Thursday, February 28, 2013

Calif. Schools Must Put Fee-Complaint Systems in Place by Friday

By Friday, all California public schools need to have in place a system for complaints about potential violations of the state's guarantee to a free public education, under a law passed last fall.
In essence, the law prevents public schools (including charters and other alternative public schools) from charging students mandatory pay-to-play fees for interscholastic athletics, among other educational activities.
Since the late 1800s, Article IX, Sec. 5 of the California Constitution has required the state legislature to "provide for a system of common schools by which a free school shall be kept up and supported in each district." In 1984, the state Supreme Court ruled in Hartzell v. Connell that "educational opportunities must be provided to all students without regard to their families' ability or willingness to pay fees or request special waivers."
Not all schools were necessarily following that law, however. In 2010, an investigation by the San Diego Union-Tribune found a number of schools openly posting extra fees for students on their websites. The American Civil Liberties Union filed a class action against the state in September 2010 over the schools that charged students mandatory fees. The state reached a settlement with the ACLU in December of that year, contingent on the establishment of a"comprehensive monitoring and enforcement system" to ensure that schools weren't charging unlawful fees.
On Sept. 29, 2012, Gov. Jerry Brown signed a law, AB 1575, meant to identify and prevent schools from charging mandatory student fees. The law alters the existing uniform complaint procedures to allow parents or students concerned about the legality of a school fee to file a "complaint of noncompliance" with their school principal. Starting in the 2014-15 fiscal year, the state department of education must also provide guidance to school administrators regarding the state's free schools guarantee and the types of fees permitted in schools. (Voluntary donations, for instance, are still allowed.)
The passage of AB 1575 led to the resolution of the ACLU's lawsuit from two years prior. Under the new law, an "educational activity" includes both curricular and extracurricular activities.

Starr to Meet with MCEA Board of Directors this Evening

From Twitter we learn that Superintendent Joshua is meeting with the Montgomery County Education Association (MCEA/teachers' union/Apple Ballot) Board of Directors today. 

What is the purpose of this meeting. As we all know contract negotiations with the Unions are ongoing. So what's the meeting about? Will Starr be tweeting from the meeting or will his tweets be sealed?

Looking forward to the  BOD meeting with  this evening.

Watered down Open Meetings bill gets preliminary approval in House

Watered down Open Meetings bill gets preliminary approval in House

The trouble with Starr’s testing moratorium

By Kristen Amundson, Published: February 22
In an op-ed this month, “Time out on standardized testing,” Montgomery County Public Schools Superintendent Joshua P. Starr explained why he thinks there should be a moratorium on federally required standardized testing. I disagree...

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Ike Leggett's Little Secret

Ever wonder why Ike Leggett, Montgomery County Executive, and his ace advisor Steve Silverman, Director of Economic Development for Montgomery County, finally agreed to return the Brickyard Middle School site to the Board of Education?  Did he suddenly become a friend of the earth?  Or did he realize that soccer doesn't need a fancy field.


The real reason is that Ike Leggett and the rest of the county already own a prime, five acre school site that is just ready for . . . whatever the county council and its executive desire.

The property is at 175 Watts Branch Parkway, with great access to I270 and fair access to public transportation.   The property doesn't require access through a residential neighborhood, and its only neighbor is a gas station and existing park space.  The property is the site of the former Karma Academy, an alternative program that no longer exists.  Even better?   The neighbors are talking about getting the site incorporated Woottons Mill Park, an existing public space of over 100 acres!

So - what do we know about this site? 

Lots of articles in the newspaper about the possibility of historic review and the recent fire, but no talk of development or use of the site.  Just an old farmhouse that, per usual Montgomery County standards for real estate, falls apart.  Think Peary HS, think of all those excess schools in the 1980s that became havens for rodents.

Isn't it curious?  When Ike and company own a piece of property adjacent to a park, that is abandoned and a fire hazard, no one thinks about development or alternative uses.  But school sites that belong to someone else?  These are much more attractive, with Ike and Steve drooling over the possibilities, even before the land belongs to the county. 

No wonder the county's Office of Legislative Oversight found that the county's incentives for development were less than stellar, in particular by 3500 new jobs short of expectations.  

And the legal bills!  The first battle of Brickyard concerned the county's attempts to secure Brickyard Middle School for "workforce housing."  The more recent one concerned soccer fields.  Both involved interests who wanted to get their hands on cheap property, and talked public officials into doing their bidding - at taxpayer expense.

Ike and Steve - its time to realize that cronyism just doesn't work.  Or perhaps, maybe its time for MoCo locals to elect officials who will be more successful at using county resources to benefit county residents, instead of political war chests. 

Patricia O'Neill: "Stay Home on Friday Night"

In a follow up to Lyda Astrove's post regarding Board of Education member Patricia O'Neill's comment at the February 25, 2013, Board of Education meeting, the rest of O'Neill's statement on the MCPS Fiscal Year 2014 budget is also notable.

