Kent County Schools Unveils New Student Transportation Plan

Kent County Public Schools is reaching out to local contractors and plans on purchasing more than a dozen school buses in an effort to assuage widespread student transportation concerns that have marred the start of the school year.

According to MyEasternShoreMD,

Monday night, the Kent County Board of Education authorized Superintendent Karen Couch to negotiate the cancellation of its student transportation agreement with an outside contractor and the purchase of district’s buses. The number of buses the district needs to buy has not been finalized as negotiations with previous local contractors continue.

Earlier this year, the Board of Education put the bus contract out to bid, hoping to save money on student transportation. Low bidder Reliable Transportation of Baltimore was awarded the contract, taking over the bus routes at the beginning of the current school year.

The company had a terrible start, with widespread reports of buses being late, failing to pick up students and breaking down. The situation boiled over at a Sept. 11 Board of Education meeting, during which parents and community members voiced complaints — at times shouting from the standing room-only crowd — for nearly five hours.

Superintendent Couch conceded that the contract with Reliable Transportation is no longer tenable. The district is working to ensure a smooth transition to a new student transportation plan.

District Operations Supervisor, Joe Wheeler, said the district will acquire twelve standard school buses and two special needs school buses to help streamline the new student transportation plan. The Kent County BOE is piggy-backing off a recently awarded Washington County contract, a common procurement procedure whereby a government agency utilizes a contract previously put out to bid and awarded by another jurisdiction.

At a meeting Tuesday night, the district presented their plan to the Kent County Commissioners.

“For whatever it’s worth, I know it’s been difficult times. But I think — what little I know — I think you’re on the right track. I think it’s a good move to get that taken care of. Kudos to you,” Commissioner Ron Fithian told Couch.

The district received permission from the commissioners to park some buses at the Kent County Public Works facility on Morgnec Road just outside Chestertown. The buses also will be allowed to refuel through the county’s bulk purchasing program.

Read the full article for more information.

Dr. Kirwan To Education Commission: ‘We’ve Reached The Beginning Of The End’

The Maryland Commission on Innovation and Excellence in Education held its most recent meeting today in Annapolis. Known as the Kirwan Commission because it is chaired by former University System Chancellor Brit Kirwan, the Commission is charged with reviewing and assessing current education financing formulas and accountability measures.

Dr. Kirwan opened the meeting with a message to the Commission, saying, “we’ve reached the beginning of the end and are beginning to end… Up until now, we’ve been at the 30 thousand foot level with our discussions, we have to come down to 15 thousand feet, then 10 thousand feet, then 5 thousand feet, and then hopefully have a smooth landing in December.”

Pre-Kindergarten 

Commissioners began the day by trying to come to a consensus on several recommendations from the National Center on Education and the Economy (NCEE). The first NCEE recommendation is to expand and intensify education and support services for all 3-4 year-olds in the State.

There seems to be a general consensus on the idea of ensuring children are better prepared for kindergarten and, when necessary, providing pre-K. However, Commissioners disagree on how to implement and assess pre-K programs. Much of the debate centers around the Kindergarten Readiness Assessment (KRA).

According to Commissioner Craig Rice, Councilmember, Montgomery County, “all kids should be given the assessment test before they go to kindergarten so that teachers know each child’s readiness prior to the first day of class.” Commissioner David Helfman, Executive Director, Maryland State Education Association, disagreed, saying “the KRA was designed to measure the effectiveness of pre-K programs, not to get a baseline test score for each student… It’s about the administrator deciding what kind of sample needs to be looked at, not allowing individuals to decide whether they want their children to take it or not.” Commissioner Rice said that an accurate and representative sample is impossible without requiring all parents bring their kids to take the assessment, which would be impossible.

Sensing a lack of consensus on pre-K, Commission staff promised to invite the Maryland Department of Education to provide more information on pre-K and the KRA during the next meeting.

