Saturday, March 30, 2013

Toxic turfs

Toxic turfs

Mont. Co. Needs More Alcohol to Retain MCPS Graduates?

Riemer, Young Dems Ask: Can Young People Afford To Live In MoCo?
...“When we look at young people that we educate in this county, we spend, the average is $180,000. That’s what it costs us to educate a person all the way through our public schools, which is a testament to our commitment to education. But when our young people graduate from Montgomery County Public Schools, do they stay in Montgomery County or do they go to college and move to some other part of the country or some other part of the region,” Riemer asked. “The unfortunate news is that they are not staying in Montgomery County. They are moving to other parts of our region. They are moving to other parts of the county. We have to do a better job, absolutely in my opinion, at least capturing our share of young people who want to move to the Washington region.”... 
...One participant complained about Bethesda’s lack of options and the 1 a.m. closing time for bars. Riemer mentioned the 50-50 alcohol to food ratio requirement, indicating it could face scrutiny as part of the county’s initiative...

Friday, March 29, 2013

Ex-Schools Chief in Atlanta Is Indicted in Testing Scandal

"On Friday, prosecutors essentially said it really was too good to be true."

During his 35 years as a Georgia state investigator, Richard Hyde has persuaded all sorts of criminals — corrupt judges, drug dealers, money launderers, racketeers — to turn state’s evidence, but until Jackie Parks, he had never tried to flip an elementary school teacher.

It worked.

In the fall of 2010, Ms. Parks, a third-grade teacher at Venetian Hills Elementary School in southwest Atlanta, agreed to become Witness No. 1 for Mr. Hyde, in what would develop into the most widespread public school cheating scandal in memory.

Ms. Parks admitted to Mr. Hyde that she was one of seven teachers — nicknamed “the chosen” — who sat in a locked windowless room every afternoon during the week of state testing, raising students’ scores by erasing wrong answers and making them right. She then agreed to wear a hidden electronic wire to school, and for weeks she secretly recorded the conversations of her fellow teachers for Mr. Hyde.

In the two and a half years since, the state’s investigation has reached from Ms. Parks’s third-grade classroom all the way to the district superintendent at the time, Beverly L. Hall, who was one of 35 Atlanta educators indicted Friday by a Fulton County grand jury.

Dr. Hall, who retired in 2011, was charged with racketeering, theft, influencing witnesses, conspiracy and making false statements. Prosecutors recommended a $7.5 million bond for her; she could face up to 45 years in prison.

Former Atlanta school chief Beverly Hall and 34 others indicted in APS cheating case

Former Atlanta school chief Beverly Hall and 34 others indicted in APS cheating case

Parents, School Cooperation Brings Success for Students With Challenges

There’s increased public awareness that mental illnesses can begin at an earlier age. 
By Yagana Shah for Capital News Service 
Cecelia Scheeler was just 4 years old when she started exhibiting odd behavior -- throwing a fit when walking by dirty laundry or refusing to sit on certain furniture. She would wash her hands until they bled.
“My daughter’s behavior blew in like a storm overnight,” said Mary Ellen Pease of Towson...[Mary Ellen Pease is a Baltimore County parent and education advocate.]
read the full article here.

Now that you have met Cecelia Scheeler, read her phenomenal college essay:
Cecelia Scheeler's College Essay 
I can open doors with my feet.
I developed this ability at the tender age of four after I was diagnosed with severe obsessive compulsive disorder. Since my diagnosis, my life has been a series of fluctuating dosage levels, revolving door compulsions, and mad dashes for the bathroom sink.
OCD takes many different forms, but few of them are what you see on Monk. Sure, many of us obsessive-compulsives have had the urge to take a bath in germicide or organize our wardrobe by color at one point or another, but obsessions can be about anything at all. Despite what the media may lead you to believe, OCD is not simply about cleanliness and organization. Simple routines like brushing one’s hair can become a two hour process. But over the past few years, I have realized that my disorder doesn'’t need to be an obstacle in my path to success.
That’s not to say that it hasn’t been a rough ride. After my initial diagnosis, I was prescribed medication and had few symptoms throughout elementary school. Occasionally, I would relapse, and then I would start flicking light switches on and off and on and off and on and off and on and off at a seizure-inducing pace. But eventually, the lights would stay off, and I’d walk away.
Then came middle school...continues here.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Council: "private contributions may lead to or exacerbate inequities among...schools"

Montgomery officials: Private donations to schools lead to inequality |

Montgomery officials: Private donations to schools lead to inequality |

Refresher needed? Is the Gazette kidding?

There is no indication that our Board of Education (BOE) members have ever understood the requirements of Maryland's Open Meeting law.  Each and every BOE member needs to take the Maryland Open Meetings Act online training and produce their Certificates of Completion. 

