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As Long as We Remember...

March 6, 2007

Strategic Improvements?

Maude Franceschina

Much of the content following is contained in a letter I sent last week to Charles Jenkins, county commissioner.

I presume - Mr. Jenkins - that you had better things to do than to tune in to last Wednesday's Board of Education meeting where the budget was approved by a vote of 6-1. Donna Crook voted against. It seems to me that the wrong board member is referred to as "crook."

Some interesting notes:

Dr. Michael Schaden had the gall to comment that "this information (meaning budget) should be accessible to everyone." That was a far cry from the comment he made at the joint meeting of the Board of Education (BOE) and the Board of County Commissioners (BOCC) at which he said he did not see that creating a transparent budget report for public access was "in the best interest" of the system.

Evidently the BOE is seeking an additional $50+ million for next year for "strategic improvements."

I have an idea. How about limiting the "strategic improvement" for the next couple of years to building schools to mitigate the horrific overcrowding in the Urbana, Linganore and Oakdale feeder patterns? We are in serious trouble as the facilities have not been built to the needs of the communities they are intended to serve.

Over and over again during last week's meeting, the public heard how "unexpected" this overcrowding situation was. Interesting, since I received a copy of a report from 1995 entitled "Future Growth and School Schedule Advisory Committee Report to the Superintendent," which projected student enrollment to be between 39,300 and 43,200 as of 2004. The report accurately projected these figures. If anything, actual student population is at the low end of those projections.

In fact, prior to the construction of Centerville Elementary, enough of Urbana had been completed to create a new formula for predicting student populations in that area. No one thought to use the actual community growth numbers to project the seats needed for the remaining areas of the community yet to be built.

Why does Frederick County Public Schools build schools with top of the line finishes, and waste hundreds of thousands of dollars that could be devoted to greater square footage? So much money was wasted, just three examples being brick exteriors, terrazzo flooring and ceramic tile walls. Basically, it's because this administration lives in a box. So what if it is card board? We'll faux finish it to look like marble. Of course, we'll pay for marble. That's first class.

When discussing new school construction and the issue of where we would find new seats that will be needed in New Market when the Land Stewards construction begins (which all believe is inevitable), Facilities Director Ray Barnes had no answer. In fact, it did not even appear to be on the radar screen for Mr. Barnes. He is in way over his head. He did not seem confident answering questions that should have been simple given his position as director of facilities.

I requested information on Mr. Barnes' background and job qualifications since he is apparently the only "expert" in facilities that the BOE and administration looks to. That information has yet to be released.

On top of that, Finance Chief Hal Keller, who apparently wants to keep a very tight reign on the control of the money, has hired a woman as director of transportation who is so entirely unqualified that I am not even sure there is a word to describe the incompetence the county will be faced with.

I have seen the new director, Veronica Lowe, attempt to give two very simple presentations to the BOE, and she appeared lost during both. I have checked her background and she was a scheduling supervisor in Grand Rapids, MI, a largely urban school district (mostly walkers) of 22,000 children, half our size. All of the roads in the Grand Rapids School district are designed in a grid, so the minimal bus transportation would have been very easy to handle. In addition to that she was laid off from her position as one of two supervisors.the other supervisor and their manager stayed on.

How is it that she was the best candidate for a job which is compensated in the range of $130K (including estimated benefits, salary is $104K last I checked). Frederick County comprises 40,000 students and a large geographic area. Our children are all at risk. We need the expert we are paying for.

During the transportation presentation to the BOE on February 21, Mr. Keller handled all detailed transportation questions himself. Evidently he has given up the pretense of Ms. Lowe being remotely qualified for the position she holds. It is my understanding that he interviewed and hired her himself.

How is it that we are Maryland's largest county geographically, yet our per pupil transportation cost (proudly announced by Superintendent Linda Burgee) is the lowest in the state? Isn't that a sign something might be amiss?

Teachers in FCPS are not underpaid compared to the state average. In fact, those with a master's degree are within the top 10% in the state for pay.

Frederick County's teacher attrition rate is not due to compensation or lack of the extras that the BOE and administration are trying to add into our budget this year. It can be directly traced to poor working conditions, overcrowded schools and the lack of logical use of support dollars, in addition to the superiority complex of the upper level administration and BOE.

Unlike in Montgomery County, our teachers are not considered "stakeholders" in the system.

When are FCPS teachers asked what strategic improvements they would like to see in the classrooms?

I heard from a teacher that a national recognition award was received by that teacher from a government official, after many years of hard work (yes, I am intentionally being vague here). When the teacher sent a copy to the superintendent to share the accomplishment, a call was received from the superintendent's secretary saying that this teacher was not allowed to contact the superintendent directly; the teacher had to go through the principal. That is very telling, and it's no wonder that in the past few years, I have watched some very seasoned educators become very bitter.

I hope the county commissioners will deny the request for the "Strategic Improvements" until such time as the system builds the new seats needed. These funds, in excess of $50 million, would build a much needed new elementary school, and perhaps even another middle school.

It is unacceptable that the Urbana and Windsor Knolls residents have been waiting for a transportation answer since September, that the Walkersville Elementary School was known to be overcrowded since very early in the school year (and no move was made to make an easy adjustment), and that every school in the Urbana, Linganore and Oakdale area is severely overcrowded - or soon will be.

You can't pour money into "strategic improvements" that are neither "strategic" nor "improvements."


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