Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Rebuffing MCPS, Potomac PTA & Seven Locks PTA favor saving SLES

The PTA groups at the two schools most affected by the Kendale project might differ on whether or not to build the Kendale school, but they agree that Seven Locks Elementary School should be saved.

That certainly contradicts the repeated protestations from MCPS that the plan to build Kendale at the expense of Seven Locks had strong community support.

"The Potomac Elementary PTA supports retaining Seven Locks and building a new school on Kendale Road," Ken Millstone reports in the Potomac Almanac. "The Seven Locks PTA supports a one-phase modernization and addition at Seven Locks, with the school’s students using a holding school for one year. Both PTAs oppose giving up school land for housing or other non-educational purposes.

Kendale scandal reverberates to other schools

The Kendale school scandal goes beyond Potomac Elementary and Seven Locks. It affects the entire local closter of elementary schools.

"We’ve been trying to frame it in a cluster-wide context and nobody wants to talk about that," said Montgomery County Council of PTAs Area Vice President Rosanne Hurwitz in the Potomac Almanac. "It’s not just these two schools. Its really about getting all of these kids into buildings. . . . These kids are in third-world buildings."

According to reporter Ken Millstone, "Hurwitz and others said that the parent community’s original position regarding Seven Locks and Kendale was simply that MCPS should not consider giving up any existing school land.

"'This whole thing got started because they were going to give away another school site,' Hurwitz said, referring to a February 2004 memo from schools Superintendent Jerry Weast to the Board of Education stating, 'I am inclined to recommend that the Seven Locks site be transferred to the county for workforce housing' if the Kendale school is built.

"'We were always concerned about calling it Seven Locks "replacement." We wanted it to be called Churchill Number 6,' a temporary designation for a new, sixth elementary school in the area that feeds into Winston Churchill High School, Hurwitz said."

"The whole motivation has been that they want to build housing on one of these sites and they really have to take that off the table,” says Hurwitz. "It is not off the table. It is specifically not off the table."

More limbo for schools foreseen

The Kendale replacement school might not get built and Seven Locks Elementary might be spared but not expanded.

At least, that's the near-term prognosis according to County Councilman Howard Denis.

Six of the council's nine votes are needed to appropriate $3.3 million to fund cost overruns for the controversial Kendale replacement school, and Denis tells the Almanac he doesn't see that side with the votes.

Denis is introducing legislation to stop the controversial Kendale project and modernize and expand Seven Locks Elementary School instead. At present, he says, he doesn't have the votes either.

Monday, February 27, 2006

How school board lines up on SLES scandal

Here's our latest tally of how the Montgomery County Board of Education members stand on the Seven Locks scandal:

Charles Haughey, President: Part of the problem.
Sharon W. Cox, Vice President: Part of the problem.
Steve Abramoff: Part of the problem.
Gabe Romero: Part of the problem.

Valerie Ervin: OK.
Nancy Navarro: May be OK.
Patricia O'Neill: Coming around.

Flashback: Abrams promised to save existing Seven Locks school

Running again for school board in 2004, Steve Abramoff told voters he believed Seven Locks Elementary School should be preserved, and faulted the school system for poorly communicating with the community.

He also praised Superintendent Jerry Weast and strongly endorsed construction of the Kendale project.

The Potomac Almanac interviewed Abramoff in its October 22, 2004 issue. Excerpts follow. For the full text, click here.

Almanac: "What is your top public-service accomplishment?"

Abramoff: "Hiring Jerry Weast as Montgomery County Superintendent."

Almanac: "Should the school system declare as surplus the Brickyard Road school site? Why?"

Abramoff: "Maybe. The criteria should be whether the site is needed for educational purposes in the forseeable future. I believe Seven Locks Elementary School should be retained even after the new Kentsdale facility is opened. It should be used to help reduce both class size and the utilization of portable classrooms in the cluster. After that has been done, an evaluation of the need for the Brickyard Road site should be conducted."

Almanac: "Do you support building a new, larger elementary school on the Kendale Road site? Why?"

Abramoff: "Yes. The Kentsdale [sic] Road site provides a more cost-effective approach that the phased modernization of Seven Locks Elementary School. In addition, once it is opened, an effort can be made to look at ways to better utilize all elementary classroom space in the cluster."

Almanac: "How would you characterize the decision-making process about how to proceed on Seven Locks Elementary School? Is there anything you would like to do differently?"

Abramoff: "I believe the school system could have communicated better with the community. The failure to do so has caused some unnecessary anxiety on both sides."

[Note: On February 7, 2006, Abramoff tried to quash the county Inspector General's report on alleged official wrongdoing concerning the Seven Locks/Kendale issue. Click here for a pdf copy of Abramoff's letter.

Cheap shot: MCPS blames Seven Locks principal

MCPS has stooped to a new low by passing the buck to Seven Locks Elementary School Principal Rebecca Gordon and her staff.

In justifying what the Inspector General calls an improper (perhaps illegal) non-competitive contract to design the controversial Kendale school, MCPS says the SLES principal and her staff suggested the firm because they were pleased with its work.

Montgomery County Civic Federation First Vice President Wayne Goldstein writes in the Sentinel, "SLES is but one of 125 elementary schools in the county. What makes this worse is that MCPS does not follow its own regulations that require competitive bids for contracts valued at more than $25,000. According to the report, MCPS officials not only did not follow their own procedures in awarding an initial $28,000 contractg to evaluate the original SLES site, but then awarded what amounted to an additional $890,000 no-bid contract to the same architect to design the replacement school."

Goldstein shows how county officials are passing the buck and blaming it on Principal Gordon, quoting an MCPS statement as follows: "The feasibility architect for Seven Locks has a proven track record on previous school projects for us and other jurisdictions and did a good job on the feasibility study. The principal and staff were pleased with their performance and recommended that they be retained for design services."

