Thursday, July 31, 2014

Wash Post Editorial Board: Montgomery County school board needs a lesson in responsibility

July 31 at 7:45 PM:
THE STRICT new rules put in place by the Montgomery County school board to govern member spending are aimed at reassuring taxpayers that their money is being wisely spent. There’s no question there was a need for tighter controls, but it is disconcerting that officials responsible for the system’s $2 billion budget apparently can’t be trusted with credit cards. Let’s hope members learned from this controversy and exercise better judgment.

Entire article at:

WPost: Potomac turf field vote postponed following legal action by Montgomery soccer group

...Superintendent Joshua P. Starr made the request Tuesday, following legal advice to hold off on the matter while a lawsuit is pending, said Montgomery schools spokesman Dana Tofig...

Councilmember Branson: "The Montgomery County school system needs an inspector general"

Washington Post, letters to the Editor:

The recent controversy over credit card use by Montgomery County Board of Education members touches on something far more significant than a few unauthorized hotel expenses [“Montgomery board gives up its school system credit cards,” Metro, July 30]. When I began serving on the Montgomery County Council, I was surprised to learn that the public school system, which accounts for more than half of the county’s budget, employs no independent auditor. You would think that our schools would put extra emphasis on transparency and accountability. In fact, the opposite is true.

Cherri Branson, Silver Spring
The writer, a Democrat, represents District 5 (Eastern County) on the Montgomery County Council.

Read the entire article at:

Declare a Permanent Ban on the Use of JWMS as a Cell Tower Site

July 14, 2014, letter from neighbors of Julius West Middle School in Rockville to the Board of Education and Superintendent Joshua Starr.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

State BOE Issues Opinion in Elem. Accelerated Math Appeal, Tells MCPS Parent Go to Circuit Court for MPIA and to DOE for FERPA Complaints

It's Hard to Track BOE's Action without Agendas, Packets or Minutes #openmeetingsact #celltowers

Parents in Anne Arundel County are trying to understand how their Board of Education supposedly contracted out all public school playgrounds for use as locations for cell towers. 

In tracking the actions of the Anne Arundel Board of Education it has become clear that there was discussion, a briefing packet, and a vote on the Milestone Communications cell tower deal on January 24, 2012.  The problem is there are no minutes for the January 24, 2012, meeting.  

Let's see what the Open Meetings Act Compliance Board says about a Board of Education meeting and vote that are not documented.

Here is the complaint that has been filed today.

July 30, 2014

Open Meetings Compliance Board
c/o Attorney General’s Office
200 St. Paul Place
Baltimore, MD 21202

Re: Anne Arundel County Board of Education

To Members of the Maryland Open Meetings Compliance Board:

The following complaint is filed with your office with regard to a meeting of the Anne Arundel County Board of Education.

The Anne Arundel County Board of Education announced that they would be holding a meeting on January 24, 2012.
This meeting was called a budget workshop and no public comment was to be permitted at this meeting.
The Board did not post an Agenda for this meeting.
Five months later at the June 20, 2012, Board of Education meeting the Anne Arundel County Public Schools Chief Operating Officer (COO) Alex L. Szachnowicz stated,
“...Jan 24th when we met that was part of the briefing packet for that exhibit item that
the Board voted on...”
The COO makes reference to a meeting, a briefing packet and a vote that are not detailed in any public minutes of the Anne Arundel Board of Education.
The video from the June 20, 2012, Board meeting has been clipped to allow the Open Meetings Compliance Board to listen to this specific statement by the COO. The video clip is located at:
The statement from the COO follows the question that starts at the 3 minute and 30 second mark of the video.
The Anne Arundel Board of Education website does not show any minutes or video from the January 24, 2012, meeting.
The public has been deprived of the minutes of the public meeting of January 24, 2012, and of the briefing packet that was submitted to the Board of Education for their vote on that date. There is no record of the vote that was taken on January 24, 2012, and thus no information as to how individual Board members voted on this matter. The Board of Education votes for 2012 are shown in the document at this link.
The January 24, 2012, meeting of the Anne Arundel Board of Education did not comply with the requirements of the Maryland Open Meetings Act. The failure to comply with the Act has directly impacted the public’s ability to monitor the actions of the Anne Arundel Board of Education.
Thank you for reviewing this complaint.

Bethesda Beat: Public schools operating budget information not included

County Launches New Budget Transparency Site
...Missing from the new website is a breakdown of the Montgomery County Public Schools’ operating budget. The school system accounts for more than 40 percent of the county’s annual operating budget, with about $2.1 billion budgeted to schools in the current fiscal year, which ends on June 30, 2015...

