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Monday, January 31, 2011

Maintenance of Effort Bill

There's currently a bill in the Senate that would make certain changes to the Maintenance of Effort law:

- Altering the date by which a county governing body must make a request to the State Board of Education for a waiver from the maintenance of effort requirement;
- requiring the State Board to consider specified factors when making a decision whether to grant a waiver;
- requiring the State Superintendent of Schools to make a preliminary assessment of waiver applications by a specified time
The full text of the bill on its First Reading is here.

It is important to remember that Maintenance of Effort is an important requirement that ensures adequate funding for education by maintaining a "floor" for local funding.

Friday, January 28, 2011

List of Potential Budget Cuts

Recently, the Governor released his budget, which included $37 million more in state aid to MCPS than originally anticipated. Most of this increase will help make up for the loss of federal stimulus funds this year.

Moreover, MCPS has been able to save $15 million this year that will go towards next year's budget. However, we're still facing a crisis at the local level. County Executive Ike Leggett said that his proposed budget won't meet the state's Maintenance of Effort requirement.

In order to meet MOE, we have to provide an increase of $82 million in funding to cover increased enrollment. However, we may have to cut $82 million from our budget if the county doesn't provide this funding. This would require eliminating step increases ($28 million), further delaying funding future retiree benefits ($6 million), and personnel/program reductions ($48 million).

As a result, Dr. Weast recently released a list of possible budget reductions. Below is the list - however, it's important to keep in mind that these reductions are listed randomly and are not final.

SMOB Application Deadline Extended!

Due to the snow days and homes without power, the deadline for students to submit their application for student member on the Board of Education (SMOB) has been extended until 4 PM on Monday, January 31st.

Candidates must bring their original application to the mandatory candidates' meeting at 4 PM on Monday, January 31st from 4-6 PM in the Cafeteria of Carver Educational Services Center (CESC) 850 Hungerford Drive, Rockville.

Candidates should dress nicely as the MCPS photographer will take group pictures and the individual candidate portraits from 5:00-6:00 p.m in his studio at CESC.


Missing Olney Teen Found in Texas!

(WUSA) -- Montgomery County Police say they have found one of the teens from Olney who has been missing since January 12.

County police learned Nicholas (Cole) Balderson, 17, and Rachel Reilly, 16, might be in the San Antonio, Texas area and began coordinating with the San Antonio Police Department.

Thursday night, county detectives were contacted by San Antonio Police Department investigators who said they took Rachel Reilly into custody at approximately 8:15 p.m.

San Antonio Police had received information that the two teens may be staying at a homeless camp near a San Antonio truck stop, T and A Travel Center of America in San Antonio. They located a homeless camp to the rear of the truck stop, and police say when officers approached, two subjects matching the teens' descriptions fled on foot.

Police were able to stop and detain the girl and identified her as Rachel Reilly. Balderson was not apprehended.

Rachel Reilly was taken into custody by the San Antonio Police and is waiting to be reunited with family. Police say she appears to be uninjured and in good health.

Police say Balderson is still missing, and it is believed that he remains in the San Antonio area.

Anyone who may know the whereabouts of Cole Balderson is asked to call the Montgomery County Police Family Crimes Division at 240-773-5400 or the police non-emergency number at 301-279-8000.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Ike Leggett - MCPS Will Pay Fine Instead of Meeting MOE

In the below article, County Executive Ike Leggett tells the Washington Examiner that the county will not fully fund the school system, and that MCPS will ultimately have to pay a penalty for being unable to meet  Maintenance of Effort for yet another consecutive year. 

Although other branches of county government are suffering enormous cuts as well, Maintenance of Effort is the law and must be met in order to ensure a world class quality of education for our students, especially because of enrollment increases.

For context, Maintenance of Effort is a state law that requires the County Council, MCPS' funding body, to spend as much money per student as it did the previous year. However, last year we were granted a Maintenance of Effort waiver from the state.

This means that this year's Maintenance of Effort requirement is at FY 2010's level of $10,664 per student. Unfortunately, this also means that we are unlikely to be granted a waiver like last year, leaving us with a penalty in the form of loss of state aid.

MontCo will pay state fine instead of increasing school spending
By: Brian Hughes

Montgomery County will not spend an extra $82 million on public schools next fiscal year, County Executive Ike Leggett told The Washington Examiner, citing the suburb's chronic funding shortfalls as the need to buck state requirements.

"It's just not practical for us to fill that request," Leggett said of Superintendent Jerry Weast's call for tens of millions of dollars more in county funding. "We'd either have to raise taxes or tap department budgets that have already been hit hard the last two or three years. I'm not going to do that."

Under state law, local jurisdictions are required to pay the same amount per student as the year before. But facing a $300 million shortfall -- on the heels of filling a $1 billion budget gap -- Leggett and County Council members say they would rather take a hit in state funding than raid department budgets.

The county would miss out on $33 million in state aid by not meeting the standard, ultimately saving $50 million at a minimum compared with Weast's proposal.

For years, county officials pumped millions of dollars more than required into the schools and built one of the nation's top-achieving public education systems. The county was granted a waiver for not meeting the so-called maintenance of effort this fiscal year, but officials say they will not receive a free pass again.

Leggett's announcement on Tuesday was met with disappointment from school board members, who have routinely battled with the council over funding that accounts for 57 percent of all taxpayer dollars spent in the county.

"With an increase in students and an increase in needs, not having an increase in dollars makes it very difficult to maintain the quality of education for our children," said School Board President Christopher Barclay.

Weast's $2.16 billion budget proposal included spending for an expected 3,340 more students next year and roughly 154 more teachers. It also recommended step increases -- a 3 percent annual raise, on average -- that would have cost $15 million.

By not meeting the Maryland standard, Leggett would be free to slash the schools' budget from prior levels. He will present his budget to the council in March.

Multiple council members Tuesday endorsed Leggett's decision.

"I agree with him," said Councilman George Leventhal, D-at large. "We cannot starve the rest of county government. Unfortunately, the school system is going to have to find substantial savings."

Charter Schools

Recently the Maryland State Board of Education reversed our decision to reject applications for two charter schools, Global Garden and Crossway Community. In part of its 17-page opinion, the state writes, "Members of a local board have a duty to evaluate public charter school applications based on the sufficiency of their contents, and not on the board member's own personal view of whether charter schools should exist."

