Tag Archives: School board.

Many Prince George’s County citizenry are extremely disappointed

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County Executive Rushern Baker III

Many Prince George’s County citizenry are extremely disappointed in County Executive Rushern Baker‘s appointments to the Prince George’s County School Board of Education. Our county, schools and students are better off when we elect independent minded and qualified candidates to serve on the board over candidates hand picked by political leaders.

School board members make up the largest body of elected officials in the United States. We entrust them to set the policies of our most treasured institutions: our public elementary, middle and high schools. Every district has a board of education, and boards generally meet every month in meetings that are open to the public.

These gatherings range from tame rubber-stamping sessions to intense, provocative discussions with the community where controversial issues are debated and landmark decisions are made.

School boards are supposed to be nonpartisan. However, in Prince George’s County, they are not.  In most districts, members serve four-year terms, and terms are staggered so seats don’t become open all at once. In general, to run for school board, you have to be at least 18 years old, a citizen of the state, a resident of the district, a registered voter and eligible under the state constitution to be elected to public office.

In most cases, a school district employee can’t be a board member in that district. This means no teacher, principal, librarian, custodian or anyone else that works in a school in the district can serve on the school board, unless they resign from the employed position.

School districts are complex corporations; they’ re often the largest employers in a community and the decisions they make reach far, affecting jobs, resources and most importantly, the education of all children.

What do they do?

Somewhere in between the agendas, public comment sessions and resolutions, school boards make a number of important decisions. School boards establish a vision for the community’s schools. They have to set up and maintain an effective, efficient organizational structure for the district that lets the superintendent or CEO and administrators manage the schools, teachers teach and students learn.

They are responsible for hiring and evaluating a superintendent, evaluating and adopting policies that affect all schools in the district, serving as a judicial and appeals body when conflicts go unresolved, monitoring and adjusting district finances, and managing the collective bargaining process in the district.

A school board has a symbolic role as well. The behavior it shows off in the meeting room, the rapport among school board members and the relationships that members have with teachers and administrators in the district all add up to the climate of public education in a community. Whether healthy or dysfunctional as seen here in Prince George’s County, a school board has a heavy influence on the spirit that characterizes a community’s impression of its school system. This is why is not a good idea to leave a politician or politicians who have no interest in education to run the schools with some other interior motive.  Since the take over of the county school system, Prince George’s County Board of Education has gotten worse than ever before.

On this note and as stated above, Our county, schools and students are better off when we elect independent minded and qualified candidates to serve on the board over candidates hand picked by political leaders as seen here in Prince George’s County.

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An Immoral Use of Jewish Power in Upstate New York

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New York State’s legislative session is in full swing, and thousands of Jews from across denominational lines are expressing their support for two bills that, on the face of it, don’t seem to have anything to do with typical Jewish issues like Israel or liberal social causes.

But these bills — A.5355 and S.3821, as they’re known in Albany — are the test case for the moral future of Jewish life in New York, perhaps even the whole country.

For the past several years, a local, then statewide, and now national drama has been playing out in a school district of Rockland County, located just northwest of New York City. At one level, the issue at hand is about school control. The East Ramapo school system is governed by a supermajority of ultra-Orthodox Jews who live in the district but did not attend public schools and send their children to private yeshivas. While this fact alone might raise some eyebrows, what they’ve done with this control has raised alarm.

The board has drastically increased the funding going to yeshivas, but it has cut public school classes and extracurricular activities, attempting to sell public school assets at below market prices to private yeshivas, and more. These ethically and at times legally dubious actions have been documented by everyone from newspapers like this one to the New York City Bar Association to the New York State Supreme Court.

Frustrated by the school board’s intransigence, local students, parents, teachers, religious leaders and activists appealed to the state for help. Governor Andrew Cuomo appointed an independent fiscal monitor, Hank Greenberg, last year to investigate the district. From a removed, balanced perspective, Greenberg confirmed what thousands of public school students and parents had known for years: The board is responsible for “recklessly depleting the district’s reserves” and favoring “the private school community over the East Ramapo public schools.”

Greenberg’s report called for several fixes to be made, the most significant one being long-term oversight of the board. Oversight and the transparency it brings are a key component to fixing the broken school district, and they are central to the new bills. Secrecy and obfuscation have been tools of the board, using procedural tricks like keeping school board meetings in executive session until past midnight, away from parents and children who wish to participate; not releasing financial statements, and more. The monitor would put a stop to that. Further, an independent monitor not beholden to any community but with the best interests of all the parties involved would start building the trust, which is needed for this district to move forward. Ultimately, the monitor is the best path forward for everyone, including the ultra-Orthodox community.

