Baker endorses Van Hollen while majority of Council endorses Edwards.

Rep. Donna Edwards

Congresswoman Donna Edwards (D-4)

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Congressman Chris Van Hollen (D-8)

County Executive Rushern Baker III and the County Council may find themselves at odds once again.

Baker announced last Wednesday he has endorsed Congressman Chris Van Hollen (D-8) for the U.S. Senate in the upcoming 2016 election, but some members of the County Council have chosen to go a different route and elected to endorse Donna Edwards (D-4).

Baker said he chose to endorse Van Hollen rather than Edwards, a Prince George’s County representative and native, because of their experience working together in the state legislature. The two have a history of working together, he said, and “rolling up [their] sleeves” on difficult issues.

“That’s the type of relationship I’ve had with Senator (Barbara) Mikulski. I know that Chris, going over to the Senate, will do that,” Baker said. “It was an easy decision in this respect. I don’t just know him as a name or as a congressman—I know him personally and I know the working relationship.”

However, all members of the Prince George’s County Council except for Councilman Todd Turner and Councilwoman Deni Taveras announced their support for Edwards at Prince George’s County Community College Wednesday.

Edwards thanked the council members for their support and said she looks forward to working with them at the Senate level.

“I am thrilled to stand with my partners on the Prince George’s County Council,” Edwards said. “Together, we have worked tirelessly to improve education, expand economic development, and stand up for our seniors. I thank them for their support, and look forward to continue working with them in the United States Senate.”

Mel Franklin, Chairman of the Prince George’s County Council, said he will stand with Edwards as works to stand in Senator Mikulski’s “trailblazing” shoes in her senate seat.

“Donna’s experiences and values have made her who she is today, a principled, progressive fighter with a unique, proven record of improving the lives of working families,” Franklin said. “That is what she has done in Prince George’s County, and that is what she will do for all Marylanders.”

Van Hollen said he is happy to have the support of Baker, as well as Montgomery County Executive Ike Leggett who also attended the press conference where Baker made his announcement.

Van Hollen represents Congressional District 8, which used to include part of Prince George’s County as recently as 2013. In Congress, Van Hollen said he has done his best to give citizens the best opportunities to “live the American dream.”

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Prince George’s County Council

Rushern Baker - Appears to be driving corruption to new heights

County Executive Rushern Baker III

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Board of Education for Prince George’s County violates Open Meetings Act.

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UPPER MARLBORO – The Prince George’s County Board of Education will announce at its next meeting it violated the Open Meetings Act after the Open Meetings Compliance Board (OMCB) ruled the Board’s staff failed to provide copies of minutes to a county resident.

Thea Scarato, an activist who opposes cell phone towers, said she was attempting to track the history of the school system’s cell phone tower policy by making open records requests and looking through minutes of meetings by the school board and its subsidiary committees.

However, when Scarato went to the Board office to look at the minutes, she was told by a staff member she needed to speak to the Board’s counsel. Scarato then called the counsel, according to the OMCB’s opinion, who told her the school system was still processing a previous Maryland Public Information Act for copies of the minutes. Scarato said she had only filed the MPIA request because she had called three days before her visit to see the minutes, but was told by staff she had to file a formal MPIA request in writing.

“It shouldn’t be this difficult to get information,” Scarato said. “It’s no wonder people are not getting involved because it’s not easy to be.”

Scarato said she sought the assistance of Craig O’Donnell, an activist and former reporter for the Kent County News who has filed several previous Open Meetings complaints with the OMCB.

In his complaint, O’Donnell said the school board failed to provide him with records upon request, but the OMCB ruled that O’Donnell was using the Open Meetings complaint process to subvert the MPIA process.

“We inform complainant that our authority extends only to Open Meetings Act matters and that we will not address Public Information Act disputes,” the OMCB wrote in its ruling.

O’Donnell also complained that the Board did not meet the OMA’s requirement that at least one employee or officer meeting the law’s training requirement. The (OMCB) ruled in O’Donnell’s favor, and the Board pledged to come into compliance.

“The Board of Education has come into compliance with the Act,” said Sherrie Johnson, spokesperson for Prince George’s County Public Schools. “(Board administrator) Erica Berry has been re-trained as the Board’s designee.”

According to PGCPS, Board members Carolyn Boston, Zabrina Epps, Verjeana Jacobs, Beverly Anderson and Dinora Hernandez have received training from the Maryland Association of Boards of Education (MABE). Three other school system employees also received training in Open Meetings from MABE.

The OMCB also ruled the school board failed to provide open inspection of its minutes during ordinary business hours.

