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Morning Poll: Cybercivility and MCPS

by Aaron Kraut | April 15, 2014 at 11:20 am | 99 views | No Comments

It started with a few students apparently cursing out and threatening MCPS Superintendent Joshua Starr on Twitter about a snow day.

A few days later, Starr wrote an open letter to all MCPS parents encouraging them to be aware of what their children were doing on internet social networks.

Now, MCPS is diving in on the issue of “cybercivility,” especially as it concerns school-aged kids and what their parents allow or don’t allow them to do on the internet.

On Thursday, April 24 from 7 p.m. to 8:30 p.m., MCPS will host a Cybercivility Community Forum at Richard Montgomery High School (250 Richard Montgomery Dr., Rockville). At the forum will be Andrea Weckerle, author of a book on the subject and founder and president of a nonprofit called CiviliNation, which cites its mission as “taking a stand for civil digital discourse.”

The school system has also started a Cybercivility Task Force it hopes will raise awareness and create ways for schools and parents to curb mean-spirited tweets, Facebook posts and other internet activity.

We ask you: Is cybercivility something that MCPS can achieve? Or, in the anonymous commenter-filled corners of the internet, is it a goal too far out of reach?

As always, feel free to expound on any opinions in the comments section below.

Video via myMCMedia

Rock Creek Hills School Opponents Prepared To Go To State’s Highest Court

by Aaron Kraut | April 14, 2014 at 9:20 am | 390 views | 4 Comments

One of the early site plans for the proposed middle school at the Rock Creek Hills Local ParkUndeterred by a Court of Special Appeals ruling against them, members of the Rock Creek Hills Citizens Association say they’re prepared to take their case against a middle school in their local park to the state’s highest court.

The neighborhood group is against the school system’s plan to to build a second Bethesda-Chevy Chase cluster middle school at the park (3701 Saul Rd.). MCPS says it needs the school to accommodate overcrowding at Westland Middle School and the planned reassignment of Grade 6 students from Chevy Chase and North Chevy Chase Elementary Schools.

Neighbors sued to block the school and maintain the 13.4-acre park. At issue was the manner in which the Maryland National Capital Park and Planning Commission (M-NCPPC) acquired the site from the Board of Education in 1990. At that time, the school system didn’t need the land.

A Montgomery County Circuit Court judge threw out the suit last April, saying the school system had the right to get the land back to build a new school. The Planning Board reluctantly transferred the land back to the Board of Education last July.

The Rock Creek Hills group appealed the Circuit Court decision. Earlier this month, the state’s Court of Special Appeals likewise threw out the suit.

But Citizens Association President Jim Pekar and member John Robinson said they consider the Court of Special Appeals’ findings to be “erroneous,” and they are prepared to file another appeal to the Court of Appeals, Maryland’s highest court:

Last week, a three-judge panel of the Court of Special Appeals, in Annapolis, released a ruling affirming the decision of the Circuit Court in Rockville, to dismiss our litigation seeking to enforce the law and protect Rock Creek Hills Park. The panel did not rule against our arguments that the proposed conversion of the Park is unlawful; instead, their ruling was based primarily on their finding that the appealing parties lack adjacent property owner and taxpayer standing.

Specifically, the Court of Special Appeals held that adjacent property owners lack adjacent property owner standing because the County’s option to reclaim the land for educational use was not a land-use related provision.

This week, the RCHCA Board held an emergency meeting. After reviewing the court’s ruling, and consulting with our counsel, we consider the findings of the Court of Special Appeals to be erroneous. This is particularly true given a March 27 decision of Maryland’s highest court, the Court of Appeals, which reached the opposite conclusion in a different case that dealt with similar issues. Given this, we are preparing a motion for reconsideration, asking the Court of Special Appeals to reconsider their decision on our standing in light of the recent Court of Appeals decision, and to rule on the merits of our case. Failing that, we are prepared to file an application for Certiorari to the Court of Appeals; that is, we are prepared to ask our State’s highest court to consider our case.

Your Board continues to believe that our case has considerable merit,and asks for your continued support in this matter.

