Friday, March 31, 2006

Weast's deputy says MCPS may be breaking state law

A top MCPS official admits that the school system might be in violation of state law.

The admission, from the MCPS deputy superintendent, comes after a citizens watchdog group blew the whistle.

According to the Gazette, "State law requires that school systems have an advisory committee to review family life and human development curriculum. That committee may also review HIV/AIDS prevention curriculum, or the school system may establish a separate committee to do so."

Citizens for a Responsible Curriculum President Michelle Turner told the school board March 14, "[State law] indicates that the Citizens Advisory Committee can be used for the purpose of reviewing materials, but only if the committee has a representative from the local health department."

The committee currently does not.

In response to Turner's testimony, MCPS officials have asked the Maryland Department of Education, state school board, and state Attorney General's office to clarify the law, the Gazette reports.

"The [state Department of Education] Web site cited by Ms. Turner . . . does appear to contradict our understanding of the requirement," Deputy Superintendent Frieda K. Lacey wrote in a memo to Superintendent Jerry Weast.

Disease specialist asks if MCPS has something to hide

MCPS officials are not providing data to Citizens Advisory Committee members who need information for review of the county public school health curriculum, prompting a medical expert to ask if the school system has something to hide.

Infectious disease specialist Ruth M. Jacobs, who represents Citizens for a Responsible Curriculum on the advisory committee, says MCPS is not complying with requests for health information.

"Jacobs said it has been a month since she asked to see three resources that pediatricians consulting for the school system recommended for use in developing the curriculum on sexual orientation and sexually transmitted infections," the Gazette reports on March 29.

"Why would they not want us to have the references recommended by the pediatricians?" asked Jacobs. "Is there something there they don't want us to know?"

MCPS spokesman Brian K. Edwards says the committee should be patient: "This is on the 10-step processs, step one."

Edwards is the MCPS official who first publicly attacked the personal integrity of county Inspector Thomas Dagley for the February audit on alleged MCPS wrongdoing.

Haughey's on top of things, as usual

Faced with total opposition from the Potomac and Seven Locks communities, the PTAs of both schools, and the County Council, "School Board President Charles Haughey . . . said he had no idea where the board now stands on the Kendale Road option," according to the March 29 Gazette.

School board member calls IG a 'dupe'

Steve Abrams, the controversial school board member who authored the legal opinion that the county school system is not subject to county oversight for waste, fraud and abuse, continues to make personal attacks against Inspector General Thomas Dagley.

The Republican activist is working hard for his new nickname, "Abramoff," after the disgraced Montgomery County-based Republican lobbyist. Now Abrams calls the IG a "dupe."

Abrams also assails Seven Locks community members for duplicity.

Quoted in the March 29 Gazette, Abrams digs in his heels: "I am more convinced than ever that the inspector general, rather than being an independent body, was set up to make his study and that he was duped by the very people who set him up."

Abrams is running to become Comptroller of the state of Maryland.

Abramoff blasts Denis

School board member Steve Abramoff is still gunning for the discredited Kendale Road school site. At a March 27 board meeting, he "blasted" Councilman Howard Denis for trying to kill the project.

Denis is author of the compromise amendment that supports the MCPS plan for a large school to replace Seven Locks, but that supports the community by building the school on the present Seven Locks site instead of the wooded lot on Kendale.

According to the Gazette, Abramoff "blasted Denis, saying Denis called for the council to consider all options, then used [a March 23 Council] Education Committee meeting to take the Kendale Road option off the table."

"I have no idea what he had for breakfast to make him do an 180 degree turn," Abramoff says of his fellow Republican in the March 29 Gazette.

MCPS damages self with 'scorched earth' retribution policy

PTA and community leaders took Montgomery County school officials to task for waging psychological warfare to pit one community against another, and for threatening retribution against citizens for opposing MCPS plans.

MCPS came under a barrage of criticism at the March 21 County Council session. The Almanac reports that "speakers at the hearing increasingly called MCPS to task for what they called an antagonistic, 'divide and conquer' attitude.

"'It’s almost like a scorched earth policy. I don’t understand what the [school] board is doing,' said Mark Adelman, chair of the Montgomery County Civic Federation’s Education Committee. 'The minute you are perceived to be threatening that one school is going to be closed . . . you’re sending a message to the citizens whose kids go to that school that there’s going to be retribution.'

"Adelman said he feared that the school system is digging in its heels over a single issue rather than focusing on global principles."

Subin threatened parent who asked for honest answers

County Councilman Michael Subin threatened to fight a Seven Locks parent who raised questions about official misconduct concerning the Kendale project.

The Potomac Almanac carries the story from the March 21 hearing:

"'We ask honest questions expecting honest answers and we get misinformation, disinformation and lies,' said Seven Locks parent Michael Waller.

"Council Education Committee Chairman Michael Subin (D-At Large) stared directly at Waller during councilmember comments on the testimony.

"'Demeaning other folks and putting negative labels on them is simply getting people to dig their heels in. It’s not helping. If we care about the kids, let’s address the policy issues,' he said.

"Subin then turned off his microphone and asked Waller if he wanted to 'take this outside.'"

Monday, March 27, 2006

Walt Whitman High School paper questions Kendale motive

The online newspaper of Walt Whitman High School ran a student-authored feature questioning the motive of MCPS in choosing the Kendale site, and favoring the construction of a modern elementary school on the Seven Locks schoolyard.

Xiaoqi Zhu writes in the Black and White, "MCPS officials should rebuild Seven Locks Elementary School at its current site, because the original decision to relocate the school failed to take into account more cost-effective alternatives."

The high school writer hinted that MCPS might have motives other than children's education: "Evidence pointing to more cost-effective alternatives for renovating SLES and alleviating overcrowding at Potomac raises important questions about the school system’s reasons for relocation."

Friday, March 24, 2006

State senator says MoCo's uncontrolled growth has hurt schools

A state senator who represents the area around Seven Locks Road blames Montgomery County's political leaders for the overcrowding of local schools.

"My prefererence is we obviously need to have a couple more schools built in the Potomac community," Maryland Senator Rob Garagiola (D-15) tells the Almanac.

Discussing the overcrowing at Bells Mill Elementary, just west of Seven Locks Road, the senator said, in the words of the Almanac's Ken Millstone, "that state legislators have done their part by funneling as much school funding as possible into Montgomery County but that the county has allowed unchecked growth and development to overload the schools."

"'We’re not really even playing catch-up,' Garagiola said. 'We’re just playing maintain being in the hole and not get any deeper.'"

While the senator calls for more schools and less housing density, some county leaders want it the other way around.

Council Member Praisner has a good point about parameters. Here's how to set them.

Some County Council members understand the Kendale issue, but are concerned about setting a precedent that would override the impositions of the separately-elected Board of Education, or trample the rights of local communities.

"What you are suggesting that we do - by voting on Mr. Denis' resolution - is not to just reject the Board's recommendation, but to impose, maybe what the community wants, but impose it from the County level," Council Vice President Marilyn Praisner , pictured, told Seven Locks-area witnesses at a March 21 hearing.

According to the Sentinel, Council President George Leventhal also expressed unease at setting such a precedent. (As did fellow councilmember Michael Subin, who goes further by saying that even the Inspector General has no right to review the school system.)

"There may be significant rationale for why this is an extraordinary situation," Praisner continued. "But the question becomes how does one draw the parameters such that you protect some other community that might come inside here and say, 'County council, do not impose your view.'"

Fair enough.

Let's work together and draw the parameters to protect the communities from county imposition.

Here's an opening suggestion:

1. When a community feels that the school board and MCPS are imposing their will irrespective of the community's opposition,

2. When the administrative, political and legal structure of the county deprives the community of the ability to act on its own in defense against the imposition,

3. When serious and credible allegations of official school board/MCPS misconduct are involved in the course of imposing on the community,

4. When MCPS repeatedly used false pretenses to mislead the County Council that levies the taxes and appropriates the MCPS budget from which the imposition is funded,

5. When scores of witnesses in two sets of hearings unanimously oppose the MCPS imposition and ask the County Council for relief, and

6. When the community's elected representative on the Council introduces a compromise amendment to resolve the issue quickly and fairly,

The Council can defend the community at the community's request from the county school board's imposition.