We will have 90 days to reconsider these applications. To put this debate in context, there are currently no charter schools operating in Montgomery County, and some concerns that were cited in our original debate were discussions regarding the effects of charter schools on the budget.

According to MCPS spokesperson Dana Tofig, county lawyers are still reviewing the state board's decision - however, it is possible that the MCPS Board of Education will only have to put their reasons for denial in writing, and not actually reconsider the applications.

Government HSA Gone?

The Government HSA, a graduation requirement for all students in Maryland, may be eliminated after the May 2011 administration under the new state budget.

Governor O'Malley proposes cutting $1.9 million from the Maryland State Department of Education budget, eliminating the Government HSA unless the legislature finds enough funding to restore it.

State Superintendent Nancy S. Grasmick says that she is comfortable with eliminating the Government HSA because Maryland is rewriting curriculum in all subjects to meet new Common Core standards.

In the end, the Government course will still be a graduation requirement.

But what are the greater implications of this decision on social studies and education as a whole?

Snow Dates for Budget Work Sessions

Hey guys,

We got a bit of snow today and school was cancelled - having fun? The outlook for tomorrow is more snow, so the Board of Education postponed its budget work sessions that were planned for today, Wednesday, Jan. 26, and tomorrow, Thursday, Jan. 27.

Instead, we'll be holding an all-day budget work session on Tuesday, February 8, beginning at 10 AM. We'll approve a budget proposal on Monday, February 14th. The Board's budget recommendation must be submitted to the County Executive and the County Council on March 1.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Governor O'Malley's Budget

Hey guys,

So on January 21, 2011 Governor Martin O'Malley released his FY 2012 Recommended Operating Budget. But what does that mean, and how does it affect us?

If approved by the General Assembly, it would maintain K-12 state aid at FY 2011 levels, meaning an estimated increase in revenue for MCPS by $33.1 million compared with FY 2011, resulting in a total of $557.5 million in state aid. This is $41.4 million more than the total of $516.1 million in Dr. Weast's Recommended Operating Budget.

This doesn't affect Maintenance of Effort, which is based on local contribution. However, if the county fails to meet Maintenance of Effort we could face a penalty of up to $22.4 million.

It is important to remember that these figures are subject to change - however, they give a pretty good idea of what's going on right now.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Montgomery College sued over illegal immigrant policy

Here's an interesting article from the Gazette - what do you think about this issue and the Dream Act proposed by Senator Madaleno?

Montgomery College sued over illegal immigrant policy
School is breaking law by granting in-county tuition, McDonough says
by Erin Cunningham | Staff Writer

Three Montgomery County residents filed a lawsuit against Montgomery College on Thursday seeking to overturn its practice of granting the lowest tuition rates to some illegal immigrants.

The lawsuit, filed in Montgomery County Circuit Court, claims the college is breaking the law by allowing recent graduates of the county's public schools — regardless of their immigration status — to attend the college at the in-county tuition rate.

Those who oppose the policy say it is costing the state millions of dollars annually and preventing U.S. citizens from attending the school. Supporters, however, say the policy is lawful and helps make college affordable for the students.

At the same time, Sen. Victor Ramirez (D-Dist. 47) of Cheverly and Sen. Richard S. Madaleno Jr. (D-Dist. 18) of Kensington are preparing to introduce legislation that would make undocumented students eligible for in-state tuition at Maryland's public colleges and universities if they meet certain criteria.

State law prohibits undocumented students from receiving a reduced rate, and such students also are ineligible for financial aid through the federal government.

Montgomery County Executive Isiah Leggett (D) and other elected leaders and college officials say they support the college's policy, which they believe is legal.

The college released a statement Thursday saying, "The college adheres to all laws and regulations regarding the information submitted for state aid."

The college has a long-standing practice of enrolling local high school students at in-county rates within three years of graduation. Montgomery College's board of trustees officially adopted the policy in late 2010, after McDonough spoke publicly about the situation.

Students who have not graduated from MCPS within three years must prove residency to determine their tuition rate.

The lawsuit was filed by Michael Lee Philips, of Rockville, and Patricia Fenati, of Damascus — both of whom ran for office on the Republican ticket in 2010 — and David Drake, a 69-year-old county resident.

"It's taxpayer waste, fraud and abuse," said Tom Fitton, president of Judicial Watch, which he describes as a bipartisan watchdog group that is representing the residents in their lawsuit against the college.

During a news conference Thursday in Annapolis, Fitton said he estimates the cost of providing lower tuition rates to illegal immigrants to be as much as $8 million. An audit from 2009 showed that illegal immigrants took 11,000 credit hours at the college that year.

"It's an unfair practice," said Del. Patrick L. McDonough (R-Dist. 7) of Middle River. "They are taking slots away from American citizens and legal immigrants."

McDonough has been vocal on immigration issues and said he plans to introduce 16 bills session related to immigration during the current legislative.

In November, McDonough called for the college to be cut off from state funding because of its tuition practices.

The college, which has 26,000 undergraduate students on three campuses, has a fiscal 2011 operating budget of $208 million, about $30.6 million of which comes from the state. The remainder comes from the county (47 percent) and student tuition and fees (38 percent).

Montgomery County Public Schools graduates pay in-county tuition of $107 per credit hour. In-state tuition is $219 per credit hour, and out-of-state residents pay $299.

For Yves Gomes, 18, of Silver Spring, paying the in-county rate is the only way he could afford to attend the college, where he enrolled in the fall, he said.

Gomes, who is an undocumented immigrant, was born in India but moved to the United States when he was 1 year old. He is a graduate of Montgomery County Public Schools, making him eligible for the lowest tuition rate.

About 30 percent of MCPS graduates go to Montgomery College in their first year after high school, and 60 percent enroll by the second year. About 10,000 students graduate from MCPS annually.

The school system does not track the immigration status of its students because it is prohibited by federal law.

Gomes was scheduled to be deported last year, but was granted a rare reprieve by the federal government. His parents were deported in 2008, and Gomes is using money from the sale of his family home to pay his tuition.

Gomes says he hopes to attend Montgomery College for two years before enrolling in the University of Maryland, College Park.

"I was hoping to get my undergrad in biology," he said Thursday. "I want to be a doctor one day."

Gomes says that he and other undocumented students have discussed proposals to raise their tuition.

"It's rough because that's our future," he said. "Basically, they are trying to make it hard for us."

