Monthly Archives: December 2014

How Charter Operators Get Rich

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Charter Schools USA is a very successful for-profit business. It is very profitable. Its CEO Jonathan Hage is an entrepreneur, not an educator. The company’s headquarters are in Florida but it operates 70 charter schools in seven states. It hopes to take over the entire York, Pennsylvania, school district. The money to operate the charter schools come out of money that would otherwise go to district public schools.

How does Hage and the corporation make big money? It is not the management fee of 5%. It’s the rent.

As Channel 10 learned in its investigation, charters profit handsomely by paying outsize rent to themselves.

“When the company helps open a new school, its development arm, Red Apple Development, acquires land and constructs a school. Then, CUSA charges the school high rent.

“For example, Winthrop Charter in Riverview may struggle to balance its budget this year thanks to a $2 million rent payment to CUSA/Red Apple Development. The payment will equate to approximately 23% of its budget, even though CUSA CEO Jon Hage has been quoted as saying charter school rent should not exceed 20%.”

The corporation says that as long as test scores are high and parents are happy, the profits are no problem.

“But among CUSA’s critics is the League of Women Voters, which recently released a study suggesting a troubling lack of separation between a charter school’s advisory board and for-profit management companies. It also indicates charter school teachers aren’t often paid as well and profits all-too-often play a role in educational decisions.

“That means that children aren’t getting what they’re owed by the public funding,” said Pat Hall, a retired Jefferson High department head and Hillsborough County’s education chair for the League of Women Voters.

“The study also revealed school choice creates a higher risk of disruption to a child’s education, as “statewide closure rate of charters is 20%” and “Charters are 50% of all F-rated schools in 2011.” In the last week, last-minute problems displaced a hundreds of charter school students from St. Petersburg to Delray Beach.

“Hall acknowledges many charter schools are teaching children in unique and successful ways, but says Charter Schools USA isn’t offering students anything that’s not available in public schools. She adds that the schools are so focused on FCAT fundamentals, they forego many traditional aspects of the school experience.”

CUSA schools often don’t have a library or cafeteria, but school officials tout the superiority of eating in the classroom and having a classroom library.

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State legislator proposes bill…

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Delegate Geraldine Valentino-Smith

A county delegate has proposed a bill that would mandate the school system to create a policy for considering and approving non-educational uses of school property.

Delegate Geraldine Valentino-Smith said she introduced the bill after community concerns over the construction of cell phone towers on public school grounds. The school system does not have a policy like the proposed bill or a policy addressing cell phone towers on school property, said Max Pugh, a spokesperson for Prince George’s County Public Schools.

“Some people were concerned they didn’t understand the criteria and process in how the development of school property is determined,” Valentino-Smith said.

First reported by The Sentinel in June, the Prince George’s County Public Schools signed a lease in 2011 to allow a wireless communications company to build cell phone towers on 73 potential school sites. The wireless company, Milestone Communications, will pay the school system a one-time fee of $25,000 and 40 percent of gross revenues generated from each tower built, according to the lease. All revenue will go to the school system’s general fund, not individual schools.

Opponents of cell phone towers on school grounds say they oppose towers because of health concerns and a perceived lack of transparency in the approval process.

Charlene Bearisto, a member of the Maryland Coalition Against Cell Towers, said she would like the bill to specifically address the siting of cell phone towers.

“I think the legislation currently proposed is too open ended,” said Bearisto, whose child attends Bowie High School. “It doesn’t have language in there significant enough to repeal the current wireless communications facilities that are planned. I’m hopeful legislation can be reworked and reworded so it can specify procedures to notify parents about siting of cell phone towers on school property.”

Read more >>> Prince George’s County sentinel

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Happy Holidays!

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Wishing you a Happy Holiday and a joyful New Year. Best wishes from your friends at PGCPSMESS! We appreciate working with you and hope that the holidays and the coming year will bring you happiness and success.

cheers!

~ Reform Sasscer Movement for Prince George’s County ~

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Politics 101: statutes versus regulations

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By Ann Miller

Besides the state Constitution, Maryland is governed by two types of rules: statutes and regulations.