“Those minutes should have been provided to Ms. Scarato when she appeared,” the OMCB wrote in its opinion. “At the same time, it is too bad that no one told her at the outset that if she needed the minutes quickly she should begin by appearing at the office. Unfortunately, by the time she visited the office, the waters had been muddied by complainant’s and her own multiple Public Information Act requests to the school board. Just to add to the confusion, she arrived at the school board’s office on a day in which staff were preparing for a board meeting that night and before staff had found a flash drive on which some minutes had been kept.”

O’Donnell said he was not surprised by the ruling and he thinks all public bodies should make all of their minutes available online. He also said he does not think public information should be so difficult to access.

“You argue with lawyers over minutes but the public is entitled to them, so why are we having this argument?” O’Donnell said. “…It’s annoying to have to be such a stickler about these things.”

Johnson said the Board received the OMCB opinion on March 27 and will announce it violated the OMA at its next meeting on Thursday.

“While the Board was found to be in violation on the official OMA training requirement, the Open Meetings Compliance Board acknowledged on page 5 of their opinion: ‘We note from MABE’s website that MABE’s class is an hour longer than two live courses specified by the Act and is focused on the issues that school boards might encounter. This is not a matter in which a public body’s members have been operating without any training in the Act,’” Johnson said in an email.

Board Chairman Segun Eubanks said he takes time before each meeting to ensure that the agenda and minutes are in compliance with the OMA. Despite the OMCB’s ruling, he said he is glad the Board has met the training requirements.

O’Donnell said he is glad the Board has come into compliance because it means they might improve future situations where people ask to see minutes because he does not want to see people go through the hassle Scarato went through.

Scarato, on the other hand, said she thinks more training needs to be done.

“Someone who is in charge needs to know what they are doing and how to do it,” Scarato said.

Though he encourages all board members to undergo training, he did not say he would make it a requirement for all board members.

“We take our responsibility for transparency very seriously and I always make sure we are well within compliance, Eubanks said.

He promised to continue meeting with Berry and the Board’s counsel to monitor compliance with the law.

via thesentinel.com

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Atlanta Judge Imposes Jail Time and Fines on Convicted Educators

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Fulton County Superior Court Judge Jerry Baxter listens as Sidnye Fells, former Dobbs Elementary teacher, testifies Tuesday morning. KENT D. JOHNSON

Honorable Judge Jerry W. Baxter, who presided over the trial of Atlanta educators who cheated on tests and were convicted of racketeering, briefly reconsidered the sentences he would mete out.

While it appeared that he might not send the disgraced educators to jail, his sentences were indeed harsh. Some of them will spend seven years in jail.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s investigative journalism is credited with first examining the corruption within the city’s public school system. On Tuesday, the newspaper published photos of each of those who took plea deals and the sentences they received.

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* Donald Bullock (pictured above left by AP) was first. Witnesses testified that Bullock urged them to change test answers, the Atlanta Journal Constitution reported. The former testing coordinator was ordered to serve five years probation, six months of weekends behind bars, pay a $5,000 fine and perform 1,500 hours of community service. As part of his deal, Bullock agreed to waive his right to appeal.

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* Angela Williamson, a former teacher, (pictured above center by AP) was ordered to serve two years in prison. She was ordered to pay a $5,000 fine and perform 1,500 hours of community service.

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* Pamela Cleveland, a former teacher, was ordered to serve one year home confinement, pay a $1,000 fine and perform 1,000 hours of community service. “I am guilty of the charges against me,” Cleveland said in court.

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* Michael Pitts, a former schools executive, (pictured above center by AP) was accused of telling teachers to cheat and then telling them not to talk to Georgia Bureau of Investigators who were looking into the scandal. He was ordered to serve seven years in prison, perform 2,000 hours of community service and pay a $25,000 fine.

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* Tamara Cotman, a former schools administrator, (pictured above center by AP) was ordered to serve seven years in prison, pay a $25,000 fine and perform 2000 hours of community service.

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* Dana Evans, a former principal, (pictured above center by AP) was ordered to serve one year and perform 1,000 hours of community service.

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*Tabeeka Jordan, former assistant principal, (pictured above center by AP) was ordered to serve two years in prison, perform 1,500 hours of community service and pay $5,000 fine

* Theresia Copeland, a former test coordinator, was ordered to serve one year in prison, perform 1,000 hours of community service and pay a $1,000 fine.

* Diane Buckner-Webb, a former teacher, was ordered to serve one year in prison, perform 1,000 hours of community service and pay a $1,000 fine.

In addition, all of the convicted educators lost their license, their pensions, and five years of compensation.

If only all those bankers who nearly destroyed the economy in 2008 had been dealt with as harshly. But they were “too big to fail.”

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Maryland General Assembly passes budget that widens split with Hogan.

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Maryland’s annual legislative session ended in a standoff Monday night, with Republican Gov. Larry Hogan vowing not to spend money lawmakers allocated for schools and other priorities after the General Assembly refused to fund some of his budget requests.