After Ms. O'Neill stated that $75 is "not even a fancy steak dinner that somebody is paying for", she told Montgomery County citizens to "stay home on Friday night".   Instead, she told County citizens to put the money that they would be spending on that "steak dinner" toward "our kids".

Is that Ms. O'Neill's new economic plan for Montgomery County? Everyone is to stay home so that the Board of Education can get $2.2 Billion to play with?  Restaurants, malls, entertainment venues can all close to support the public school system?

Montgomery County citizens love Ms. O'Neill, no matter what names she calls them. They have elected her to this seat 4 times.  She has been on the Board of Education since 1998.

No doubt, her loyal followers will take her advice.  They will stay home!  Take that Steve Silverman!

From Twitter we learn "Red Zone" is Out

From Montgomery County Councilmember George Leventhal ‏@georgeleventhal's Twitter feed:

At MCCPTA forum, @mcpssuper Dr Starr says Red Zone is "not a term that I currently use."

Maybe Superintendent Starr will tweet us the list of terms he does use so we can all understand him when he talks?

BOE Members to Get Raise

It's looking good!
Looks like the Montgomery County Board of Education members will get a raise this year.  They've been working hard after all. They deserve it, right? It takes a lot to continually raise their helium hands up in the air to every increase in the MCPS Operating Budget.

The legislation proposed in the State Legislature is sailing right through the committees!

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Union Demands $6 Million More! MCPS Budget Keeps Going Up and Up!

Gazette:  Montgomery schools chief adds more staff pay at the last minute to next year’s budget

...Starr is now requesting about $6 million more for compensation increases, bringing the total that he wants to hold as a “placeholder” up to about $18 million. The school system is still negotiating with the three unions that represent its employees.
The Montgomery County Board of Education approved his request, with board member Michael A. Durso (Dist. 5) of Silver Spring as the only dissenting vote...
...School board members said Monday it will now take a fight to persuade the Montgomery County Executive and County Council members to approve the budget request, which totals about $2.2 billion, about $57.5 million more than the current school year...

Montgomery County teachers union might fight state about evaluations

Montgomery County’s teachers union might be preparing to fight the Maryland State Department of Education regarding the department’s new requirements for teacher evaluations.
Montgomery County Public Schools leaders heard from the state department earlier this month that, starting next year, the system must use students’ results on state tests to determine 20 percent of a teacher’s effectiveness.
The Montgomery County Education Association now is trying to determine just how much power the state has to impose changes on local systems, Tom Israel, executive director of union, said Thursday.
“The question is, do they have the legal authority to impose something on local districts?” Israel said...

BOE Meeting Off-Camera, Again

Monday, March 4, 2013
09:00 AM Board Retreat -- Rockville Library

Monday, February 25, 2013

Memo to Pat O'Neill, Board of Education

Did I hear you correctly?

Do you really think Montgomery County is full of citizens going out and eating a $75 dollar steak dinner every Friday night?

Maybe that's what they do in your neck of the woods. But in case you haven't noticed...the economic recovery is not complete. And even before the downturn, this county was full of families who don't "go out and eat a $75 dollar steak dinner" every Friday night.

There are families in this county who cannot afford a $75 dollar steak dinner ever. Did you miss the $5.00 a day SNAP challenge?

It's not a matter of foregoing excessive luxuries so that we can fund the school system at the level you deem necessary.

You owe an apology to the Montgomery County families and students who are living in poverty for your flip remarks of what you think people need to do in order to fully fund your budget request.

Starr Adding to Daly Elementary School Cell Tower

February 2013:  Construction
 on Daly Elementary
 School playground
Which is it Superintendent Joshua Starr? Are cell towers banned at all MCPS elementary schools EXCEPT Daly Elementary?

What's the exception for Daly Elementary?

Now that you can make these decision by yourself, without any Board of Education discussion, what's your answer?

Tweet and let the public know what you are doing.

Union Demands Continue Even as BOE Set to Adopt FY 2014 Budget

At today's Board of Education meeting, the Closed Session Agenda shows that the Union contracts for FY 2014 have not been finalized.
...Resolved, That the Board receive a briefing by staff and discuss ongoing collective bargaining negotiations and matters that relate to the negotiations...
The Board of Education is also set to adopt the FY 2014 Operating Budget today.

How can the Board of Education be approving the FY 2014 Operating Budget when the contracts with the unions have not been finalized? Why are negotiations ongoing? Shouldn't that be an Open Session discussion?

$2.9 MILLION for TRAVEL in FY 2014

And, that's up $305,105 from the Fiscal Year 2013 MCPS Operating Budget.  No travel freeze for MCPS!

Administrators have to be able to get to Florida in January!

Next time you hear someone in MCPS whine that the budget is tight, remind them there is always money for administrators and Board of Education members travel$2,905,958 to be exact!

That much money would put over 40 teachers in classrooms.  But, administrator perks are more important than classroom teachers to Superintendent Joshua Starr and the Board of Education. 