Statutes are laws passed by our legislators in the Maryland General Assembly and listed in the Maryland Statutory Code. They are subject to all the steps known infamously to many of us in the Schoolhouse Rock song “How a bill becomes a law”, which include public hearings in both chambers, committee votes in both chambers, amendments, floor votes, and finally the governor’s signature or veto. It is this legislative process which allows for citizen input and representation into the decisions made by our state government. The Maryland General Assembly website also lays out a detailed explanation of the process here.

Regulations are rules and administrative codes issued and adopted by state governmental agencies and listed in COMAR (Code of Maryland Regulations). While they are not statutes, they have the force of law including violation penalties. In order for a department to adopt a regulation, the Maryland General Assembly must pass a statute that grants the department the authority to issue regulations relevant to the statute being passed. Beyond that, there is very little citizen input into the carte blanche regulatory process besides a department public input hearing and publication in the Maryland Register.

Once the authority to pass regulations is granted by the legislature to a department, the legislature has only one avenue in which to have input into the regulation. This very limited avenue is the AELR Committee (Administrative, Executive, and Legislative Review). This committee of legislators, appointed annually by the Senate President and House Speaker, is composed of twenty members. The AELR Committee can placerequirements on regulation passage, such as requiring public hearings on emergency regulations and other measures.

Essentially, regulations take what is traditionally and constitutionally a legislative power (creating laws) and puts it in the hands of an administrative department within the Executive branch of government. It is a conjoining of powers intended “to be forever separate and distinct from each other” per Article 8 of the Declaration of Rights in the Maryland Constitution. Article 9 forbids any entity but the legislature from executing laws except with the permission of the legislature.

Code-making by means of agency regulation not only severely diminishes transparency and citizen input, but it virtually eliminates accountability. If an agency, staffed most often by gubernatorial appointees, not legislators elected by the citizens, passes a regulation that is unfavorable to the people, the electorate can’t fire them. Appointees serve at the pleasure of the appointor, and therefore does not answer to the people.

The carefree issuance of regulatory authority from the legislature to agencies also creates other problems. Rather than doing the hard work of laying out bill language to stipulate details within the law, legislators can pass those decisions on to the agencies. Sometimes it only makes sense, as those agencies are the experts in their area. But in doing so, it precludes the public from input into those details through the legislative process. Legislators can also use regulation to avoid making decisions on sensitive topics for which they don’t want to go on record. Moreover, bill sponsors can remove language from a bill which makes passage difficult and allow that language instead to be put in code through regulation after the bill passes.

The people need to be especially diligent in monitoring regulations. We need to ask our elected officials to be sparing in issuing carte blanche regulatory authority. Citizens must be familiar with the members of the AELR Committee, communicate concerns over regulations, and press them to provide adequate oversight. We should push for changes which will require departmental boards to be majority elected instead of appointed.

Until both the law and the state Constitution are changed with regard to agency regulatory authority, eternal vigilance is the only recourse.

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Happy International Human Solidarity Day.

2014 Theme: Moving together as one: Solidarity as the foundation of the UN development agenda beyond 2015

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The General Assembly, on 22 December 2005, by resolution60/209 identified solidarity as one of the fundamental and universal values that should underlie relations between peoples in the Twenty-first century, and in that regard decided to proclaim 20 December of each year International Human Solidarity Day.

By resolution 57/265 the General Assembly, on 20 December 2002, established the World Solidarity Fund, which was set up in February 2003 as a trust fund of the United Nations Development Programme. Its objective is to eradicate poverty and promote human and social development in developing countries, in particular among the poorest segments of their populations.

BACKGROUND

Solidarity is identified in the Millennium Declaration as one of the fundamental values of international relations in the 21st Century, wherein those who either suffer or benefit least deserve help from those who benefit most. Consequently, in the context of globalization and the challenge of growing inequality, strengthening of international solidarity is indispensable.

Therefore, the UN General Assembly, convinced that the promotion of the culture of solidarity and the spirit of sharing is important for combating poverty, proclaimed 20 of December as International Human Solidarity Day.

Through initiatives such as the establishment of the World Solidarity Fund to eradicate poverty and the proclamation of International Human Solidarity Day, the concept of solidarity was promoted as crucial in the fight against poverty and in the involvement of all relevant stakeholders.

