Thursday, September 6, 2012

Breaking News: Teachers Demand 2,000 Promethean Boards

On the September 11, 2012, Board of Education (BOE) Consent Agenda is a memorandum from Superintendent Joshua Starr requesting that the BOE commit to spending $14.5 million over the next 5 years on 2,000 Promethean Boards.  Teachers don't want raises, COLA's, smaller class sizes, or money for classroom supplies.  They want 2,000 more Promethean Board brand interactive white boards. 

Teachers don't want the best price for interactive white boards either, they want only 1 brand.  No bids, no contracts, no discussion on this purchase.   Remember the first time Promethean Boards were purchased in violation of County and State procurement law?  Why not do it again.  This purchase will not be put out for competitive bids. This Agenda item is on the Consent Agenda.  The BOE doesn't even want to discuss it, they will just approve it at the September 11, 2012 meeting. 

When they vote on this "deal", the BOE will approve the spending of money that they do not have. These 2,000 Promethean Boards are going to be purchased on time.  Taxpayers' will pay interest on this purchase.  The purchase is based on a hope and a prayer that MCPS will receive rebates from the federal government over the next 5 years.  If the federal government changes the rebate program, Montgomery County taxpayers will be on the hook for the remaining payments.  Been there, done that.  Let's do it again!

The money that the BOE will spend on this purchase has to be approved by the County Council.  Why? Because some of these funds are County funds.  The rebates that MCPS receives belong to Montgomery County, not to MCPS.  For FY 2013 that is $2,042,000 in County funds that will be sent to MCPS to purchase no-bid Promethean Boards.  Police, fire and libraries, you all aren't interested in these funds, right? 

The Gazette reports here

Below is the Superintendent Joshua Starr memorandum.

4.4.1 Approval Contracts FY 13 Supp Approp Request Tech Mod

Update September 8, 2012:  Superintendent Joshua Starr issues "Revised" Memorandum.


  1. "The absence of a systemic funding mechanism has perpetuated the perception of an inequitable distribution of these technologies." Deal done; the BOE cannot go on record as perpetuating the perception of inequity.

    1. So you fix an illegal purchase, the cure in Montgomery County is to do it again? Does that apply to other illegal acts? The cure for speeding is more speeding? The cure for shoplifting is more shoplifting?

    2. The Board says it will do whatever it takes to eliminate (the perception of) inequity - whatever unlawful, unethical, and unwise actions the Board deems necessary.

  2. What about other companies that sell interactive white boards? My children attended a school where they used SMART Boards. As a parent I thought they were amazing. The students were able to interact with touch. Is this why this will not go out to competitive bids?

  3. Yes--what the Board did then, and now, was illegal and unethical.

    But the fact of the matter is that the current distribution of Promethean boards in the elementary schools *is* unequal, primarily along red zone/green zone lines. I see a lot of (justified) indignation about the procurement process, but I don't see anyone on this forum addressing the simple fact that there are haves and have-nots in this process. Are you arguing that the current unequal distribution should stay in place until we have funds for other expenditures such as teacher COLAs and supplies? Why is it preferable to use funds (let's assume for the moment that such funds exist, are legal, and aren't vapor) to give teachers COLAs or reduce class sizes (which studies suggest have little effect on student achievement) but not to correct a fundamental inequity in resources?

    1. What unequal distribution? Prove it. Produce the inventory of Promethean Boards. Don't give us a bunch of rumor and gossip. This is a public school system, not a soap opera.

      There is no "simple fact" - there are no facts at all! The BOE has NEVER voted to put Promethean Boards in schools. There is no public BOE vote of where the Boards would be put.

      And as for studies, what study do you have that shows that Promethean Boards are anything that teachers want or need or improve student performance? You are quick to jump on the class size issue, but have zero research on the name brand Promethean type of Interactive White Board as being the only Interactive White Board that will save public school education.

      If you want to discuss this $14.5 million purchase, bring some facts to the discussion.

      What is "preferable" is a public discussion of a procurement decision. That is NOT going to happen Tuesday. This purchase is on the BOE's no discussion Consent Agenda!

  4. I'm not contesting the fact that the procurement process for both expenditures was improper.

    I'm pointing to the facts stated in the memorandum you cite above:

    "As a result, the implementation of Promethean interactive technologies at the elementary school level has been the result of grant and Parent Teacher Association funding initiated by individual schools or through building modernization and additional projects. Thirty-four elementary schools have no Promethean interactive whiteboards and 80 elementary schools have fewer than 10 Promethean interactive whiteboards."

    New and modernized elementary schools have the whiteboards--any other schools that wanted them had to have PTAs get grants and/or fundraise for them. As a practical matter, that means that schools in areas with well-heeled parents will get them. No, I don't have exact stats, but I'm willing to get them. I can tell you that I have one child enrolled in a special needs program in a red zone school and one in a green zone school. The green zone school, and the three nearest elementary schools to it, have the whiteboards. The red zone school, and the three schools nearest to it, do not. And the parents in my SN daughter's school are *acutely* aware of the inequity in the distribution of electronic resources and mention it often in PTA meetings and principal's chats. Even if the figures showed that the divide *isn't* along economic lines, the figures pretty clearly state that a few "lucky" schools have the boards and many don't. I'm simply asking whether you think that's okay in a public school system. I don't. That *doesn't* mean that it's okay for the system to use any means necessary to rectify this inequity,but you don't seem to want to even acknowledge that an inequity exists.