Kim Propeack, the political director for Casa of Maryland, a nonprofit organization that supports Latinos and immigrants, says a few dozen undocumented students are attending the college at the lower tuition rate.

She questioned why McDonough, who lives in Baltimore County, would be concerned with an issue in Montgomery County.

Help Save Maryland, a group opposed to illegal immigration, estimates that as many as 300,000 illegal immigrants are living in Maryland, although the number living in Montgomery County is less clear because it is not tracked, said the group's director, Brad Botwin, who lives in Rockville.

He questioned why taxpayers were funding the lower tuition rates for undocumented immigrants who cannot work legally in the country.

Montgomery County Council President Valerie Ervin (D-Dist. 5) of Silver Spring says helping make college affordable for all students will benefit the local economy.

"I see no problem with allowing children of immigrants to attend college and not make it cost prohibitive for them to participate in our economy," she said.

Strathmore & the Budget

There may be some confusion that MCPS is providing $50,000 in unnecessary funding to Strathmore.

However,  I would like to clarify that MCPS pays Strathmore for the 2nd and 5th grade concerts. Strathmore in turn pays the National Philharmonic for the performances.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

NYA and the Student Bill of Rights

Hey everyone,

On the behalf of former SMOB Tim Hwang, I'm here to provide a short summary of the National Youth Association, a new nation-wide student organization. Even while in college, Tim has been actively working to promote student advocacy across the country. More information is located here:

National Youth Association

You can read NYA's Student Bill of Rights below. Here's some helpful links:

Sign the Bill here:
Join the Facebook Event:

Stay Updated on Facebook:

"The National Youth Association is devoted to a society in which youth and students are able to grow to their fullest potential while acting as agents of social change in the world they will inherit. We recognize education as an opportunity to empower today’s youth; a catalyst in eradicating major conflicts within the United States. Not only is education an issue of social justice, but it is vital to the survival of our economy and our nation. During past years, however, lawmakers around the country have issued crushing funding cuts for public education programs. We at the National Youth Association firmly oppose misguided cuts to education funding and will fight on your behalf to uphold teacher quality and scholastic programs.

These cuts have swept the country both by magnitude and scale. During the last fiscal year, thirty-four states have cut funding for K-12 education while forty-three states have cut support for state universities. During the past two years, public schools in California have suffered $17 billion in cuts, Illinois has anticipated the loss of 17,000 teaching staff, and New York has proposed a $1 billion cut in education aid.

We, the undersigned, in order to secure a better future, expect an education that prepares us for the globalized economy, an education that expects excellence for all regardless of race, ethnicity, gender, religion, socioeconomic status, language proficiency, or disability. We seek to protect student rights in the face of state deficits, and we petition policy makers to revert misguided cuts in public education that harm the development and competitiveness of today’s youth as problem solvers of the future by recognizing the following provisions:

1. Students shall possess the right to qualified, engaged, and passionate teachers. 
Teachers shall have a college degree with appropriate certification in the subject they teach and remain current in their academic fields.

2. The right to unfettered access to current textbooks, school supplies, and supplementary learning materials.
Schools shall make technology, workbooks, and supplements required for coursework available to students.

3. The right to security and privacy in their persons and their possessions on and around campus.
Students shall attend school without experiencing physical, emotional, or psychological bullying by peers, faculty, or the local community. Penalties against students, when they arise, shall observe due process and reasonably justify the offense.

4. The right to adequate facilities that encourage learning.
School buildings shall have comfortable temperature, sufficient light, and clean rooms, desks, and washrooms in order to provide good conditions for learning.

5. The right to challenging courses, enrichment activities, and after school activities (sports, clubs, etc.) that support academic needs, social needs, and personal development.
Schools shall provide courses and tutoring services, create opportunities that address students’ academic passion and curiosity, provide arts and athletics programs that enrich the soul and which develop a person holistically, and prepare them for global opportunities.

6. The right to physical education opportunities and nutritious school meals.
Schools shall provide physical education in curriculums and observe nutrition standards set by the Secretary of Agriculture in order to combat the social consequences and long-term health risks of childhood obesity.

7. The right to social, emotional, and post-high school counseling services.
Counseling opportunities enable students to explore their future potential, college readiness, and access to specialized program as well as find emotional support.

8. The right to a transparent, effective, and engaged administration that enforces school policies impartially and interacts with an elected student government.
Administrators shall have open mind and open door policies to address student concerns honestly, provide rationale for school decisions, support family and community involvement, and place student interests at the forefront of decision making.

9. The right to transportation to and from secondary schools.
In regions with inadequate public transportation, local and magnet secondary schools shall ensure safe and speedy transportation routes for all students.

10. The right to accessible early childhood education, free public secondary education, and reasonable costs to post-secondary education (college tuition, etc.)
Early education reduces juvenile crime and dropout rates, and secondary and post-secondary educations are necessary in most fields to develop competitive individuals in the global marketplace.

11. The right to an appropriate student-teacher ratio.
This ratio should be based on student age, course content, and student needs.

12. The right to freely express ideas and beliefs.
Schools shall respect, advocate, and protect student rights of expression and assembly to the extent that the law allows.

13. The right to fair and standards-based grading systems.
Schools shall enact fair, standards-based grading policies that are a fair representation of a student’s mastery of a subject."

Budget Q&A

Questions about the budget? Some common questions about the FY 2012 budget are here:

The entire Q&A is too long to include in this post, so here's an idea of the information that's there:

1. How much does a one day furlough (for all employees) save MCPS? How much does a one day furlough save if SEIU members are exempted?

Budget page reference: N/A
A one day furlough for all employees in FY 2012 will save MCPS a total of $7.17 million. This amount includes both position and non-position salaries and all associated employee benefits.
If SEIU Local 500 members are exempted from the furlough, this would reduce the above savings amount by $1.76 million.

2. How many MCPS employees receive car allowances? Total cost? How much does MCPS spend in employee mileage a year?

Budget page reference: N/A
There are 22 MCPS employees currently receiving a car allowance. The amount budgeted for car allowances in FY 2012 is $171,600. The amount budgeted in FY 2012 for both local travel and mileage reimbursement is $1,944,306. The mileage reimbursement rate effective January 2011 as issued by the Internal Revenue Service is $.51 per mile.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Frederick County SMOB

This is a great article from the Gazette about Frederick County SMOB Margo Dawes' push for voting rights. I'm also quoted in the article!