Gazette:  Watching government

Refresher needed for elected officials

There’s a good-government proposal pending in the Maryland General Assembly that’s worth celebrating.
The House, by a 134-0 vote, passed a measure March 1 to require that at least one person on every public body take a course on the Maryland Open Meetings Act. Del. Anthony J. Donnell (R-Dist. 29C) of Lusby submitted the bill.
The act, commonly known as a “sunshine law,” is what keeps the people’s business out in the open. Government bodies might prefer to shut the door and talk frankly in private whenever there’s a controversial topic, but they can’t. There are certain exceptions, such as discussions about strategy in a lawsuit or a disciplinary action against a specific employee.
Currently, Maryland’s towns, cities and counties decide on their own whether to have their elected officials well versed in the state Open Meetings Act. Being informed is voluntary...
...The online class — at — is a comprehensive overview and gives you quiz questions after each section...

Lowndes’ Martin Stadium receiving new field turf

Richard Montgomery HS Fieldturf was installed at the same time with the same material as Lowndes County HS...

Lowndes’ Martin Stadium receiving new field turf
VALDOSTA — Lowndes’ Martin Stadium is currently unusable, and wil remain that way for the next three weeks, as maintenance crews work to replace what was described as a “bad batch” of field turf.
Installed four years ago, according to Lowndes athletic director Randy McPherson, the current field turf inside Martin Stadium was ruled defective and began to wear down quicker than school officials expected. The field started to become unplayable.
“You could tell it was coming up,” McPherson said. “It doesn’t really look like there is anything wrong with it right now, but the top fibers just weren’t holding up.”
As a result, the school contacted the maker of the field turf, a company known as Field Turf...

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Hey Kids! It's a Hackathon - Toaster Wars Competition Now Open to all MS and HS Kids

From the Carnegie Mellon newspaper, The Tartan, reporter Alvin Mathew:

CMU, NSA search for student hackers

Carnegie Mellon teamed up with the National Security Agency (NSA) to create a high school hacking competition known as “Toaster Wars,” which takes place April 26 to May 6.

Sponsored by the NSA and supported by Carnegie Mellon’s own hacking group, the Plaid Parliament of Pwning (PPP), Toaster Wars has been developed into a high-profile hacking competition.

To read the entire article go here.

picoCTF is a computer security competition for high school students. The competition is a series of challenges centered around a unique storyline where participants must reverse engineer, break, hack, decrypt, or do whatever it takes to solve the challenge. The challenges are all set up with the intent of being hacked, making it an excellent, legal way to get hands-on experience.

The adventure for picoCTF 2013 is Toaster Wars. When a robot from space crash lands in your backyard it's up to your hacking skills to fix him and uncover the secret he carries...

What: picoCTF 2013 - Toaster Wars
When: April 26th 2013 - May 6th 2013
Where: The Internet!
Who: 6th - 12th Grade Students. If you're outside this range, you should check out PlaidCTF instead.

Please note that participants are not expected to work on the competition for the entire duration. The goal is to allow all participants ample time to work on the problems from home, during school, after school, or whenever is most convenient for them.

For all the information go here.

Education Dept. helps leak students' personal data |

Education Dept. helps leak students' personal data |

Guest Post: MCEA disagrees with UFT Randi Weingarten

It is very interesting that in August 2007 UFT President Randi Weingarten issued the following statement following Governor Spitzer’s approval of legislation placing the burden of proof in special education hearings back onto school systems in New York State:
This is a big victory for parents of children with disabilities because it recognizes that most parents don’t have the means to hire a lawyer to fight school districts for what their children need. The union pushed so hard for this because, more often than not, it’s the special educators and support staff that stand alone with parents to advocate for parents of kids with special needs. So we would like to thank Gov. Spitzer and our elected representatives in the state Legislature for correcting the situation and removing this unfair burden on needy parents
Yet here in Montgomery County the MCEA [Montgomery County Education Association/teachers' union/Apple Ballot] opposes putting the burden on the school system, stating that:
The legislature may be asked to consider legislation which would shift the burden of proof in appeals of IEP’s from the litigant, in this case the parents of the student, to the school system. We ask that you oppose such legislation- while we agree that parents of poor and minority students need greater access to information and assistance in advocacy for their children, we do not believe that shifting the burden of proof would achieve this goal. It would, rather, increase the amount of record keeping for both Special and general education teachers. It is not low income families* who are hiring lawyers to file due process appeals. This shift would create a further imbalance between the haves and the have nots.

* Note: All families can, and do, get legal representation when they need it.  MCEA has not done a survey of the income of MCPS families to be able to make such an absurd statement.  In fact, on this blog we have shown that one small child that was being raised by a relative did obtain legal representation. MCPS fought that one small child as hard as they could.  In the end, MCPS lost, but the fight cost taxpayers almost $100,000.  



Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Luedtke bill appears to be red-tape in response to having three referendums on the ballot

ANNAPOLIS - Montgomery County Delegate Eric Luedtke (D-District 14) is not finding himself many friends among political activists who claim one of his sponsored bills in the Maryland House of Delegates infringes on their right to put controversial laws up for referendum... 
...Baltimore County Delegate Joseph Boteler III said he too was disappointed in the legislation proposed by Luedtke.
“I think it’s a very bureaucratic approach to solving a problem that really does not exist,” he said.

Md House Against Children with Special Education Needs

“The Senate doesn’t want this bill to die, but if we send the bill back over [to the House], they will vote it down,” Montgomery said. “This is a worthwhile bill.”

The Washington Post:  Special ed ‘burden of proof’ bill likely to die today in Maryland Senate


Just another day in "We are actually not so "progressive" Maryland."  Doing whatever the Apple Ballot handlers tell them to do because children don't contribute to their campaigns.

Super. Starr, Note Following: Schools Need to Teach Kids How to Work on Their Own

Here's a book Superintendent Joshua Starr has apparently not read:
Quiet, by Susan Cain.

Hear Ms. Cain speak about the power of introverts in this TED video.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Barclay: “We are close to economic suicide if we don’t figure out what to do for our children,” he said.

...School board President Christopher S. Barclay and other school board members stressed the urgency of the work. Barclay called situation the school system is in with achievement gaps “a real crisis.”...

Friday, March 22, 2013

Starr's Tweet on Collaboration

Starr writes Memo in Response to Astrove Question

On Wednesday, March 20, 2013, on this blog special education advocate and former Board of Education candidate Lyda Astrove asked about surprise changes to special education staffing at MCPS high schools.
In response to Ms. Astrove's question, Superintendent Joshua Starr created the memo below.
Note that Ms. Astrove's question could not be answered by reading Superintendent Starr's FY 2014 budget.  That's the budget the BOE already approved.  Why doesn't Superintendent Starr's budget provide details of how he is spending our public school dollars? What other surprises exist in the FY 2014 Starr plans?

Montgomery school employees to get raise next school year

Warrior Online: Textbook Knowledge Is Not Enough for MCPS students

Sherwood High School's Online Student Newspaper:  Textbook Knowledge Is Not Enough for MCPS students

by Bridget Cook ’14 and Daniel Hatfield ’13
Sherwood prides itself on offering and encouraging an abundance of highly advanced courses which are advertised as beneficial for the future. However, classes that don’t focus on typical “college-ready” subjects but more practical subject matter are treated as inferior or unnecessary. If students are not equipped with basic real-world skills such as personal finance preparedness and an understanding of the economy as well as drivers education, they are hardly benefited.
Today, there is an alarming lack of financial literacy taught in school. It’s commonly argued that the subject matter is useless, and kids will pick up basic money management skills on their own. However, true financial literacy is much more than just knowing how to balance a checkbook. It is in-depth knowledge of how the economy operates, how to make intelligent monetary decisions and how to handle debt and taxes.
Currently, only one financial literacy course is offered at Sherwood. What’s worse is that it’s mainly intended for seniors who fail other math classes, and is rarely considered by most students. Teaching the mechanics of money in today’s faltering economy should be a top priority for schools. Financial literacy should not be viewed as a last resort or a class for underachievers, but emphasized as a chance to gain valuable knowledge outside the textbook.
Drivers Education faces a similar situation regarding its prominence in Montgomery County schools. The in-school Driver’s Education program was eliminated from MCPS around the mid-90s to supposedly cut costs...continues here.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Weast in Wisconsin!

Former MCPS Superintendent Jerry Weast heads to Wisconsin:

2013 CREATE Conference
Connecting Schools and Communities: Promising Practices in Culturally Responsive Education

Conference Date: April 25, 2013

Location: Radisson Hotel & Convention Center in Green Bay, Wisconsin

Gateways to Excellence, Pathways to Equity
This session will address the sequenced initiatives that catalyze systemic changes essential to improving academic outcomes for all students and preparing college and career-ready graduates.

Montgomery County educators push for delay of new teacher evaluation system |

Montgomery County educators push for delay of new teacher evaluation system |

Man Struck, Killed By School Bus in Germantown « CBS DC

Man Struck, Killed By School Bus in Germantown « CBS DC

Former Baltimore principal pleads guilty to stealing $10,000+ from high school activity fund

We've got a whole thrust in this country of "Everyone goes to college." Wrong -- not everyone should go to college.

Fortune Magazine:  A CEO's No. 1 job is deciding which businesses to be in, and Emerson Electric's David Farr is making changes. 
Can you find those highly skilled technology-apt workers you need? 
That is the No. 1 challenge for us right now. We've got a whole thrust in this country of "Everyone goes to college." Wrong -- not everyone should go to college. We need people in a facility who can weld, who can repair things. Technical schools have really dropped off, and we've been funding a lot of technical schools because that is a skill set we need. The No. 1 threat to growth and manufacturing in the U.S. is not only engineering but the technical base to run factories. You and I can't run a factory. You need the technical skills.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Save Rock Creek Hills Park!: – TO BE CONTINUED –

Save Rock Creek Hills Park!: – TO BE CONTINUED –: On March 14th there was a two-hour hearing in Montgomery County Circuit Court on our lawsuit regarding the proposed conversion of Rock Cr...