Teacher Preparation / Career Lattices

There seems to be agreement on many NCEE recommendations regarding teacher preparation and teacher incentives, including:

  • The number of teacher preparation programs offered at Maryland colleges should be reduced but not limited to research institutions
    • The State should use a data-driven process to select which teacher preparation programs should be offered based on producing successful teachers
  • A tuition forgiveness/other incentive programs should be developed to encourage top tier high school graduates to pursue the teaching profession
  • Alternative pathways into the teaching profession should not be eliminated, they should be modified and strengthened
  • A career ladder that includes a rigorous assessment of teaching performance should be created in each district. The ladder should lead to a top performance level, perhaps a “Master Teacher”

Commissioner Bill Valentine, County Commissioner, Allegany County, questioned recommendations to increase/alter teacher certification requirements, saying, “I question the timeline here. How much time are current teachers going to have to adhere to these new standards?” Chairman Kirwan noted that changes to certification requirements will require further discussion.

Governance Structure to Implement Commission Recommendations

The idea of developing a multi-year, statewide implementation plan with specific goals and strategies to enhance Maryland’s public education system was well received. In general, Commissioners agree that while the State should be responsible for setting overall goals and strategies, Local Education Agencies should be allowed to develop master plans to meet the goals and strategies set by the State.

However, there was disagreement on how to set up a governance structure for the implementation of such a plan. Commissioners could not come to a consensus on who should oversee the plan, and thus this recommendation will be subject to further review.

Funding

Commissioners began to discuss the financial impact of any potential recommendations toward the end of the day, so they could only scratch the surface. Commissioner Rice expressed concerns over unintended consequences resulting from potential changes to education formulas, saying, “we don’t want to give less money to at-risk students by tinkering with the formulas… we need to pay special attention to what we’re doing here.” The Commission will continue with funding discussions during their next meeting.

Chairman Kirwan closed the meeting by reminding the Commission that their work must be finished by December, emphasizing the need to “find a middle ground between the funding mechanism and the framework for ensuring accountability.

The 2016 Commission on Innovation and Excellence in Education was created by legislation introduced in the General Assembly. The Commission membership parallels that of the earlier Thornton Commission. MACo is entitled to two representatives on the Commission, under the legislation.

Montgomery County Council Member Craig Rice, MACo’s Education Subcommittee Chair, and Allegany County Commissioner Bill Valentine, MACo’s Education Subcommittee Vice Chair, represent MACo on the Commission.

The Commission’s next meeting will be held on Thursday, October 12, 2017; 9:30 am-5:30 pm, at 120 House Office Building (House Appropriations Committee Room), 6 Bladen Street, Annapolis, Maryland.

Click here to view today’s meeting materials.

For more information, contact Kevin Kinnally at MACo.

 

MACo To Host ‘Deep Dive’ On Education Funding

MACo will be hosting a “deep dive” session on Wednesday, September 27; from 1:00 pm – 2:30 pm at the MACo offices in Annapolis. This session is open to any county officials who are interested in a more substantive update on the Kirwan Commission – the state’s major effort to evaluate and reform public education and school funding.

MACo’s two Commission representatives and MACo staff will lead a comprehensive update on the Commission’s activities, schedule ahead, and the major issues we expect to be their focus leading toward their final report in December.

Learn more about the Kirwan Commission by reading previous Conduit Street coverage.

For more information, contact Kevin Kinnally at MACo.

Learn All Things Public Finance With MDGFOA

The Maryland Government Finance Officers Association (MDGFOA) has announced their fall educational offerings.

The MDGFOA Fall Conference takes places on October 27, 2017 at the BWI Marriott in Linthicum. Presentations include:

  • The Latest in Government Fraud, with Adam Lippe, State’s Attorney’s Office, Baltimore County;
  • Continuity of Operations Planning (COOP) Overview, with Eric Oddo, Continuity Program Director, University of Maryland Center for Health and Homeland Security;
  • Maryland’s Fiscal Health, with Eileen Norcross, Senior Research Fellow, Mercatus Center at George Mason University;
  • Maryland Revenue Update, with Andrew M. Schaufele, Director, Bureau of Revenue Estimates;
  • GASB Update and Actuary Insights, with Jennifer Diercksen, First Vice President, Davenport & Company LLC, and David Boomershine, EA, MAAA, FCA, MSPA, President, Boomershine Consulting Group; and
  • Best Practices- Risk-Based Reserve Policy, with Bob Cenname, Deputy Budget Director, City of Baltimore. 

