Monthly Archives: May 2015

Prince George’s Baker gives up on raising property taxes 15 percent


County Executive Rushern Baker III

UPPER MARLBORO, Md. – A proposed plan to help turnaround the Prince George’s County school system has been dramatically scaled back.

Through a spokesman, council members declined to comment on the revamped proposal in advance of Thursday’s vote. Before Wednesday, not a single council member had come out in support of the 15 percent tax increase.

Now, Prince George’s County Executive Rushern Baker is instead asking for $65 million to pay for improvements designed to make the struggling school system one of the top 10 in Maryland.

Originally, Baker called for a 15 percent property tax increase to the tune of $133 million to pay for his plan. The new proposal is about half of the original amount, but would still likely require some form of a tax increase.

However, Prince George’s county is consistently in the top 5 spenders amongst large school districts in the country. Many of us don’t think the amount is the problem… the problem is what they are spending it on… and the other parts of the equation – i.e. quality of parenting, home life, value placed on education at home. Lack of transparency and accountability is destroying the county to the ground.

“$65 million is the minimum investment we can make that will move us forward and significantly improve our ranking in the state,” Baker said. “Any investment less than that will not move the needle.”

Baker had repeatedly said the original increase was necessary to improve the county school system. However, some school board members were skeptical about any tax hike.

“If you’re going to have a serious compromise that you want to benefit kids, you can not increase property taxes at all without having a conversation about accountability, transparency and performance metrics. Whether you go halfway or all the way, if you don’t talk about auditing you’re not helping kids,” Edward Burroughs, a Prince George’s County School Board member said.

In addition to scaling back funding, Baker is also suggesting any tax hike for schools should only be temporary. Instead, he’s proposing a tax hike should only last for five years until the MGM Casino and other development projects in the county are completed and begin producing revenue.

While Baker calls the revised plan a comprise, critics call it a last ditch effort in the face of certain defeat. His original plan had no chance of passing the town council, and Baker is running out of time to make good on his promise to make the county school system one of the top 10 in the state in five years.

one blogger asked Mr. Baker to his face where the money was going to go. (See below). However, Mr. Baker did not respond. The problem with politicians like Baker is that they look for the easy way out. Instead of doing an overhaul of education to fix the problems of waste and graft, they just raise taxes and leave the problems to fester. The voters in Maryland are tired of this lazy approach.

The county council will vote at 1 p.m. Thursday on the proposed plan, which council members opted not to comment on Wednesday.

wusa9 contributed to this story.

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Carcinogenic Playgrounds.

Tell the EPA to ban artificial turf containing lead and other cancer-causing chemicals until it can be proven safe!

Take Action!


University of Washington soccer coach Amy Griffin had been coaching for twenty-seven years when she made a concerning discovery. Over the past decade and a half, she’s become aware of increasing numbers of soccer players diagnosed with cancer. Thirty-four of thirty-eight cases on her list are goal-keepers, and most of them have blood cancers like lymphoma and leukemia.

After looking for a connection, Griffin realized that the artificial turf her players had been playing on and diving into — tire crumb turf — was composed of cancer-causing chemicals. The EPA has said there is insufficient evidence that it is safe for children to play on, so why are we exposing them to it?

Most of these artificial turf companies have completely failed to inform consumers that their products contain lead and other carcinogens, for which California’s Center for Environmental Health (CEH) is now suing several companies. Griffin and other environmental advocates point out that existing studies on the safety of artificial turf don’t account for what happens if children swallow the tire pieces, or get them in cuts and scrapes – both scenarios common with goal-keepers.

Tire crumb has been increasingly used across the country because it is cheaper to maintain than grass, but if we are exposing our kids to cancer-causing chemicals, it’s simply not worth the price.


NBC News: How Safe is the Artificial Turf Your Child Plays On? October 8, 2014


Teacher Won’t be Bullied by Alhambra (AZ) School Officials

Lisa Elliott, a National Board Certified Teacher (NBCT) and 18-year veteran teacher who has devoted her 18-year professional career to the Alhambra Elementary School District— a Title I school district (i.e., having at least 40% of the student population from low-income families) located in the Phoenix/Glendale area — expresses in this video how she refuses to be bullied by her district’s misuse of standardized test scores.