In October, the Board of Education approved an agreement that would allow Montgomery Parks to continue to operate Rock Creek Hills Park as a park until construction started on the school. Construction for the unnamed middle school is slated to start in July 2015.

Despite the possibility of another appeal, it appears that opponents of the school realize they might be fighting a losing battle.

Last fall, Robinson told members of the Citizens Association that it would be a good idea to participate in design discussions about the school in order to get the best design for the building.

PTAs, Teachers Union Urge Council To Fully Fund MCPS Budget Request

by Aaron Kraut | April 11, 2014 at 1:25 pm | 84 views | 2 Comments

Walt Whitman High School, via MCPSParents and the county teachers union on Thursday urged the Montgomery County Council to add more school funding on top of what’s recommended in County Executive Isiah Leggett’s proposed FY 2015 operating budget.

Leggett last month recommended funding MCPS $26 million over the state-mandated minimum, the first time in six years he’s recommended going over that mark. But MCPS Superintendent Joshua Starr and the Board of Education are seeking funding that is $51.7 million over the maintenance of effort minimum.

It sets up what could be a tough negotiation and thorny political issue now that the budget is before the County Council.

County officials have argued the maintenance of effort law unfairly ties the hands of county governments by requiring counties to fund their school systems at the same per-pupil level as the previous fiscal year, or face fines and reduced state aid.

The Montgomery County Education Association (MCEA) will again distribute what’s thought to be a widely influential “Apple Ballot” of endorsed candidates during the primary election on June 24. On Thursday, MCEA President Doug Prouty told the Council that programs for the school system’s neediest students are at risk if the county doesn’t fund the budget to the level requested by MCPS.

“There is no issue of greater importance for MCEA and MCPS than closing the achievement gap and providing opportunities for all of our students,” Prouty said.

The MCEA has identified $3 million to buy new tablet technology, $1 million to reduce English and Math class sizes in high poverty high schools and $1.2 million to add counselors and school psychologists as specific investments that would be at risk.

Elise Browne Hughes, one of the PTA coordinators for the Whitman High School cluster, asked council members not to let their distaste of the maintenance of effort law prevent them from upping the amount of funding in the school budget.

“As you develop this budget, we urge you to consider the county executive’s recommendations for school funding as a starting point to build upon, with an aim to fully fund the Board of Education’s request,” Hughes said. “Now, it’s up to you to make the next move and approve an operating budget that does right by our children and schools. Don’t penalize them because you oppose a state law designed to protect public education in counties that neglect their local funding responsibilities — a designation so contrary to the values of Montgomery County.”

The Montgomery County Council of Parent-Teacher Associations (MCCPTA) began applying the political pressure even before Leggett officially released his recommended budget.

“I am optimistic that our local leaders will do right by our children and school. And I know the conclusions I am going to draw before I head to the ballot box in June if the school budget is not fully funded or if the conversations turn back again to MOE (Maintenance of Effort) this spring,” wrote MCCPTA President Janette Gilman in an open letter last month. “And I know 50,000+ Montgomery County PTA members — and registered voters — who will do exactly the same.”

The Council’s Education Committee is set to start its work on the MCPS budget on April 22.

UPDATED: MCPS To Make Up 2 Snow Days Under Approved Plan

by Aaron Kraut | April 2, 2014 at 11:00 am | 484 views | No Comments

MCPS Superintendent Joshua Starr (file photo)(Updated at 1 p.m.) Montgomery County school kids will have two extra days of classes after 10 class days were canceled this school year because of snow and wintry conditions.

MCPS announced the state-approved make-up plan on Wednesday.

The make-up days will be Monday, April 21 and Friday, June 13.

The school system had previously made April 21, known as Easter Monday, a no-school day. But with the state rejecting the school system’s request for a five-day waiver last week, MCPS followed the lead of other counties and decided to schedule a day of classes.

June 13 is one day later than the previously scheduled last day of school, meaning MCPS got a four-day waiver approved by State Superintendent Lillian Lowery. MCPS scheduled four extra days of classes in the schedule, in case of emergency closings:

“We appreciate Dr. Lowery’s recognition that this has been a very unusual winter and her willingness to grant us some flexibility in our calendar,” MCPS Superintendent Joshua Starr said in a press release. “By holding classes on April 21 and June 13, we can make up two valuable days of instruction without significantly disrupting our community’s summer schedules.”

