Thursday, March 31, 2005

Satirical MCPS blog is #1 on Google

Crooked School Board, our satirical sister blog, has been ranking in the top 3 of 49,100 Google search results for the name of MCPS Superintendent Jerry Weast. As of this writing, the blog ranked #1 and #3.

Seven Locks families praise Lt. Gov. Steele

Families and neighbors of Seven Locks Elementary School heaped praise on Lt. Gov. Mike Steele for showing so much interest in their desire to save the community landmark, which the school board has slated for demolition.

"Here we are fighting our own local officials, many of whom have shown disdain and disinterest for their own constituents, preferring to support their own political agendas," Jay Weinstein, a Seven Locks parent, told the Sentinel. "And Lieutenant Governor Steele, who obviously could be doing a million other things, cares enough to see the value of our school and try to learn how the excellence of Seven Locks can be shared with the rest of the state. That speaks volumes to us about the lieutenant governor's genuine concern for Marylanders, versus the hypocrisy and platitudes we have gotten from our local officials."

Steele visited the doomed school on March 24.

Journalists were upset that they were kept out of the meeting, and Seven Locks community leaders were disappointed as well. "I think it was an unfortunate staff decision," said Sandy Vogelgesang of the Save Seven Locks Coalition. "It would have been a win-win story."

Wednesday, March 30, 2005

American Cancer Society wants to stop MCPS from denying sunscreen to kids

The American Cancer Society is promoting legislation in Annapolis that would overturn Montgomery County Public Schools (MCPS) policy of denying children the right to carry sunscreen.

Present MCPS rules make it hard for children to protect themselves from the sun's ultraviolet rays at recess. The MCPS forces parents to get a letter from a physician before their kids can bring sunscreen to school.

Even then, the rules impose other obstacles that discourage or even prevent children from protecting their faces, arms and hands from UV, even with a doctor's letter. Trained health professionals must apply the sunscreen.

The Coalition for Skin Cancer Prevention in Maryland is leading the fight on behalf of the kids. "Children should be able to bring sunscreen with them like they bring ChapStick," Roberta Herbst, the coalition's project director, told the Washington Post.

The American Cancer Society has asked Delegate Anne Healey (D-Prince George's County) to introduce legislation that would overturn MCPS rules and similar barriers to childrens' health in other jurisdictions in the state.

Showdown at Tilden: Lawsuit seeks to stop MCPS from turning school land into housing

A Bethesda resident is challenging Montgomery County School Superintendent Jerry Weast and the Board of Education, who want to surplus school property so it can be turned into a housing development.

This time, the controversy is not over Seven Locks Elementary School, but the Tilden Middle School. It marks more public resistance to County Executive Doug Duncan's plan to sell off school land so developers can build more housing.

Beatrice Chester filed a class-action lawsuit to stop the school board from enacting Weast's recommendation to take away a 1.75 acre site along Old Georgetown Road adjacent to the Tilden school, the Gazette reports.

Friday, March 25, 2005

NBC4: 'Battle is brewing over future of Seven Locks'

A "battle is brewing over the future of Seven Locks Elementary School in Montgomery County," NBC4-TV of Washington, D.C. reports.

School officials have attempted to wage a propaganda campaign of sorts, in the words of NBC4, "by holding informational meetings, trying to drum up parental support."

But parents and neighbors aren't buying it. They pledge a big fight over the future of the school, with nobody voicing support for the county's stealth plan to shutter and demolish the school, and build high-density housing on the ten-acre site.

Neighbor and parent Jay Weinstein speaks for almost everybody involved with the school, telling NBC4 that "We will fight it every step of the way."

Thursday, March 24, 2005

Lt. Gov. Steele likes 'Save School Land for School Kids' T-shirt

Visiting Seven Locks Elementary School on March 24, Lt. Gov. Mike Steele singled out a first grader wearing a "Save Our Schools" shirt and asked for a closer look.

