We Need Transportation Solutions in Prince George’s County Schools

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by Janna Parker and Lori Morrow

The Prince George’s County Public Schools system has two hundred and seven schools spread over an area of five hundred miles of rural farmland, bustling cities, quiet suburbs and vibrant college towns, serving a community with a population of almost one million people just outside of the Nation’s capital. With statistics like that, it is imperative that the transportation for our school system be one of the best in the Country. Yet Prince George’s County Public Schools has struggled with meeting the demand for Transportation services in our county since at least 2015. Every year, the school system’s theme for September is “Attendance Awareness Month”, but this theme is greatly overshadowed by the volume of frustrating complaints from parents, students, and community members as buses arrive late, overcrowded, or not at all. 

While the national shortage of bus drivers extends well beyond the borders of Prince George’s County and Maryland, the working conditions of  bus drivers varies greatly from state to state, district to district. For months, PGCPS bus drivers have spoken before the Board of Education about the various issues that impact the retention of current employees and the recruiting of more drivers to our system. We greatly encourage the PGCPS Administration to work with the drivers in finding immediate solutions to address concerns including salary, benefits, working conditions in the bus lots, and the management of bus routes. Leadership must ensure all students are provided reliable transportation, as well as providing those trusted with our most precious cargo a proper compensation and safe and healthy work conditions.  

Through listening to testimony and conversations with bus drivers, we have heard about many possible solutions that could improve the working conditions of our drivers, thereby improving recruitment and retention to fill remaining vacancies: 

  • Providing drivers and attendants a livable wage to show the people transporting our children that they are valuable members of our PGCPS community. (The current rate of pay from the pay scale is x route hours (6-8) x 185 days / 22 pay periods, (https://www.pgcps.org/employee-and-labor-relations/), not including tax deductions, health insurance, etc.) 
  • Making salary proration an option instead of mandatory to provide employees more control over their pay
  • Guaranteeing all drivers and attendants a minimum of eight hours of pay per day 
  • Spreading health insurance deductions over all paychecks instead of 20
  • Allowing paid professional development days for drivers to participate in student safety training
  • Ensuring all bus lot facilities provide a safe, healthy work environments for employees, including adequate restrooms and cleaning services
  • Ensuring that drivers have input when scheduling routes, including making sure subsequent route times do not overlap and have realistic student loading/unloading times factored into the route timing 
  • Allowing summer work to accrue towards retirement
  • Considering hub system/routes where it makes sense for neighborhoods to consolidate routes which can be aligned to under the distance for those who walk to school
  • Providing compensation for drivers who pick up other routes during their shift to cover for absences/vacancies, similar to teachers who are compensated for having to cover additional classes due to lack of a substitute
  • Enforcing a 2-year commitment for drivers who receive Commercial Driver License training through PGCPS

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Show Up and Speak Up at Forums on Education Funding

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This past legislative session, the Maryland General Assembly passed Senate Bill 1030 , the Blueprint for Maryland’s Future.  This legislation is a “down payment” on initial recommendations from the Commission on Innovation and Excellence in Education, more commonly referred to as the Kirwan Commission.  The Commission was established to make policy and funding recommendations to improve Maryland’s public education system. The initial funding in SB 1030 provided Prince George’s County Public Schools $53 million in grants to address concentration of poverty, teacher salaries, pre-kindergarten, students with disabilities, and struggling learners.

While this is a great first step, the work is not done. The Commission’s Funding Formula Workgroup is meeting to update the state funding formula for all public-school students in Maryland and expects to complete their work this fall. In January, the Maryland General Assembly will take up the task of figuring out how to phase in the Commission’s recommendations and fund them.

The importance of this moment for the children of Maryland should not be underestimated! These decisions will shape legislation and funding for Maryland public schools for the next decade or more.  The state’s funding formula was last updated by the Thornton Commission in 2002 and phased in from 2003-2008, which means children who started kindergarten after the last update are now juniors in high school. The next update may not come for another 10-12 years, so we need to take full advantage of this moment.

Prince George’s County Advocates for Better Schools encourages all parents, educators, and community members to stay engaged in this process through the 2020 Legislative Session. We have joined with other advocates to share opinions and concerns about the recommendations and will do our best to keep our followers informed over this next session. Read our letter to Dr. Kirwan, chair of the Commission on Innovation and Excellence in Education, here.

