put values in perspective, MCPS could buy the entire PRW company for less than what it costs to build one high school in Montgomery County.

Total sales for PRW in FY 2011 (the most recent full year reporting period) were 223 M GBP. Based on sales reported for the first half of 2012, they’ll probably see about 180 M GBP in sales for FY 2012. From a sales viewpoint, the recent BOE purchase authorization for $14.5 million of products from PRW (about 9 M GBP) is roughly equal to 5% of PRW’s sales for the entire FY 2012. (We do note, however, that the $14.5 million of products are expected to be delivered over a period of several years.) This means that MCPS is a huge PRW customer, possibly their largest customer in the world.

Which brings us back to the original question: Is MCPS saving Promethean World, LLC from financial collapse? Based on their most recent sales figures, if MCPS stopped buying Promethean products, Promethean’s sales would likely decline enough to materially affect the company's bottom line. But perhaps even more importantly from an MCPS perspective -- and a taxpayer perspective -- Promethean products rely on highly proprietary technology. Hence, the collapse of Promethean could turn the Promethean products that MCPS is purchasing today into the Palm Pilots of tomorrow.

* GBP is Great Britain Pound Sterling, the official currency of the UK.

BCC Tattler: Goodbye McDonalds; Good Riddance?

Goodbye McDonalds; Good Riddance?

Until it was closed last week, McDonalds had been a popular lunch spot of B-CC students for many years.  With its prime location, McDonalds was the place to be at lunch for any member of the student body.  This hot spot will become a vacant lot when the restaurant is demolished to become an office building.
Although McDonalds was convenient for B-CC students to get lunch, what is taking its place may not be that bad once it’s built.  The owner has proposed to build a 9-story office building with commercial space on the first floor and parking underneath.  There may be a plaza with a water wall as well as other amenities.  It is unknown whether a McDonalds is going back in.
McDonalds was not the perfect eating place though.  There were ongoing problems with it.  For starters, McDonalds food is not very healthy.  Without the McDonalds nearby students may go somewhere else with healthier lunch options.  The cafeteria could be a healthier option.  The cafeteria manager, Laura Reese said, “We have fruit, vegetables, main meal, milk, and vegetarian food.  Obama made a calorie diet for high Schools, so our nutrition is controlled by the FDA, so we have very strict rules on what we serve.  Having healthier options may help them feel better, their cholesterol will go down, and maybe they will do better in sports and school.
The McDonalds was also infamous for the lunchtime fights.  Cailin Ferris, a B-CC student, who never got into a fight said, “Workers don’t really do anything, so it’s easy [to get into fights there].  It also has a large parking lot.  It was a hot spot because it was off school, and the workers tell the school about the fights, but don’t do anything to stop them.”
With McDonalds closed, B-CC students may make their new lunch spot the cafeteria.  Laura Reese said, “[The closing of McDonalds] would affect us, it would bring us more [kids], but maybe only 75 more kids.  I am very pleased [that more kids will be coming to the cafeteria].”  Many B-CC students went to McDonalds for lunch because it was fast and inexpensive, and with it closing down, Mr. Nardi said, “There will be fewer options in proximity and value.  You could get a burger, fries and a drink for $3.00 at McDonalds.  At A1, they weigh it by the pound, and at Starbucks, it is $3.75 just for a latte.”  Cailin Ferris said, “People will need to go to more expensive places and will need to walk farther.   McDonalds was cheap and close.”  A student at B-CC, Gaby Perez, who used to go to McDonalds almost regularly, needed to change her lunch place, she said, “I bring my lunch and just go to Elm Street.”
Since the lot is on the way to all the other stores, students who go out for lunch will need to be careful.  Once the construction gets started, it will be chaotic at the corner of Pearl and East West Highway.  Mr. Nardi says, “Using lights are important, there will be construction, they will have to expand, because there is not enough room [for all the trucks] and there will be a lot more congestion.”  Students walking, biking or driving around that area need to be smart while construction is going on, because lots of big trucks will be coming in and out and trying to squeeze into narrow Pearl Street.
B-CC student, Cailin Ferris said, “A lot of people will be affected by the recent closing of the local McDonalds.”  The traffic will affect students and teachers at B-CC but also everyone coming into Bethesda during the day.  As Mr. Orlando sarcastically said, “All the traffic will just be wonderful, with Woodmont and everything.” However, Mr. Orlando offers up a possible solution to all the troubles that this construction entails, “We should all just get hot air balloons and travel by that.”