The shirt, featuring Montgomery County Executive Doug Duncan, is emblazoned with the words "STOP HIM!" and argues "Save School Land for School Kids."

Steele said he liked the shirt, telling the boy he thought it was "cool."

To purchase the shirt and other products at-cost, click here.

Wednesday, March 23, 2005

County: Preserving 'grassy view' is more important than saving a school

The Montgomery County Council believes that preserving a "grassy view" along a six-lane highway of strip malls is more important than preserving a thriving neighborhood school.

According to the Washington Post, the council "unanimously passed a resolution" on March 22 that "asks planners to protect the grassy view from the new Strathmore concert hall in North Bethesda by putting some of the land into a preservation program."

The resolution would prevent a developer from building more than 100 houses on the site on Rockville Pike/Wisconsin Avenue, just south of White Flint Mall.

The developer has offered to build a seven-to-eight-acre buffer zone to preserve the view from the county's new $100 million Strathmore Hall, but county leaders aren't satisfied.

The developer, the Post notes, is not a local company but is based in Dallas, Texas.

Meanwhile, the County Council pushes ahead with its unstated plan to raze Seven Locks Elementary School in West Bethesda and build a high-density housing project in its place, at a congested neighborhood intersection nearly two miles from the nearest shops and services.

(Blogger's note: If the county is serious about building high-density, low-income housing in a prime location, the "grassy view" is just the place: close to commuter routes, shopping centers, services of every kind, well-traveled public bus routes, and the Grosvenor and White Flint Metro stations - to say nothing of a beautiful new cultural center. No neighborhood would be disrupted and no school would be torn down.)

Tuesday, March 22, 2005

State Senator Garagiola wants to hear from YOU! See him at Cabin John Giant on Saturday

State Senator John Garagiola will be visiting the Seven Locks Road neighborhood on Saturday, March 26, and he says he wants to hear local constituents' concerns.

This will be a great opportunity, following Lt. Gov. Steele's visit to our school, to amplify our presence at the state level.

Sen. Garagiola will be in front of the Giant supermarket at Cabin John Center and Mall, at the intersection of Seven Locks and Tuckerman from 1:00 to 3:00 p.m.

To contact Sen. Garagiola, call: 301-858-3169, fax: 301-858-3607, or e-mail at:

Here's Sen. Garagiola's statement from his newsletter:

"Hello again, and welcome to another issue of the 2005 District 15 legislative report.

"As mentioned last week, I will be holding one more 'Meet the Senator' event outside a local Giant supermarket to speak with my constituents. I will be in front of the Cabin John Giant in Potomac from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. on Saturday, March 26th.

"I invite everyone to attend to share their questions, comments or concerns with me. The past Giant events have been a success and I have received great feedback from many people. I hope my last event is the most successful yet! I want to hear from you."

Monday, March 21, 2005

Lt. Gov. Steele visits Seven Locks on March 24

Just as the Save Our Schools Coalition ratchets up the political pressure to the County Council and state levels, we learn that Maryland Lt. Gov. Michael Steele will visit the doomed Seven Locks Elementary School on Thursday, March 24.

Those wishing to brief the lieutenant governor can reach his office by phone at 410-974-3901, by fax at 410-974-5882, and by e-mail at

Councilman Denis says he'll fight surplusing school

Montgomery County Councilman Howard Denis, after meeting with local constituents, has "agreed to fight surplusing of Seven Locks" Elementary School.

This according to the latest Seven Locks Update, the bulletin of the Seven Locks Coalition.

Denis, one of the few elected Republicans in the area, is a member of the county council education committee.

To thank Councilman Denis and encourage him to stick to it, give his office a call or drop him a note. Telephone: 240-777-7964. Fax: 240-777-7989. E-mail:

[Blogger's note, added November 5, 2005: Forget thanking Councilman Denis. His words were empty.]

Friday, March 18, 2005

Potomac Almanac: BoE doesn't want to hear from community any more

The Board of Education (BoE) voted March 8 to abolish all references to public hearings, civic organizations and PTAs in a policy document on long-range educational facilities planning.