Scope of official wrongdoing could be 'worse than Clarksburg'

The Inspector General report shows the Seven Locks school scandal to be "worse than Clarksburg" with wide-reaching official manipulation, misrepresentation and deception, according to a Montgomery County civic leader.

Wayne Goldstein, First Vice President of the Montgomery County Civic Federation, writes in the Sentinel that the IG report "tells of MCPS officials who engages in misinformation, misdirection and even deception related to the unnecessarily convoluted processes and decisions made" to build the Kendale school instead of modernizing and enlarging the existing school on Seven Locks and Bradley.

"The report reveals that MCPS officials claimed nonexistent community support for the new site, misrepresented statements by community leaders about the new site, overstated the costs to build on the existing site and failed to share the most cost effective alternative to the Board of Education (BoE) and the County Council.

"While the IG showed remarkable restraint in passing any judgments, it is clear that MCPS officials engages in outrageous behavior, even if this is 'just' an isolated incident."

Clarksburg citizen-action seen as role model for Seven Locks

Clarksburg citizens are good role models for the Seven Locks community members who continue to dig into the scandal surrounding the planned destruction of their school.

Montgomery County Civic Federation leader Wayne Goldstein writes in the Sentinel, "As the citizens' group, the Clarksburg Town Community Advisory Committee (CTCAC) eventually joined by county officials, delved deeper into the problems with Clarksburg Town Center and discovered that one staff person had
allowed so many major site plan changes as to render the built community unrecognizable from the approved plans.

"They learned of so many cozy relationships, lax practices and indifference to laws and regulations that there has been a complete reorganization taking place at MNCPPC for the last six months. MNCPPC has had to check more than 100 site plans approved since 2003 to see if other violations have occurred and MCCF has also provided its own evidence of additional violations.

"There will need to be the same kind of investigation made of MCPS to see how many other no-bid contracts have been awarded for architectural and other services by MCPS over the last few years and to determine how much MCPS may have overpaid for creating such a lax atmosphere favoring architects with 'a proven track record.'

"This investigation could trigger the same level of reorganization at MCPS as at MNCPPC and the same reexamination of many other related practices that may violate laws and regulations.

"The evidence provided in this report points to a possible Clarksburg level of improper behavior by MCPS officials and their relationship with their vendors."

Abramoff obstruction may force criminal probe

"What makes this far worse than Clarksburg is the response to this IG report by BoE member and Audit Committee Chair Stephen Abrams, stating that he asked for legal opinions about the suitability of this audit report," MCCF First Vice President Goldstein continues in his Sentinel piece.

In Abramoff's words: "Each of these legal opinions concludes that state law does not provide such authority to the Inspector General."

According to Goldstein, Abramoff "then went on to question the motivation of the IG, while admitting to the decision-making process used to choose the Kendale site.

"As with those agencies involved in Clarksburg, Abrams also did his own share of finger-pointing about the failure of MCPS officials to reveal the most cost effective approach of building a new Seven Locks on the original site: 'The council members were aware of the [SLES] issues and made no request at any time during the review of the [SLES] project to provide information on doing the addition and modernization at the same time or to build a replacement school on the Seven Locks site.'

"Abrams concluded with this: 'After consulting with the board president [Charles Haughey] and vice president [Sharon Cox], the Audit Committee has informed the superintendent and staff not to respond to your report or your specific findings. In addition, the Audit Committee does not plan to make a recommendation to the [BoE] on the other findings in your evaluation.'

"As far as I am concerned," Goldstein writes, "the IG and his staff have truly distinguished themselves with a quality report. In addition to Clarksburg, 'Seven Locks' requires the County Council to face a new issue of how to make BoE and MCPS fiscally responsible to those who provide them with most of their capital
and operating funds.

"Reversing the decision to build new on the Kendale site and instead choosing to build new on the Seven Locks site will be the easiest step of all.

"Creating mechanisms for accountability will be tougher still, if BoE and MCPS take the same pugnacious approach to the council as articulated by Abrams in his letter to the IG. The specific accountability of MCPS Superintendent Jerry Weast for Seven Locks and related matters will need to be considered and questions will need to be asked of the oversight role, or lack thereof, of State Superintendent of Schools Nancy Grasmisk.

"While there was some brief initial talk of state involvement in MNCPPC, because it is a quasi-state agency, there may need to be much talk with the state legislature if the state sovereignty shield continues to be waved about by Mr. Abrams and others. The State Special Prosecutor may also need to be invited to take a look."

Acting guilty

In their responses to the Inspector General's report, Kendale advocates have made themselves look guilty even before they've been charged.

Like the criminal defense lawyer with the guilty client, those criticized in the IG report responded with a combination of silence, attacks on the legitimacy of the IG investigation, an attack on the integrity of the IG himself, more silence, a rebuttal, more attacks on the IG, then blaming a hapless elementary school principal.

Here's a short review of how the Kendale camp responded to the IG audit and report on Seven Locks:

1. Prior to the report's release, school board member Steve Abramoff wrote a secret five-page legal brief alleging that the IG had no legal authority for the investigation and saying that the school board would ignore the audit.

2. Most Kendale proponents on the Board of Education and the County Council were uncharacteristically silent. Councilman Steve Silverman gave the appearance of having gone into hiding.

3. Some County Council members who had strongly supported the Kendale project suddenly turned against it - and against the school board.

4. Superintendent Jerry Weast was silent for a week.

5. During that period of silence, Weast's spokesman assailed the IG report and publicly questioned the personal integrity of the inspector general himself.

6. Despite the controversy in the press, MCPS failed to post news about the audit on its website for a week, until Weast had issued his rebuttal.

7. Accompanying the Weast rebuttal, more name-calling from BoE and Kendale's County Council stalwarts. The report is "totally useless" and "hogwash" (Councilman Subin). The Inspector General and his staff, according to Councilwoman Cox, are "bereft of merit or credibility."

