Tag Archives: Board members

Hillsborough school district has been dipping into emergency funds to cover expenses


TAMPA — In the last four years of superintendent MaryEllen Elia’s administration, the Hillsborough County School District went on a spending jag, tearing through more than half of its $361 million reserve fund, officials revealed this week.

Left unchecked, the pattern would have resulted in another operating deficit this year — a $75 million hit that would bring the fund down near its legal minimum threshhold.

The situation has surprised Elia’s successor, unsettled School Board members and put bonding agencies on alert, which could lead to the district facing higher interest rates when it has to borrow money.

Jeff Eakins, who took over as superintendent after serving as Elia’s deputy, says he was caught off guard when he realized the district used $68.5 million in non-recurring funds to meet this year’s payroll.

“We’re not in any kind of financial crisis,” Eakins told the Tampa Bay Times editorial board Tuesday. But, he said, “we need to put some measures in place right now.”

Eakins was careful not to criticize Elia, a onetime national finalist for superintendent of the year who, after her Jan. 20 firing in Hillsborough, landed a job as state education commissioner in New York.

Asked if he knew about the spending imbalance before Elia left in March, Eakins said, “not to this extent.” Meeting one-on-one with School Board members in recent weeks, he was similarly discreet, said member Sally Harris. “He never mentioned names, just numbers,” she said.

Elia’s critics on the board were far less subtle.

“We have time and time again requested information that was not given to us, as has been documented for years in her evaluations,” said board member April Griffin.

Added member Cindy Stuart: “To me, this validates every reason why we pushed the yes button to fire MaryEllen.”

Elia did not return calls for comment Monday and Tuesday.

Board member Melissa Snively, who voted against firing Elia, said of the controversy, “I hope it doesn’t overshadow the good things she did in this district. She did a lot of positive things for the children that put us on the map.”

While disappointed to learn of the dwindling reserve fund, Snively said, “I’m not one to dwell on the past, except what we can learn from it.”

Eakins said he is still gathering information as he tries to get a full understanding of the budget issue.

For example: Teachers were given pay raises in the summer after negotiations with their union. School Board members were told how much those raises would cost.

But those were estimates that fell short of the real number because they did not take into account a new pay structure offered under Empowering Effective Teachers, the system Elia initiated in 2009 with a grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. That’s because teachers don’t decide whether they want to be included in the system until the fall — well after the contract negotiations — and many more opted to be in the system than the district anticipated.

A study is under way to calculate those extra costs, which could run as high as $50 million.

It is clear, Eakins said, that the district, which serves more than 200,000 children, is spending money to extend programs that were launched with temporary funding from foundations.

The Gates grant is one example, as it is in its final year of funding. Expenses anticipated for 2015-16 include $11.3 million for teacher peer evaluators and $6.1 million to pay mentors. Eakins said he will take a close look at these expenditures to see if they are worth sustaining, or if they should be reduced.

“Ultimately we want the money to be driven to teachers and students and classrooms,” he said, promising return-on-investment analyses of all programs and contracts.

Eakins said he does not intend for instruction to suffer, and does not envision layoffs. While there might be some increases in class sizes, they will be within the law and, in some cases, will allow children to remain with teachers who have gotten to know them.

News of the spending imbalance comes after Hillsborough spent years building a reputation for strong financial performance. Elia often said proudly that Hills­borough was unusual in that it weathered the recession without laying off any teachers.

Now, Eakins said, two of three bonding agencies have issued negative reports about the district. While the district has not been downgraded, it could be if things do not improve. Under that scenario, Hillsborough could face higher interest rates if it had to issue more bonds.

While some board members say they were in the dark about the spending imbalance, chief business officer Gretchen Saunders said there were no secrets. The administration shared financial statements with the board regularly and posted them on the meeting agendas. “Was it highlighted? No,” she said, referring to the fund balance. Board members did not ask for a public discussion, she said.

As for why Eakins was not fully informed, Saunders said some information about spending was discussed at Elia’s 6 a.m. cabinet meetings. And Eakins, who was in charge of instructional and not operational matters, was not always at those gatherings.

“I certainly wasn’t having conversations about the fund balance,” he said.

Some board members said the budgets that were made public were difficult to understand and they did not get clear answers when they asked direct questions of Saunders and Elia.

“I tried to dig for information,” said Harris, who ran for her board seat in 2014 and cast the tie-breaking vote to fire Elia. “But unless you are an expert, it’s impossible to get a real budget and real figures.”