Approximately nine months ago she was asked to resign her teaching position by the district’s interim superintendent – Dr. Michael Rivera – due to her students’ low test scores for the 2013-2014 school year, and despite her students exceeding expectations on other indicators of learning and achievement. She “respectfully declined” submitting her resignation letter because, for a number of reasons, including that her “children are more than a test score.” Unfortunately, however, other excellent teachers in her district just left…



Transforming Education: How Children Learn


Like every other public institution in the United States, our education system is simultaneously under attack and flailing in its attempt to defend itself. Politicians and pundits jump into the fray as No Child Left Behind morphs into Race To The Top. Schools are forced to comply with high stakes testing in order to get funding. Budgets are cut to the bone and teachers, struggling to make ends meet, are forced to teach to tests that seem to be designed to ensure that many schools, teachers and children will fail. The vaunted Common Core, for example, that will replace the STAR tests in California and most other states in 2015, is not developmentally appropriate, particularly in the younger grades. It was not designed by teachers who know what children can actually do at different ages. When it was previewed this year in New York schools, the testers had a new problem to solve: what to do with tests that stressed children had vomited on. Really.

Public schools, once seen as the keystone of democracy and the agent of an informed and responsible citizenry, are now facing takeovers by for-profit charter schools that cut teacher salaries and spending per pupil while pocketing profit from federal funding. How did we come to such a pass? When I was growing up, California boasted the world’s best educational system. My four years at U.C. Berkeley were essentially free. With health care included, I paid the Regents $150 a year in student fees. I did not have to take standardized tests or honors courses to be admitted. U.C. accepted my application with a transcript of courses and GPA. My ability to attend this prestigious university was considered an earned right, supported by the citizens of California through their taxes.

A student entering UCB next year will pay $13,200 in tuition. If her parents are not wealthy, she will most probably be indentured for decades to a usurious student loan scam. According to a recent article in Education Week, California now ranks 49th among the states in per pupil spending. Last year at the school where I was Education Director, the administration decided to take a 5% cut in salary and our teachers gave up five days of instruction in order to maintain our bare bones program. This, in one of the richest states in the richest country in the world.

The reasons for this devolution are complex, reflecting the values of our late stage neoliberal free market economic system that seems unable to correct its trajectory towards catastrophe. That said, corporate influence in public education has been pernicious for many years. A passionately engaged English and Drama teacher, I was horrified in the mid 1980′s that my new local public school required teachers to be on the same page on the same day in the same text throughout the district. That a school district would have so little respect for its teachers to force them into a scripted straightjacket violated everything I understood about creativity and learning. The idea that teachers did not know how to teach and needed to be guided by “experts” had taken hold. Textbook companies and corporate testing “services” increasingly determined how and what should be “taught” to children. I am not surprised that schools with a history of such rigid curricular mandates are floundering.

>>> Read more Popular Resistance

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The Latest in Purple Line Letters to Hogan:


In what appears to be a dance of musical chairs combined with drama, comedy, ballroom dancing and wheelchairs, the Town of Chevy Chase sent a letter to Gov. Larry Hogan opposing the estimated $2.45 billion Purple Line. The letter, signed by Mayor Kathy Strom, asks the governor to “closely examine this project and its many flaws.”

“From the true cost of building and maintaining the line, to the number of projected riders and the real economic impacts on communities served by the line, concrete, fact-based numbers are difficult to find,” Strom wrote.

The letter is the latest in a flurry of correspondence directed at the governor regarding the light rail line. Previous letters from Montgomery County business leaders, regional planning board presidents and the Maryland Congressional delegation urged the governor to move forward with the project.

In her letter, Strom said the town has had difficulty deciphering the ridership, financial and economic data about the Purple Line using the software provided to it by former Gov. Martin O’Malley’s administration and urged Hogan to take a second look at the data.

“We would ask that your staff examine the material, decode it and objectively review the real financial, economic and environmental impacts not only on the citizens of the Town of Chevy Chase, but on all citizens of Maryland,” Strom wrote.

