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Monday, November 30, 2009

MCPS Loves Trees: Going Green (Part 2)

The School Energy and Recycling Team Program (SERT) is one of the many ways that MCPS tries to go about saving the environment.

So what is it? Basically, SERT is a school-based energy conservation and recycling program that is comprised of teams of staff and students who take responsibility to create a culture of conservation.

At the central level, MCPS tries to provide support and data for all of our teams so that they can do a better job. At each and every MCPS School, MCPS Central Staff provides SERT Teams with:
• accessible energy and recycling performance data, and
• SERT facilitators providing support and guidance, and
• recognition and award incentives for effort and performance.

The SERT facilitators themselves make rounds to all the schools to collect data and make sure that the schools are in compliance with environmental regulations. As a result, the main goal of the SERT Program is to reduce our carbon footprint and simultaneously eliminate energy costs.

One of the other goals of the SERT Program is to educate students about the importance of conservation and recycling. As a result, Energy Assemblies, Contests, Activities, and even Energy Audits are conducted by students to truly engage them within the process and make the SERT Program an educational program, creating a culture of conservation imperative in the next generation. The SERT Recycling Rewards Program for example allows schools to win the award for achieving a recycling rate of 36% or higher.

So how effective is it? Every year, the SERT Program results in millions of dollars of energy savings and reduces energy use in schools across the county - sometimes by up to 10% in one year.

This triangle below represents the cooperation and participation needed at all levels of the school for the SERT Team to be successful. Students, Administrators, and Building Service Staff all need to be on the same page to bring about real environmental change at the school level.

In our next part, we're going to take a look at Recycling Data for MCPS and some of the many programs going in to facilitate the process.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

MCJC General Assembly Supports MC 12-10!

On November 23, 2009, delegates from middle schools across the county gathered at Gaithersburg Middle School for the the the Montgomery County Junior Councils (MCJC) - the County Middle School SGA - General Assembly to take action on MC 12-10.

The General Assembly unanimously approved legislation to support MC-12-10. The legislation is reproduced here:

0910-GA-01: SMOB Expanded Voting Rights

Whereas: The student member is experienced, responsible, and knowledgeable and deserves to contribute to all aspects of the decision making process; and

Whereas: The student member has first-hand interaction with students, teachers, administrators, and parents each and every school day, allowing the student member to see how board policy affects students at the grassroots level; and

Whereas: The students are the greatest stakeholders in the educational process yet they have the least representation and the Student Member’s vote will encourage the Board of Education to have a stronger consensus that should create a stronger sense of unity among the Board; and

Whereas: The students are not a special interest group - students are the reason for the educational system; and

Whereas: Expanded voting rights gives respect to the student opinion not previously allowed, a greater appreciation for the function of the school board, and an understanding of the student role in decision making; and

Whereas: The Student Member prepares in the same manner as the adult board members (reading the agenda, researching, etc.) and communicates and seeks input from students; and

Whereas: The student member participates in the day-to-day school routine, therefore allowing the student member to truly experience the effects of Board decisions; and

Whereas: Expanded voting rights will create a culture of respect where the student’s voice is truly heard and respected; be it hereby

Resolved: That MCJC supports Bill MC 12-10 allowing expanded voting rights for the student member of the Board of Education to include school closing, boundary changes, and budget items (everything except negative personnel items); and be it further

Resolved: That MCJC support the expanded voting rights by lobbying government groups including the Montgomery County delegation (Delegates/Senators) to the Maryland General Assembly.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

MCPS Loves Trees: Going Green (Part 1)

We all know the warnings: The Earth is getting warmer! The cost of energy is getting higher! We're all going to have to start using candles if we don't lose our dependence on Iranian oil! So, we all do our part to help conserve and save the planet, including MCPS.

Here at MCPS, the task of saving the planet goes under the Department of Facilities Management that manages energy and environmental programs so that MCPS is a lot more environmentally-conscious. In fact, it's part of MCPS' Stratgic Plan under Goal 5. As the 16th largest school system in the United States, we have a duty to make our mark (or reduce it) on the environment.