8. MCPS then tried to make the Seven Locks Elementary School principal and her staff share the blame.

In sum: Neither Superintendent Weast, a majority of the Board of Education, nor die-hards Subin and Silverman on the County Council, see any merit whatsoever in the Inspector General's audit - even though other board and council members, including previous supporters of the Kendale project, see a great deal.

This should be interesting. Citizens have already alerted the State's Attorney.

Praisner says issues remain to be settled

The County Council member who chairs the Management and Fiscal Policy Committee says the Inspector General's report contains several issues the council might examine.

Marilyn Praisner (D-District 4) of Calverton, commenting on the Seven Locks issue, says in the Gazette, "there's still an opportunity to settle those issues."

MCPS failed to tell Council of safety issues

MCPS failed to tell the County Council about safety issues and enrollment projections in its push to build the Kendale project, according to Inspector General Thomas Dagley.

The school system's only criteria for the new Kendale project at the expense of Seven Locks Schol, according to the IG, was the bottom-line dollar cost.

Advocates of Kendale insist they placed the interests of the children first.

"It wasn't even a close call. It was not in the best interest of the kids to stay on the [existing Seven Locks Elementary School] site. Period," insists Councilman Mike Subin.

School board member Sharon W. Cox, who was president of the board when the issue was decided in 2004, says in the Gazette that the panel sided with "the arguments that supported the children's best interest."

Subin: Totally useless hogwash

County Councilman Mike Subin, with his legendary lack of self-control reducing him to a caricature for the Seven Locks scandal, heaps abuse on the Inspector General's audit report.

"The Inspector General's report is totally useless," Subin says in a statement supporting Superintendent Jerry Weast.

Subin thinks the IG report is "hogwash," too, according to the Gazette.

Sunday, February 26, 2006

$ilverman sends letter, but stays in hiding

County Councilman Steve $ilverman, one of the main elected officials behind the Seven Locks scandal, remains in hiding from the press. His only response to the inspector general audit is a letter attached to Superintendent Jerry Weast's rebuttal.

Silverman's campaign website, SteveSilverman.com, still has not been updated since February 12.

Weast breaks a week of silence and trashes IG

Breaking a week of official silence, MCPS Superintendent Jerry Weast made a personal attack on Inspector General Thomas Dagley.

The Gazette reports that Weast "blasted the county's inspector general for his highly critical report on the Seven Locks Elementary School controversy."

Weast accompanied his attack on Dagley with a lengthy criticism of the audit. Click here for the full text of Weast's comments.

Gazette letter: 'Scrap Kendale project'

The county Inspector General "has confirmed what the Seven Locks community has been saying for the past two years - that the Kendale school project was ill-conceived by Montgomery County Public Schools. MCPS led everyone about cost, and MCPS misled everyone about community support."

That, according to a Gazette letter by attorney Jay M. Weinstein of Bethesda, published February 22 under the title, "Scrap Kendale project."

"Forgotten in all the wrangling is the whole purpose of the increase in [school] capacity - alleviating the problems at Potomac Elementary," Weinstein writes. "Once the Kendale project is scrapped, we can all focus our attention on solving that problem efficiently, either by enlarging the current Seven Locks or renovating Potomac itself."

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

MCPS still trying to ram Kendale project past residents

Montgomery County Public Schools (MCPS) is going full-bore to ram through the scandal-ridden Seven Locks/Kendale construction project, even though the County Council has yet to approve $3.3 million in funding for initial cost overruns.

On February 22, it is holding a meeting for a boundary study to re-district the schools, presuming that Seven Locks Elementary School will indeed be closed and the Kendale "replacement" built a mile away.

MCPS has sent out a notice about a "public information meeting" on boundary review for Potomac and Seven Locks Elementary Schools" to take place at the Herbert Hoover Middle School in Potomac, from 7:30 to 9:00 pm.

The Save Seven Locks Coalition believes that talk of any boundary study is premature prior to a County Council decision on whether the Kendale school is even built.

Some residents see the move as an attempt to charge past the Inspector General's audit of the fraudulent and misleading ways in which the County Executive and MCPS pushed the Kendale project through the system.

They intend to be present with recording equipment in support of future civil or criminal investigations into the Kendale project.

Sunday, February 19, 2006

Silverman still silent about IG audit

Montgomery County Councilman Steve Silverman is still silent, nearly a week after the Inspector General's scathing report about the Seven Locks School scandal.

Silverman was a major force behind the attempt to tear down the elementary school and replace it with high-density "workforce" housing, while attacking the Seven Locks community as racists and bigots for opposing his plan.

A leading contender to replace Doug Duncan as county executive, Silverman has issued no public statement on the audit, sending a signal that there is more official wrongdoing for the IG to uncover.

Silverman has said nothing to the press, and his official campaign website has not been updated since February 12.

Friday, February 17, 2006

Subin blows top again, uses potty language in front of kids

Michael Subin, the county council member in charge of the education committee, lost his self-control again at a budget meeting last week.

Subin is under fire for what critics say is his joined-at-the-hip arrangement with Superintendent Jerry Weast, contributing to the lack of transparency that has caused the Seven Locks School scandal.

According to the Washington Post, Subin bashed County Executive Doug Duncan, earning intervention from Council President and Duncan loyalist George Leventhal.

Several council members complain that Subin rubber-stamps MCPS budgets with little scrutiny for fiscal responsibility.

During the hearing, Subin said he was likely to support the school board's latest proposed school construction budget.

Leventhal interjected: "That is what you always do, Mr. Subin."

Subin shot back with an apparent threat to ruin county-funded projects in the councilman's neighborhood: "Well, Mr. Leventhal, if you would like us to delay projects in Takoma Park where you live, Mr. Leventhal, we would be happy to do that."

Leventhal then recognized Councilman Howard Denis, according to the Post, but "before Denis spoke, several council members say, Subin leaned over and uttered an expletive to Leventhal that the council's video and audio recording system didn't pick up."

