Archive for March 2011
“We worry about what a child will become tomorrow, yet we forget that he/she is someone today.” –Stacia Tauscher
I urge you, if you have not yet become involved, to get informed about the Prince George’s County Public Schools (PGCPS) FY 2012 budget. It was adopted by the School Board on February 24, 2011, but it’s not final yet. It must be approved by County Council, who will hold public hearings in May before they vote on the final budget for FY 2012. It will take every one of us attending, armed with the facts, to point out the unaddressed concerns in the School Board’s budget. It does not put children first, so we are going to have to do the heavy lifting to make sure that happens before July 1. Please stay engaged, and save the date for a forum where we will discuss our questions about the PGCPS budget on Thursday, May 5, beginning at 7pm at Mt. Ennon Baptist Church. Another date will be announced this week for a public forum in a mid-county location. Stay tuned.
OUR QUESTIONS REGARDING THE PROPOSED 2012 BUDGET
Submitted by Concerned Citizens of Prince George’s County
The School Board should provide justification for how the following increases in administrative expenditures are: 1) directly related to providing school-based services; and 2) their direct link to meeting Goals 1,2 & 3 of the Master Plan.
- Increase of 446,380 in Board expenses to: add board members to the health plan, reinstate a position in the Internal Audit department and increase contractual services to support legal and auditing fees?
Expenditure Cost: 3,990.264 increased from 3,643,884
- Increase in the Office of the Superintendent
a. Increase of 365,909 to add the Ombudsman Office to include 1 Executive Liaison, 2 officers and 3 secretaries. Two secretaries are dedicated to the Superintendent.
b. Increase of 532,888 in Communications due to reorganization to include an increase of 6 FTEs.
Expenditure Cost: 1,586,643 increased from 1053,755
- Increase of 717,377 million in the Office of the General Counsel to include 728,802 in contractual services and and a $10,203 increase in salary despite cuts in personnel. Proposed staff 7 which includes 4 attorneys, 1 officers, 1 admin assistant and 1 admin support specialist
Expenditure Cost: 1,945,640 increased from 1,228,263
- Increases in the office of the Deputy Superintendent of Schools.
a. Increase of 23,716 in the office of the Deputy Superintendent for salary and benefit adjustments. Proposed staff 3, which includes 2 secretaries.
Expenditure Cost: 481,291 increased from 457,575
b. Increase of $122,041 for Pupil Accounting and School Boundaries for the reversal of furloughs, change in employee benefits and support payment of tuition to other Maryland LEA’s
Expenditure Cost: 1,480.084 increased from 1,358,643
- Increase of 3,216,855 for Other Fixed Charges in the Division of Business Management Services.
Expenditure Cost: 54,298,090 increased from 51,081,235
- Increase of 53,139 in the Division of Human Services for adjustments in salaries and benefits.
Expenditure Cost: 593,604 increased from 570,112 in Chief Administrator’s office
Expenditure Cost: 149,876 increase in salaries and wages despite no increase on FTEs
Expenditure Cost: $16,628,783 allocation for newly created Human Capital Management. Explanation of titles and duties of proposed FTEs
- Increases in the Division of Performance Management:
• Expenditure Cost: 298,643 in salaries and wages for two FTEs. An increase of 63,291.
• Expenditure Cost: Increase of 211,335 for Enterprise Project Management.
• Expenditure Cost: Increase of 69,598 for Research and Evaluation.
• Expenditure Cost: Increase of 41,971 for Strategic Planning & Grants Development
- Increase in Division of Student Services
• Expenditure Cost: Increase of 298,164 in contracted services for Chief Administrator’s office.
• Expenditure Cost: Increase of 743,915 for the movement of one position and addition of 1 FTE.
• Expenditure Cost: Increase of 2,485,629 for Student Engagement over the FY 2011 approved budget. The increase is due to the change in the calculation of employee benefit plan selection despite a decrease of 9 FTEs.
- Increase in the Division of the Academics
a. Increase in contractual services for the Chief Academic Officer?
Expenditure Cost: 61,533 increased from 8,533
b. Increase in supplies and materials for the Chief Academic Officer?
Expenditure Cost: 267,911 increased from 4,911
c. Allocated 3,072,546 salaries and benefits 506,191 in contracted services and 531,136 in Other Operating Expenses for Interscholastic Athletics?