Starr ... surprised that the procedures “were not as tight as I assumed they were.”

Montgomery County school board members give up credit cards

...Superintendent Joshua P. Starr said after the meeting that he had been surprised that the procedures “were not as tight as I assumed they were.”
The board’s actions were “necessary and appropriate given the situation that the board’s found themselves in,” he said.

MCPS Board of Ed. tosses credit cards, overhauls spending practices |

During Monday evening's meeting, board members complimented one another on the progress they had made since news headlines first broke. Others, despite acknowledging wrongdoing, accused the media of biased and sensational reporting.
"Our board members do not get enough credit for all you do, and frankly much of the criticism leveled at you has been unfair," Superintendent Joshua Starr remarked.
"Some of our colleagues are constantly mentioned in reference to the subject at hand. I'm not sure that's always been fair and objective," board member Michael Durso added.
"Alongside of Mr. Durso's comments, about how sometimes things can be very easily misperceived, and without full understanding, can be misconstrued to some people’s whims, or the way they want to see it," Rebecca Smondrowski stated.
Louis Wilen, a leading member of the Montgomery County Parents' Coalition, an organization advocating for better government transparency, says he found certain board members' remarks offensive.

"I would call it a pity party," Wilen stated. "The taxpayers didn't get an apology, the students didn't get an apology, the teachers who are using their own money to purchase supplies for their classrooms didn't get an apology ... [but] the board members got apologies from each other."

New Council Report Reveals Complaints about MCPS Procurement Process

On July 29, 2014, the Montgomery County Council released a report from their Office of Legislative Oversight entitled Procurement and Small, Minority, Female, Disabled and Locally-Owned Businesses.  The Council requested this project in order to examine the County’s procurement process, particularly for small and minority, female, disabled, or locally-owned businesses. Appendix F of this report contains comments from businesses. A number of the businesses commented on the MCPS procurement process even though this report is limited to Montgomery County procurement. 

The comments about MCPS are interesting coming on the heels of the MSI Soccer litigation against the Board of Education concerning the procurement process for selecting artificial turf field partners. 

Over the last 8 years the Parents' Coalition has documented a number of these same issues cited by these businesses.  

Will the Montgomery County Council pay any attention to the comments in this report?

  • I have two complaints. Montgomery County based businesses should get priority. Perhaps a 5% advantage. The printing supply bid for MCPS schools should be put out every year and not be rolled over for three years.
  • Montgomery County Schools, college and other agencies that procure institutional style educational furniture, primarily purchase everything from ONLY 1 or 2 vendors. Many local county vendors never get an opportunity to participate. Procurement policy discourages competition. Purchases are almost exclusively made through the state's BRCPC contract or agencies develop their own contracts. Once a contract has been established, it can be renewed for years. The opportunity to bring new vendors or products in is almost impossible. Once a vendor has been awarded a contract, an agency can "standardize" on that product and purchase only it for what ever price the "authorized dealer' selects. Montgomery County should bring back the bid process. It should be the function of procurement to seek out local qualified vendors. Procurement should provide equal access to contracts by not limiting the scope of the specification to favor 1 or 2 vendors. There is no reason to limit the period of time to a small window to place items on a contract. Procurement should go back to using bids and seek out local vendors. There should be either a limit or some oversight to the amount of procurement that can be given to the same vendor.
  • A new bid was created for school pictures and the county didn't have good information for the basis of the process.
  • I am a local MBE/DBE office furniture dealership, living in Montgomery County as well as owning a business located in Montgomery County. My children attended Mont Cty Public Schools. Yet, as both a business and residential taxpayer the majority of the furniture business is awarded to a vendor outside the County. It has been virtually impossible getting assistance that is meaningful.
  • I never see any bids for commercial printing. I know the public schools send a tremendous amount to Virginia, but neglects to keep it in Maryland. I went to Montgomery county schools. A bit surprised Maryland businesses are not valued

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

WPost: Montgomery board gives up district -funded credit cards and adopts new rules

...Under the newly adopted rules, board members would need pre-approval for out-of-town travel and would be reimbursed for spending according to daily allowances that follow federal government guidelines. 
Board members no longer will be able to take a political leader, staff member or constituent out to a restaurant meal at taxpayer expense. And if board members attend a conference within 50 miles of the school district’s central offices in Rockville, they will generally not be reimbursed for lodging expenses — an issue that arose after two board members, Christopher S. Barclay and Rebecca Smondrowski, charged hotel stays for a Washington-area conference...