For the councilmen, it was more of the same lack of self-control from their colleague: "It's another episode by Mr. Subin, and we have seen many of these," said Leventhal. "I think it was not the best judgment, given there were a lot of young people in the room."

Asked about his outburst, Subin pled ignorance: "Two elected officials had a dispute. What exactly was said? I don't know."

Montgomery County residents can keep track of Subin's blowups right here on MichaelSubin.com.

Blogger's note: Have Subin, Superintendent Weast, or other county or MCPS officials bullied you? Click here to report the incident on an official MCPS "Harassment or Intimidation (Bullying) Reporting Form."

Silverman opponent Leggett promises to strengthen IG

County executive candidate Isiah Leggett, who is running against race-baiting councilman Steve Silverman in the Democratic primary to replace Doug Duncan, was up in Clarksburg last week talking about crooked deals that he would fight if elected.

According to the Washington Post, Leggett told Clarksburg-area residents that, if elected, "he will strengthen the inspector
general's office, the agency that investigates government waste and fraud." He also "promised to give more power to the Office of the People's Counsel, which helps residents participate in land-use hearings."

"Leggett was instrumental in creating both agencies during his four terms on the County Council," the Post reports. "He said he had intended for the two bodies to have more authority than they have now."

Leggett's opponent Silverman has been so quiet since the IG released his report on Seven Locks that people are joking that he's in hiding.

T-shirts send message on Seven Locks scandal

Some Seven Locks Elementary School kids, with a little bit of help, have developed a line of T-shirts and other merchandise to make a statement about the scandal that the county has brought upon their school.

There's plenty of time to order high-impact T-shirts, buttons, magnets, tote bags, plush teddy bears and other stuff to wear at the upcoming school board and county council meetings. Kids love these shirts and they'll wear them! All merchandise is offered at-cost, so there's no markup.

Click on Save Our Schools to order online.

Retired teacher decries 'culture of intimidation' by 'bully superintendents'

A veteran MCPS teacher wrote a letter to the editor in the Potomac Gazette, commenting on a "culture of intimidation" by "bully" superintendents and their minions in the school system. Such individuals might make the school system and local politicians look good, the retired teacher argues, but they do a disservice to education and harm the children.

The former teacher writes in general terms, but the points that the blogger has emphasized in bold text reflect exactly the way MCPS leaders and bureaucrats have treated taxpayers on the Seven Locks issue:

I retired from the Montgomery County Public Schools after 47 years of service. I am going to miss MCPS, not the way it is now but the way it used to be before No Child Left Behind, when teachers could teach and before test scores and data-driven documentation became the only thing that mattered in MCPS and in many other school systems in the country.

It is now fashionable for school boards around the country to hire bully type superintendents who in turn hire subordinates and county superintendents to whip us all into shape.

These superintendents develop a culture of intimidation
. They raise some test scores and the prestige of their school systems, and the politicians are satisfied. They appear to be successful, at least on paper.

To the public and school boards they are charming and utilize public relations very effectively with dazzling charts and power point presentations. However, with staff they use power tactics such as arrogance, sarcasm, fear and intimidation to build themselves up while bringing others down. They are also quick to fire anyone who does not agree with them. These tactics obviously cause poor morale, fear and the departure of many fine teachers and administrators.

We treat our teachers shabbily. Instead of believing in them and providing incentives, decent wages and good pensions, we disrespect them. We challenge them at every turn; and the government, with its No Child Left Behind Act, has created a monster.

Meaningful reform and test scores are important, but educating young people to be productive, compassionate, creative and skilled is more important. It is up to our teachers and school administrators to nurture these qualities in their students.

Our goal should be to give as many of our students the best chance at being as successful, happy and productive as they can be, and it is not going to come about by bully superintendents whipping us into shape to produce higher test scores.

George A. Cokinos, Potomac

Blogger's note: MCPS has an official "Harassment and Intimidation (Bullying) Reporting Form." If a parent, teacher, or MCPS official feels intimidated by the superintendent or his enforcers, he or she can report the incident by clicking here.

Washington Post now carries links to this blog

The Washington Post’s electronic edition is now linking this blog to all its stories about the Seven Locks scandal.

Over the past two days, the WashingtonPost.com has published at least five links to this blog.

The links are part of an automated feature that monitors the blogosphere for references to Post stories. They appear in a box titled “Who’s Blogging?” so readers can see “what bloggers are saying” about particular Post articles.

One year later: Are Hawes and Tokar laughing now?

Almost exactly a year to the day after MCPS officials ridiculed and dismissed Seven Locks parents' questions about corruption, the Montgomery County Inspector General released its scathing report against the school system.

We remember the Seven Locks Elementary School PTA meeting in February, 2005, when parents asked James Tokar and Richard Hawes of MCPS about how they deal with allegations of waste, fraud, abuse and corruption.

Instead of answering the questions, Hawes ridiculed the parents. Tokar, in charge of the construction project, repeatedly ignored verbal and written requests for information about waste and corruption.

Hawes and Tokar subsequently blocked their e-mail accounts from receiving correspondence from individual citizens who pressed the issue.

Their stonewalling prompted some citizens in our community to file the official complaint with the Inspector General that led to the recent probe.

And now we find that MCPS officials and school board members are trying to block and discredit the inspector general. Something stinks here.

Let's hope that the IG continues his investigation. He and his staff have done a great job so far.

Seven Locks controversy timeline, 2001-2006

For a quick reference to the history of the Seven Locks scandal, the Potomac Almanac has provided readers with a timeline that shows how a 2001 plan to modernize Seven Locks Elementary School became a secretive plot to sell off school land and convert it into high-density housing projects.

The Almanac shows how MCPS officials excluded citizen input from the beginning. It shows how school Superintendent Jerry Weast agreed to get rid of school land despite overcrowding, and to move far beyond his official mandate to become involved in the development of high-density subsidized housing. The feature also notes Weast’s 2005 flip-flop where, in the face of near-total opposition from the Seven Locks PTA, he pledged not to recommend the surplus of the Seven Locks school.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Follow the Seven Locks scandal via these easy Website addresses

Many of you find our Internet address - www.montgomerypublicschools.blogspot.com - a bit cumbersome to remember.