The Council can thus impose the Denis Amendment compromise: build a large, consolidated school that MCPS wanted but the Seven Locks PTA did not request, but build it on the site that the Seven Locks PTA wanted but MCPS did not (even though it originally did).

The Council - which holds the power of the purse on such matters - therefore is neither imposing on the community or other communities, nor is it encroaching on the Board of Education's decision to build a much larger, consolidated school.

To the contrary. It's supporting the board's decision to build the school, while supporting the affected community.


Thursday, March 23, 2006

MCPS offers anger management advice

The MCPS website offers education officials healthy tips on anger management.

One helpful hint: "Positive communication is one more tool that helps you manage your anger."

The website also has Employee Assistance Program pages on communicating effectively and on negotiating conflict.

'Ferocious and bizarre' actions damage MCPS credibility

"There are grave new concerns about the school system's credibility, due to the initially ferocious and bizarre response by a majority of the Board of Education and by many high-ranking school officials, all of whom attacked the methods and conclusions of the inspector general's report as well as the character and motives of the inspector general and others."

So writes Montgomery County Civic Federation leader Wayne Goldstein in the Washington Post.

"Board members Steve Abrams and Sharon Cox continue to defiantly challenge the authority of the inspector general to research and write this or any school report without the express permission of the school board."

Washington Post story: MCPS data statements untrue

After the Inspector General found that MCPS failed to share cost data on the Kendale project, a top MCPS official said, "We don't withhold information, we just don't necessarily provide it" unless asked.

A leading civic leader says he and others asked, and MCPS failed to provide the figures. Here's what Montgomery County Civic Federation leader Wayne Goldstein says in a Washington Post essay:

"The most serious item in the inspector general's report is that Montgomery County public schools did not share the cost data on building a new Seven Locks school on the current site, even though it researched and updated that option.

"Richard Hawes, MCPS facilities director, responded to questions about this glaring omission with: 'We don't withhold information, we just don't necessarily provide it' unless asked. However, I and others asked him for it, and none of us was provided with the cost data."

MCPS officials were 'extraordinarily combative'

In their efforts to put the children first by pushing the Kendale project that the PTAs didn't want, MCPS officials became "extraordinarily combative."

The combativeness emerged at two County Council meetings early in March, Montgomery County Civic Federation officer Wayne Goldstein writes in the Washington Post.

The report further establishes a pattern of Kendale advocates' intimidation of critics. What could they possibly be hiding?

Putting the children last: MCPS hidden agenda explained in Post

The hidden agenda of the MCPS to sell Seven Locks Elementary School land to developers is laid out in the Washington Post. Montgomery County Civic Federation leader Wayne Goldstein writes in a feature article:

"After the county executive requested certain unused school sites for affordable housing in fall 2003, Superintendent Jerry Weast instead concocted an alternate scheme in February 2004 to build a new elementary school on the Kendale Road site, paying for it by selling the current Seven Locks school to a developer for housing.

"Even when Weast abandoned the strange idea of trying to get cash for school land -- in the face of massive opposition -- and even when the school board said it would never surplus Seven Locks, the plan to build on Kendale assumed a life of its own, and school officials remained determined to do this project, apparently no matter what the consequences."

Chilling effect seen on parents

"One of the worst incidents to come out of" the Kendale scandal "occurred when three top MCPS officials signed detailed affidavits last month stating that at a specific meeting in January 2004, a cluster coordinator indicated support for the Kendale Road site," writes Wayne Goldstein, a Montgomery County Civic Federation leader in the Washington Post.

"This extraordinary effort to point the finger at one solitary volunteer parent came in response to the third finding in the inspector general's report: 'Evidence does not support MCPS statements to the [school board] that the [Seven Locks] community proposed or supported a Kendale replacement school option.' This no-holds-barred action will surely chill parental involvement in the future if apologies and promises by MCPS to never do this again are not made."

'Other concerns remain' to be probed

"Other concerns remain" after the recent revelations of MCPS wrongdoing, Wayne Goldstein writes in the Washington Post:

"1) the lack of outside examination of many MCPS activities;

"2) the failure of the school board and MCPS to respond to community newspaper stories about delayed and underreporting of incidents of school violence;

"3) whether the superintendent and certain board members use closed meeting sessions to discuss what is supposed to be discussed in public sessions; and

"4) a blurring of the lines of authority between the superintendent and the board."

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Odd man out again: Subin's colleagues let him stew by himself

It was quite a thing to see: the unfolding self-destruction of a bully.

If County Council member Michael Subin had any allies among his colleagues, they made no attempt to bail him out at the March 21 hearing.

Witness after witness - about 30 in all - testified against the Subin-backed scheme to shut down Seven Locks school and build the Kendale "replacement." Nobody testified in support.

And nobody on the Council said a word to support the isolated education committee chairman as he tried to extort silence from Seven Locks parents who continue to press concerns about fraud and abuse.

Speaking at the end of the hearing, Subin threatened that, if the concerns continued to be voiced, he would use his education committee chairmanship to wreck the process to build a new elementary school for Seven Locks-area children.

He was the only blight - some might call it comic relief - on Council President George Leventhal's efficient and open hearing to let citizens publicly air their grievances and concerns.

Leventhal gave important bi-partisan support to Council member Howard Denis' amendment to axe the Kendale project and replace Seven Locks school on its present site - a fair compromise that the PTAs of the endangered school and Potomac Elementary found agreeable.

Council Vice President Marilyn Praisner asked tough but thoughtful questions. Member Nancy Floreen made all the witnesses feel welcome to petition their elected officials, while Subin, seated to her right, glowered at some of the families in an apparent effort to intimidate.

Members Phil Andrews and Mike Knapp took it all in, listening to panel after panel of witnesses and never once challenging the repeated constituent complaints of unfair MCPS treatment and unethical if not illegal MCPS practices.

The entire Council left Subin to stew all alone in his sandbox, looking more extreme and isolated than ever.

Subin threatens to halt SLES progress if citizens press fraud issue

County Council Education Committee Chairman Michael Subin publicly threatened to derail resolving the Seven Locks school issue if citizens persist in raising questions about alleged MCPS fraud, waste and abuse.

Every time citizens raise questions, he said, people on his side of the issue "dig their heels" deeper.

He made the statement at a March 21 hearing on the Denis Amendment to stop the Kendale project and build the Seven Locks replacement school on the present school site. Subin was responding directly to critics who have raised concerns about fraudulent, wasteful and abusive practices by MCPS and other county officials.

The council's education chief has called the recent Inspector General report "hogwash," and said that meeting to discuss it was a "waste of time."

Subin insisted in the March 21 hearing that he's putting the intrests of the children first.

In off-the-microphone comments from the dais, he said something to a Seven Locks parent that the parent construed as a personal threat.

More to come. Stay tuned.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

The sidewalk that MCPS says doesn't exist

In an attempt to justify the lack of a planned sidewalk for the Kendale school project, MCPS says people shouldn't worry because there's no sidewalk on Seven Locks Road that kids can use to walk to school.

"So the walking situation between the two sites," MCPS tells us, "are identical."

Wrong again.

This picture was taken from the southwest corner of the intersection of Bradley Boulevard and Seven Locks Road, after the photographer walked a half-mile down a safe, paved sidewalk.

Seven Locks Elementary School is at the left in the background. At the center of the picture: a traffic sign indicating a pedestrian crosswalk for school children.

More pictures of the nonexistent sidewalk

Pay no attention to these photos of the 1.3 mile-long sidewalk on Seven Locks Road. MCPS says the sidewalk doesn't exist.

Maybe it isn't a sidewalk. Maybe the county has its own arcane definition of "sidewalk," so officials can tell constituents - as they like to do - that they don't have their facts straight. We local cretins think it's a sidewalk. And to those of us who live here, it's a safe walking route.

Last year, Subin demanded an investigation. Why is he against one now?

County Council Education Committee Chairman Michael Subin has changed his tune since last spring, when he assailed a constituent for voicing concerns about improper official behavior on the Kendale issue.

Subin demanded names and he wanted them on the spot, adding that the State's Attorney would probably want to know.

"The bad news is the issue of alleged deals. Not the right thing to say," Subin said at a May 3, 2005 County Council meeting. "Not the right thing to bring up. And some really poor implications."