Breaking News: Council Pulls Churchill Artificial Turf Vote from Agenda

MSI Soccer has sued the Board of Education
over the selection of the field partners
for the Churchill High School field.
The Montgomery County Council will not take a vote on the Churchill High School artificial turf appropriation today.  Council President Craig Rice said the matter has been deferred until the fall.

Balt. Sun: Goodbye, HSA [Editorial]

The Maryland state board of education's decision this week to replace the English and Algebra I High School Assessments with new tests tied to the Common Core curriculum predictably has sparked complaints that educators are moving too quickly to adopt the more rigorous standard. But we've known all along the transition would be difficult for some students, especially those in high school who will need to pass the new tests in order to graduate. That's why state officials are already planning to make adjustments in how the tests are scored and to continue offering students alternative ways of meeting the high school graduation requirement. Given those safeguards, there's no reason to delay implementing the higher standards. 
Read more:,0,1724797.story#ixzz38ml0uTTG

How a congressman avoids paying property taxes

It's not just cell tower companies that evade property taxes.
US Rep. Xavier Becerra of California

U.S. Representative Xavier Becerra, (Democrat from California) owns a "second home" in Chevy Chase, Maryland.   By claiming that his Chevy Chase home is his principal residence, he has received thousands of dollars of property tax credits from Montgomery County and the State of Maryland over the past several years.

At the same time, because of his status as a "California Congressman", Rep. Becerra pays no income taxes to the State of Maryland or to Montgomery County.

Although he "resides in" and represents (ostensibly, at least) a poverty-stricken swath of Los Angeles that contains the 4th largest concentration of working poor in the USA, Rep. Becerra's children attend prestigious public schools in a wealthy area of Montgomery County.  The annual cost of educating each of his three children in Montgomery County public schools is nearly $15,000, almost all of which is covered by Montgomery County taxpayers.

Rep. Becerra and his wife jointly own their "second home" in Chevy Chase.  Under Maryland law and property assessment regulations, their Chevy Chase home is not their "principal residence".  Nevertheless, Rep. Becerra has convinced officials at the Maryland Department of Assessments and Taxation to give his home "principal residence" status which, in turn, has enabled Montgomery County to issue thousands of dollars of property tax credits to which Rep. Becerra is not legally entitled.

Rep. Becerra's 2014 property tax bill shows a "County Property Tax Credit" of $692.   Although the details of the credit are not provided on the tax bill, county council records show that the credit is for the "ITOC", a tax credit that is legally allowed to be issued only to owners of properties that are used as the "principal residence" of the homeowner. 

Other congressmen who claimed "principal residence" status for their homes had that status revoked (and paid back the ill-gotten tax credits) after the media reported the tax abuses.   In at least one case, the House Ethics Committee investigated a congressman for improperly claiming principal residence status in Maryland, although he was eventually cleared of violating congressional rules (but still held responsible for payment of the taxes under Maryland law).

We've tried to reach Rep. Becerra numerous times to try to obtain an explanation about his claim of "principal residence" status for his Chevy Chase home but he has not returned our calls. 

How cell towers avoid paying property taxes.

Let's take one more look at the special exception application filed by T-Mobile in 2005 to build a cell tower on the Julius West Middle School playground. 

Look at the box (circled in red) that calls for the applicant to write in a tax account number.  The numbers on this application are for the property owner, the Montgomery County Board of Education. 

The Board of Education is exempt from paying property taxes, T-Mobile is not. 

By using the Board of Education's tax account number cell tower vendors have avoided paying property taxes on cell towers erected on public school land.

Monday, July 28, 2014

WPost: Major county youth soccer group files lawsuit against Montgomery school system

...Dillon added that the Bethesda club has “always been committed to providing opportunities to all socioeconomic demographics” and has awarded $250,000 in financial aid to players during the past three years. He declined to disclose player fees for his club.

Montgomery Soccer’s complaint also alleges that, amid bidding for the Churchill project, school officials told the group they had received an “unbeatable” proposal. School officials selected a joint proposal from Bethesda Lacrosse Association and Potomac Soccer Club, the suit says, even though Montgomery Soccer offered better financial terms.
...But Rice said that while the complaint reflects a dispute about who should be playing on the field, the idea of building the field was not similarly at issue. The council would leave the legal conflict to the courts, he said. The full council is expected to vote Tuesday...
Full article at this link.

NOTE: Council President Craig Rice is confused about what the Education Committee was voting on today.  The Education Committee was voting on who would pay for the artificial turf field at Churchill High School, not who would play on the field. Hopefully, Council President Rice will understand this distinction by tomorrow's full Council vote.
If the issue of the payment for the field is tied up in court this public high school field could be in limbo for years. Worse case scenario the field is dug up and a Court decision interrupts construction. This is the danger of turning over public land to a private entity.  

