Tag Archives: Baltimore

Baltimore schools CEO to be replaced by former academics chief

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Baltimore schools CEO to be replaced by former academics chief Sonja Santelises will replace Baltimore schools CEO Gregory Thornton. (Baltimore Sun)

By Erica L. GreenContact Reporter
The Baltimore Sun

Baltimore schools CEO to be replaced by former academics chief.
After months of searching for a new leader amid criticism of city schools CEO Gregory Thornton, the school board announced Tuesday that he will be replaced by a former administrator who oversaw improving academic performance in the district.

Thornton will step down Friday, and Sonja Santelises will take over July 1, 2016.

“We believe Sonja has the ability to lead the district for the next 10 years,” said Marnell Cooper, the school board chairman. “Her background as an educator is clear, she’s incredibly strong, she understands the challenges of the school system.”

The decision ends Thornton’s divisive tenure less than two years into a four-year contract. State lawmakers, religious leaders and education advocates have said he lacks vision, direction and follow-through, and a growing number of lawmakers and community activists in recent months have called for his ouster.
Thornton, who came to Baltimore from Milwaukee in 2014, grappled with a litany of financial and operational mishaps as head of Maryland’s fourth-largest school system. He leaves the district embroiled in a bitter legal dispute with more than a dozen charter schools.

In a statement, Thornton said he was proud of his work in Baltimore, saying he helped the district operate more efficiently and launched programs that provide all students with free breakfast and lunch and that encourage dropouts to return to school.

Per-pupil funding sees bump in budget passed by Baltimore city school board
“It was an honor working with and serving the students of Baltimore City Schools,” Thornton said. “In less than two years, we made great progress, and I am proud of the accomplishments.”

Santelises served for three years as chief academic officer under Andres Alonso, Thornton’s predecessor. Until Santelises takes over, Tammy Turner, the system’s chief legal counsel, will lead the city schools. The system educates more than 80,000 students in 186 schools and programs with a $1.2 billion budget.

Santelises emerged as Thornton’s replacement during a national search that began in December, Cooper said. She was one of four finalists out of 8 candidates vetted by the city school board.

The board did not announce publicly that a search was underway. The board made its offer to Santelises on the last day of the Maryland General Assembly session in April, when lawmakers approved legislation that established a partially elected school board and required one lawmaker from the House of Delegates and the state Senate to take part in selecting the next CEO.

That bill has not been signed by Gov. Larry Hogan and has not become law.

Historically, superintendent searches in the city have been announced publicly but were kept confidential. The board that hired Thornton held public forums during the search process.

Cooper said the board did not announce the search, conducted by the local firm EntreQuest, because board members did not want it to become a distraction for teachers, students and administrators. Job candidates signed a nondisclosure agreement.

The board members searched for the candidates themselves and EntreQuest vetted them, Cooper said.

“This was not an attempt to be underhanded,” Cooper said. “Just because the adults had to figure things out, we couldn’t let that affect the kids.”‘

State Sen. Bill Ferguson, a Baltimore Democrat who called for Thornton’s resignation on the floor of the Senate and supported legislative input in the CEO search, said he understands that the district needed to move quickly.

“I am pleased to see the school board take decisive action and demonstrate urgency to move the city schools forward,” he said.

Andrew Foster Connors, co-chairman of Baltimoreans United In Leadership Development, said the community group is “ready to do our part to rebuild the trust between North Avenue and community partners.”

Jimmy Gittings, president of the union that represents principals and central office staff, said the quick succession of superintendents is disruptive. But he said he has the “highest regard” for Santelises and found her to be a “very fair and cooperative person” with respect for the unions.

State Sen. Catherine E. Pugh, a Baltimore Democrat who is expected to win the general election for mayor in November, said she looks forward to meeting Santelises and sharing her vision for the school system with the new CEO. While her interactions with Thornton “have always been positive,” Pugh said, “there were some shortcomings and maybe some were insurmountable.”

Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, who did not run for re-election, is thankful to Thornton for his service and has confidence in the school board, a spokesman said.