Special Education Staff Being Slashed at High Schools??

What's going on?

Why are High School Special Education departments being cut?

Parents are being told vague things: that both special education teachers and paraeducators are being cut and that resources are being shifted to the elementary schools.

Can anyone provide details on (1) whether these cuts are occurring right now or in the fall (2) when the Board of Education voted to approve this shift (if they did), (3) will this shift compromise the implementation of IEPs in high schools, (4) how will this shift compromise the safety of students with significant intellectual disability, and (5) where exactly in the budget is the documentation for these changes?

Just another day in the life of Josh Starr, equity warrior, I guess. Or is he a social justice warrior? I forget.

Either way, where do we have to go to get answers? The $10 million dollar public relations department? Yeah, right.

Today's Twitter from the Superintendent

Twitter:  Joshua Starr ‏@mcpssuper
Meeting with council member nancy Floreen re: our budget. Interesting that she invited County taxpayer league.

Former NBA great Adrian Dantley works as crossing guard in Mont. Co

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

3 Unions finally settle on contracts with Board of Education

The 3 Unions have finally settled on contracts.  On March 21, 2013, the Board of Education will Approve these 3 contracts.  What do these new agreements demand? The public has no idea as these negotiations are held in secret.  We don't get to see the agreements in advance of the BOE approval. The BOE will not discuss the details of these documents prior to voting on them.

Watch for the big BOE rubber stamp!

2.6 Recommendation to Approve the Amending Agreement with the
Montgomery County Education Association (A)#

2.7 Recommendation to Approve the Amending Agreement with the Service
Employees International Union Local 500 (A)#

2.8 Recommendation to Approve the Amending Agreement with the
Montgomery County Association of Administrators and Principals (A)#


UPPER ROCK CREEK, Candlewood Elementary School Modernization, review Mandatory Referral and Forest Conservation Plan* for demolition of existing structure and construction of a new elementary school on the existing site at 7210 Osprey Dr., Derwood

Unless otherwise noted, public testimony allowed on individual items (except briefings and discussions).

Listen to live audio feed or view live video feed of Planning Board sessions over the internet with link on their website.  The Planning Board Viewer works best with use of Microsoft's Silverlight free plug-in.  Information on Silverlight (and link to free software download) available on this webpage:

To view entire Planning Board agenda, go --in menu on left side of screen, click on "agenda".  The Board's agenda is now posted as an HTML document, which does not require Adobe Acrobat Reader to view.

Sign up online to testify on an item before the Planning Board, up to 10 days prior to the hearing, by going to , or call 301-495-4600 before 4:00 p.m. the day before the meeting.  On the day of the meeting, see the clerk in the auditorium to sign up.

-Excerpts compiled and distributed by Jim Humphrey

Digital Learning Priorities Influence School Building Design

Digital Learning Priorities Influence School Building Design

Monday, March 18, 2013

Montgomery County Council To Examine School Budget

Montgomery County Council To Examine School Budget

Enrollment booming in Montgomery County schools |

Enrollment booming in Montgomery County schools |

Real Food for Kids Testimony

Below is testimony to the MCPS Board of Education by Karen Devitt, co-founder of Real Food for Kids - Montgomery.

From her testimony:
Currently MCPS cafeterias and competitive food offerings support…unhealthy food trends.
For example, every day of the school year MCPS sells chocolate and strawberry milk with more sugar than a Hershey’s chocolate bar.  Efforts to remove or limit the availability of this product would be a good step.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

National History Day Awards

Yesterday was Montgomery County's National History Day event, sponsored by the Montgomery County Historical Society.  The Parents' Coalition is a strong supporter of NHD and yesterday we were proud to award two prizes on the subject of Education History.  The awards ceremony was packed and it was good to see County Executive Ike Leggett, Rockville Mayor Phyllis Marcuccio, and a representative from Representative Chris van Hollen's office in attendance.

The Parents' Coalition Prize in Education History went to:

Brian Mitchell, Bullis School, Teacher: Rachel Newman, for his documentary, Baltimore Polytechnic Institute: A Model of Desegregation Before Brown


Caroline Coffey and Abigail Landesman, Eastern Middle School, Teacher: Laurie Hawe, for their documentary, Brown v. Board of Education - Changing Racial Identity and Race Relations in America.