The vote prompted the Potomac Almanac to ask, "Is [the] change designed to insulate School Board from parent input and legal challenges?"

The vote shows that Board of Education members "really don't want to hear from the community any more. They really want to get out of having these hearings and control the amount of comment that the community's allowed to have," says Winston Churchill High School Cluster coordinator Janis Sartucci.

County PTA council holds emergency meeting

The Montgomery County Council of Parent Teacher Associations (PTA) called an "emergency meeting" to discuss the Board of Education's vote that strips all mention of the PTA from its long-range educational facilities planning guidelines.

This news comes from Ken Millstone of the Potomac Almanac.

MCPS says there's nothing to fear . . .

Montgomery County Public Schools (MCPS) officials say there's no reason for the public to be alarmed, and that worries about the March 8 vote erasing references to the PTA are "misplaced."

The school board's vote eliminated language to "Policy FAA" that contained 18 references to pubic hearings, 11 to civic organizations, and 20 to the Parent Teacher Associations (PTAs).

The references to public participation in long-term educational facilities planning haven't been abolished, according to MCPS; they've "merely been shifted to a supporting document," the Potomac Almanac reports.

. . . but Abrams says the fears are 'arguably legitimate'

While trying to persuade the public that there is no reason to fear the school board's deletion of references to public participation in long-range planning, board member Steve Abrams admits to the Potomac Almanac that the concerns are "arguably legitimate."

He says, however, that the board is "mostly" making the changes for "housekeeping purposes."

Thursday, March 17, 2005

Board of Education violates own procedures, PTA official says

Facing opposition from parents and other residents who opposed giving up school land to developers, the Montgomery County Board of Education "was moving to make decisions about the properties without following the procedures" the board had set for itself, the Potomac Almanac reports.

Parents discovered the school board's violations while examining land records, according to Roseanne Hurwitz, an area vice president for the Montgomery County Council of PTAs.

The "school board policy is tied to [the] Seven Locks controversy and other plans," Ken Millstone reports in the March 16-22 edition.

"In February [2004], the School Board decided to maintain the Kendale Road site as a school site - the future home of the Seven Locks Replacement School, set to open in 2007 - while a planned renovation at Seven Locks Elementary School around the corner was scrapped," Millstone writes.

"The abrupt switch set off an ongoing controversy, with Seven Locks parents and neighboring community members angry at what they see as the planned demise of the school.

"The Board of Education did not hold a single public hearing devoted to the change in plans, and Seven Locks parents and nearby community members have complained about the process."

Churchill coordinator: 'It's not a coincidence'

"It's not a coincidence" that the the same day the Board of Education approved preliminary designs for the controversial and unpopular Seven Locks Replacement School on Kendale Road, it voted to abolish the policy for community and PTA input into school demolition and construction decisions.

That's what Winston Churchill High School Cluster coordinator Janis Sartucci told the Potomac Almanac, explaining, "What better way to wipe out any controversy than wiping out all the policy?"

After weathering a year of stiff resistance to its secretive plans for multimillion-dollar Seven Locks demolition and construction project, the school board faces further opposition to its "as-yet-undefined plans for a new mid-county high school," according to the Almanac.

"They didn't like what's happened in the last year, and they know that they're not really doing this new high school plan in the right way. This is a way that they don't have to follow the policies," said Rosanne Hurwitz, an area vice president for the Montgomery County Council of PTAs. "What better way not to have to adhere to a 20-acre site than to get rid of the policy?"

Elementary school mom to BoE: 'we think the worst about your motives'

The Board of Education's secretiveness about its apparent decision to tear down an elementary school and give the land to County Executive Doug Duncan for a high-density housing project has led local parents to question the board's motives.

"Without a coherent explanation we are left to think the worst about your motives, your backroom shenanigans and the politics," Potomac Elemetary mom Diana Conway told the board at its March 8 public question session.