Since Santelises left the district in August 2013, she has served as vice president of K-12 policy and practice at The Education Trust, a Washington-based think tank.

Santelises, 48, told The Baltimore Sun she is looking forward to returning to work in Baltimore, where she lives and her three children attend public charter schools.

As chief academic officer under Alonso, who resigned in May 2013, Santelises was credited with putting the system ahead of the curve as the nation rolled out more rigorous education standards known as the Common Core.

Her tenure coincided with a slight rise in standardized test scores among elementary school students.

Before she came to Baltimore, Santelises held several positions over 10 years in the Boston public school system, including assistant superintendent for pilot schools and assistant superintendent for professional development.

The Harvard-educated native of Peabody, Mass., also served as executive director of the Algebra Project, a New York-based nonprofit that works to improve mathematics skills for low-income minorities. She began her career as director of professional development and teacher placement with Teach for America in New York, and taught at a school in Brooklyn.

Gregory Thornton through the years
Photos of Baltimore schools CEO Gregory Thornton through the years
At the Education Trust, Santelises has been studying policy implementation in schools across the nation. She said the perspective she has gained inspired her to take the schools CEO position.

She said she was not looking for the job, and knows that it will be “incredibly hard work,” but it comes “in the right place at the right time.”

The unrest that gripped the city last spring after the death of Freddie Gray from spinal injuries suffered in police custody helped to cement her desire to go back to work serving Baltimore’s children, Santelises said.

“This is one of those times, where it’s not about me, it is really about the potential of this school system,” she said. “I don’t see our schools as being totally incapable and totally dysfunctional. Those are not the people I worked with.
“I worked in a city system that was not perfect, that had incredible challenges, but had critical masses of people who wanted to do right by kids.”

Santelises said she would prioritize resetting the direction of the district, getting control of its finances, and better connect schools with city and community services.

She said she would focus on staffing and restructuring support for the lowest-performing schools.

She also said she would do a lot of listening.

“I am not re-entering the system with an attitude of ‘I’m picking up where I left off,'” she said. “Because it’s a different system now.”

The board is scheduled to vote next Tuesday on a four-year contract that would pay Santelises $298,000 a year.

Thornton’s deal was worth $290,000 a year. He will receive his third-year salary under a separation agreement negotiated by the board, Cooper said.

On Tuesday, the school board also approved an annual budget that cuts central office staff, including school police officers, and funds literacy and math initiatives.

Critics of Thornton pointed to poor academic performance. Dropout rates are up, and the results from new standardized tests were worse than expected.

The system also saw an unexpected drop in enrollment of 1,900 students after years of growth. Thornton has launched an internal investigation about whether sloppy record-keeping kept former students on attendance rolls.

Charter school operators sued the school system last fall, alleging that the district fails to fund their schools in accordance with state law.

Amid the upheaval, Cooper pointed to Thornton’s accomplishments. The schools chief managed sizable budget shortfalls, worked to implement a $1 billion school construction project, and launched a five-year strategic plan for the district.

Cooper said Thornton’s greatest strength was focusing on equity for all students. Securing the free-meal program and his efforts to reach dropouts illustrated Thornton’s dedication to students, Cooper said.

“The objective is to try to build upon the efforts of CEOs, and we selected someone who could build upon some of the operational things that have been started under Dr. Thornton,” Cooper said. “But there’s more to education than operations. We believe Dr. Santelises can really use the strategic plan to improve academics and achievement.”

Baltimore Sun reporters Luke Broadwater and Liz Bowie contributed to this article.
erica.green@baltsun.com

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Baltimore schools CEO Gregory Thornton.

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Lawmakers look to shake up leadership of Baltimore city schools

bs-md-ci-school-budget-session-20150414-001According to Baltimore sun, State lawmakers want a greater role in choosing the next leader of the Baltimore city school district, and want to give city voters some say in the makeup of the school board.

Amid growing criticism of the city’s appointed school board and calls for the ouster of schools CEO Gregory Thornton, the General Assembly approved legislation this week that would overhaul the process by which school leadership is selected.