And the Seven Locks scandal is just starting to heat up.

We don't want anyone to a thing about the scandal as it unfolds - and how the public can witness the remarkable way citizen action can prevail against government officials' abuse of power.

Here are two easy-to-remember addresses to tell your friends and neighbors about:


Both lead back to this page.

Did school board & Weast break state law?

The Montgomery County school board and Superintendent Jerry Weast may have broken state law.

That's what lawyers in the Seven Locks neighborhood are discussing right now. In rejecting the county inspector general's scathing audit of the Seven Locks Elementary School scandal by challenging the IG's legal authority, school board member Steve Abramoff may have set up himself and his colleagues for real legal trouble.

Abramoff tried to deflect the IG's audit, saying that Montgomery County Public Schools (MCPS) is actually a state institution, and therefore not legally under the county IG's authority.

He has concealed that legal document from the public, citing attorney-client privilege.

County Council leaders and others dismiss Abramoff's legal maneuvering as absurd, but if one was to accept his argument, it would mean that Weast and the Board of Education followed Montgomery County Executive Doug Duncan's request toward shutting down a public school and illegally handing the multimillion-dollar piece of real estate to the county government.

Either way Abramoff, Duncan, Weast, County Councilman Michael Subin and others might have broken the law. Could they be prosecuted? Should they? That's what some Seven Locks folks are discussing right now.

School board spokesman questions IG's personal integrity

The school board first responded to the Inspector General’s Seven Locks School audit by avoiding the merits of the case and questioning the IG's legal authority to investigate the school system.

Now it's hitting below the belt, questioning IG Thomas Dagley’s personal integrity.

School board spokesman Brian Edwards calls the Seven Locks audit “all wet.”

“It’s terribly flawed,” Edwards says in the Washington Times. “He [Dagley] purposely mischaracterized and ignored the facts. He had an agenda, and he set out to prove it."

Denis & Leventhal: Council must investigate

"This is a very searing and explosive report," says Montgomery County Council member Howard A. Denis (R-Bethesda/Potomac) about the Inspector General’s Seven Locks audit. "The council's mandate is clear. We have to gather the facts from all levels of government."

County Council President George L. Leventhal agrees, dismissing protests from school board members who say the IG has no authority over them. “County law is very clear,” Leventhal says in the Washington Times. "The [inspector general] has the authority."

Steve Abramoff, running for state office, says he will 'ignore' IG report

A Montgomery County school board member who is running for higher office says he will ignore Inspector General Thomas Dagley’s report on the Seven Locks Elementary School scandal.

Steve Abramoff, a Republican, is running for state comptroller. He attacks the IG’s findings as “way off,” yet refuses to discuss their merits. According to the Washington Times, Abramoff “says the board and [Superintendent] Weast will ignore Mr. Dagley’s report.”

Councilwoman Praisner: Abramoff conduct is ‘a problem’

"I think it's a problem," says County Councilwoman Marilyn Praisner (D), in reference to school board member Steve Abramoff's legalistic attack on the Seven Locks IG report. Chair of one of the council committees that will examine the report, Praisner tells the Washington Times, "I think it's also problematic to raise issues of legal authority after you don't like the answers."

Uncharacteristic silence from Silverman

The fact that a candidate for county executive would avoid a great media opportunity makes people wonder if he's got something to hide.

People familiar with County Councilman Steve Silverman know how much he loves the cameras. But today they're talking about how uncharacteristically quiet he's been since the Inspector General released his report on the Seven Locks School scandal.

Silverman is one of the biggest figures behind the scandal. He even trashed Seven Locks-area citizens in the Washington Post as racists and bigots for opposing the Seven Locks/Kendale plan. Now he's nowhere to be seen.

Maybe, like Superintendent Weast, he's just too ill this week.

Scandal might affect Weast-Subin cronyism

The IG’s findings on Seven Locks School “might have broader implications for Weast,” Lori Aratani reports in the Washington Post.

“Since becoming superintendent, Weast has formed a close working relationship with [county] council member Michael L. Subin (D-At Large), chairman of the Education Committee. Subin is Weast’s leading booster on the council, and some council members are starting to question whether there needs to be more aggressive council oversight of the school system,” the Post reports.

Subin has been a lead attack dog against Seven Locks-area citizens who raised concerns of waste, fraud and abuse before the council. He tried to intimidate at least one of them publicly. Last May Subin lost control of himself at a council hearing when community leader Cyril Draffin asked uncomfortable questions about possible official misconduct. Councilman Leventhal had to calm him down.

Probe reveals continuing Seven Locks problems

Although the Inspector General's report on the Seven Locks School scandal covers only from 2001 through 2004, its conclusions indicate ongoing problems with the Montgomery County Public Schools (MCPS) system.

The Save Seven Locks School Coalition, which spearheaded the effort to stop the county, notes several continuing problems:

* "MCPS continues to provide unreliable and misleading information on options and comparative costs for the Seven Locks project."

* "MCPS is rushing to break ground for the Kendale school - undaunted by new developments."

* "MCPS officials plan to close the current Seven Locks School even though 17,000 county students are in portable classrooms."

* The School Board rebuttal to the IG report not only fails to address the substantive points and refuses to recognize the IG's authority; "it distorts the record still further." The Coalition explains how in its news release.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Inspector General says MCPS lied

Montgomery County Public School (MCPS) officials lied to push the scandal-ridden Kendale replacement school project, according to the county inspector general.

The IG report says that no evidence exists to support MCPS statements that the Seven Locks school community initiated or backed the county plan to demolish the school, turn it into a high-density housing project, and build an expensive new school on a smaller wooded lot more than a mile away.