Frederick County's student school board member pushes for voting rights
by Margarita Raycheva

While her fellow student board members in Prince George's, Montgomery and Anne Arundel counties are voting on major education issues and policies, Margo Dawes has little power to actively influence school board decisions in Frederick County.

As the student member of the county's Board of Education, the 17-year-old Frederick High School senior is free to attend meetings, speak up, take sides on issues and voice her opinion along with the seven adult members of the board. But she has no right to vote, as the others do.

That is why Dawes, who represents the interests of 42,000 Frederick County students, was set to ask the board on Wednesday for partial voting rights for student members.

"I am doing this for students who cannot speak on the Board of Education," Dawes said.

The meeting occurred after The Gazette's press time on Wednesday. Check for updates.

Partial voting rights would mean that student members would be only able to vote on policy changes and issues that affect students, and would not vote on budgets, personnel or boundary changes.

"We realize that this responsibility doesn't come lightly. But if they give us the chance they will not be disappointed," said Dawes, who will not get to benefit from the change if the board approves her idea, only future student members would.

According to Jamie Cannon, the school board's legal counsel, if school board members decide to give students a more active role on the board, they would have to include that position in their legislative package and bring it to the Frederick County delegation to the Maryland General Assembly, which could bring it for a vote in Annapolis.

The school board was scheduled to introduce their package to the delegation on Wednesday, Cannon said.

Dawes' idea for student voting rights is not unique in Maryland. It is modeled after the practice in Montgomery and Prince George's counties and at the Maryland State Board of Education, all of which give partial voting rights to their student members. Anne Arundel County is the only county in the entire state which gives full voting rights to student members on the school board. This year, students in Montgomery County are fighting to get a full vote, which would allow them to vote on budget issues.

"We want to increase our influence on the education system," said Alan Xie, the student board member on the Montgomery County school board, who praised Dawes' efforts in Frederick County.

"Students are the largest stakeholder in the school system," he said. "And we really feel that there is a need for a student vote on the budget."

In Frederick County, students have never had any voting rights, even though they've had a representative on the board since 1987. And this is not the first time that students have pushed for the right to vote.

"It has been an annual issue," said school board member Katie Groth, who has served on the board since 2004 and who has concerns about changing the current model.

One big factor for Groth is that students have to attend classes and cannot attend all board meetings, which could affect their ability to make decisions that affect the school system.

"Their No. 1 job is being a student," said Groth, noting that she would hate to see students missing classes just to attend board meetings.

Student board members only serve on the board for one year, when they are juniors or seniors, and that just doesn't give them enough time to learn how the school system works, Groth said.

Groth doesn't definitively oppose the idea of giving students a partial voting right. She feels that if the board decides to allow it, board members must be very careful in defining what issues students can vote on and what issues are off limits.

Other board members are worried that the public could pressure student members. Others have questioned who would hold students accountable if they do not follow the responsibilities of their job.

But Dawes believes she can alleviate many these concerns with the information she has collected on the practice in other counties. For instance, currently the Frederick County school board has no power to remove a non-voting student member. If the student member had voting rights and was not meeting the demands of their position, state law allows the board to petition the state to have that student removed from the job, Dawes said.

In Frederick County student board members are elected by the General Assembly of the Frederick County Association of Student Councils, which includes more than 110 students from nearly every middle and high school in the county. Students first appear in front of a panel, which selects the five top candidates to stand for election in April. The elected student representative assumes the position on July 1 and serves one year.

If the board doesn't think that process is rigorous enough for a student member who has voting rights, members could use the Maryland State Board of Education's practice, which selects two finalists in the student board member process and allows the Maryland governor to make the final student member selection, she said.

Though she doesn't know if the board will accept her proposal, Dawes hopes that she can get more school board members to see the value in giving students more power to influence the decisions that affect them directly.

"Right now I can talk all I want and people will listen, but it doesn't mean anything," said Dawes, who often takes opinion votes on the board. Opinion votes go on record, but they have no effect on the school board's decisions.

"I just feel like a very well accepted mouthpiece for students," she said.

Not all the current school board members in Frederick County oppose the idea of giving students a partial voting right. Board member April Miller, who was elected in November, said she would not be in favor of letting students vote on budget and personnel issues, but could be comfortable allowing them to vote on other issues, especially when they affect students directly.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Gazette Salary Project

The Gazette Salary Project is an interesting study of how much money people in our county (and two others) earn. It has data regarding Montgomery, Prince George's, and Frederick County. The project is located here:

Below is a picture from the project that has the highest salaries of our county's employees. For more information, visit the above link.

Superintendent Search Survey

Hey guys,

The Board has just released an online survey asking for input on the new superintendent. The survey is located here:

Please complete it to share your opinion!

Tuesday, January 11, 2011


Today the Board of Education discussed the important issue of literacy. During the discussion, we discussed how to improve literacy so that students can be better prepared for college and life after they graduate.

Some interesting facts from the presentation:

  • - 40% of high school graduates lack literacy skills that employers seek
  • - Lack of skills costs universities and businesses an estimated $16 billion per year
  • - 33% of fourth graders were proficient/advanced in reading on NAEP in 2009 (National Assessment of Education Progress) 
  • - 32% of eighth graders were proficient/advanced in reading on NAEP in 2009
  • - The most common problem in literacy is comprehension
We identified many challenges that MCPS faces, some of which include:
  • - Students may enter MCPS in high school after indicator tests such as MAP-R
  • - There are less measures of literacy and performance during high school than middle school
  • - Teachers not trained in teaching reading/writing may have to teach these skills to LEP students in addition to the teacher's normal subject
  • - Comprehension is key to all subjects and future success
  • - Reading and writing may have a stigma surrounding it
  • - Students may be proficient at reading but not comprehending
  • - Initial difficulty with reading and writing may discourage later effort
One of the issues regarding literacy that we discussed was the performance of different groups and increase in enrollment. With the budget crisis, it will be a challenge to deal with this increase in future years.

Here is some data from the presentation today regarding recent increases in enrollment. These slides were from today's presentation and can be seen in rebroadcasts of today's meeting. I did not create them; I merely formatted/grouped the slides into the below format. 


Maryland #1 in the Nation Again!

Education Week recently ranked Maryland as having the nation's best public education system, giving it a grade of a B+. This grade is based upon student achievement, education policies, and school finances.