"Little wonder the parents in the community think building Kendale means surplussing Seven Locks," she said, according to the Potomac Almanac. "So prove them wrong."

The newest board member, Republican Steve Abrams, tried to do just that by proposing a 10-year moratorium on any action against Seven Locks School. His colleagues rebuffed him.

Court found school board violated its own policies

A January Montgomery County court decision might be the smoking gun showing that the board of education, in the face of mounting parental pressure, voted to erase PTA involvement from school facilities decisionmaking.

The Potomac Almanac's Ken Millstone cites the Montgomery County Circuit Court's decision that the Board of Education violated its own policies in administering a language immersion program at Potomac Elementary School.

The court found that the Hsu family of Potomac "had incurred harm as a result of improper actions by the Montgomery County Board," according to Millstone.

The issue was the board's policy switch - in which the negatively affected parties were not given the chance to be heard - concerning who could attend a special Chinese language immersion program. The Hsu family had moved to the area specifically so her daughter could enroll, only to find that the school board changed the rules so the girl was denied the opportunity.

Judge Michael D. Mason chastised the Board of Education: "The opportunity for a citizen to be heard on a matter directly affecting them is one of the pillars of our representational form of government."

Wednesday, March 16, 2005

School board "doesn't want individual members to raise issues or pose questions"

The following letter appeared in the Gazette on March 16, 2005:

School board: The real conflict of interest

School board member Sharon Cox appears quite concerned about a potential conflict of interest involving newly elected board member Valerie Ervin ("Ethics panel's refusal may not end controversy," Feb. 23 article). Perhaps her time would be better spent examining the existing conflict of interest between the board as a whole and Superintendent Jerry Weast.

The board gave Dr. Weast a long-term, ironclad contract. Concerned that he might accept another offer, the board in 2001 agreed to renew Weast's contract long before it was due to expire. They also agreed to penalty provisions including payment of a year's salary if they did not renew his contract in 2003. The contract was renewed; it now runs until 2007.

Given this "vote of confidence" in Dr. Weast, what incentive does the board have to scrutinize his stewardship of the system? Even if they wanted to, the part-time school board, without an independent staff, doesn't have the resources to seriously question information provided by the school system.

In her campaign, Ms. Ervin emphasized the need for closer scrutiny by the board. But Ms. Cox thinks Ms. Ervin should instead focus on being "part of the team." In doing so, Ms. Cox gives voice to what many people have long suspected. The current board does not want individual members to raise issues or pose questions.

One way to end this real conflict of interest would be to eliminate the board. This has been done in many other parts of the country. A school director would report directly to -- and serve at the pleasure of -- the county executive. That would make the position of the director of public schools similar to all other county agency directors. Accountability would rest with the county executive.

This would be a welcome change from our current system where the board claims it is not responsible for personnel, budget, or policy decisions -- depending on the particular issue and level of controversy -- while the county executive and County Council sit comfortably out of the fray.

Since the largest part of the county budget is dedicated to the public school system, why shouldn't the county executive be held directly responsible for the performance of the schools, the same way he or she is held accountable for all other functions of county government?

Eric Brenner, Silver Spring

"All we want is respect"

This letter to the editor appeared in the Gazette on March 16, 2005:

Parents and taxpayers get no respect:

* When they complain about school decisions that excluded citizen input, they're accused of "bullying" their elected politicians.

* When they hear of developers having more pull with school officials than parents and taxpayers, they're told to ignore "urban legends."

* When they attempt to force schools to follow their own procedures, the schools eliminate the procedures entirely.

* When they try to hold onto school land to serve the thousands of housing units being built, they're told the schools need "latitude."

* When they want to testify before elected bodies to express their concerns, they're told the elected politicians don't want to waste time with public hearings.

Isn't it time our schools and elected officials gave parents and taxpayers the respect we are due?

