Monthly Archives: February 2015

Md. Charter School Bill Supporters, Opponents Face Off.


Dozens of supporters and opponents of Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan’s charter school expansion proposal squared off in a crowded room in Annapolis Thursday to share their hopes and concerns for the bill.

Hogan’s bill would allow charter schools to qualify for funding through the state’s capital improvement program and exempt employees from state teacher certification. Charter schools could also apply for a waiver from the state that would free it from all laws and regulations that govern public schools.

Supporters argue the legislative proposal would promote flexibility and freedom in the school system.

“This legislation is about allowing innovations and flexibility in the ways we educate our children,” said Keiffer Mitchell, special adviser to Gov. Larry Hogan. “A one-size-fits-all model does not work for education.”

Critics, however, warned the effort would set a dangerous precedent.

“The bill before you is an extreme bill that proposes a radical approach to charters that’s proven a failure in other states,” said Alison Perkins-Cohen, executive director for the Office of New Initiatives at Baltimore Public Schools. “It undervalues teachers, it threatens some of our most vulnerable students and attacks the principle of local control of education.”

>>> Read more 


In the meantime, Mike Klonsky reports that Chicago suburban districts have thus far been able to block charters from moving in.

These are not affluent school districts. >>> Read more





The challenge of learning in chaos.

Chaos Ahead Traffic Sign

Wendy Lecker, an experienced civil rights attorney in New York and Connecticut, writes here about the enormous stresses under which low-income children live and how they impair children’s ability to learn.

She writes:

The notion of equal educational opportunity was explained clearly by Kansas Judge Terry Bullock in a 2003 school funding decision: “If a child lives a great way from school, the transportation cost for that child will be greater than for another child nearer to school — just to provide him or her the same educational opportunity. Similarly, if a child cannot speak English, it may cost more to teach that child English as a second language before the child can learn math and other subjects.”

In other words, providing equal opportunity means meeting children where they are — helping them overcome their individual obstacles to learning. Judge Bullock recognized that although those obstacles often exist outside the school walls, overcoming them is part of the state’s constitutional obligation to provide a free public education.

A new UCLA report centers on those out-of-school factors that interfere with learning. The report, titled “It’s About Time,” found that community stressors such as economic distress, hunger, lack of medical care, family problems, unstable housing and violence, result in lost learning time three times as often in high poverty schools as in low poverty schools.

While the report focuses on California, I have heard identical stories from teachers, principals and district officials in Connecticut and New York. Children in impoverished districts often arrive at school hungry, without coats, socks or with broken glasses. High school students miss the first few periods of each school day because they must ensure their younger siblings get to school safely. Children bring to school the instability they experience in their lives.

These are not isolated stories. These are the barriers many poor children encounter every day when they try to learn, and teachers encounter when they try to teach. Before a child can focus on learning, she needs to be fed and clothed and have a way to deal with any trauma she may have experienced the night before. This is why social workers, behavioral specialists, psychologists, counselors and other therapists are essential educational resources. “Support staff” is a misnomer.

>>> Read more

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Say “NO” to – HOUSE BILL 597 – Outdoor Synthetic Turf Fields.


Prince George’s County leaders needs to be responsive to people’s needs and aspirations and it is unfair for main players within the county not to be flexible.

One thing we won’t support is where people take their frustrations of losing in the last elections or in the Board of Education election or other polls into the activities of the Education community to siphon off cash from our education system for personal gain. You can’t mix political frustrations with other matters dear to the people.

We request leaders in the county to remain sensitive to the residents’ concerns as highlighted in our blogs and we persuade those involved in questionable activity to re-look at the areas in the Education Act which are hostile to the county especially the turf bill and others with a hidden agenda.

A lawn can be a lovely thing, pleasing to the eye and a place to chill out and unwind and even to play football as advanced by the turf bill here in Prince George’s County recently. But as with all things, the beauty and pleasure comes at a cost. The cost is one of time and effort as well as money and health risks. The alternative to natural grass is the synthetic option as advanced by the Prince George’s County politicians within the county schools. (Read more here).  First created in the 1960s, synthetic grass was initially intended for use in sporting arenas like football stadiums where the maintenance of natural grass was costly and required investment in manpower and special equipment.