According to the Almanac, Subin told the concerned community leader, Cyril Draffin, "And if you have any evidence of deals that were cut, we all want to know. And I’m sure the State’s Attorney would want to know. And so if you’re holding evidence of ill and illegal dealings by anybody, I want to know. I want to know right now. And if you don’t have that evidence, you owe somebody or somebodies up here an apology."

When the county Inspector General actually did look at evidence, considered it valid, and presented it to the County Council, Subin attacked the IG and called his report "hogwash." Let's see how this story plays out.

Monday, March 20, 2006

Have a family outing tonight - Take kids to County Council hearing!

Make tonight a special family night!

Seven Locks-area parents and kids are urged to turn out for the Montgomery County Council's last public hearing on Seven Locks Elementary School before the council votes on the issue.

The hearing is at 7:30 pm on Tuesday, March 21 at the County Council Building, 100 Maryland Avenue in Rockville, in the 3rd floor hearing room.

Strong community turnout is very important!

The only topic on the agenda is to vote on the Denis amendment to save Seven Locks Elementary School and de-fund the controversial and possibly illegal Kendale replacement school project; or to shut down Seven Locks (and sell the property to developers, a point not explicitly revealed to the public).

Make it a family event! Plan to have dinner in Rockville with the kids, and meet at the County Council hearing room by 7:15 to get good seats.

It will be a great neighborhood solidarity event and a wonderful civics lesson for the kids!

For the official website of the Save Seven Locks School Coalition, click here.

More false information from Hawes

The construction coordinator for the Seven Locks/Kendale project has sent out more false and misleading information to the community.

MCPS Facilities Management Director Richard Hawes told Churchill Cluster PTA leaders that concerns about no sidewalk space to the new Kendale site are misplaced, because there are no sidewalks or safe walking routes on the way to Seven Locks Elementary School.

In Hawes' words, "There are no sidewalks along Bradley or Seven Locks and no safe walking routes for students at Seven Locks. Bus transportation is provided for all students at the current Seven Locks site. Bus transportation will be provided for all students at Kendale also. Even if Seven Locks stays where it is as the final solution, there are no opportunities to create safe walking routes along Bradley and Seven Locks. So the walking situation between the two sites are identical."

Hawes' statement is false.

There is a sidewalk more than a mile long on the west side of Seven Locks Road, stretching from River Road to Bradley Boulevard.

On almost any morning with pleasant weather, children use that sidewalk to walk to Seven Locks Elementary School. This blogger walks with his children along the same sidewalk to school. A pedestrian light on Seven Locks and Bradley offers safe crossing to the schoolyard.

So, even at this date, Richard Hawes continues to mislead the public about safety issues in favor of his Kendale plan - and he has yet to answer for ridiculing parents who asked him about corruption and fraud in school construction.

Earlier this month, Hawes acknowledged that MCPS cooks the facts to suit his policies.

Saturday, March 18, 2006

Leventhal & Denis outnumbered on Seven Locks task force?

[Blogger's note posted March 21: The entry below may no longer be accurate. MSPS has released a larger list of task force members. The forces of reform might not be as outnumbered as early press reports indicated, though the built-in problems remain. Watch this space for updates.]

Kendale cronies stack the new task force designed to resolve the Seven Locks crisis.

Longtime allies of County Council member Michael Subin outnumber the reform bloc led by Council President George Leventhal and Councilman Howard Denis on the new task force.

The task force was hastily created after MCPS backed down to County Council and community pressure to relent on the unpopular and possibly illegal Kendale "replacement school" scheme.

If press reports are correct, the task force is stacked against the bipartisan reformers. Here's how the task force membership adds up, according to the March 15-21 Almanac:

Staffer from office of Councilman Howard Denis;
Staffer from office of Councilman George Leventhal;
Staffer from office of Councilman Michael Subin;
MCPS COO Larry Bowers;
MCPS construction chief Richard Hawes;
MCPS facilities consultant Joe Lavorgna.

As has reported, Subin has been a slavish supporter of the Kendale project and attacked the Inspector General report on MCPS wrongdoing.

Bowers also attacked the Inspector General, pledged to ignore three of the IG's four findings, and falsely accused Seven Locks parents of caring more about their property values than about their own children.

Hawes repeatedly ignored Seven Locks PTA members' questions about alleged fraud, abuse, and corruption in MCPS construction project, and publicly ridiculed Seven Locks parents for raising the issue.

Lavorgna signed an affidavit in support of the MCPS attack on the Inspector General's report.

That gives the task force a supermajority of 4 to 2 against the Seven Locks community and against accountability.

Subin doubts whether the task force he dominates will report in time to the committee he chairs

County Council member Michael Subin says he doubts that the Seven Locks task force will be able to make its recommendation to the Education Committee in time.

"My initial reaction is we're going to have to come back after the budget [is passed]," Subin says in the Gazette.

He should know. He chairs the education committee on the County Council, and his loyalists dominate the task force.

Looks like Subin's going to wage bureaucratic warfare against a supermajority of the County Council and the Parent Teacher Associations of the Seven Locks and Potomac elementary schools.

Montgomery County can follow Subin's antics on

Leventhal gives MCPS time to prove community support

The Inspector General found that MCPS had "misrepresented . . . community sentiment" in proposing the Kendale school, according to the Almanac.

County Council President George Leventhal gave MCPS some more chances to prove itself.

"If there is strong community support for the Kendale site, I would be very interested to hear that," the Almanac reports Leventhal as saying at a March 2 meeting.

"We'll certainly have two opportunities in the month of March to see if community witnesses do come forward in support of the Kendale site," Leventhal added.

Not a single parent supported MCPS

Not a single parent from Seven Locks or Potomac elementary schools voiced support for the MCPS Kendale agenda at the March 7 County Council meeting.

"The Seven Locks replacement facility at Kendale best meets the needs of the students," Board of Education Vice President Sharon Cox (pictured) told two County Council panels in a written statement.

Not one of nearly 30 parents, students and community members agreed with Cox in their testimony, the Almanac reports in its March 15-21 issue.

"The council witnessed the overwhelming feeling against the Kendale site as person after person testified . . . and no voices spoke in favor of it," Seven Locks PTA President Harlivleen Gil tells the March 15 Gazette. "It was a very powerful night."

Seven Locks Coalition welcomes compromise

"We welcomed the news that the [county] council, school board and MCPS are working together to find a solution for all concerned," a Save Seven Locks Coalition figure says.

"We suggested doing this a year ago," Coalition leader Sandy Vogelgesang tells the Gazette, "of finding a way to reduce the tension, sitting down at the table and looking at all the needs and choices."

"Obviously, people had gotten their backs up and were not communicating well."

Thursday, March 16, 2006

Almanac: MCPS 'relented' on 'doomed' Kendale project

Faced with evidence of wrongdoing by the Inspector General, rebukes from the County Council, opposition from affected PTAs, ridicule from school children and a cold shoulder from the County Executive who triggered the scandal, "Montgomery County Public Schools apparently relented last week to mounting pressure to abandon plans for a new elementary school on Kendale Road."

Though a joint MCPS-County Council statement "does not specifically spell out the end of Kendale," reporter Ken Millstone writes in the Almanac, "it came three days after a public hearing at which a supplemental funding request needed to build the school appeared doomed."

Denis: 'Kendale is behind us now'

The County Council member who has proposed a graceful way out of the Kendale school scandal says Montgomery County should move on.

"It appears to me that Kendale is behind us now. We look to the future. My CIP amendment is still on the table,” Councilman Howard Denis says in the Almanac. Denis has proposed scrapping the politically damaged - and possibly illegal - Kendale project in favor of modernizing and expanding Seven Locks Elementary School on its current site.

Says Denis, "With Kendale off the table we have to focus on how best to rebuild on-site, which is clearly the only viable option that’s left.”

Name them, or apologize

County Council, School Board, and MCPS officials have repeatedly and maliciously accused Seven Locks parents of caring more about their property values than their own children.

Those officials should name these terrible parents or they should shut up.

A public apology would suffice.

We'll keep track.

Times columnist: 'Weast favors illegal aliens over student safety'

"Jerry Weast, the enlightened superintendent of Montgomery County's public schools, was prepared to sacrifice the safety of the students to preserve the working status of illegal aliens."