The bill would make two lawmakers nonvoting participants in choosing the CEO, and expand the school board from nine members to 11.

The two new board members would be elected by city voters. Baltimore’s is the last school board in the state to be composed entirely of appointed members.

The bill reflects a 12-year effort by city and state lawmakers to make the school district’s governing body, they say, more representative of and accountable to city residents.

Currently, the nine members of the board are appointed by the mayor and the governor.

In recent months community leaders and state lawmakers have urged the board to fire Thornton. Del. Cheryl D. Glenn, who has sponsored legislation to create a partially elected school board for more than a decade, was “ecstatic” the legislation finally won support.

“This is a great day for Baltimore city schools because we will finally have people on the school board who will be accountable to the people,” the Baltimore Democrat said. “It changes the whole paradigm of how the school board does its business.”

Marietta English, president of theBaltimore Teachers Union, called the bill the “crown jewel of the legislative session,” and said it would democratize the board.

“It has been a long time coming,” she said in a statement. She said it was “necessary for the public to have a say in the policy that governs our schools.”

The legislation won unanimous support in the House of Delegates, and cleared the General Assembly with last-minute amendments in the Senate.

Sen. Joan Carter Conway won inclusion of an amendment that would give a delegate and a senator seats on the committee that recommends the next Baltimore schools CEO.

Conway, the Baltimore Democrat who chairs the Senate committee that oversees education, said lawmakers felt blindsided the last time the board chose a schools chief.

“We figured we should be in the loop because the state gives 75 percent of the money” in the district budget, she said.

She said school officials routinely turn to state lawmakers for help in times of fiscal crisis.

While it is not unusual for political and community leaders to vet superintendent candidates informally, the legal requirement that state lawmakers actively participate in the process is unprecedented in Maryland.

Lawmakers introduced similar legislation this year that would have given them a strong role in appointing and confirming a new state superintendent. That bill was unsuccessful.

The city school board sets policy, oversees the school system’s budget and hires and fires the superintendent.

The board has long opposed electing members, and any legislative measure that infringed upon its autonomy.

Marnell A. Cooper, the board’s chairman, said the board has changed its position to support the addition of two elected members. He noted that every other school system in the state has a partially or fully elected school board.

“We have heard the public for a number of years express their desire to have some composition of the board that is elected, and we listened,” he said.

Cooper said the board embraced lawmakers’ input on a new superintendent.

“They can bring statewide perspective to the conversation,” he said.

The bill would require that lawmakers be included in all meetings and discussions during the selection process but serve only as advisory, non-voting members.

The board would vote on the final candidate.

Conway said she didn’t expect the legislation to impede the board from searching for a new superintendent.

Cooper declined to say whether the board was actively seeking a new superintendent. He has supported Thornton.

Thornton has defended his tenure.

“My plans and commitment to the district have not changed,” he said in a statement last month, when lawmakers called for his ouster. “I will continue the work that is needed to ensure that every student in this city is given an excellent and equitable education that prepares them for college and career.”

The Senate president and House speaker would select lawmakers who would serve on the committee.

Conway said she expects that either she or Sen. Bill Ferguson, another Baltimore Democrat, would be appointed as the Senate representative in the superintendent selection process.

Ferguson, who called for Thornton’s resignation on the Senate floor during the session that ended this week, said the legislation would help stabilize the city school system.

“The bill attempts to settle an ongoing topic of concern,” he said, “and reflects a step toward rebuilding the trust between communities and the Baltimore city school board.”

Ferguson said he initially had concerns that the bill could violate conditions of a 1996 consent decree that established the current governance and funding structure for the city school system, including the jointly appointed school board.

He added an amendment that required that parties in the lawsuit be notified of the changes.

The attorney general’s office opined that the consent decree does not prohibit the legislature from making changes to the school board, but that parties involved could challenge it in court.

Bebe Verdery, the education reform director for the ACLU of Maryland, led the lawsuit that produced the consent decree. She said it was unlikely the organization would challenge the legislation because adding two elected members does not “fundamentally change the governing structure of an independent school board.”

