U.S. News Ranks Maryland High Schools #1 in Nation

Maryland high schools are the best in the nation, with four ranking among the top 150 in the country, according to a new list from U.S. News & World Report.

The list, published Tuesday morning, ranks more than 2,600 high schools across the country based on state high school proficiency tests, disadvantaged students’ performance on those tests, graduation rate, and then Advanced Placement test data.

As reported in the Baltimore Business Journal,

On a state-by-state level, U.S. News said Maryland schools performed best by their measures, with 5.9 percent of the public schools achieving “Gold Medal” status and 21.6 percent achieving “Silver Medal” status.

Massachusetts actually had the highest percentage of “Gold Medal” schools, with 6.2 percent of its public schools reaching that status, but ended up fifth overall among the states because it had relatively few “Silver Medal” high schools.

After Maryland, rounding out the top five were Florida, California, Connecticut and Massachusetts.

When broken down by individual schools, the state only placed four inside the top 150, all from Montgomery County: Winston Churchill High School (75), Thomas S. Wootton High School (106), Poolesville High (108) and Walter Johnson High School (149).

The highest-ranked high school in Greater Baltimore is Marriotts Ridge High School in Howard County, which came in at 226th on the list. The Baltimore School for the Arts, coming in at 1,276th, was highest among Baltimore City schools.

Nationally, five of the top seven schools are in the Arizona, while Texas landed three schools among the top 10. All five of those Arizona schools are part of the BASIS Schools charter network, which is based in Scottsdale, Ariz.

At the bottom, South Dakota did not allow U.S. News to view Advanced Placement test results, so it’s listed as No. 51. It places behind Nebraska, Mississippi, Wyoming, Iowa and New Mexico, each of which had fewer than 4 percent of schools achieve either “Gold Medal” or “Silver Medal” status.

Read the full article for more information.

Anne Arundel School Board, Unions, Agree to Increase in Drug Copays

As part of an effort to curb health care cost for the Anne Arundel County Public School System, three of the schools’ unions agreed to increases in copays for some prescriptions drugs to save the school system about $400,000. The three-year agreement starts in 2018.

As reported by The Capital Gazette,

The school system’s health care fund has faced about a $20 million deficit in the past two years. Medical costs rose and the school system has been expanding its staff. Earlier this year, the school system transferred $2 million from a surplus fund to pay for health care. County Executive Steve Schuh also transferred $5 million from the county budget to help pay for health care for school employees and avoid drastic actions, such as furloughs and layoffs.

Schuh and school officials have said they need to shift some costs of the health insurance to employees to make the fund sustainable.

The agreement between the school board, Teachers Association of Anne Arundel County, the Association of Educational Leaders, and the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees increases copays for preferred prescription drugs to $20 and non-preferred brand prescriptions to $35. Those unions represent teachers, administrators and maintenance workers respectively. Generic drugs will continue to cost $5.

School staff that belong to those three unions now have copays of $15 for preferred brands and $25 for non-preferred brand.

Under the plan, a new tier called specialty prescriptions, which are defined as injectables with the exception of insulin, would have a copay of $50 in 2018, $65 in 2019 and $75 in 2020.

The agreement also allows specialty prescriptions to be redefined after Jan. 1, 2019.

School officials’ effort to curb costs include an agreement with CareFirst that saves the school system $16.9 million over a three-year period, starting in 2018.

County officials are also asking the State Board of Education to allow the county government to make a one-time allocation of $22.5 million for school health care costs for the fiscal year beginning July 1. This would exempt the school system from the state law that requires the level of per-pupil funding in one year to be matched in all subsequent years.

The state agency is expected to respond by the end of the month.

Read the full article for more information.

Boycott by Hogan Officials Puts $113M in School Construction Money in Limbo

At Gov. Larry Hogan’s behest, two Cabinet members boycotted a meeting of a little- known state committee Thursday, effectively putting on hold at least $113 million worth of school construction projects across the state.

According to The Baltimore Sun,

A Hogan spokesman said that was an unintended consequence of a deliberately orchestrated protest.

“We’re not holding it up indefinitely,” Hogan spokesman Doug Mayer said. “Our intention today was to make a public protest of something that we believe is unconstitutional.”

The five-member Interagency Committee on School Construction, known as the IAC, was given unusual power by the General Assembly this year to approve all of the state’s $285 million worth of school construction projects.