A shout out to all the teachers and schools that participated this year:
Albert Einstein High School, Teacher Patricia L. Caraballo
Barrie School, Teacher Bryan Taylor
Bullis School, Teachesr Rachel Newman, Sara Romeyn, and Lisa Vardi
Eastern Middle School, Teachers Laurie Hawe and Laura Huber
Home school parents/guardians Johleen Cannon, Robyn Gopin, Tee Jenkins, Laura Kervistky, and Sara Stecher
John Poole Middle School, Teachers Sarah Nachlas and David Owens
Montgomery Blair High School, Teacher Anne Manuel
North Bethesda Middle School, Teachers Eric Kling and Megan Wessel
Northwood High School, Teachers Charles Alexander and Alix Medor
Richard Montgomery High School, Teacher Toni Kellinger
Rosa Parks Middle School, Teacher Matt White
Sherwood High School, Teacher Nicole Bolton
St. Catherine Laboure School, Teacher Mary Butler
Walt Whitman High School, Teacher Kirkland Shipley

Thanks again to all the teachers, parents, and guardians and of course the students who work so hard all year long for this culminating event, and our best to all the awardees who will move on to the state contests.

BOE Off Camera: Artificial Turf

On Monday, March 18, 2013, the Board of Education's Fiscal Management Committee will meet.  One of their Agenda topics is "Artificial Turf."

What will the Committee be discussing about Artificial Turf?  This is an off camera, no detailed minutes meeting.  They don't want the public to know what they are going to discuss and they don't want any minutes to reflect the discussion.

Shouldn't MCPS no-bid artificial turf procurements be a topic for the public, full Board meetings?

The only way to find out what is discussed at the BOE's March 18th Fiscal Management meeting is to show up in person at 850 Hungerford Drive in Rockville.  If you do show up, send us your notes so that the rest of Montgomery County can find out what is discussed!

Saturday, March 16, 2013

County Council Education Committee March 18, 3012

3/18, 9:30 am, Education Committee on OLO Report 2013-4, "MCPS Achievement Gap" (to be televised live on county cable tv and internet--see General Note below)

GENERAL NOTE: County Council sessions can be viewed over on County Cable television and via the internet (see instructions below for reaching that webpage).  Live Council sessions and archive tapes of past sessions can be viewed from the following webpage:

The new Council On-Demand Viewer requires Microsoft's Silverlight free plug-in.  Information on Silverlight (and link to free software download) available on this webpage:

To view entire Council agenda, go to http://www.montgomerycountymd.govand click on County Council (in menu on left side), then on Council homepage click on Current Agenda.

The Council agenda and committee packets are PDF files that require Adobe Acrobat Reader to view.
-Excerpts compiled by Jim Humphrey

Friday, March 15, 2013

County to MCPS: Use Your Reserves

Despite asking for $10 million more than state-mandated minimums, Montgomery County Public Schools looks to get no more than the county is required to give.
Montgomery County Executive Isiah Leggett (D) recommended in his fiscal year 2014 budget providing a county contribution to the school system at maintenance of effort, but his proposal also says it funds 100 percent of the school system’s $2.2 billion request.
Leggett’s budget includes a county contribution of $1.4 billion plus $27 million in carry-over funds among other sources including $605.4 million in state aid, $34.5 million for teacher pensions.
Superintendent Joshua P. Starr’s budget asked for $10 million more from the county and used only $17 million from the school system fund balance.
“We are saying, use your reserves,” county spokesman Patrick Lacefield said of the subtle difference.

Super. Starr: Why are you paying $27,822 to Harvard?

Here's a budget question for Superintendent Starr. Today he said he wanted County Executive Ike Leggett to be talking to him about the MCPS budget in advance of public announcements.  Does Superintendent Starr want transparency in the County Executive's actions?
How about a little transparency in the MCPS budget?  Here's a charge that we find on the MCPS Funding and Transparency database.  This is a database that MCPS is required to maintain by a recent Maryland law.  Some Delegates opposed this law because they said that every check MCPS writes for over $25,000 was already discussed in open session by the BOE.  
Well, here's one we can't find in BOE minutes.  And, it's a new spending line item in this year's budget: $27,822 to Harvard College.

Easy question Superintendent Starr: What is this $27,822 for?  Does MCPS send students up to Harvard to prep for AP exams?  Is this fees to Harvard for administrator trips?  Is this club dues for Harvard alum?  Just tweet us the answer.

Starr wants to hear from Leggett directly

Superintendent Starr, this is the way parents feel when MCPS pulls the rug out from under their children.  Welcome to our world.

Twitter:  Joshua Starr ‏@mcpssuper 
Currently reading …. Wish I heard about this before reading it in paper. County exec proposes MCPS funding at MOE.

Smondrowski: Time to move forward

Twitter:  Rebecca Smondrowski ‏@RebeccaOnBoard

Ike releases budget. @MCPS will get MOE about $2.2Billion.  Its $10Mil less our ask but now it's time to move forward.

Leggett says No to BOE Budget Request of $10M Over

The bulk of the new spending in Leggett’s budget plan goes to K-12 education, public safety and libraries. Funding for Montgomery County Public Schools would increase by $55.8 million (2.2 percent). That amount meets the state “maintenance of effort” requirement that per-pupil funding not fall below the previous year’s level. The Board of Education and Superintendent Joshua Starr had requested an additional $10 million, but Leggett said he is satisfied that the school system can produce the additional money from its own resources.