So writes columnist Tom Knott in a Washington Times piece titled, "Weast Favors Illegal Aliens Over Student Safety."

"Mr. Weast advised the school board not to vote on Maryland House Bill 531, which would require contractors for the state's public schools to conduct background checks on their employees," says Knott.

"His fear was that background checks would lead to the uncovering of illegal aliens in the work force and result in their prosecution and deportation.

"Alas, this fear trumped the fear of sex offenders laboring in the vicinity of what they view as prey."

School board broke with Weast on illegal immigrants vs child safety

The school board, in one of its few breaks with Superintendent Weast, unanimously voted for Maryland House Bill 531.

According to the March 2-8 Sentinel, Weast "said he didn't want to get caught up in the issue of deporting illegal immigrants and added that it might put an unnecessary strain on certain companies that MCPS does business with."

Board member Patricia O'Neill didn't buy Weast's put-business-and-illegal-immigrants-ahead-of-the-children approach.

"Our first obligation is to ensure the safety of our students," O'Neill said in the Sentinel. "I think that we have an obligation to protect anyone who comes into the school."

Kensington mom 'haunted' by fear

Superintendent Weast's favoring of illegal workers over child safety has upset many parents who fear sexual predators against their children. "It is a fear that has haunted Melissa Andersen, a 42-year-old Kensington resident who has two children in the Rock View Elementary School," writes Washington Times columnist Tom Knott.

"Hers is a fear that haunts all parents.

"'The point is, when a superintendent is hired, you would think the safety of the students would be one of the primary concerns,' Mrs. Andersen said. 'It's just kind of disgusting.'

"It is unacceptable, is what it is, that a school superintendent would be more concerned with the plight of illegal aliens than the prospect of innocent children possibly being put in harm's way of a sexual predator. And that is not a hypothetical prospect," according to Knott.

"Mrs. Andersen tells the story of a parent volunteer who recognized a construction worker at Rocky Hill Middle School last year from a photograph posted on the Maryland Sex Offender Registry. The principal, of course, responded accordingly and had the sex offender banned from school grounds.

"But that prompted many of Montgomery County's parents to wonder how this could happen, only to discover an unsettling policy that asked too few questions and left a gaping hole in the system's security apparatus.

"The county public school system was functioning with a double standard. It required its employees to undergo background checks but waived that requirement for the contractors it employed."

Knott adds, "Mrs. Andersen knows that being tarred as an anti-immigration zealot, or worse, is intended to silence otherwise lucid views."

Knott tells Weast: 'Children come first'

Columnist Tom Knott continues in the Washington Times, "In this context, Mr. Weast, being a political creature as a superintendent, felt no duty to stand behind the students whose interests he is employed to serve.

"Instead, he came down on the side of the illegal aliens, which all Montgomery County parents should take as an insult.

"They should remind Mr. Weast of the axiom: 'Children come first.'"

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Moldy rhetoric and cold reality

"I got a record on investing in education and have results to show for it," Montgomery County Executive Doug Duncan says in the March 15 Washington Post.

MCPS Superintendent Jerry Weast surveys the scores of portable classrooms that have remained in place during the 11 years Duncan has been in office.

"Now, I went through this list and looked at the portables that were more than 11 years old," Weast says in the March 15 Gazette. "Heat, cold, mold. We’ve got to get rid of these."

Weast admits public school enrollment is declining

Superintendent Jerry Weast now admits that MCPS enrollment is declining.

The admission undercuts his years of urgent pleas for more school construction to alleviate overcrowding and do away with hundreds of "portable" classrooms over the next decade.

According to the Gazette, "School planners see a leveling off of enrollment as a chance to reduce the number of portables."

Says Weast: "I’d like to get rid of half of them in the next six years."

MCPS official who vowed to ignore IG is on Seven Locks task force

A top MCPS official who pledged to ignore the county Inspector General's findings of official wrongdoing over the Seven Locks/Kendale issue is now to be on the county task force to resolve the issue.

MCPS Chief Operating Officer Larry Bowers is to be one of the school system representatives on the task force, according to the Gazette.

The County Council created the task force after Inspector General Thomas Dagley found MCPS to have committed at least four acts of wrongdoing in attempting to force the closure of Seven Locks Elementary School and to build a "replacement" school that the Seven Locks PTA didn't want.

With his back to the wall, Bowers said that he would look into a finding that MCPS failed to follow proper contracting procedures, the Washington Post reported, but he added that he and the school system would ignore the other findings.

Bowers was in league with School Board lawyer Steve Abramoff, who wrote a five page legal paper purporting to show that MCPS is not liable to the county and therefore immune to IG oversight; and with County Council Education Committee Chairman Michael Subin, who also attacked the IG's legitimacy.

Bowers said about the IG report, "In terms of anything else, we’ll certainly not be responding to it."

Seven Locks task force member accused parents of favoring property over their own kids

One of the MCPS representatives on the county task force to resolve the Seven Locks Elementary School issue is an official who repeatedly attacked the motives of parents.

MCPS Chief Operating Officer Larry Bowers assailed Seven Locks parents who opposed the now-rejected plan to close their children's school and build a new school that the PTA doesn't want at Kendale.

As if hinting at the mega-housing project that MCPS has been covertly planning but not acknowledging for the Seven Locks site, Bowers said in the Washington Post that local opponents care more about their real estate than they do about their own children.

In Bowers' words: "Many of those in the community who oppose this project have placed the interest of property values ahead of the interests of students."

Official who ignored corruption issues to be on Seven Locks task force

A Montgomery County Public Schools official who ridiculed PTA members' concerns about waste, fraud and corruption, and who ignored repeated written requests for information on the subject, will be on the county task force to decide the fate of Seven Locks Elementary School.

Richard G. Hawes, MCPS facilities director, ridiculed parents at a Seven Locks PTA meeting and blocked the e-mail address of at least one member who asked about corruption in public works construction.

He failed to respond to repeated written requests for answers to the question.

Hawes is to join MCPS Chief Operating Officer Larry Bowers and former planning director Joseph J. Lavorgna on the task force to represent the school system, according to the Gazette.

Cox remains adamant

School Board Vice President Sharon W. Cox remains adamant about her Kendale school project. Commenting on the overwhelming opposition to her plan, she says in the Gazette, "It was the right decision when it was made, and it is the right decision now."

Duncan creates ombudsman for Clarksburg

Montgomery County Executive and Maryland gubernatorial candidate Doug Duncan has created an ombudsman to deal with the Clarksburg scandal and named a former planning director to the post.

The move sets a precedent for the Kendale scandal, which School Board member Valerie Ervin says could become "worse" than Clarksburg.

According to the Washington Post, "Duncan promised last year to create the post after lax county enforcement of building plans was discovered at Clarksburg Town Center, a community of 1,300 homes rising northeast of Germantown."

"I hope to be a conduit for the community and help them get the community they had expected to get," says Jennifer Russel, the former Gaithersburg planning director appointed to the post.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

March 21: Last public hearing prior to county council vote

Seven Locks-area parents and kids are urged to turn out for the Montgomery County Council's last public hearing on Seven Locks Elementary School before the council votes on the issue.

The hearing is at 7:30 pm on Tuesday, March 21 at the County Council Building, 100 Maryland Avenue in Rockville, in the 3rd floor hearing room.

Strong community turnout is very important!

The only topic on the agenda is to vote on the Denis amendment to save Seven Locks Elementary School and de-fund the controversial and possibly illegal Kendale replacement school project; or to shut down Seven Locks (and sell the property to developers, a point not explicitly revealed to the public).

Make it a family event! Plan to have dinner in Rockville with the kids, and meet at the County Council hearing room by 7:15 to get good seats.

It will be a great neighborhood solidarity event and a wonderful civics lesson for the kids!

For the official website of the Save Seven Locks School Coalition, click here.

Monday, March 13, 2006

The student enrollment boom that wasn't

The county's own statistics show that the Potomac Elementary School's overcrowding problem has been easing, not worsening.

This new information raises further questions about the school board's urgency about surplusing Seven Locks and building the $17 million Kendale project.

