Leadership Conference Focuses on Digital Learning

At the Common Ground 2015 conference in Ocean City, Maryland, the topic is 21st century teaching and learning, and programs and processes that increase the quality of schools. Common Ground is an annual conference for Maryland educators.

Tomorrow’s keynote address by Jay McTighe will be on creating an understanding-based curriculum for 21st century learning. McTighe served as director of the Maryland Assessment Consortium, a state collaboration of school districts working together to develop and share formative performance assessments. Prior to this position, McTighe was involved with school improvement projects at the Maryland State Department of Education where he helped lead Maryland’s standards-based reforms, including the development of performance-based statewide assessments.

The Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) are the newest statewide assessments for reading and math in K-12 education. The 2014 Maryland General Assembly enacted Chapter 246 establishing a workgroup to assess certain needs, design certain plans, and make certain recommendations regarding the implementation of the Maryland College and Career-Ready Standards and the PARCC assessments. The Maryland College and Career-Ready Standards (MCCRS) and Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) Implementation Review Workgroup released their final report in March 2015.

Read the PARCC Workgroup’s final report here.

For more information about PARCC, access the Maryland State Department of Education’s website here.

For more information, access the conference website here.

Digital learning is of ten a topic in the General Assembly, where some advocates think that it could increase learning opportunities for students, better prepare them for the 21st century work place and reduce pressure on school construction budgets. In the 2015 Session, Senator Ferguson introduced a bill to encourage public and private resources for developing Next Generation Schools.

Next Generation schools would stress complex problem solving, critical thinking, and collaborative teaching and learning. These schools would be characterized by a mix of traditional classrooms and online learning as well as other learning experiences outside of the classroom, including apprenticeships. The bill did not pass the General Assembly this year, but is likely to be a topic for discussion in the legislature again next year.

Read more about Next Generation Schools here.

Public Safety the Highest Priority in Talbot County’s Proposed Budget

The Talbot County Council is proposing a FY 2016 operating budget totaling $78.6 million, an increase of 5.38% over the current fiscal year.

Public safety is the highest priority with funds being provided for public safety staffing and resources, volunteer fire departments, and new debt service for an emergency radio system. The budget also funds step increases for county employees and the school system at the required level for maintenance of effort.

Additional revenues are being generated by increasing the county property tax rate from $0.527 to $0.536.  The county income tax remains unchanged.

The proposed FY 2016 capital budget is $4.3 million with funds being provided for county facilities, waterways, highways & streets, parks & recreation, and schools.

Additional information on Talbot County’s proposed budget can be found on the county website.

Queen Anne’s Recommended Budget Holds Tax Rates, Provides COLA

Queen Anne’s County Commissioners have held a series of work sessions during the month of April to review the Fiscal 2016 budget recommended by county staff. The transmittal letter describes the budget under consideration for the coming year.

The FY 2016 budget grows by $5.6 million or 4.7%, from $118.9 million in FY 2015 to $124.5 million in FY 2016.

…The recommended budget is based on no change in the property tax rate, remaining at $0.8471 per $100 of assessed value.

The expenditure increase of $5.6 million includes a cost of living adjustment of 2% for county employees and continuation of pay for performance at a slightly reduced level.

…The county has included requests for the enhancement of current services for 26.5 new positions and other service improvements, with a focus on economic development and tourism.

The recommended capital budget is $37.1 million includes a bond sale of $17.9 million. The transmittal letter includes projects to be funded through the capital budget.

Commissioners will hold public hearings on the budget on May 11, 12, and 13; and final adoption of the budget is scheduled for May 26.

Additional information in the recommended budget can be found on the county’s website.

Final Budget Document, “Joint Chairmen’s Report,” Now Available on MACo Website

The Report on the Fiscal 2016 State Operating Budget (HB 70) and the State Capital Budget (HB 71) and Related Recommendations, otherwise known as the “Joint Chairmen’s Report,” is now available on MACo’s website. This report summarizes the final actions taken by the Senate Budget and Taxation Committee and the House Appropriations Committee with respect to the Fiscal 2016 Operating and Capital Budgets.