June 13 will be an early-release day, according to MCPS. June 12, scheduled as an early-release day, will now be a full day of instruction.

State Denies MCPS Request For Snow Day Waivers

by Aaron Kraut | April 1, 2014 at 8:05 am | 619 views | 1 Comment

Snowy December day in BethesdaThe state superintendent of schools has denied Montgomery County’s request for a five-day waiver of snowed out school days, but said MCPS can resubmit a plan that would mean fewer school days missed.

On March 26, State Superintendent of Schools Lillian Lowery let MCPS know its request to waive five make-up days at the end of the school year would mean too much missed instructional time.

MCPS originally asked for a four-day waiver, but that was before the March 17 snow storm that meant a 10th day of no school because of snow. There are four extra days of instruction above the state minimum built into the MCPS calendar.

The four extra days and five-day waiver would have meant a school year extended just one extra day, making the last day of school June 13, 2014.

In a letter to MCPS Superintendent Joshua Starr, Lowery asked MCPS to come up with a proposal that would mean more class time:

I note that in the school calendar provided to the Maryland State Department of Education, your school system as developed a school contingency calendar for this school year, which would extend your calendar by up to nine days should your system be disrupted by emergencies and school closures. The student calendar has been extended by one day, making the last day of school June 13, 2014.

Your request does not demonstrate an effort to modify the school calendar to make up for lost instructional time. Therefore, I must deny your request. As you deem appropriate, you may resubmit your request in light of the expectations cited above.

The state last week also rejected a five-day waiver request from Anne Arundel County.

So don’t act on those mid-June vacation or summer camp plans just yet. MCPS went back to the drawing board on Monday and hopes to have a quick resolution:

MCPS Superintendent Joshua P. Starr said he will consult with the Board of Education to consider other options before deciding whether to submit a modified waiver request. He said a decision about whether to submit such a request would be made early this week and the state has indicated they would respond quickly.  Once MCPS knows how many days of instruction it will have to make up, parents, students, staff, and community members will be notified of any changes to the calendar.

MCPS Says It’s Doing A Lot To Make School Menus Healthier

by Aaron Kraut | March 17, 2014 at 10:15 am | 327 views | 1 Comment

Photo via Real Food for Kids-MontgomeryIn response to a push for more scratch-cooked meals and unlimited fruits and vegetables in cafeterias, MCPS says it already is doing a lot to make school menus healthier.

But cost concerns and the “misconception” that MCPS menu items such as pizza and hot dogs are junk food mean large-scale changes recommended by Real Food for Kids-Montgomery are unlikely.

Those recommendations got support from County Councilmembers George Leventhal and Craig Rice last week. The two will lead a discussion of healthier food options in MCPS in a Thursday hearing with Superintendent Joshua Starr, Division of Food and Nutrition Services Director Marla Caplon and Board of Education members Shirley Brandman and Patricia O’Neill.

On Friday, Starr penned a letter to Leventhal and Rice explaining why MCPS feels some of the recommendations aren’t feasible.

On the idea of adding more scratch-cooked food (or menu items that don’t use processed and pre-packaged ingredients) MCPS said food preparation at its Central Production Facility is key to being able to afford a food program for such a large school system:

Menus planned and meals served by DFNS (Division of Food and Nutrition Services) exceed the USDA guidelines and are intended to provide a variety of menu items that are acceptable to a diverse student population. Choices on the menus must be appealing to students and also must be affordable.

The Central Production Facility was built in 1995 and was designed to provide nutritious meals with standardized quality meeting stringent food safety standards, while controlling labor costs. Centralizing the food preparation provides cost avoidance in utilities, space, equipment, and services associated with operating fully functioning kitchens in schools. Many items prepared in the Central Production Facility are from scratch, including entree salads, soups, salad dressings, casseroles, several entree items, and baked poultry items.