New York, Massachusetts, and Virginia placed in second, third, and fourth place.

Education Week also ranked student performance trends (which includes improvements in test scores and effectiveness at closing the achievement gap), giving Massachusetts, New Jersey, and Maryland first, second, and third place respectively.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Superintendent Search Public Forums

The Board of Education will be holding Public Forums for discussion about the Superintendent Search in the next few weeks!

All citizens are invited to attend a series of public forums that will be held on 3 consecutive evenings with 2 locations across the county per evening. Representatives of the search firm Hazard, Young, Attea & Associates (HYA) will facilitate the forums and receive community comment. 

The forums will be held on Monday January 31st, Tuesday February 1st, and Wednesday February 2nd. The full schedule and details are below.

If unable to attend one of the public forums, community members are invited to provide input on the various attributes and characteristics desired in our next superintendent by completing our online superintendent profile survey which will be available mid-January through early February 2011.

Monday, January 31, 2011, at 7:00 p.m.

  • Location: Northwest High School, 13501 Richter Farm Road, Germantown (map)
  • Translation/interpretation available in: Chinese, Korean, and Vietnamese
  • Location: White Oak Middle School, 12201 New Hampshire Avenue, Silver Spring (map)
  • Translation/interpretation available in: Spanish

Tuesday, February 1, 2011, at 7:00 p.m.

  • Location: Bethesda Elementary School, 7600 Arlington Road, Bethesda (Accessible from Bethesda Metro Station) (map)
  • Translation/interpretation available in: Spanish, Chinese, Korean, and Vietnamese
  • Location: Montgomery Village Middle School, 19300 Watkins Mill Road, Montgomery Village (map)
  • Translation/interpretation available in: Spanish

Wednesday, February 2, 2011, at 7:00 p.m.

  • Location: Wheaton High School, 12601 Dalewood Drive, Silver Spring (map)
  • Translation/interpretation available in: Spanish
  • Location: Carver Educational Services Center, 850 Hungerford Drive, Rockville (map)
  • Translation/interpretation available in: Spanish, French, Chinese, Korean, and Vietnamese
If child care or translation/interpretation services will be required, please contact the Board of Education office at 301-279-3617 by January 24, 2011. For sign language interpretation, please call 301-517-5539 by January 24, 2011.

Wheaton and Thomas Edison HS

There will be a meeting from 7-9 PM on Tuesday, January 11th regarding Wheaton HS and Thomas Edison HS. It will be in the auditorium of Wheaton HS at 12601 Dalewood Drive, Silver Spring, MD. 

This roundtable will send its comments to the Superintendent on January 22nd, who will then submit his recommendation to the Board of Education on February 8th.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

School Newspaper Update

Hey everyone:

At the most recent meeting of the SMOB Council, we began a new outreach project to provide updates to school newspapers. We'll be sending out articles to every school's newspaper about the superintendent search, cell phone pilot, operating budget, and SMOB voting rights.

We'll also be sending out a copy of my video to high schools and middle schools to play during their morning announcements. This will be a unique chance to communicate information directly to students, and hopefully it will be a success.

Legislative Session; O'Malley says he won't shift pension costs to counties

This article from The Gazette describes several local bills, including MC 7-11, which would give the SMOB (almost) full voting rights. The next article, from The Washington Post, describes a proposal by the governor that says pension costs will not be shifted to the counties this year.

Montgomery takes modest priorities to General Assembly
By Alan Brody and Sarah Breitenbac

A new four-year term begins next week for state elected officials much the same way the last one ended: with a yawning, long-term budget gap now exacerbated by the end of federal stimulus money.

As a result, Montgomery County legislators are girding for a turbulent 90-day General Assembly session in Annapolis that will leave them shooting for modest but critically important goals, such as protecting funding priorities and staving off a potentially harmful shift in teacher pension costs.

"The last few years, everyone has said, 'This will be the worst year,' " said Sen. Richard S. Madaleno Jr. (D) of Kensington. "I definitely think this will be the worst year, because this is a year when we have to face our structural deficit without the backstop of federal funds."

For Madaleno, a member of the Senate Budget & Taxation Committee, which will wrestle with the state's toughest fiscal issues, that probably means considering cuts to previously untouchable programs, particularly education.

"The hole is huge, and we're really down to the very, very tough decisions, and they're going to hurt," said Sen.-elect Roger Manno (D) of Silver Spring, who moves over from the House after one term and also will serve on Budget & Taxation.

In addition to closing a projected $1.6 billion shortfall for fiscal 2012, Gov. Martin O'Malley (D) and legislators will begin to tackle an even more daunting structural deficit - the long-term imbalance between revenue and expenditures - of almost $2 billion. Unlike in the past three years when Maryland received about $4 billion in federal stimulus aid, state officials aren't expecting help from Washington this year.

They'll also examine options to get a handle on the state's unfunded pension and retiree health-care liabilities, which will total about $33 billion during the next 30 years.

"We just want to make sure that we don't break anything in the process of trying to fix what's [already] broken," said Manno, citing the difficulties caused by deregulating the electric industry in 1999 and the 2002 adoption of the Thornton education plan without a revenue source. "We want to make sure there's a solution that's sustainable."

Lawmakers will probably weigh proposals to increase the levy on alcoholic beverages as a way to fund health-care and developmental disabilities programs, which have sustained deep cuts in recent years. A bill to make permanent higher tax rates on incomes above $1 million, which was passed in 2008 to offset the repeal of the short-lived sales tax on computer services, also will be debated.

O'Malley has said the budget he will submit to lawmakers this month will rely completely on spending cuts and transfers, but he has not ruled out signing into law tax measures approved by the legislature.

Seven new lawmakers will join the 32-member Montgomery County delegation in 2011, and the county is gaining several leadership spots in the House with the elevation of Del. Kathleen M. Dumais (D) of Bethesda to vice chairman of the House Judiciary Committee and the naming of Del. Anne R. Kaiser (D) of Burtonsville as one of two chief deputy majority whips.

Across the hall, Sen. Robert J. Garagiola (D) of Germantown will be the chamber's majority leader, and the county will retain three spots on the influential Budget & Taxation panel.

Montgomery legislators, all of whom are Democrats, said they want to ensure the county is treated fairly when it comes to spending cuts and the allocation of school construction funding, as well as other pots of money. Several local and state officials repeated that theme at a recent legislative breakfast attended by O'Malley and business, civic and political leaders.