Included in this report are detailed statements of all reductions made to the appropriations and expressions of legislative intent and policy guidelines which are an integral part of the action taken on the budget.

Additional information on the State’s operating and capital budgets can be found on Conduit Street under “State Budget and Fiscal Issues.”

Eastern Shore Counties Hard Hit by Economic Impact of Substance Abuse

Dr. Memo Diriker, director of Salisbury University’s Business Economic and Community Outreach Network, briefed the Cecil County Board of Health on the economic costs of substance abuse to Cecil County and other counties on the Eastern Shore. As reported in The Cecil Whig:

Dr. Memo Diriker and his assistant director, Sarah Bunch, briefed county officials from the Cecil County Board of Health on Tuesday with the results of a study completed last fall by graduate students affiliated with the Salisbury’s Franklin Perdue School of Business.

The study concluded that illicit drug and alcohol use cost the nine Eastern Shore counties a total of $831 million in crime-related expenses, health care costs and loss of productivity in the workforce in 2013.

“Cecil County’s costs are higher than all Eastern Shore counties,” Diriker said, attributing much of that to its higher population and proximity to urban areas.

One part of the study showed that drug-related crimes cost the criminal justice system in Cecil County $10.2 million in fiscal year 2013. The total cost for all nine counties was $43 million.

“It’s our belief that this problem will get worse before it gets better,” Diriker said, calling it an “uphill climb.”

For more information read the full article in The Cecil Whig.

St. Mary’s Budget Driven By School Funding Questions

As the Commissioners of St. Mary’s County make decisions on their budget, school funding questions have been driving elements. Decisions on school funding, and where that funding comes from have bearing on the county’s ability to fund other parts of the budget, such as sheriff’s department salaries, and funding for the Community College of Southern Maryland.  As described in the article,

The St. Mary’s County Board of Education had advanced to the commissioners the idea of a one-time payment from the county fund balance of $1.6 million to pay off existing technology leases. That would allow the school board to free-up enough budget money to pay for a second step increase for all of their employees. They did not get a step increase this year.

Possible sources of school funding include the county’s prior year fund balance or reserve fund.

For more information, read the whole story from The BayNet.com here.

Howard County Executive Announces New Mental Health Initiatives

Howard County Executive Allan Kittleman announced new partnerships and initiatives to tackle mental health issues in the county. This announcement comes on the heels of a report released last month by the county’s Behavioral Health Task Force that examined the county’s mental health services and offered recommendations for areas that need improvement. As reported in The Baltimore Sun:

Kittleman said he was following up on the report’s recommendations with three new initiatives, which will be funded in the operating budget for fiscal year 2016:

• Hiring a behavioral specialist for the county Health Department’s Community Care Teams, which work alongside Howard County General Hospital to treat people who are hospitalized frequently;

• Creating a pilot program with the hospital and Way Station, a Columbia-based mental health nonprofit, to offer outpatient crisis stabilization services for patients within one to two days of a hospital visit; and

• Updating the Howard County Mental Health Authority’s online provider directory to correct provider information.

The Horizon Foundation, a public health nonprofit that awards grants to local organizations, is contributing $50,000 to the mental health initiative, according to a county press release.

For more information read the full article in The Baltimore Sun and the Howard County Behavioral Health Task Force Report.

School Funding Adequacy Study Eyes 2015 Deliverables

Maryland is amidst an effort to study the adequacy of its overall school funding formulas, with a multi-stakeholder advisory group guiding efforts of several hired consultants. That effort is expected to yield several work products before the end of this year, which may guide continued policy decisions regarding school funding.

The MSDE “Study of Adequacy of Funding for Education in the State Of Maryland” is profiled in an online site hosting documents and meeting agendas for the workgroup. MACo Executive Director Michael Sanderson is among the group’s representatives.