MCPS officials again took umbrage to Real Food for Kids’ labeling of items such as double-stuffed pizza as fast food:

The terminology of “junk food” used by the Real Food for Kids-Montgomery is subjective. There is a misconception that food items served in schools are the same as what would be found in a commercial restaurant. MCPS has specific standards for food items that limit the fat and sodium content. For example, pizza served in MCPS has a whole grain crust and is low in sodium and fat.

Hot dogs, served on a whole grain bun, are a turkey product to reduce the fat content. Hamburgers are low in fat and sodium and are served on whole grain buns. Chicken nuggets have a whole grain breading and are baked, not fried.

The Board of Education is scheduled to discuss the school meals program in June, a discussion that will include the cost of making changes to the program.

Starr said MCPS has added $516,000 to the DFNS budget to include whole grains in meals and $560,000 to make more fruits and vegetables available.

As for the idea of a salad bar in each school that would provide unlimited fruits and vegetables, MCPS said it already provides fresh fruits and vegetables in each lunch line. It also cited a federal law that requires school meals have a minimum and maximum number of calories:

The Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 stipulates that meals must have a minimum and maximum number of calories. Permitting students to take unlimited quantities of fruits and vegetables would put us out of compliance for the caloric requirements and does not support the importance of a balanced meal with appropriate serving sizes.

The joint Council Health and Human Services and Education Committee hearing is set for 10 a.m. Thursday in Rockville.

Photo via Real Food for Kids-Montgomery

MCPS Asks For Waiver Over Extra Snow Days

by Aaron Kraut | March 14, 2014 at 4:10 pm | 876 views | 4 Comments

MCPSMCPS on Thursday applied for a waiver from having to extend the school year by five days because of this winter’s many snow days.

Superintendent Joshua Starr appealed to Maryland Superintendent of Schools Lillian Lowery for permission to cut the 2013-2014 school year short of the state-required 180 days of instruction. MCPS would instead extend the school year by just one day, for a new last day of school on June 13.

MCPS built in 184 days of instruction to account for possible school cancelations because of inclement weather. But there have been nine days of school canceled this winter because of snow and ice.

That would mean the school year needs to be extended by five days, from June 12 to June 19.

In his waiver request, Starr said MCPS would still meet the required number of instructional hours required if the state waives the four days.

MCPS has received such waivers in the past.

MCCPTA Puts Pressure On County To Raise School Funding

by Aaron Kraut | March 14, 2014 at 3:25 pm | 127 views | No Comments

MCPS Superintendent Joshua StarrMontgomery County PTA members and local elected officials got along swimmingly last week when they joined together in Annapolis to lobby for more school construction funding from the state.

Now, the Montgomery County Council of Parent-Teacher Associations (MCCPTA) wants to make sure County Executive Isiah Leggett and members of the County Council give MCPS what it wants in next year’s operating budget.

They began to apply the pressure Friday. Leggett will announce his recommended FY 2015 operating budget on Monday.

In an open letter to Leggett and the County Council released Friday, the MCCPTA praised the “unity in support of our schools,” officials showed with the capital budget. It then cautioned those same leaders that votes in this June’s primary are on the line when it comes to how the county handles its upcoming operating budget:

Our county executive and members of the county council will soon demonstrate if they deeply support schools and students or not.  Not only when state money is involved, but when the local money over which they have sole authority is on the line.  Parents and children don’t want to hear arguments about ceiling and floors, at least not in the context of budgets; we want to hear about responsible restoration, starting in FY 2015, of funding slashed over the past decade.  We want to see an alignment of rhetoric and revenue.

At issue again could be the state’s Maintenance of Effort (MOE) law that requires local governments to fund its school system at a certain level each fiscal year.

The county’s Board of Education approved an operation budget request of $2.32 billion from MCPS Superintendent Joshua Starr last month. That would be a roughly 4 percent increase from last year’s MCPS operating budget of $2.2 billion and $51.7 million, or 2.3 percent, above the minimum amount required by state law.

County officials have argued the MOE law unfairly ties the hands of county governments by requiring counties to fund their school systems at the same level as the previous fiscal year or face fines and reduced state aid. Leggett recommended funding MCPS at the MOE level last year. Starr had requested more.

