Monthly Archives: April 2015

Atlanta Judge Imposes Jail Time and Fines on Convicted Educators

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Fulton County Superior Court Judge Jerry Baxter listens as Sidnye Fells, former Dobbs Elementary teacher, testifies Tuesday morning. KENT D. JOHNSON

Honorable Judge Jerry W. Baxter, who presided over the trial of Atlanta educators who cheated on tests and were convicted of racketeering, briefly reconsidered the sentences he would mete out.

While it appeared that he might not send the disgraced educators to jail, his sentences were indeed harsh. Some of them will spend seven years in jail.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s investigative journalism is credited with first examining the corruption within the city’s public school system. On Tuesday, the newspaper published photos of each of those who took plea deals and the sentences they received.

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* Donald Bullock (pictured above left by AP) was first. Witnesses testified that Bullock urged them to change test answers, the Atlanta Journal Constitution reported. The former testing coordinator was ordered to serve five years probation, six months of weekends behind bars, pay a $5,000 fine and perform 1,500 hours of community service. As part of his deal, Bullock agreed to waive his right to appeal.

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* Angela Williamson, a former teacher, (pictured above center by AP) was ordered to serve two years in prison. She was ordered to pay a $5,000 fine and perform 1,500 hours of community service.

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* Pamela Cleveland, a former teacher, was ordered to serve one year home confinement, pay a $1,000 fine and perform 1,000 hours of community service. “I am guilty of the charges against me,” Cleveland said in court.

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* Michael Pitts, a former schools executive, (pictured above center by AP) was accused of telling teachers to cheat and then telling them not to talk to Georgia Bureau of Investigators who were looking into the scandal. He was ordered to serve seven years in prison, perform 2,000 hours of community service and pay a $25,000 fine.

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* Tamara Cotman, a former schools administrator, (pictured above center by AP) was ordered to serve seven years in prison, pay a $25,000 fine and perform 2000 hours of community service.

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* Dana Evans, a former principal, (pictured above center by AP) was ordered to serve one year and perform 1,000 hours of community service.

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*Tabeeka Jordan, former assistant principal, (pictured above center by AP) was ordered to serve two years in prison, perform 1,500 hours of community service and pay $5,000 fine

* Theresia Copeland, a former test coordinator, was ordered to serve one year in prison, perform 1,000 hours of community service and pay a $1,000 fine.

* Diane Buckner-Webb, a former teacher, was ordered to serve one year in prison, perform 1,000 hours of community service and pay a $1,000 fine.

In addition, all of the convicted educators lost their license, their pensions, and five years of compensation.

If only all those bankers who nearly destroyed the economy in 2008 had been dealt with as harshly. But they were “too big to fail.”

>>> Read more

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Maryland General Assembly passes budget that widens split with Hogan.

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Maryland’s annual legislative session ended in a standoff Monday night, with Republican Gov. Larry Hogan vowing not to spend money lawmakers allocated for schools and other priorities after the General Assembly refused to fund some of his budget requests.

In the closing hours of the 90-day session, the Senate and the House of Delegates voted along party lines to approve a spending plan that included less funding than Hogan sought to shore up the state pension fund and did not go as far as the governor wanted in trimming the state’s structural budget deficit.

As a result, Hogan said he would refuse to use money the legislature earmarked to preserve state pay raises, full funding for the most expensive school districts and several health-related initiatives. “In all likelihood, we will probably have to use the money [in future years] to fix the problem they created,” Hogan said.

House Speaker Michael E. Busch (D-Anne Arundel) said the negotiations with Hogan “put a real damper” on bipartisanship. “There’s going to have to be some wounds healed,” he said.

The split stood in stark contrast to the beginning of the 90-day session, when the Republican governor and the Democrats who control both houses of the legislature pledged to compromise for the good of the state. It also set off an immediate round of lobbying by education activists and advocates for the poor who urged the governor to use the funds in the budget as the legislature intended.

>>> Read more

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Maryland House passes major changes to public records access.

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Major changes to the Public Information Act reported on earlier have now passed both the House and Senate in essentially the same form.

HB755 passed the House Wednesday 139-1, and SB695 passed the Senate unanimously March 25.

“This is a big step forward,” said Del. Dan Morhaim, the floor leader and a long-time champion of open government and transparency measures. The legislation makes the Public Information Act more understandable, reasonable and fair, Morhaim said.

The bill replaces inconsistent enforcement of current law with more standardized procedures for obtaining public records and documents. This includes a new ombudsman in the Office of the Attorney General to give guidance and mediate requests from all levels of government. There is also a new Public Information Compliance Board that will rule on fees that can be charged.

The Senate must now act favorably on the House version of the bill.

Morhaim said that the Senate committee was kept informed of the House’s work on the measure, including changes requested by the governor’s office.

“Today, Maryland took an important step towards more open, transparent government,” said Jennifer Bevan-Dangel, executive director of Common Cause Maryland. “This legislation is the result of many hours of discussion and compromise.”

Firmer time limits, more reasonable fees

The bill also establishes firmer time limits for responding to public records requests and says that custodians of documents and data can only charge the “actual” costs of the search and preparation of the information.

“This legislation is not only much-needed and long-overdue,” said Rebecca Snyder, executive director of the Maryland, Delaware, D.C. Press Association, “but it is also extremely popular,” citing recent poll results.

Environmental groups say they are among the organizations that have been stymied by Maryland’s current laws when requesting public information.

“This legislation will make it easier for Marylanders to get public information they deserve to see,” said Betsy Nicholas, executive director of Waterkeepers Chesapeake. “But the passage of this bill is not the end of this story. We will continue working to get better access and accountability from government as well as industries that receive public subsidies.”

Provisions of the original bill that covered the reports filed by individual farmers were removed by both House and Senate committees.

Del. Christopher Adams, R-Middle Shore, was the sole vote against the bill. He did not speak on the bill.

via Maryland reporter

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Pennsylvania: Reasons for Hope.

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Tom Wolf, the newly elected Governor of Pennsylvania, may turn out to be true friend of public education. In a landscape crowded with foes of public education, like Scott Walker, John Kasich, Doug Ducey, Rick Scott, and Andrew Cuoo, this is quite a distinction for Governor Wolf.

After years of devastating cuts by Governor Tom Corbett, Wolf has vowed to fund public schools. He appointed a one-time rival, John Hanger, as secretary of policy and planning (Hanger is strongly pro-public schools).

Governor Wolf recently visited a public school in Philadelphia. At a time when so many governors have sworn their fealty to charter schools, it is refreshing to read about a governor who recognizes public responsibility for public schools.

John Hanger told the Lancaster Chamber of Commerce and Industry that the Wolf administration would focus on public education and economic development in its spending plan.

Governor Tom Wolf could build a national reputation if he reverses the school privatization and defusing of public schools that Corbett encouraged.

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President Barack Obama, center, meets with newly elected governors in the oval office.

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PGCPS Teen Student Becomes Ill, Dies During School Field Trip.

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A 16-year-old high school student died early Saturday after he became ill during a school-sponsored field trip, according to Prince George’s County fire officials.

Authorities said the Bowie High School student was on a junior ROTC trip when he started not feeling well. The bus pulled into a nearby gas station, and when medics arrived, they found the student, Okon Ntikem, 16, was unresponsive.

Emergency crews transported Ntikem to a hospital, where he was pronounced dead. The medical examiner’s office is working to determine the cause of death.

School officials said counselors will most likely at the school on Monday, and a letter will be going home to parents. Maryland State Police is handling the investigation.

“Prince George’s County Public Schools is saddened by this tragic turn of events and send our deepest sympathy to Ntikem family,” Prince George’s County Public Schools said in a statement. “PGCPS will do everything it can to support the entire Bowie High School community during this difficult time.”

>>> Read more

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Ten things to know about TRIM in Prince George’s County.

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Prince George’s County’s enduring prohibition on raising property taxes, or TRIM (Tax Reform Initiative by Marylanders), has survived for more than three decades — despite many efforts by politicians to nullify it. Elected officials who believed the cap bankrupt’s the growth potential of the Washington suburb have won a few victories over the years in changing the terms. But voters have consistently reaffirmed the core principle at the ballot box: keep government small and do more with less. Most recently, a 2012 state law seems to have given County Executive Rushern L. Baker III (D) and the County Council power to raise taxes above the limit for the sake of education  — something he plans to exercise with his FY 2016 budget. Is TRIM dead?

Here are 10 things to know about the much-maligned and enduring government charter rule:

  1.  TRIM came into existence in the late 1970s after California’s Proposition 13, which rolled back and froze property taxes, triggered anti-property tax sentiment across the country. Taxpayer rage over the way public officials used public money swelled just as Ronald Reagan made his ascent to the White House. In Prince George’s, Larry Hogan Sr. (yes, the father of the current Maryland governor), was elected in 1978 on an anti-tax message. He would be the last Republican to serve as county executive.
  2. Before TRIM came to voters, Prince George’s had been transforming from a rural outpost to a suburban refuge for less-affluent whites from Southeast Washington. The transformation sparked unrestrained and unorganized development across the county that became expensive to maintain. Allegations of corruption surfaced, and scandals over the zoning process erupted. The aftermath sent a county commissioner, the head of the planning commission and several developers to prison — fueling anti-government feelings that persist to this day.
  3. It was Maryland Democratic state senator William J. Goodman who wrote the referendum that gave birth to TRIM, because he believed Prince George’s was over-taxed. Along with former state delegate David Bird (D), Goldman assembled a team to fight for capping property taxes at the level collected in 1979.
  4. Originally, the tax cap froze the dollar amount of property taxes — not the tax rate. In other words, Prince George’s government could not collect in property tax more than the amount of revenue raised in 1979 (irrespective of inflation and home values): $143.9 million.
  5. Prince George’s entered another growth spurt, and, by 1984, thousands of new residents had settled there. Two years into his first term, then-county executive Parris Glendening (D) said he was frustrated by budget deficits and constrained by the tax cap. The county needed revenue, he said, but had few, if any, options. Glendening convinced residents to remove the revenue ceiling, modifying TRIM so that the total amount collected could increase if property values escalated and the tax base expanded.
  6. As a result of Glendening’s media blitz campaign, called “Freeze the tax rate,” the County Council was authorized to levy taxes on 40 percent of the value of real property at a rate of $2.40 for each $100 of assessed value. Revenues increased by about $6 million to $8 million.
  7. Proponents and opponents of the tax cap have persistently fought to defend and destroy the measure in court. In 1991, the courts allowed Prince George’s government to bypass the limit and raise the rate to cover a budget shortfall and pay off pre-TRIM debt obligations.
  8. Some politicians avoided the intense debate over TRIM altogether — especially if they had more conservative constituencies — but were finding it increasingly difficult to fund government services, such as schools. Other special taxes were created, and some costs shifted to the state and agencies, such as the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission, which were exempt from caps.
  9. Prince George’s first black county executive, Wayne K. Curry, declared the county had outgrown TRIM. Upper-class and middle-income African Americans from Mitchellville and Lake Arbor largely and quietly led a well-financed repeal effort. They thought more money would improve schools where the majority of students were black. But Hyattsville activist Judy Robinson fought back in 1996 with her Truth iN Taxation organization, and voters — black and white — overwhelmingly upheld TRIM. Curry conceded defeat: “The voters of Prince George’s have spoken … they have called for a smaller, leaner government. And that’s exactly what they will get.”
  10. Under a new computation model that assesses value at 100 percent rather than at 40 percent, the tax cap became 96 cents per $100 of assessed value in 2001. It has stood, unchanged, ever since.

The current debate over TRIM mirrors those of the past. It’s a conversation about government spending, mistrust and keeping up with the neighbors, such as Montgomery and Fairfax counties. In an interview, former delegate Bird, who now lives in Howard County, said he was chagrined to see Prince George’s cap in danger again: “It remains one of the few checks the public has on government. It would be a shame if you don’t let voters decide.” But to Glendening and other elected officials trying to balance Prince George’s annual budget, TRIM is one of many reasons the county struggled to make progress improving schools and attracting sought-after businesses.

>>> Washington Post images1

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Court reinstates verdict against Board of Education for Prince George’s County.