MCPS data in the February 22 "Potomac ES and Seven Locks ES Boundary Review" shows lower birth and immigration rates (and, what it does not discuss, increased enrollment in non-public schools) that substantially eased overcrowding at Potomac and kept Seven Locks well under-capacity.

In other words - there is less of a need than ever for public school construction or expansion in the region in question.

The MCPS briefing presentation shows that Potomac Elementary School's capacity is 411 students, and that its population has sharply decreased in recent years.

MCPS figures for Potomac enrollment, follow: Year 2000, 648 students; 2001, 639; 2002, 640; 2003, 594; 2004, 577; 2005, 527; and 2006, 500.

That's a steady decline trending down to Potomac's capacity of 411. The official MCPS projected figures for Potomac Elementary, which are open to question, show an increase after dipping below 500 students: 2007, 497; 2008, 514; 2009, 521; 2010, 529.

Meanwhile, MCPS figures for Seven Locks enrollment, in a school with a capacity of 274 students, are: 2000, 279; 2001, 261; 2002, 257; 2003, 253; 2004, 256; 2005, 251; 2006, 247.

Projected figures show no threat to the school's small capacity: 2007, 244; 2008, 247; 2009, 243; 2010, 249.

So where's the need for the $17 million Kendale school?

If PES will be over-capacity by 118 students in 2010, and SLES will be under by 25, then there is need to build new facilities for only 93 students.

Divide $17 million by 93 students, and we find that MCPS is proposing to spend $182,795 per student on new construction.

Saturday, March 11, 2006

MCPS close to 'catastrophic accounting failure'

MCPS is "always moments away from a catastrophic accounting failure," due to ancient software that the county has known for 12 years needed replacement, according to the Washington Examiner.

"It’s been kept alive by retirees coming back, who are the only people that know how to work with it," Superintendent Jerry Weast told the County Council’s education panel. "I live in mortal fear that this baby is going to shut down and we won’t have the means to bring it back."

Committee member Michael Subin says that 12 years ago, analysts told MCPS its accounting system was obsolete. Nothing was done about it.

School board member 'outraged' at Sharon Cox

School board Vice President Sharon Cox acted beyond her authority when she went to the County Council claiming to represent the entire Board of Education, says board member Nancy Navarro (pictured).

Cox issued a statement attacking the authority of the Inspector General and claiming that the school system was not accountable to Montgomery County.

"I feel really outraged such a statement would be released when the board never discussed it," Navarro tells the Washington Post.

Navarro and fellow board member Valerie Ervin, "both of whom joined the board in 2004, are questioning who gave Cox the authority to speak for the board. Ervin and Navarro said the full board never had a meeting to draft its response to [IG Thomas] Dagley," according to the Post.

"To me it raises a red flag, which underlines the issue of Seven Locks, which is sharing information," says Navarro. "Who is deciding what options are better than another?"

Ervin is just as upset. "The board's self-proclaimed leader goes to the County Council on behalf of board members, and we have no idea what is in these documents," Ervin says in the article.

Cox counters, "There was no way for the board to meet again to rehash our experience on the issue."

Board member Patricia O'Neill admits the board never met, but blames Navarro and Ervin for not speaking up in advance. Concludes the Post: "it is clear Navarro and Ervin's comments touched a nerve."

BoE members start 'whispering campaign' against dissenters

Montgomery County Board of Education (BoE) members have started a "whispering campaign" against their two colleagues who said the Inspector General had the right to investigate school system wrongdoing.

The targets: Nancy Navarro and Valerie Ervin (pictured), both newcomers elected in 2004.

"Navarro is very new to the board, and I think she is subject to political pressures," board Vice President Sharon Cox says in the Washington Post.

According to the Post, "Other board members have taken aim at Ervin's dissent by restarting an old whispering campaign. They contend she has a conflict of interest because she also works for Council President George L. Leventhal (D-At Large).

"In 2004, the Montgomery County Ethics Commission ruled Ervin's dual jobs do not create a conflict so long as she doesn't advise Leventhal on school issues."

Bowers of MCPS says parents care more about property than their own kids

MCPS Chief Operating Officer Larry Bowers is still sore that parents of Seven Locks Elementary School children have been fighting the Kendale project.

Like other Kendale backers in MCPS, Bowers questions the motives of the parents, saying they care more about their property values than they do about their own children.

Bowers says in the Washington Post, "Many of those in the community who oppose this project have placed the interest of property values ahead of the interests of students."

More fraud for the IG to investigate

The repetition of accusations from Councilman Steve Silverman, school board members and MCPS officials against Seven Locks parents - baselessly alleging that the parents care more for their property values than they do about their kids - shows that they had planned all along to surplus Seven Locks Elementary School and turn the land into high-density housing.

All the while, those same education officials claimed to be working in the best interests of the children.

MCPS officials and others flatly denied the intention when asked in publicly recorded Seven Locks PTA meetings. We have their names and we have their words.

Something worthy of an official investigation. . . .

Washington Post credits citizen complaints to IG

"Residents who opposed the project began asking questions and enlisted Thomas Dagley, the inspector general whose job it is to investigate suspected waste and fraud in county government," the Washington Post reports.

"In response to the report, the Potomac Elementary PTA, which had supported the relocation, endorsed a proposal by council member Howard A. Denis (R-Potomac-Bethesda) to keep the school where it is."

Councilmember calls Cox outburst 'off the wall'

School Board Vice President Sharon Cox took a step too far in her attacks on the County Council and the Inspector General, earning a rebuke from Councilwoman Marilyn Praisner.

Denouncing the County Council for demanding MCPS transparency and accountability, Cox (pictured) calls the Kendale intervention "an attempt . . . to use their power to force something down our throats to appease people who have money and obviously votes," the Washington Post reports.

Council Vice President Marilyn Praisner (D-Eastern County) dismissed Cox's outburst as "destabilizing" and "off-the-wall."

After the scolding, according to the Post, "Cox softened her comments, saying she is warming to the idea of a task force so long as 'all options are on the table.'"

County Council axed Kendale funding

As this blog predicted on March 7, the Montgomery County Council had the votes to kill the Kendale project.

Steve Silverman and Michael Subin were the only council members who attacked the Inspector General report and stood by the Kendale project.

"The Montgomery County school system ceded to pressure from the County Council and civic activists, agreeing yesterday to reconsider its proposal to tear down and relocate Seven Locks Elementary School," the Washington Post reports on March 11.

"The decision came after council President George L. Leventhal (D-At Large) informed School Superintendent Jerry D. Weast that a majority of the council would vote to block the $17 million project. The council's rebuke was a rare setback for Weast and underscored tension between the council and Board of Education."

Haughey changes tune; maybe MCPS is county agency after all

School Board President Charles Haughey, who just days earlier had insisted that the county school system was a state agency and not liable to the county Inspector General, now hints it might be a county institution after all.

"When there is a profound climate change as there has been suddenly on that site, I suspect the council wants to look at it differently," Haughey says in the Gazette. "And the council is our funding body and we want to respond to council concerns."

Editorial: Don't trust them

Blogger's commentary: The recent retreat by the school board, superintendent, and elements of the County Council on the Seven Locks/Kendale issue doesn't mean the community should believe the officials when they say they want a look at other options.

The school system didn't keep its word after a federal judge ordered it to reverse its divisive "veggie sex" program, even when officials signed a written agreement with parent groups.

There's no reason why anybody should expect Superintendent Weast, the Board of Education, MCPS official Hawes or others to start being fair or truthful this late in the game. The whole process is riddled with wrongdoing, and no amount of "let bygones be bygones" sentiment should obscure that fact.

Many officials, elected and appointed, have misused their power and abused entire communities. They have lost the public trust. They can never earn it back.

Tactical victory: Community action forces MCPS and Council to start over

County officials were confident they could grind us down.

But they were wrong. Patient and relentless community activism is paying off.

Citizens are well on the way to save Seven Locks Elementary School, contain out-of-control officials and require public accountability for waste, fraud and abuse in public education.

Following the IG report and its fallout, the Potomac Elementary PTA's vote against the Kendale project removed the last linchpin from MCPS and the County Council.

A joint statement from Council President George Leventhal, Council Education Committee Chair Michael Subin, School Board President Charles Haughey, and Schools Superintendent Jerry Weast put the best spin on a crushing defeat from the grassroots and from the law.