Specifically, county lawmakers want to shore up the state's depleted Transportation Trust Fund, which has been hit hard by falling tax revenue and the raiding of transportation funds to help balance the state budget, said Del. Brian J. Feldman (D) of Potomac.

Some legislators are advocating an increase in the gas tax to help pay for road improvements and the development of highway and transit projects.

Officially, the Montgomery school system wants $163 million in state aid for 84 school-construction projects. But county lawmakers will ask for a more realistic $40 million, or 16 percent of the expected $250 million that will be allocated statewide, to build and renovate public schools. About 16 percent of statewide student enrollment is in Montgomery.

Modernization of Carderock Springs Elementary School in Bethesda, an addition to Takoma Park Elementary School and an upgrade to Cabin John Middle School in Potomac are among the top funding priorities.

Budgetary issues aside, lawmakers still are preparing long wish lists for projects in their communities and for policy initiatives that have little or no fiscal impact.

This also could be the year that lawmakers lift the ban on direct wine shipments that the liquor industry has fought for years, primarily because of worries that it would hurt in-state alcohol sales.

"It's not a life-or-death issue, but it's a pretty basic consumer issue," said Del. Tom Hucker (D) of Silver Spring, who was a lead sponsor of the direct wine shipping bill last year. "People don't understand why their choices are limited by special interests, and it's a basic step we can take."

Maryland is one of 13 states that bans residents from purchasing wine directly from out-of-state vineyards and retailers. Comptroller Peter Franchot recently released a report that recommends allowing direct wine shipments for in-state and out-of-state wineries but not for out-of-state retailers. The report recommends limiting people from purchasing more than 12 cases of wine a year.

In lieu of big-ticket items, Sen. Jamie Raskin (D) of Silver Spring plans to focus on extending civil liberties and public safety proposals, such as mandating installation of ignition interlock devices in the vehicles of convicted drunk drivers. That proposal passed the Senate each of the past two years, but it died in the House both times.

"It's a common-sense measure that will save dozens of people's lives every year," he said. "It costs us nothing, and it will save incredible pain and hardship for Maryland families."

House Majority Leader Kumar P. Barve said he expects Montgomery lawmakers will probably press for stricter regulation of energy companies.

Legislation that would apply to all utilities, but that specifically targets Pepco, the electricity provider that left tens of thousands of Montgomery customers without power during storms in 2010, is still in the works, he said.

"Since Pepco is the one that's falling down on the job, it would probably have the (most) effect on them more than anyone else," said Barve (D) of Gaithersburg.

Local bills that will probably receive consideration during the session include a proposal to extend additional voting rights to the student member of the county school board and several alcoholic beverage proposals, including one that would allow diners to bring their own bottles into eateries and let restaurateurs establish a corking fee.

Gazette staff writer Andrew Ujifusa contributed to this report.


O'Malley says he won't propose shifting teacher pension costs to counties
By John Wagner

CAMBRIDGE, MD. - Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley (D) assured a gathering of county leaders here Thursday that he will not propose making local jurisdictions shoulder a portion of teacher pension costs in the coming year.

The issue of which level of government picks up educator retirement expenses is certain to be among the most thorny when the General Assembly reconvenes in Annapolis next week for its annual 90-day session.
With the state facing a budget shortfall of about $1.3 billion next year, many lawmakers are pushing to change the long-standing arrangement in Maryland under which the state covers the entire cost of local educators' pensions.

"While other elected leaders may well offer other approaches, the balanced budget proposal I submit to the General Assembly later this month will not propose pension costs this year onto the counties," O'Malley said, drawing a standing ovation at a dinner that was part of the winter conference of the Maryland Association of Counties.

In his remarks, O'Malley cautioned that his budget proposal will contain many painful cuts and that other reforms to the pension systems for state workers and teachers will be needed to make them sustainable for the long term.

"The only thing I can guarantee you about this budget is that no one will be happy," O'Malley said.
The governor's budget advisers had recommended he consider shifting 40 percent of teacher pension costs to the counties - a move with the potential to save the state more than $340 million a year. But such a move would also exacerbate budget problems on the local level.

Under options presented by O'Malley's advisers, such a shift would cost Montgomery County as much as $96 million a year and Prince George's County $50 million a year.

The state Senate advanced a similar proposal last year, but leaders of the House of Delegates balked at the idea. A state commission has since endorsed a move in that direction, increasing momentum for a shift in costs heading into the legislative session.

Leaders of both the House and Senate are scheduled to address the gathering of county officials Friday morning.

County leaders expressed relief upon hearing O'Malley's pledge not to shift teacher pension costs.

"He appreciates the tough times we've been under," said Howard County Executive Ken Ulman (D), the new president of the county organization. "Having a governor who comes out of local government is very important."

Ulman acknowledged that O'Malley's support was only part of the battle ahead in the legislative session.

"There's going to have to continue to be some education and dialogue with the General Assembly," Ulman said. "Shifting is not solving the challenge."

O'Malley mentioned several "principles" he would advance in reforming the pension system.

Those, he said, include maintaining a public system, asking for greater contributions from state workers and teachers, and establishing certain "milestones" to determine the need for additional changes.

"If is my belief that we cannot have an honest conversation about sharing costs, or even the need to share costs, until we reach agreement on how we can fix the pension system," O'Malley said.

The issue of shifting pension costs is one that does not break cleanly among partisan lines. The leading advocate in the legislature has been Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. (D-Calvert).

On Thursday night, House Minority Leader Anthony J. O'Donnell (R-Calvert) praised O'Malley's position.

"It's a rare occasion when I happen to be in agreement with the governor," O'Donnell said, suggesting a shift in the coming year would force local governments to raise taxes.

County Council President Valerie Ervin on Maintenance of Effort

From the Washington Post on Friday.

Maryland's school funding baseline: Right in principle, wrong in practice
By Valerie Ervin, Silver Spring

Maryland officials, facing a $1.6 billion state budget gap for the coming year, may try to cut support for education, mental health and other vital services and shift the cost of teacher pensions to counties. But we in Montgomery and other counties have severe budget problems of our own. One common-sense action the state could take to help us is to amend its “maintenance of effort” law for school funding.

Maryland’s law requires counties to maintain their annual school funding level, adjusted for enrollment changes, regardless of fiscal pressures or any other factor. Failure to comply means forfeiting any increase in state school aid. As chair of the Montgomery County Council’s Education Committee and a former county school board member, I strongly support the intent of the maintenance of effort law. But in practice, the law is inflexible and illogical as written.

