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Renee Foose says she declined post at Maryland Department of Education

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Dr. Renee Foose 

Dr. Renee Foose whose tumultuous tenure as Howard County school superintendent ended in May, said Wednesday she has declined to take a position with the Maryland State Department of Education that had been approved by the state school board Tuesday.

“Our education system is being undercut by toxic politics,” Foose said in an email Wednesday evening. “The only way to change this toxic environment is to demonstrate civility and lead by example. I have a great deal of knowledge and skills to contribute, but not at the expense of having my family, friends and colleagues attacked and harassed.”

Foose was formally offered the job Tuesday evening, she said, after the school board voted to accept state Schools Superintendent Karen Salmon’s recommendation to give her a job as an assistant superintendent for assessment, accountability and information technology.

Foose would have earned between $92,000 and $123,000, according to a description of the position. The salary would have come on top of nearly $1.65 million in salary and benefits the Howard County school board agreed to pay Foose to persuade her to retire. The payments represented more than what it would have cost the board to keep her for the remaining three years left on her contract.

Criticism of the state school board’s vote to hire Foose followed quickly after the decision was announced.

On Wednesday, Gov. Larry Hoganreleased a letter in which he said he had urged Salmon to reconsider hiring Foose. Writing to a constituent, Hogan said he shared the concerns of school board members, educators and parents in Howard County and added that Foose’s hiring “is not a decision I would have made.”

Hogan does not have authority over appointments to the Maryland State Department of Education.

Foose’s job was listed among other hires Salmon presented to the board. State and local school board’s usually don’t interfere with the hiring of staff, and approve hires without comment or discussion.

A spokesman for the governor’s office confirmed that the letter was sent to constituents who had contacted his office.

In addition, nine members of the Howard County delegation to Annapolis sent a long, detailed letter to the state school board Wednesday expressing their concern over the Foose hiring.

“The State Board or the Superintendent could easily fall victim to Dr. Foose’s next lawsuit when something happens not to her liking,” the legislators wrote.

A power struggle between Foose and the Howard County school board erupted after three new school board members were elected last fall on a platform opposing her, and she no longer had the support of the majority of the panel. She had been criticized by parents, who said she ignored their concerns about mold in schools and refused to turn over documents they had sought via Maryland Public Information Act requests.

Foose eventually sued the Howard school board, contending that, among other things, they were trying to usurp her authority. Under a settlement reached with the Howard County school board and signed May 2, Foose agreed to drop her lawsuit and each side agreed to cease making disparaging comments about each other.

The terms of the settlement were criticized by legislators and parents at the time as being excessive and a waste of taxpayer money.

The hiring of Foose, the Howard lawmakers said in their letter Wednesday to the state school board, sends “a clear message to Howard County residents that you disregarded the history of Howard County’s relationship with Dr. Foose.” They added that they had “already heard from numerous constituents who question whether you care about them or the children of Maryland.”

Foose said Wednesday that Salmon had called her Tuesday evening to congratulate her and discuss salary, but that she declined the position at that time.

“I have spoken with Dr. Salmon and after receiving her official offer yesterday, I thanked her for considering me and I declined the position,” she said in the email sent Wednesday evening.

liz.bowie@baltsun.com

Via Baltimore Sun

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Former Howard superintendent Renee Foose hired by MSDE

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Dr. Renee Foose

Dr. Renee Foose who resigned in May as Howard County’s school superintendent after months of public feuding with her school board, was hired Tuesday by the Maryland State Department of Education.

Foose’s new job as an assistant superintendent for assessment, accountability and information technology will pay between $92,000 and $123,000, according to a description of her new position. The salary comes on top of nearly $1.65 million in salary and benefits Howard County agreed in May to pay Foose to persuade her to retire as schools superintendent. The payments represented more than what it would have cost the board to keep her for the remaining three years left on her contract.

In her new job she will oversee accountability and testing, a role similar to one she formerly held in Montgomery County before going on to work as a school administrator in Baltimore County and then becoming superintendent in Howard. Foose has worked in Maryland public schools for more than two decades. After serving as associate superintendent for Montgomery County public schools, she spent about a year in Baltimore County from 2011 to 2012 as the deputy superintendent. She also served as a principal in Montgomery and Washington counties. She was the first woman superintendent in Howard County.

The state school board voted Tuesday afternoon to approve Foose’s hiring by Karen Salmon, the state school superintendent.

Bill Reinhard, spokesman for the state department of education, said department administrators would have no comment on the decision to hire Foose.