The statement, issued March 10, ignores Seven Locks activism and the IG, but it's good enough for now:

"The County Council and the Montgomery County Public Schools will work together on a new approach to alleviating school overcrowding in the elementary schools in the Churchill Cluster.

"The Council and the School Board had earlier endorsed a new Kendale site for Seven Locks Elementary School, believing it was the best way to address the needs of both the Seven Locks community and the Potomac Elementary School community. However, the Potomac Elementary School PTA recently rescinded its previous support for a new Kendale site. Given this change in the community's position, the Council and MCPS resolve to work together to explore all options.

"Toward that end, a joint task force of Council and MCPS staff will begin meeting immediately to work out the details and plans involved in moving forward. We hope to bring a revised Capital Improvements Program amendment incorporating this change before the Council's Education committee on March 23."

Click here for a pdf of the statement.

Friday, March 10, 2006

Council members chide MCPS for response to IG

With fissures widening within the County Council and between the council and school board, Montgomery County legislators "chided MCPS officials for an initial response to the audit report that questioned the inspector general’s authority and then attacked his methodology but did not answer the substance of the findings," the Almanac reports.

"Councilmember Tom Perez asked [school board Vice President Sharon] Cox repeatedly whether the school system believes that the inspector general has the authority to audit it.

"She replied that the school system must adhere to county law but that state law provides the 'guidelines' with which the audit must comply.

"'I don’t know what that answer means,' Perez said."

Council President Charles Haughey dodged again, calling the county school system a "state agency" in an attempt to avoid accountability.

Haughey told Perez, "Because of our status as a state agency we have to be very careful about how we respond to you and your inspector general. . . . We need to measure the ways we do that."

Potomac PTA supports Denis plan to scrap Kendale

The Parent Teacher Associations of both schools directly affected by the Kendale project are now in total opposition to the school board's plan.

The Potomac Elementary School PTA has voted to reverse its support for the Kendale project in favor of a plan by County Councilman Howard Denis to stop the controversial plan and to modernize and expand Seven Locks Elementary School instead.

According to the Almanac, "It was an almost unanimous vote with one nay and three abstentions, according to PTA member Diana Conway.

"'It is a leap of faith that giving up a near-term solution will yield a better long-term solution,' Conway said in an e-mail."

Now it's the school board against both PTAs

Who has the best interests of the children at heart - the Parent Teacher Associations (PTA) of the two schools affected by the school board's Kendale project, or the school board itself?

That's what people should be asking as school board members continue to accuse local parents opposed to the Kendale plan of caring more for their property values than for their children.

Hawes admits MCPS cooks the facts

The MCPS official in charge of the controversial Kendale project confirms an Inspector General finding that the school system chose not to provide key information to the County Council, and admits that it picks and chooses the facts to support its agenda when asking the council for money.

The Almanac's Ken Millstone has the story:

"MCPS did acknowledge at least one finding of the report: that it had construction options that it chose not to provide to the County Council.

"Council President George Leventhal (D-At Large), spoke calmly but firmly, reading to MCPS Facilities Director Richard Hawes his own statements from earlier in the meeting.

"'The school system decides what it believes is best and it provides the information that backs up its policy judgment. Am I wrong?' Leventhal asked.

"Hawes said that he was correct.

"Leventhal asked again, 'The school system decides what it believes is best and then it provides the Council with the information that backs up its position.'

"'Absolutely correct,' Hawes said."

Who said this?

Who made the following complaint to the Montgomery County Council about the Seven Locks issue?

"We were really frustrated with the process. . . We felt we had not been listened to; we felt we had not been heard."

It might have been a Seven Locks parent or the Seven Locks PTA about the methods the MCPS has been using over the past two years to raze their school and build the Kendale site.

In this case, though, it was MCPS Chief Operating Officer Larry Bowers, complaining about the Inspector General.

Sharon Cox's remarkable confession

In a single sentence, School board Vice President Sharon Cox offers a look into how she views the role of government in ensuring the public interest vis a vis the citizen.

Her remarkable comment shows that the county's independent Inspector General should not investigate citizen concerns about waste, fraud and abuse, but should take "direction" from county politicians.

In the very same sentence, she accuses parents of Seven Locks Elementary School students of caring more for their property values than for their own children. Then she says the school board knows better than the parents about what is in the childrens' best interests.

"Our concern here is that the inspector general is not necessarily working at the direction of the Council but," Cox says in the Almanac, "is being used by persons in the community that are unhappy with the decision and are trying to get at pursuing the interests of property over the interests of children."

Thursday, March 09, 2006

Seven Locks kids strike back

Seven Locks kids have struck back again at the politicians out to tear down their school. Here's the latest artwork. Okay, so they had some help.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Subin: IG meeting a 'waste of time'

County Council Education Committee Chairman Michael Subin calls the March 2 Council meeting with Inspector Thomas Dagley a "waste of time."

The Gazette carries the story.

Subin is one of two lone holdouts on the Council who is openly against the Inspector General's attempt to monitor wasteful and potentially fraudulent spending in the school system.

"As far as I’m concerned the IG had absolutely nothing to offer," Subin says in the Gazette.

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Hawes explains why IG must investigate

He didn't intend to do it, but one of the MCPS officials at the center of the scandal explained why the Inspector General must continue his investigation.

Richard Hawes, director of the MCPS Department of Facilities Management with responsibility for the Seven Locks/Kendale project, ridiculed and dismissed PTA members who asked him a year ago to account for possible waste, fraud, abuse and corruption.

According to the Washington Post, he's been getting surly with the County Council. He told councilmembers on March 2, "We don't withhold information, we just don't necessarily provide it."

Unless, of course, somebody asks. Which is why the Inspector General felt he had to open an investigation.

Abramoff calls IG 'kangaroo court'

School Board member Steve Abramoff continues his ad hominem attack on County Inspector General Thomas Dagley.

According to the Washington Post, Abramoff says the IG is "in over his head" and doesn't have "a clue of the complexity of the decision-making process."

Abramoff has told county school workers not to cooperate with the IG because the school system is a state agency.

Abramoff now accuses Dagley of being in cahoots with the County Council, saying they are running a "kangaroo court."

"If he thinks that was a kangaroo court, he's in the wrong zoo," says Council Vice President Marilyn Praisner.

MCPS outnumbered on County Council

The numbers show that MCPS will finally face scrutiny of its budget and operating practices. The IG's Kendale audit has caused a majority of the County Council to go on record as demanding real scrutiny of the school system, and now at least two school board members public agree.

"It is not possible for one council member or one committee to do the amount of oversight that is necessary," Councilman Phil Andrews says in the Washington Post.

Andrews' statement now places a full majority of the County Council in public agreement on MCPS scrutiny. Council President George Leventhal and members Marilyn Praisner, Nancy Floreen and Howard Denis were already on record. Councilman Tom Perez has warned that opposition to oversight makes it look like one has something to hide, so he is likely to support scrutiny as well.

Only two councilmen - Steve Silverman and Michael Subin, seated in the center of the photo - are in the irreconcilable opposition.

This blogger could find no public commitment from Councilman Mike Knapp (in top center of photo).

School board members are no longer a unified front. The Post reports, "At least two school board members, Valerie Ervin (Silver Spring) and Nancy Navarro (Northeastern County), agree that the council should have more oversight. They accuse Weast and other board members of making decisions without consulting the full board."

(Photo, top row: Leventhal, Andrews, Knapp, Perez, Denis. Seated: Praisner, Silverman, Subin, Floreen.)

Odd men out

County Council members Steve Silverman and Mike Subin are the odd men out, the last holdouts against Inspector General Thomas Dagley's Seven Locks investigation.

They are the only council members who openly oppose the IG probe of the Seven Locks/Kendale school scandal.

Both are big proponents of converting public school property into high-density housing. Both have attacked the IG's authority to investigate the school system, and both continue to oppose county scrutiny of MCPS.

Subin is losing confidence of his peers

One of the early casualties of the Seven Locks scandal is County Council member Michael Subin.

"Some council members said they . . . plan to be more skeptical" of Subin, "who chairs the Education Committee and has worked closely with [Superintendent Jerry] Weast over the years on school funding decisions," according to the Washington Post.

