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.

MSDE, Baltimore City Sign Agreement To Improve Failing Schools

The Maryland State Department of Education (MSDE) and Baltimore City Public Schools have signed a memorandum of understanding designed to improve failing schools in the district. The MOU outlines the state’s plan to improve twenty-seven low-performing schools across the state, twenty-four of which are located in Baltimore City.

According to The Baltimore Sun,

“The key to everything is implementation,” Santelises said. “But what’s promising is that the [memorandum of understanding] really shows an effort on the state’s part to partner with Baltimore City public schools.”

The state has agreed to send leadership coaches to work one-on-one with principals in targeted schools on strategies for improvement. Other school officials, including assistant principals and some teachers, will also participate in programs aimed at stemming high turnover in underperforming schools.

As part of the agreement, the city has committed to reducing the number of school leaders who leave the city.

State officials plan to make regular visits to the twenty-seven priority schools to assess progress and make recommendations for improvement.

The Maryland Commission on Innovation and Excellence in Education, known as the Kirwan Commission because it is chaired by former University System Chancellor Brit Kirwan, is considering many recommendations centering around teacher preparation and teacher incentives. At its most recent meeting, the Commission discussed leadership training and career lattices for teachers and principals across the state.

Useful Links

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

Coverage from The Baltimore Sun

Public School Construction Head Proposes Flat Funding Despite Cost Increases

This week’s Capital Debt Affordability Committee (CDAC) meeting included presentations and discussion on the State’s public school construction program. MACo tracks the work of this committee as county governments are partners with the State in funding new school construction.

This was Bob Gorrell’s first presentation before CDAC. Gorrell is the new Executive Director of the Public School Construction Program. Gorrell proposed flat funding for the capital improvement grant program despite evidence of construction cost increases.

Gorrell is focused on determining the best use of funds through gathering information on the state of existing facilities into an index and developing facility adequacy standards. His request for flat funding is consistent with the level of funding received over the past three fiscal years for the capital improvement grant program-the main source of school construction funding from the State.  The amount Gorrell requested for additional State school construction funding, including programs that provide additional funding for repairs to Aging Schools (ASP) and schools with either a high number of relocatable classrooms or greater than average enrollment growth (EGRC) are as determined by statute.

Gorrell’s presentation followed a report by the Department of Budget and Management, that drew comparison between the amount of the State’s debt service and public school construction program:

Debt Service Growth is Large

  • Debt service growth is a large part of the State’s budget shortfall, the
    FY 2019 general fund debt service is approximate $350 million
  • The FY 2019 general fund subsidy is larger than the total amount
    allocated for Public School Construction
  • In comparison, the general fund debt subsidy was zero as recently
    as FY 2013

Bob Gorrell’s presentation began with summary information about Maryland’s Public Schools, including:

Public School Facilities Quick Facts
 Number of students – 885,820
 Number of schools – 1,382
 Square feet (SF) within schools – 139,160,537
 Average gross square feet (GSF) per student – 157
 Replacement Value – $44,531,371,840 (@ $320 GSF)
 Annualized Replacement Value (ARV or $44.5B/50 years)–$890,627,436.80
 Each 2% cost avoided (equates to a year of extended life)–$890 million
 Average age of GSF 29 years (down 5 years since 2005)

Gorrell, a relative newcomer to Maryland, shared perspective on Maryland’s state school construction funding level by putting it in context of cost escalations and increases in school sizes:

Screenshot 2017-09-19 13.50.04

At the end of his presentation, Gorrell submitted a proposal from the Interagency Committee on School Construction for the State’s FY 2019’s school construction allocation:

Screenshot 2017-09-18 14.04.16
The Interagency Committee on School Construction’s 2019 budget request flat funds the CIP.

For more information, see the September 18 CDAC Presentations.

Auditors: Social Services Department Overspent, Mishandled Contracts

The state’s auditors just completed a report on the Maryland Department of Human Services (DHS), and the results are not squeaky clean.

DHS overspent $4 million on an information technology contract as a result of inadequate contract administration, according to the report released yesterday by the State’s Office of Legislative Audits (OLA), covering the period beginning in August 2012 and ending in August 2015.signature-contract-2654081_1920

In addition, DHS paid $8.4 million over and above its authorized contract approval amount and $4.5 million above the department’s appropriation, without seeking Board of Public Works (BPW) approval, as required under State procurement regulations. The report indicates that DHS failed to disclose the unfunded liability to the Comptroller’s Office, as required.