Please for the sake of the education system, look elseware and bid it out!!!

The Parents' Coalition received the following comment.  Apparently, this person doesn't understand that we are MONTGOMERY COUNTY PUBLIC SCHOOLS and money flows like water.  We don't need no competitive bidding!  We have tons of cash and spend as our hearts desire.  That's how we do things here! 
Am I reading this right, you are paying $8.9 million dollars for 2000 boards? That is insane! You can get the same amount of Polyvision boards for probably half that amount. I wish we had this type of money to just throw away.. This is the reason for bids, you will get other vendors to supply you with competative quotes and also compatable technology. Polyvision IWB's are made in USA, they have open architecture, there is a FOREVER surface warranty, and they are half the price! Please for the sake of the education system, look elseware and bid it out!!!

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Outside Counsel Fees: What MCPS Didn't Tell the BOE

Dear Mr. Durso, Mr. Kauffman, and Ms. Berthiaume:

As you recall, on August 23, 2012, the Board of Education approved contracts for four law firms to provide special education legal services. MCPS staff made certain representations at the BOE table pursuant to questions from each of you. Since you appear to be interested in this topic, as opposed to the remaining Board members, I would like to provide you with information about MCPS’s activity during the last fiscal year. This information is publicly available on the MSDE website, and contradicts statements that were made by MCPS personnel. Reviewing the data, it shows that for FY12, there were nine (9) written hearing decisions issued by the Office of Administrative Hearings involving MCPS.

Of those 9 written hearing decisions, 7 of them were litigated by one firm, Jeffrey Krew. These decisions were the result of thirty (30) days of hearings. During FY12, the OAH database does not show that any other outside firm was involved in a due process case resulting in a written decision involving MCPS. MCPS’s two in-house counsel litigated one case apiece during FY12.

Of these 9 written decisions, 6 of them involved requests for non-public placements. Two involved issues of the least restrictive environment within MCPS. One involved the issue of initial eligibility for an IEP.

Lastly, staff evaded your question as to reimbursement for cases that settle before hearing. I don’t know what the contract in effect for FY2012 stated, but an older contract that I have contained the following statement:

“If a case is withdrawn or settled before the first day of hearing, a half day of hearing will be charged.”

I have enclosed the “cost proposal” from the old contract that I had, so that you can compare it to the new one that you just approved. I have requested copies of these contracts as well, pursuant to the Public Information Act of Maryland.

As a parents of two young adults with disabilities, and an attorney/advocate for other students with disabilities, I urge you to begin the discussion of whether aggressive and costly litigation against families furthers MCPS’s core value of doing whatever it takes to ensure that every child, regardless of disability, learns and succeeds. Dr. Starr has been superintendent for a year now, and despite a promising start where he engaged the special education community at an evening meeting, parents remain frustrated that they are not treated as equal partners in education planning. It will take a fundamental attitude shift within MCPS before the costs associated with special education dispute resolution will begin to decrease.

Thank you for your attention to this matter.


Lyda L. Astrove

WPost: Pr. William schools examine credit card use

Credit card use is scrutinized in Prince William schools
The credit card charges add up quickly: A single afternoon’s tab at On the Border restaurant hit $1,639, and a hotel stay rang up $866 per night. Then there were the hundreds of dollars in Christmas cards and personal gifts.
All told, five administrators at one Prince William County middle school overspent their budget by tens of thousands of dollars while using credit cards assigned to them, according to county officials and an internal audit The Washington Post obtained via a public records request...

Wait Wait! Don't Pander to Me!

Remember the Al Franken radio show from a few years back? He used to have a segment called “Wait Wait, Don’t Lie to Me,” where callers would guess whether a particular statement was a lie, the truth, or a “weasel” (something technically true but intended to deceive).

Here in Montgomery County, we are up to our eyeballs in politicians. They like to hear themselves speak in public, like to see themselves quoted in publications, and with the advent of social media, they are all over Facebook, Twitter, and who knows what-all.

It’s really hard to tell in Montgomery County if a politician means what they say, or if they are just pandering to you to get you to vote for them. So we’re introducing a new feature on the blog called “Wait Wait! Don’t Pander to Me!”