In an effort to build community knowledge and support, the Maryland State Educators Association and its local affiliates are hosting a series of forums throughout the state.  There are four forums currently scheduled for Prince George’s County:

Thursday, October 10 at Laurel High School (Media Center)

Wednesday, October 23 at the Bowie Center for Performing Arts

Tuesday, November 12 at Prince George’s Community College (Rennie Forum)

Monday, November 18 at Oxon Hill High School (Media Center)

RSVP online at https://www.marylandblueprint.org

It is up to all of us to make sure our children get the high-quality public education they deserve!

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The Impact of Disproportionate Suspension of Students with Disabilities

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by Pamela Talley, Sarah Wayland, and Troy Sampson

For the last nine years, Prince George’s County has been suspending students with disabilities at twice the rate they suspend students without disabilities. Because of a punitive regulation in Federal Law (IDEA), this means that 15% of the Special Education budget (roughly $3.8 million each year) cannot be used to fund special education in our county.

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from Maryland Public School Suspensions by School and Major Offense Category, 2017-208, Maryland State Department of Education

To help you interpret the table above, in 2017 the total number of students enrolled in Prince George’s County Public Schools was 130,814, the number of Black or African American students was 75,818, and the number of students with disabilities was 14,999. That means that the suspension rate for All Students was 1.25%, for Black and African American Students it was 1.56%, and for disabled students the rate was 2.49%.

This may not sound surprising, but it’s important for parents, especially those who have children with disabilities, to understand the real implications. For the last nine years, as a penalty for suspending children with disabilities at a higher rate than their non-disabled peers, PGCPS has been forced to spend 15% of its Special Education budget on supports for students in general education. The Federal Government forbids the spending of this money on special education services. For a school system the size of PGCPS, the amount of money being withheld from our students who need the most support is approximately $3.8 million dollars per year.

Instead, the money must be spent on Coordinated Early Intervening Services (CEIS), which are :

” . . . services provided to students in kindergarten through grade 12 (with a particular emphasis on students in kindergarten through grade three) who are not currently identified as needing special education or related services, but who need additional academic and behavioral supports to succeed in a general education environment.

“The [Individuals with Disabilities Education Act] IDEA (20 U.S.C. §1413(f)(2)) and its regulations (34 CFR §300.226(b)) identify the activities that may be included as CEIS:

(1) professional development for teachers and other school staff to enable such personnel to deliver scientifically based academic and behavioral interventions, including scientifically based literacy instruction, and, where appropriate, instruction on the use of adaptive and instructional software; and

(2) providing educational and behavioral evaluations, services, and supports, including scientifically based literacy instruction.”

(From: https://www2.ed.gov/policy/speced/guid/idea/ceis-guidance.doc)

In a presentation to the PGCPS School Board on October 11th, 2018, Dr. Gwendolyn Mason reported the following:

Issue #3: Disproportionality

  • In summer 2016, a meeting was held with MSDE [Maryland State Department of Education] to discuss the overhaul of the CEIS program in PGCPS since the previous plan from 2009-2016 was misaligned to PGCPS areas of need.
  • Based on analysis of suspension and expulsion data, MSDE determined that PGCPS was significantly disproportionate in the disciplinary removal of students with disabilities compared to nondisabled students.
  • PGCPS must use 15% of IDEA Part B funds to develop and provide Coordinated Early Intervention Services (CEIS); over $26 million has been restricted to support the CEIS program.

(You can find a link to the Board of Education meeting on video, as well as supporting documents on the SECAC website here: http://secacpg.org/document-center/selected-presentation-handouts/)

This means that over the last nine years, $26+ million of IDEA funds were shifted from the PGCPS Department of Special Education Budget to the General Education Budget to support CEIS programming. This is because any program funded from this 15% penalty under CEIS (Coordinated Early Intervening Services) CANNOT be used to service a student with an Individualized Education Plan (or IEP – the legal document created for some students with disabilities that spells out the supports, accommodations, and services necessary for that student to be educated.)

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Notes from the February 21 Board of Education Meeting

by Lori Morrow

Board of Education meeting agendas and supporting documents are available at the PGCPS Boarddocs link: http://www.pgcps.org/board.

Newsbreak about Student Pages in the Maryland General Assembly: https://youtu.be/sNtzpTGSGq4?t=382

Public Comment, beginning with Senator Malcolm Augustine: https://youtu.be/sNtzpTGSGq4?t=1076

Registered speakers included comments about the Adelphi Area Schools Plan; the need for additional school psychologists/counselors/social workers; working conditions for PGCPS bus drivers and attendants; and members of LiUNA speaking about community benefits to hiring local.