Wootton Surveys Parents on Pearson-MCPS Curriculum 2.0

The Wootton Cluster surveyed parents about the new Pearson-MCPS Curriculum 2.0.  

The  results of the survey were passed out to Board of Education members at the end of the recent Wootton cluster meeting, and were also given to the MCCPTA curriculum committee 

Click here for raw survey results including parents' comments on the Pearson-MCPS Curriculum 2.0.  This is the curriculum that is now being marketed by Pearson under the name Pearson Forward

(The names and contact information on the surveys were deleted for privacy reasons.)

Saturday, February 23, 2013

CALPERS Divests. What about Maryland?

After the tragedy at Newtown teachers discovered that their California State Teachers’ Retirement System had holdings in Cerberus Capital Management LP, which invests in the Freedom Group, the company that manufactures the Bushmaster semi-automatic rifle.  The Bushmaster semi-automatic was one of the weapons used to murder 20 children and six adults at Newtown.  According to Reuters, the California State Teachers’ Retirement System “decided last month to divest its holdings in makers of firearms and high-capacity ammunition clips illegal in California.”

This past Tuesday CALPERS, the entire California Pension Fund, voted to divest its interest in two gun manufacturers, Smith & Wesson Holding Corporation, and Sturm, Ruger & Co.

In addition according to the same article,
New York City's top financial officer said on Friday that the city's $46.6 billion teachers' pension fund pulled its money out of publicly traded firearms manufacturers.

According to New York City Comptroller John Liu, the five companies from which the fund divested are Alliant Techsystems Inc, Olin Corp, Forjas Taurus SA, Smith & Wesson and Sturm, Ruger.
What about our teachers in Maryland? Do you know where your money is?

How can we end gun violence? One way is to stop investing in gun manufacturers.

Real Food For Kids - Montgomery hosts screening of Cafeteria Man March 15th

From Real Food for Kids - Montgomery:

Real Food For Kids - Montgomery is hosting a screening of Cafeteria Man followed by a community discussion, on Friday March 15, 2013 at the Takoma Park Community Center at 7500 Maple Ave, Takoma Park, MD 20912 at 7:30 p.m. Cafeteria Man is a 65-minute documentary about Tony Geraci’s work in transforming the meals in the Baltimore City Schools from pre-plated and processed to locally-grown and freshly prepared. The film's director, Richard Chisolm, will be our guest at this event. We would love for you to join us and would appreciate it if you could share this information about our event with your networks. Suggested donation is $5 per person, $10 per family. More information about the film can be found at:

Real Food for Kids - Montgomery is a grass-roots, parent advocacy group promoting whole, delicious, fresh foods in the Montgomery County Public Schools. Formed in October of 2012, we currently have parents representing 35 different elementary, middle, and high schools. We are looking for at least one parent from each of the 202 schools in the county to share their expertise and passion for this issue, and who would be willing to work on a variety of topics including but not limited to: bringing fresh, local produce into the schools; opting out of school snacks; teachers rewarding children with food; free water in the cafeteria; sugar in the schools; vending machines; and processed food. If you are part of a wellness committee in your school, or just a lone crusader, please consider joining us.

RFKM’s next event is already being planned for May: a recipe contest to create a new meal that could be added to the MCPS menu.

For more information, please email us at Thank you!

Friday, February 22, 2013

One adult seriously injured in Montgomery Co. school bus accident |

One adult seriously injured in Montgomery Co. school bus accident |

$360,000: Another No-Bid Pearson Product for MCPS

On Monday, February 25, 2013, the Board of Education will unanimously vote another $360,000 to be spent on a Pearson product.  The product is PowerSchool.

PowerSchool looks a lot like Edline that MCPS claims they are eliminating.

Note the PowerSchool product is being purchased without taking any bids from any other vendors. Why no bids? No competition from other vendors? What happened to Edline?

That's PowerSchool by Pearson, as in MCPS sold the curriculum to Pearson and we haven't made a dime in royalties.

Teachers Demand Pearson Curriculum Summit

Really? Gosh. This must make all those Pearson customers out there excited to buy the Pearson-MCPS curriculum.  Look how fantastic it is working out for MCPS?  Our teachers are now demanding a whole new round of "training"  to figure out this super cool curriculum that is supposed to bring MCPS dollars.

Dollars received to date from sale of MCPS curriculum to Pearson:  $ 0

Cost to taxpayers of sale of MCPS curriculum to Pearson:  over $3.65 MILLION in just the FY 2014 budget


...Tom Israel, executive director of the Montgomery County Education Association, said he was pleased to see the extra funding for Curriculum 2.0. Starr’s original request had already included $1.55 million for added curriculum supports.
The teacher’s union felt that more should be included, and worked with the school system over the last few weeks [NOTE:  BEHIND CLOSED DOORS. NO PUBLIC PROCESS TO THE UNION DISCUSSING THEIR "FEELINGS"] to determine what additional supports were needed for next year, he said.
The extra funding will allow for more training for all elementary teachers this summer, a curriculum summit [Equals conference in Ocean City. One simply can not summit in Montgomery County.] this summer for teachers to help “fix holes” in the curriculum, and more money for substitutes so that teachers can take planning time, Israel said...