We’ll provide the reader with a quote from a local politician. Readers will then have 24 hours to respond with the name of the politician who made the statement, and whether the statement represented a firm commitment on his/her part, or whether the politician was simply pandering for votes.

Are you ready? Here’s the first quote:
MCPS must provide a full continuum of program options to meet the diverse need. We should make sure that students all across the special education spectrum have choices.

BCC Tattler Extra: Students Stunned Over Senior Meeting

UPDATE 9/18/12  11:00 AM:  Article now shown in comment to this blog posting. Click on comments below.

On Tuesday August 28th, Mrs.Lockard held the annual senior meeting, but what she had to say and show, was a shock to many. She introduced the meeting by showing a video based off of the short story, “The Lottery”, which builds up suspense until the end when a woman is stoned...

MCPS Exec. Director Adds Outside Law Firm to List of Firms Handling Special Education Litigation

On August 23, 2012, MCPS staff came to the Board of Education table in response to questions about the new contracts for outside legal services to fight parents and guardians of children seeking special education services.  
Yet, MCPS staff were unable to answer specific questions.  MCPS staff did not appear to have brought the actual contracts to the BOE table for discussion, thus making the discussion of these contracts unproductive.  
However, in their ramblings, MCPS staff did reveal some disturbing information about how the Board of Education handles litigation in special education cases. 

Video of the August 23, 2012, Board of Education discussion of this Agenda is at the bottom of this blog posting.  
Eye-opening statements from the video with minute marker and name of speaker:

Barbara Regalia, MCPS Senior Buyer, Division of Procurement
1:00 "...vendors that we were going to submit the RFP to..."
2:20 "...I also sent it to the 3 incumbent vendors and then a new law firm that Lori-Christina [Webb] had given me..."

Lori-Christina Webb, Executive Director, Office of Deputy Superintendent
4:40 ...None of them were disqualified based on the criteria...

Chrisandra Richardson, Associate Superintendent, Office of Special Education
5:10 ...we have very few cases...last year...only 5...

Phil Kauffman, Board of Education member
10:00  ...$6,000 a single incidence of showing up at a hearing...if there are cases that didn't end up going to hearing, how does that attorney get reimbursed?

Chrisandra Richardson, Associate Superintendent, Office of Special Education
"...if we resolve...I don't believe there is a fee paid to them..."
12:00 "...we have a group called the Dispute Resolution Committee..."

Mike Durso, Board of Education member
12:00 "...Who are members of Dispute Resolution Committee?"

Laura Berthiaume, Board of Education member
17:00 "...Why are we bidding this out rather than hiring in house?
Ms. Berthiaume's question is not answered, instead she is cut off by Board of Education President Shirley Brandman.

Who was in Charge? Nancy Navarro and Patricia O'Neill

In a previous post we showed you payments to just one Board of Education outside law firm that has handled most of the litigation against families of children seeking special education services from FY 2004 through FY 2012.  

Who was the Board of Education President in the years when payments to this one law firm were over $500,000 a year?

Payments to Jeffrey Krew, LLC 
FY 2004 $ 489,526   President Sharon Cox
FY 2005 $ 470,398   President Patricia O'Neill
FY 2006 $ 706,921   President Charles Haughey (no longer in public office)
FY 2007 $ 566,230   President Nancy Navarro (County Council member)
FY 2008 $ 629,041   President Nancy Navarro (County Council member)
FY 2009 $ 392,770   President Shirley Brandman
FY 2010 $ 632,041   President Patricia O'Neill (Board of Education member)
FY 2011 $ 359,018   President Christopher Barclay
FY 2012 $ 339,853   President Shirley Brandman

Monday, September 17, 2012

Sept. 18, 2012: Council Public Hearing on School Facility Payment rates


2012 Subdivision Staging Policy, and Resolution to amend
School Facility Payment rates (Orlin)

PHED Committee worksession tentatively scheduled for 9/24/12.

Washington Post Fibs About Funding

Dear Mr. Pexton, Ombudsman, The Washington Post;

Today's article on page B1 of the Metro Section titled, "Montgomery Schools aim to boost tech tools" is a well written piece.  The problem is, it isn't well researched and reads exactly the same as a press release.  If the goal of The Washington Post is to re-print press releases, then bravo.  However, the public has been led to believe that The Washington Post is a newspaper concerned with accuracy, fairness, ethics and the news gathering process.  