Justification for how the following are: 1) more beneficial over school-based services and personnel; and 2) their direct link to meeting Goals 1,2 & 3 of the Master Plan.
- What are the specific steps the BOE is taking to streamline the administrative costs to ensure that school-based services and staff are fully funded in support of local school’s School Improvement Plan.
- Four secretaries between the Office of the Superintendent and Office of the Deputy Superintendent? Expenditure Cost: Unknown
- What is the breakdown of the student count required for all funding formulas? (i.e., Bridge to Excellence is based on full-time student enrollment)
- Based on the Pupil Population history provided in the Proposed 2012 Budget, since SY 2005, we have lost 12,163 full-time students. How are these students’ categorized? What services are we improving to reduce this continuous decline in enrollment?
- What is the advantage of the department of Pupil Accounting & Boundaries reporting directly to the Deputy Superintendent vs office of the Chief Financial Officer since the accurate reporting of enrollment directly impacts funding?
- Based on the mission of the internal auditing department would it be more practical to merge these duties between the Divisions of Human Resources and Chief Financial Officer?
- What are fixed charges?
- What are the specific items covered under capital outlay? How was the money in that category utilized last year?
- Under Non-Departmental expenditures what is included in the lease purchase cost of 40,301,397; an increase of 12, 266,736 over FY2011. Also, please explain the Other Insurance cost for 126,750 which is 60,724 over SY 2011 and Excess Property which increased by 1 million dollars.
POSSIBLE RECOMMENDATIONS FOR REDIRECTING FUNDING TO SCHOOL-BASED SERVICES
- Reduce the 8 Division levels to 3: Associate Superintendent (Academics); Chief of Staff (Central Office) and Chief Operating Officer (BOE).
- Classify departments based on their direct relation to providing school-based services. Funding priorities would then first focus on areas that are closest to providing school-based services; thus ensuring we keep Children First.
- Central Office staff hired after SY 2005 – 35% salary decrease of those making over $100,000; and 10% reduction for those making $60,00 -100,000.
- Require all proposed funded positions indicate the incumbent; contracted services indicate the vendors and contract amount and previous SY denotes the actual expenditure; not the approved.
- Restrict health and life insurance benefits to employees of the Board of Education; excluding school board members.
- Reduce the Internal Audit department to one FTE assigned to the Board office
- Appoint an Ombudsman to the Board Office.
On February 23, I submitted a public records request regarding the total expenses for the Council Retreat that occurred January 10-12, 2011 at the Hyatt Regency in Cambridge, MD. It took the full 30 days to fulfill my request (as County staff are required to do, by law), but at 4:15 p.m. yesterday, the Council’s Legislative Officer finally provided the documents that provided a summary of expenses for the Council’s Retreat. As Council Chairwoman Turner reported back in January, it did cost in the range of $10,000-$15,000. Here’s a summary:
Hyatt Room, Tax, & Resort Fees: $6074.85
According to the details I received, this amount represents the total cost of 39 room nights, at an average of $155.77 per night. A total of 43 room nights were paid in advance, and although I have not received final confirmation from the Council’s staff, I did speak with Councilman Mel Franklin, who stated that he did not stay at the hotel. He chose to decline the offer to save the County money. Good for him. Because of his thriftiness and a couple of extra room nights, the hotel refunded $1,256.71 to the County. I am following up to find out why these four room nights averaged $314 per night, which is more than double the average of the rest of the rooms. Perhaps a few executive suites were a part of that package.
The room nights occupied by Council members represent 16 total room nights (two nights for each of eight Council members who stayed at the hotel). Assuming Council members brought at least one staff person for the two-night stay, that bumps up the total to 32 room nights. That leaves seven additional room nights paid for by the County, but I am not entirely sure who stayed in those rooms, because the Council staff informed me that the rooms were paid for as a block, and they couldn’t provide a list of persons that stayed in the rooms.
Banquet Charges: $3,698.97
These charges represent the two continental breakfasts, two lunches, and one dinner Council was served at the hotel. I’ll let you be the judge of whether or not that seems like a reasonable price to pay for meals when you travel.