Achievement Gap Questions that will not be answered on Monday, March 18th

Here is the Montgomery County Council's Staff Packet for the Council's Education Committee meeting with the BOE and MCPS staff on Monday, March 18, 2013 concerning the just released Council Report on the Achievement Gap in MCPS.  (Yes, this is the gap that Superintendent Jerry Weast has told the world he closed.  Apparently, it re-opened.)  

These are the 3 questions that Council staff have suggested that Councilmembers Valerie Ervin, Phil Andrews and Craig Rice should ask the BOE and MCPS staff.  Will the questions even be asked? If they are, will the Councilmembers take smoke and mirrors as answers?

(We know this topic won't be discussed.)

The complete Council Staff packet is shown below in Scribd.

Issue #1: Discuss with MCPS representatives how the school system establishes its funding priorities for closing the achievement gap and how MCPS' FY14 budget request reflects these priorities.

Issue #2: Ask MCPS representatives to describe the school system's explicit expectations for achieving progress in closing the achievement gap based on current trends and planned investments. 

Issue #3: Discuss with representatives of MCPS, Montgomery County Government, and community-based groups how they envision their roles working together to eliminate the achievement gap. 

Stitchnoth's Response to Council's Achievement Gap Report

The Montgomery County Council's Achievement Gap Report can be read here.

Below is parent Frederick Stichnoth's response to the Achievement Gap Report.

MCPS No Bid Buddy Fined

Deutsche Bank gets to handle a lot of MCPS cash.  But the BOE never discusses their multimillion dollar continuing relationship with Deutsche Bank.  It's another no bid pal of the BOE. Here's today's news:

Yet Another Bank Fined for a Magnetar Deal, With Yet More Revealing Emails
Deutsche Bank is the latest financial institution to be fined for not warning investors about the role of the hedge fund Magnetar in creating complex mortgage-backed deals that later failed.

For the record: When the public wants information, government must listen

Gazette:  Posting documents online has cut number of Public Information Act requests

...Under the Maryland Public Information Act, government records are considered public unless they fall under certain exceptions...
...As part of Sunshine Week, a nationwide focus on open-government issues, The Gazette asked local governments about the number of information requests they received in fiscal 2012...
...However, some of the people and groups making requests don’t always find government as open as the institutions claim.
“They throw roadblocks up and citizens have to persevere, and I think they are thinking most citizens will not persevere,” said Paula Bienenfeld, who is vice president of the Montgomery County Civic Federation and active with the Parents’ Coalition of Montgomery County. “They feel they are running the government and think citizens should go along with it. In the end, they hold all the cards. I think that is the governing philosophy of the county.”
Under the PIA, government bodies have up to 30 days to provide information that’s requested. If the request is denied, the applicant must be contacted immediately and given a written explanation within 10 working days.
“But they don’t always respond,” Bienenfeld said. “It’s up to the citizen to pursue it and sometimes they don’t get back or say it will cost for you to get the information.”
Bienenfeld said she files about 10 to 12 PIA requests a year.
Members of the Parents’ Coalition and the Civic Federation were some of the few repeat MPIA requesters that were not media outlets. Collectively, Parents’ Coalition members made 23 of the 79 requests sent to Montgomery County Public Schools in fiscal 2012.
Time and money keep organizations from filing more requests, Bienenfeld said...

Developers sketch new $50 million arena for Montgomery County

How many years does this group get to keep the "contract" to build a stadium on unidentified land? As before with past proposals for use of county land, MCPS graduations are thrown out as a stick.  No mention of what it would cost parents to use this venue.  Would it be the cost of using a venue at University of Maryland?  MCPS uses DAR Constitution Hall because it is cheap in comparison to other options.

Gazette:  Arena to be built near Shady Grove Metro Station

Montgomery parent group wants school snacks sacked

Gazette:  School system should make a point to tell parents they can set limits, group says

It's Sunshine Week! And Now it's Your Turn

Sunshine Week is almost over, and now it's your turn! Maryland has its very own Maryland Public Information Act, or MPIA.  Do you want some information that the county government won't give you?  Having trouble getting those files? those data? Here's an example of a modified Sample Letter Request to get the information, courtesy of the MD Attorney General's Office, feel free to cut and paste for your own MPIA project.

March 12, 2013

Mr. Freeman Information
Executive Director
License Commission
110 First Street
Baltimore, Maryland 21200

Dear Mr. Information:

Pursuant to State government article, Section 10-614, of the Annotated Code of Maryland I request a copy of all records containing the information hereinafter described.  Please send me all records, including telephone logs, minutes, telephone notes, emails, printouts, letters, memoranda, sent or received or recorded regarding <INSERT YOUR TOPIC HERE>.  This is a request for records, regardless of format, medium, or physical characteristics and including electronic records and information, audiotapes, CDs, videotapes and photographs pursuant to the Maryland Public Information Act, State Government Article §§10-611 to 628.