In the closing hours of the 90-day session, the Senate and the House of Delegates voted along party lines to approve a spending plan that included less funding than Hogan sought to shore up the state pension fund and did not go as far as the governor wanted in trimming the state’s structural budget deficit.

As a result, Hogan said he would refuse to use money the legislature earmarked to preserve state pay raises, full funding for the most expensive school districts and several health-related initiatives. “In all likelihood, we will probably have to use the money [in future years] to fix the problem they created,” Hogan said.

House Speaker Michael E. Busch (D-Anne Arundel) said the negotiations with Hogan “put a real damper” on bipartisanship. “There’s going to have to be some wounds healed,” he said.

The split stood in stark contrast to the beginning of the 90-day session, when the Republican governor and the Democrats who control both houses of the legislature pledged to compromise for the good of the state. It also set off an immediate round of lobbying by education activists and advocates for the poor who urged the governor to use the funds in the budget as the legislature intended.

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Maryland House passes major changes to public records access.

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Major changes to the Public Information Act reported on earlier have now passed both the House and Senate in essentially the same form.

HB755 passed the House Wednesday 139-1, and SB695 passed the Senate unanimously March 25.

“This is a big step forward,” said Del. Dan Morhaim, the floor leader and a long-time champion of open government and transparency measures. The legislation makes the Public Information Act more understandable, reasonable and fair, Morhaim said.

The bill replaces inconsistent enforcement of current law with more standardized procedures for obtaining public records and documents. This includes a new ombudsman in the Office of the Attorney General to give guidance and mediate requests from all levels of government. There is also a new Public Information Compliance Board that will rule on fees that can be charged.

The Senate must now act favorably on the House version of the bill.

Morhaim said that the Senate committee was kept informed of the House’s work on the measure, including changes requested by the governor’s office.

“Today, Maryland took an important step towards more open, transparent government,” said Jennifer Bevan-Dangel, executive director of Common Cause Maryland. “This legislation is the result of many hours of discussion and compromise.”

Firmer time limits, more reasonable fees

The bill also establishes firmer time limits for responding to public records requests and says that custodians of documents and data can only charge the “actual” costs of the search and preparation of the information.

“This legislation is not only much-needed and long-overdue,” said Rebecca Snyder, executive director of the Maryland, Delaware, D.C. Press Association, “but it is also extremely popular,” citing recent poll results.

Environmental groups say they are among the organizations that have been stymied by Maryland’s current laws when requesting public information.

“This legislation will make it easier for Marylanders to get public information they deserve to see,” said Betsy Nicholas, executive director of Waterkeepers Chesapeake. “But the passage of this bill is not the end of this story. We will continue working to get better access and accountability from government as well as industries that receive public subsidies.”

Provisions of the original bill that covered the reports filed by individual farmers were removed by both House and Senate committees.

Del. Christopher Adams, R-Middle Shore, was the sole vote against the bill. He did not speak on the bill.

via Maryland reporter

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Pennsylvania: Reasons for Hope.

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Tom Wolf, the newly elected Governor of Pennsylvania, may turn out to be true friend of public education. In a landscape crowded with foes of public education, like Scott Walker, John Kasich, Doug Ducey, Rick Scott, and Andrew Cuoo, this is quite a distinction for Governor Wolf.

After years of devastating cuts by Governor Tom Corbett, Wolf has vowed to fund public schools. He appointed a one-time rival, John Hanger, as secretary of policy and planning (Hanger is strongly pro-public schools).

Governor Wolf recently visited a public school in Philadelphia. At a time when so many governors have sworn their fealty to charter schools, it is refreshing to read about a governor who recognizes public responsibility for public schools.

John Hanger told the Lancaster Chamber of Commerce and Industry that the Wolf administration would focus on public education and economic development in its spending plan.

Governor Tom Wolf could build a national reputation if he reverses the school privatization and defusing of public schools that Corbett encouraged.

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PGCPS Teen Student Becomes Ill, Dies During School Field Trip.

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A 16-year-old high school student died early Saturday after he became ill during a school-sponsored field trip, according to Prince George’s County fire officials.

Authorities said the Bowie High School student was on a junior ROTC trip when he started not feeling well. The bus pulled into a nearby gas station, and when medics arrived, they found the student, Okon Ntikem, 16, was unresponsive.

Emergency crews transported Ntikem to a hospital, where he was pronounced dead. The medical examiner’s office is working to determine the cause of death.

School officials said counselors will most likely at the school on Monday, and a letter will be going home to parents. Maryland State Police is handling the investigation.

“Prince George’s County Public Schools is saddened by this tragic turn of events and send our deepest sympathy to Ntikem family,” Prince George’s County Public Schools said in a statement. “PGCPS will do everything it can to support the entire Bowie High School community during this difficult time.”

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