A recent “progress report” note from MSDE indicates a number of items are expected to be completed and released before the end of 2015. Among them:

Upcoming Deliverables

June 30, 2015
Final Report – School Size Study
Final Report – Proxy for Economically Disadvantaged Students
Final Report – Evaluation of the Impact of Increasing and Declining Enrollment
Interim Report – Adequacy Cost Study – Methodology and Progress to Date
Interim Report – Impact of Concentrations of Poverty, Literature Review

September 30, 2015
Final Report – Prekindergarten Services and Funding
Final Report – Evaluation of the Wealth Calculation
Preliminary Report – Review of the Maryland Geographic Cost of Education Index

The group is scheduled to convene its next meeting on July 22nd at 1:00 p.m. in Annapolis, and will review the June items listed above.

For more information on the Adequacy Study, see previous Conduit Street coverage:
Study on Wealth Formulas Due This Fall
Education Adequacy Study Group To Hold Second Meeting

For related documents and background, visit the MSDE website for Adequacy Study materials.

Charles County Hosts Seminar for Local Businesses on County Programs and Services

Charles County government hosted a seminar to help local businesses form relationships and do business with the county. As reported on Southern Maryland Newspapers Online:

Approximately 60 people attended a seminar Thursday morning at the county government building in La Plata to assist businesses, especially small and minority-owned businesses, with forming relationships with the county.

Shanna Reese, assistant chief of purchasing for the Charles County Department of Fiscal and Administrative Services Purchasing Division, said the county does two types of buying: small or informal procurement under $25,000, and large or formal procurement over $25,000 that is “a lot more in depth.”

“Typically, we’d like to start with our local businesses who may be able to provide those services,” Reese said of informal procurement bids, such as $10,000 for janitorial services.

The county’s bid board is available online, and local businesses are invited to submit a solicitation document, which Reese said is a “very important document” because it becomes the county’s contract with a business if the county accepts that business’s bid.

Attendees heard presentations on a number of topics including registering with the eMaryland Marketplace, navigating the county’s website, the county’s Small Local Business Enterprise (SLBE) program, and the Disadvantaged Business Loan Fund. They also heard from local businesses that have successfully partnered with the county and utilized county offered programs.

For more information read the full article on Southern Maryland Newspapers Online.


Calvert County Explores Expanding Business Incentives, Tax Credits

Calvert County officials are considering a number of tax incentives for businesses that create jobs in the county. The incentives, offered by the county economic development office, include an expansion of existing programs and tax credits.

An article in the Calvert Reporter describes the proposals.

The county already has an incentive fund that requires businesses to create 25 new jobs in the county’s target market industries, have a capital investment of $1 million and remain in the county for five years. The suggested change is to lower the job creation threshold to 10 new jobs.

Another option to be pursued is a change in the real property tax credit. Like the incentive fund, the credit can only apply to businesses that create 25 or more jobs in the target market industries. The businesses must invest at least $2.5 million, compensate greater than the annual average salary in Calvert County for similar or equivalent positions in the industry and have authority to provide up to 50 percent for 15 years.

The recommended changes to this incentive, subject to General Assembly approval, would be to decrease the job creation threshold from 25 to 10 and expand access, allowing the target market industries to qualify for a tax credit of up to 50 percent and non-target market industries to qualify for a tax credit of up to 25 percent.

Two new tax credits are also being proposed.

A new proposed incentive would be a five-year 50 percent tax credit to correct blighted commercial property through demolition, construction or rehabilitation in the Town Center, Industrial, Marine Commercial or Rural Commercial zones.

Another new incentive would be a local job creation tax credit of up to $20,000 for target market industries ($1,000 per job) and up to $10,000 for non-target market industries ($500 per job) for at least 10 new jobs and remaining in the county for five years.

Calvert County Commissioners have agreed to pursue all options, which would need General Assembly approval prior to being enacted.