Artificial turf, usually constructed of polyethylene plastic grass and an in-fill base of “crumb rubber” from ground-up recycled tires (as many as 10,000 in a single field) have become increasingly popular in some communities without much thought to the process.

As more grass fields are converted to synthetic turf within the county (according to a spokesperson for the Synthetic Turf Council in Atlanta about 900 new synthetic turf fields were installed at schools nationwide in 2008), however, a debate has been heating up about possible health risks and the advantages and disadvantages of artificial turf fields as shown below. Since reform Sasscer movement is against the turf bill being advanced by some of the Prince George’s County politicians including County Executive Baker, let us start by examining the disadvantages of synthetic grass and then demand action.

Disadvantage of Synthetic Grass

 The following list of disadvantages will help you balance the picture. After all, nothing is really perfect and keep them in mind as you call your elected officials including Governor Larry Hogan to say “No” to the turf bill for Prince George’s County.

  1.  The upfront cost of installing synthetic grass can be very high, making it financially impractical.
  2. There is normally a rubber cushion below the surface to provide softness and bounce. This may require occasional re-filling. Politicians in Prince George’s county have not explained who will be in charge of occasional re-filling and maintenance fees.
  3. Synthetic grass can become unpleasantly hot in summer creating Heat hazard. The heat-absorbing properties of an artificial field make it too hot to play on in extremely warm weather. On a 98-degree day, the temperature on the turf could rise to more than 120 degrees. A Brigham Young University study found that the surface temperature of synthetic turf at its football practice field was 37 degrees higher than the air temperature. Proponents point out that use of the fields can be managed to ensure that athletes aren’t playing at the hottest times of the day and are adequately hydrated; as a result, they argue, the higher temperature is more of a comfort issue than safety issue.
  4. There are fears that the chemicals used in the manufacture of synthetic grass can be harmful to the health. Although manufacturers say that they meet health and safety standards, the debate remains inconclusive. For Example
  • Excessive exposure to lead has been linked to severe mental retardation, stunted growth and death. As Don Mays, senior director of product safety at the Consumer’s Union, publisher of Consumer Reports, says, “There is no safe level of lead; let’s be clear on that.” The American Academy of Pediatrics agrees, saying that there is no safe level of lead exposure and suggesting that levels in soil be no higher than trace amounts (40 parts per million).
  • Older turf fields made from nylon or nylon/polyethylene blend fibers may contain levels of lead that pose a potential public health concern. Tests of artificial turf fields made with only polyethylene fibers showed that these fields contained very low levels of lead.
  • Field Turf, the largest artificial turf manufacturer in North America, sells a lead-free artificial turf, but only if the community asksfor the custom-made field. The fields that most communities purchase use lead to brighten the field’s colors and for a sport team logo.
  • Says Jackie Lombardo, a member of the Sierra Club National Toxics Committee, “We know older turf products contain toxic chemicals associated with asthma, learning disabilities, and cancer. Saying they are safe because they don’t contain lead is like saying cigarettes are safe because they don’t contain lead. There are so many chemicals in this synthetic grass and we don’t know what the effects are going to be not only on children’s health, but also what the effects are on the ground water as well.”
  • The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has consistently recommended “the elimination of all non-essential uses of lead” because of the potential health hazards they pose and has long considered lead dust one of the biggest known health hazards to children; it notes that the combination of age, weathering, exposure to sunlight and wear and tear can cause dust containing lead to be released from older or well-used fields.
  • Zinc hazard:A Connecticut-based environmental advocacy group, Environment and Human Health Inc. (EHHI), has been sounding warnings about artificial turf fields for a number of years and found support for its contentions in a preliminary study in 2007 by researchers at the Connecticut agricultural experiment station which examined the contents of “crumb rubber” and concluded that several potentially dangerous chemical compounds could escape into the air or leach into water under certain conditions. Levels of zinc found leaching into water were inordinately high. A study by University of North Carolina found a possible link between continued exposure to zinc and cardiovascular damage.
  • Other harmful chemicals: according to EHHI, shredded rubber could contain other toxic metals like arsenic, cadmium, chromium, and selenium.
  • Toxic run-off.When an artificial field drains after a heavy rain, the run-off (which may contain lead and infill material) could leach into and contaminate a community’s ground and drinking water.
  • Increased MRSA risk.Open skin lesions (so-called “turf burns”) put athletes at increased risk of MRSA. Studies have shown that athletes who use synthetic turf are seven times more likely to receive turf burns than those who play on natural grass. These open lesions are often the source of contracting and vehicle for spreading dangerous infections. In fact, a 2003 study of MRSA infections among St. Louis Rams football players found that all eight MRSA infections began at turf burn sites.
  • Bacterial breeding ground. Medical experts have found that staphylococci and other bacteria can survive on polyethylene plastic, the compound used to make synthetic turf blades, for more than 90 days. Blood, sweat, skin cells and other materials can remain on the synthetic turf because the fields are not washed or cleaned.
  • Adverse effect on asthmatics. Breathing in dust of ground-up tires could exacerbate breathing problems for asthmatics.
  1. Synthetic grass is not natural grass – it cannot offer the special scent of wet earth and grass or the sweet smell of freshly cut grass.
  2. Once artificial, always artificial.Once a community goes with artificial turf, it has no choice but to install another artificial turf field when the first one needs to be replaced because once plastic replaces natural grass, it kills any living organism in the subsoil making it impossible without years of soil remediation to grow anything on that surface.