Council Reimbursement: $34 (for valet parking for Councilwoman Andrea Harrison)
No other Council members submitted a request for reimbursement. One staff person requested a mileage reimbursement of $56. I’m perfectly okay with that. You can decide for yourself whether Harrison’s request for reimbursement on valet parking her County vehicle seems reasonable. If you live in her district, you can tell her yourself. I don’t live there, but I am proud that my District 9 Councilman did not incur that kind of expense.
Water’s Edge Restaurant: $3093.67
This is the final bill for the Council’s dinner with County Executive Rushern Baker. I don’t know about you, but that’s quite a costly meal for 10 people (Nine Council members, one County Executive). Perhaps additional staff were also invited to dine with them and that explains the hefty total. However, even if more attended, does this really demonstrate the kind of government spending that Council should authorize for itself while County employees are still being furloughed, wages are frozen, and more service cuts are on the way?
As a taxpayer, this is your bank account that’s represented by their spending. These are your tax dollars funding a “bonding” session for Council at an extravagant resort outside the County. If a $3,000 dinner is a normal expense for our County Executive and County Council members, perhaps they should take out their own pocketbooks and write a check for it. It’s this kind of arrogance within our political establishment that has residents truly outraged.
Lots of news has been coming out of Prince George’s County this week, and I didn’t want you to overlook critical pieces of information that the media has been reporting over the last few days. I do not have time to provide extensive commentary on every issue that has emerged, because like many of you, I am a senior government professional who works full time, runs a household, parents two small children, and participates in a myriad of activities related to these responsibilities.
Here’s my quick take on what the mainstream media did not discuss about the headlines over the past week, and if you’d like more of my quips on a regular basis, follow me on Twitter:
- Transition Team Submits Report to County Executive: Last Friday, the Transition Team submitted a 185-page report to the County Executive, with detailed recommendations for improving County government. While I have not read the entire report (but will do so with a comprehensive blog post to come soon), the transition team emphasized the importance of developing a more streamlined, open government. One tiny problem that conflicts with that message, as initially reported by Miranda Spivack’s blog in the Washington Post, is that former transition team leader Wayne Curry stepped down earlier this year to become President of the Michael Companies, one of the leading real estate firms in the county. I read this news in an earlier version of Ms. Spivack’s blog, but it’s no longer there. Maybe the information was inaccurate, or not yet ready for public announcement, but I found it odd that she removed it. Nevertheless, given that Curry encouraged Baker to make several key appointments from his former administration, it seems to present an immediate challenge to Baker’s ethics as Curry will now be representing a major developer’s interests within the county and directly to many of his appointed leaders who owe him. Stay tuned, and if you can, help me figure out why this has not been covered within the mainstream media yet.
- Baker’s Appointed Leader to Housing Agency Has Troubled Past: One of the most important appointments Baker had to make was selecting a qualified, ethical leader who could lead the Housing and Community Development Agency out of the disgraceful shadows of its past. Chief among its dirty laundry were millions of dollars returned to HUD from unspent grant funds and a former director who is now implicated in Jack Johnson’s alleged bribery scandals. So, given these circumstances, one would think that he should conduct an extensive background check of any individual’s history before deciding on an appointment of a new leader. However, it’s clear from reports earlier this week that Eric C. Brown had a checkered past. Out of 860,000+ talented residents living in one of the wealthiest, most educated counties in the country, I’m shocked that we couldn’t find any homegrown talent with a clean work history and outstanding record of accomplishment to lead this agency. What’s worse, Baker’s own spokesman attempts to dismiss it by simply saying they had conducted an extensive search and he was the best candidate. Really? I’m sure it was no accident they moved the budget announcement up a day once they heard that the Post was reporting this poor decision by Baker.
- Jack Johnson Arraigned: Johnson’s speech to reporters on Tuesday, following his arraignment, proves that he is in serious denial about the criminal activities he was engaged in. And yes, I’m not saying “alleged,” because his attorney’s intent to throw out evidence from federal wiretaps just proves to me that it presents facts that will surely lead to Johnson’s conviction. Regardless of what you think you’ve done for county residents, Mr. Johnson, you have no business believing it was okay to accept bribes in return for providing help to your buddies. What’s even worse, I think Billy Martin, Johnson’s attorney, may have had a “Freudian slip” regarding Michael Jackson’s possible ties, given he mentioned defending “Jackson” in the press video before quickly correcting himself by saying “Johnson.” Big “oops.”
