Tag Archives: transparency

Email campaign urges teachers across Maryland to consider leaving unions in wake of Supreme Court decision

993EDB4B-B77C-4032-AB24-41DFEBC3841E.jpegBy Lorraine Mirabella, Talia Richman and Liz Bowe

A Michigan-based “free market” think tank is emailing teachers across Maryland urging them to drop their union memberships in the wake of the Supreme Court decision that said public employees cannot be forced to pay union fees.

Teachers and union officials say they have been alarmed by the email campaign and question how its organizers gained access to school system email addresses.

The email from the “My Pay, My Say” campaign says government workers “now have a real choice when it comes to their unions. … Whether it’s disagreements about politics, concerns about a lack of local representation, problems with union spending or something else — you now have the right to stop paying for activities you don’t support.”

Rogie Legaspi, a seventh-grade life sciences teacher at Hamilton Elementary/Middle School, was puzzled when the email came to his school system address, which he keeps separate from a personal email account. It arrived shortly after the Supreme Court ruling in late June.

“This came through my work email, and how they did it was a puzzle to me,” said Legaspi, a Baltimore Teachers Union member for a decade. “It’s encouraging union members to give up their memberships, and they’re basically saying you can save a couple of dollars.”

The “My Pay, My Say” campaign was organized by The Mackinac Center for Public Policy, which describes itself as a nonpartisan research and educational institute that has long championed national issues of worker freedom. Its campaign was spurred by the federal justices’ 5-4 vote to overturn a 41-year-old precedent and rule that the 1st Amendment protects teachers, police officers and other public employees from being required to support a private group whose views may differ from theirs.

The court’s decision in Janus vs. AFSCME, seen as a setback for public sector unions, struck down laws in Maryland and other mostly Democratic-leaning states that allowed unions to negotiate contracts requiring all employees to pay a so-called fair share fee to cover the cost of collective bargaining, even those who opted out of membership.

Baltimore Teachers Union president Marietta English said the email blast is emblematic of a “drop the union” message right-wing groups are pushing in the wake of the court’s decision. But she said the effort is largely futile here, given that her union is now seeing its highest membership numbers ever: 95 percent.

“These billionaires are trying to cut out the voice of the working class,” she said. “It’s not working.”

Lagaspi echoed English.

“For me, the unions support the working class people and the very profession we love is protected,” Legaspi said. “It fights for a lot of things teachers want, such as full funding of schools.”

The Mackinac campaign has targeted public employees across the country, including teachers, police and fire workers and city and county employees, through email, social media and meetings, said Lindsay Killen, the institute’s vice president for strategic outreach and communications. Killen said the group has been building email contact lists for years, often obtaining the publicly available information through freedom of information requests.

“To the extent that union leaders are unhappy with the fact that we’re reaching out to workers in their school systems or places of work, we would assert that those individuals deserve to know what their rights are, and they have a choice,” said Killen, adding that the group stops short of encouraging workers to opt out of unions. “If unions are truly providing a valuable service to members, their members are more likely to stay, and they have nothing to fear from those members being armed with information about their rights.”

Mackinac is one of numerous groups that reportedly have launched public campaigns in the wake of the Janus decision, including Washington-based Freedom Foundation, the Commonwealth Foundation, the Yankee Institute for Public Policy and Americans for Prosperity. According to website Conservative Transparency, donors to Mackinac in 2014 and in prior years, have included the Dick and Betsy DeVos Family Foundation, launched in 1989 by President Donald Trump’s education secretary and her husband.

In the days after the Janus decision, teachers throughout the state received “My Pay, My Say” emails, said Adam Mendelson, a spokesman for the Maryland State Education Association, which represents 74,000 members, teachers, support staff and administrators in all state jurisdictions except Baltimore.

They received “spam-type emails in their inboxes from billionaire-funded extremist political groups … to try to convince them to give away their voice and their contracts,” Mendelson said. “They don’t have educators and Maryland students’ best interests in mind.”

Mendelson said he heard from members in Anne Arundel, Frederick, Prince George’s, Carroll and Howard counties and from the Eastern Shore but did not know how many received the emails.

Annie Cumberland, a media specialist at Northwest Middle School in Carroll County, who received an email, said she wasn’t surprised that people were “already trying to bust up our unions” soon after the Janus decision. But she was upset to learn that the DeVos foundation made past contributions to the campaign’s organizer.

“This is someone who has a major, influential position in our country, who in one way or another is not supporting public education when that is her number one job,” Cumberland said.

English criticized The Mackinac Center for accessing teachers’ work email addresses and using them to try and sway opinions.

Edie M. House-Foster, the city schools’ spokeswoman, said the system did not provide teacher email addresses or sanction the letter.