The town previously received ridership estimates from the state in July and some software, but not the third-party software, called Cube, that would be required to replicate the ridership models used by the state. In September, town officials stated it would be too expensive to obtain the third-party software and to hire an outside firm with expertise using the software to re-evaluate the ridership estimates.

The Maryland Transit Administration estimates there will be about 74,000 daily Purple Line riders by 2040.

Last year, the town spent $350,000 to fund a group of lobbying firms to work against the light-rail project that would extend from Bethesda in Montgomery County to New Carrollton in Prince George’s County. This year, it approved $20,000 to search for DNA evidence that an endangered amphipod species may exist in the proposed path of the Purple Line.

The endangered amphipods are the centerpiece of a federal lawsuit filed by opponents of the project who allege building the light-rail line may harm the shrimp-like creatures’ habitats.

On Friday, The Maryland Gazzette reported that a last-ditch meeting to convince Gov. Larry Hogan of the need to keep the Purple Line on track went well, Montgomery County Executive Isiah Leggett said.

“I don’t say that lightly,” he said.

Leggett (D) met behind closed doors Thursday with Hogan (R) and Prince George’s County Executive Rushern L. Baker III (D) to talk about the Purple Line, specifically the economic reasons for building it.

Hogan was expected to make a decision on the Purple Line this month, but Leggett said he left the meeting Thursday with the impression that Hogan would not decide until after a scheduled trip to Asia, likely in early June.

purple line LPA373


Dr. Charlene Dukes removed from MSDE by Governor Larry Hogan


In our opinion, We aver and therefore believe Maryland State Board of Education President Dr. Charlene Dukes (shown here) has demonstrated a culture of corrupt leadership style and continues “an integrated pattern of pay to play,” High suspension rates, violation of due process rights, manipulation inter alia during her tenure as President for Maryland State Board of Education.

The Maryland State Board of Education welcomed two new members on May 19th, 2015. Chester E. Finn, Jr., Ed.D. of Montgomery County and Andy Smarick of Queen Anne’s County were appointed by Governor Larry Hogan to fill two seats on the 12-member board vacated by the departures of Charlene M. Dukes, Ed.D. and Donna Hill Staton, Esq., whose terms ended in 2014 but had been staying on illegally.

During the tenures of Dr. Dukes and Ms. Hill Staton, the State Board established a record of cover up and corruption in the state level that negatively impacted students in a variety of ways and staff. Dr. Dukes was appointed in April 2007 to serve out the remainder of a previous board member’s term and was reappointed in July 2010 under unclear circumstances.  She served for three years as vice president of the Board and was elected Board President in July 2012 in a suspicious manner and again in 2013 and 2014.

Ms. Staton was appointed in April 2009 to serve out the remainder of a previous board member’s term and was reappointed in July 2010. Ms. Staton was in many ways a voice of reason and she will be missed.

On another note, during the tenure of Dr. Dukes, the State Board of Education experienced a variety of long-term student suspensions and expulsions, and only revised its school disciplinary regulations to focus on keeping students in schools and connected to learning after pressure from activists. Her product is very clear in the streets of Baltimore where riots were experienced recently.

In short, Dr. Dukes was racist and discriminatory during her tenure with the Board and supported institutionalized racism. She will never be missed by many who know her illegal ways. Above all, Dr. Dukes continues a culture of corruption involving public funds meant for Prince George’s County Public Schools (PGCPS). She has been manipulative in a variety of ways and an embarrassment to Prince George’s County. It is her illegal actions and shenanigans which will cost the county schools close to more than a $100 million and possible tax hikes fronted by County Executive Rushern Baker III.


Mom’s Facebook Photo of ‘Hero’ Cop Strikes a Chord


State Trooper Matt Okes helped 20-year-old Joseph Owusu when he got a flat tire in the middle of the night. Owusu’s mother’s thank you note has gone viral. (Photo: Nada Owusu/Facebook)

A mother’s photo and thank you note to a State Trooper who helped out her son after he got a flat tire is spreading like wildfire online.

Joseph Owusu, 20, was driving home from Virginia Tech, where he is a student, last week when one of his back tires blew out. Virginia state trooper Matt Okes helped the stranded student, making sure other drivers saw his vehicle on the dark and highly trafficked road, and waiting with the student until his parents showed up and AAA fixed his car.