But she added: “The ACLU continues to have the right legally to challenge changes that would adversely affect city children’s interests and the consent decree provisions ordered by the court.”

via erica.green@baltsun.com

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What’s going on with Mr. O’Malley’s money?

image FORMER MARYLAND governor Martin O’Malley is a small-timer when it comes to the fees he demands for speaking engagements, at least compared with Hillary Clinton, his rival for the Democratic presidential nomination. Nonetheless, Mr. O’Malley has been stepping up his game, specifically by striking a deal with a tech company that benefited from a sizeable no-bid state contract when he was governor — and which then paid him nearly $148,000 for speeches and consulting in the months after he left office in January.

The appearance of a quid pro quo is not the biggest problem facing Mr. O’Malley, who remains stuck near zero in the polls among Democratic primary voters. Still, the payment — his single largest chunk of current income — while not illegal, is troubling.

In response to our questions, Mr. O’Malley’s campaign said he has given four speeches since January to the company, Environmental Systems Research Institute, known as Esri, which is based in California. A spokesman said Esri had approached Mr. O’Malley to propose the arrangement near the end of his term as governor last fall and that a contract to give speeches, provide consulting and “review policy documents” for the firm was signed in January, almost immediately after he left office. The speeches to date were delivered in Washington, California and Lisbon.

Mr. O’Malley, justly recognized for his use of data-driven policy analysis, helped deepen Maryland’s business with Esri, which specializes in interactive mapping software. In 2011, the state Board of Public Works, on which Mr. O’Malley was one of three members, approved a $2.1 million sole-source contract for Esri; the contract was expanded to $3 million last year, also with Mr. O’Malley’s backing. (The board, on which Mr. O’Malley no longer sits, will consider an additional contract expansion worth $832,000 in August.)

There’s no reason to doubt that Esri’s work for Maryland, as well as for other states and municipalities, is worthwhile. And we don’t question Mr. O’Malley’s track record, as governor and, before that, mayor of Baltimore, of using data-driven analysis and mapping to enhance public services and programs.

What’s concerning is how he pivoted almost immediately on leaving office to accepting a large income from a firm whose ongoing business with the state was sustained in no small part because of Mr. O’Malley’s influence. Notwithstanding the governor’s sincere interest in the subject matter, there’s the appearance of a payback.

There is no law prohibiting that sort of arrangement; the public’s only safeguard is the conscience of the public servant himself.

It’s also fair to wonder how Mr. O’Malley and his wife, Catherine Curran O’Malley, a state district court judge, ran up such large personal debts. Together, the couple had a combined annual income of nearly $300,000 for most of the eight years he served as governor, as well as free housing in the governor’s mansion in Annapolis. Yet they have taken loans of $339,000 to put their two eldest children through college, plus a line of credit of at least $100,000 and a mortgage of $500,000 for a home in Baltimore.

The question of how presidential candidates handle their finances is related to character, personal responsibility and maturity. By his means of earning income and the debt he has incurred, Mr. O’Malley has raised questions.

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MTA failed to verify millions in Red Line, Purple Line labor costs, audit finds

The MTA hasn’t been tracking Red Line and Purple Line costs properly, audit finds

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The Maryland Transit Administration failed to verify the accuracy of millions of dollars in contractor-submitted architectural and engineering costs for the Red and Purple light rail lines, according to a state audit released Monday.

The unverified labor bills from four contractor groups hired to work on the two pending transit lines, scheduled for Baltimore and the Washington suburbs, respectively, account for or relate to $232.8 million in overall costs under the multibillion-dollar projects, the audit found.

That figure includes the labor costs as well as overhead and profit calculated under a formula based on the labor costs.

“Although MTA had sufficient procedures in place to approve changes to labor rates, had verified hours worked by individuals, and had monitored the overall progress of the work, MTA did not conduct periodic verifications of the contractors’ payroll reports,” the audit found. “Consequently, there was a lack of assurance that the billed rates agreed with the actual labor rates the contractors used to pay their employees.”

The audit does not allege the four contractors filed misleading or inaccurate costs, just that the state failed to properly vet the varying hourly rates per employee that were submitted.

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