“We don’t know how they got them,” she said.“They could have harvested them a variety of ways.”

In an email to teachers and staff following the “My Pay, My Say” email blast, the district said it is not affiliated with the sender and does not interfere in issues related to union membership.

English said no other anti-union materials have been reported to the BTU since the Janus decision. At the same time, the union has sent out emails and made house calls to teachers on the fence about becoming full members, urging them to remember that “we are stronger together.”

The union counts roughly 7,000 teachers and paraprofessionals as full members of the union. Prior to the Janus decision, about 450 people paid agency fees but were not full members, union officials said. Since the decision, 20 of those teachers have signed membership cards, and roughly 100 more have signaled their interest in joining the union.

English estimated the union will lose out on about $300,000 now that teachers aren’t compelled to pay those fees. The union has been bracing for this for years, as the Janus case wound its way through the court system.

The union doesn’t anticipate any vital programming will be cut. Rather, the group has been implementing proactive cost-saving measures, like letting vacancies go unfilled.

It’s not surprising that such a campaign would focus on teachers, who are among the most identifiable of public sector unionized employees, said Michael Hayes, a labor law professor at the University of Baltimore.

The friction between unions and anti-union opponents stretches back decades, but has become more partisan in recent years, Hayes said.

“Now it’s a given that public sector unions support Democrats and opponents will support Republicans,” Hayes said. “It’s quite a tug of war we’ve got going.”

Jimmy Gittings, president of the city school system administrators’ union, said no anti-union messaging has been reported since the Janus decision. Sgt. Clyde Boatwright, president of the city school police union and vice president of the state Fraternal Order of Police, said he hasn’t heard of any anti-union messaging in either capacity.

“We haven’t faced that issue at all,” Boatwright said.

The Janus case grew out of a Supreme Court decision in 1977 that said public employees may not be forced to pay union dues if some of the money went for political contributions. At the time, the justices upheld the lesser “fair share” fees on the theory that all employees benefited from a union contract and its grievance procedures.

The current, more conservative court disagreed last month and said employees have a right not to give any support to a union. These payments were described as a form of “compelled speech,” which violates the 1st Amendment.

The anti-union National Right to Work Foundation, which funded the challenge, predicted the ruling would free more than 5 million public employees from supporting their unions.

Richard Vatz, a Towson University professor of rhetoric and communication, said a weaker union would have an effect on teacher pay.

“It reduces the bargaining power,” he said.

Despite that, he said he supports the Janus decision.

“I think it is wrong particularly of that profession that they sacrifice academic freedom to increase the efficacy of their bargaining power,” he said.

Mackinac’s Killen said it’s too soon to know the campaign’s impact. But so far, she said, thousands of people in all 50 states have visited the website for information or to fill out a form, customized for each state, to opt out of a union.

Hayes said the effectiveness of the “My Pay, My Say” campaign will vary from area to area.

“They might make more headway in Western Maryland and the Eastern Shore than the city of Baltimore,” he said.

Via Baltimore Sun

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PGCPS CEO negotiating big severance package, board members say

PRINCE GEORGE’S COUNTY, Md. – In early May, Prince George’s County Public Schools CEO Kevin Maxwell announced he was leaving the school system.

It’s been one month, but members of the Board of Education said Maxwell hasn’t handed in a resignation letter.

They argued this is a play to ensure he receives a large severance package.

The minority block of the Board of Education–the three members who have been the most critical of Dr. Maxwell–are sounding the alarm. They asserted that even though Maxwell has publicly said he is leaving, they believe he has no plans to do so. They also said there is no date set for his departure.

They said he is using that as leverage, to negotiate at least a $1 million payout.

The school district denied the claim.

On May 1, Maxwell announced he was “transitioning” out of the school system. The wording here is important. He didn’t quit and he didn’t resign.

RELATED: PGCPS to undergo second review over graduation-related issues

That leaves the door open for a payout of taxpayer money from PGCPS.

How large are we talking? He could get more than $1 million.

Why that number? He makes more than $300,000 a year, and he still has three years left on his contract.

According to his contract, he does not automatically get a severance package, but it can be negotiated with the board of education.

RELATED: Student says college is now on hold because of PGCPS mistake

The teachers union and other local community groups have spoken out against a severance package. They have pointed to the multiple scandals in the school district under Maxwell’s leadership over the past few years, including unauthorized raises for central office workers, an internal audit that found evidence of grade inflation, and the loss of millions of federal dollars for Head Start because of abuse claims.

According to the minority block of the board of education, negotiations have already started by board members more friendly to Maxwell, and they are being left out.

WUSA9 reached out Maxwell’s office. All they would tell us is that there will be no discussions of Maxwell’s transition until the end of the year.

