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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Get Involved as Prince George’s County Searches for Permanent Schools CEO

Prince George’s County Executive Angela Alsobrooks is hosting a public hearing on Monday, May 13th, 2019 to solicit community feedback regarding the search for the permanent Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Prince George’s County Public Schools . The hearing will be held at Charles H. Flowers High School (10001 Ardwick Ardmore Rd, Springdale, MD) from 6:30-8:30 PM.

The PGCABS Steering Committee encourages all community members to take an active role in this search process! Public hearings are opportunities to make our voices heard and work with county leadership to ensure a high-quality education for all children in Prince George’s County. Anyone interested in speaking at the hearing should call 301-952-4547 to register. Written comments may also be submitted via email to mwmilstead@co.pg.md.us with the subject line “CEO Search Testimony”. The event is expected to be live-streamed through the County Executive website.

Prior to the June 2018 primary, PGCABS asked the County Executive candidates about the CEO appointment. County Executive Alsobrooks indicated that she would involve members of the community during the search process: “In making the selection, I also feel it is important to include all stakeholders, to include the Board of Education, the County Council and the leadership of our delegation in Annapolis. The CEO needs to understand that they may report to the County Executive, but they are accountable to everyone. This includes administrators, teachers and parents, so I would like to find a way to include them in the process as well, at least to hear exactly what they would like to see in the next CEO.” Click here to read her full remarks.

Dr. Monica Goldson has served as the Interim PGCPS CEO since her July 23, 2018 appointment by the previous Prince George’s County Executive, Rushern Baker III. In accordance with Maryland law, the permanent CEO should be selected by July 1.

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Last-Minute Teacher Appreciation Gift Ideas

by Natalie Barnes

Natalie Barnes is a teacher for Prince George’s County Public Schools. The opinions expressed here are the author’s own.

Teacher Appreciation Week is coming up soon (Monday, May 6th through Friday, May 10th). Of course, I can’t speak for every teacher, but here are some of my ideas for ways you and your child can show appreciation.

  1. Say “Thank You.” It means so much to have a heartfelt note from a student and/or parent. Many teachers keep these and treasure them, especially on the bad days.The card does not have to be fancy — it could be on a sheet of lined paper for all we care. What matters is the meaning and feeling behind the message you share. While a thank you card is wonderful, your thanks could also be as simple as staying after class to express your gratitude verbally.
  2. Gift Cards. If you know we like a certain restaurant or store, we’d love a gift card for it. If you’re not aware of a particular establishment, gift cards for coffee are loved by a vast majority of teachers.
  3. Classroom Supplies. Pens, pencils, tissues, hand sanitizer, Clorox wipes, white board markers…we can always use more of them! I know these things are neither glamorous nor creative, but we’re going to spend our personal money to buy them otherwise. We’d love for you to supply some and we can spend our money on a little something for us.
  4. Volunteer. It takes a long time to make copies, put up/take down bulletin boards, Clorox wipe the desks, etc. We have long and never-ending to-do lists and would to have your help to cross some things off!

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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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Demonstrating Purpose Through Programming

by Dave Owens

Cross-posted with permission from Visionary Media Productions.

We recently completed production on a promotional video project for Prince George’s County Public Schools and personally, I’m really proud of what it represents. The Youth Apprenticeship Program video is 4:23 long, but the potential impact of the program can’t be measured in minutes and seconds.

Schools Aren’t Just Warehouses 

It is no longer enough for school districts to simply open its doors, shepherd kids in, teach from textbooks and send kids on their way after the final school bell rings. More and more, parents have increased educational options, and an amplified willingness to transport children outside of neighborhood school zones. School Districts have to step up or get stepped over and left behind.

Prince George’s County Public Schools is stepping up. The Youth Apprenticeship Program focuses on vocational skills and is innovative, proactive and forward-thinking in its approach.

The prominence of STEM education is understandable and must be included in curricula for a school district to be considered relevant. Just as important, however, we must avoid being blinded by the four-letter acronym believing it is a cure-all or guarantor of our children’s future.

Research and statistics tells us many things factor into employment, not just a student’s major or emphasis of study. Personal connections, as well as implicit and explicit biases often weigh just as heavy in the hiring process, if not more. Thus, a plethora of course options, combined with encouraging words supporting student choices, is the optimum strategy in my opinion.

Why PGCPS’ Program is Special

Vocational training is nothing new, however, here’s why PGCPS’ program is exemplary. Prince George’s County Public Schools is putting resources behind it! Students in their fields of study will work with school district maintenance during the summer and earn a salary. Yes, earn a salary!!

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Notes from the March 7 Board of Education Work Session

by Lori Morrow

Newsbreak about the PGCPS Youth Apprenticeship Program: https://youtu.be/GV5fIXhvo0o?t=197

Public Comment: https://youtu.be/GV5fIXhvo0o?t=469

Two staff members spoke about compensation and work conditions. There were also multiple members of LiUNA Local 11 speaking in support of Community Workforce Agreements.

Legislative Update: https://youtu.be/GV5fIXhvo0o?t=1573

The local bill related to the Financial Literacy requirement for PGCPS high schools has moved forward favorably through the PGC Delegation and the House Ways & Means committee, with amendments to start a pilot program in at least one high school by 2021.

It was mentioned that PGCPS staff received amendments earlier in the afternoon related to local bill PG 508-19 / HB 194, which would have established the Office of Accountability and Compliance.  Ms. Tobias described the bill as “substantially changed” and said that it is “being used as vehicle to change the CEO appointment process” and role of the state and County Executive. Additional updates will be provided at the next meeting on March 21. https://youtu.be/GV5fIXhvo0o?t=1719

Board of Education members approved motions to support PG 307-19, Juvenile Law – Diversion Program (https://www.princegeorgeshousedelegation.com/legislation/bill-history?local=PG%20307-19) and HB1412/SB1030, The Blueprint for Maryland’s Future (Kirwan Commission Funding, http://mgaleg.maryland.gov/webmga/frmMain.aspx?pid=billpage&tab=subject3&id=hb1413&stab=01&ys=2019RS ).

Board Committee Structure and Ad Hoc Focus Groups: https://youtu.be/GV5fIXhvo0o?t=3079

After discussion, the vote on the updated Board Policy 8100 related to the structure of Board Committees and Focus Groups was tabled until the March 21 Board of Education Meeting. Board Committees have not been operating since prior to the November 2018 election.

2019-2020 School Calendar: https://youtu.be/GV5fIXhvo0o?t=4571

The Draft 2019-2020 School Calendar (https://www.boarddocs.com/mabe/pgcps/Board.nsf/files/BA29UJ707829/$file/DRAFT%202019-2020%20School%20Calendar%203-7-19.pdf)

was approved by the Board.  Inputs from the community and staff surveys are available on Boarddocs (https://www.boarddocs.com/mabe/pgcps/Board.nsf/Public)

The next PGCPS Board of Education is scheduled for Thursday, March 21 at 7 PM.  Anyone interested in registering to speak can do so using the online form or by phone starting four business days prior to the meeting. Information about agendas, live streaming links, and public comment registration is available at www.pgcps.org/board.

 

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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