Demolishing traditions

The following letter to the editor appeared in the Potomac Almanac, March 16-22, 2005:

Being from England where my 'old' school is ocming up to its 500th anniversary and my Oxford College is having its 450th year, I have a problem with my kids' school, Seven Locks Elementary School, being 'replaced' after a mere 40 years.

Apart from issues of the inconvenience of refurbishment (perish the thought), the main rationale given by the Board of Education on March 8 was that building a new school would be cheaper than refurbishing the old. On that basis, why don't we knock down everything whose replacement would be cheaper?

That way, we will have no real traditions, and no one will be able to show their children where they went to school. What a bequest to future generations!

Sunday, March 13, 2005

MCPS thinks its own sex-ed video language is 'inappropriate content'

The Board of Education's own e-mail standards classify the controversial "cucumber curriculum" as having "inappropriate content" not only for kids, but for the board members themselves.

This according to Citizens for a Responsible Curriculum, which notes that a parent used the video's exact language in an e-mail to the school board.

The parent received an automated message from the school board server which said, "The message referenced in the details below was not delivered due to inappropriate content. It surpassed the threshold set in the Adult Content dictionary."

Providing "adult content" to under-age kids is illegal.

Saturday, March 12, 2005

Sentinel reports: Residents claim school board 'misled and cheated' them

"Angry residents near Seven Locks Elementary School in Bethesda say they've been misled and cheated by the Montgomery County Board of Education," the Montgomery County Sentinel reports on March 12.

"Following the school board's unanimous decision to approve preliminary plans Tuesday for the proposed replacement of Seven Locks Elementary School, David Tiktinsky, the father of a first grader who was sporting a '' T-shirt, said, 'my gut reaction is, I feel like I'm in the Soviet Union,'" according to the report by Kelli Gavant. Highlights:

* PTA frozen out of process. "the P.T.A was not invited to be part of the decision making process for the proposed replacement school, and while 'literally years were spent on the previous plans, the Board's plan for a new school appeared to emerge almost overnight.'"

* School Board seen putting developers' interests ahead of children. Local PTA leader Livleen Gill said "parents 'expect the School Board to act in the long-term interests of current and future children of Montgomery County; not the county or city governments, not the developers. . . .'"

* Only one member concerned about community. "Board member Steve Abrams (District 2) was the only member at Tuesday's meeting that went up to bat to voice the community's concerns, ask pointed questions, and put the 'community distrust issue' on the table."

* Backroom deal? "Abrams asserted that 'despite denials, an urban legend exists' that 'in a back room somewhere a deal was cut,' and he was emphatic in stating he doesn't want school decisions and space decisions to get tied into political maneuvers. Sharon Cox (At-Large) countered, 'I don't believe confidence is going to be built on making statements into the ether.'"

* Weast waffling? MCPS Superintendent "Weast said in a letter a year ago, 'once the Seven Locks Elementary School is relocated to the Kendale Road site, I believe the current site at the intersection of Seven Locks Road and Bradley Boulevard would no longer be needed for school purposes... I am asking the BOE to authorize staff to explore the opportunities that may exist to leverage the assets it owns to serve the needs of our growing school population.' However, on Tuesday, he said he was 'not prepared to make a recommendation to dispose' of the Seven Locks property and that 'the rate of change (of population growth) is going to determine what we're going to be doing.'"

Friday, March 11, 2005

As it readies to surplus school land, County orders more portable classrooms

The Montgomery County Council intends to add more portable classrooms to overcrowded schools, even as it pushes ahead with County Executive Doug Duncan's plan to tear down an existing school, sell the land to developers, and build a much larger school on a smaller piece of property.

WTOP radio reports that the council's Education Committee recommends approving the Montgomery County Public Schools (MCPS) request "for $5 million to replace, repair or add more mobile classrooms."

County leaders would have parents believe that adding portable classrooms is not an admission of overcrowding.

Councilman Michael Knapp, a member of the Education Committee, told WTOP, "To have a relocatable classroom in your school does not necessarily mean the school is overcrowded because one of the very important initiatives that the county has been supportive of is reducing class size."