Howard County board pledged to pay Foose $1.65 million package to step down as school superintendent
“It is something I am passionate about,” Foose said of her new job. “I have talents in that area that I hope lend nicely with Dr. Salmon’s vision,”

Foose said her salary and start date have not yet been set. Her payments from Howard County include pension benefits, and she will qualify for a second pension in her new state job.

A power struggle between Foose and the school board erupted after three new school board members were elected last fall on a platform opposing her. She was left with a minority of the board’s support.

Foose eventually sued the school board, claiming, among other things, that they were trying to usurp her authority. Under a settlement reached with Howard County and signed May 2, Foose agreed to drop her lawsuit and each side agreed to cease making disparaging comments about each other. The terms of the settlement were criticized by legislators and parents at the time as being excessive and a waste of taxpayer money. Her opponents had said she was dictatorial and ignored issues that were important to parents.

The hiring of Foose by the state education department angered state Del. Warren Miller, a Howard County Republican.

“She received well over a million dollars. Now we are rewarding her with a state job?” he said. “I think the biggest issue is that this is someone who sued the taxpayers of Howard County. We never found out in court what would have happened. ….I think this is a tremendous liability for the state taxpayers.”

Colleen Morris, president of the Howard County Education Association, said the teachers union is “disappointed that the state board didn’t pay closer attention to what happened in Howard County.”

“I don’t understand how the state can hire her as their accountability superintendent when she had these accountability issues in Howard County,” Morris said.

An earlier version misstated who from the state department of education indicated there would be no comment on Foose’s hiring. The Sun regrets the error.

liz.bowie@baltsun.com

Via Baltimore sun 

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Transparency, Anti-Corruption, and Sustainable Development: Is Progress Possible?

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IMF Managing Director Christine Lagarde speaks during a discussion in a past photo. IMF is starting to embrace new strategies to combat corruption. 

Brookings/The Partnership for Transparency Fund/World Bank Group – hosted a full day of discussions on anti-corruption on Monday. The first public session featured IMF Managing Director Christine Lagarde – the second panel discussion highlighted  experts on corruption and extractives. The second half of the day, involving a small group on “Chatham House ” rules discussed ways to best approach research in the area of corruption and natural resources. The first two panels are captured on video –

The IMF and corruption discussion on Manday Septemebr 18th, 2017 starts at minute 41 on this video – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wnMj-5P4snk

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Maryland State Department of Education seeks info from public for PGCPS graduation rate probe

IMG_2752BALTIMORE – With an investigation underway to look into allegations of grade-fixing and fraud allegations in the Prince George’s County Public Schools, Maryland school officials have released a hotline and email address encouraging the public to provide information for the probe.

The Maryland State Department of Education said public input can be provided at 1-833-535-6103 or through the email address — PGCPSSpecialReview@alvarezandmarsal.com.

The investigation, which is being conducted by the Alvarez & Marsal Public Sector Services, is being done after FOX 5 was first to report on claims by Prince George’s County Public Schools staff that intense pressure from administrators to boost the graduation rate has caused students to be pushed through the system whether they earned their diploma or not. Several Prince George’s County school board members wrote a letter to Gov. Larry Hogan citing “widespread systemic corruption” and claiming that student credits and grades are being altered to fraudulently boost the high school graduation rate.

The allegations prompted Gov. Hogan to call for a “complete, thorough, and exhaustive investigation” in his own letter to the Maryland State Board of Education president.

The Maryland State Board of Education voted unanimously in June to launch a third-party investigation on the grade-fixing claims.

Prince George’s County Public Schools CEO Dr. Kevin Maxwell denies the allegations.

Via Fox5DC

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Governor Hogan refuses to sign off on Maryland education plan

Larry Hogan

Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan poses with a bill during a bill signing ceremony in Annapolis, Md., Tuesday, April 12, 2016, the day after the closing of the 2016 legislative session. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

Gov. Larry Hogan is refusing to endorse the Maryland school board’s plan for helping low-performing schools, saying state board members were hamstrung by a new law limiting what the plan can include.

The General Assembly passed legislation this year that limits ways the state can try to reform its lowest-performing schools — those in the bottom 5 percent. The Republican governor vetoed that bill, but the Democratic-controlled legislature overrode him.

In a letter sent this week to U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, Hogan wrote that the state board could not craft a sufficient plan under the “impossible circumstances” imposed by the state law. All states must submit plans for improving low-performing schools to comply with the federal Every Student Succeeds Act.

Hogan’s signature is not required for state education officials to send the plan to the federal government for review. They still intend to submit the plan Monday, a spokesman for the Maryland State Department of Education said.

The Protect Our Schools Act passed by the Assembly this year prohibits the state school board from requiring test scores to count for more than 65 percent of a school’s performance ranking. And it would prevent the state from taking several actions to improve those schools, including converting them to charter schools, bringing in private management, giving the students vouchers to attend private schools or putting the schools into a special statewide “recovery” school district.

In a letter to state school board President Andy Smarick, Hogan wrote that the legislation resulted in a plan that will preserve “the status quo in failing schools.”

But some education advocates were quick to criticize the governor for not backing the school board’s plan.

By not supporting the plan, Hogan is disregarding months of feedback from parents and nonprofit organizations, said Sean Johnson, legislative director of the Maryland State Education Association, the union for public school teachers.

Maryland board approves new rating system for schools
“I hope the strong support from all of those stakeholders makes clear that Maryland is really committed to meaningful and positive education reforms — even if it’s not the privatization and test-and-punish approach that I guess Larry Hogan would rather champion,” Johnson said.

Some state school board members, nearly all of whom were appointed by Hogan, have chafed at the legislation and supported Hogan’s veto. Some members had suggested using more radical measures to reform failing schools, including turning them over to charter school operators.

Smarick said although members disagreed with the Protect Our Schools Act, they “had to follow the letter of the state and federal law. That was our job.”

Senate Minority Leader J.B. Jennings said the state law unfairly limits options for improving struggling schools.

“The Democratic leadership pushed through a horrible piece of legislation that, in my mind, didn’t put kids first. It put special interests first,” said Jennings, a Republican who represents parts of Harford and Baltimore counties.

The U.S. Department of Education reviews each state’s plan for improving struggling schools and can recommend changes. Though Hogan’s signature is not required on the document, its absence will signal to federal officials that he doesn’t support it.

Hogan vetoes bill limiting Maryland school reforms
Gov. Larry Hogan visited Baltimore Collegiate School for Boys to announce his veto of legislation that would limit some school reforms. (Baltimore Sun video)
“I worry that he’s, in a sense, encouraging Betsy DeVos to reject the plan, which puts $250 million worth of federal funding at risk,” said Del. Eric Luedtke, a lead sponsor of the Protect Our Schools Act. He’s also a former public school teacher.

DeVos has been a champion of offering families alternatives to traditional neighborhood public schools, such as charter schools and vouchers that allow students to attend private schools.

The federal government so far has not rejected any state plans, but has suggested changes to some.

“More fundamentally, he’s kind of doubling down on this right-wing school reform agenda,” said Luedtke, a Montgomery County Democrat. “I think somebody needs to explain to the governor there are more ways to improve schools than privatization.”

Sen. Craig Zucker, another sponsor of Protect Our Schools, suggested that the governor is favoring politics over schoolchildren.

“This has always been about Maryland educators and Maryland students. This isn’t about the governor. This is about the future of our children,” said Zucker, a Montgomery County Democrat. “This was a well-thought-out piece of legislation where Maryland can be a leader in terms of education reform.”

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker similarly refused to sign his state’s plan for low-performing schools.

“Your bureaucratic proposal does little to challenge the status quo for the benefit of Wisconsin’s students,” Walker wrote to state superintendent Tony Evers. Evers is one of several Democrats running for Wisconsin governor in 2018 against Walker, a Republican.

via Baltimore Sun

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Ex-Substitute PGCPS Teacher Facing Additional Child Porno Charges

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A former substitute teacher and basketball coach in Prince George’s County has been charged with multiple counts of child pornography, and police believe there may be additional victims. Prince George’s County Bureau Chief Tracee Wilkins reports. (Published Friday, Sept. 8, 2017)

A former substitute teacher and basketball coach in Prince George’s County is facing additional charges in a child pornography case, and police believe there may be additional victims.

Christopher Speights has been indicted on three counts of possession of child pornography with intent to distribute and six counts of possession of child pornography in Prince George’s County.

Speights was previously indicted in July by a federal jury on three counts of production and attempted production of child pornography.

Speights worked at Bradbury Height Elementary School as a substitute teacher and as a coach for Prince George’s County Public Schools for nine years. He was also a basketball coach for South County Sports Academy.

Prosecutors say dozens of potential victims have been identified. Speights allegedly directed the victims to perform certain acts, prosecutors said during a news conference Friday.

Prosecutors say Speights lured students to his home or victimized them during basketball road trips.

“We’ve come to learn that he invited children to his home, and he stayed with them there,” Prince George’s County State’s Attorney Angela Alsobrooks said.

Due to Speights’ involvement with a traveling basketball team, investigators believe he may have had victims outside the county as well.