The Council will deliberate any potential changes to Leggett’s recommended budget over the next few months. In the letter, MCCPTA President Janette Gilman said votes will be on the line:

I am optimistic that our local leaders will do right by our children and school.  And I know the conclusions I am going to draw before I head to the ballot box in June if the school budget is not fully funded or if the conversations turn back again to MOE (Maintenance of Effort) this spring.  And I know 50,000+ Montgomery County PTA members-and registered voters-who will do exactly the same.

Food Fight Could Be Brewing Over MCPS Cafeteria Options

by Aaron Kraut | March 12, 2014 at 3:05 pm | 385 views | No Comments

The modified MCPS elementary school menu for January, via Real Food for Kids-MontgomeryA pair of County Council members on Monday put their support behind a list of recommendations for more healthy food options in MCPS, but the school system is already offering some pushback.

Councilmembers Craig Rice and George Leventhal sent a letter to MCPS Superintendent Joshua Starr saying the Board of Education should enact policies for unlimited fruits, vegetables or salad bars, remove dangerous chemical additives from all menu items and provide more scratch-cooked food — meaning dishes that don’t use processed and pre-packaged ingredients.

The recommendations come from Real Food for Kids – Montgomery, a nonprofit that was key in getting MCPS to ban strawberry milk and that quarreled with MCPS over snow day-influenced menu changes that meant two days of double-stuffed pizza in elementary schools during one week in January.

“We believe these changes would go far in improving student health and would encourage smarter, healthier food choices,” the letter from Rice and Leventhal read. “MCPS is usually on the forefront of student nutrition and we are certain headway on some or all of these fronts is already underway. It is important that the lines of communication stay open when discussing such issues.”

Marla Caplon, director of MCPS Food and Nutrition Services, told The Gazette the idea of offering unlimited fresh fruits and vegetables would be “absolutely impossible,” because of costs. Plus all meals already include a fruit and vegetable option, Caplon added.

That set off this back and forth on Twitter between One Montgomery, a community group seeking to improve county schools, and MCPS public information officer Dana Tofig.

“We are continually assessing what we’re able to offer to students, given the available funds,” Tofig wrote. “We’ve made many improvements.”

The cost issue is almost certain to come up at a joint hearing of the Council’s Health and Human Services and Education Committees on March 20, when MCPS officials are expected to discuss the topic.

Real Food for Kids – Montgomery has also pushed the recommendations on the state level:

In addition, Senator Jamie Raskin and Delegate Jeff Waldstreicher sent a letter to Robin Ziegler, Chief of the Community and School Nutrition Programs Branch at the Maryland State Department of Education, emphasizing that the same priorities be included in the forthcoming Maryland Management and Operations Memorandum that her department is working on. Many thanks to these elected officials who are working on behalf of families in Montgomery County and the entire state.

In the scuffle over double-stuffed pizza, Caplon said MCPS and Real Foods had a fundamental disagreement on the nutritional quality of the popular cafeteria menu item.

Caplon said Real Food’s characterization of double stuffed pizza as “fast food” was wrong. MCPS lists the item as having fewer than 300 calories.

Local Test Prep Instructor Talks SAT Changes

by Aaron Kraut | March 11, 2014 at 2:30 pm | 242 views | 7 Comments

SAT scantron sheetWhen College Board President David Coleman announced changes to the SAT tests last week, he also took aim at the multi-million dollar test prep industry with pointed comments about “tricks and tips” used to outsmart the widely used college admissions test.

Harriet Broder has been doing SAT test prep for more than 35 years and her Potomac-based Breakthrough Test Prep company has a client base of area students from many local public and private schools.

To Broder, the College Board’s latest change to the SAT doesn’t change much and Coleman’s take on test prep doesn’t cover the full picture.

“I couldn’t sleep at night if I were just helping people one day in their life,” Broder said. “You have to teach credible skills.”

That means reading comprehension, reading efficiency and a mindset going into the SAT test that Broder said many students don’t have.

“They go into it thinking they’re the victim and they’re being tricked,” Broder said. “You have to change your intention from, ‘I always do poorly on the reading passages,’ to something more positive. All the tips and tricks will fall through the cracks if that belief system of, ‘I’m going to do well on this test,’ is not in place.”