Stuart, who often asked questions about spending, said she was stonewalled, and despite all her questions was as surprised as the others to learn about the spending issue.

“We had no idea. We honestly had no idea,” she said. “We never got the full picture.”

Snively said that rather than placing blame, it’s important to work on better communication between district officials. “The board needs to understand the finances even more so than ever before,” she said. “The board needs to be educated and informed in any area where we’re making decisions. It’s just as much their responsibility as the district’s.”

Eakins said it is too early to assign a target dollar amount for the reserve fund, also known as a fund balance. If it grows too large, the district could be criticized for not putting the money to good use.

“We’re always keeping our eye on the fact that we have kids in need in our schools every day,” Eakins said. “So you have to balance what you’re doing with the fund balance with what you’re going to do for kids.”

Alberto Vazquez, Eakins’ chief of staff, has been asked to study each district division to look for savings. School principals are being asked to see themselves as chief executives of their campuses.

Later, Eakins said, the district’s audit department — which now reports to both the board and the administration — will see if there are more expenses that can be cut. “When a decision needs to be made that’s good for kids, we want to be able to say, ‘Yes, we can do that,’ ” he said. “But we have to be stable in our funds to be able to make those decisions.”

Contact Marlene Sokol at (813) 226-3356 or msokol@tampabay.com. Follow @marlenesokol.



PGCPS School board approves increase in meal prices


UPPER MARLBORO — The Prince George’s County Board of Education passed $.10 and $.15 increases for school meals in a 7-5 vote June 25 2015.

The increases, which was met with opposition from some board members, includes both breakfast and lunch meals at schools in the district. Both elementary and secondary schools will see a $.10 rise in breakfast prices, bringing the total cost to $1.60, and a $.15 increase in lunch, brining elementary school lunch costs to $2.75 and secondary schools costs to $3. The costs will not affect the families already in the free and reduced lunch program.

The change in prices stems from a recommendation from the department of food and nutrition services so the department can “maintain a financially self-supporting operation,” to comply with requirements from the Healthy Hunger Free Kids Act of 2010 and the rising cost of healthy foods.

The motion was introduced at the June 11 board meeting but was not discussed. Student Board member Jeffery Taylor II said he feared that the lack of discussion on the Board’s part kept parents uninformed.
“You’re basically telling them (they’re) paying $.15 more for the same thing and if I was a parent and I did not get that memo, I know that the school system just sent out a survey to parents, this week or last week, and I think that this is something that should be brought to their attention, especially before we come here to make this decision. I know that it was on first reader, but this is not going to sit well,” Taylor said.

Joan Shorter, director of food and nutrition services, said the school system last increased meal prices in 2011 and the schools have endured many changes in the federal opinion on school lunches, including the amount of fruit and vegetables required in a lunch. Because of the requirements from federal law, she said the school system does not have much control of the products it must offer.

“We’re basically a nutrition program and we want to encourage our students to eat fruits and vegetables and canned vegetables have a lot more sodium, they’re not as fresh and wholesome, so we offer up more fresh fruits and vegetables, but that’s all part of the cost that was associated with the changes in the meal pattern requirements, in addition to whole grain products, which are more expensive as well,” Shorter said.

Board member Curtis Valentine agreed parents should have been informed sooner, but said he understands why prices are increasing.

“It costs to eat healthy. I know that, everyone knows that. You want to go to Wegmans, you want to go to Whole Foods, and you want fresh fruits? That costs,” he said.

Despite opposition, the motion passed and the change in costs will take affect at the beginning of the 2015-2016 school year.

Via Prince George’s sentinel



Prince George’s school board approves credit card ban.


Prince George’s school board has the green light to cut up their credit cards after a unanimous Feb. 12 vote to adopt a reimbursement policy.

The new policy will take effect in April, said school board chairman Segun Eubanks.

The board decided to take action following of dollars in local meals on their board-issued credit cards.

Delegate Alonzo Washington (D-Dist. 22) of Hyattsville proposed House Bill 707 to the General Assembly that would take away the county-issued cards, but Washington said he would withdraw his legislation if the school board passed the ban themselves.

David Cahn, co-chair for the education watchdog “Citizens for an Elected Board,” commended the board for the move and said it was preferable for the board to ban the cards themselves.

“A lot of times, legislation like this is created to get the target of the legislation to do it voluntarily,” Cahn said.