As Orthodox Jews grow in number, the question of how to flex our political muscle becomes more critical. The Jewish community has needs as well. We live in a golden era where we have can express those needs through the democratic process with pride. The question is not whether to use political power, but how.

One way is to use our power to get what our community needs, even if it means skirting the rules and steamrolling over the needs of other communities. That’s been the case in the East Ramapo School District. Those who support the actions of the school board say that this is democracy, this is the American way.

They are wrong. America is not an absolute, direct democracy where the will of the numerical majority is the law of the land. We live in a republic, a republic that seeks to protect the interests and welfare of all its citizens, including the minority, the disenfranchised and the vulnerable.

As an Orthodox Jew, when I first learned about what was happening in East Ramapo and about the attitudes of the board, I was shocked and disgusted. The Talmud teaches, “The world endures only for the sake of the breath of school children.” The public actions of this school board over the years have been in flagrant violation of that and so many other Jewish values and teachings. The Torah we share demands over and over again we never trample the stranger, the immigrant and the poor — apt descriptions of many in the public school district. They have also caused a massive Chillul Hashem — desecration of God’s name. The leadership of the school board to date has grossly violated both American and Jewish values. This is not the way to use Jewish power in America.

Instead, we need to find a way to both advance our interests and needs while taking the needs of our fellow citizens into account; rather than just grabbing more and more slices of the pie and leaving those around us hungry, we work together to grow the pie so there is enough for all. This would be a moral use of Jewish power, using it to call out those who are acting unjustly, even when they are from our own community. That is why thousands and thousands of Jewish New Yorkers are lobbying their legislators to pass these bills, which will provide needed oversight. Ultimately, this is about those school children in East Ramapo, and it’s about the very legacy that Jewish New Yorkers will leave on this great state.

Ari Hart is a founder of Uri L’Tzedek: Orthodox Social Justice and a founding member of Rockland Clergy for Social Justice.

Read more: http://forward.com/opinion/national/309145/in-east-ramapo-an-immoral-use-of-jewish-power/#ixzz3cvitffiB

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Court reinstates verdict against Board of Education for Prince George’s County.

 – $90 Million Award.

pgcps_logoA Maryland appeals court has reinstated a jury’s verdict – but not its $90.3 million damages award – for the parents of a 13-year-old girl who was struck and killed by a car six years ago while crossing a four-lane street while trying to reach her school-bus stop in Temple Hills. The Court of Special Appeals said the trial judge was wrong to toss out the jury’s verdict against the Prince George’s County Board of Education based on his erroneous finding that it owed no duty of care to the girl and that her negligent crossing of the street contributed to her death.

In its 3-0 decision, the intermediate court said the board owed a duty to the girl under a regulation governing bus-stop locations and that a jury reasonably concluded she was not contributory negligent.
“It was a very important ruling by the court,” said the family’s attorney, John F. X. Costello. “Because that regulation was not complied with, this little girl was forced to cross the street.”
The Court of Special Appeals, however, said state law calls for the award to be reduced to the school board’s insurance policy limit, but not to less than $100,000. The board has the defense of sovereign immunity from damages for amounts greater, the court said in remanding the case to Prince George’s County Circuit Court to determine the award…

“Many of these governmental caps have not been adjusted in [many] years and are drawing the attention of the General Assembly,” said Maloney, of Joseph, Greenwald & Laake P.A. in Greenbelt.

…The Prince George’s County Circuit Court jury had found in April 2013 that the school board fatally breached its duty of care to Ashley Davis by not providing a school-bus stop on the same side of Brinkley Road as her home, thus requiring the freshman at Crossland High School in Temple Hills to cross the four-lane thoroughfare.

 Ashley was killed while crossing Brinkley Road on Sept. 1, 2009. The driver admitted no liability in reaching a $20,000 settlement with the family.
The jury, in finding the school board liable, concluded that Ashely was not contributory negligent…