In general, there are four ways MCPS goes about tackling the environment:
  1. The SERT program made up of students and staff
  2. Energy education in middle school and high school
  3. New green buildings during construction (LEED Certification)
  4. Green building initiatives
This is going to be a pretty long series and is going to be in six parts. For those of you who don't really care about the environment: First, shame on you! And second, I'll have other posts as news comes along so don't worry.

Part Two: We're going to take a look at the SERT Program
Part Three: We're going to take a look at Recycling Data for MCPS
Part Four: We're going to look at green techniques in schools
Part Five: We're going to look at greening MCPS overall including construction
Part Six: We're going to look at MCPS Energy Data overall and what it means for the future including an interview from MCPS Central Staff!

Stay tuned for to learn about how MCPS is saving the planet!

Monday, November 23, 2009

Board of Education Meeting with Student Leaders Postponed!

The Board of Education is rescheduling the December 1st Student Leaders Meeting with the Board of Education.

As you guys know, this is an unprecedented year with the issue of SMOB Voting Rights on the table. Unfortunately, the bill hearing date for the bill MC12-10 to expand the Student Member's vote and the annual December 1st Student Leaders Meeting coincided on the same date. This will be the only day of testimony given to these bills. As a result, the Board of Education will be rescheduling the student leaders meeting so the student leaders may attend this
bill hearing. The Board of Education has placed trust in us to show our support!

I encourage all our student leaders to make our voices heard loud and clear to the county and state delegation to attend the local hearing in Rockville (SSL Approved). It will be on December 1, 2009 - 7 PM at the 3rd Floor Hearing Room, Stella Werner Council Office Building, 100 Maryland Ave., Rockville (right next to the Courthouse and Rockville Town Center and near Richard Montgomery). Student leaders (former SMOBs and MCR Presidents) and even the Board of Education President will be testifying on the bill, and request that we show strong support for the bill!

If you cannot, for any reason make the meeting, please support the cause by contributing to the letter-writing campaign going on currently.

For those that would still like to make their voices heard on other issues, I will be having SMOB 2.0 Meetings at 850 Hungerford Dr., Rockville on:
  • Policy Meeting: Thursday December 3 (6-8 PM): For any school that wants to send a representative and discuss issues in a smaller setting
  • Town Hall: Wednesday December 16 (7-9 PM): For any student that wants to come
I hope to see you all there!

Maintenance of Effort: What's that all about?

If you guys are up-to-date on local news, you’ll know that there’s currently a storm brewing about this thing called Maintenance of Effort (MOE). A lot of people are angry and frustrated at the county and state level. Meanwhile, people are waiting for MCPS to continue on schedule with the Capital Improvements Plan (construction budget) and all their programs (The picture is from a recent hearing on Boundaries and Facilities), and you can't really blame them for wanting a better education.

So what is it? MOE is a state law designed to discourage local county governments from reducing their funding for public education. Every year, county governments have to spend at least the same amount per student on public education as they did the past year. This means that if there are more students, you’ll get extra money (inflation doesn’t count). In other words, if you spend $10,000 on each student in 2009, the county has to spend $10,000 (or more) on each student in 2010 or the county can lose a lot of money for education that comes from the state every year.

So what’s the big deal? Well, Montgomery County didn’t pass MOE this year. Basically, because of the economy, the county is getting less money. Since the County Government pays for MCPS’ budget, MCPS said, “Okay, just for this year, since the economy is so bad, we’ll take $79 Million below MOE” and the entire county government asked the State Board of Education to waive the MOE requirement this year.

But the State Board said “No”. What happened next was the county decided to charge the MCPS budget for $79 million in school construct debt – which the county usually pays. So it would be “added” back into MCPS’ budget. The Attorney General said this was not allowed and illegal because the law says that “program shifts between a county operating budget and a county school operating budget may not be used to artificially satisfy the requirements”.

Now, the county could lose between $16 Million and $64 Million in a penalty because the County Government failed to pay for MCPS. Wait, what? Yeah, so the law says that if the county doesn’t pay for education, the state won’t either. Weird, isn’t it? So we, as students, get less money from the State because the County paid less money.