Exactly which projects up for final approval but now remain in limbo was not clear Thursday.

Normally, the committee recommends projects for final approval by the Board of Public Works, a three-member panel outlined in the Maryland Constitution that includes Hogan and Comptroller Peter A. Franchot.

But this year, following several disputes with Hogan, a Republican, over school construction money, the Democrat-controlled legislature cut the Board of Public Works out of the decision-making process.

Thursday’s delay means that school systems will have to wait longer to issue contracts, which could complicate the ability to get construction projects done during the summer break, said John Bohanan, one of the members of the IAC.

Hogan objected in March when lawmakers put language in the state’s capital budget to circumvent him. On Thursday, the governor’s staff escalated those objections and said they were exploring legal options to restore authority to the Board of Public Works.

“We are evaluating all options, but if the legislature thinks they’re going to hand over hundreds of millions of dollars to a group of unelected people … they’re sadly mistaken,” Mayer said.

In January, the bulk of coming school construction projects — about 75 percent of the state’s annual construction spending for schools — was approved by the Board of Public Works.

The balance, about $113.5 million worth, was up for final approval Thursday.

The IAC needs at least three of its five members in order to have quorum and legally make decisions. One member of the committee, former state lawmaker Barbara Hoffman, had been hospitalized and was unable to attend in person or by phone.

When Hogan instructed his two designees, acting Planning Secretary Wendi Peters and Department of General Services Secretary Ellington Churchill, to skip the meeting, their absence prevented a quorum. Bohanan and Schools Superintendent Karen Salmon were the only two IAC members to attend.

The state’s capital budget does not take effect until June 1, so the remaining IAC members could meet by conference call to approve the projects over the objections of the Hogan designees. So far, such a meeting has not been called.

Read the full article for more information.

Baltimore County School Board to Start Search for Interim Superintendent

The Baltimore County school board is planning to begin the search soon for an interim superintendent to replace Dallas Dance, who abruptly announced Tuesday that he will leave his job at the end of June.

According to The Baltimore Sun,

Board President Edward Gilliss said he believes the board must select an interim superintendent to serve for at least a year because there isn’t enough time to find a permanent replacement.

“The two choices are either an internal candidate or someone from the outside,” he said. “Our objective is to identify a person to serve for a 12-month period.”

Dance, who is in his fifth year as superintendent in the sprawling suburban county, is stepping aside after the first year of a four year contract.

He said he does not have another job but is considering offers. He said he was leaving for family reasons, and because working 18-hour days had become taxing.

Board member Marisol Johnson said the board is planning to have an emergency meeting in about a week to begin the search process.

She believes the board should look at internal candidates before beginning a national search. She said there are administrators inside the system who are qualified to do the job. She declined to identify them.

Dance has two top lieutenants. Verletta White, the chief academic officer for the 112,000 student school system, and Kevin Smith, the chief administrative operations officer, who oversees the district’s $1.4 billion budget.

Dance’s resignation gives the board just 10 weeks to find a replacement — an uncommonly short period, according to John Woolums, director of governmental relations for the Maryland Association of Boards of Education.

Maryland school systems, particularly those in urban areas, tend to take more time to choose a superintendent, Woolums said, because the jobs are so big.

“So it is quite often the case that an interim is selected to allow the board to engage in a more thorough process,” Woolums said. “Given the short time line, it is predictable that they would look in-house.”

The school system faces the likelihood of substantial change in 2018, when the board goes from an entirely appointed body to one that is mostly elected. For that reason, some board members suggested an interim might be brought in to serve two years.

Under a new state law, county voters will elect seven school board members in November 2018, and four members will be appointed by Gov. Larry Hogan the following month.

Board members will have to decide whether they want to hire a new superintendent just months before a turnover of the majority of the board.

It’s uncommon for a superintendent to leave in the first year of a multiyear contract, and to announce the departure so late in a school year. But it does happen.

The superintendent in Washington County, Woolums noted, announced in January that he would be leaving in March. The school board chose a top administrator as an interim and then named him the permanent replacement.

Read the full article for more information.

Anne Arundel Board Redistricts Annapolis Schools

Anne Arundel County Board of Education voted Wednesday night to change school boundaries for nearly 400 students on the Annapolis Peninsula, shifting students to reduce crowding and bring students closer to their neighborhood schools.