To illustrate, the law requires funding for next year’s Montgomery school budget that is $82 million, or 5.8 percent, higher than this year’s $1.4 billion, even though we face a $300 million gap in our overall budget. The law ignores the fact that over the last decade the county has funded our schools at $577 million above the maintenance of effort requirement. It also assumes that legitimate budget savings and productivity improvements are impossible to achieve.

Even worse, the law rigidly maintains school funding at the expense of other services that are equally vital to our children. Montgomery’s budgets for police, fire, safety net and other core county services are down for the first time in more than 40 years, some by more than 20 percent. The coming year promises more of the same.

We care deeply about children not only when they are in school but also when they are not. Yet there is no state-mandated maintenance of effort funding requirement for health and human services, libraries, public safety or transportation. These and other services are also essential to our 1 million residents, especially our children.

In 2009, the State Board of Education rejected the county’s request for a waiver from the maintenance of effort law. In 2010, the board grudgingly granted a waiver but made clear its dislike of the request. Yet the county’s world-class school system, made possible by our massive financial commitment, is a huge contributor to Maryland’s No. 1 ranking for educational performance. We should not be forced to go before the state on bended knee.

The law should be amended, not abolished. It should give weight to such factors as severe fiscal pressures and a school system’s demonstrated performance levels. The financial penalty should be removed, and there should be an appeals process if a waiver request is denied. Our partners in Annapolis need to make this issue a top priority so that we can work together to protect Montgomery County’s fiscal future.

The writer, a Democrat, is president of the Montgomery County Council.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Dr. Weast's Budget Will Not Be Funded?

This article, from the Sentinel, describes some of the budget conflicts we encountered on Monday night at the MCCPTA Budget Forum.

County can't afford schools
By Paige L. Hill

Montgomery County simply can’t afford Superintendent of Schools Jerry Weast’s budget demands, according to Councilman George Leventhal (D-At large), who spoke Monday evening at the annual operating budget meeting hosted by the Montgomery County Council of PTAs.

“Let me just say that one of my biggest regrets as I look back on my years on the county council is that we did not set aside more when times were good,” Leventhal said. “What we don’t have is a cushion, and we literally ran out of cash in the spring.”

Weast proposed a $2.6 billion plan in December to accommodate more than 3,300 new students next school year, or a 2.8 percent increase over last year’s $2.1 billion budget.

“We are not going to fund his budget request – we don’t have the money,” Leventhal said.

He estimated that if Weast’s budget requests, as is, were fully funded by the county, it would represent 62.3 percent of total county spending. When the budget for fiscal year 2011 was approved the county allocated 57 percent of the budget to MCPS and still fell short of the state-mandated “maintenance of effort” law, which requires the county to meet a per-student budget each year, regardless of the ever-increasing student population. The state was able to make up for the difference, but the process of deciding on a budget last spring pitted the county council against Weast bitterly.

Weast’s proposed budget includes no new school programs, and no cost-of-living increases or raises for employees, but that did not appear to be good enough for the outspoken Leventhal, who stressed that county employees across the board would be “taking home less in 2012.” Likewise, Councilwoman Nancy Floreen (D-At large) said the budget-cutting process needed to be a “team effort.” Councilman Roger Berliner (D –Dist. 1) added that the team effort would begin with a frank discussion regarding the maintenance of effort requirement.

“In a county that has done more for schools than any other in the state, we are not parsimonious when it comes to our school system,” Berliner said as Weast wrung his hands and looked at the ceiling. “But when we are in the midst of a great recession … there are no good choices and there are no good options.”

School and PTA board members shot back that the county needed to mind that the maintenance of effort requirement is a state law that simply needed to be met.

“This year, things are just as uncertain as last year, and this year, the situation is close to catastrophic,” Board of Education President Christopher Barclay said. “We have to figure out how to craft things in the county to keep us on the path to success.”

Since the operating budget for fiscal year 2012 has not been finalized, Weast said there is no way to know how deep the cuts will be this year. The Board of Education is on a calendar that requires it to finalize the school’s operating budget on Feb. 8, but the county council won’t be done with their budget work until May.

“We don’t know how bad it is or how bad it’s going to be,” Weast said. “We will do everything we can to minimize damage, but there will be damage.”

Weast projected that damage would affect class size, hiring teachers and approving bus routes and busses. One audience member asked the panel to consider parent testimony and questions in the county council’s budget-making process, but Weast interjected that there would simply not be enough time.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Operating Budget Forum

I was on the MCCPTA YouTube channel and discovered a lot of interesting clips from Monday night's Budget Forum. Here's two clips: one of my introduction, and one discussing Maintenance of Effort. Unfortunately, I couldn't find any clips that included my comments during the Q&A session. If I do, I'll post them!

Northwood eliminates block scheduling; Chevy Chase PTAs get creative during tough times

Two more articles from the Gazette: one about Northwood's decision to switch to a 7-period schedule, and another about how PTAs in Chevy Chase PTAs are taking on a new role. 

Northwood to eliminate block schedules in favor of everyday classes
By Jeanette Der Bedrosian

Vivian Scretchen's daughter, Vanessa, now a junior, chose to attend Northwood High School in Silver Spring because of its block schedule, and her mom says it's that schedule that contributed to her making the honor roll for the first time.

Ethan Barbee, a sophomore at the school, said the block schedule gives him an extra class he uses for an elective. And Brooks Boliek said his 15-year-old son, West, loves the school for its block schedule because it accommodates his dyslexia.

But next school year, Northwood will start operating on a daily schedule, with each student taking seven shorter classes a day rather than four longer classes a day every other day. The decision was made in an effort to help the school make adequate yearly progress on state tests, and also has a tie to labor issues—the new schedule requires teachers to teach five periods instead of six, according to Northwood Principal Dr. Henry Johnson. But parents and students who have grown to love the block schedule say they feel gypped by the change.

Johnson said the school is trying to improve athletic eligibility rates and meet state test score standards, which it has missed for the past two years. In 2010, Northwood missed adequate yearly progress for special education reading and math, according to the state testing site, In 2010 reading, 51.2 percent of Northwood's special education students passed, while the benchmark for adequate progress is set at 72.7 percent. In 2010 math, 40.9 percent of Northwood's special education students passed, and the benchmark was set at 64.9 percent.