Cox: 'accountability is a cover for an excuse'

Montgomery County school board Vice President Sharon W. Cox says that the growing demand for MCPS accountability really a political scam.

Accountability "is a cover for an excuse to usurp the nonpartisan school board and turn school facilities into political favors," Cox says in the Washington Post.

The whole Inspector General report on the Seven Locks/Kendale scandal, she says, is a political power grab to turn school property into partisan political favors.

According to the Post, Cox "said in an interview that the council is trying to seize control of the school budget so it can divide it up as it does with pork-barrel projects.

"'This issue of accountability is a cover for an excuse to usurp the nonpartisan school board and turn school facilities into political favors,' Cox said."

There's a problem: Cox has been for turning the Seven Locks facilities into high-density housing since Doug Duncan asked the school board to surplus school land in 2004.

She just doesn't want to be held accountable.

[Blogger's comment: Cox, School Board member Steve Abramoff, and other Republicans tied to the scandal should know that this blogger and the people who filed the formal complaints with the Inspector General happen to be Republicans. There's no partisanship in the public demand for MCPS accountability.]

Council members want MCPS transparency

"In the wake of an inspector general's report that accused the board and Superintendent Jerry D. Weast of misleading the public over the proposed relocation of Seven Locks Elementary School, some council members are calling for more transparency on school system spending," the Washington Post reports.

"Many council members say they are not even sure what's in the school system's budget, which includes $1.7 billion for annual operating expenses and a five-year, $1.2 billion plan for building and renovating schools."

County Council President George Leventhal is disturbed that the school system isn't telling him information he needs to know: "What the [inspector general's] report says is they are not providing us the whole picture."

Monday, March 06, 2006

Duncan retreats from the scandal he created

Faced during his gubernatorial campaign with a growing scandal of his own engineering, Montgomery County Executive Douglas Duncan backs away from his campaign to surplus Seven Locks Elementary School.

In a February 28 letter to a Montgomery County PTA leader, Duncan passes the buck to the school board and says he agrees with Superintendent Jerry Weast's recent about-face not to surplus SLES.

Duncan writes to Churchill PTA Cluster Coordinator Janis Sartucci, "As you know, the ultimate decision on the surplus of school sites rests with the Board of Education. Since my original request in 2003 for surplus properties, I have not made additional requests to the Board of Education and I concur with the Superintendent's decision to not declare the Seven Locks site as surplus, thereby keeping it in use by the school system."

Duncan's letter means little for the Seven Locks community, as his term ends after the November elections. The two Democrats fighting to succeed him have radically different views. Ike Leggett created the Office of Inspector General and supports strengthening its powers to investigate corruption in the county government. Steve Silverman, one of the most relentless pushers of the Kendale scheme, says he does not.

Janey: 'They just look you in the face and lie'

Lying is a way of life among neighboring public school officials, where a new superintendent is trying to repair a system that won't let itself be fixed.

District of Columbia public schools dropped countless surprises on ever-cheerful Superintendent Clifford Janey, but the worst, he tells Fred Hiatt of the Washington Post, is the systematic lying by public school officials.

What surprised him most upon his arrival as superintendent last year? Janey says, "The way lying has reached an art form. They lie effortlessly. They just look at you in the face and lie. I've come to accept that as standard."

Sunday, March 05, 2006

Cryor says MCPS must repair 'lack of trust'

MCPS is responsible for the public's "lack of trust" in its decision-making, State Delegate Jean Cryor says.

"If anyone wants my advice it’s have a meeting right away with the people in that area. That’s the first thing that should happen," Cryor tells the Almanac. "Do it in the community, so people can hear what happened and why it happened. That’s the first thing that you do to try to repair this lack of trust that is developing.”

State legislator weighs in: Weast did it for housing, not kids

The Seven Locks controversy is reaching the state level. State Delegate Jean Cryor has been following the issue since it surfaced in 2004, and is siding with Seven Locks residents.

The attempt of Superintendent Jerry Weast and the school board was never to help the kids but was about providing County Executive Doug Duncan with more land for high-density housing, Cryor says in the Almanac:

"They never made it clear what they were doing. . . . I do think that was the root of it all was this desire to have denser housing," she is quoted as saying.

MCPS leaders, according to Cryor, are saying, "'We want this ground because we want this housing in Potomac. To do that we’re willing to build another school over here. What do you think of that?' That’s what should have been on the table from the beginning."

Weast stands firm in a recent memo. His decision, he writes, "continues to be the best decision for the children of this community."

Weast spokesman again attacks IG's personal integrity

Montgomery public schools spokesman Brian Edwards continues to attack the personal integrity of Inspector General Thomas Dagley.

According to the Almanac, Edwards says that Dagley, in writing his Seven Locks/Kendale audit report, was not acting professionally but "had an agenda."

"He was presented with information and he chose to ignore it," Edwards says in the Almanac. Jerry Weast is innocent, Edwards insists: "There’s nothing untoward here. There’s nothing remotely wrong."

Floreen: BoE dodge is 'absolutely unacceptable'

Another County Council member expresses outrage at the school system's refusal to respect an inspector general investigation.

"For the School Board to even suggest that we don’t have the right to look at their work is absolutely unacceptable," Councilwoman Nancy Floreen says in the Almanac.

"We count on the School Board to check the numbers and to recommend to us projects that they support with strong rationale and good financial justification," she says. "[School Board members] better get over it if they think we’re not going to ask questions about how they spent county money."

Saturday, March 04, 2006

Seven Locks kids ridicule county leaders

The Kendale scandal is becoming a civics lesson for local school students, with some Seven Locks kids ridiculing the county officials who want to tear down their school.

Their latest project: "Crooked School Board - Lost at Kendale," a homemade spoof of "Home Alone 2," with Joe Pesci lookalike Michael Subin and his sidekick Steve Silverman as the "Wet Bandits," shown here as the "Weast Bandits," vandalizing their school.

The student artists tell this blogger that they're excited to see democracy in action, and hope to produce more works of art. Previously they created a line of T-shirts, mugs and other gear for their online store. To check out their wares, click here.

Almanac: IG confirms MCPS 'railroaded' Kendale

The Almanac publishes a summary of the county Inspector General report on the Seven Locks-Kendale scandal, affirming that area citizens were correct in their complaints against MCPS.

A letter from West Montgomery Citizens Association President Ginny Barnes reads, in part:

"The Montgomery County Office of the Inspector General has issued a report which states that the School Board concealed cost data, misrepresented the wishes of the Seven Locks community and followed inadequate procedures in the appointment of an architect for the proposed Kendale replacement school. The report bears out the claims of the Seven Locks community that the School Board has railroaded the proposal for a replacement school on the Kendale site..

"Comparisons to the Clarksburg situation have been made and it will be interesting to see how the Council responds to the issue in upcoming budget approval hearings."

Friday, March 03, 2006

'No accountability' angers Potomac PTA member

The re-drawing of school boundaries has caused anxiety in lower Montgomery County, with a Potomac PTA member assailing MCPS for its lack of accountability.

MCPS Long-Range Planning Director Bruce Crispell told local parents at a February 22 meeting that a "Boundary Advisory Committee" will write a report that allows for limited citizen input.

Crispell said that MCPS developed a formula to protect citizens from being put "in a difficult position that they might regret later," according to the Almanac.

That didn't sit well with some of the PTA members present.

“They can write anything they want,” said Potomac PTA member Diana Conway. “There’s no accountability in this process. I have a real problem with that.”

The Almanac's Ken Millstone reports, "Conway reminded other parents that the recent history of Seven Locks and Kendale has been marked by unpredictable turns and reversals at the Board of Education. Community members can still call for a different process or a wider study scope, she said.

"'The Board of Ed is elected by the people. You either vote for them or you don’t vote at all. . . . It’s the same thing with the County Council which funds the Board of Education,' she said."

MCPS planning official undermines case for Kendale school

The Director of Long-Range Planning for Montgomery County Public Schools admits that the school population in the Potomac/Seven Locks area has been declining and will continue to decline, undermining the county's rationale for building the Kendale school.

At a February 22 MCPS meeting with Potomac-area parents, Long-Range Planning Division chief Bruce Crispell heard questions about the demographic need for building the Kendale school.