NBC4: Montgomery Co. School Board Terminates Government-Issued Credit Cards

Montgomery County Public Schools Board of Education has voted to get rid of its own government-issued credit cards, after a large and embarrassing spending spree by its members.
Last month, News4 I-Team reported the school board's part-time members – who earn about $18,500 per year -- spent thousands of dollars of taxpayer money on pricey meals and hotel rooms.
Christopher Barclay, a school board member, charged more than 100 meals to taxpayers since 2010.
During a meeting Monday evening, Barclay apologized for repeatedly using the credit card to purchase dozens of meals at restaurants near district headquarters. Records show he also used the money for a hotel room and room service at the Washington Hilton.

"I am very conscious of the toll this has taken on the institution and my colleagues... and for that I am very sorry," Barclay said.

Records show multiple board members, including the board of education president, partook in a $500 dinner in Ocean City, funded by taxpayers...

MSI To Council: “You can’t separate the appropriation from the public policy objective."

Well, you can if you are on the Montgomery County Council! Our Council doesn't understand that when they are voting on an Appropriation that is the subject of the vote.  

Instead, our Council will ignore the appropriation of the money for the Churchill High School artificial turf construction and vote on unicorns or some other fantasy.  If the appropriation (hint:  that's the funding for the field) gets tied up in court, the field could be ripped up without a funding source to complete the project. That's the inherent danger of turning over public land to private entities. The Churchill High School field will now be at the mercy of private companies and litigation. 


Bethesda Magazine: Amid Lawsuit, Council Committee Recommends Churchill Turf Field

...“These issues are intrinsically linked,” he said. “You can’t separate the appropriation from the public policy objective. The broad spectrum of kids are not being well-served.”
The full council is scheduled Tuesday to vote on the measure... 
...Council member Cherri Branson said those discrepancies lead her to question how school system officials conducted the procurement process.
“I understand why that partnership was chosen for the bid, but I also understand the need for an open, competitive process,” she said. “That could have avoided a lawsuit or a least any hard feelings.”...

Fact Check: MCPS Dir says it is "erroneous" that MCPS pays more for same FieldTurf product #artificialturf

At Minute 11:00 of the video below from today's County Council Education Committee MCPS' Director of Construction James Song declares that it is "erroneous" information that MCPS pays more than other school systems for same FieldTurf product.  

The new definition of "erroneous" must be factual.

All of the field prices below are for the FieldTurf Revolution product: 

2012    Gaithersburg High School   $ 424,967.44

2012  Paint Branch High School     $ 413,153.59

                                          2012      AISD Stadium                     $  369,350

Also, in this video James Song tells the Council's Education Committee that MCPS can't shut down artificial turf field use at 9 PM (minute 7 of video below) because it won't allow the hours of use that are needed for a partnership agreement for one of these fields.
However, Montgomery County's Noise Ordinance sets 9 PM as the time when noise levels must decrease, but what is a Montgomery County Ordinance to MCPS?

"...artificial turf price turned out to be $205,178 over the outside contributions. That money had to be made up from the MCPS budget."

WHEREAS, The cost of the project is approximately $1.3 million

Public Comment on
Amendment to the FY15-20 Capital Improvements Program and
Supplemental Appropriation #1-S15-CMCPS-l to the FY15 Capital Budget
Montgomery County Public Schools
Building Modifications and Program Improvements (No. 076506), $1,300,000
Winston Churchill High School Artificial Turf
July 22, 2014

The Montgomery County Council has been in this position before and your last decision on a similar Montgomery County Board of Education proposal cost taxpayers $205,178.

The Board of Education has made it very clear in their proposal to install artificial turf at Churchill High School that if the outside funding is not sufficient the Board of Education will make up the difference from the MCPS budget.

That is exactly the same scenario as with the Wootton High School artificial turf deal. The Board of Education told you the field would be paid for from outside funds. However, as usual, the Board of Education does not put out a Request for Proposal or take bids when they install an artificial turf football field. These construction projects are not bid out and the sole source supplier, FieldTurf, can set any price they desire for these projects. The Wootton High School artificial turf price turned out to be $205,178 over the outside contributions. That money had to be made up from the MCPS budget.

The proposal before you today is the same as the Wootton High School proposal. The Board of Education says the project will cost “approximately” $1.3 million. If the project goes over $1.3 million where will the extra funds come from? Will taxpayers once again be on the hook for the surprise increase in cost on a project that was presented as only using outside funding? The memo from Superintendent Starr to the Board of Education once again says that MCPS will make up any difference in cost.