UN and the Concept of Solidarity

The concept of solidarity has defined the work of the United Nations since the birth of the Organization. The creation of the United Nations drew the peoples and nations of the world together to promote peace, human rights and social and economic development. The organization was founded on a basic premise of unity and harmony among its members expressed in the concept of collective security that relies on the solidarity of its members to unite “to maintain international peace and security”.
It is in the spirit of solidarity that the organization relies on “cooperation in solving international problems of an economic, social, cultural or humanitarian character” as well.

Read more >>> Sustaining Human Progress: Reducing Vulnerabilities and Building Resilience

Secretary-General’s Message for 2014

ban_ki-moon_portraitBan Ki-moon is the eighth and current Secretary-General of the United Nations

This year’s observance of International Human Solidarity Day comes as the world shapes a new sustainable development agenda to succeed the Millennium Development Goals, the largest anti-poverty campaign in history, by 2015.

Member States, the United Nations system, experts, representatives of civil society, business executives and millions of individuals from all corners of the globe, have come together with a shared sense of purpose to make the most of this once-in-
a-generation opportunity.

The new agenda will centre on people and planet. It will be underpinned by human rights and supported by a global partnership determined to lift people from poverty, hunger and disease. It will be built on a foundation of global cooperation and solidarity.

The United Nations believes that solidarity with people affected by poverty and an absence of human rights is vital.  Based on equality, inclusion and social justice, solidarity implies a mutual obligation across the global community.

As we map our future development path, we must be firm in our commitment to champion solidarity and shared responsibility as part of the sustainable development agenda. These are fundamental values that must be upheld.

Only through collective action can we address such far reaching issues as poverty and growing inequality, climate change, chronic poverty and major health challenges, such as the Ebola outbreak in West Africa.

On International Human Solidarity Day, I call for a renewed commitment to collective action. Let us act together as one to end poverty, achieve shared prosperity and peace, protect the planet and foster a life of dignity for all.

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Judge in Maryland Locks Up Youths and Rules Their Lives

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Judge Herman C. Dawson of Prince George’s County, Md., is more quick than others to incarcerate young offenders.CreditOzier Muhammad/The New York Times

UPPER MARLBORO, Md. — “Judge Dawson, he don’t play,” a parent once said about Herman C. Dawson, the main juvenile court judge in Prince George’s County. And on this Tuesday morning, Judge Dawson was definitely not in a playing mood.

“Who’s in court with you today?” he demanded of Tanika, the 16-year-old standing before him in handcuffs.

“My mom,” she said.

“I know that,” Judge Dawson snapped.

An honors student, Tanika had never been in trouble with the law before. But for the past year, ever since she was involved in a fight with another girl at her high school, Judge Dawson had ruled her life, turning it into a series of court hearings, months spent on house arrest and weeks locked up at a juvenile detention center in Laurel, Md.

Most recently, he had detained her for two weeks for violating probation by visiting a friend on the way home from working off community service hours. Now he was deciding whether to release her.

“I’m hesitating because I don’t know whether you got the message,” he said.

Juvenile court judges in the United States are given wide discretion to decide what is in a young offender’s best interest. Many, like Judge Dawson, turn to incarceration, hoping it will teach disobedient teenagers a lesson and deter them from further transgressions.

But evidence has mounted in recent years that locking up juveniles, especially those who pose no risk to public safety, does more harm than good. Most juvenile offenders outgrow delinquent behavior, studies find. And incarceration — the most costly alternative for taxpayers — appears to do little to prevent recidivism and often has the opposite effect, driving juveniles deeper into criminal behavior.

“Once kids get in the system, they tend to come back, and the farther they go, the more likely they are to keep going,” said Edward Mulvey, a psychologist at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine and the author of a major study of delinquent youths.

Slowly, policy makers have begun to heed this message. After decades when states grew more punitive in their approach to juvenile crime, locking up more and more youths, more than a dozen have now revised statutes or regulations to avoid the overuse of incarceration, among them New Jersey and Indiana.

But judges are not always so quick to follow. And often the judges most resistant to change are those most determined to help troubled youths, juvenile delinquency experts say.

Judge Dawson is an example. Presiding in Courtroom D-15 of the mammoth county courthouse here over cases that range from shoplifting to armed robbery, he has won a reputation as a jurist who brooks no excuses and involves himself deeply in the lives of the teenagers who come before him.