Changes to the SAT test starting in spring 2016 will include an optional essay. The existing essay section will be removed and the test will go back to a 1600 point scale with 800 points possible for the reading section and 800 points possible for the math section. The so-called guessing penalty, for which points are deducted for wrong answers, will be no more.

Each exam will include a reading passage from a founding document such as the Declaration of Independence or Bill of Rights or from a popular discussion of those texts. The College Board used Martin Luther King Jr.’s “Letter From the Birmingham Jail” as an example. The vocabulary words will also change.

Breakthrough Test Prep owner and instructor Harriet BroderOn her blog, Broder wrote the changes are just the latest in a long line of College Board reforms because of outside pressure. In this case, observers say the SAT making the changes at least in part because more and more students are choosing to take the competing ACT.

“It’s all about the money,” Broder said of the College Board’s intentions.

As for how she will prepare her students, Broder said not a lot will change.

Broder goes through a consultation process with interested students and their parents: First an 11-question either/or survey to see if the student would rather take the SAT or ACT. Broder also gauges how much the student reads, what she said is a critical factor in how prepared that student is for the reading section of the SAT.

“Kids don’t read anymore. It’s not an acceptable pastime,” Broder said. “It doesn’t matter whether they put passages from the founding fathers or the ‘Letter From the Birmingham Jail.’ Kids still have to know how to improve their reading efficiency and comprehension.”

Broder does that with reading recall drills and quizzes, skills she said students have told her help into college and beyond. She also has a math prep instructor. She said the best time to start test prep is the summer before junior year.

And even before the changes, Broder said the SAT and ACT are testing skills that go beyond memorizing complex vocabulary words on flash cards.

“I believe that these tests do measure something valid about how the student reads and how the student problem solves,” Broder said. “This test is not so much about what you know, but how you are able to deal with what you know.”

Photo via Breakthrough Test Prep

Once Again, Underdog Whitman Makes Trip To Basketball Semifinals

by Aaron Kraut | March 11, 2014 at 9:15 am | 367 views | No Comments

Photos via Alan Goodwin (@Whitprincipal)

In 2006, a Whitman boys basketball team nobody gave much thought to upset Montgomery County power Magruder before shocking an Eleanor Roosevelt team of several Division-I prospects in the state championship game at the Comcast Center.

On Thursday, Coach Chris Lun will have his Vikings back in Comcast — one step away from another surprise Class 4A state title.

“It is similar to 2006 in that no one expected us to be there,” Lun said. “But our team always believed in themselves and we are playing our best basketball of the season at the right time.”

For Lun, it’s a bit of a trip down memory lane. Then, like now, he had a team dedicated to defense and ball movement. Whitman held Roosevelt to 38 points in the 2006 championship game, what longtime Washington Post prep sports writer Josh Barr wrote was “one of the biggest upsets in Maryland tournament history.”

Then, unlike now, Whitman also had a true star player. Senior guard Michael Gruner led Montgomery County in scoring that season with 19.9 points per game. Thanks in large part to the state title — Whitman’s first — Lun was named the Post’s boys Coach of the Year. Gruner was named to the All-Met team.

Some of the other guys on that team: Greivis Vasquez, Georgetown-bound guards Austin Freeman and Chris Wright and a lanky 6-foot-8 forward named Kevin Durant.

Whitman boys basketball coach Chris Lun is in search of his second Class 4A state title, via Whitman AthleticsThe scoring load on this season’s team is more spread out. Josh Fried, a 6-foot-7 senior center, had 19 points, 13 rebounds and three blocks in Whitman’s region final win against Clarksburg on Friday. Sophomore guard Kyle Depollar had 16 points and went 9-of-10 from the free throw line in the second half.

Max Steinhorn provides steady play at point guard and Adam Lowet, Ben Castagnetti and Adam Joel are “good program guys,” Lun said. Riley Shaver and Jake Kuhn also contribute in the backcourt.

“To most people, we are probably underdogs at Comcast,” Lun said.

Whitman will play Annapolis at 7 p.m. on Thursday in the first Class 4A semifinal. If Whitman advances, they’ll play the winner of the game between perennial Montgomery County power Springbrook and Henry A. Wise, the Upper Marlboro school ranked No. 3 in the area by the Post.