- Mug Shots of Jack and Leslie Johnson released: It’s at a time like this that I sure wish I had the services of Cal’s team from the popular Fox series Lie to Me. Let’s just say Jack’s face speaks “defiance” and “anger,” while Leslie’s face says “shame” and “despair.” Enough said.
- Jack Johnson’s Son Gets Job During Hiring Freeze: Anyone who is involved in politics knows that family and friends stand to benefit when one of their own gets elected. That’s nothing new. What’s really filthy about this story is the timing of Johnson’s son getting hired (the day before the September primaries); mixed messages from County staff about how Jr. managed to get hired during a freeze, and at $20,000 more than advertised; and most disconcerting, Baker’s unwillingness to do anything about it. For the second time this week, Baker addresses a human resources issue by stating that all procedures were followed and there’s nothing more he can do about it. My message to Baker is that if the buck stops with you as County Executive, you need to show some leadership. It’s perfectly legal to get rid of an employee for almost any reason during their probationary period, and it’s just fine to admit your mistake with hiring Eric C. Brown and rescind the appointment. He was offered an “at-will” position so if he didn’t disclose his problematic past employment, then you need to cut ties and move forward.
- Baker Announces New Economic Development Team, $50 Million Fund: The headlines are (1) Kwasi Holman out, three new team members in, and (2) $50 million economic development fund to lure new businesses to the county. I need to research the new team members before I can weigh in on their qualifications, but I will say the economic development fund seems like a good idea as long as the process for distributing funds is open and transparent. Otherwise it might just be another “slush” fund for developers to tap. What reporters already forgot to talk about is how it aligns with Baker’s Pledge for Prince George’s County. Just about one year ago, Baker promised that within the first 100 days of the new administration he would deliver a comprehensive job creation, competitive housing market, and economic growth plan. Hiring three people and setting aside money is not a plan. I will need to review budget documents to see if I can learn more specifics, but so far nobody in the media has discussed how Baker’s press release matches up with the promise for a plan.
- Baker Announces FY 2012 Budget: Baker made the rounds to several media outlets to present his FY 2012 budget. He was aggressive in pitching his plan to television, radio, and print reporters who all stuck to his message that he is adding money for schools and public safety and making cuts to all other areas of the government. I generally agree with these principles, but the budget in brief does not provide enough details for me to dig into so that I can provide constructive feedback to his team and County Council. I suspect Baker was extra motivated to stay on message regarding the county and its great potential given the stream of negative reports coming out of Prince George’s County this week.
Let me know what you think, provide comments and feedback, and stay tuned for the big announcement of our first public forum on the PGCPS budget feedback, which will be held in Laurel one week from today!
On March 8, Council Chair Ingrid Turner issued a statement (via press release) reviewing their progress on promises they have made to “provide more information and greater accessibility to government processes for residents.” I’m not sure the County Council has quite lived up to the press release, or their promises. Let’s do a quick review.
- Enhancing the County Council website: user-friendly online citizen sign-up for public participation in Council meetings (Comment: not done, and took City Clerk 44 days to respond to message I sent in January 2011, requesting to speak at a public hearing) and to receive agendas (done); posting of Council meetings five days in advance (done); and online access to Zoning Hearing Examiner and District Council decisions (done).
- Encourage greater public participation in Council meetings and activities with offsite, evening, full Council Meetings throughout the County and offsite Council Committee meetings. Comment: Only one town hall meeting has been held, on February 28, to discuss the budget. No full Council or Committee meetings have been held outside Upper Marlboro or during evening hours. I cannot locate any record of greater public participation in Council meetings, outside of taxicab drivers appearing at a meeting last week to protest a specific agenda item.
- We support the efforts of the County Executive to establish the ACI Task Force and improving accountability with the establishment of an anonymous County Hotline and Website for Fraud, Waste, and Abuse. Comment: How have they supported the County Executive’s work? The hotline and website appear to be active, but I’m not sure Council had anything to do with it. I have not seen any evidence that Council members have attended meetings of the ACI Task Force.