According to the report, issued February 15, "Evidence does not support statements by MCPS that the Seven Locks Elementary School community proposed or supported the replacement school option."

It singled out Superintendent Jerry Weast. In a February 23, 2004 memo to the Board of Education, Weast falsely claimed that the "Winston Churchill Cluser leadership and the Seven Locks Elementary School (SLES) Parent-Teacher Association (PTA) have proposed a plan to build a replacement Seven Locks Elementary School on the Kendale Road site."

The inspector general said he could find no evidence of such a proposal, and "asked MCPS to provide documentation to support its statement that cluster and PTA leadership proposed a plan to build a Kendale Road replacement facility."

MCPS supplied three documents in response, one of which was testimony the SLES PTA president gave to the MCPS board in March 2004 - after Weast had written his memorandum assuring the board of the SLES PTA's support.

The testimony, according to the IG, "does not support the statement" of Weast. Instead, the SLES PTA president specifically stated that "we did not propose it [Kendale] to replace Seven Locks E.S."

Another Weast memo was described as "factually incorrect."

Weast was absolutely wrong, according to the IG: "the Seven Locks community generally, and the PTA and Churchill Cluster leaders specifically, are on record as opposing construction of a replacement school. "

Click here for a link to the full IG report.

School Board hides its response to IG from the public

The Montgomery County Inspector General says in his first report on Seven Locks Elementary School that the Board of Education "did not address our findings and recommendations" in its response to his draft.

Instead, the school board attacked the legitimacy of the IG investigation and concealed its internal legal opinions from the public.

The board hid its legal opinions under the catch-all classification "Confidential: Subject to Attorney-Client Privilege," forcing the IG to omit them from his damning report.

It looks like BoE member Steve Abrams, who wrote the response, is questioning the IG's legitimacy as a last resort. Even though the IG's field work on Seven Locks began in November 2005, "it is important to note that the legislative authority concern was raised for the first time in the February 6, 2006 response to the draft audit report," the IG said.

For a pdf document of the Inspector General's report, click here.

Seven Locks scandal: Worse than Clarksburg?

The Inspector General audit of MCPS wrongdoing in the Seven Locks/Kendale project is "no different from what's happening at Clarksburg" and "could be considered a lot worse," according to a school board member.

The following quotes in the Potomac Almanac show the trouble ahead for County Executive Doug Duncan, Superintendent Jerry Weast, school board members, and other officials who ignored and even attacked constituents for raising concerns about wrongdoing.

"It's no different from what's happening at Clarksburg. It could be considered worse in a lot of ways because [MCPS] accounts for more than half of the county budget.”
Board of Education member Valerie Ervin

“Citizens are looking around saying, 'Is anyone minding the damn store?' They’re not.”
Valerie Ervin

"We really see Seven Locks . . . as a poster child for accountability in the school system just as folks see Clarksburg as a poster child with regard to land use and planning. It’s the core issue of accountability that links the two.”
Save Seven Locks Coalition leader Sandy Vogelgesang

“What it comes down to ultimately is some segment of the community identifies what it believes to be a flawed process and attempts to get proper response from officials and gets stonewalled, until that group screams so much that nobody can ignore it.”
Mark Adelman, Chairman, Education Committee, Montgomery County Civic Federation

Denis, Leventhal & Ervin: Let's get to the bottom of it

Councilmen Howard Denis (R) and George Leventhal (D) acted in serious and dignified fashion to the Inspector General's report, saying that the council should investigate the findings of the audit.

School board member Valerie Ervin (D) defended the IG's authority, as well. "I think it is the responsibility of the Board of Education as an oversight body of the school system to fully cooperate with the inspector general," she said, according to the Gazette. "Let’s get to the bottom of these allegations."

Law specifically gives IG jurisdiction over schools

Montgomery County law states that the Inspector General is empowered to:

1. review the effectiveness and efficiency of programs and operations of county government and independent county agencies; 2. prevent and detect fraud, waste, and abuse in government activities; and 3. propose ways to increase the legal, fiscal, and ethical accountability of county government departments and county-funded agencies.

As the Gazette reports, county law specifies that "the county board of education and the county school system" is an "independent county agency."

Abrams and Subin attack legitimacy of IG probe

But others apparently do not want to get to the bottom of the scandal, They responded defensely, attacking and questioning the IG report and not discussing the merits of its findings, as if desperate to cover up something.

School Board member and audit committee chairman Steven Abrams (R) suddenly disputes county law, claiming that the Montgomery County Public School system is not a county entity at all, but a creature of the state of Maryland. Consequently, Abrams argues in a five-page brief, the county inspector general has no authority to investigate it.

Abrams tells the Gazette, "I’m convinced the school system is an entity of the state, and not the county government."

Councilman Michael Subin (D), chairman of the education committee who has attacked constituents in the past for their concerns about official wrongdoing on Seven Locks/Kendale, says the county IG has no business in the county school system either.

"I’m aware of Mr. Abrams’ letter and the other legal opinions," he tells the press. "And while I tend to agree with those, the council does not interpret the law the same way . . . I would question [the inspector general’s] ability to look at state agencies."

Subin lost control at a council meeting in May 2005 when a constituent voiced concerns.

MCPS Chief Operating Officer Larry A. Bowers also questioned the authority of the IG.

Bowers said that he would look into a finding that MCPS failed to follow proper contracting procedures, but added: "In terms of anything else, we’ll certainly not be responding to it."

Are we still a bunch of bigots, Mr. Silverman?

Some of the politicians most insistent on invading the Seven Locks neighborhood and tearing down its school have some owning up to do.

Let's start with County Councilman Steve Silverman. He couldn't defend the expensive Kendale replacement school with facts, so he slandered community residents to the Washington Post, implying that our opposition to the project was motivated by racism.

Here's a story we ran more than a year ago, on January 11, 2005:

County Council President Steve Silverman has run out of honest arguments for tearing down a thriving elementary school in the heart of the Seven Locks neighborhood and building a big subsidized housing project in its place.