Touched by the trooper’s kindness, Joseph’s mother, Dr. Nada Owusu, posted a photo of the two men, with a note of gratitude, to her Facebook page on Friday. “Facebook friends, join [me] in expressing my gratitude to God and to Officer [Matt] Okes…a Virginia State Police officer,” she wrote. “I took this picture at 2 am in the middle of nowhere. My son had his back tire blown off his car last night on his way home from school. This kind officer approached him, didn’t ask if the little Mercedes was stolen but rather got on his knees to replace his tire. When his effort failed he stayed with my son all night till we arrived at 1 am with Triple A. He provided all the needed protection especially from those tractor trailers till we were done by 2 am and drove behind us for a while before exiting. Today I salute Officer Okes! He is our hero and our Good Samaritan.”

In a time where many police are under scrutiny for their mistreatment of young black men, Owusu’s post has struck a chord on social media. The post has been shared more than 22,000 times, and received hundreds of likes and comments, including one from TV personality Montel Williams. “Dr. Owusu, Grateful that your son is ok, and also grateful that you shared Trooper Okes’ act of heroic kindness with the world,” Williams wrote. “Too often we look at very specific instances where police miss the mark, and it’s equally if not more important to recognize the countless Trooper Okes’ of the world who quietly serve with distinction and embody EVERYTHING we want our Police to be. Trooper Okes, thank you for your service.”

In a statement provided to Yahoo Parenting, Trooper Okes said: “The attention the photo has generated on social media has been overwhelming and I certainly wasn’t expecting the photo to receive as much attention as it has.  I was simply doing my job as any other Virginia state trooper would.  I appreciate the kind comments by Dr. Owusu and am glad Joseph and his parents were able to finally make it home safe.  I am honored to be a member of the Virginia state police and am blessed by God to serve and protect.”

Dr. Owusu did not respond to Yahoo Parenting’s request for comment.

Owusu told the local news that she felt compelled to publicly thank Okes. “Even before we left home, I kept telling my son I need to thank the officer,” she told WTVR. “There’s a lot of good in this world and people want to hear positive stories. As far as I was concerned, there was a good person waiting with my son. I didn’t care if he was green, blue, yellow. There’s a lot of good in America and that needs to be heard. Police need our support.”

Via  @YahooParenting



Prince George’s county citizenry must demand a Financial Audit.


Today’s reports that Prince George’s county council plans to conduct an audit concerning instruction, support services, human resources, business management and information technology does not go far enough and it might end up misleading.

Prince George’s County Public Schools needs a deep financial audit in addition to the aforementioned areas to verify the truth. County citizenry needs to demand a proper financial audit going back many years IN ORDER to understand what has been going on within the County. A fox cannot guard a chicken house on its own.

Below is a brief description on how Financial audits are conducted and what the county residents needs to do to get answers. There should be no “buts” and “ifs.”

Financial audits

Financial audits dig deep into a company’s financial situation, probing accounting records, internal controls policies, cash holdings and other sensitive financial areas. Publicly-traded corporations are subject to external financial audits on a regular basis, and even privately owned small businesses can be subjected to an external financial audit by the IRS or other government authority. Knowing how to perform a financial audit can help one to prepare for a possible external audit, keeping accounting system in order and discourage internal fraud and theft.

Step 1

Review the systems put in place to transmit financial information to the accounting department. The first step in the accounting cycle is to gather financial documentation, such as sales receipts, invoices and bank statements, and forward it to the accounting department for processing. Without timely and reliable information, accounting records can become unreliable themselves, creating discrepancies in a COMPANY’s financial records.

Step 2

Look into the COMPANY’s record-keeping policies and check to ensure records are being stored properly. Small businesses should keep at least an electronic photocopy of cash register tapes, cancelled checks, invoices and other financial documentation until the end of the current accounting period. Make sure that archived records can be accessed quickly to shed light on any potential issues that arise.

Step 3

Identify and review each element of the COMPANY’s accounting system, including individual T-accounts (debits and credits), journal entries, the general ledger and current financial statements. Systematically work through the accounting system to ensure that all necessary accounts are present, that T-accounts are posted to the general ledger in a timely manner and that the system has the ability to correct human errors, such as arithmetic mistakes.