In 2009, the school failed to meet the benchmark graduation rate, the site says. Just below 80 percent of the school's students graduated that year, and in order to make adequate progress, 85.5 percent would have had to graduate.

"We've tried a number of things, but we haven't really looked at the schedule," he said about efforts to meet state test standards. "So maybe we should look at the schedule as an answer to some of these academic concerns we need to address."

The decision to change scheduling systems did not come from Johnson, he said. A stakeholder group of faculty, parents and students met in November to discuss possible changes to the schedule. That group decided to keep at least some form of block scheduling. The group then passed its findings on to the school's "instructional council," which consists of department chairs, resource teachers, supporting services members, administrators and faculty members.

The instructional council considered the recommendation from the stakeholder group but ultimately voted to institute an everyday schedule. Community Superintendant Bronda Mills signed off on the decision.

With this announcement, many parents have taken to Northwood's listserv to air their complaints about the shift. Parents involved in the stakeholder committee question why the instructional council went against their recommendation. Parents and students lament the loss of the eighth period, which many students used for theater, art or other elective classes. And they say the block schedule was one of the main reasons for picking Northwood out of the four options for high schools in the Downcounty Consortium.

"I can't escape this feeling that I'm being fed the bait-and-switch or something," said Brooks Boliek. "In my mind, I think that someone's given me a deal, and now they've reneged on that deal."

"It's a slap in the face," said Scretchen, who was on the stakeholder committee. "For them to not even come to us and let us know that these are the results before we hear it from the outside, that's a double slap. You want parents to be more involved, but why do we want to be involved when it's like this? When what we're doing doesn't mean anything?"

The change means each student will have seven 45-minute class periods a day. Formerly, each student had four 90 minute periods a day and saw each teacher every other day for a total of eight classes a week. With the new schedule, each teacher will teach five classes instead of six.

Upset parents say the shift to everyday scheduling means less instructional time—most classes take about 10 minutes for students to settle in. With longer classes, those 10 minutes don't mean much. But with 45-minute class periods, that's a substantial chunk of time, they say.

But Johnson said the instructional committee argued that it would help students to see their teachers every day, and it would cut the need for refreshers at the start of every class period.

"They felt very strongly about the decision they made," Johnson said. "I don't think it was a matter of the instructional council not listening to [the stakeholder group], I think they just felt so very strongly that a change needed to be made in order to improve instruction at the school. They're the ones with the students every day, and they see how the students perform and what challenges they face. They didn't discount it, they just felt very strongly about it."

Though some schools have shifted away from block schedules in recent years, several county high schools still have some sort of modified block schedule. Those schools include Blair, Blake, Kennedy, Watkins Mills and Wheaton high schools, according to MCPS Spokeswoman Lesli Maxwell. Maxwell said parents hoping for a change can go through the usual appeal process by filling out a complaint form that goes to school administration. The Board of Education also has the power to appeal the schedule change.


As Chevy Chase school budgets shrink, role of PTA expands
By Sarah Gantz

As the Montgomery County Public School System continues to pare down its budgets, some Chevy Chase-area Parent Teacher Associations find themselves taking on a new role: subsidizing their schools, to make up for what the county is no longer able to provide.

PTA members say an increasing proportion of their fundraising efforts are being put toward basic school supplies and operations, rather than fun events and extras.

"In the past, the PTA has been in a role of community building and school spirit," said Jennifer Mitchell, the PTA president for Chevy Chase Elementary School. "But it's also become very important to supplement funds where the county or the school system can't get those funds."

Chevy Chase Elementary School's PTA is this year working to purchase computer carts that could be shared among classrooms to provide computer instruction. Budget cuts forced the school to close its computer lab this year, Mitchell said. The carts serve as miniature computer labs — each is equipped with a computer for teacher, a wireless printer and 10 smaller netbook laptops for students to share.

So far, the PTA has bought two carts, at about $6,000 each, and hopes to buy three or four more, Mitchell said.

In order to collect enough money for the carts, the PTA decided to scale down one of its biggest community events, a fall festival, Mitchell said. The event cost less than $1,000, she said, because the PTA was able to solicit donations from local businesses.

The Chevy Chase PTA's total revenue, which includes fundraising, member dues and program service revenue, was about $59,000 in 2008, according to the group's most recent tax filing. Mitchell said the group's revenue has remained about the same since, but declined to give a dollar amount.

The PTA at North Chevy Chase Elementary School has been adding to the list of school expenses it takes over from the county. When the county said it could no longer pay for the educational magazines teachers use, the PTA picked up the tab, about $1,300, said Sandra Chambers, the school's PTA president.

This year, the county cut the after-school bus, which brings home students who stay for a tutoring program. The PTA is paying for the bus, about $1,200.

"I think with the budget cuts, I'm not sure what's standard anymore," said Chambers. "With the budget cuts, the PTA is trying to pick up more and more."

The North Chevy Chase PTA's total revenue was about $43,000 in 2007, according to the group's tax filing. Chambers declined to discuss the group's more recent fundraising totals.

Not only are PTA's taking on more responsibility, some are raising more money and looking to alternative revenue sources.

Rosemary Hills Primary School's PTA has this school year raised more than three times as much money as years past, said the PTA's co-president, Holly Gross. The PTA has raised more than $60,000, about $18,000 of which will go toward the PTA's programs. The remainder will go to technology for the school, notably six Promethean boards, which will cost about $36,000. The school has four boards, which are interactive white boards, that are shared.

The PTA has always contributed to basic school needs, such as carpets for classrooms, but what's new, Gross said, is how they are raising money.

Standard fundraisers, such as a wrapping paper sale, have proven challenging to make profitable—people feel guilted into purchasing something they do not want to support a cause with vague definition.

Instead, the PTA has simply been asking for money — from parents, community members and even local governments.

Two parents, Sarah Brophy and Philip Giordano, addressed the Town of Chevy Chase's council in December to ask for $6,000 to put toward their goal. The town denied the request, but mentioned the PTA's request in its January newsletter and asked residents to consider contributing to their cause.

Neighboring Chevy Chase villages pitched in. Section 5 contributed $4,000 and Section 3 gave $2,500, with Section 3 residents contributing an additional $1,500, Giordano said.

"This was the easiest fundraiser I've ever done — just by asking people for the money just to write a check to the school," Gross said.