Via WUSA9

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Prince George’s offers plan to tighten grading controls after claims of fraud

MAXWELL-1672x1254Prince George’s County officials will tighten practices for changing student grades, monitoring absenteeism and certifying graduation requirements under a plan that follows an investigation of alleged fraud in graduation rates.

The 40-page plan, slated for discussion by the county school board Tuesday evening, is expected to go to state officials by month’s end, in answer to wide-ranging problems detailed in a state report last month.

That report found nearly 5,500 grade changes in the days before commencement in 2016 and 2017 in the Maryland school system. A sampling of records showed that about 30 percent of students with late grade changes lacked documentation that justified graduation or were clearly ineligible, according to the report.

“We’re making a lot of significant changes,” said Kevin Maxwell, chief executive of the school system, the state’s second-largest. “It’s a serious issue and this is going to help us make sure we are doing everything possible to make sure that our students are ready to graduate on time and that the processes and procedures are followed.”

 The plan calls for stricter controls on access to student records, added training for employees and elimination of controversial “packets” of make-up work given to students hoping to recover from failing grades.

The district will move toward electronic grade-change forms, starting in a handful of schools in spring, to strengthen monitoring. Next school year, graduation certification also will be done electronically, rather than manually through “tally cards” — a change that officials said will improve and automate the process.

The district also will revise procedures for tracking attendance and clarify how unexcused absences will affect student grades. Students in jeopardy of failing a course may still enroll in credit recovery through an online program.

An outside firm will be hired to review how the district of more than 132,000 students has implemented recommended changes. Later, an outside firm will also audit a random selection of student grades and graduation requirements.

Gov. Larry Hogan (R) ordered the investigation in Prince George’s after a minority bloc on the school board urged that he look into evidence from whistleblowers that grades and credit counts were manipulated.

A D.C. firm — Alvarez & Marsal Public Sector Services — conducted the seven-week inquiry, looking into complaints, examining records and doing interviews at the county’s 28 high schools.

[Firm hired to probe graduation rates in Prince George’s County schools]

Four-year graduation rates in Prince George’s climbed from 74.1 percent in 2013 to 81.4 percent in 2016. While the rate is still lower than last year’s state average of 87.6 percent, the gain over that period was the largest of any school system in Maryland.

Maxwell had cited improvement in graduation rates as a signature accomplishment.

In an interview, he said he did not think the changes being made would reduce graduation rates in coming years.

“I certainly hope not,” he said, adding that educators are working hard to make sure students get the support they need.

The state-ordered report that was released in November did not find any improper action was ordered by school system leaders.

Asked what went wrong, Maxwell spoke about longtime procedural issues and high turnover among administrators in schools and the central office. He noted that some schools used out-of-date forms to make grade changes.

Others have said in recent weeks that more investigation is needed.

Edward Burroughs III, a member of the Board of Education’s minority bloc, said this month that the audit did not go far enough. He hinted that there were other complaints that were not explored.

Maxwell said he saw no reason to examine the issue further, calling the investigation a “very, very thorough” review that provided useful information about a serious matter.

Raaheela Ahmed, also a member of the board’s minority bloc, said she thinks accountability for improper action is important but wants to ensure the school system focuses on those who called the shots, not those who may have been pressured.

“I want to make sure the right people are being held accountable for the situation we’re in, and not the foot soldiers,” she said. “It’s a very complex situation, and you don’t want someone to be held responsible for something they were told to do by someone else.”

Curtis Valentine, a member of the board majority on this issue, said he appreciated the urgency Maxwell and other leaders gave to the problems identified in report, adding that they were proactive in addressing issues on credit recovery before the report came out. “This is one step, and I think another step is that parents and educators feel comfortable enough to come forward with any concerns about the implementation of the changes,” he said.

Via Washington post

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Transparency, Anti-Corruption, and Sustainable Development: Is Progress Possible?

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IMF Managing Director Christine Lagarde speaks during a discussion in a past photo. IMF is starting to embrace new strategies to combat corruption. 

Brookings/The Partnership for Transparency Fund/World Bank Group – hosted a full day of discussions on anti-corruption on Monday. The first public session featured IMF Managing Director Christine Lagarde – the second panel discussion highlighted  experts on corruption and extractives. The second half of the day, involving a small group on “Chatham House ” rules discussed ways to best approach research in the area of corruption and natural resources. The first two panels are captured on video –

The IMF and corruption discussion on Manday Septemebr 18th, 2017 starts at minute 41 on this video – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wnMj-5P4snk

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State lawmakers from Prince George’s seek broad probe of graduation rates

IMG_0158Members of the Prince George’s County’s legislative delegation joined the call Thursday for a state investigation into charges that county school officials doctored grades to increase promotion and graduation rates.