The report indicates that DHS overpaid two legal firms by $616,000, by entering in emergency contracts with them guaranteeing minimum compensation amounts.

Finally, the report indicates that DHS failed to properly store and protect “sensitive personally identifiable information.”

While DHS did not contest most of the OLA findings and recommendations, the department did disagree with the auditors’ findings regarding the legal firms’ contracts. From the department’s response:

After DHS failed to obtain the approval of the [Children In Need of Assistance, or] CINA contracts by the Board of Public Works in August 2013, BPW directed the Department to enter into emergency contracts. DHS senior management engaged in negotiations in order to obtain the emergency contracts, which resulted in continuation of legal services for children with no disruption in services. The two contractors provided legal services for several thousand children under the emergency contracts.

Maintaining stability was of paramount importance to the Department and a failure to reach an agreement with the seven vendors would have resulted in upheaval for approximately 16,364 children and the risk of children losing statutorily mandated counsel. ….

DHS also believes that the OLA analysis is incorrect. ….  [T]he contractors provided high quality representation for the children at a reasonable rate.

Nevertheless, DHS indicated that its current legal services contracts do not include guaranteed minimums.

The report, which includes DHS’ responses, is available here.

The Baltimore Sun covers the story here.


Free Wednesday Webinar on Cannabis Regulation

Webinar: Regulating Marijuana – Emerging Challenges, Best Practices and Technology Solutions

The new regulatory processes being launched across the country require input from many local departments (licensing, permitting, environmental health, public safety, etc.) and close coordination amongst counties, cities and states. Local government staff are being tasked with delivering new systems under tight deadlines and with high stakes for accuracy and compliance.

Wednesday, September 20
11 a.m. PDT | 2 p.m. EDT

In this webinar, we will discuss:

• Emerging best practices and current challenges for local marijuana regulatory programs
• The key role robust, integrated technology systems play in successfully regulating marijuana
• How pioneers like the City and County of Denver, CO addressed the challenges and opportunities presented by marijuana legalization

The webinar is sponsored by Accela, and follows up on a presentation delivered at the NACo Annual Conference in July of this year.

Register here for the free webinar.

U.S. DOT: How To Encourage Autonomous Vehicles, Safely

The U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) have issued new voluntary guidance for autonomous vehicles, “A Vision for Safety 2.0.” Its purpose is to support key stakeholders, including local governments, with automated vehicle testing and deployment.

Photo via @NacoTweets

From the Overview:

Ninety-four percent of serious motor vehicle crashes in the U.S. are due to dangerous choices or errors people make on the road. … Every year, more than 30,000 Americans die in motor vehicle-related crashes. Vehicle automation, in its initial stages, is already saving lives and preventing injuries. NHTSA is committed to advancing this technology due to its potential to eliminate motor vehicle-related deaths on America’s roads and to deliver additional benefits to society.

From the DOT press release:

A Vision for Safety 2.0 calls for industry, state and local governments, safety and mobility advocates and the public to lay the path for the deployment of automated vehicles and technologies.

A Vision for Safety 2.0 builds on the previous policy and incorporates feedback received through public comments and Congressional hearings. 2.0 paves the way for the safe deployment of advanced driver assistance technologies by providing voluntary guidance that encourages best practices and prioritizes safety. The document also provides technical assistance to States and best practices for policymakers.

For NACo’s coverage on this, click here. For information on Maryland activity concerning automated vehicles, visit MVA’s website. Or, read MACo’s prior coverage on automated vehicles.

Civil Engineering Pays

salarysurvey17disciplinesThe median pre-tax income of civil engineers has increased 4-5 percent since 2014, to $101,000, according to a new study by the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE).

Unsurprisingly, the study finds that increased earning potential is directly linked to attainment of advanced degrees and licensure:

• Those with a bachelor’s degree have a median salary of $93,000.
• Those with master’s degrees have a median of $101,000.
• Professional licensure increases the median salary to $108,000.
• Those with doctoral degrees earn the most on average, with a $110,000 median salary.

The “typical” survey respondent was a male in his early 40s, with a bachelor’s or advanced degree, and about 17 years of professional experience.