Step 4

Check into the COMPANY’s internal controls policies to gauge the level of protection they provide from theft and fraud. Internal control policies include things like separation of accounting duties between different employees, locked safes for holding pending bank deposits and password-protected accounting software that tracks exactly who does what and when.

Step 5

Compare internal records of cash holdings, income and expenses against external records. Check the COMPANY’s stored external records and compare selected transactions against internal records. Compare purchase receipts sent from suppliers for a certain month against internal purchase records, for example, or compare cash register tapes against revenue recorded on the books.

Step 6

Analyze the COMPANY’s internal tax records and official tax returns. Tax records should be kept for seven years to be on the safe side. Browse through the COMPANY’s tax receipts from the IRS and compare it against records of tax liabilities and taxes paid in the COMPANY’s accounting records. Take a little extra time to review the range of credits and deductions claimed on the most recent tax return, looking for areas of dubious reporting, such as inflated expense numbers.


This audit could answer long-held questions about Pr. George’s schools


Four years, two superintendents and one bruising state financial report after the Prince George’s County Council first came up with the idea, officials are in the last stages of launching a comprehensive performance audit of the school system.

Council member Derrick Leon Davis (D-Mitchellville) sought an audit in 2011, under then-superintendent William R. Hite Jr., after years of upheaval in school governance left many residents skeptical of how resources were being used.

“We knew that if we were going to make a more significant investment, we needed it,” he said of a systemwide audit, which has not been done since 1998. “It will tell us what we get for the money we spend.”

In seeking the audit, Davis was trying to address some of the same concerns — about transparency, trust and accountability — dominating the debate about County Executive Rushern L. Baker III’s plan to raise property taxes to generate additional dollars for the school system.

 Baker’s plan, which will be voted on by the council Thursday, has stirred concern and skepticism throughout the county. During meetings, citizen after citizen has asked the same questions: What happened with the money taxpayers have already given? And how can they be sure new funds will be used wisely?

The county’s public school system is audited every year, both internal and external. The federal government, the state, the council and school officials all evaluate specific aspects of the system’s operation.

But the audit that Davis is pushing is designed to be different: an all-encompassing, deep review that will take at least a year, officials said.

It would assess operations and measure academic outcomes in specialty programs. It would also show how well the school system has implemented recommendations from a scathing 2014 state audit that found employees were overpaid, invoices went unaccounted for, student data was vulnerable to cyberattack and cost-saving opportunities were missed.

“Audits are necessary to see where you want to go and see where you’ve come from,” said Beatrice Tignor, a former school board chairman who was part of the last performance audit, nearly 20 years ago.

Bids for the contract were due this week, and officials say they will select a vendor in time to launch the audit this summer.

The findings will come too late to affect the council’s vote on whether to back Baker’s 15 percent tax increase. Approval, so far, seems unlikely, since no council member has come out in support.

They will complete a process that started in 2012, when then-council Chair Andrea C. Harrison (D-Springdale) sought an audit that would, according to a letter she wrote to then-Board of Education Chair Verjeana M. Jacobs (District 5), “provide valuable insight and information for future decision-making with respect to the budgetary process.”

The audit was to be prepared for the next fiscal year, but that didn’t happen. Harrison said the previous board was reluctant to move forward on an agreement.

Hite left in 2012 and was replaced by an interim superintendent, while Baker (D) lobbied the state legislature to grant him more power over the school system.

State lawmakers gave Baker the authority to hire a schools chief — he picked Kevin Maxwell — and approved legislation that gave him significantly more influence over board members.

When Maxwell came on board, he conducted his own transition report, which found weaknesses in how the system develops staff, implements curriculum and integrates technology.

School officials said an audit should measure whether the system has made progress in those areas and paint a clearer picture of academic outcomes, graduation rates and test scores.

“If there is information that increases public trust and informs decision makers to help us to improve as a system, then I am all for it,” said Segun C. Eubanks, the school board’s chairman.

By Arelis Hernández covers Prince George’s County as part of The Washington Post’s local staff.