To get to the region final on Friday, the Vikings on Thursday had to beat division winner Blair, which beat Whitman twice in two close regular season games. The 60-48 win at Blair, a night after barely beating Richard Montgomery, came thanks to a 34-22 second-half advantage.

“It was a very good team performance. We played unselfish and made big time plays in crunch time. It was a big win for us,” Lun said.

With a trip to Comcast coming Thursday, maybe a repeat of eight years ago is in the cards.

“We are going to show up, compete hard, play like a team and see what happens,” Lun said. “I have so much belief in our guys, I’m just proud to coach them and can’t wait for Thursday.”

Photos via Alan Goodwin (@Whitprincipal) and Whitman Athletics

PTA Parents, Students Use Lobbying Night To Push For More School Money in Annapolis

by Aaron Kraut | March 7, 2014 at 9:25 am | 326 views | 2 Comments

The yellow hats trickled into the room Thursday night, until the conference room of the Taylor House Office Building in Annapolis was wall-to-wall PTA parents and their kids.

“When Montgomery County comes down, we come down guns blazing,” said Del. Kirill Reznik (D-Germantown), who spoke to a group of Maryland PTA and state education officials.

On the official PTA lobbying night in Annapolis, the estimated 250-350 people who rode buses and drove in from Montgomery County stressed their support for more state funding of school construction in MCPS.

They wore mock yellow hard hats and went through talking point after talking point about why the county — growing at the rate of roughly 2,000 students a year — needs more state funding to address overcrowding schools.

A bill in the House that would provide up to $20 million in state construction funding a year to the “big three” counties doesn’t have enough votes from those outside the delegations of Montgomery, Baltimore and Prince George’s Counties. It also faced a not so encouraging response in a committee hearing Thursday.

“Things that are big in Annapolis, they take time,” Montgomery County House Delegation leader Anne Kaiser cautioned, implying again that winning support for a school construction package for Montgomery County might be a multi-year process.

It doesn’t mean school supporters aren’t going to try this year. With about half the session remaining, the Montgomery County Council of Parent-Teacher Associations (MCCPTA) chartered MCPS school buses from five locations in the county.

Those parents and students learned of the difficulty county legislators face when asking representatives from other jurisdictions to support money for Montgomery County schools.

(more…)

Last School Day For MCPS Could Be Moved To June 19

by Aaron Kraut | March 6, 2014 at 11:15 am | 348 views | No Comments

Snowy December day in BethesdaSome folks might have to delay those summer vacations if MCPS decides not to apply for a snow day waiver from the state, or does apply but is denied.

The school system on Thursday spelled out where it stands in regard to the rest of the 2013-2014 school year calendar.

The original calendar, with room for four snow days built in, has the last day of school on June 12. MCPS has canceled nine days of school because of snow and inclement winter weather.

Because of Maryland’s requirement for at least 180 days of instruction, MCPS could be on the hook for five extra days of classes and would move the last day of school to Thursday, June 19.

So what about that waiver?

The Maryland State Department of Education has not yet begun accepting applications for a waiver of the 180-day requirement. When they do, MCPS will decide whether to apply for a waiver, and how many days it will seek to have waived.

A big factor could be any additional snow days in the coming weeks. MCPS has received snow day waivers before.

The MCPS press release sounds an optimistic tone, at least for two of the five overflow snow days:

The fact that Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley declared a state of emergency on February 13 and 14 may make it more likely that a waiver would be granted for these snow days, but it is not guaranteed. The district would still need to apply for such a waiver.

MoCo Rallying Support For School Construction With SSL Hours

by Aaron Kraut | March 4, 2014 at 3:25 pm | 116 views | No Comments

State House in Annapolis, Flickr photo by richandaliceMontgomery County is offering Student Service Learning hours to students who head to Annapolis on Thursday night for a planned lobbying push for state school construction funding.

The Montgomery County Council of Parent-Teacher Associations (MCCPTA) is sponsoring a legislative reception from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. and has chartered buses from five locations in the county for the parents and students. The MCCPTA, with approval from MCPS, is offering three SSL hours to each student who come along, provided they stay for the 8 p.m.-8:30 p.m. session.