Specifically, I am seeking any and all records regarding <INSERT YOUR TOPIC HERE>.

Please search for responsive records regardless of format, medium, or physical characteristics.  I am seeking records of any kind including electronic records, audiotapes, videotapes and photographs. 

My request includes any telephone messages, voice mail messages, daily agenda and calendars, information about scheduled meetings and/or discussions, whether in-person or over the telephone, agendas for those meetings and/or discussions, participants included in those meetings and/or discussions, minutes of any such meetings and/or discussions, the topics discussed at those meetings and/or discussions, e-mail regarding meetings and/or discussions, e-mail or facsimiles sent as a result of those meetings and/or discussions and transcripts or notes of any such meetings and/or discussions. 

If all or any part of this request is denied, I request that I be provided with a written statement of the grounds for the denial.  If you determine that some portions of the requested records are exempt from disclosure, please provide me with the portions that can be disclosed.

Please advise me as to the cost, if any, for inspecting the records described above.  I anticipate that I will want copies of some or all of the records sought. If you have adopted a fee schedule for obtaining copies of records and other rules or regulations implementing the Act, please send me a copy.

I look forward to receiving disclosable records promptly.  Thank you for your cooperation.

If you have any questions regarding this request, my contact information is below.

Connie Have

Here are some tips from members of various watchdog non-profits:
1. Be very specific.
2. Make sure to address your MPIA to the correct person.
3. Be persistent.
4. Be persistent.
5. Sue if you need to.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

BOE Calls Last Minute Closed Session for Today

Pop-Tarts aren't guns bill moves forward

Senate Bill 1058, "The Reasonable School Discipline Act of 2013", was approved by the Senate Rules Committee yesterday and is now up for consideration by the Senate Education, Health, and Environmental Affairs Committee.

See our previous report for more information about SB1058.

Sunshine Week Events for Friday, March 15th

Sunshine Week events in the D.C. area for Friday, March 15th:

Cato XML (event is for Thursday and Friday)
The Cato Institute, Washington, DC
The Cato is hosting a Sunshine Week workshop looking at legislative data and Wikipedia. The first session, Thursday from 2:30-5:30 p.m., is designed for people of all technical skill levels and will cover Wikipedia editing, policies and culture. Participants are encouraged to bring a laptop. Immediately following at 5:30 p.m., Cato will host a Sunshine Week reception. Friday’s daylong workshop for qualified Wikipedians and legislative data practitioners will be led by Pete Forsyth of Wiki Strategies, and is about making Wikipedia more informative about legislation and public policy. Participants can select one or all of the sessions and reception to attend. More information and registration information is on the Cato website.

National Freedom of Information DayFirst Amendment Center, Newseum, Washington, DC
The daylong 15th annual National Freedom of Information Day conference will be held at the Knight Conference Center at the Newseum in Washington. In morning sessions, will present its 8th annual Sunshine Week examination of the state of openness in the federal government, focusing this year on outlook for the president’s second term. Also on the day’s agenda: a keynote discussion with First Amendment attorney Floyd Abrams; a discussion of the new documentary, “Whistleblowers”; the American Library Association will present its James Madison Award. There is no charge to attend, but attendees are encouraged to register in advance to guarantee seating. A PDF of the full agenda is on the site. For registration information, see the Freedom of Information Day announcement.

Luncheon and Speaker Thomas DrakeNational Press Club, Washington, DC
The National Press Club will host former National Security Agency analyst Thomas Drake, a government whistleblower charged under the Espionage Act, at a luncheon beginning at 12:30 p.m., followed by Drake’s remarks and a question-and-answer period. Tickets are $21 for members (limit 2) and $35 for non-members.For more information and to make reservations, visit the Press Club website.

Panel: The Right to Photograph and Record in PublicShoot Off Visual Media Workshop, Arlington, VA
An afternoon panel discussion during workshops for military and civil service photographers will address the First Amendment right to photograph and record events in public. Led by National Press Photographers Association General Counsel Mickey Osterreicher, panelists will include: Washington Metropolitan Police Department Public Information Officer Gwendolyn Crump; Attorney Mary Borja of Wiley Rein LLP in Washington; and White House News Photographers Association President Ron Sachs of Consolidated News. For more information, go to the Shoot Off Visual Media Workshops website.

Thomas Edison High School is in desperate need of applicants.