According to The Capital Gazette,

County leaders and some parents have advocated for reducing crowding at Tyler Heights Elementary School in past years. The school has 13 portable classrooms and sends its pre-kindergarten students to Georgetown East Elementary School.

Under the plan, Tyler Heights would go from 133 percent over state-rated capacity to 99.5 percent capacity, according to the redistricting report.

Monarch Academy in Annapolis will draw students from the Tyler Heights area when it opens in the fall. Tyler Heights Elementary will also get a construction upgrade, which would expand school space.

The redistricting plan moves students from Tyler Heights Elementary to Eastport and Georgetown East elementary schools, as well as shift graduates of Walter S. Mills-Parole Elementary School from Wiley H. Bates Middle School to Annapolis Middle School. Hillsmere Elementary is the only elementary school in the Annapolis feeder system whose boundaries will remain unchanged.

Some students living north of the Severn River would move from Annapolis Elementary School to Arnold Elementary School in the 2019-20 school year. And some students would move from Germantown Elementary School to Annapolis Elementary School in that school year as well.

Fourth-grade students affected by the plan have the option of remaining at their school the next school year. Students living in the Mills-Parole Elementary attendance zone and going to school at Bates Middle can also remain next school year.

The proposal to graduate Mills-Parole Elementary students from one middle school to another had raised some concerns among parents because the shift will concentrate minority students in Annapolis Middle. Mills-Parole Elementary has a student body with 59 percent Hispanic students and 36 percent African-American students.

School board president Stacy Korbelak said parents have the option of choosing a middle school because both Annapolis Middle and Bates Middle are magnet schools.

Seven board members voted unanimously to approve the plan. Board member Eric Grannon was absent. And board member Tom Frank resigned earlier in the year.

Read the full article for more information.

Dallas Dance Resigns as Baltimore County Schools Superintendent

Baltimore County School Superintendent Dallas Dance announced his resignation Tuesday, effective June 30.

He gave no reason for the resignation, and a spokesman said he is not leaving for another job.

According to The Baltimore Sun,

In a statement announcing his resignation, Dance said he believes the school system “is in a better place today then when I first arrived. “To that end, I now transition to another chapter of my career where I will specifically use my passion for equity and access to a quality education to ensure it is provided to all students through school, district, and community leadership.”

Dance, 35, was in the middle of his second contract with the school system — a four-year pact paying him $287,000 a year — that the school board approved last year.

School board president Edward Gilliss said it is too late in the year to do a search for a permanent replacement who would have to take the job on July 1. By state law, all school superintendents in Maryland have four year contracts that must begin on July 1.

“I think we are going to have to look toward an interim [superintendent],” Gilliss said. Because most of the appointed board will be replaced in a 2018 election, Gilliss said, “We should think about how to plan in light of those realities.”

Gilliss said he believes the county “has been fortunate to have Dr. Dance at the helm…for the last five years. I am sad to see his tenure end.”

Gilliss said he did not give the board a reason for the resignation. “But I know the board will have the challenge of deciding how to replace Dr. Dance and to make certain BCPS moves forward,” Gillis said.

Dance continued to have the support of the majority of the board on most votes. However, in the past year, new appointees to the board have grown increasingly critical of his proposals.

Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz offered his own reflection, “In the last five years, we embarked upon a plan to build 16 new schools, 12 additions and multiple renovation projects,” said Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz. “We have increased our graduation rates. African-American and White students now graduate at the same rate in the Baltimore County Public Schools. And we have brought 21st century technologies to the classroom. We look forward to the next chapter of success for our school system.”

Read the full article for more information.

Anne Arundel County Council Approves Medical Marijuana Zoning Tweak

Anne Arundel County Council members on Monday night passed legislation tweaking the county’s medical marijuana zoning rules, a change officials said will align the law with the council’s original intentions.

Council Bill 21-17 specifies that medical marijuana dispensaries located north of Route 50 or north of the northeast shore of the South River are not allowed within 1,000 feet of a house or school building. Those restrictions do not apply elsewhere in the county.

According to The Capital Gazette,

The change, which passed unanimously, represents a tightening of the previous law, which banned dispensaries within 1,000 feet of homes and schools only if the business was located both north of Route 50 and east of the South River.

Land affected by the updated restriction includes Annapolis, the Broadneck Peninsula, Crofton, Odenton and all of north county, including Glen Burnie and Pasadena.