Registration is available on MDGFOA’s website.

In addition, MDGFOA is offering a Review of the Government Accounting, Auditing & Financial Reporting Exam on November 2-3, 2017, and an Intermediate Governmental Accounting Seminar (IGAS) November 8-10, 2017.

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HURry! Get Your Highway User Revenues Here!

Attention county finance officers and public works officials: like receiving your highway user revenues? Good!

In that case, don’t forget to fill out the mandatory Report on Uses of Highway User Revenue (HUR) for Fiscal Year 2017, available on the State Highway Administration (SHA)’s website. The annual report is due no later than September 30, 2017.

SHA’s cover letter is available here.

Please don’t forget to copy Barbara Zektick on your submission, at bzektick@mdcounties.org.

Contact Okey Odinammadu or Norli Belforti with any questions or concerns.

State Board Pares Cuts, Spares Counties

On Wednesday, the Board of Public Works (BPW) voted to approve budget cuts of approximately $63 million – but, the cuts did not include the Administration’s original proposal to eliminate $6,028,885 in disparity grant aid to certain counties.

The Maryland Department of Budget and Management originally proposed to level fund disparity grants at the fiscal 2017 level, resulting in cuts to Prince George’s ($4,245,462), Baltimore City ($946,445), Wicomico ($587,801), Cecil ($196,240), and Washington ($52,938). Those counties were to receive an increase in their disparity grant aid in fiscal 2018 per the statutory formula, but the General Assembly required those counties to provide those funds to their school systems above the required maintenance of effort (MOE) funding in fiscal 2018.

In response, MACo sent the members of the Board of Public Works a letter requesting them to vote against the proposal. The counties had already complied with the State’s requirement to provide extra funding to their school boards, anticipating receipt of the grant aid.

From MACo’s letter:

MACo does not regularly intervene in midyear funding issues before the Board of Public Works. In fact, in 2016, following a deep decline in State revenue forecasts, MACo did not directly object to the midyear cuts proposed and accepted – including a roughly analogous flat-funding of the disparity grant program. It is the specific circumstance of this proposed cut that moves our Association to raise this concern.

The State obliged counties receiving a disparity grant increase to direct these funds to education. The counties did so. To now rescind that very funding unfairly penalizes other county-funded priorities. Given the lack of an immediate fiscal crisis, MACo respectfully urges that you vote against this reduction to county disparity grants.

The Daily Record reports on the cuts:

Disparity grants to local governments totaling more than $6 million make up the bulk of the proposed cuts withdrawn from the original proposal.  …

Few details were provided as to why some of the cuts were rescinded.

The Maryland Association of Counties, which represents all 24 major jurisdictions, wrote to all three members of the Board of Public Works urging them to reject the proposed cuts to the disparity grant program.

MACo thanks the Governor and Board members for recognizing this difficulty, and adjusting plans accordingly.

MACo To Spending Board: Don’t Cut Disparity Aid

In response to the State Department of Budget and Management’s proposed $6,028,885 cut to disparity grants for some counties, MACo sent the members of the Board of Public Works a letter respectfully requesting them to vote against the proposal at their meeting tomorrow morning.

The cuts include level funding disparity grants at the fiscal 2017 level, resulting in cuts to Prince George’s ($4,245,462), Baltimore City ($946,445), Wicomico ($587,801), Cecil ($196,240), and Washington ($52,938). The above-mentioned counties were to receive an increase in their disparity grant aid in fiscal 2018 per the statutory formula, but the General Assembly required those counties to provide those funds to their school systems above the required maintenance of effort (MOE) funding in fiscal 2018.

From MACo’s letter:

While counties are willing to shoulder their fair share of cuts necessary for ensuring the structural soundness of the State’s budget, this particular cut, when considered along with restrictions placed upon these funds by the Maryland General Assembly during the 2017 legislative session, amounts to an unfair consequence for county governments who dutifully complied with the state direction for these funds.