The new policy also caps the amount board members can get reimbursed for local meals to $39 for dinner, and lesser amounts for breakfast and lunch, and limits the number of local work-related meals for which a board member may be reimbursed to two per week.

Board member Verjeana Jacobs (Dist. 5) motioned to amend the policy to allow board members to carry over unused amounts of their expense accounts to be donated to school-based programs in the following fiscal year, pending approval from the board.

Prior to Jacobs’ amendment, the revised policy stated that unspent funds could be donated to schools or school programs at the end of June, when schools are not in session, Jacobs said.

“So what happens is funds left over from this year will go over to next year, and that will give board members an opportunity to present to the board different activities or events or things that they feel are good for schools, and make recommendations for funds to go there,” Jacobs said.

Jacobs’ amendment was approved unanimously.

>>> Read more Gazette



Maryland’s Governor-elect Could Alter State Education Board Membership

6 board member positions up for appointment this year

Maryland’s Governor Elect Larry Hogan will get to appoint at least a half dozen new members to the State Board of Education.

It’s traditional for the governor to fill open seats on the state board. But for now, no one can say how soon he’ll make those new appointments.

Half of the 12-member state board could be replaced before the end of the year. That includes the president, Charlene Dukes, whose term ended in 2014.

Board members are appointed by the sitting governor to four year terms with advice and consent from the senate. Besides the state school board president, board member Donna Hill-Staton term expired last year.

For this year, the terms run out for board members Dr. Mary Kay Finan, Luisa Montero-Diaz, Sayed Naved and student member Steven Priester.

Lillian Lowery, the state schools chief, was hired by the board during the O’Malley administration. She’s under a four-year contract which runs out in the summer of 2016. Lowery replaced long-time Maryland school superintendent Nancy Grasmick.

In November, Grasmick was appointed by Hogan to his transition team. The state board helps to shape school board policy, which includes guidelines for testing and teacher evaluations.

In 2009, Maryland was among more than a dozen states to receive federal Race to the Top funds. That money was used in part to help students succeed.

The governor-elect has the option of re-appointing current school board members.


Call your elected officials now and the media. Ask them to demand investigations, initiation of changes from Maryland State Department of Education (MSDE)  and the Unions representing employees among other issues. Request that the New Governor replace the entire State Board of Education for practicing a corrupt culture.… Then thank him and other elected officials for demanding accountability and transparency in Maryland. There is no smoke without fire!!



Dr. Lillian M. Lowery Maryland State Superintendent  of schools (Pictured above) has been criticized for showing very poor leadership skills in various ways including discriminatory conduct. She has received an F grade for Common Core meetings and other reform implementations in Maryland so far. Above all, she does not believe in the due process of the law and is manipulative.


In our opinion, We aver and therefore believe Maryland State Board of Education President Dr. Charlene Dukes (shown here) has demonstrated a culture of corrupt leadership style and continues “an integrated pattern of pay to play,”  High suspension rates, violation of due process rights, manipulation inter alia during her tenure as President for Maryland State Board of Education. Time has come for her to go!




Md. General Assembly Considers Taking PGCPS School Board Credit Cards


Maryland state legislators will consider a bill to strip government-issued, taxpayer-funded credit cards from members of the Prince George’s County School Board.

The bill, already formally drafted and submitted, would take effect July 1, 2016. The legislation’s supporters referenced recent reports by the News-4 I-Team, which detailed controversial credit card expenses by board members, while lobbying on behalf of the bill.

The proposed legislation, authored by Prince George’s County State Delegate Alonzo Washington, would require school board members instead pay their future expenses upfront, then seek reimbursement through vouchers. The use of credit cards would be prohibited.

An October review of Prince George’s County School Board credit card expenses by the I-Team revealed some members of the board purchased dozens of meals at local restaurants with their cards, totaling several thousand dollars over the course of a year. Those meals included steak, seafood and desserts and were purchased at local restaurants within minutes of offices and members’ homes.

>>> Read more NBC4 Team


Expose corruption

Expose corruption


An Excellent Editorial in the Los Angeles Times about the iPad Debacle


Karin Klein of the Los Angeles Times wrote an excellent editorial about the disastrous decision to spend $1.3 billion on iPads for every student and staff member of the LA schools. It should be a cautionary tale for every school district that is about to invest hundreds of millions or billions of dollars in new technology.