The change will not apply to an application for a dispensary on West Street, which could become the county’s first. While the site falls within the new boundary lines, it will not be affected because the application is already in progress.

Administration officials and councilmen alike said the bill’s changes describe the law they thought they had passed when the rules for medical marijuana were first crafted in late 2015.

“We believe (this) is the intent when we discussed this bill originally,” said Bernie Marczyk, a lobbyist for County Executive Steve Schuh.

Councilman Chris Trumbauer, an Annapolis Democrat, voted in favor of the bill because, he said, it “just corrects the code to be what we thought we passed back then, so there are no additional regulations put on the industry.”

“I continue to believe that our code is too restrictive for this new industry, but I’m going to vote yes because I’m honoring the compromise we passed last year,” he said.

Councilman Jerry Walker, a Crofton Republican, said fewer regulations may be warranted if the existing rules prove too difficult for fledgling medical marijuana businesses.

“I think the majority of us would like to see them open, and if we create this system that’s too restrictive, too cumbersome, we may need to look at how we set it up,” he said.

Read the full article for more information.

Airlines Couldn’t Bump Passengers Under Proposed Maryland Legislation

Viral video of United Airlines passenger who suffered a concussion, broken nose and other injuries when he was forcibly removed from a Chicago-to-Louisville flight on Sunday, April 9, by aviation security officers ignited a week’s worth of customer backlash for the airlines, and has fliers and elected officials — including Maryland’s Sen. Chris Van Hollen and state Sen. Jim Rosapepe — questioning whether an airline should have the right to bump a paying passenger off a flight. Dr. David Dao was one of four people randomly chosen to be bumped from United flight 3411 out of O’Hare International Airport so that airline employees could fly.

According to Annapolis Patch,

Both lawmakers say they are working on bills to forbid airlines from removing passengers from planes, an action U.S. airlines do routinely, although usually without physical altercations like the one in Chicago. While federal law prohibits smoking on flights and other actions, many rules are left to airlines to determine and enforce, and passengers agree to those terms in a contract of carriage when they buy a ticket, USA Today reports.

Dao was one of four people randomly chosen to be bumped from the Chicago-to-Louisville flight so that airline employees could fly. Dao was forcibly dragged down the plane’s aisle by the Chicago Aviation Police when he refused to give up his seat. Three officers have been placed on administrative leave as the Chicago Department of Aviation, which oversees the airport security force, reviews their roles in the incident.

Senator Jim Rosapepe (D, College Park) said Monday he is drafting state legislation to bar Maryland Transportation Authority Police from doing the same at BWI Thurgood Marshall Airport, if the ticketed passenger is not a threat to public safety.

“This is about common decency and fair play,” said Rosapepe in a statement. “If the airline wants to use a seat you’ve paid for — and are sitting in — they should pay you fair market value for it, not commandeer local law enforcement to haul you away.”

He said his state bill complements Van Hollen’s (D, Md) Customers Not Cargo Act of 2017, which would amend federal law to protect passengers across the country. Van Hollen’s bill would prohibit airlines from forcibly removing passengers from airplanes when there is no public safety threat. Instead, airlines must provide sufficient incentives to encourage passengers to voluntarily deplane, he said. While United officials reportedly offered passengers on its overbooked flight $800 to give up their seats, not enough did, which led to police removing Dao, an action Van Hollen said “should never happen.”

In the wake of the United debacle, the airline has announced it will no longer use local police to enforce their business interests rather than public safety. Delta has raised compensation to voluntarily bumped passengers to up to $10,000.

The state bill will be introduced the next time the Maryland General Assembly meets, either in a special session or in next January.

Read the full article for more information.

Hogan Reappointment of Two to Cabinet Sets Up Legal Fight With Assembly

Setting up a potential constitutional clash, Governor Larry Hogan reappointed two officials to his Cabinet on Wednesday who failed to make it through the confirmation process during the General Assembly session that ended Monday, April 10.

Hogan named Dennis R. Schrader to head the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene despite withdrawing his name after a dispute with Maryland Senate Democrats.

He also announced he would keep Wendi Peters, whose nomination was turned down by the Senate Executive Nominations Committee but withdrawn before full Senate action, as acting planning secretary.