Presently, 175 county public schools use at least 730 trailers for 17,000 students.

Thursday, March 10, 2005

MCPS and its magical math: Do its dollar figures mean anything?

Blogger note: Montgomery County Public Schools suddenly announced at their March 8 hearing that the cost of the Kendale facility ("Seven Locks Replacement School") has magically dropped from $14.7 million to $12 million - while expanding the size of the school by almost 4000 square feet.

All of this at a time when MCPS indicated dramatic increases in construction costs due to the county-wide building boom! And the Board of Education wonders why it has a credibility problem?

Wednesday, March 09, 2005

Cox calls Seven Locks parents bullies; Weast says he doesn't care about community opposition

The following is the text of an e-mail message from a Seven Locks parent who attended the Montgomery County Public Schools Board of Education meeting on Tuesday, March 8, 2005:

1. When they [school board members] talked about NEW school being less expensive, they just played with the numbers.

The numbers include:

a. Maintenance cost for the next 35 years (despite BOE insistence in earlier meeting that OPERATING budget and CAPITAL budget are treated separately) and Seven Locks cost more to run because it is an older school;
b. Cost of two-phase modernization;
c. Cost of rental of holding school, busing of kids, etc.

2. Sharon Cox viewed community opposition as people BULLYing the Board of Education. So for BOE to agree with the community view would be sending a wrong message to those people that BOE caves into their demand (somehow she forgot that she was elected to represent the people);

3. Board members are not very consistent with their statements. For example: BOE continued to make claim that there is NO plan to surplus the Seven Locks School site because of continuing population growth, and then a few minutes later, Sharon Cox popped a statement: "we were ready to surplus Kendale for public housing and now we decided to build a school there instead."

4. [Superintendent] Jerry Weast was very proud that regardless of community input/opposition, [the replacement] school gets built anyway. He said that 2 out of 3 schools built had picket lines outside, but they still got built anyway.

The whole process gave me the impression that the Board of Education just goes along and rubber stamped whatever is being proposed, instead of providing any oversight/supervision.

Saturday, March 05, 2005

7 corruption questions MCPS won't answer

The heads of the Seven Locks Elementary School demolition/replacement project are touchy about PTA members' questions about corruption.

While professing to answer all written questions about the project, with ready answers about construction costs, they are strangely silent when parents ask how much taxpayer money will be lost to corruption in the demolition of Seven Locks Elementary School and the construction of the triple-sized "replacement" school on Kendale Road in Potomac.

Here are the seven sets of questions that the MCPS officials - James Tokar and Richard G. Hawes - refuse to answer:
  1. In your professional opinion as a project manager, what percentage of costs in the construction of a Montgomery County Public School is typically lost to kickbacks, graft, waste, and other forms of corruption?
  2. What procedures and practices do you and the MCPS Division of Construction have in place to ensure that school construction projects are free of kickbacks, graft, waste, and other forms of corruption?
  3. What specific instances can you cite over the past 15 years where you and the MCPS Division of Construction have suspected – and acted upon – kickbacks, graft, waste, and other forms of corruption in the construction of county schools?
  4. How many of those cases did you and the MCPS Division of Construction refer to county, state, or federal officials for criminal action? Which cases were they? Which officials did you urge take criminal action, and under what circumstances?
  5. How many of the cases that you and the MCPS Division of Construction urged be prosecuted resulted in criminal convictions? Which cases were they?
  6. If neither you nor the MCPS Division of Construction have suspected and acted upon cases of suspected or alleged corruption in the construction of county public schools, would you please explain why you and the Division believe that no corruption exists in the construction industry and in public politics, or why you and the Division have not been diligent in safeguarding public school construction from corruption and organized crime?
  7. Do you and the MCPS Division of Construction believe that an outside prosecutor should be appointed to investigate suspected corruption in the construction of county public schools? If not, please explain.

Try asking them yourself!
Jim Tokar's e-mail address is:
Richard Hawes' address is: