COUNCIL QUESTIONS MAXWELL ON BUDGET

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 PGCPS leader Kevin Maxwell

UPPER MARLBORO – Changes between the Prince George’s County Public Schools (PGCPS) dream budget and the realistic one passed in June caused some confusion during a county council committee meeting last week.

The Prince George’s County Council Health, Education and Human Services Committee met with PGCPS leader Kevin Maxwell and members of his budget team to talk about the differences between the budget of their dreams and the reality they are working with.

“The last time we were before this committee we were discussing the needs of our school system and the fiscal year 2018 budget request. At that time we anticipated a reconciliation would be needed to reduce the board of education’s request,” Maxwell said.

The meeting on Sept. 28 focused on direct line items in the budget and where the money the county council approved for the school system is going to be spent. The budget reconciliation numbers directly represented the difference between the proposals the school system made early in the year and what it was actually able to budget once the county council approved a total amount for the fiscal year.

PGCPS and Maxwell had proposed a more than $2 billion budget to the county executive and the county council. In June, the council approved a $1.97 billion budget to the school system, which was approximately $75 million less than they asked for.

Maxwell, at the time, had said tough decisions were ahead for the school system that hoped to grow programs and start new ones while maintaining the level of service already underway. The county board of education made several changes to the budget before it was passed in June that included moving funds that were proposed for certain areas or departments around to other causes.

“We know it is not everything we wanted, but compromises had to be made,” said Board Vice-Chair Carolyn Boston during the reconciliation meeting in June. “I fully support those compromises.”

However, the county council committee members seemed not to be aware of many of the compromises the board and the school system made and that confusion was on full display during the committee meeting last week.

While the council contribution to PGCPS did increase over the previous years, it did not meet up with the ideal number the school system had proposed. Because of that, some of the line items in the budget reflected a slight decrease in budgeted money. That, however, does not mean funds for those line items were all decreased and in fact those perceived reductions only show the difference between the dream number and the reality.

Maxwell and Raymond Brown, the chief financial officer, also noted that several of the departments, categories and projects did in fact see increases in their budgets overall, just not as much as they had hoped to see when the team formed the budget proposal in winter.

“It is not a reduction to the base. It’s a reduction to the request in increase,” Brown said.

Still, this fact did not resonate with several of the committee members, who continually asked why certain projects saw decreases.

Councilwoman Andrea Harrison asked about the perceived reduction in budgets for building services, the student safety task force and for literacy and numeracy, and asked how those reductions would affect those departments.

Maxwell responded by saying the budgets for those categories are still growing, just not at the rate he had hoped.

“We were adding (literacy) coaches and we just weren’t able to add as many as we wanted,” he said. “Because something’s got to give somewhere and we have to be able to meet our contract obligations and those things. So, we are still expanding but just not as rapidly as we would have liked.”

Committee Chair Karen Toles asked about the funds set aside to pay for background checks, which adults need to take and pass in order to volunteer in the schools, and how PGCPS would pick who has their fees paid. She also questioned the “decrease” in funding for building maintenance.

Councilwoman Deni Taveras asked about lease purchases for buses, funds for cultural training and student expulsion options. She asked why the school system would eliminate funding for those critical areas.

However, Brown and Maxwell noted that funding was not eliminated for cultural training, but it was not increased beyond the amount budgeted in the previous year.

“So again, it’s a reduction in an increase, not a reduction in what we were doing last year. So we’re still funded at the level that we were last year,” Maxwell said

Still, despite explanations and an hour-long conversation, members of the committee still expressed displeasure with the way the budget ended up and several asked for reconsideration of specific priorities in the upcoming year.

Maxwell reemphasized that no matter how much he or the council wants to get accomplished, the funding has to come through first.

“Well we’d love to be fully funded one day,” Maxwell said. “And I’m sure you’d love to fully fund us, but we’re thankful for the funding that you do provide and (we) do the best we can with it.”

Via Prince George’s County sentinel 

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Amid grade tampering probe, PGCPS school employees not told about hotline in an Organized Scheme

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Kevin Maxwell, chief executive of Prince George’s County Public Schools, has said the district welcomes an investigation of alleged fraud in graduation rates and is cooperating with investigators. (Donan St. George /The Washington Post)

As investigators looked into alleged fraud in graduation rates in a Maryland suburb, they set up a confidential hotline and email address so employees and others could report grade tampering or other improprieties.

School system leaders in Prince George’s County didn’t make efforts to tell the district’s teachers and staff — and that is sparking debate as the investigation nears an end, with a final report expected by Oct. 31.

“It shouldn’t be hard for the average teacher to find investigators, and right now it is,” school board member David Murray said. “The hotline number should have been emailed out as soon as it was announced, and it should have been put up in every teachers lounge.”

State education officials released the hotline number and email address Sept. 18, about three weeks after announcing a firm had been hired to conduct an investigation. Murray and his board allies — a minority bloc — say most employees did not see the state’s September news release or the limited news coverage that resulted.

“The investigation will conclude in less than a month, and teachers have yet to receive an email from the superintendent or from the board chair — or from anyone — with the anonymous hotline information,” board member Edward Burroughs III said.

Asked about the lack of employee notification, school district officials said Tuesday they have cooperated fully with the D.C. firm conducting the examination, Alvarez & Marsal Public Sector Services.

“The system has been working with the auditor and following its directions,” said spokesman John White, who described the hotline information as well-publicized. “It is no secret.”

White also noted the Board of Education sent information about the hotline Monday through each board member’s listserv, which he said would reach “thousands of people in all corners” of the county.

The board’s minority bloc said the steps taken Monday do not go nearly far enough.

On Sept. 24, Murray wrote to Kevin Maxwell, the district’s chief executive, asking him to distribute tip line information districtwide “so that anyone with knowledge of wrongdoing is able to speak with investigators privately and confidentially.”

Maxwell did not agree to the request in an email response the next day. He said the district was fully cooperating with investigators and would comply with their requests, according to a copy of the email obtained by The Washington Post.

The county’s graduation rates gained attention several months ago after the board’s minority bloc wrote to Gov. Larry Hogan (R) with allegations of changed grades and altered credit counts. They alleged the district had engaged in “widespread systemic corruption” that inflated graduation rates since 2014.

They said whistleblowers had evidence hundreds of students graduated without meeting state requirements.

Hogan in turn asked the State Board of Education for a “complete, thorough and exhaustive” investigation, and on Aug. 29 the state announced the hiring of Alvarez & Marsal.

Maxwell has said on several occasions he welcomes the investigation and insisted no systemic effort existed to do anything improper. Prince George’s, the state’s second-largest system, has more than 20,000 employees.

School board member Raaheela Ahmed said she was hoping to get the word out about the hotline Sept. 28 when she sought to send an email bearing the hotline number through the individual board listservs of the three members of the minority’s bloc.

That effort was rejected by school board Chairman Segun C. Eubanks, according to a copy of the email exchange.

“Any such communication can only be a joint communication from the full board,” Eubanks wrote Sept. 29, saying Ahmed and others could use their own “communications list” and “their own time” to share the message.

Late Monday afternoon, the full board emailed a notice of the hotline and email address through its member listservs.

Eubanks said in an interview Tuesday the timing had nothing to do with media inquiries and followed consideration by board leaders.

As for whether all employees needed to be informed, he said: “Whatever the investigators ask for and say they need, we’ve committed to supporting them.”

Ahmed said she was “thoroughly surprised” by the Monday message and remains concerned because “a huge group” of employees are still unaware of how to report problems. “It’s a good start, but it really needs to go out to all employees,” she said.

Several employees interviewed by The Washington Post late Monday and Tuesday said they never received information about the hotline or procedures for reporting potential improprieties.

“There has been nothing,” one teacher said, noting she saw the tip line posted on a parents’ website and told colleagues about it.

via Washington Post

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Baltimore County schools parents express concern over Dallas Dance investigation

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Sources have told The media that state prosecutors are investigating former Baltimore County school superintendent Dallas Dance and his relationship with a company that did business with the school system.

Some parents expressed concern Monday that a former Baltimore County school superintendent is being investigated in connection with his relationship with a company that did business with the school system.

“Children learn to lead from their leaders and this is a huge disappointment,” said Yara Cheikh, a parent activist. “Families need to know that our school system is working for the best possible outcomes for children and not profit.”

Numerous other parents and teachers commented on Facebook pages, expressing anger and criticizing the school board for having given Dance a second, four-year contract.

The Baltimore Sun reported Friday that the Maryland State Prosecutor’s Office launched a criminal investigation of Dance more than six months ago, issuing a subpoena for school system records, and this month several people associated with the system were interviewed by investigators, sources said.

The investigation was well under way, sources said, when Dance announced in April that he was resigning as superintendent with three years left on his four-year contract. He offered no reason but later cited the burdens of the job.

According to sources, state prosecutors have been delving into Dance’s involvement with SUPES Academy, a now-defunct Illinois-based company that trained principals in school districts across the country, including Baltimore County. The sources spoke to The Baltimore Sun on condition of anonymity because the investigation is continuing. No one has been charged in connection with the investigation.

In 2014, school system ethics officials ruled that Dance had violated ethics rules by taking a part time job with SUPES after the company got an $875,000 contract with the Baltimore County school system. The school board didn’t know Dance was working for SUPES until The Baltimore Sun wrote an article about the arrangement in December 2013.

Dance said after the ethics ruling that he should have exercised better judgment. “I didn’t recognize it at the time, but I realize that the relationship did create a conflict,” he said.

State legislative auditors later faulted the school system for not seeking a competitive bid before hiring the company.

SUPES Academy first came under scrutiny in Chicago when federal investigators looked at its dealings with the Chicago school system. In 2015, a co-owner of SUPES Academy and a former Chicago school superintendent were indicted on corruption charges. In part, the SUPES official was accused of offering bribes to the superintendent, who allegedly agreed to accept them. Both pleaded guilty and were sentenced to prison this year.

Sen. James Brochin, a Democrat representing Baltimore County, expressed his disappointment that Dance is the subject of a criminal investigation.

“If it turns out to be true, it is very disappointing. I just think when you get into public service it is supposed to be that,” said Brochin, a Baltimore County Democrat.

Cheikh said the investigation raises questions about “the validity and ethics of other contracts negotiated” under Dance’s tenure.

Abby Beytin, president of the Teacher’s Association of Baltimore County, said she has no way of knowing whether Dance will be found to have done something wrong, and that there should be a presumption that he is innocent.

“If they feel there is something there, then they should be exploring it.”

School activists in Virginia on Monday called into question a contract that Dance had in Richmond that began several days after he left Baltimore County. Dance was hired by the Richmond public schools under a contract that critics say the Richmond school system should have made public. And officials should have sought the approval of the school board, critics said.

The Richmond school district paid Dance $25,000 in July and August to help an interim superintendent while the district sought a permanent replacement.

“As an experienced superintendent, Dance provided leadership and instructional advice,” the district said in a statement.

Via Baltimore Sun

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Prince George’s County Couple Frustrated After PGCPS School Bus Hits SUV

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A Prince George’s County couple is upset after a school bus hit their SUV at a stop sign. News4’s Tracee Wilkins reports the school system said it would be weeks before they could pay for the repairs. >>> Review the story here 

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Ex-PGCPS school aide gets 100 years in child porn case

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Deonte Carraway pleaded guilty to 23 of the 270 criminal charges of sex abuse of a minor, sex offenses and child pornography he was facing in Prince George’s County

A former Prince George’s County school aide was sentenced to 100 years in prison Thursday for taking and sharing cellphone video of children performing sex acts.

Deonte Carraway pleaded guilty to 23 of the 270 criminal charges of sex abuse of a minor, sex offenses and child pornography he was facing in Prince George’s County.

His 100-year sentence will run concurrently with his federal sentence of 75 years.

“It is impossible to measure the pain that this case has caused,” Prince George’s County State’s Attorney Angela Alsobrooks said. “Hearing the story of the mother who has to wake up every night because her son has nightmares.”

Alsobrooks said Carraway made a statement expressing his remorse during the sentencing, but he seemed detached from the proceedings.

Prosecutors say the abuse began in the fall of 2015 and continued for more than a year inside Judge Sylvania Woods Elementary, where Carraway volunteered. He also reportedly recorded sex abuse videos in the homes of his victims and at the Glenarden Community Center.

Carraway was arrested in February 2016 after the uncle of a 9-year-old boy saw a nude image on the child’s phone, police said. Investigators then linked the aide to other victims in the case.

Last month, Carraway was sentenced to 75 years in prison for 15 federal charges of sexual exploitation of a minor to produce child pornography.

He admitted in his plea agreement that he engaged in sex acts with children and used a cellphone to record the acts. He also told the children to perform sex acts with each other and gave them phones to record the acts.

Source: Ex-School Aide Sentenced to 100 Years in Sex Abuse Case – NBC4 Washington http://www.nbcwashington.com/news/local/Ex-School-Aide-to-Appear-in-Court-for-Sex-Abuse-Case-448474603.html#ixzz4uCzX3R3h

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Teen accused of bringing gun to PGCPS high school charged as an adult

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Xavier Matthews was charged with bringing a gun to school. (Courtesy of Prince George’s County Police)

A Potomac High School student charged with bringing a gun to campus is also accused of assaulting a school resource officer, according to Prince George’s County police.

Xavier Matthews, 17, of Temple Hills has been charged with assault and carrying a handgun on school property in connection with the incident that placed the Oxon Hill high school on lockdown Monday morning. Matthews is being charged as an adult, police said.

Matthews was searched and questioned after a school resource officer was alerted to a trespasser inside the school about 9:30 a.m., police said.

A teacher saw Matthews and another youth in a hallway exchanging money, according to police and school officials.

During the questioning, Matthews assaulted the officer, police said. The officer later recovered a gun from Matthews in a search, police said.

The other youth involved in the exchange was later identified as a former student. He left campus before the lockdown was lifted, police said.

Matthews is in jail on a $5,000 bond, police said.

Via Washington Post

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O’Malley administration IT agency head indicted on bribery charges

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Federal authorities indicted a former Cabinet secretary Isabel FitzGerald (seen here) in Gov. Martin O’Malley’s administration on bribery charges.

Federal authorities indicted a former Cabinet secretary in Gov. Martin O’Malley’s administration Wednesday on bribery charges involving millions of dollars’ worth of state information technology contracts.

Isabel FitzGerald, who was secretary of the Department of Information Technology in 2013 and 2014, is accused of pressuring a company, identified in the indictment only as “Company #1,” which had contracts worth almost $360 million with a state agency, to subcontract with an Indiana IT firm. The indictment says the alleged conspiracy began in 2011.

In turn, FitzGerald and a man with whom she is described in the indictment as having a “close personal relationship” are accused of taking one-third of the profits the subcontractor made in the deals.

The charges stem from an FBI investigation that court documents indicate was ongoing while O’Malley was still in office. The former governor could not be reached for comment Wednesday.

FitzGerald, 47, did not have a lawyer listed in court records and could not be reached for comment Wednesday. She is due in court Oct. 6, the U.S. attorney’s office in Baltimore said.

FitzGerald held several IT and senior management positions in what was then called the Department of Human Resources, joining the government after a long career at a private consulting company. FitzGerald was given the job of fixing Maryland’s Obamacare insurance exchange, which was plagued with problems when it launched in 2013.

The indictment outlines a conspiracy that allegedly centered on a relationship among FitzGerald; a Riva man named Kenneth Coffland; two executives and shareholders at the Indiana IT firm, Steven Maudlin and James Pangallo; and Company #1.

FitzGerald and the three men all face conspiracy and bribery charges. None of the men could be reached for comment and didn’t have lawyers listed in court records.

The Indiana company, The Consultants Consortium, issued a statement saying it was disappointed by the announcement of the federal charges.

“While we do not have access to all of the information gathered as part of an investigation into a former government official, we believe the two officers in question acted lawfully and ethically at all times,” the statement read.

The statement described the company as a minority-owned business that worked successfully with public and private customers across the country.

In December 2011, the alleged scheme nearly failed to get off the ground, according to court documents.

But investigators said FitzGerald, then a consultant to the state human resources secretary, intervened, drafting an email she told a department official to send to Company #1 that read in part: “To be very clear, the deal needs to go as we agreed.”

At other points, FitzGerald is accused of threatening Company #1, saying she would have its contracts canceled if it didn’t send work to Maudlin and Pangallo’s business. One of the deals FitzGerald allegedly engineered was worth almost $24 million over six years.

Investigators say FitzGerald and Coffland tried to conceal that they were benefiting from the deals by routing the money through companies they incorporated and attempting to make it look as if they were legitimately supervising workers involved in the state IT contract.

While she worked as the deputy human resources secretary in 2013, FitzGerald is also accused of directing an executive at Company #1 to rehire Coffland and place him in a $500,000-a-year position — more than double what he had earned when he worked for the company previously.

The indictment does not make any specific accusations about FitzGerald during the time she headed the Department of Information Technology.

When she took on the job of IT secretary, O’Malley praised her work at the human resources department, saying in a statement that she had improved data security and helped some of Maryland’s worst-off residents.

“With her exceptional talents, skills and experience, I am confident that the [IT] department will flourish under her leadership,” he said.

via Baltimore sun

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O’Malley Administration IT Agency Head Indicted on Bribery Charges –  When Former Governor O’Malley and his family moved out of the mansion in January, they left with most of its taxpayer-purchased furnishings — 54 items that he bought at steep discounts because every piece had been declared “junk” by his administration.
O’Malley and his wife, Baltimore District Judge Catherine Curran O’Malley, paid $9,638 for armoires, beds, chairs, desks, lamps, mirrors, ottomans, tables and other items that originally cost taxpayers $62,000, according to documents obtained by The Baltimore Sun.

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