…But the Court of Special Appeals reinstated the verdict, citing Maryland State Board of Education regulation 13A.06.07.13, which pertains to “Reporting and Operating Procedures.” Subsection C of the regulation states that “on four-lane highways, students shall be picked up and discharged on the side of the roadway where they reside.”
Subsection C is “designed to protect public-school students who ride county-provided buses to and from school from the risks associated with crossing a four-lane highway, including the risk of being hit by a car,” Judge Deborah S. Eyler wrote in the appellate court’s reported opinion filed Friday.
“As a public-school student living on a four-lane highway, in a school district in which the board had taken it upon itself to provide bus transportation to school, Ashley was within the specific class of people that [Subsection C] was designed to protect,” Eyler added. “And she suffered precisely the kind of injury that the regulation was intended to protect against. Accordingly, the board owed Ashley a legal duty of care to provide a bus stop on her side of Brinkley Road sufficient to support the duty element of a cause of action in negligence.”…

… Section 4-105 of the Maryland Education Article requires county school boards to have at least $100,000 in liability coverage. Section 5-518 of the Maryland Courts and Judicial Proceedings Article, titled “Immunity – County boards of education” provides that the boards “may raise the defense of sovereign immunity to any amount claimed above the limit of its insurance policy….”

Read more: http://thedailyrecord.com/2015/04/06/court-reinstates-verdict-sans-90m-award-in-teens-death/#ixzz3WrbIQi7M

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Prince George’s officials unveil suspicious five-year plan for school system.

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Prince George’s County School System CEO Kevin Maxwell is asking county residents to imagine a school system where 90 percent of students graduate on time, all graduates are college and career ready, and test scores meet or exceed the state average — goals he says are attainable by 2020 with increased funding.

“We will move this school system forward and be in the top 10 in the state by 2020,” Maxwell said after unveiling his 2020 Strategic Plan at the March 26 school board meeting, held at Suitland High School.

Over 100 people attended.

The Strategic Plan that Maxwell unveiled identifies five broad areas where improvement is needed to reach his 2020 goal — academics, workforce development, safe and modernized facilities, community engagement and organizational effectiveness — and the improvements needed to reach Maxwell’s 2020 goals.

Maxwell is asking for an additional $133 million in county funding to support the Strategic Plan, which he said is based on data obtained from his Transition Team report and numerous studies and surveys of the school system.

According to the Strategic Plan, additional funding would be used to develop a digital literacy program, expand full-day prekindergarten, expand Gifted and Talented, dual enrollment, career academy, foreign language and International Baccalaureate programs, increase teacher compensation and mentoring, expedite facilities maintenance and other initiatives.

To fund the increase, County Executive Rushern L. Baker III has proposed raising property taxes by 15 percent, and to raise the telecommunications tax from 8 to 12 percent. His budget is in the hands of the County Council, which must approve a budget by June 1.

“This is the end of a nearly two-year process, thousands of hours of research, discussion, reflection, designing and planning by over 100 subject matter experts at the school and central office level,” Maxwell said.

Maxwell pointed to last year’s 2.6 percentage point increase in the county graduation rate from 74.1 to 76.6, the highest in at least five years, as evidence the county can make consistent, measured progress toward its goals. The state’s four-year graduation rate is 86.4 percent.

“If we continue to grow at that rate, we should reach our goal in five years,” Maxwell said.

Shawn Joseph, deputy superintendent for teaching and learning, said the school system would report regularly to the public on what progress was being made.

“We will submit a formal report on our progress towards the 2020 goals, our lead indicators at the end of each year and will summarize the work of our strategy teams as we move forward,” Joseph said.

“We need to decide whether we are going to take this opportunity to move towards greatness … or whether or not we will settle for being good, but not great,” said school board chairman Segun Eubanks.

Upper Marlboro resident Tonya Wingfield said that in her experience, a strategic plan should have been released before the budget, which was approved by the board Feb. 24.

“This seems to be backwards,” Wingfield said. “Approving a budget and then scrambling to build a strategic plan to support that budget in any business environment is a formula for failure.”

>>> read more 

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Taking a swipe at the credit card cloud in Prince George’s.

School board decision to nix charge accounts was long overdue

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PGCPS Sasscer – System HQ

Elected officials’ use of credit cards has been like bad plumbing: every time Prince Georgians thought the problem was fixed, another leak seemed to pop up.

Many remember the audit of the Prince George’s County school board in 2000, when lax accounting and widespread abuse of expense accounts were revealed. Questions surfaced about some board members charging items that did not appear to be related to their board duties, overspending and using funds for items that could be considered campaign related.

Then, in 2006, The Washington Post identified credit card violations by then-county executive Jack Johnson and a few council members. In some cases, officials were late reimbursing — or failed to reimburse all together — the county for personal expenses they charged.

In 2013, Carletta Fellows resigned from the school board shortly after having her county-issued credit card revoked for reportedly using it on utility bills.