The Advantages of Synthetic Grass

  1.  Synthetic grass, once installed requires little in the way of maintenance – no watering or mowing is required.
  2. You save on the cost of water and buying and operating a lawn mower.
  3. No expensive fertilizers and weed killers need be bought.
  4. Because you do not need to use chemicals to grow or protect the grass, you are not adding to pollution levels and affecting the environment on an ongoing basis.
  5. You will not have to spend time pulling out weeds.
  6. Synthetic grass is long lasting and you will not have to incur the expense or hassles of period replanting that natural grass will require.
  7. Synthetic grass offers excellent drainage so after rain or the use of water to wash it, the grass it will dry quickly.
  8. The good drainage also means that you don’t have to worry about puddles of water collecting and lasting for days and then leaving patches of mud for the unwary to step in.
  9. Play sports on the lawn will not damage the grass.
  10. Synthetic grass always looks perfectly manicured so you will never be embarrassed by an unkempt lawn.

The Choice is yours

These are arguments for and against synthetic grass in the county schools and elsewhere. We also understand that there are fields that are tough to use due to drainage; we get that.  But, again, let the school system decide how and when to deal with that on a case by case basis and with consideration of their overall list of priorities after a discussion or debate involving the community.  Mandating a wholesale change to a specific turf product is not the answer within the county schools. The state legislature has FAR more important things to worry about – they need to get off this meddling kick of the county schools without any discussion of the concerned parties.

If all the above solid reasons sound like they make an airtight case for the use of synthetic grass, you should weigh the pros and cons identified carefully, with your objectives and needs in mind before making a final decision. We encourage the concerned parties to raise their voice and object further meddling.

Otherwise, call your elected officials now (Senate delegation here, house delegation here) and the media. Let us say “NO” to Synthetic grass in Prince George’s County Public Schools. It’s not too late to stop what appears to be a white elephant in the making.  The money fueling this activity is tainted and made with profit racketeering in mind involving some of the key players in this saga. On this note, let us also demand transparency with Casino money which was promised to the schools.   It’s about time to take back our communities and conserve the environment for the future generations!

>>> Read more about the bill here and oppose it ~>Turf Bill -hb0597F





Prince George’s school board approves $1.93 billion budget request.


Segun Eubanks – Brother in Law to County Executive Baker and the board have requested biggest budget to date without accountability initiatives as part of the matrix to the State and the County Council. 

The Prince George’s County school board has doubled down on CEO Kevin Maxwell’s education reforms, approving on Tuesday a $1.93 billion budget for the next fiscal year, which includes expansion of prekindergarten and career academies, despite the possibility of cuts in state funding.