 – $90 Million Award.

pgcps_logoA Maryland appeals court has reinstated a jury’s verdict – but not its $90.3 million damages award – for the parents of a 13-year-old girl who was struck and killed by a car six years ago while crossing a four-lane street while trying to reach her school-bus stop in Temple Hills. The Court of Special Appeals said the trial judge was wrong to toss out the jury’s verdict against the Prince George’s County Board of Education based on his erroneous finding that it owed no duty of care to the girl and that her negligent crossing of the street contributed to her death.

In its 3-0 decision, the intermediate court said the board owed a duty to the girl under a regulation governing bus-stop locations and that a jury reasonably concluded she was not contributory negligent.
“It was a very important ruling by the court,” said the family’s attorney, John F. X. Costello. “Because that regulation was not complied with, this little girl was forced to cross the street.”
The Court of Special Appeals, however, said state law calls for the award to be reduced to the school board’s insurance policy limit, but not to less than $100,000. The board has the defense of sovereign immunity from damages for amounts greater, the court said in remanding the case to Prince George’s County Circuit Court to determine the award…

“Many of these governmental caps have not been adjusted in [many] years and are drawing the attention of the General Assembly,” said Maloney, of Joseph, Greenwald & Laake P.A. in Greenbelt.

…The Prince George’s County Circuit Court jury had found in April 2013 that the school board fatally breached its duty of care to Ashley Davis by not providing a school-bus stop on the same side of Brinkley Road as her home, thus requiring the freshman at Crossland High School in Temple Hills to cross the four-lane thoroughfare.

 Ashley was killed while crossing Brinkley Road on Sept. 1, 2009. The driver admitted no liability in reaching a $20,000 settlement with the family.
The jury, in finding the school board liable, concluded that Ashely was not contributory negligent…

…But the Court of Special Appeals reinstated the verdict, citing Maryland State Board of Education regulation 13A.06.07.13, which pertains to “Reporting and Operating Procedures.” Subsection C of the regulation states that “on four-lane highways, students shall be picked up and discharged on the side of the roadway where they reside.”
Subsection C is “designed to protect public-school students who ride county-provided buses to and from school from the risks associated with crossing a four-lane highway, including the risk of being hit by a car,” Judge Deborah S. Eyler wrote in the appellate court’s reported opinion filed Friday.
“As a public-school student living on a four-lane highway, in a school district in which the board had taken it upon itself to provide bus transportation to school, Ashley was within the specific class of people that [Subsection C] was designed to protect,” Eyler added. “And she suffered precisely the kind of injury that the regulation was intended to protect against. Accordingly, the board owed Ashley a legal duty of care to provide a bus stop on her side of Brinkley Road sufficient to support the duty element of a cause of action in negligence.”…

… Section 4-105 of the Maryland Education Article requires county school boards to have at least $100,000 in liability coverage. Section 5-518 of the Maryland Courts and Judicial Proceedings Article, titled “Immunity – County boards of education” provides that the boards “may raise the defense of sovereign immunity to any amount claimed above the limit of its insurance policy….”

Read more: http://thedailyrecord.com/2015/04/06/court-reinstates-verdict-sans-90m-award-in-teens-death/#ixzz3WrbIQi7M

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2nd arrest made in D.C. lawyer’s murder at Donovan hotel.

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Dominique Johnson

WASHINGTON (AP) – A second woman has been arrested in connection with the stabbing death of an attorney at an upscale D.C. hotel.

The Metropolitan Police Department said officers arrested 19-year-old Dominique Johnson of southeast Washington on Wednesday. She’s charged with conspiracy to commit robbery.

A department spokesman declined to say whether Johnson is accused of being at the scene of the killing.

Last week, 21-year-old Jamyra Gallmon was charged with first-degree murder in the death of 30-year-old David Messerschmitt.

A court document says Gallmon told police she went to the Donovan hotel to rob Messerschmitt but stabbed him after he grabbed her arm and they started fighting.

The document says an investigation found Messerschmitt posted on Craigslist soliciting responses from other men and communicated with an account linked to Gallmon.

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David Messerschmitt

Jamyra Gallmon.

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Complete testimony of Tonya Wingfield to the Prince George’s County Board of Education.