MACo does not regularly intervene in midyear funding issues before the Board of Public Works. In fact, in 2016, following a deep decline in State revenue forecasts, MACo did not directly object to the midyear cuts proposed and accepted – including a roughly analogous flat-funding of the disparity grant program. It is the specific circumstance of this proposed cut that moves our Association to raise this concern.

The State obliged counties receiving a disparity grant increase to direct these funds to education. The counties did so. To now rescind that very funding unfairly penalizes other county-funded priorities. Given the lack of an immediate fiscal crisis, MACo respectfully urges that you vote against this reduction to county disparity grants.

Read the full letter here.

Prior Conduit Street coverage on recent disparity grant actions:

Despite Proposed Cuts, State Earnings Higher Than Estimated
Administration To Propose $67 Million In State Budget Cuts
DLS 90 Day Report: Local Aid
Final FY18 Budget Actions – No Surprises
Operating Budget Finalized: $8.8m in New Highway User, SDAT Cost Shift Dead
Senate Committee Votes On Budget: Disparity Grants, Transportation Aid Affected
County Disparity Grants Among Proposed Midyear Budget Cuts

Kirwan Commission Charts Path Forward

The Maryland Commission on Innovation and Excellence in Education held its most recent meeting today in Annapolis. Known as the Kirwan Commission because it is chaired by former University System Chancellor Brit Kirwan, the Commission heard testimony on Maryland’s ESSA (Every Student Succeeds Act) Consolidated State Plan, discussed how Maryland’s education system compares to top performing systems, and discussed the Commission’s plan moving forward.

ESSA, a federal law passed in December 2015 that governs K-12 public education policy, was the first topic of discussion. According to the Maryland State Department of Education (MSDE), the purpose of ESSA “is to provide all students the opportunity to receive a fair, equitable, and high-quality education, and to close educational achievement gaps.”

Mary Gable and Dana Shaw, both from MSDE,  discussed recent adjustments to Maryland’s draft ESSA plan, including a summative rating system, the definition of chronic absenteeism, an expansion of “credit for completion of a well-rounded curriculum” at the high school level, the selection of indicators to identify Comprehensive Support and Improvement (CSI) and Targeted Support and Improvement (TSI) schools, the addition of talented students as a student group, and a commitment to the addition of early childhood growth to the accountability system.

Several Commissioners expressed concerns with the draft plan. MSDE assured the Commission that it has and will continue to engage stakeholders in the ESSA Consolidated State Plan development and implementation.

The Commission heard testimony from Marc Tucker, President and CEO of the National Center on Education and the Economy. Mr. Tucker presented a gap analysis of Maryland’s public education system and top performing systems throughout the world. According to Mr. Tucker, “unlike most top performers, neither Maryland nor other states have comprehensive long-range plans for their education systems, with measurable goals, clear strategies for achieving them laid out in explicit sequential steps, and milestones and measures for gauging progress.”

Mr. Tucker also pointed out that “accountability in the United States falls mostly on the teachers and principals in the schools, whereas in the top performers it falls at least as much on the students and the people who run the system.” Mr. Tucker recommends that the Commission consider whether Maryland should establish a government body with senior executive responsibility for education to coordinate with other state agencies, including those related to economic development.

Other recommendations from Mr. Tucker include simplifying the education accountability system in Maryland, redesigning the accountability system to provide strong incentives for teachers and school administrators who improve their performance, putting less emphasis on evaluation of school personnel for the purpose of removing poor performers, putting more emphasis on implementing systems in which strong school faculty hold weak school faculty accountable for their performance, and using inspection teams instead of algorithms to determine which schools are underperforming and deciding what should be done to improve their performance.

Mr. Andreas Schleicher, Director of Education and Skills, Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) joined the Commission from Paris via Skype to give a presentation on the PISA (Programme for International Student Development) Survey. The PISA Survey is a triennial international survey which aims to evaluate education systems worldwide by testing the skills and knowledge of 15-year-old students.