Montgomery County lawmakers have partnered with legislators in Prince George’s and Baltimore Counties to push for a state bill that would provide up to $20 million each year to fund a portion of school construction projects or project debt for the three large school systems.

“Montgomery County needs the State of Maryland to step up with a matched program for resources over and above what the County normally receives,” read an email sent from the county on Tuesday as part of its school construction funding campaign.

County Executive Isiah Leggett, Council President Craig Rice, MCPS Superintendent Joshua Starr and Board of Education President Phil Kauffman are all set to lobby at the event, which will be held in the Lowe House Office Building, 6 Bladen Street, Room 170.

MCPS has grown by about 2,000 students a year and is projected to grow by about 25,000 students over the next 12 years. County leaders say Montgomery deserves state support in easing overcrowding concerns. Leggett recommended $1.1 billion of school construction funding in his latest capital budget and the county says its own funding for construction has increased by 36 percent.

But the bills — cross-filed in the Senate and House — face an uphill battle. County officials have blamed election-year politics for the efforts apparent failure so far to gain enough traction for approval.

The MCCPTA has said it expects about 300 to 400 parents at the advocacy event on Thursday.

Students who go to Annapolis must be accompanied by a parent, whether they go on MCCPTA buses or individually.

Kimberly Bloch-Rincan, the SSL coordinator for MCPS, wrote that advocacy activities are appropriate for SSL hours and that MCCPTA is a SSL approved nonprofit:

- Official MCCPTA representatives will ensure that all 3 phases of SSL are implemented (i.e. the preparation and reflection phases of SSL will occur on the bus and supervision during the action
phase in Annapolis)
- Students are encouraged to ride the MCPS buses to the event and must be accompanied by their
parent
- Students are not encourage to drive in individual cars but if they do, they must meet the MCPS
buses in the parking lot to join the MCCPTA group in order be supervised and to receive the
necessary paperwork

One of the buses will leave from Whitman High School. Councilmember Roger Berliner will be on that bus.

For information on the MCCPTA buses, visit this site.

Flickr photo by richandalice

Starr Recommends Putting Walter Reed Kids Back At Bethesda Elementary

by Aaron Kraut | February 26, 2014 at 11:25 am | 396 views | No Comments

Walter Reed National Military Medical Center (file photo)MCPS Superintendent Joshua Starr wants kids of wounded veterans living at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center re-assigned to Bethesda Elementary School.

Starr made the recommendation in this week’s Board of Education meeting, after an advisory group of parents and base officials concluded re-assigning students who live on the base would not make much of a difference when it comes to school capacity problems.

Horace Franklin, the school liaison officer at Naval Support Activity Bethesda (NSAB), testified in front of the BOE in November about a realignment of elementary school boundaries that would have split the students between Rosemary Hills Elementary and North Chevy Chase Elementary.

Those students have been going to Bethesda Elementary for years, according to Franklin, who said the move would cause further disruption for kids who already “experienced the life changing injuries of their parents.”

For this school year, MCPS granted the 12 elementary school students from the base a transfer back to Bethesda Elementary School.

The advisory group that looked at the issue and Starr both recommended the reassignment of NSAB to Bethesda Elementary School, citing the low numbers of students the base generates:

Because the enrollment impact is minor and school capacities are adequate, my recommendation is based on what is in the best interest of the small number of students residing at NSAB. I am, therefore, recommending Advisory Committee Option #2—the reassignment of NSAB from Rosemary Hills and North Chevy Chase elementary schools to Bethesda Elementary School. As all elementary school students residing on the base already attend Bethesda Elementary School, this recommendation can be adopted effective immediately upon Board of Education action on March 24, 2014.

Bethesda Elementary is 109 students over capacity this year and is projected to be 110 over capacity next school year. It’s expected to get under capacity by 2015-2016 thanks to a classroom addition project and other reassignments.

North Chevy Chase and Rosemary Hills aren’t much better in terms of capacity issues. Both are at least 130 students over capacity and awaiting addition projects to help ease overcrowding.

The Board of Education will have a public hearing on Starr’s recommendation on March 11 with a vote set for March 24.

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