The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children referred a tip about child pornography on a Dropbox account to state police Dec. 13, 2016.

Investigators tracked the Dropbox account, which had more than 100 images and videos of children engaged in sexual conduct with each other and with adults, to Speights’ Capitol Heights home, police said.

Investigators and Homeland Security agents executed a search warrant at his home in April and found child pornography on Speights’ cellphone, laptop and iPad, police said.

Speights’ state case is set for trial Nov. 13., but additional charges involving sex acts with minors are pending, prosecutors say.

Parents whose children may have had contact with Speights are asked to call 1-800-637-5437.

“I encourage any kid that was involved in our program or any program to call the hotline,” South County Sports Academy President Luther Henry said.

Henry said his program did a background check on Speights but found nothing.

Via NBC4

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Authorities seek help identifying victims in PGCPS child porn case

A former Maryland substitute teacher and youth basketball coach who was arrested on child pornography charges earlier this year victimized dozens of children, including many who authorities have not yet identified, the Prince George’s County State’s Attorney’s Office said Friday.

The announcement shows the criminal case against Christopher H. Speights, 35, continues to grow. While authorities did not specify an exact number of suspected victims, they said that the investigation is wide-reaching since Speights worked with a team that traveled out of state.

Officials urged parents on Friday to call Maryland State Police if they suspect their child had contact with Speights, who worked at Bradbury Heights Elementary School and coached the South County Steelers in Maryland.

Investigators are also working to identify victims outside of Prince George’s County who may have had contact with Speights when he traveled with the team, said John Erzen, a spokesman for the Prince George’s County State’s Attorney’s Office. Some of the victims may be students with the county school system, Erzen said.

“We’re trying to make sure that we’re able to speak with anyone who could have been impacted so we can really build a case that will hold him accountable for what he has done,” said Erzen, who asked parents to call 800-637-5437 if they suspect their children had contact with Speights.

Speights, of Capitol Heights, was arrested in April on allegations of sharing child pornography through a Dropbox account.

Speights was a coach with the South County Sports Academy, which hosts the South County Steelers, for six years, said Luther Henry, president of the academy.

The academy conducted a background check for Speights, but nothing came up, Henry said. He was also a respected coach in the area, Henry said.

“It was extremely shocking and very difficult for me,” said Henry, who had also known Speights personally for about a decade. “I would have never guessed it.”

Henry said the basketball team, which would travel mostly in the region and locations such as to Ocean City, or to Virginia, has disbanded since Speights’s arrest in April.

Henry said he’s been looking at ways to better monitor coaches, including asking them to share their social media handles so the academy can monitor them.

“It’s a shame,” Henry said. “You have a lot of good coaches doing stuff that is positive for kids. And something like this happens, and it not just tarnishes us but the whole process.”

Messages requesting comment left at numbers that appear to be connected with Speights’s family were not immediately returned. Speights’s public defender in Prince George’s County said she had no comment on the matter while the case was pending.

Police found at least 153 files featuring graphic images or content showing minors performing sexually explicit acts on several electronic devices authorities seized from Speights’s home in April, according to police charging documents.

Speights also faces federal charges. In July, a federal grand jury returned an indictment against him on two counts of production and one count of attempted production of child pornography in a case involving four minors, court records indicate.

Speights entered a plea of not guilty in federal court Aug. 22.

Speights worked for Prince George’s public schools for 13 years, at Bradbury elementary most recently and previously at the former John E. Howard Elementary School, said John White, a spokesman for Prince George’s County Public Schools.

School system officials removed him from the district’s substitute teaching list after learning of his arrest, White said.

Law enforcement has said “there’s no evidence to suggest that any incidents took place on school property,” White said. “To this point, we have no confirmation of any students being involved.”

The school system conducted a background check for Speights upon his employment, said White. He said he couldn’t comment on whether there were problems during Speights’s time with the school system citing confidential personnel matters.

Speights’s case comes after the county had been reeling from a child sex abuse scandal involving Deonte Carraway, a former teacher’s aid and volunteer at Judge Sylvania W. Woods Elementary in Glenarden. Carraway, who also worked as a local choir director, was sentenced to 75 years in federal prison after admitting to coercing students to perform sex acts on video and send him explicit images. Some acts occurred on school property during the school day, police said.

The school system launched a task force to review how it handles reports of alleged abuse in the wake of the Carraway case.

“We’re implementing their recommendations and doing everything we can to protect children even when adults do not have a criminal history,” White said.

Speights’s is scheduled for trial in Prince George’s County Circuit Court in November. His federal trial is pending. He is being held in Prince George’s County jail without bond.

Via Washington post

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