Raised by a single mother in the segregated South, he subscribes to a “tough love” philosophy that venerates hard work, education and personal responsibility as the antidotes to poverty, negative peer pressure, chaotic parenting and other forces that can tip children into delinquency.

But Judge Dawson’s critics, who include defense lawyers, delinquency workers and some parents of young offenders, say that in his zeal to reform wayward youths he goes too far — acting not just as judge but also as prosecutor, probation officer and social worker.

He relies too heavily on locking juveniles up, these critics say, contributing to incarceration rates that are among the highest in the state. His courtroom practices sometimes violate young offenders’ due process rights. And in several instances Judge Dawson has overstepped the law in an effort to keep juveniles locked up for longer periods — in October, a state appeals court ordered him to reconsider his disposition in four cases in which he had set minimum periods of confinement for juveniles, saying that the orders appeared to violate state law.

>>> Read more New York times

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Plan for English language learner schools causes conflict in Pr. George’s County

IMMIGRATION

A plan to open two new high school programs for immigrants and English-language learners in Prince George’s County has created a rift between members of the African American and Hispanic communities, with opponents of the proposal questioning the school district’s decision to use its limited resources to benefit one group of students over the other.

The county’s chapter of the NAACP has mounted strong opposition to schools chief Kevin M. Maxwell’s plan to open two schools next year for 800 English-language learners who are struggling academically.

The debate surrounding the new schools is new evidence of rising tensions between the Maryland county’s African Americans, who make up 65 percent of the Prince George’s population, and Hispanics, who make up almost 15 percent of the county’s population and 26 percent of the school population. The Hispanic population is the fastest-growing minority group in the county.

“This whole thing is designed to change the school system from what we know today,” said Bob Ross, president of the county’s NAACP chapter. “They are talking about the needs of the newcomers and putting them ahead of the needs of those who are already here.”

Del. Joseline A. Pena-Melnyk (D-Prince George’s) said Ross’s words are “very dangerous” and are creating division at a time when African Americans and Hispanics need to work together.

 “Our issues are the same,” she said. “We are all people of color.”

The Prince George’s school system entered into an agreement with the International Network for Public Schools and CASA of Maryland earlier this year to open one school in the Langley Park area and another as a school-within-a-school program at Largo High School.

>>> Read more Washington Post

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An Excellent Editorial in the Los Angeles Times about the iPad Debacle

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Karin Klein of the Los Angeles Times wrote an excellent editorial about the disastrous decision to spend $1.3 billion on iPads for every student and staff member of the LA schools. It should be a cautionary tale for every school district that is about to invest hundreds of millions or billions of dollars in new technology.

The District’s Inspector General investigated the purchase and found nothing wrong. But he never looked at the emails that passed between district officials and the winning vendors (Apple and Pearson). The school board never released the results of that investigation. Now a federal grand jury has been impaneled to look at the evidence of possible wrong-doing, and that is a very good thing. The grand jury will also examined the botched computer system that cost millions of dollars and never performed as it was supposed to.

She writes:

When the school board reached a severance agreement with Deasy in October, it issued a statement that board members do “not believe that the superintendent engaged in any ethical violations or unlawful acts” in regard to the emails. That statement was completely inappropriate considering that Bramlett’s investigation into the emails was still underway—as it is now. The board has no authority to direct the inspector general’s investigations—but it can hire and fire the person heading the staff office, and controls his office’s budget. (In fact, just a week or so before the board made its statement, Bramlett’s office pleaded for more funding, according to a KPCC report.) The statement could be seen as pressuring the inspector general not to find wrongdoing; in any case, board members are in no position to prejudge the matter.

For that matter, none of us are in that position. The emails could be perfectly legal and appropriate—or not. It’s unknown whether even a federal grand jury will be able to ferret out the full picture, since many earlier emails were apparently deleted and aren’t available. And if it uncovers ethical rather than legal problems, the public might never know; the grand jury is looking for evidence of crime. Federal crime at that. This might not be the best mechanism for examining the iPad purchase. But the investigation at least ensures that an independent authority is examining the matter, unimpeded by internal politics or pressures.