Initiatives to increase Open Meetings Act compliance approved by House subcommittee

Initiatives to increase Open Meetings Act compliance approved by House subcommittee

Starr's $900,000 Gallup Surprise: Do you have a best friend at work?

Remember back when Superintendent Joshua Starr announced that he was going to "realign" $300,000 to hand over to no bid vendor Gallup Consulting?  Starr made the decision to hire Gallup without any Board of Education discussion or vote. There was no Request for Proposal, no competitive bids, no competition for this sole source award by the Superintendent.  Hey, it's only $300,000!

But, wait!  Starr's memo made it sound as if the $300,000 would pay the Gallup bill.  But, Gallup has had an issue with overcharging of late.  That's why they are being sued by the Department of Justice.

So what is Superintendent Starr really going to pay Gallup? Not $300,000!  No, he is going to pay this no bid, no compete vendor


Now, where did the Superintendent find that other $600,000?  In a drawer?  

And, when did the Board of Education decide that a survey that asks teachers "do you have a best friend at work" was more important than putting actual teachers in classrooms? 

One thing we know for sure.  Gallup has a best friend in Superintendent Joshua Starr. 

Montgomery County police, K-9 collar sleeping teacher

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Promethean Boards for sale

These are not from MCPS, but from a private school in Silver Spring.  While MCPS keeps buying old technology (including 2000 recently purchased boards), this school is tossing out Promethean Boards and upgrading to HD technology.

Starr Increases FY 14 Budget $2.3 Million

Why not?

Superintendent Joshua Starr has released an Amended FY 2014 MCPS Operating Budget.

Superintendent Starr's original request was for $2,217,247,656.

His new request is for $2,219,627,546.

That's an increase of $2,379,890.

Most of the increase is directed at training teachers in the Pearson Curriculum.  $2.1 MILLION for teacher training in the Pearson Curriculum. What happened to Pearson's contribution to this private-public super cool deal

Remember that Weast sold the BOE on this deal because MCPS needed the money! Why are the costs associated with the Pearson curriculum deal increasing? Why are there no profits?


Gazette:  AP success for Montgomery’s class of 2012, but gaps widen

...In Wednesday’s data, the percentage of white graduates taking at least one exam increased the most of all racial groups last year, by 2.7 percentage points to 81.1 percent, while black graduates were the only group to see participation drop, by 1.5 percentage points to 43 percent.
That made the gap in participation of black and white graduates widen by 4.2 percentage points, creating a 38.1 percentage point difference.
Of Hispanic graduates, 54.2 percent took one or more exams in 2012, compared to 53 percent in 2011. Still, the participation gap between Hispanic and white graduates widen by 1.5 percentage points to 26.9 percent...

TED Talk: Mitch Resnick: Let's teach kids to code

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Easter Monday could become an optional school holiday

Legislative bills are being sponsored in the Maryland House and Senate that would allow school districts to eliminate Easter Monday from the school holiday calendar.  Under current law, Easter Monday is a mandatory public school holiday in Maryland.

In the Senate, the bill is SB0856, sponsored by Senator Montgomery of Montgomery County. An identical bill is being offered in the House as HB1016 by Delegates Hucker and Luedtke, also of Montgomery County.

Breaking News: MSI kicked off Brickyard Middle School site

At this evening's emergency Board of Education (BOE) meeting it was announced that County Executive Ike Leggett sent a letter to the BOE today announcing that the County was no longer interested in turning the Brickyard Middle School site over to MSI Soccer.

The owner of the Brickyard Middle School site is the Board of Education, as always. There is no longer a lessee for this property.

The site remains on the list of future school sites for MCPS.

The purpose of this evening's meeting was to read the letter from County Executive Ike Leggett.  Nothing secret about the letter.  No reason for the BOE to go into a closed session, and no reason for the BOE to withhold the letter prior to the meeting.

The BOE still doesn't understand that they are a public body doing public business.

Breaking News: TODAY BOE Calls Special Meeting to Vote on Brickyard Middle School site lease

No public comment.

Nothing else on the Agenda.

No link to any documents.

Obviously, the Board of Education and Superintendent Joshua Starr want to do something with regard to the Brickyard Middle School site without any public input or discussion.

So much for transparency!

Last January Starr Said he was Spending $300K on Gallup. What did he Actually Spend?

Superintendent Plans Elimination of TerraNova Test 
January 26, 2012
Superintendent of Schools Joshua P. Starr announced Thursday (January 26) that Montgomery County Public Schools (MCPS) will stop administering the TerraNova 2 (TN2) test to second grade students starting next school year. He is recommending the money spent on the TN2 be used for other purposes.

Dr. Starr’s recommendation is part of a continued effort to find savings and efficiencies in the operating budget for Fiscal Year 2013 and to reduce the number of standardized tests that students take in MCPS.