While it’s true that the county council did pay over MOE in past years, so did all the other counties in Maryland. Montgomery is one of three counties in the entire state to not meet it this year. And this is actually the first time ever since the law was written that this has happened. MOE was expected to be the bare minimum for education.

So that’s where we are in terms of this issue. I can't really say what this means for the budget next year, but I'll tell you something: it's not good. Meanwhile, like the picture shows, people still want their programs and their school construction on time.

I could say a lot of things here, but I'll leave it to Helen Lovejoy from The Simpsons:

For more information (MCEA, SEIU 500, MCAAP FAQ):

Friday, November 20, 2009

Cell Phones During Lunches

As you know, COG-RA, Portable Communication Devices, lets secondary school (Grades 6-12) students have cell phones, iPods, etc. while they are on MCPS property and when they attend MCPS-sponsored activities but not until the end of the official school day.

On June 9, 2009, the Board of Education asked MCPS to do a pilot test in several schools to explore the possible use of cell phones during lunches. It was questioned whether allowing students to use their cell phones during lunch periods would cause harm or disrupt class time by tempting students to use their cell phones during class. The Board decided the best way to find out was to do a field test allowing students at two or three high schools with different lunch schedules to use cell phones during their lunch times.

MCPS Staff will collect data on students' usage of the devices during the lunches as well as attempted usage during instructional time. Comments will also be collected from students, staff, and administrators.

The field test will be done at the start of the second semester (January 26, 2010) and will continue until May 1. A recommendation will be made by June 2010 and the Board of Education will vote on it sometime after that. The outcome of these schools will determine whether or not this test should be expanded to all high schools. If it is successful, the use of cell phones during lunch would be expanded to all high schools.

The Test High Schools:
Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School
Poolesville High School
Quince Orchard High School
Sherwood High School
Walter Johnson High School
Watkins Mill High School

SMOB Voting Rights Passed!

On 11/10/2009, the MCPS Board of Education voted to support an expansion of the Student Member's right to vote 7-1 and place it in their legislative platform. This is a historic moment for student advocacy in MCPS and marks the official support of the Board of Education and the start of our lobbying process. If the bill passes through the Montgomery County Delegation, this will be a historic moment in student advocacy in the State of Maryland.

Previously, the SMOB could not vote on the 2.2 Billion Dollar Budget, the CIP (Construction Budget), School Boundaries, Union Contracts, or School Closings. This legislation would let the SMOB vote on all of these. But like Del. Anne R. Kaiser said, "the student who is elected as the student member has always been a terrific member and brings in a great perspective that almost no one else has,"

Over the course of the next two months, SMOB 2.0 and students across this county will be pushing extremely hard for this legislation to go through both houses of the Montgomery County Delegation and get it all the way to the Governor's Desk. Currently, the bill is in the Montgomery County Delegation sponsored by Delegates Kaiser, Hucker, and Gutièrrez as well as Senators Raskin and Madaleno.

Please write to your state legislator and tell them that you care about student advocacy! I have attached for you the letter template that I ask for you to send out [TEMPLATE].

Place your name and your address (so the legislator will know what district you are in) at the top and send to the emails listed there. All you have to do is copy-paste the email message to all the recipients and tell others to do the same. The more emails that are delivered, the more support that this will garner. Hopefully, with enough lobbying, we will be able to push this legislation through.

Thank you for your support and I look forward to working with you all on this matter in the upcoming months!

SMOB 2.0 Blog

Hello Everyone-

Beginning this year, the SMOB will try to reach out to the student population by starting a blog of the activities of the SMOB. This is all part of a process to establish SMOB Communication with the student population and the greater community through the SMOB 2.0 Initiative.

SMOB 2.0 includes representatives and communication committees at every high school and middle school in MCPS and also include an online component, which reaches out to students using new media like Facebook, Twitter, Youtube, and Blogging.

This blog will have videos, pictures, updates, etc. about issues pertinent to student issues in Montgomery County, MD. If you have any comments or suggestions please feel free to email

Stay tuned for updates, a new youtube channel, and pictures for you to see!

Tim Hwang
Montgomery County SMOB 2009-2010