Budget Consent Agenda: https://youtu.be/sNtzpTGSGq4?t=3943

BOE Member Ahmed asked for clarification on the change order for Francis T Evans ES.  CIP Director Shawn Matlock explained that many of the change orders have been due to changes in permitting requirements but they are working to better incorporate the new requirements into budgeting.

Annual Operating Budget: https://youtu.be/sNtzpTGSGq4?t=4201

Members voted to approve the proposed FY2020 Operating Budget with an increased $10.6M in expenditures above the CEO’s proposal, including increased psychologists and social workers. The vote to approve was unanimous.

This request will be forwarded to the county level. If less than the full amount is approved by the county, the Board of Ed will need to reconcile their final budget in June. The CEO & Board Members encouraged the community to continue to advocate for funding at the county* and state levels.

2019-2020 School Calendar: https://youtu.be/sNtzpTGSGq4?t=5300

The agenda item for the 2019-2020 School Calendar was tabled until the March 7 meeting to provide additional time to review a requested modification by PGCEA. Dr. Goldson also noted the legislation, SB0128, in the General Assembly that could reverse Gov Hogan’s 2016 Executive Order. The bill has not been voted on yet in the House. Despite the possible change to the law, the CEO requested that the BOE not change the post-Labor Day start for 2019 because of school construction projects already in planning stages for this summer.

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Conversation About Inequity in Education on Thursday, February 28

What: Community Forum on Inequities in Maryland and Prince George’s County Public Schools

When: Thursday, February 28, 7:00 – 8:00 pm

Where: Charles H. Flowers High School, 10001 Ardwick Ardmore Rd., Springdale, MD 20774

Who: Presenter is Robert Ruffins from Ed Trust. Hosted by Prince George’s County Advocates for Better Schools

Addressing equity in education is an issue that public school systems across the country continue to struggle with. Providing children with an adequate and equitable education was a key factor in establishing the “Thornton Funding Formula” as part of Maryland’s Bridge to Excellence in Public Schools Act of 2002, and efforts continue this year as the Kirwan Commission seeks to update the funding formula and make recommendations to advance public education.

Elected officials at the state and local level have pledged to improve access to high quality education and better outcomes for Maryland students. However, a recent report from the Ed Trust states that data on achievement and outcomes reveal “deep inequities in opportunity for certain groups of students,” and “dramatic racial gaps in student outcomes regardless of family income.”

Prince George’s County Advocates for Better Public Schools (PGCABS) invites parents, teachers, students, and members of the community to participate in an honest look at data describing educational inequities in our community, and a call-to-action.

Join us on Thursday, February 28, 7:00-8:00 PM at Charles H Flowers HS (10001 Ardwick Ardmore Rd, Springdale, MD 20774) to receive critical information from Robert Ruffins, a senior associate of national and state partnerships with the Ed Trust. School advocates will provide practical steps that everyday citizens can take to influence important policy decisions being made this spring; decisions that will impact issues such as class-size, college enrollment, and property values, for years to come.

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Your Child’s Best Teacher is Probably Quitting

The writer is an employee of Prince George’s County Public Schools who wishes to remain anonymous. The views expressed are the author’s own.

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I am a PGCPS middle school teacher. Most of my coworkers have an exit plan. These are the reasons why.

My average class size is 34, but only because I teach in a smaller classroom. I have coworkers with as many as 42 students in a class. When class sizes are that big teachers do not have enough time to give each child the attention they deserve. We do not have enough time to calm the anxious, charm the shy, engage the advanced, and keep up with parent contact logs. We do not have enough space to provide preferential seating to the easily distracted, to separate the bickering, or to allow the fidgety to dance in a corner. We do not have enough co-teachers, para-professionals, or one-to-one aides.

We do not have enough guidance counselors or psychologists to support the students who need it. We do not have enough time to plan engaging lessons that are differentiated to meet the needs of every student, to grade every student’s work thoughtfully, or to give parents the detailed replies they deserve when they have questions or concerns unless we come to work hours before our contract time begins and stay hours after it ends. We don’t have enough support staff to keep student bathrooms clean, shovel snowy sidewalks, or get students through the lunch line in a timely manner. We don’t have enough pencils, enough tissues, or enough paper.