If the project cost exceeds the $1.3 million contribution amount, the shortfall may be met through the funds collected for community use and the savings accumulated each year via not having to maintain the current grass field---such as grass cutting, fertilizing, overseeding, and irrigating expenses (Page 1 of Superintendent Joshua Starr's memo to BOE. Circle 4 in today's packet.)

The assertion that any surprise increase in cost can be made up from community use is not based on known facts. MCPS is estimating that the fees from community use of the existing 6 artificial turf fields will only bring in $40,000 in the next year. At that rate it is going to take the next 5 years to pay off the Wootton High School debt. Any Churchill High School debt wouldn't be paid back from these fees until after 2019.

Please note that the Churchill lease is for 10 years. That is beyond the useful life of an artificial turf field. The Walter Johnson High School field is already disintegrating after only 5 years and the Richard Montgomery High School field is fading after only 6 years. 19 tons of crumb rubber washed off the Richard Montgomery High School artificial turf field in the first 2 years and had to be replaced. The annual maintenance cost of MCPS artificial turf fields is not known.

Fun fact: Each crumb rubber artificial turf field requires 120 tons of crumb rubber. The 6 current MCPS artificial turf fields require a total of 720 tons of crumb rubber to remain playable. That means that MCPS and the Montgomery County government have dumped approximately140,000 shredded used tires onto sports fields in the county.

Janis Zink Sartucci

MCPS Board of Education FY 2014 Budget Questions and Answers

27. Chapter 8-59 under realignment notes a realignment of $40,000 from the Field Trip Fund to support artificial turf replacement costs. Please explain.

Budget page reference: 8-59
The Montgomery County Public Schools (MCPS) standard for high school stadium fields is a natural grass surface with an irrigation system. Stadium fields require a high level of maintenance that includes regular cycles of mowing, watering, fertilization, and aeration to maintain the fields in acceptable condition for various high school athletic events. Unfortunately, the majority of high schools and their Booster Clubs cannot make the financial commitment that is necessary to maintain a natural grass field in excellent playing condition. Therefore, there is a large disparity in the condition of stadium fields across the county.
The Department of Facilities Management (DFM) and the Interscholastic Athletics Unit staff have evaluated the use of artificial turf for MCPS high school stadium fields. Artificial turf provides a safe and durable surface for various athletic events and requires very little maintenance. The installation of artificial turf fields will eliminate the disparity in the condition of stadium fields among high schools across the county. The life expectancy of artificial turf fields is approximately ten years. The ten-year life-cycle cost to install artificial turf is approximately the same as the ten-year life-cycle cost to install and properly maintain a natural grass field.
A turf reserve fund has been created to build up funds necessary to cover future replacement of artificial turf after ten years.  The source of funding for this reserve fund is a portion of the Interagency Coordinating Board (ICB) fees that are charged for the rental of these turf fields, and the funds budgeted in the interscholastic athletics account that will no longer be needed to maintain the natural turf fields. 
During development of the FY 2014 budget, DFM estimated that annual payments of approximately $40,000 will be received from the ICB for the turf reserve fund.  Since there was excess appropriation available in the Field Trip Fund, appropriation was moved from the Field Trip Fund to the Real Estate Management Fund to cover the $40,000 that will be received from the ICB in FY 2014.
Office of the Superintendent of Schools
Rockville, Maryland
June 24, 2013
To: Members of the Board of Education
From: Joshua P. Starr, Superintendent of Schools
Subject: Award of Contract—Thomas S. Wootton High School Artificial Turf Project
WHEREAS, On November 13, 2012, the Montgomery County Board of Education approved the
$200,000 contribution from the Thomas S. Wootton High School Booster Club and the $900,000
contribution from the Bethesda Soccer Club, in accordance with Policy CNE, Facility
Improvements That Are Not Funded With Montgomery County Revenues, for the artificial turf
installation on the stadium field at Thomas S. Wootton High School; and
WHEREAS, On February 5, 2013, the Montgomery County Council approved a supplemental
appropriation for the sum of $1.1 million in contribution funds; and
WHEREAS, Montgomery County Public Schools is a member of The Keystone Purchasing
Network, part of the Association of Educational Purchasing Agencies, which maintains a bid
with FieldTurf USA Inc. for the installation of artificial turf fields; and
WHEREAS, Staff in the Department of Facilities Management solicited a proposal from
FieldTurf USA, Inc. based on the Association of Educational Purchasing Agencies bid; and
WHEREAS, FieldTurf USA, Inc. submitted a proposal in the amount of $1,305,178 for the
installation of artificial turf and associated site work at Thomas S. Wootton High School; and
WHEREAS, Staff in the Department of Facilities Management has reviewed the proposal and
finds the cost reasonable for the scope of work; andMembers of the Board of Education 2 June 24, 2013
WHEREAS, The proposed cost exceeds the $1.1 million contribution amount by $205,178. The
November 13, 2012, Board action states that if the project exceeds the $1.1 million contribution
amount, the shortfall can be paid through funds collected for community use and the savings
accumulated each year from not having to maintain the current grass field; and
WHEREAS, FieldTurf USA, Inc. has completed similar work successfully for Montgomery
County Public Schools; now therefore be it
Resolved, That a contract in the amount of $1,305,178 be awarded to FieldTurf USA, Inc. for the
artificial turf installation at Thomas S. Wootton High School stadium field, contingent upon
receipt of the contributions from the Thomas S. Wootton High School Booster Club and the
Bethesda Soccer Club.