    As you've amply demonstrated in this blog, what teachers *want* and what resources children need to learn well don't necessarily overlap. I don't give a flip about the brand of electronic whiteboard used, and I make no claims about their ability to "save public education." I'm simply saying that if you're going to deploy a valuable resource in the school system (and based on my experience in *both* children's classrooms, I *do* think it's very useful), it needs to be implemented districtwide. I'm assuming from your writing that, even if this most recent purchase went through the proper channels/approval process, you would be opposed to it. So I'm asking how you justify maintaining the technology status quo.

    1. What's the inequity? You haven't defined what is unequal. What is the benefit to having a Promethean Brand Interactive White Board? What makes them valuable at all?

      Why did at least one teacher have the Promethean Board installed in his room without his knowledge ripped out?
      When did the BOE vote that "this" was the "status quo?" They didn't!
      Stop making assumptions. Rumor, gossip and jealousy have no place in $14.5 million dollar procurements using public tax dollars. Where is the data that shows these huge screens are needed in public school education?

      You should give a flip about what brand is being bought, because what is being bought is one of the most expensive brands among a wide group of competitors. Just today, the Parents' Coalition spoke with numerous competitors who would love to bid on this procurement. They have very specific reasons why their product should be given a change to compete. They think their products are better than Promethean.

      Oh, but the competitors, see they don't offer trips to London or Florida for MCPS staff. And, then there are the investigations by the FBI and the Arizona Attorney General for improper procurement transactions.

      MCPS staff are spokespeople for Promethean at their conventions, the public knows that, right? Here's one video of just such a convention presentation by MCPS staff. No bias here.


      Here's an article from Florida on the FBI investigation:

      Before a British company became entangled in an FBI investigation over a $13 million contract to put electronic white boards in schools in Sarasota and Iowa, the firm was accused of giving gifts to Arizona school officials who also bought their products.

      This week, federal agents ordered the Sarasota County School District to turn over records about top former officials and their dealings with Promethean, the company that sold the district 3,000 white boards in 2006.

      That same year the company sold $2.4 million worth of products to the Tucson (Ariz.) Unified School District -- and after the deal was secured, Promethean invited top officials to a lavish conference, giving them free hotel stays, gift cards and even an iPod...

  5. @ anonymous
    There are not "facts" in the Starr memorandum. If you want to have a discussion about this, get a name.

    No one has time to waste on the MCPS PR department posting fluff. $14.5 Million Dollars is way too much money for PR cover ups. Let's see the data. Real data, not a glossy press release.

  6. Maybe MCPS and the BOE should have thought about this equity issue, and whether we could really afford Promethean Boards for Everyone BEFORE they embarked on the spending spree.
    Maybe there is a secret formula somewhere that calculates smaller class sizes in red zone = fewer promethean boards for school. Who knows? We don't know how they even made these decision in the first place.
    And then there was Churchill High School, who got PB's for all the classrooms....except....the Autism program. The kids who could really USE the assistive technology. Parents had to organize and advocate to get one.

  7. Churchill does NOT have Promethean Boards in all classrooms. Most, yes, but definitely NOT all.

  8. Reminder: When Jerry Weast allowed MCPS staff to buy 3,300 Promethean Boards in 2008, that was OK with the teachers union according to their spokesperson Jon Gerson. Teachers were fine with giving up their COLAs and step increases in exchange for 3,300 Promethean Boards.

    Jon Gerson should know. He is in on the secret MCPS Operating Budget table discussions.

    The teachers union has made it very clear in numerous statements that they are at the MCPS budget table and know where the money is going. A decision to buy 2,000 more Promethean Boards is not made with out the consent of the teachers union. That is how the MCPS Operating Budget works.

    So, teachers, why exactly do you want 2,000 more Promethean Boards right now?

  9. Looks like the Teachers' Union has themselves in a bit of a pickle. They sit at the Secret MCPS Budget table, but now are spreading rumors that they did not support this purchase.

    If teachers did not want 2,000 more Promethean Boards, then why were they ordered?

    The Promethean Boards are going in classrooms. Aren't teachers the ones that wanted these things? Isn't the teachers union at the secret budget table as a "partner" in setting the budget? That's what they tell the rest of the country.

    Which is it? Did the teachers union want this purchase or not?

    If the teachers did not demand that all classrooms have Promethean Boards, then why were they ordered? Did the MCPS Chief Technology Officer just hatch this deal all by himself without input from teachers? If that's what happened, is that really how we spend $14.5 million dollars? Just because ONE MCPS administrators "thinks" a purchase should be made.

    Teachers' union - you're gonna have to pick one. Did you want this purchase or not? You can't have it both ways. Either you are a MCPS budget partner, or the budget is set without your involvement. Which is it?

  10. Here are some of the Agendas from the secret budget meetings. Either the teachers' union is a partner or not. Which is it? The public can't know because we can't observe these behind closed door meetings. And, the public can't have a say in these budget decisions.


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