The Council is also working for YOU in Annapolis, promoting the following initiatives by working with the County Executive and Prince George’s County Senate and House Delegations:
1. Create an Executive Director position for the County’s Board of Ethics, and require the board to meet at least twice a year.
2. Require the registration of lobbyists, developers, and their agents with the Board of Ethics, and post the information on the Board’s website.
3. Address conflict-of-interest concerns with the prohibition of credit card use by County officials, including Board of Education members, and ensuring that lobbyists cannot receive contingent compensation.
4. Prohibit County officials from soliciting to enter business relationships or anything of monetary value in return for supporting specific County legislation, County contracts, County permits, or State and Federal funding use decisions.
Comment: County Council is indeed supporting legislative reforms to ensure elected officials are behaving in an ethical manner. However, they initially pushed back at the County Executive’s rather limited ethics legislation, and their proposal for a compromise did not go nearly far enough in closing ethical loopholes that currently exist. The even more unfortunate part of the message in the press release is that ethics reform should even be necessary. In my opinion, our elected officials should be held to an even higher ethical standard, and the fact that past leaders have not possessed the moral compass to uphold the law is a disgrace to Prince George’s County. Legislating ethical behavior for our elected officials does nothing to diminish our pitiable reputation.
Years ago we did not push for the type of quality development that we see in the County today. Developers need a more predictable process, and citizens need to be represented as we continue to push for more quality development for the County. Our reform measures also include:
1. Changing District Council procedures to establish a definitive timeframe for review of site plans from unlimited to 160 days, and Council Members would need to state a specific reason for reviewing a case.
2. Extending the prohibition on developer contributions to slates that include the County Executive or Council Members during the pendency of a development application.
Comment: I’m not sure why this even merits a mention in this press release. Quite frankly, the local media has already reported the Council’s position, which we know does not go far enough in ensuring that the development process is open and transparent. County Council will have to get out of the development approval process entirely, at this point, to ensure that this goal is achieved.
Education activists across Prince George’s County, MD have formed an alliance in organized protest against recent proposed cuts to the 2012 school budget approved by the Board of Education on February 24, 2011. The group– which includes parents, educators, and community stakeholders– has offered recommendations that will cut administrative costs, help preserve classroom sizes, and save important school-based personnel from elimination. Earlier this week, they submitted their proposal to County Executive Rushern L. Baker III for consideration, and asked the County Executive to send the School Board’s budget back for revisions that incorporate their proposed changes.
Over the next few weeks, this group of concerned citizens will be hosting three forums in Laurel, Largo, and Clinton, Maryland to publicize their platform to parents, students, teachers, and education stakeholders. The forums will educate the public about systemic problems in the Prince George’s County Public Schools (PGCPS), provide suggestions for responsible cuts to the PGCPS budget, and gather community buy-in for a PGCPS budget that prioritizes their mission that “Children Come First.”
For more information, visit http://sites.google.com/site/theparentspot.
Update provided courtesy of guest contributor PG-Politics.
Following her new colleagues in council districts 8 and 9, newly elected District 7 Councilwoman Karen R. Toles (D) held her first community forum on Saturday, February 26, at a community center in Suitland. Unlike the forums held by her colleagues, the press did not cover the event (see links below). About 100 people attended. Here is a summary of the District 7 forum based on the handouts and notes from two attendees.
Several current and former elected officials attended the forum, but did not speak. They included Sheriff Melvin High, former District 7 Councilwomen Dorothy Bailey (1994-2002) and Camille Exum (2002-2010), school board members Henry Armwood (District 7) and Edward Burroughs (District 8), and several current and former municipal officials.
In her opening statement Toles talked about priorities, including public safety, truancy, cross-border criminal activity, code enforcement, and raising community standards. She mentioned that District 7 has the longest common border with the District of Columbia. Clubs or dance halls operating outside their permits and licenses are a problem in the community–several of the murders in District 7 have been outside such clubs–and Toles wants to give public safety officials more authority to shut them down. About half of the county’s 2011 murders have been in District 7. Her plans for the near future include opening a website, starting e-mail updates, planning an April project for youth, and pushing for a single system for posting job opportunities for youth in the county.