Council Will Ignore MSI Litigation, Councilmembers Don't Understand Issue

At today's Montgomery County Council's Education Committee meeting the Education Committee members announced that they intended to ignore the MSI lawsuit against MCPS concerning the Churchill High School artificial turf project.

Council President Craig Rice says the litigation has nothing to do with the "field being constructed."

Actually, President Rice, the litigation has everything to do with the construction of the field because the field is being constructed with PRIVATE funds.

Does the Council imagine that one private club would happily pay to build the Churchill artificial turf football field and another private club could be granted the right to use it?

The MSI litigation has everything to do with the construction of the Churchill High School artificial turf field.

Maybe the Council would like to see the construction begin, and then be stopped by a Court order mid-project? How would that work out for the public school students that attend the school? A public football field closed because private parties are tied up in litigation? 

Guest Post: MCPS Dir. James Song tells BOE Artificial Turf "could" be bid out.

Why bid when you can just shop? 

A member of the public took notes from the off camera meeting of the Montgomery County Board of Education Fiscal Management Committee Meeting on March 18, 2013.  One of the topics at that meeting was artificial turf procurement. 

MCPS Director of Construction James Song spoke to the committee about the future direction of artificial turf fields in Montgomery County and how he wanted to make the program “self-sustaining,” through a number of creative approaches... For instance, if a private group puts up $350 K to $400 K as an initial capital investment, they can be given a user contract for five years. Their option to renew kicks in at the five-year mark. User fees would make up the difference in costs, but he gave no data on how well this is working. He did not say whether private groups would be asked for another large sum of money on contract renewal.
He takes most of his field performance data from the Field Turf brochure, which helps make the case for his numbers...
James Song talked about the following:
  • The MC fields are set up on a 10-year cycle. They each cost $1.1 MM. MC currently has four high schools with AT fields, with two on the way. This $1.1 MM is split roughly between the cost of the rug and the cost of the field construction. This amounts to $550K.
  • His funding sources vary. For instance Wootton High School funding is 100 percent private. Based on the 10-year life cycle the funding approaches can be creative.
  • His replacement costs, based on a 10-year life cycle, are $450K - $500K per field. However, he admitted that the 10-year term is not a hard number. It’s the manufacturer’s recommendation, but they also conduct annual inspections of the fields and supply additional infill and do spot repairs of the rugs. He did not say whether this was included in the contract, or paid for, nor did anyone ask him how long the warranty actually lasts.
  • All MC fields are Field Turf/Tarkett. The company came recommended through the Keystone Purchasing Network. The benefits to using Field Turf/Tarkett are that they provide a professional product, used by professional teams. He said the county could bid out, evaluating whether a better product could be delivered at less price.
  • He said that all MC AT fields are the same. The prices did vary for the fields with RMHS costing $950 K; Walter Johnson costing $1.0 million; and Gaithersburg costing $1.12 million. Wootton came in at $1.1 million, but those funds are private.
  • MC is exploring infill mixes for health and environmental reasons. There has been talk of lead in tire crumb and other health concerns, but nothing has been proven. They are monitoring the latest technology looking for ways to keep temps from rising more than 15 degrees on the fields. Infill mixes are being explored and they can bid on different materials because Field Turf/Tarkett will accept other infill materials.
  • Montgomery County has done extensive research on injuries and harm related to AT versus natural grass and artificial turf appears to be safer.
  • He said that replacement costs could be $450 K - $500K, but he has yet to replace a field. This information agrees nicely with the Field Turf literature.
  • More competition will bring down prices, but MC wants the best.
  • In terms of grass fields, he said that there are constant costs such as water usage, striping the fields for athletic events, and fertilizers and pesticides. The county is spending $50,000 to $60,000 for natural grass stadium fields. Artificial turf is a fraction of these costs.
  • For RMHS, private groups kicked in roughly $300 K. Annual maintenance on this field comes in about $8,100 per year. For WJHS, private groups kicked in roughly $335 K, which gave them 900 hours of use annually, and maintenance costs on this field are $16,000 to $17,000 annually. [He did not explain the 100 percent difference in maintenance costs for these two fields.]
  • He said that scheduling for use of the MC artificial turf fields goes through Community Use of Public Facilities. He said that CUPF charges $150 to $175 per hour. [He did not mention that the fields require a three-hour minimum rental on weekends, nor did he mention that the rates for other groups can be more than $200/hour with a three-hour minimum.]
  • The self-sustaining model is based upon MCPS, CUPF and private groups working in concert to keep the money flowing. He attends a lot of benefits to strengthen the county’s relationship with private groups.
  • They are looking at 3,000 hours of annual usage on the artificial turf fields...
  • If more artificial turf fields can generate revenues, it may allow more artificial turf fields to be constructed.
  • Of natural grass he said that after two years they die and are replaced...