“While the TerraNova does provide some useful information, I believe we can assess student progress with existing tools and use the money spent on the TN2 in a better way,” Dr. Starr said. “Testing certainly has its place, but we must carefully consider every assessment we are giving our students and determine if the benefits outweigh the cost and the interruption to instruction.”

Currently, MCPS second graders take the TerraNova 2, which assesses reading, language mechanics, mathematics, and mathematics computation. Students in grades K-2 also take the MCPS Assessment Program—Primary Reading (MCPS AP-PR) three times throughout each school year to measure reading ability and attainment.

The superintendent informed the Board of Education of this change as he prepares to submit amendments to his FY 2013 operating budget proposal. Dr. Starr has recommended a $2.13 billion budget for next fiscal year, an increase of about 2 percent from the current budget. This is the smallest requested increase in more than a decade.

Since Dr. Starr released his budget recommendation in December, more information has become available about the county and state’s fiscal condition and the state budget. Dr. Starr will make amendments to his budget recommendation to reflect that information before the Board of Education votes on a final budget request on February 14.

Dr. Starr’s overall budget recommendation is expected to increase his original proposal by $4.62 million. This reflects an increase in state funding for FY 2013 proposed by Gov. O’Malley. Dr. Starr is also recommending realignment of funds in certain areas. Details of these realignments will be sent to the Board before Feb. 14, but will include:

- Reduction of more than $600,000 in stipends for part-time salaries for summer employment, part-time instructional salaries, stipends and substitutes;
- Realignment of $221,000 to fund three additional prekindergarten classes for students from low-income families, based on projected enrollment;
- Realignment of $300,000 to work with Gallup Consulting to more effectively measure staff engagement.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Wootton Booster Club to Violate BOE Policy

But that's O.K.  No one really pays attention to the Board of Education anyway.  If the Wootton Booster Club wants to sell the naming rights to the football field for $50,000 they are free to do so. No one is going to stop them. Churchill High School violated the Policy.  It's only fair that Wootton gets to violate the policy also.

Here's what the Board of Education Policy says:
If there is strong interest within the community, petitions will be considered for
naming a portion of a school facility, to include athletic facilities. The responsibility
for naming a portion of a school facility will rest with the superintendent of schools
or his/her designee, after careful consideration of community input. Petitions
received to name a portion of a school facility to generate financial gain are
prohibited unless expressly approved by the Board of Education.

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Prince George’s delegates approve artificial-turf fields at county high schools

Let's be clear about what has happened with this Bill.  The PG Delegation voted for this bill because it was changed so that no PG County funds will be used.  Instead of PG paying for their mandated plastic grass fields, we all will be paying.  The money is now going to come from the State of Maryland.  

The Prince George’s County House Delegation on Friday approved a state bill that would require the installation of artificial turf fields at all county high schools, after County Executive Rushern L. Baker III (D) rescinded his opposition to the measure.
The delegates voted 19-3 to approve the bill even though the county Board of Education said this week that it was against the measure...
...Walker’s original bill said county funds could be used to pay for the fields. He amended the bill Friday, allowing state school construction funds and money from the Open Space program, which pays for parks and recreation, to be used pay for the installation.
“Every dollar that is diverted for turf fields from the Board’s Capital Improvement Program deprives Prince George’s County school children from having a leaky roof fixed, a boiler repaired, or a grease trap replaced,” the school board wrote in a letter to the delegates...
Article continues at The Washington Post


Carderock ES student's Petition on MCPS Food

Friday, February 15, 2013

Connecticut schools respond to Freedom of Information Act requests for superintendent contracts - The Middletown Press : Serving Middletown, CT

Connecticut schools respond to Freedom of Information Act requests for superintendent contracts - The Middletown Press : Serving Middletown, CT

US sues Gallup, alleging pollster overcharged on government contracts

US sues Gallup, alleging pollster overcharged on government contracts

Nine-year-old launches protest

ROCKVILLE - When nine-year-old Rena and Zahava Van Leeuwen said they no longer wanted to eat in their school cafeteria because the food was unhealthy, their mother Michal Freedhoff, knew something had to be done.  Freedhoff asked her brother, Dr. Yoni Freedhoff, who is a doctor in Canada, to review the menu at Carderock Springs Elementary School.
“While it's terrific to see appropriately portioned meals being served to Montgomery County's children it would certainly appear as if nutritional considerations stopped at calories. Looking at January and February's menus as examples what strikes me is that the children are being fed no-name fast food on a daily basis. While it’s lovely that vegetables are included with their junk food, the food remains junk,” said Dr. Freedhoff. 
In January, Michal and the girls launched a petition on asking for the Montgomery County Council to review the foods available in schools. The petition currently has 150 out of 500 signatures...