Commenting on local opposition to the planned but unannounced demolition of Seven Locks Elementary School, Silverman tells Washington Post columnist Marc Fisher, "The buzzword you hear is that they're for affordable housing, but it's not 'compatible.'"

Then Silverman said what he really thinks of the parents and neighbors who oppose his plan to rip out the core of their neighborhood: "Racism and economic class issues are always lurking beneath."

He thought he could silence a community by accusing them of bigotry. Perhaps he has been trying to cover up for something that the Inspector General, or perhaps a special prosecutor, should investigate.

BoE 'stubbornness' puzzles education leader

A prominent Montgomery County education leader is puzzled by the stubbornness of Superintendent Jerry Weast and the Board of Education.

"Depending on how stubborn Weast and the board of education are, they can obviously reshuffle their [Capital Improvements Program] funds and still go ahead with the construction," Montgomery County Civic Federation Education Committee Chair Mark Adelman tells the Potomac Almanac.

"The stubbornness of the board and MCPS on this is really kind of puzzling," Adelman says.

He will testify at a special March 7 hearing intended to decide if the county would pay an extra $3.3 million in the Kendale project's initial cost overruns.

The situation remains unpredictable and bizarre, Adelman adds. "I can’t even begin to predict [what will happen at the hearing], because all along this thing has not made sense."

School board ignored IG recommendation to wait

The Board of Education ignored Inspector General Dagley's recommendation last November to wait to see his Seven Locks audit report before making any more decisions about the Kendale project, according to the Almanac.

Instead, on January 10, 2006, the BoE voted to spend $16 million on the Kendale replacement school.

The IG also reported that the BoE "did not comply with its own public notice, application, and initial selection policies in awarding a $900,000 architectural design contract in July, 2004," writes Ken Millstone of the Potomac Almanac.

"Still, the Jan. 10 award to Henley Construction Company Inc. is contingent upon the $3.3 million special appropriation.
Coming on the heels of Dagley’s report, the special appropriation hearing could be the beginning of a complicated endgame in the Kendale affair, or just one more frustration for opponents of the current plan."

IG report 'debunks' School Board argument

"The inspector general’s report debunks the idea that building on Kendale would entail a roughly $3 million savings over expanding Seven Locks, a central tenet of MCPS’ defense of the project," according to the Potomac Almanac.

Ervin: Seven Locks scandal 'could be pretty damaging'

The Seven Locks Elementary School scandal could be worse than Clarksburg, a Montgomery Board of Education member says.

It could be pretty damaging for the school system, said BoE member Valerie Ervin. "It’s no different from what’s happening at Clarksburg. It could be considered worse in a lot of ways because [MCPS] accounts for more than half of the county budget.'"

The Potomac Almanac reports on Ervin's comment.

Denis: Seven Locks community was 'right all along'

"It turns out they were right all along," Montgomery County Councilmember Howard Denis (R-1) said about the Save Seven Locks School Coalition and the Seven Locks PTA members who exposed the official wrongdoing that led to the Inspector General report.

According to Almanac reporter Ken Millstone, "Denis endorsed the report's recommendations and said he felt 'misled and let down' without singling out individual culprits.

"It's an attitude problem with some people in government ... They just say, 'I know better,'" Denis said.

Denis would not state, when asked, if he was referring to the Montgomery County Public School (MCPS) leadership, but did volunteer that the IG report speaks for itself.

Councilman seeks reversal of Kendale project

County Councilmember Howard Denis, who represents the Seven Locks community, says he will introduce legislation to reverse the county's now-scandal-ridden plan to shut down Seven Locks Elementary School and build a "replacement school" on Kendale Road.

According to the Almanac, Denis will propose building a new school, for less money, on the existing Seven Locks site, as recommended by the Inspector General.

Almanac: Seven Locks 'is the new Clarksburg'

"The inspector general’s draft report makes it all but official: Seven Locks Elementary School is the new Clarksburg."

That's the lead sentence of the Potomac Almanac's coverage of the new IG report.

Looks like grassroots political and legal for those behind the scandal.

Inspector General says MCPS misled public on Seven Locks

"The Montgomery County school system misled the public two years ago when it proposed tearing down Seven Locks Elementary School and rebuilding it on another site," the Washington Post reports, citing an audit report of the county Inspector General.

"Some residents have long suspected that the real motivation was to sell the prime Seven Locks lot to developers," according to the Post. "At the time, [Superintendent Jerry] Weast and County Executive Douglas M. Duncan (D) were considering using the property to increase the county's supply of affordable housing."

According to the audit, to be released today, February 15, the Montgomery County Public Schools (MCPS) system misled the public in the following ways:

1. presented incomplete cost-benefit numbers to the County Council;
2. misrepresented community support for the project, falsely saying it had the support of the local PTA;
3. ignored a cheaper option to modernize the existing school instead of build a new one on another piece of property;
4. awarded a no-bid contract to architects.

The report vindicates the Seven Locks community, whose leaders complained of the county's lack of transparency and back-door maneuverings to force through the plan to build a "replacement" school, and who raised concerns about unethical and possibly illegal behavior on the part of County Council members and MCPS officials.

Education chair Subin trashes IG audit

County Council Education Committee Chairman Michael L. Subin (D-At large), ripped the Inspector General's report on Seven Locks, calling the audit "a very poor document" that "looks at dollars" but not at issues like how to ease school crowding, the Washington Post reports.

Blogger's note: Seven Locks Elementary School is not overcrowded.

Flashback: Subin assailed constituent for worrying about unethical officials

Subin has attacked constituents who complained about the lack of transparency in the Seven Locks issue. As we reported last May, Subin lost control of himself at a public hearing when a community leader voiced concern about "potential inappropriate or unethical behavior of public officials."