Craig Rice calls Cherri Branson "off topic," cuts off discussion, and turns off mics. #artificialturf #FieldTurf

Councilmember Cherri Branson knows a lot about government procurement!

Listen to her questions to MCPS' Director James Song at today's Council discussion of artificial turf in the video clip below.

But, don't expect to hear Mr. Song respond to any of Councilmember Branson's excellent questions.

Council President and Education Committee Chair Craig Rice promptly cuts her off, calls her questions "off topic" and turns off the audio on this hearing!

Autism Communication Pilot Project

Syracuse Institute on Communication and Inclusion
Do you have a non-verbal child with Autism?

Do you think your child could use technology to communicate: like an iPad?

Montgomery County Government has funded an "autism communication pilot project" that is being implemented in TWO schools. For FIVE children. These schools are in Bethesda and Potomac.

Resources, training, and technology are being lavished on these five children. Today, we heard the Montgomery County Innovation Officer and Chris Richardson speak effusively about training for parents, training for siblings, expansion of use of the technology into afterschool programs, working with the recreation department, etc etc.

I am fuming mad.

Not because these FIVE children don't deserve every bit of this effort. They absolutely do.

But there are many many other parents across Montgomery County who are DESPERATE for this type of intervention and technology for their child. I know, I have talked or emailed with some of you. But Chris Richardson and Dan Hoffman seem to be comfortable limiting this program to the five privileged familes at these two wealthy schools. The County Council ED committee (Craig Rice, Phil Andrews, Cherie Branson) seems to be willing to let them get away with that.

Does the community think this is "fair"? Does the community think this is "equitable?"

I don't. I think we need to make an appointment with Craig Rice and outline to him just exactly why it is patently unfair to limit this potentially life-altering technology to five kids...while at the same time approving MCPS to purchase $15 million dollars worth of Chromebooks to be distributed across MCPS.

The Superintendent is always babbling about Equity. From the disability community perspective, this Autism Pilot Project is so blatantly INEQUITABLE that I think we need to make a stand.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Where to Find Partying Pat O'Neill this Year

At tomorrow night's MoCo Board of Education Meeting (July 28, 2014),  the Board will consider its brand new policy on Compensation  and Guidelines for Board Expenditures.

Look carefully and in Appendix C you will find the list of events that Board members may attend.  

Does this revised policy provide more guidance than before?

It looks pretty loose to me.  What is an assorted conference?  How many of these things can a board member attend?  Its also open ended - all a Board member needs to do to attend a party that is not on the approved list is ask!

No budget, no limit on events, just go and eat.

And how many of these events are really necessary?  Some - like the County Executive's Ball, looks like a grand time, but does this really further the education of the children in MoCo?   Others look very much like they are tied to the election process, for example, the Committee for Montgomery Legislative Breakfast, the Minority Legislative Breakfast, and the Montgomery County Commission for Women's Legislative Breakfast.

What benefit do our children get when MoCo BOE members attend these events?  Do we need all eight at every event?

Didn't the press have a field day with Chris and Rebecca's eating out all the time?

And - do we want part time BOE members expending full time at events of little benefit to the taxpayers?

Let the Board know how you feel about their list of parties.