Montgomery County Public Schools Integration

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Pr. George’s school board again opposes state bills related to artificial turf

First, the Prince George’s County Board of Education opposed a state bill that would create a task force to study the composition and operations of the board and another that would require artificial turf to be installed at all county schools.
Then, it decided to rescind its opposition.
Now, it has opposed the measures— again.
The school board voted Wednesday night against the two pieces of legislation, raising questions about the timing and the cost of the bills, respectively...
...School board member Donna Hathaway Beck (District 9) said the estimated $20 million that it would cost to install the artificial turf fields at the county’s schools was low because it didn’t include the cost of maintenance...

Read complete article at The Washington Post.

The Sentinel: Community leaders angry with education budget

Published on: Thursday, February 14, 2013
By Donna Broadway
ROCKVILLE - Community organizations are not happy with the proposed Montgomery County Public School operating budget for the 2013-2014 school year.
At the “Book Club Budgetpalooza,” members from the Montgomery County Civic Federation, the Parents’ Coalition of Montgomery County and the Montgomery County Tax Payers League went through the proposed $2.2 billion budget chapter by chapter.
Complaints about the budget included the absence of transparency in the budget process, secret meetings, sloppy documentation, a large percentage paid to direct overhead and lower pay for red zone teachers – teachers paid less than other teachers because of lower student scores...

Article continues at:  The Sentinel

Pearson Curriculum 2.0 Survey from Wootton Cluster

Dear Parents:
Please fill out this quick survey by Saturday night February 16, 2013. We will present the results to the Montgomery County Board of Education at Wootton High School on Thursday February 21, 2013, from 7-9 pm. Please come if you can and support our cluster, your participation would amplify your answers to the survey. If you would like the results of the survey or otherwise engage in the process to bring change to our school/cluster/MCPS, please include your e-mail address or contact me directly. Thank you for helping all of our kids, please pass this link to any parent in the Wootton Cluster. 
Peter Yuen Travilah Elementary School PTA Cluster Representative

Montgomery County union raises might give teachers leverage |

Montgomery County union raises might give teachers leverage |

Public schools lose millions to crooks and cheaters

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Eating Tax Dollars at the Council

Students need textbooks, Field Trip fees, Outdoor Education fees, AP fees? No worries.
The County Council is busy eating away tax dollars.  Kids pay, while the Council eats.

The Gazette article below is a little misleading when it talks about Councilmembers that didn't spend from their personal food accounts.  They may not have spent, but they ate!  You can watch numerous videos of Council lunches here at the Parents' Coalition.  All Council members are eating the catered food.

Gazette:  Montgomery councilmembers spent thousands on food last year

Gaithersburg Principal on Vendor Trip

According to this video, Gaithersburg High School principal Christine Handy-Collins took a trip sponsored by Lifetouch in December of 2012.  Lifetouch is a vendor of student pictures and yearbooks.

Wootton Parents Paying for No Bid Plastic Grass

Wootton High School is now "soliciting" for money for it's lead and zinc infused plastic grass field.

Wootton High School parents are being fed all kinds of ground up crumb rubber to get them to donate!  Here's a fun statement from the Wootton Booster Club website:
Cost - while upfront costs are higher, 20-year lifecycle costs and reduced man-hours for maintenance are much lower
Now, here's hoping the Wootton parents don't get the idea that their plastic field is going to last for 20 years. It isn't.  Wootton parents are going to have to pony up to replace the field, well in as little as 4 1/2 years!  FieldTurf only warrants their fields for 8 years.

In 20 years, the Wootton parents will be shelling out for new plastic grass 3 times.

Wootton parents aren't being told that the cost of their plastic grass field is a few hundred thousand dollars higher than other schools pay for plastic grass from the same company.

Why is the cost higher? Because MCPS likes to overpay!  MCPS doesn't put our RFP's for these projects, doesn't get competitive bids, and doesn't even get contracts!  Imagine, if MCPS put out this project for competitive bids the Wootton parents wouldn't have to put up a dime!  That's because the contribution from Bethesda Soccer would cover the cost of a new plastic grass field in any other school system.  But, shhh, don't tell the Wootton parents.  They are loving the thermometer on the Booster website and all the fun perks they can buy with their 100% tax deductible donation.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Who Knew That Our Kennedy Cluster Project Was 'Similar' to the Harlem Children's Zone?