“In order for us to significantly improve as a school district, we can’t just keep pace with everyone else,” said school board chairman Segun Eubanks. “We have to outpace our neighboring counties. If we’re second to last, the only way to get out of second to last is to outpace everyone else, and that requires a significant investment.”

The budget is a 7.6 percent increase over the current year’s $1.8 billion budget.

Eubanks said it was conversations with Maxwell over the budget cuts that led to the increase.

“We had this discussion, and we were asking, what are we going to cut? Jeez, We don’t even have what we need. Why don’t we ask for what we really think would significantly accelerate the pace of improvement?” Eubanks said. “So we said, ‘Let’s ask for it.’”

Maxwell’s original budget froze the rollout of arts integration programs, career academies, full-day prekindergarten and peer teacher review programs, but those programs are included in the new budget, which Maxwell presented to the board the day before it was scheduled to vote on the budget.

>>> Read more 


pgcps District system has recently become a cash cow for some corrupt county leadership because of lack of proper oversight. rushern-baker-head-111010wCounty Executive Rushern Baker III



MTA failed to verify millions in Red Line, Purple Line labor costs, audit finds

The MTA hasn’t been tracking Red Line and Purple Line costs properly, audit finds


The Maryland Transit Administration failed to verify the accuracy of millions of dollars in contractor-submitted architectural and engineering costs for the Red and Purple light rail lines, according to a state audit released Monday.

The unverified labor bills from four contractor groups hired to work on the two pending transit lines, scheduled for Baltimore and the Washington suburbs, respectively, account for or relate to $232.8 million in overall costs under the multibillion-dollar projects, the audit found.

That figure includes the labor costs as well as overhead and profit calculated under a formula based on the labor costs.

“Although MTA had sufficient procedures in place to approve changes to labor rates, had verified hours worked by individuals, and had monitored the overall progress of the work, MTA did not conduct periodic verifications of the contractors’ payroll reports,” the audit found. “Consequently, there was a lack of assurance that the billed rates agreed with the actual labor rates the contractors used to pay their employees.”

The audit does not allege the four contractors filed misleading or inaccurate costs, just that the state failed to properly vet the varying hourly rates per employee that were submitted.

>>> Read more Baltimore Sun





Maryland lawmakers weigh attorneys’ fees…

for constitutional violations.


Del. Jill P. Carter, D-Baltimore City, is the chief sponsor of House Bill 283, which would make government agencies liable for attorneys’ fees and legal costs, in addition to damages, if a plaintiff prevails on a state constitutional claim.

Government agencies and employees who violate an individual’s rights under the Maryland constitution would be liable for attorneys’ fees and court costs, in addition to damages, under legislation aimed at providing greater access to justice for low-income people.

The legislation, House Bill 283 and Senate Bill 319, mirrors federal civil rights laws that allow victims of U.S. constitutional violations to collect attorney’s fees and expenses in federal courts.

The legislation follows the Maryland Access to Justice Commission’s 2009 report, in which it recommended fee-shifting in state constitutional-rights cases brought in state courts as a way to encourage private attorneys to take on this often expensive and time consuming litigation on behalf of low-income Marylanders.

>>> Read more>>> sb0319f



Net Neutrality: President Obama’s Plan for a Free and Open Internet.


More than any other invention of our time, the Internet has unlocked possibilities we could just barely imagine a generation ago. And here’s a big reason we’ve seen such incredible growth and innovation: Most Internet providers have treated Internet traffic equally. That’s a principle known as “net neutrality” — and it says that an entrepreneur’s fledgling company should have the same chance to succeed as established corporations, and that access to a high school student’s blog shouldn’t be unfairly slowed down to make way for advertisers with more money.

That’s what President Obama believes, and what he means when he says there should be no gatekeepers between you and your favorite online sites and services.

And as the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) considers new rules for how to safeguard competition and user choice, we cannot take that principle of net neutrality for granted. Ensuring a free and open Internet is the only way we can preserve the Internet’s power to connect our world. That’s why the President has laid out a plan to do it, and is asking the FCC to implement it.

Watch President Obama explain his plan, then read his statement and forward it on.