The District’s Inspector General investigated the purchase and found nothing wrong. But he never looked at the emails that passed between district officials and the winning vendors (Apple and Pearson). The school board never released the results of that investigation. Now a federal grand jury has been impaneled to look at the evidence of possible wrong-doing, and that is a very good thing. The grand jury will also examined the botched computer system that cost millions of dollars and never performed as it was supposed to.

She writes:

When the school board reached a severance agreement with Deasy in October, it issued a statement that board members do “not believe that the superintendent engaged in any ethical violations or unlawful acts” in regard to the emails. That statement was completely inappropriate considering that Bramlett’s investigation into the emails was still underway—as it is now. The board has no authority to direct the inspector general’s investigations—but it can hire and fire the person heading the staff office, and controls his office’s budget. (In fact, just a week or so before the board made its statement, Bramlett’s office pleaded for more funding, according to a KPCC report.) The statement could be seen as pressuring the inspector general not to find wrongdoing; in any case, board members are in no position to prejudge the matter.

For that matter, none of us are in that position. The emails could be perfectly legal and appropriate—or not. It’s unknown whether even a federal grand jury will be able to ferret out the full picture, since many earlier emails were apparently deleted and aren’t available. And if it uncovers ethical rather than legal problems, the public might never know; the grand jury is looking for evidence of crime. Federal crime at that. This might not be the best mechanism for examining the iPad purchase. But the investigation at least ensures that an independent authority is examining the matter, unimpeded by internal politics or pressures.

Yes, the public has a right to know and a right to expect that public officials will act in the best interests of students. As for the huge purchases for technology, we in New York have learned that even the sharpest and most ethical city officials have trouble monitoring the technology purchases. The largest financial scandal in the city’s historyoccurred recently, when a company called Citytime won an IT contract for $63 million in 1998 which ballooned into a $600 million payout; the principals went to jail. The school system’s ARIS project, launched in 2007, was supposed to aggregate data on the city’s 1.1 million students; it was recently dumped because so few teachers or parents used it, at a loss of $95 million. There were other instances where consultants bilked the city, in large part because no one supervised what they were doing.

Is there a moral to the story? Choose your own. Mine is that these multimillion dollar technology purchases must be carefully monitored, from beginning to end, to be sure that the public interest is protected and served. The problem is that many school districts lack the expertise to know whether they are getting what they paid for, or getting a pig in a poke. When even New York City and Los Angeles can be misled, think how much easier it will be to pick the pockets of mid-size and smaller districts.



State delegate proposes bill calling for school board to ban credit cards


Delegate Alonzo Washingon (D-22)

For the second year in a row, a delegate from Prince George’s County will propose a bill to ban the use of taxpayer-funded credit cards by the county’s Board of Education, and the legislation has the support of at least one board member.

“I think there’s some members who used their credit card in an appropriate manner,” said Board of Education member Edward Burroughs, who does not have a board-issued credit card. “I think there’s some members in the past who have not used it in an appropriate manner. Taxpayer dollars are so important it’s best for no one to have a card.”

Delegate Alonzo Washingon (D-22) said he proposed the bill last year for transparency and accountability reasons, and he decided to propose it again this year.

Earlier this year, The Sentinel reported the Board’s vice chair, Carolyn Boston, and school board member Verjeana Jacobs used their credit cards for the most meals of any board members between January 2013 and May 2014. Boston purchased 114 meals totaling more than $5,500 and Jacobs purchased 87 meals totaling more than $6,200, according to credit card statements and expense reports.

Boston declined to comment and Jacobs did not respond to requests for comment.

“Unless there’s a policy change within the school system this year, I plan on going full steam ahead,” Washington said. “A lot of my constituents are alarmed by the reports. They’d like to see a change happen based on reports that came out. They’re absolutely right.”

Board Chairman Segun Eubanks said the school system conduct an internal review of its policy following reports by The Sentinel and other media outlets, but the school board does not have plans to ban credit cards completely. Details of the policy changes will not become public until January, Eubanks said, and the changes will mainly clarify certain things, like maximum daily meal allowances and frequency of meals.

Additionally, Eubanks also said the school board is not considering an external audit of the reimbursement policy because “there is no evidence that board members have misused the reimbursement policy with use of their credit cards.”

Read more >>> Prince George’s County Sentinel. 




Time for Change in PGCPS is Now.


PGCPS_LOGOMaryland State House Dome

There are only a few moments more defining in the destiny of a county than the ones that are currently underway in Prince George’s County District system.

It has always been our view that the ultimate priority of democracy in a developed County like PG is minimizing the cost of changing leaders.