by Joseph Hawkins
Recently, I learned from Montgomery County Councilman George Leventhal that on Tuesday (February 12, 2013) he will host a meeting to discuss “unfinished business” impacting the lives of African Americans in Montgomery County. Here are details for those interested in attending the meeting:
6:00 pmStella B. Werner Council Office Building  6th Floor Conference Room   100 Maryland Avenue Rockville, MD  RSVP Walton Harris  240-777-7945
“Unfinished Business” is the title of a draft report, which I assume was
authored by Leventhal. Click here to read it.
The report is full of interesting facts about African Americans living in Montgomery County. But the report also touches on a few surprises. For example, I did not realize that the county’s first public charter school, the Community Montessori Charter School, is a “trial” school to determine if such schools are able to eliminate academic achievement gaps. I wonder how they plan to achieve a goal that no one else in the county has achieved. Click here to learn more about Montgomery County Public Schools' first charter school.
But the other surprise that caught my attention is this notion that the Kennedy Cluster Project is “similar” to the Harlem Children’s Zone. Really!
If you’re sitting at your computer reading this blog stop and google "Harlem Children’s Zone (HCZ)." 
One link that should come up is this one. If you scroll through to page 23 you will notice that HCZ has a boatload of money—nearly $250 million in total support and revenue as of June 30, 2011.
Now, google the "Kennedy Cluster Project budget."
If you scroll to page 9 you will see $126,720 allocated to the project. 
I’m sure there are other bucks allocated to the project. But I doubt one can find more than $500,000. Regardless, it does not take a budget genius to quickly figure out that someone is seriously out-to-lunch if they believe the Kennedy Cluster and HCZ efforts are “similar.” 

Tax payments overdue for cell towers on MCPS properties

County adds interest to unpaid bills

Records obtained from Montgomery County Government reveal that several owners of cell towers that are situated on MCPS Board of Education property have failed to pay thousands of dollars of state, county and city property taxes that were due in 2012 and earlier.   The offenders include Sprint, Comcast, and Cricket Communications.

The taxes were billed pursuant to a Maryland property tax law that requires lessees of government-owned property to pay property taxes. 

A description of the applicable law is found in the Maryland Assessment Procedures Manual.
For government owned property, the tower site should be assessed to the tenant ( Lessee) in possession of the property. The Tax Property Article, in Section 6-102(e), provides that the "interest of a person in property owned by the federal, the State, a county, or a municipal corporation government is subject to property taxes as though the lessee or the user of the property were the owner of the property, if the property is leased ... in conjunction with a business that is conducted for profit." 
While the towers have been in place on school grounds for many years, the Maryland Department of Assessments and Taxation added assessment records for the towers to their database only recently after they learned that former Superintendent Jerry Weast had quietly signed leases with the cell phone companies over the past decade.  Many of the leases were signed without approval from the Board of Education and without notice to the public.

Links to a few of the many unpaid property tax bills are below.

According to a high-level official at the Maryland State Department of Assessments and Taxation, failure to pay the tax bills will eventually lead to a tax lien sale of the towers and equipment that are on the leased sites. 

Update -- 5/232013:  We are being told now that the towers and equipment are not eligible to be included in the tax lien sale.  Instead, the Montgomery County must sue the cell tower companies to recover the unpaid taxes, which is potentially a long and expensive process compared to a tax lien sale. In addition, taxes that have gone uncollected for more than three years can never be recovered due to a limitation imposed by state law.

Want to know what is wrong with our educational system?

A 21st Century Union:
The message in 2009 was much more sophisticated than in 2003.  This time, principals would not be asked how they could decrease participation on the SAT in order to raise the averages.  This time, MCPS would just ask a simple question  "which test is best for you?"      It was so benign, yet so brilliant.   Have a meeting with the administration of every high school, and ask them to communicate to parents and students that they have a choice.   Students may take the ACT or the SAT.   Just use criteria like the one below to help students make their decision:

Nothing to it.  This SAT/ACT action plan would then be "customized to meet the needs of individual schools."

Clarksburg High School created a page.

Walter Johnson had a page.

Northwood did this.

Damascus High School made a Power Point.

The plan was perfect.  In 2010, twenty-four of twenty five high schools in Montgomery County saw their percentage of SAT test takers drop.  Participation dropped, average scores rose, and Dr. Weast could continue to promote the MCPS brand name while building his consulting career in- get this- helping other districts use data to increase student achievement.

Want to know what is wrong with our educational system?   Folks- MCPS is a national model for its use of data.   But no one cares about what the data is designed to measure.   We just care about moving the data- which is no way to run an educational system.

Friday, February 8, 2013

Pay Your Way to a Snazzier School!

Here are some of the highlights from the Social Justice Warrior's memo on the improvements being made to MCPS facilities and where the outside money is coming from:


$28K electronic sign for Paint Branch HS

$5K of landscaping for Seven Locks ES

$30K for Dugouts at Clarksburg HS

$20K of playground improvements at Cashell ES

$8K for eight hand dryers at North Bethesda MS (REALLY? Hand dryers cost $1000

$25K for press box and storage shed at Poolesville HS

$30K for electronic message display at Clarksburg HS (those people up in
Clarksburg must have $$$$ )

$22K for Seneca Valley HS scoreboard

$4K to upgrade the "LOUNGE" at Burning Tree ES!

And there's more!

$80K for an upgrade to the scoreboard at Winston Churchill!

Bells Mill ES: No Funds for Playground Supervision

Did you know that, according to Bells Mill Elementary School 2012-13 Recess/Lunch Handbook September 3, 2012:

Q: There seems to be an unending need for parent volunteers to help cover lunch and recess. Why aren't teachers available to watch the children, at least during recess?