Seven Locks scandal a 'poster child' for out-of-control school system

"We think the Seven Locks case really constitutes a poster child for lack of accountability in the school system," Ambassador Sandy Vogelgesang, a leader of the Save Seven Locks School Coalition, tells the Washington Post>.

Officials say BoE is not accountable to inspector general

Montgomery County Public School officials "dismissed" the audit of Inspector General Thomas Dagley, and "challenged the inspector general's authority to investigate how the school board makes decisions," the Washington Post reports.

School board member Stephen N. Abrams complained in a letter to Dagley, "I do not believe it was appropriate for you to decide unilaterally to resolve these complaints."

County Council members call for probe of school board

Montgomery County Council members are calling for a probe into Inspector General Dagley's findings on Seven Locks Elementary School.

They say the IG's findings "raise broad questions about how the school system manages its $1.8 billion budget," according to the Washington Post.

"It makes you wonder what else is out there," said Councilman Howard Denis (R-Potomac/Bethesda).

Saturday, February 11, 2006

More cost overruns seen for Kendale

Costs overruns for the Kendale Road school, which have ballooned by more than $3 million as soon as the architects' plans were done, are almost certain to increase.

Montgomery County Public Schools, and Superintendent Weast personally, still say the new school will take just over a year to build. Weast says in a recent memorandum that the school is still scheduled for completion by the Fall 2007 semester.

That schedule presumes construction at a record pace. Construction probably will take considerably longer, incurring further cost overruns.

And the budget does not include the costs of widening the very narrow Kendale Road, which is too narrow for school buses to navigate safely, and does not permit parking for families to attend school events. MCPS will not include those and other safety items in the construction budget, and has refused repeatedly to tell PTA members how such deficiencies would be funded.

Council, reconsidering, wants new MCPS data on cost effectiveness

Public pressure is helping the County Council reconsider its plan to shut down Seven Locks Elementary School and replace it with the controversial project on Kendale Road.

The Council has recently asked Montgomery County Public Schools for cost data on the Kendale project and on modernization of the existing Seven Locks School, according to the Save Seven Locks School coalition.

Superintendent Jerry Weast insists that building the new Kendale school would be cheaper than modernizing Seven Locks, despite more than $3 million in cost overruns before construction has even begun.

Weast and the school board have ignored the Seven Locks PTA, which has voted repeatedly against the replacement school and in favor of the more cost effective modernization of the existing facility.

Planning Board turns against Kendale construction

In the wake of the Clarksburg corruption scandal, the Montgomery County Planning Board has turned against the Kendale/Seven Locks "replacement" school hatched by Superintendent Jerry Weast and County Executive Doug Duncan.

According to the Save Seven Locks School coalition, the Planning Board Chair has sent a letter to Weast, Duncan, and the County Council advising them of the majority of the board's "serious reservations regarding the selected location for the replacement school."

IG files preliminary audit of Kendale project

The Montgomery County Inspector General is proceeding with his investigation of alleged corruption concerning the Kendale/Seven Locks school project.

According to the Save Seven Locks School coalition, the IG has filed a preliminary audit on the controversial project.

County Council hearing March 7 on funding Kendale cost overruns

Seven Locks community members plan on flocking the County Council's March 7 meeting, where the only agenda item is to consider Superintendent Jerry Weast's request to pay for the cost overruns of the Kendale/Seven Locks "replacement" school.

Parents and neighbors will be testifying at the event. There is still time to get on the agenda to speak against the school board's proposal to start funding the controversial and allegedly corrupt construction project.

Families are urged to turn out to support saving the current school, and to stop the Kendale project, which is under investigation by the county Inspector General for alleged fraud.

Place: County Council Office Building, 100 Maryland Avenue, 3rd Floor Hearing Room, Rockville, Maryland.

Time: Session starts at 7:30 p.m., but citizens are urged to arrive early. Free parking at the Council garage.

The county will allow 25-30 community speakers to have their say for three minutes each. To testify against the project, call 240-777-7931. Callers may be wait-listed.

For more information, see the Save Seven Locks website.

Seven Locks fight creates single-issue voters

Seven Locks-area residents are turning against the politicians who they helped vote into power.

The overwhelmingly liberal Democrat neighborhood is so outraged by the county's insistence on building a school that the local PTA doesn't want, that many residents are voting this year against office-holders who support the scheme.

"We said from day one that we assume the real basis for this whole issue may be political. If it is political, we will deal with it politically," Sandy Vogelgesang, a leader of the Save Seven Locks Coalition, told the Almanac. "For a lot of people in this area, Seven Locks has made them into a one-issue voter."

School board approves Kendale contract, wants County to pay for cost overruns

Ignoring opposition from the Seven Locks PTA, the county Board of Education approved a $16 million contract to build the Kendale/Seven Locks "replacement" school, and has asked the Montgomery County government to furnish an additional $3.3 million in taxpayer funds for cost overruns, the Almanac reports.

Weast plans to proceed with Kendale at expense of other schools

School Superintendent Jerry Weast has informed officials that he intends to proceed with the Kendale/Seven Locks "Replacement" school at the expense of other school construction and modernization projects.

In a memorandum to the Board of Education, Weast announced that the Capital Improvements Program (CIP) funding discrapancies mean that many projects must be delayed, some by years. He then listed the school projects to be affected negatively by the lack of requested funds, omitting the Kendale/Seven Locks "replacement" school and therefore indicating its priority over the other schools.

Weast added that he has shared the information with Montgomery County PTA leaders.

However, he has not acknowledged that the Seven Locks PTA has voted overwhelmingly on more than one occasion against his initiative to build the "replacement" school.

This and other recent county actions add to widespread suspicions that Weast, County Executive Doug Duncan, County Executive candidate Steve Silverman, and most County Council members and school board members might be using school construction in ways that could be improper or illegal.

The county Inspector General's investigation of alleged corruption in the Kendale/SLES "replacement" school, and an audit of the project, continue.

Click here for a pdf copy of Weast's January 20 memorandum.