"Though MCPS has cited overenrollment at Potomac Elementary as the reason for the new school," the Almanac reports, "Crispell provided data showing that Potomac’s enrollment has dropped from 648 in 2000 to 527 today, with a further decrease expected in the next two years.

"The school’s capacity of 456 will drop to 411 when full-day kindergarten is introduced, but parents noted that a new section of the Chinese Immersion Program at College Gardens Elementary in Rockville could accommodate some of the 150 immersion students currently at Potomac."

MCPS: 'we're going to get' Kendale 'on the schedule we want it'

While Superintendent Jerry Weast refuses to tell the County Council whether or not he considers MCPS a county or state entity, and while Weast and MCPS continue to stonewall the Inspector General, they forge ahead on the controversial Kendale project.

MCPS Long-Range Planning Director Bruce Crispell says in the Almanac, "we're going to get the school on the schedule we want it."

Weast refuses to testify about MCPS status

Superintendent Jerry Weast refused to answer a County Council member's question about whether or not he thinks MCPS is a state or county agency.

Weast and the school board have tried to duck the Inspector General's investigation and refuse to cooperate with the Seven Locks probe by claiming that Montgomery County Public Schools is a state entity and therefore not within he legal purview of the county IG.

"Is the school system governed by county law?" Council President George L. Leventhal asked school board vice presidente Sharon Cox at a March 2 hearing.

Cox claimed, in lockstep with the February legal argument of fellow board member Steve Abramoff, that MCPS "is a state agency that must comply with state and county law."

Weast would say nothing.

"After hearing Mrs. Cox's response, Mr. Leventhal, at-large Democrat, asked to hear from Superintendent Jerry D. Weast or Board of Education President Charles Haughey,"
the Washington Times reports.

"Mr. Weast didn't respond," according to the Times.

"But, Mr. Haughey replied: 'Because of our status as a state agency, we have to be careful about how we respond to you and to your inspector general.'"

Cox again questions capability of Inspector General

Montgomery County School Board Vice President Sharon Cox continues to heap abuse on Inspector Thomas Dagley.

Continuing the school board's campaign of vilification of the IG over the Seven Locks/Kendale scandal, Cox repeats a theme begun publicly by County Councilman Michael Subin. In her attack, Cox again implies that Seven Locks parents who oppose the demolition of their childrens' school are interested only in their property values.

"The inspector general is being used by persons in the community who are unhappy with the decision and are trying to get at pursuing the interests of property over the interests of children," Cox says in the Washington Times.

Perez: 'somebody might have something to hide'

County Councilman Tom Perez says that the opposition of some of his colleagues and MCPS to the Inspector General's authority shows the public "that somebody might have something to hide."

The bitter, often shrill opposition from Superintendent Jerry Weast, the Board of Education, and councilmen like Steve Silverman and Mike Subin leaves a bad smell, Perez says in the Washington Times.

"It leads one to believe, perhaps erroneously, that somebody might have something to hide, if they don't welcome independent oversight," according to Perez.

Thursday, March 02, 2006

Leggett: Some see county government as too good to need an IG

Creation of the Inspector General office in 1997 was a contentious issue, former councilman and current county executive candidate Ike Leggett tells the Gazette.

"People said, ‘We’re Montgomery County. We’re a model of good government,’” says Leggett, who introduced the law establishing the IG office and who now favors strengthening its powers. "I said, 'Well, if it’s a model of success, we have nothing to worry about.' The initial reaction was not warm and fuzzy."

Gazette: Subin tried to weaken IG office for two years

County Councilman Mike Subin has been trying to undermine the authority of the Inspector General for almost two years, the Gazette reports.

In May 2004, "Subin suggested cutting the inspector general's operating budget - it is now $480,000 - and putting the office under the executive branch," according to the Gazette.

"I did not think it was a good idea" to put the IG under the County Council, Subin now says.

County Executive Doug Duncan, who is running for governor, vetoed the council's creation of the IG in 1997, but was unanimously overridden.

While acknowledging a need for an IG, Subin says the current setup upsets the comfortable environment of the County Council: "instead of being used as a tool for the executive to maintain honesty in his own branch, now it is seen as a weapon ... There is an inherent friction in the way it is now.”

Silverman tries making nice to IG Dagley

Councilman Steve Silverman, emerging from virtual hiding for more than a week after the release of the IG report on Kendale, is trying to make the best of it as he moves his political campaign for county executive forward.

The relationship between the IG's office and the county government has improved in the 11 months since Thomas Dagley has been Inspector General, Silverman says, just days after saying the IG had no legal right to investigate his Kendale project.

"I think it’s a far more cooperative relationship between the IG and the executive branch and other agencies," Silverman says in the Gazette. "It’s far less confrontational. He [Dagley] hasn’t been complaining and neither have the agencies."

More fruity Subinisms

"I would not expect a welcome wagon from everyone in there," says one of the central figures in the Seven Locks scandal about Inspector General Thomas Dagley's March 2 meeting with County Council members.

Councilman Michael Subin, who chairs the Education Committee, continues to be sour about the IG, who spoiled his Kendale replacement school project. "You may get a fruit basket," Subin tells the Gazette, "but don’t expect my name on the note."

What MCPS 'forgot' to tell the public

Montgomery County Public Schools (MCPS) officials gave two options to show that building the Kendale replacement school would save tax dollars, but failed to show the third, most cost-effective option, according to the Washington Examiner.

IG Thomas Dagley summarized the first two and revealed the third:

- "Modernize the existing facility: $16.75 million"

- "Build a new school on Kendale Road: $14.02 million"

- "Demolishing the school and rebuilding on the same site (undisclosed): $13.87 million."

Bill would revoke MCPS authority

A bill before the County Council would "revoke the authority of MCPS to handle the Seven Locks plan after an investigation found widespread wrongdoing by the school system," the Washington Examiner reports.

"It puts another option on the table," says the bill's sponsor, Council Member Howard Denis.

Taxpayer League praises Inspector General

"Our elected officials should not chastise [Inspector General Thomas Dagley] for doing a very difficult job, but rather thank him for his diligence and encourage him to continue his efforts," a leader of a local taxpayers' group writes in the Gazette.

"The Montgomery County Taxpayers League supports the work of Mr. Dagley and his staff. They were forthright in the Clarksburg and Seven Locks reports, and their investigations uncovered not just problems in county bureaucracy, but, perhaps more importantly, the fact that many citizens have lost faith and confidence in county government.

"Intelligent open government is critical to restoring that faith and confidence. County Council members must resolve that OIG will have their support and encouragement, and the statutory basis to continue the very challenging mission of promoting fiscal, legal and ethical accountability in county government."

County leaders show 'disdain for citizens groups'

The reports of Inspector General Thomas Dagley, and Montgomery County leaders' responses to them, show official "disdain" for the public, according to a leader of a local taxpayers' group.

The IG reports, Montgomery County Taxpayers' League board member French Caldwell writes in the Gazette, "illustrate failures in bureaucratic decisionmaking, disregard for rules and procedures that are meant to ensure fiscal and legal accountability, and disdain for citizens groups that are ignored to the point that they become semi-professional activists just to get heard."

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Gazette: No one is heeding IG concerns for accountability

Gazette headline on March 1: "[Inspector General] Dagley to defend Seven Locks audit; So far, no one has answered his call for more accountability."

Decide for yourself: Links to the IG reports

Here are the links to the Montgomery County Inspector General's reports on the Seven Locks/Kendale scandal:

"Memorandum to Council President," November 2, 2005

"Memorandum to President, Board of Education," November 18, 2005

"Audit Report: Seven Locks Elementary School Projects," February 2006

"Appendix to Audit Report: Response of Montgomery County School Officials," February 7, 2006 (Also known as the "Abramoff Memorandum")

"Statement of Thomas J. Dagley, Inspector General, Montgomery County, to the MFP and Education Council Committees," March 2, 2006

Link to IG Fraud Hotline

Link to IG homepage

MCPS violated school board requirements, IG says

County Inspector General Thomas Dagley says that MCPS failed to comply with Board of Education requirements in awarding the Kendale architectural contracts.

"We believe it is clear [the school system] did not comply with board requirements and did not identify any state statutes it was required to follow governing the award of architectural contracts," Dagley says in an announcement reported in the Gazette.