Notes on the March 29 Board of Education Meeting

by Katie Moran

At 6:43pm, the Board of Education meeting was finally beginning. With 29 public speakers lined up to speak, I knew that this meeting would cover many controversial topics and not be short. It began with an amendment to the agenda, moving items 10.1, an emergency item related to the calendar and 9.1, the vote on Turning Point Academy’s future, to immediately follow public speakers. The agenda and the minutes from the last meeting held on 2/22/18 were approved. Following that was a nice video on “Having Seuss For Breakfast.”

The report of the Chair included mention of Prince George’s County offering more Italian language classes than any of its neighboring counties. Recently, Dr. Maxwell was recognized with the Knight of Order of Merit of the Italian Republic. The Kiamsha Youth Empowerment Organization was recognized with a proclamation (http://kiamshayouth.org). It was announced there would be a Board of Education meeting April 12th at 1pm.

The report of the CEO included celebrating the youngest Spelling Bee Winner, a 5th grader from Melwood Elementary. He will be moving on to the next level at the National Harbor. The school walkout (organized by the students and not the county) was considered a success. Student safety remains a top priority and PGCPS will continue to implement recommendations from the student safety task force.

The legislative report was discussed. A new emergency bill just passed the Maryland House and is expected to pass in the Senate. Mr. Burroughs says that the Governor has agreed to sign the bill when it is put in front of him. Ms. Boston then made a motion to reinstate spring break, but was asked to save that for when it was discussed in the agenda, 10.1.

Twelve speakers showed up in support of Turning Point Academy (TPA). There were multiple student speakers who shared stories of opportunities TPA offered that were not otherwise available in their neighborhood schools. Belinda Queen, grandmother of a TPA student, urged PGCPS to “put children first for a change.” The school produced standardized math score averages higher than the state average and had a 99% college acceptance. There were accusations of nepotism by the charter review office, but that was corrected immediately. The passion from these speakers was undeniable.

Another hot topic addressed by registered speakers related to the firing of the DuVal HS guidance counselor over grade changes leading to wrongful graduation. A DuVal staff member pointed out this counselor was following orders from the chain of command and “thrown under the bus”. She pointed out systematic infractions. One staff member said “put on your rational hats, why would a guidance counselor change grades all on their own, what do they get?” A student stood up and spoke about the positive impact this counselor had at the school. She claimed Largo HS shared in these irregularities but had not resulted in any firings. She stated the firings had caused confusion and chaos and had a petition with over 500 signatures to bring back this counselor and not use DuVal as a scapegoat.

Parents and teachers both spoke to express their disappointment and distrust in the members of the Board of Education and CEO. They advocated for teacher pay, especially teachers getting their step raises. Janna Parker was a particularly influential speaker. She urged people of this county to hold their elected and appointed board members accountable, especially County Executive Rushern Baker. She also pointed out the family ties between Rushern Baker and his appointed BOE Chair brother-in-law, Segun Eubanks. Eubanks had been quoted as suggesting teachers would prefer resources over their fair pay to which Parker claimed “I’d like to see you pay your mortgage or your child care with this pack of pencils.” A DuVal HS parent, Keisha Chase, referred to the board as people who think they are untouchable, “the educational mafia.” She directly addressed the appointed members saying “we don’t want you and are giving you your walking papers.”

Spring break was addressed by a few speakers who advocated for reinstating spring break. Additional speakers addressed funding for a student travel opportunity and opposition for the new Goddard ES start time, claiming that teachers were considering transfers if a new start time was imposed. One thing worth mentioning that not everyone can see from the video, many board members were on their electronic devices or even laugh and smirk at some parents’ comments. It explains the heated nature and frustration of some of the speakers. Additional public testimony was emailed to the BOE and is available for review at https://www.boarddocs.com/mabe/pgcps/Board.nsf/files/AXBN7K5E8F21/$file/Public%20Comment%203-29-18.pdf.

After the public speakers, Dr. Maxwell withdrew his request to use Wednesday April 4th as an inclement weather make-up day. He warned the Board of Ed to be cautious in reinstating April 5 and 6th because it would extend school into the summer and because the legislation SB 729 hadn’t passed the Senate or been signed yet. BOE Vice Chair Carolyn Boston motioned to reinstate the entire week of spring break and the board voted unanimously in support.

Turning Point Academy was next on the agenda. The school’s charter expired last year and it was noted that this typically wasn’t discussed as first readers, but the CEO opened it up for discussion based on the amount of community input. Issues about TPA such as nepotism, their faculty, and their data were brought up. They scored higher than the state average in 8th grade math. It was decided to withdraw item 9.01 rescinding the charter and bring back for a future meeting.

The final item on the agenda was the quarterly update for the Graduation Rate Audit Response. The CEO presented a slide of findings from the audit that:

  • PGCPS Governance structure has performance gaps.
  • PGCPS staff does not consistently adhere to policies and procedures related to grading and graduation certification.
  • School-level recordkeeping related to grading and graduation certification needs improvement.
  • Irregularities in grade changes and graduation certification were identified.

PGCPS agrees with the findings and has made changes accordingly, including random sampling and a new training for staff. Parents will be able to access information by emailing questions and concerns. The grade change process has been changed to an electronic application, PS-140 to standardize process. The pilot will be released within four schools with the goal of the application being live for the 2018-2019 school year. Dr. Maxwell said they are following through and in the process of taking action in all the ways they said they would in response to this audit. BOE Member Burroughs asked if they would be taking action to terminate every employee that made errors leading to this issue. The CEO responded that the short answer is no, and Burroughs responded with a request to treat all employees fairly in response to the audit findings. (This seemed to be a reference to the DuVal HS firings). Students have five days from receiving report card to appeal a grade. BOE Vice Chair Boston shared concerns about timing, specifically how fast the new grade change could take place and mistakes corrected for students to graduate on time.

In regards to agenda items 6.01, Ratification of Compensation Improvements for ASASP Unit II & III, BOE Member Burroughs asked who had the authority to approve raises for ASASP or anything of the like, and it was answered that the Board of Ed has that authority. He followed up by asking for clarification on who the CEO could authorize raises for. The CEO has the ability to set salaries, and therefore provide raises, for his executive cabinet and employees who directly report to him. That item was voted for unanimously.

Agenda item 6.07, Award of Design-Build Services Contract FY17 Elevator and Conveyance System Replacements, was discussed at the request of BOE Member Ahmed. Ms. Ahmed asked “How in the world did we under budget $2.4 million dollars? That’s a lot of money.” The administration explained that there were changes made to the capital budget and, as a result, funding is realigned by taking from projects that we know we can’t complete and push them to the next year to apply it to an urgent compliance need. One example given was if a bid came in higher than a planned project, they may cancel the project and reassign those funds. There is not access to be more accurate in budget estimates because the county is underfunded in their capital budget and it forces the administration to manage maintenance and major modernizations. This item was passed unanimously.

On item 8.1, Rescission of Board Policy 1700: Disability Issues Advisory Board, Mr. Burroughs asked that the board not disband the Disabilities Issues Advisory Board. He suggested a new liaison and adjustments to make DIAB more functional and recommended sending this item back to the committee for further discussion. Ms. Boston pointed out that this is not related to Special Education committee, but is focused on facilities and ADA concerns. There are now new avenues and access points for students and families to address such issues. Ms. Ahmed pointed out that it would be easier to redefine committee than creating a whole new committee, and she suggested they table this agenda item. Eubanks suggested maybe even combining committees relative to this. This item was tabled.

The meeting adjourned at 10:35 pm.

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