During his analysis of the most recent survey, Mr. Schleicher concluded that “money matters much less than you think. Incentive structures, accountability, and high expectations matter much more.” Additionally, Mr. Schleicher stressed the importance of resources being aligned with needs, and emphasized that the quality of educators is more important than the number of hours students spend in the classroom.

Prior to adjournment, Chairman Kirwan sought input from Commission members and staff on how to best move forward and complete their work by the end of December. Several Commissioners expressed concerns over whether the current schedule provides enough time to discuss the numerous funding and policy recommendations. Chairman Kirwan is working with Commission staff to iron out a schedule that will provide enough time for a comprehensive review of all testimony and proposals.

The Commission’s next meeting will focus on reviewing current funding formulas, discussing policy and fiscal recommendations, and developing funding strategies for any potential fiscal or policy recommendations.

The 2016 Commission on Innovation and Excellence in Education was created by legislation introduced in the General Assembly. The Commission membership parallels that of the earlier Thornton Commission. MACo is entitled to two representatives on the Commission, under the legislation.

Montgomery County Council Member Craig Rice, MACo’s Education Subcommittee Chair, and Allegany County Commissioner Bill Valentine, MACo’s Education Subcommittee Vice Chair, represent MACo on the Commission.

The Commission’s next meeting will be held on Wednesday, September 14, 2017; 9:30 am-5:30 pm, at 120 House Office Building (House Appropriations Committee Room), 6 Bladen Street, Annapolis, Maryland.

Click here to view today’s meeting materials.

For more information, contact Kevin Kinnally at MACo.

Md. Atty. General’s Office: County-By-County Public Campaign Financing Is Legal

The Maryland attorney general’s office announced that it would be legal for the state to allow public financing for candidates on a county-by-county basis. The opinion is likely to spur the drafting of such a bill in 2018.

According to The Washington Post,

Del. Marc A. Korman (D-Montgomery) contacted the attorney general’s office in May for guidance on whether a localized approach to public financing — as opposed to a statewide option — would hit constitutional roadblocks. A county-by-county approach was so novel that it left certain questions, such as how to handle legislative districts that don’t match up with county lines, unanswered.

Korman called the office’s opinion “good news” and said he will move forward with drafting a bill, which he and other advocates say would increase opportunities for candidates to run for office without relying on big individual or corporate donors.

Thirteen states — including Maryland — and a handful of localities have some form of public financing for elections. In 2014, the Montgomery County Council authorized partial public financing for county executive and council candidates. In June, Howard County approved its own system, which is similar to Montgomery’s and will take effect for the 2022 election cycle.

Proponents of public financing for candidates say such programs boost citizen engagement in elections by amplifying the power of small donors and encourage more candidates to run in local races.

Opponents of public financing argue that the government has no business in funding individual campaigns. There are also concerns that a localized option would create a disadvantage for candidates in less wealthy counties, which may be reluctant to use tax revenue to fund political campaigns.

Read the full article for more information.

Want Roads Money? Fill This Form Out Now!

Local governments must submit this simple form to the State Highway Administration (SHA) by August 31, 2017 in order to receive their share of the $38.4 million in transportation grants authorized by the General Assembly and Governor in the fiscal 2018 budget. 

These grants are in addition to the “traditional” distribution of highway user revenues. They are subject to the same expenditure and reporting requirements as highway user revenues are. They do not have any other requirements associated with them, other than those associated with highway user revenues.

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To receive the grant funds, this form must be emailed, faxed, or mailed this back by August 31, 2017 to:

Mr. Okey Odinammadu
Office of Finance
State Highway Administration
707 North Calvert Street, Mail Stop C-505
Baltimore, Maryland 21202
Fax Number:   410-209-5016
Email Address:  OOdinammadu@sha.state.md.us

Helpful Links

2017 End of Session Wrap-Up: Highway User Revenues

County-By-County Shares Of Additional Transportation Aid Released

Operating Budget Finalized: $8.8m in New Highway User, SDAT Cost Shift Dead

Highway User Revenues – What’s On The Table?

Counties Call For A Local Infrastructure Fast Track