According to The Baltimore Sun,

The governor’s office contends that Hogan, who had signaled his intention to reappoint the officials, is within his rights under the law. The Democratic leaders of the Senate contend that Hogan is violating the Maryland Constitution.

“The advice-and-consent process is a fundamental tenet of American democracy and the separation of powers,” said Sen. Bill Ferguson, chairman of the Executive Nominations Committee.

But Hogan spokesman Doug Mayer countered by saying that the Senate’s nomination process this year was “very political” and asserted the governor’s power to appoint whom he wants.

“The governor 100 percent has the power to withdraw and reappoint,” Mayer said.

The reppointments came just one day after the Republican governor and the Democratic leaders of the General Assembly praised the bipartisan accomplishments of the legislative session. Hogan’s actions raise questions about whether the Senate can block any individual from exercising the powers of a high state office if the governor is determined to appoint that person. If not resolved before January, the dispute could hang over any pending Hogan appointments that require confirmation.

Ferguson, a Baltimore Democrat, said Hogan’s actions put the state and its citizens in jeopardy.

“The validity of the acting secretaries’ power is in question as a result of the governor’s decision because the governor has willfully bypassed the constitution,” Ferguson said. In the case of the health department, he said, citizens could go to court to challenge enforcement decisions on the grounds that the secretary doesn’t hold the office legally.

Seeing a confrontation looming, the legislature adopted budget language this year to bar the use of state funds to pay the salaries of secretaries or acting secretaries who were nominated during the session but who did not win confirmation before their names were withdrawn. That provision takes effect July 1.

“We think that’s unconstitutional, and we think they know it,” Mayer said.

A letter of advice dated March 15 from the state attorney general’s office says that in Peters’ case, “nothing prevents the governor from choosing as his recess appointee the person whose nomination had been submitted but then withdrawn” because she had not been rejected by the full Senate.

However, the letter also says the legislature may use the budget bill to block the payment of the salary of someone appointed after the session whom the committee had rejected and whose name had been withdrawn — as in the case of Peters. Lawmakers are waiting for answers to a request for an opinion on issues concerning Schrader.

Mayer said Hogan is relying on the advice of his own general counsel rather than the opinion of the office headed by Democratic Attorney General Brian E. Frosh.

Read the full article for more information.

Allegany County School System Gets $793K Funding Boost

Allegany County Public Schools officials received good news recently when the Maryland legislature revised its educational funding formula, resulting in an increase of $793,472 for the local school system for the 2017-2018 school year.

According to The Cumberland Times-News,

The funding was discussed Tuesday at the regular meeting of the Allegany County Board of Education at the central office on Washington Street.

The school board had developed a $111.8 million budget for fiscal 2018. The state had been expected to contribute roughly $78.7 million for fiscal 2018 and the county approximately $30.2 million. The increase from the state will bring its total funding to $79.6 million.

The increase in state dollars is a result of considerations given by analysts studying the funding formula of Maryland’s school districts.

The state created the Kirwan Commission in the summer of 2016 to study the funding mechanisms for school districts. The commission is continuing its work and is expected to issue a final report later this year or in early 2018.

“(The increase) recognizes a flaw in the funding formula … that is being talked about … and hopefully will be ameliorated with the work of the Kirwan Commission,” said Cox.

Allegany County has a net loss of 102 students for fiscal 2018. With funding based largely on enrollment numbers, school systems that saw a decline in enrollment one year suffered with fewer funding dollars.

 …

Larry McKenzie, chief financial officer for the school system, said the state decided to look at enrollment over a three-year period instead of one year.

“They went back and looked at three years and took an average of that,” said McKenzie.

“To be honest, it was a surprise to me. The way the formula is, it worked out there were instances that, although we had overall declining enrollment, some of the areas within the formula we received increases … for instance, our special education population increased. So, within the formula itself, there were some changes.”

MACo successfully supported passage HB 684 / SB 1024 – Education – State Grants for Education Aid, legislation that will provide $28.2 million in additional funding for K-12 public schools in Allegany ($793,472), Calvert ($240,000), Carroll ($1.6 million), Cecil ($190,000), Garrett ($456,000), Harford ($356,000), Kent ($215,000), Queen Anne’s ($22,000), Somerset ($455,000), and Talbot ($133,000) Counties, and Baltimore City ($23.7 million).

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Article from The Cumberland Times-News

MACo testimony on HB 684