And just a few months ago, in October, the school board came under fire when the Post revealed board members’ use of board-issued cards for meals. Vice Chairwoman Carolyn M. Boston (Dist. 6), for example, charged a total of $190 in one day for a lunch and dinner. While the charges were allowed — credit card use is permitted for expenses related to board duties, to include working meals — the purchases understandably raised questions about spending responsibly. A state legislator has since made a proposal to ban giving credit cards to school board members.

Fortunately, the school board didn’t wait for this issue to drag out on a state stage. The board voted at its Jan. 22 meeting to change an amendment to ban the credit card use and plans to make a final vote on the decision Feb. 12.

“I think that doing this is the absolute right thing to do and I always have, regardless of media coverage. We don’t need [the cards], and the public has high expectations,” board Chairman Segun Eubanks said before the vote.

He’s right. It’s the right thing to do and it should have been done long ago. The County Council eliminated credit cards for elected officials shortly after the embarrassing revelations in 2011. It’s a shame the school board didn’t follow suit at the time, but it’s better late than never.

And it’s commendable that the board went a step further to limit the number of weekly meals for which board members could be reimbursed and placed price caps on the meals.

We applaud the school board for addressing this issue that has lingered for at least 15 years. Hopefully, officials will likewise keep a critical eye on reimbursements and other financial requests by officials to ensure the public’s high standards continue to be met.

>>> Read more 

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Prince George’s school board approves credit card ban.

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Prince George’s school board has the green light to cut up their credit cards after a unanimous Feb. 12 vote to adopt a reimbursement policy.

The new policy will take effect in April, said school board chairman Segun Eubanks.

The board decided to take action following of dollars in local meals on their board-issued credit cards.

Delegate Alonzo Washington (D-Dist. 22) of Hyattsville proposed House Bill 707 to the General Assembly that would take away the county-issued cards, but Washington said he would withdraw his legislation if the school board passed the ban themselves.

David Cahn, co-chair for the education watchdog “Citizens for an Elected Board,” commended the board for the move and said it was preferable for the board to ban the cards themselves.

“A lot of times, legislation like this is created to get the target of the legislation to do it voluntarily,” Cahn said.

The new policy also caps the amount board members can get reimbursed for local meals to $39 for dinner, and lesser amounts for breakfast and lunch, and limits the number of local work-related meals for which a board member may be reimbursed to two per week.

Board member Verjeana Jacobs (Dist. 5) motioned to amend the policy to allow board members to carry over unused amounts of their expense accounts to be donated to school-based programs in the following fiscal year, pending approval from the board.

Prior to Jacobs’ amendment, the revised policy stated that unspent funds could be donated to schools or school programs at the end of June, when schools are not in session, Jacobs said.

“So what happens is funds left over from this year will go over to next year, and that will give board members an opportunity to present to the board different activities or events or things that they feel are good for schools, and make recommendations for funds to go there,” Jacobs said.

Jacobs’ amendment was approved unanimously.

>>> Read more Gazette

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Black Lives Matter—at School, Too

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“Black lives matter! The EAA is killing me!” On December 5, students at Eastern Michigan University staged a die-in at their school’s Board of Regents meeting, after the board voted to continue its partnership with the Education Achievement Authority, the controversial state-run district which has taken over fifteen Detroit public schools since its inception in 2012. Almost two weeks later, on December 17, when Baltimore’s school board voted to shut down the first of five schools, high school students also staged a die-in, chanting, “Black lives matter!” and “The school board has failed us!” The board soon fled. Without missing a beat, the students took the commissioners’ chairs and held a community forum on the closures. The next day in an uncoordinated action in Philadelphia, public school student organizers staged a die-in in front of their district building, mourning the 2013 loss of 12-year-old Laporshia Massey, who died from an asthma attack after being sent home from a school with no nurse on duty.

Like most majority black school districts in America, the school districts of Baltimore, Detroit and Philadelphia regularly suffer school closures, high teacher attrition, understaffed schools and increasingly crowded classrooms. But while these deprivations are often written off as the inevitable result of urban white flight and depreciating tax bases, the reality is not so simple. In the neoliberal era, urban school districts’ financial woes have been aggravated by state takeovers, gratuitous budget cuts and wasteful privatization efforts. As black student activists nationwide have made clear in these recent demonstrations, public school austerity, like police brutality, is another form of racist state violence. Public school austerity, driven in part by the much-celebrated school reform movement, assaults these students’ central community institutions, crams them into over-policed schools, and reduces their education to preparation for the low wage workforce rather than democratic self-determination.

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