Contact for the BOE President: 

Contact for Board of Education:

Board of Education Office

Montgomery County Public Schools
Carver Educational Services Center
850 Hungerford Drive, Room 123
Rockville, Maryland 20850
Tel: 301-279-3617
Fax: 301-279-3860
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  Party List

Friday, July 25, 2014

Breaking News: Council Staff Recommends Council Ignore Opposition to Project, Ignore Known Field Disinegration, Ignore Funding Issues

The memorandum for the County Council's Education Committee meeting on Monday, July 28, 2014, has just been released.

This part of the packet discusses the proposal to install artificial turf at Churchill High School in Potomac.

Note the following in the memo written by the Council's staff:
  • Council staff recommends that the project be APPROVED despite the fact that there was NO community support for the project at the public hearing.
  • Council staff recommends that the project be approved despite the fact that there is an active bid protest in litigation.  The staff member tells the Council., "The Council should not step into the role of arbiter of the merits of this protest."  Even though the memo clearly states that the project is not slated to be done until "next August."  What's the rush? Why try to bully the Council into approving something that is over a year away? A few weeks would hurt what?
  • Council staff mistakenly asserts that MCPS has to wait to put out a Request for Proposal for infill. How so? An artificial turf field requires 120 tons of infill. That's not going to change based on the construction of the field. Why the wait? 
  • First, Council staff tells the Council they should APPROVE the process and not interfere.  Then, in the second section of the memo staff tells the Council to interfere by requiring a review of the infill bids.  Which is it? What's going on? Is this being set up so that FieldTurf will once again get the project and only later will it be revealed they won't use the alternate infill material?
Walter Johnson HS  2014
shredding artificial turf fibers

Is this memo written with the best interest of the public in mind or the best interest of some other interest? 

ABC7: Youth soccer club contends MCPS favors 'wealthy children,’ files civil lawsuit against school leaders

BOE to spend $49,840 on Churchill artificial turf while MSI Soccer sues to stop project

UPDATE July 28, 2014, 6:30 PM:  Superintendent Joshua Starr pulled this item from the Board of Education Agenda.  This item will not be voted on this evening. 

What's $49,840?  A teacher, an aide in a classroom, a school staff person, library books...

Even though there was no support for the Churchill artificial turf project at the County Council public hearing on Tuesday this week, MSI Soccer announced they were suing the Board of Education over the bidding process for the project, and the County Council hasn't voted yet on the appropriation, the Board of Education is going to spend almost $50,000 to hire an engineer to design the project.

Bowie parents concerned county is “celling out” children’s health

Ripping Students Off One at a Time

Question for Superintendent Joshua Starr and Board of Education:  Why do you permit principals to rip off students? 

In 2014 the fee to take an AP exam from the College Board was $89. Source: College Board website.
ExamThe fee for each AP Exam is $89. The school normally retains $8 of that fee as a rebate to help with administrative costs.

It cost $89 to take an AP exam at Walter Johnson High School and Seneca Valley High School in 2014.

But, at Springbrook High School it cost $92.56 to take an AP exam. Why? Because Springbrook High School added a fake "processing fee" to the cost of the AP exam.  That puts a cool $2,500 into the principal's slush fund for that school.  (Feb 2014 Audit of Springbrook Principal's school accounts.)

Note that high schools already get $8 per test as an administration fee to cover the cost of exam proctors. Apparently, that wasn't enough for Springbrook High School and so they tacked on their own fake "processing fee."

MCPS FY 2014 end-of-year fund balance is $39.34 million

To: Members of the Board of Education
From: Joshua P. Starr, Superintendent of Schools

Click this link to read Memorandum - Subject: Fiscal Year 2014 Operating Budget End-of-Year Categorical Transfer 

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Phil Fumbles Again

Phil - no matter how hard you try, you just keep on messing up on the Montgomery County Board of Education's New Policy on Expense Reports.

First, you have the new policy listed for action on the agenda dated July 28.  Isn't this supposed to be introduced as new business with an opportunity for public comment?   If you are going to take action, isn't the public entitled to review the document before your vote?

Second, you don't follow the Board's own policy for issuing new policies.  Why have these fancy process maps on the website if you don't follow them?  The Policy Committee is supposed to draft policies - what is up with an ad hoc committee anyway?

And, finally, you are going in to closed session to discuss the policy before you vote.  Wrong again.  How is the public supposed to comment if you don't provide an opportunity for comment?

Remember the principals of ethics from your long tenure in the government?  Public service is a public trust. You've lost the confidence of the MoCo community.  Hastily putting forth a policy that still needs work is not going to work.

The only policy that you can possibly vote on is one that has you and the rest of the Board of Education members tear up the cards, pack own lunch, and stay home.

As the saying goes, three strikes and you are out.  Its time to go back to the bench.