On page B3, the article contains the following paragraph:
The district plans to pay for the next wave of whiteboards and wireless mainly through its capital improvement budget, which can't be used for personnel, and a rebate program the Federal Communications Commission created more than 15 years ago aimed at boosting technology in schools. 
On September 11, 2012, the Montgomery County Board of Education voted to spend $14.5 million by taking out two long term leases. They did not specify how the multi-year lease payments will be made.  The paragraph states the payments will "mainly" come out of the capital improvements budget and "can't be used for personnel."  In fact, the Montgomery County Public Schools capital budget is used for some personnel.  A list of the positions paid out of the capital budget is a publicly available budget document

The paragraph goes on to mention a "rebate program" from the Federal Communications Commission.  That rebate program is for schools and libraries to receive rebates when they purchase telecommunications services or internet access services.  That rebate program does not include the purchase of interactive white boards in classrooms.  But, by misstating the purpose of the FCC program, Montgomery County Public Schools staff have sought to restrict the use of the rebate funds.  The Washington Post repeats the misinformation.

In fact, the rebate funds received from the FCC through this program belong to the Montgomery County Council and can be used to pay for police, fire, health care, library or teachers.  The rebates are in no way restricted to use in public schools, and are the property of the funding authority, the Montgomery County Council.

Reporting on education issues is greatly appreciated, however, when $14.5 million is at issue the facts behind the source of the funds, and the appropriation authority are of utmost importance to the public.  The sole source, no bid, no contract purchase of over 3,300 Promethean brand interactive white boards by Montgomery County Public Schools administrators in 2008 has an extensive history.  When the same administrators are considering the purchase of an additional 2,000 Promethean brand interactive white boards, once again without bids or contracts, factual reporting on this procurement is extremely important to the public. 

Thank you for ensuring that the public can trust the news gathering process of The Washington Post to be accurate, fair, and ethical. 

Janis Sartucci
Parents' Coalition of Montgomery County, Maryland

Readers Will Inherit the Earth

by Joseph Hawkins
I’m a reader. I just finished reading three books at the same time—thank God for electronic readers (they make it so easy to read multiple books). My wife is a reader. My two grown children are readers. Books are everywhere...
PATCH article continues here.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

MCPS Staff Confirm, No Contract for Promethean Board purchase

On September 11, 2012, the Montgomery County Board of Education (BOE) spent over an hour discussing Superintendent Joshua Starr's plan to spend $14.5 million.  The resolution that the BOE voted on did not authorized the BOE President to sign any contracts.  Instead, the resolution authorized staff to make purchases without further BOE oversight or review, and without the signature of the BOE President, as is done on all other BOE contracts. 

Listen to the words of the MCPS Chief Technology Officer, Sherwin Collette, as he explains to the BOE that the state contract Starr said they would use has actually expired and is being re-issued.  
(It was a 5 year contract that began in 2007 and expired on April 28, 2012.  2007 + 5 = 2012. Contract has expired. No contract!)

Mr. Collette explains that a new state contract is not yet in place.  

So, exactly how can the BOE authorize the spending of any sums without a contract, and without knowing what will be the actual cost of the 2,000 Promethean Boards?

Welcome to Oz.

Video Minute  55:30 
BOE MemberPhil Kauffman: "...Talk to me about the contract vehicle that we are using to buy the Promethean Boards."
MCPS Chief Technical Officer, Sherwin Collette:  "So, we were planning to use a state contract that was let, um, in fact the state has re-issued the RFP for that, um. And, it is unclear at this point when they will make an announcement about the successor to the vehicle that we were using..."

Special Education Advisory Committee Meeting. All welcome!

Thursday,  September 27th  7:00 - 9:00 p.m.
      Montgomery County Public Schools 
     Carver Building - Room 127
850 Hungerford Drive
Rockville, MD 
      Babysitting provided

                 Discussion of the new 2.0 cirriculum.
                 Parents will be able to ask questions.

                 Public Testimony at the beginning of the meeting.
                 Any parent wishing to give public testimony please bring 5 copies
                    of your testimony. Parents have 5 minutes.
                 Updates from Gwen Mason, Director of Special Education in MCPS
and Chris Richardson, Associate Superintendent in MCPS.
        Everyone is welcome to attend.

Joan Sabaka
SEAC Co-chair

Anne Turner
SEAC C0-chair

Amuthan Kannan
SEAC Co-chair