Circuit Court Judge Herman Dawson spoke at length on juvenile crime, especially problems such as increasing assaults by juveniles, many of them truants, almost daily robberies in schools, the lack of any secure facilities in Maryland for violent juveniles, and resulting problems from placing violent juveniles back in the community. Seventy percent of children passing through juvenile court never finish the next grade in school. He mentioned truancy courts and the surprising number of 6, 7, and 8 year-olds not in school, and invited everyone to come and observe in his courtroom.
The Police Department was represented by Deputy Chief Kevin Davis and District 4 Commander James Harper. Major areas mentioned included the growing problem of organized groups of retail thieves and new retail crime squad, the night club problems mentioned earlier by councilwoman Toles, attacks on people walking near Metro stations, and the establishment of a violent crime and recidivism unit. States Attorney Alsobrooks has assigned assistants to work with each police district.
Acting Fire Chief Marc Bashoor began with a discussion of the recent fire in Hillcrest Heights where one person died in a house occupied by eight families and with no working smoke detectors. The county had four fire fatalities in January and that was way above average. The department now has a campaign to reach out to every resident of the county in six months, either through visits to homes or in community meetings, to empasize the need for smoke detectors and to offer free detectors and installation to all. Bashoor also reported that the wind-driven fires a week earlier had been the worst firestorm in county history.
Pepco representative Ernie Baker spoke about street lighting from the public safety perspective, then answered a number of questions about Pepco’s response to recent power outages.
Housing and Community Development Department representative Dottie Kendrick spoke about weatherization and inspection and repair services available to eligible individuals. Pamela Wilson described the single housing rehabilitation program aimed at inspecting single family homes and bringing them up to code.
Park and Planning supervisor Emmett Brown spoke about upcoming activities including the safe summers program.
The forum closed with a lengthy question and answer session.
Reports on District 8 and 9 meetings:
- Forum aims to boost communication; Patterson plans series of dialogues between residents, county officials (Gazette, Waite, 17 Feb 2011)
- First District 9 forum draws more than 200 residents; Councilman Franklin’s initial monthly meeting connects south county residents with officials (Gazette, Tillman, 25 Feb 2011)
When I was reviewing press releases issued by County Executive Baker’s administration the other day, I was surprised to see an acknowledgement of someone we haven’t heard from in awhile: Former Councilwoman Marilynn Bland. Buried within a press release about Baker’s participation at a recent meeting of the South County Economic Development Assocation, Bland is listed as one of the elected officials who attended the event. I’m not sure why she would be interested in their issues in her current role as Clerk of the Court, but she was a fierce advocate of development in all the wrong places in District 9 from 2002-2010 as Councilwoman, so perhaps that is why she wanted to be there.
I’m still quite concerned about her reasons for wanting to hold the position as Clerk of the Court in the first place. Why would a person with a professional background as a nurse want to work as an administrator of the county’s judicial system? She doesn’t even possess any legal background that would contribute to the knowledge and skills needed for the job. The work she did as a Councilwoman was purely ceremonial for the most part, unless she was pushing along a development project in her district. Her previous experience as an elected official has absolutely nothing to do with her job as the Clerk. Perhaps that is why you cannot locate any relevant experience listed on her former campaign website.
I believe the only reason Bland ran for the Clerk of the Court is to remain in an elected position until she can seek a higher office in the Maryland General Assembly or County government. That’s why she wanted to make an appearance at an obscure meeting on economic development, so she can stay connected to potential contributors who could finance and advocate for her political future.
I, for one, am going to do everything I can to make sure she is never elected to any other office. From the moment she was elected to the School Board on the pledge of delivering fiscal accountability and quality schools to portraying herself as “the Councilwoman Who Cares” for District 9, she has delivered absolutely nothing but a string of broken promises. She has demonstrated a lack of character and personal ethics as she repeatedly ignored consituents, abused County-issued credit cards, and was named as a co-conspirator in pay-to-play scheme brought forth in a lawsuit filed by American Hospitality Management.
So, what’s the bottom line? I am positive there is even more information that can, and should be uncovered, because the public has a right to know before she sails into another elected position in any government entity that represents my interests here in Maryland. I will be scouring campaign finance records, court cases, media reports, and any other sources that will expose her true motives as an elected official. If you wish to provide me with information, you can do so anonymously through my blog, Twitter account, or by e-mailing firstname.lastname@example.org.