The study also found that a pay gap continues to persist for women and minorities. The median salary for women is $83,000, compared with $101,400 for male respondents. Hispanic and African American respondents earned median incomes of $83,600 and $87,800, respectively.

Unemployment Below 4% For First Time Since 2008

For the first time since 2008, Maryland’s unemployment rate fell below 4 percent in August – just below, to 3.9 percent. The state gained 14,200 jobs, with the private-sector adding 9,700 jobs. August is the fifth month this year to post over-the-month job gains.

The national average unemployment rate is 4.4 percent, placing Maryland ahead of the curve.

Governor Larry Hogan stated:

From day one, a top priority of our administration has been growing our private sector and creating more jobs and we have made incredible progress. In just two and a half years, Maryland has added more than 10 times more private sector jobs than were added in the previous 8 years, and the unemployment rate is at the lowest it has been in nearly a decade. We pledged to put our state on a new path and turn around our economy, and we are doing exactly that.

Maryland Labor Secretary Kelly M. Schulz said:

August’s job gains are the second-highest in the past seven years. Our regulatory reform and workforce development programs are creating opportunities for both business owners and job seekers, and the numbers reflect that. The Department of Labor is proud to do its part to ensure our citizens have jobs.

Government jobs increased by 4,500 positions. Leisure and hospitality suffered the largest decrease, losing 1,100 jobs.

Useful Links

State’s press release

Baltimore Business Journal coverage

Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS)

Kamenetz Cedes MACo Presidency

Today, Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz has resigned as MACo President. Under MACo’s by-laws, Anne Arundel County Council Member Jerry Walker, currently serving as MACo’s 1st Vice President, will serve as acting President through the remaining part of the current year-long term. MACo will install its new officers and Board of Directors during the December winter conference.

Jerry Walker will serve as Acting MACo President

In his resignation letter, the County Executive said “…it has been a privilege to be a part of this important body for the past 23 years, and my great honor to serve as its President. I look forward to remaining an active member for the remaining months of my term as Baltimore County’s Executive.”

The County Executive has indicated he plans to seek the Democratic nomination for Governor for the 2018 election, and he stepped down to avoid any appearance of partisan influence on the Association.

MACo Comments on Ethics, Financial Disclosure Regs

MACo submitted a comment letter (2017-09-15) to the State Ethics Commission on proposed regulation changes to COMAR Title 19A found in the August 4 issue of the Maryland Register. The proposed changes were in response to statutory changes made to Title 5 of the General Provisions Article by the Public Integrity Act of 2017 (HB 879). MACo had no concerns with the majority of the proposed regulations as they were consistent with the new requirements of HB 879 and supported a prohibition on disclosing the home address of a local elected official or employee on financial disclosure forms filed after January 1, 2019. From MACo’s comment letter:

With respect to both state and local governments, the proposed regulations would exclude an exchange-traded fund from being counted as a disclosable “interest” as long as the fund: (1) is publicly traded on a national scale; and (2) is not composed primarily of holdings of stocks and interests in a specific sector or area that is regulated by the individual’s governmental unit. This change conforms to Maryland’s longstanding treatment of ordinary mutual funds and similar composite investment instruments. The proposed regulations also expand the definition of “legislative action” to include testimony or other advocacy in an official capacity as a member of the General Assembly before a unit of state or local government.

The proposed regulations also amend Model Ethics Laws A and B to: (1) add a 1-year “cool down” requirement on specified issues for local elected officials or employees who subsequently become regulated lobbyists and vice versa; (2) expand prohibited conduct by local elected officials or employees under the “prestige of office” sections; (3) specify that a candidate for local office is deemed to have withdrawn the candidacy if the candidate’s financial disclosure statement is overdue and not filed within 8 days; (4) modify the financial disclosure requirements for individuals who have lobbyist spouses; and (5) prohibit public access to a local elected official or employee’s home address on a financial disclosure form filed after January 1, 2019.

MACo believes all of the proposed changes are consistent with HB 879 and has no concerns with the changes. In particular, MACo is supportive of the home address clarification for the financial disclosure forms. While the home address of a local government elected official or employee is protected in other areas of the public ethics laws, the lack of an explicit protection for financial disclosures created a “loophole” that raised both privacy and security concerns.

Useful Links

Maryland Register 2017-08-04 State Ethics Commission Proposed Regulations

HB 879 of 2017 (Public Integrity Act)

State Ethics Commission Website