In a letter dated Thursday, the delegates called upon state Superintendent of Schools Karen B. Salmon to examine the claims. The letter was signed by Dels. Jerry Walker and Geraldine Valentino-Smith, a Bowie resident and vice chairwoman of the delegation.

The claims were made by four members of the county school board, including David Murray and Raaheela Ahmed of Bowie.

“Given that the Maryland State Department of Education has oversight over public school districts in Maryland and the educational interests of the State, we respectfully request the resources of the Maryland State Department Education for purposes of an in-depth audit and further investigation of such serious allegations,” the delegates wrote.

The allegations of grade tampering came to light this week when county schools CEO Kevin Maxwell revealed that four school board sent a letter to Gov. Larry Hogan, asking him to conduct an investigation into possible irregularities. He dismissed the claims as “politically motivated” and revealed that a similar probe conducted last fall turned up no evidence of grade-tampering. However, Dr. Maxwell has refused to sit down with reporters as such fox for on camera interview despite repeated requests.

At a jam-packed and often heated school board meeting Thursday night, during which the $1.9 billion school budget was passed, Maxwell repeated his defense of the school system.

“The false allegations about our graduation rates strike at everything that Prince George’s schools stand for – past, present and future,” Maxwell said. “These allegations denigrate why teachers teach and why principals lead. They are a personal attack on every teacher, counselor administrator and employee in this system.”

In their letter, the delegates said the state probe of anonymous allegations last fall did not go far enough because the school personnel interviewed in that investigation were selected by Maxwell.

“It has come to our attention that a high level of concern exists for those schools that experienced a significant change in graduation rate or that have a significant disparity between graduation rates and the performance of students on high school standardized tests,” delegates wrote. “We are also aware that the local change in grading policy may be causing both confusion and disagreement among teachers and parents and this issue could certainly be clarified through a careful MSDE review.”

County officials adopt slightly increased budget for FY 2018
The other nine school board members and a group of county high school principals released statements this week denying the charges and supporting Maxwell.

But Ahmed and Murray stood by their claims, saying Thursday they’d heard and seen enough evidence from system employees to indicate that something was amiss with the grading system. Hogan’s office has forwarded the letter to state education officials.

“There was enough information that I had received – testimony, having seen documents – that there convinced me there was reason for some of these things to be true,” Ahmed said. “I had reason to expect issues – widespread issues.”

Tracie Miller, principal of Gwynn Park High School, was joined by several other high school principals at the board meeting in Upper Marlboro as she spoke out in defense of her colleagues at the meeting.

“We, as high school principals, are extremely offended about the allegations and hurtful accusations that we pressure teachers to to give students grades in order to (increase) the graduation rate,” she said. Such claims, she added, “stain all of us.”

Many parents have come forward with information that their children grades appear suspicious after receiving an A in their report card. Other students who skipped school for many days got A’s and B’s as part of their grades in a shocking revelation to make the adminstration look good.

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2nd Major Meeting Planned in PG County to Discuss corruption and other issues

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Senator C. Anthony Muse
Democrat, District 26, Prince George’s County (See Below)

SECOND EDUCATION FORUM. Please join Senator Anthony Muse and other sponsors at our next Prince George’s Education forum. Hundreds turned out at the last meeting. However,we cannot just meet. Many issues were identified and we need the information on these issues so that we, as a community, can ACT. Numbers matter. Please be present and invite as many as you can. Meet us there please share this on you FB page.

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Read more  and call your representatives>>> Let us demand investigations.

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Maryland House moves to curb suspensions, expulsions of young pupils

md_general_assemblyThe House of Delegates approved legislation Thursday that would significantly curb the practice of suspending or expelling the youngest public school students without first taking other steps to improve their behavior.

The measure now goes to the state Senate, where a committee approved a similar bill Thursday.

Delegates voted 91-48 for the House measure, which bars the suspension or expulsion of prekindergarten, kindergarten, first and second grades students except in narrow circumstances — such as bringing a gun to school.

Students could be suspended for up to nine days in the House version — five in the Senate’s — only if a mental health professional determines there is an “imminent threat of serious harm to other students or staff” that can’t be addressed another way.

The legislation directs that schools provide “intervention and support” for students who are suspended or expelled instead of merely sending them home.

Del. Brooke E. Lierman, the House sponsor, said she’s happy with the bill as amended.

“The bill still sends a strong message to the schools and the Maryland State Department of Education that the General Assembly does not think it is appropriate to suspend or expel our youngest learners,” the Baltimore Democrat said.

If the Maryland State Senate passes its bill as the committee amended it, the two chambers will have to resolve their differences before the bill becomes law.marylandmap2

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