A: MCPS teachers belong to a union and, under the union rules, are not required to provide coverage for lunch and recess, so it is up to the parents to provide the extra coverage for lunch and recess. By volunteering, parents provide additional adult supervision of the children, which is particularly helpful during recess when the children tend to go all over the fields and play areas. By reducing the adult to child ratio, we can ensure that the children are receiving the adult supervision they need.

Social Justice Warrior Spends $59K Fighting Families of Kids with Disabilities IN ONE MONTH!

Dr. Joshua Starr (a.k.a. self-described "social justice warrior") presided over a hefty increase in outside counsel special education legal fees during the month of November, 2012. He spent this money fighting families of children with disabilities, whose parents were seeking more or different special education services.

Special Education Legal Expenses

Special education legal fees for outside counsel for November 2012 totaled $59,003. The year-to-date total of $155,628 is $35,384 (18.5 percent) lower than the same period in the previous year. Total year-to-date special education legal costs of $155,627 are $86,518 (35.7 percent) lower than the budgeted amount of $242,145 through November 2012.
The Jeffrey A. Krew bill for November 2012 totaled $59,003 and included work on six cases. Three involved administrative hearings ($54,201), and three involved appeals to federal or state court ($4,802).

What would $59,003 buy? How many hours of paraeducator time? How much professional development? How much speech therapy or discrete trial training for a child with autism?

Urging social justice while spending $59,003 a month to fight requests for educational services by families of children with disabilities is the rankest hypocrisy.

Please Include Athletic Trainer Funding in the FY 2014 Operating Budget

Below is an excerpt from my Jan. 17 testimony to MCPS Supt. Joshua Starr and the Board of Education urging them to include $500,000 in the FY 2014 Operating Budget to staff each of MCPS's 25 high schools with an athletic trainer.
I am also attaching a Maryland map reflecting my survey showing which local public school systems have trainers at their high schools.  Not on the map is Fairfax County, Virginia, just across the Potomac River, where each of its 25 high schools has two full-time trainers.
Concussion expert Robert Cantu, MD and others say that if you can't afford trainers, maybe you can't afford to have a high school sports program.  This is especially true for high school football, which studies show accounts for half of all concussions in a high school sports program...
Article continues at Rockville Patch

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Montgomery County searches for space for upcounty school buses

Gazette:  Default plan is parking about 400 buses at schools overnight

Video: Book Club - Budgetpalooza

Here's the Book we'd like to see the Board of Education and Superintendent really discuss, the Superintendent's proposed FY 2014 budget!  
Since the BOE and Superintendent won't get into a page by page discussion of this book anymore, a group of Montgomery County citizens did.  

Here's the video of our Book Club:  Budgetpalooza!

Proposals to reinforce Open Meetings compliance face hearing

Proposals to reinforce Open Meetings compliance face hearing

Guest Post: Please Oppose a Salary Increase for the Montgomery County Board of Education

On Thursday, February 7th, 2013 at 4:30 P.M, the Montgomery County
Senate Delegation will meet to vote on a bill increasing the salary of
the Montgomery County Board of Education (MCPS). The following
senators should ALL be called AND e-mailed in opposition to any salary
increase. Please contact them today, February 6th (preferably), or
tomorrow morning, February7th:

Senator Jamie Raskin; /
410-841-3634 Senator Jennie Forehand 301-858-3134 /410-841-3134;;  Senator Brian Frosh 301-858-3124; Senator Rob Garagiola
301-858-3169/410-841-3169;; Senator
Nancy King 301-858-3686/410-841-3686;;
Senator Richard Madaleno 301-858-3137 / 410-841-3137;; Senator Roger Manno
301-858-3151/410-841-3151;; Senator
Karen Montgomery,  301-858-3625 / 410-841-3625;;

Reasons why this is a terrible idea include the following:  In this
tanked economy with tight budgetary constraints, no elected officials
should receive an increase in salary or compensation of any kind.

No government entity with the tarnished track record the MCPS Board
has should be rewarded until there is a change in how the MCPS Board
conducts its business and priorities reflect the best interests of and
benefits to students and taxpayers.

Problems include numerous violations of the open meetings law,
back-door secret deals trading a wonderful organic farm for another
soccer field (surely the schools have more important uses for that
money), and spending an exorbitant amount of money to expose MCPS
students to a host of toxins in artificial turf versus a less
expensive and safe and natural/organic sod purchased locally.

The lack of leadership on the Board has also thwarted concerted
efforts of students (The Young Activists Club in Takoma Park) and
their parents to have a school garden and farm fresh food prepared
onsite in the school kitchen. As a direct result of the Board’s
ignorance, at least one high school principal has destroyed class
gardens four years in a row; and another principal resisted efforts
for almost two years to permit students to plant a rain garden the
school was not even paying for.

Shame on any Montgomery County legislator who thinks a salary increase
is economically defensible for any appointed or elected official in
this economy and for such an ethically challenged Board.

Alyce Ortuzar, District 14