With all the things we don’t have, the majority of good teachers I know do have an exit plan. They are leaving high-poverty schools to teach in affluent neighborhoods where active parents’ groups mean gaps in resources get filled. They are applying to neighboring districts, charter schools, and private schools. Or they are leaving teaching entirely. The more experienced teachers are weighing the cost of retiring before they have a full pension. The newer teachers know how many years of experience the neighboring districts will accept when calculating their salary.

Teachers across the country are walking out to get better conditions for their students: West Virginia, Oklahoma, Kentucky, Arizona, Colorado, North Carolina, Los Angeles, Denver, Oakland. Teachers in L.A. went on strike for smaller class sizes, more guidance counselors, and full time nurses and librarians in every school. I hear the same wish list from PGCPS teachers. Some teachers are pinning their hopes on the next round of contract negotiations as the union moves toward Bargaining for the Common Good, but others are simply choosing to exit the system.

These are not the bitter teachers you imagine cursing the day they became teachers as they sneak a smoke by the cafeteria dumpsters. These conversations happen as teachers set out supplies for the day, as they stand in line to make copies, as they share tips on classroom management and grading strategies, as they share the stories of their students who need help that they cannot give because there simply is no time. These are women and men who love their students and work hard at their jobs, but are frustrated because they don’t get the support they need.

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Notes from PGCPS Budget Q&A Session

by Llew Brown

Prince George’s County Advocates for Better Schools (PGCABS), in collaboration with PGCPS staff, hosted an interactive Q&A session on the proposed operating budget on Wednesday, January 16, 2019, at Ernest Everett Just Middle School. Participants listened to a presentation from Mike Herbstman, Chief Financial Officer for PGCPS, and discussed proposed funding for various items including class size reduction, language immersion, transportation, and more. We captured several questions and as many responses as we could during the discussion. We will also post additional materials provided by PGCPS when available. UPDATE: Additional questions and answers from the PGCPS Budget Office have been posted here.

Questions addressed during the discussion

Q. Security staffing – how will that money be used?

  • Classroom door upgrades, and overtime
  • Second assignment (SA) – money to cover gaps in staffing. For example, an officer or teacher may be asked to provide extra coverage at another school. This is cheaper than hiring an additional person

Q. Explain funding for Community schools

  • If the pilot goes well, PGCPS will identify a school and implement the model at a school

Q. Special Education – please explain in more detail, how that funding will be used to address the various needs of special education students

Q. Is there a plan to increase positions of school nurses?

  • PGCPS has a long standing nursing shortage (10 years)

Q. Please be more creative with the way K-8’s are budgeted. Doesn’t feel equitable because the needs across grades are very different

Q. Immersion programs – what is the plan for expansion?

  • Expansion from 4th grade to 5th grade in this budget

Q. Buses are chronically late. Do we need more bus drivers to get buses to arrive on time?

  • PGCPS recently hired 95 drivers within the past two months
  • Problem is keeping drivers, PGCPS is working on retention incentives
  • About 10% of drivers don’t show up each day. Also working on attendance incentives
  • PGCPS has 4,000 buses. PGCPS will examine effect of incentives and continue to discuss interventions this spring.

Q. Charter school – How can we make it more affordable to parents? Having no transportation, cost of uniforms, fees to pay sports, means a lot of money for parents out of pocket

  • Line item for charter schools accounts for enrollment. To fund charters, PGCPS examines Per pupil allocation for regular schools, then that cost per pupil is provided to fund the charter school
  • To understand a charter school’s budget, or to advocate for changes to the way funds are used, it’s most appropriate to talk to the board governing the charter school

Questions for future follow up from PGCPS

  • Special Education – How will th $718K be allocated?
  • Lead remediation (page 24) – is the goal for this line item amount to achieve 100% remediation next year? If not, what is the goal for the funding?
  • Page 24, what is the difference btw AC upgrades and Healthy schools HVAC?
  • Page 25, Under Maintenance of Plant, does this mean no change in the number of staff performing Maintenance?
  • Page 43, Chief Executive Officer, looks like a reduction of $380K, please explain the reduction. Is it a reduction in CEO salary, a reduction of an FTE on the CEO Staff? Etc.
  • We lost head start funding a few years ago. I believe $5mill/year, does PGCPS plan to apply for that grant again?

Note, PGCPS will host three public hearings on the proposed budget. The first will be Tue Jan 29th, 7pm, at Fairmont Heights

The PGCPS Budget Office has provided additional answers to these questions and other questions about the budget here.