Yes, the public has a right to know and a right to expect that public officials will act in the best interests of students. As for the huge purchases for technology, we in New York have learned that even the sharpest and most ethical city officials have trouble monitoring the technology purchases. The largest financial scandal in the city’s historyoccurred recently, when a company called Citytime won an IT contract for $63 million in 1998 which ballooned into a $600 million payout; the principals went to jail. The school system’s ARIS project, launched in 2007, was supposed to aggregate data on the city’s 1.1 million students; it was recently dumped because so few teachers or parents used it, at a loss of $95 million. There were other instances where consultants bilked the city, in large part because no one supervised what they were doing.

Is there a moral to the story? Choose your own. Mine is that these multimillion dollar technology purchases must be carefully monitored, from beginning to end, to be sure that the public interest is protected and served. The problem is that many school districts lack the expertise to know whether they are getting what they paid for, or getting a pig in a poke. When even New York City and Los Angeles can be misled, think how much easier it will be to pick the pockets of mid-size and smaller districts.

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Media must be let free to do their work

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Journalism is gathering, processing, and dissemination of news and information related to the news to an audience. The word applies to both the method of inquiring for news and the literary style which is used to disseminate it.

The media through which journalism is conducted vary diversely to include content published via newspapers and magazines (print), television and radio (broadcast), and their digital versions published through digital media — news websites and applications.

In modern society, the news media is the chief purveyor of information and opinion about public affairs. Journalism, however, is not always confined to the news media or to news itself, as journalistic communication may find its way into broader forms of expression, including literature and cinema. In some nations, the news media is still controlled by government intervention, and is not fully an independent body.

Journalism is one of the careers that make the world a better place, especially for those whose voice is suppressed by the wealthy and powerful.

Journalism exposes major discoveries and innovations. As a matter of fact, news is the first draft of history.

Journalists are, therefore, crucial in the cogs of life and global development. Journalists question things that are unclear and seek answers. We answer what many people question. We also expose the ills of society and provide the fibre to mend the broken pieces through opinion and analysis.

Journalists are an indispensable part of any society. Even in history, there were scribes who kept records of the happenings.

The future can only emphasize their presence, perhaps due to advancement in the technology of news gathering. The State knows very well the importance of journalists.

The media are referred to as the Fourth Estate, the first three being the Legislature, the Judiciary and the Executive.

It is the media that can provide objective checks and balances on the other three.

They set the agenda for society and have great influence. This makes the media to be like an arm of governance. No state or country can be governed democratically without the media — free media, that is.

INFLUENTIAL ROLE

It is, therefore, quite correct to say that both the media and the government serve the people.

The media are the voice of the people and the intermediary between the people and the government. They are the conscience of the people and help them to think.

How? It is practically impossible for that elderly person in the rural areas to engage in a meaningful discussion from a point of ignorance. Their knowledge in most cases is from the media.

Joseph Pulitzer in 1904 argued that the media have a disproportionately visible and influential role in fostering an environment where good governance can flourish. As a watchdog, agenda-setter of public discourse, and interpreter of public issues and events, the media have a special role in governance.

The main responsibility of the media, as is widely acknowledged, is to provide comprehensive, analytical, and factual news and opinions to the people on issues of concern.

Indeed, this is the critical link between the functioning of the media and good governance.

The media have the capacity to monitor the activities of the government and provide a forum for the public to express their concerns.

In fact, the nature and character of the media impact the governance process, for it is only when the media report, monitor, investigate, and criticize the administration’s policies and actions as well as inform and educate the citizens can good governance be enthroned.

In the recently concluded election here in Prince George’s County Question H, dwelt with a request that the county be required to have at least one newspaper of record. Instead of the previous rule of having at least three papers of record, the county would also use county-maintained electronic media for such items.

While that question seemed minor, it’s actually was big deal. Legal information needs to be easily accessible by the community and, unfortunately, as we pointed out, computers are not yet readily available to all residents. We specifically felt the media was targeted by Rushern Baker III regime and the administration continues to be ill-informed and its timing is all wrong.

Question H sought to choke the media and their noble duties and responsibilities and must be amended in the future to include more newspapers of record.

Lord Northcliffe in 1914 posited that “news is what someone, somewhere wants to suppress, everything else is just advertising.”

And the media refuse to merely advertise at the expense of the very public they owe a debt to provide factual information to.

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Pictured above are some of the journalists who have been murdered recently courtesy The Committee to Protect Journalists

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