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Tonya Wingfield
tvwingfield@gmail.com
Upper Marlboro, MD 20774

I am trying to understand the Strategic Plan the BOE plans to discuss tonight as a first reader and placed on the Consent Agenda to fast track its approval and its connection with the annual budget.

In times past, the BOE would revisit the Strategic Plan; make necessary adjustments, present a proposed plan to the school board as a first reader, give the public the opportunity to weigh-in as part of the democratic process promoting transparency; make recommended changes based on school board members and public comments and then present a final plan for approval. Once the board approved the plan, which usually happened by December, this plan was used to formulate the annual budget based on the goals and strategies outlined in the Strategic Plan.

Under this administration, we see more work in the dark coming to light. First you approve a budget in February, which magically was still being revised as late as last week (late March). You prevent the public from downloading the current budget on the website because we’re being told by those inside the administration that the budget has not be finalized, yet Dr. Maxwell is going around the county telling the public in open forums that the budget was approved by the School Board and County Executive.

Now back to the Strategic Plan, the process has always been the budget is driven by the approved Strategic Plan, yet in last night’s board meeting you’re scrambling to get something recorded in the books to say you had a public hearing of the Plan and voted to approve it. Approving a budget and then scrambling to build a strategic plan to support that budget in any business environment is a formula for failure. And for this board to work in cahoots with the County Executive to clean up all the rough edges you left dangling to purport this fake budget is shameful. Did you really think we would not notice that the $115 million dollars you claim to need almost equals the deficit our County Executive is trying to close? Did you not think we wouldn’t notice that you failed to address resolving the millions of dollars in waste noted in the recent audits and the duplicity in the budget that would more than likely provide this $115 million without raising our property taxes?

This Strategic Plan is just another example of how this board has failed in executing its fiduciary responsibility in ensuring our tax dollars are properly spent and just as we stood up to the last CEO, we will do the same with this CEO. The school board is to act in a non-partisan manner, but it is clear this board has joined itself to the hip of the County Executive and politicized our school system at the expense of innocent children.

The average homeowner in this county spends 30% of their income on their mortgage. This unnecessary tax will send homeowners into foreclosure and bankruptcy and we won’t even mention those struggling on a fixed income. The problem is since you will allow the CEO to fast-track the approval of this Plan, it leaves the public no opportunity to review the Plan and to see if it does match this budget or will it hide the black holes in the budget like the one that allowed Dr. Maxwell to find $38 million dollars to hire unnecessary personnel one of which was a former employee of the County Executive. Of course, you could do with the Strategic Plan as you did with the budget – approve it in front of the public and then request changes be made after the meeting is adjourned, but go back and demand that the CEO does what right for children; not politicians trying to hide their failed policies.

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Prince George’s County Residents are against the 15% property tax increase..

…proposed by the County Executive Rushern Baker III

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This is important because

1. Maryland
Foreclosure rate: 1 in every 564
Change from February 2014: -0.87%

Maryland continues to work through the large foreclosure inventory it has had for a while, but the large drops in New Jersey and Florida foreclosures pushed this state with a steady flow of foreclosures to the top of the list.

http://finance.yahoo.com/news/10-states-where-foreclosure-huge-110037763.html

We have to let our voices be heard.  PG County has the highest rate of foreclosures.

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>>>SIGN THE PETITION HERE<<<

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Sources For Reference on Foreclosure

http://www.dllr.state.md.us/finance/industry/pdf/noirptdec2014.pdf
—Notice of Intent to Foreclose in Dec: 1,620 (highest in the state); April 2008 to Dec 2014: 197,046 (highest in the state)
Total Real Estate Sales (2013): http://planning.maryland.gov/msdc/sale_data/2013/county/Summary2013_Tbl1_Total.pdf
Median Sale Price (2013): http://planning.maryland.gov/msdc/sale_data/2013/county/Summary2013_tbl2_Median.pdf
Percent of Homeowners Paying More than 35% for Housing: PGC: 31.5% vs. MD: 25.3% http://planning.maryland.gov/MSDC/Sustainability_indicator/prin.pdf

rushern-baker-head-111010wMr. Rushern Baker III – County Executive Prince George’s County.

PRINCE-largePrince George’s County Map.

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