In light of the current circumstances, which include lack of competency and/or college education with regard to the majority of Board members, the fine citizens of PG Co. must invoke change and stop /reelecting non-qualified criminals for various elected positions. Ms. Verjeana Jacobs has been chairing the incompetent Board for years, despite no improvement on the part of the Board.  The malefactor trait possibly runs in her family, as her husband seems to be a criminal (see our earlier reports here). Mr. Baker is infinitely more qualified to oversee PGCPS than any elected Board member. We say give Mr. Baker all of the oversight he wants and discard the elected Board of Education. Real change will have real impact on student achievement and we support the retention of our best teachers.

But the “my way or the highway” approach adopted by Ms. Verjeana Jacobs (BOE Chair) has no root in a real democracy and will not be tolerated.

We have suffered reversals in individual and collective aspirations. But our form of response has mostly been crippled by a sense of restraint.

In the bigger picture, our realization of the potential of the county’s school system serves as the rightful incentive to stick together and bring proper changes within our county school systems, whether for ourselves or the benefit our children and their children.

The top guns of our politics have the most capacity to achieve our expectations. After months of divisive posturing concerning the flawed superintendent search by the Board of Education, Ms. Verjeana Jacobs finally admitted to inadequacy.  There would be no concern if her admission only reflected on her own incompetence; instead, her admission reflects on the Board of Education, which is our conduit for change.  The Board of Education, which is an extension of members like Verjeana Jacobs, has defaced the entire county with as much hate mongering as the motley of campaign posters she helped distribute in 2012. At that time in November 2012, Ms.Verjeana Jacobs and her husband traveled the loving terrain of PG County spreading hate propaganda against her only opponent on November 4 2012 Election.

When asked about the no bid contracts in millions of dollars issued illegally by the same Board which she chaired, she denied the charges. However, documentation shows otherwise.   When asked if she was willing to work with the opposition in addressing the issues, she rolled her eyes and left the venue.

No one has a right to seek to lead our county unless he or she sees the county as larger than his or her aspirations. And times of tense transition and public anxiety are the best moment for genuine leadership to show its face.  County stability requires that we ensure closure of contest and open the door to collaboration.

Set apart

The things that our officials say, where they go, and what they do at key moments like this are what distinguish great leaders from opportunists.

Our elected Senators, Delegates, Board members et al must closet the garbs of contest and try on the apparel of leadership. They must become couriers of a patriotic and inclusive message that changes are necessary. The reform agenda must be enacted without any fear or favor. An inspector General position must be considered and the Unions must be checked in order to ensure accountability on their part. 

Above all, leaders must be willing and ready to confess their endorsement of persons that time have proven to be inadequate, whether by their actions or inaction.

We must reject this scenario for the sake of precedent and make proper change right away.

Sadly, even a blind man can see that it truly is time for a change in the educational system in PG County. How long must the children pay the price for such an ineffective educational process? If not now, when? How many more children will be lost while the grownups play money, politics and power games? It is truly time for a change!!

The integrity and peace of Prince George’s County should be placed on a pedestal above the power ambitions of any leader or group of leaders. That means the PGCPS Board members must make sacrifices and corroborate with the County Executive Rushen Baker in order to create a bright future for our kids.

Of course, holding together a stable county in a critical time of transition is a responsibility that cannot be entirely left at the hands of a few leaders; however vigil they will be or prove to be. Members of the General Assembly, including our beloved Governor O’Malley, are key residual players.

While they are key guarantors of order, they play the best role when they are rendered unnecessary.

As articulated before in the previous blog, our courts and media must continue to play their rightful roles.

Diverse players from the non-state sectors must raise their voices.

Our pursuit of democracy is grounded in the dream of a prosperous future here in PG County. We appoint rulers in exchange for their promise to contest inadequacy in conformity with the goal to make our community wealthier and happier. We mustn’t allow the public mismanagement to result in the denigration of our communities, as manifested in high foreclosure rates, death of innocent students in the last few weeks and corruption involving recruitment of unqualified candidates to be superintendent.

Let us all demand of each other that our conduct and utterance reinforce the image of PG County as a land of stability and promise.  Let’s arrive together achieve a competitive destination for private capital where schools are designed to have a great future and are at peace.

The Prince George’s County reform efforts especially for schools will only show a maturing County if we collectively minimize the social cost.


Reform Sasscer Movement for Prince George’s County