The following is being posted on various parent lists concerning Thomas Edison High School of Technology:
I know many of you are very aware of the positive impact Edison's programs have on students. Many students who have not been successful academically and who come to Edison end up turning themselves around doing very well in their tech program at Edison as well as in their academic classes in their home school. Their self-esteem and self-confidence soars. Students truly do experience success at Edison which, as you know, is a great motivator for all of us. Edison also offers college credits, certifications, and licenses. 
And, contrary to rumors, seventy five percent of our students go to college. Please take a moment to think about just one student who you know who may benefit from coming to Edison. The application says the deadline to apply to Edison's programs has passed . . . It has not. Also, please tell students they do NOT have to submit any teacher recommendations.
I have attached the application that you can email to or print for students. I also attached information about our community fair where students can come and find out about Edison's programs, apply, and have some fun. I truly appreciate your support.
Thank you, Judith 
Judith Flaherty 
Career/College Center 
Thomas Edison HS of Technology
12501 Dalewood Drive Silver Spring, MD 20906 
Main school # 301-929-2175 
Fax 301-929-2177

"Weast's hardball tactics...appear to have continued under Starr"

Public Comment of Montgomery County attorney Karen Smith presented to Montgomery County Council's Education Committee on March 11, 2013, regarding litigation in MCPS special education disputes.

...If any cost/benefit analysis is performed prior to sending a matter to outside counsel, that effort is completely hidden from view. In an illustrative recent case, MCPS spent $12,000 in outside legal to contest a parent's request for an lEE (independent educational evaluation) that would have cost the school system $2,500.
MCPS, which likes to imagine itself an educational leader, spent 12 years under Jerry Weast dismantling options along the special education services continuum, and Weast's hardball tactics against the parents of kids with disabilities appear to have continued under Starr...
footnotes from page 2 of document shown below.

Please support HB 1286 (SB 691) as a step toward a fair, right and just outcome

To:   Maryland House Ways and Means Committee
Sent: 3/9/2013
Subj: Please support HB 1286 (SB 691) as a step toward a fair, right and just outcome
I am writing to ask that you support House Bill 1286, which places the burden of proof on the public agency in a due process hearing. HB 1286 is a step toward a fairer balance between the parent amateur and the professional school district staff when real controversies exist that can only be resolved by access to an impartial decisionmaker through the special education hearing procedures.

The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act requires States to ensure that a “free appropriate public education” is available to all children with disabilities. A “free appropriate public education” includes the special education and related services necessary to meet each child’s unique needs, as set forth in an individualized education program (IEP) developed by the local school district in consultation with the child’s parents.

The State must make available an “impartial due process hearing” to resolve disputes between parents and state or local school officials. Maryland statute does not specifically designate which party has the burden of proof in the due process hearing. HB 1286 would place the burden of proof on the public agency, which includes a local school system.

I listened to the March 6 testimony before the Ways and Means Committee on HB 1286 on the Maryland General Assembly website, and was moved by the comments of the former mayor of College Park, as well as a current delegate, who clearly understood from personal experience the critical need for this legislation.

I heard the Assistant State Superintendent assert that specifying the burden of proof would undermine “the collaborative process”. Why would this be the case? IDEA describes a collaborative process through which an IEP must be developed. 20 U.S.C. § 1414(d). At least annually, the existing IEP must be reviewed and revised by the IEP team, which consists of school district personnel and parents. If a parent and school district agree to change the IEP, the change will be incorporated into a revised IEP. It is when the parent and school district disagree with regard to any recommended change to the IEP, that IDEA provides a procedural safeguard-- for the IEP to be challenged at a due process hearing. 20 U.S.C. § 1415(b)(6) and (f)(1)(A). IDEA is silent as to the burden of proof. HB 1286 merely clarifies which party-the school district-will bear the burden of proof.

At the beginning of my daughter's junior year in high school, 12 Montgomery County Public Schools staff had a role in developing her IEP, with the help of the Director of Quality Assurance for the Maryland Office of Administrative Hearings (an administrative law judge who has a background in special education), who served as an IEP team facilitator at the request of the Maryland State Department of Education. Yet, that second quarter of her junior year in high school, I received a progress report on her IEP, on which her special education case manager and resource class teacher reported that not one of 11 short-term objectives for the six annual goals listed on the IEP had been addressed. Should I have had to bear the burden of proof in a due process hearing brought at that point?

The Assistant State Superintendent also mentioned to the Ways and Means Committee March 6 that the state complaint process is an alternative to the due process hearing, and that the state can order corrective action. But what happens when the school district fails to follow through on corrective action?

The Maryland State Department of Education issued 9 separate decisions over a period of 5 years determining that Montgomery County Public Schools denied my daughter required instruction; 
did not provide required accommodations during the school year and on the Maryland State High School Assessment; 
inaccurately measured and reported her educational progress; 
failed to provide her with required access to assistive technology; 
denied her parent access to her educational record; 
did not provide teachers the information needed to carry out their responsibilities for implementing her IEP; 
and did not fulfill its obligation to take corrective actions within the timeline required. 
The Department advised me that I had the right to initiate a due process hearing-should I have had to bear the burden of proof?

Placing the burden of proof on the public agency in a special education due process hearing is an important step toward a fair, right and just outcome for Maryland families of children with disabilities. Please support HB 1286.


Kathleen Gilhooly