June 5, 2010

Body Found Is Man Suspected In Local Slaying

CLARKSVILLE, Md. -- By Robert Lewis Thornton.
A body found at floating in the Triadelphia Reservoir on Friday is that of a man wanted on attempted murder charges, police in Howard and Montgomery counties said. Robert Lewis Thornton, 46, of Gaithersburg, Md., was found in the Triadelphia Reservoir near Brighton Dam at about 3 p.m. Montgomery County police said they have arranged for the transport of Thornton's body to the medical examiner’s office in Baltimore for an autopsy to determine the cause and manner of death. Howard County police confirmed that Thornton was wanted there on charges of attempted first- and second-degree murder, first- and second-degree assault, attempted carjacking, attempted armed robbery and reckless endangerment in connection with a May 12 incident.

That night, at about 11:15 p.m., Howard County police responded to Brighton Dam Road in Clarksville near the county line after an assault was reported. Howard County police said they believe that Thornton and a female friend, a Howard County woman in her 40s who is not being identified, had an argument in a neighboring county. As the woman left the area in her vehicle, Thornton followed her in his car, police said. Howard County police said they believe Thornton, driving a Dodge Ram pickup truck, intentionally rear-ended the woman, causing her to lose control of her car and pull over on the shoulder of Brighton Dam Road. Thornton also lost control of his vehicle, striking a tree, police said. Howard County police said they believe Thornton then chased the woman into a nearby wooded area, made threats against her life and cut her in the neck with an unknown object. They said he was last seen fleeing the area on foot. SOURCE: WBAL TV

2 Bodies Found in Montgomery County

3-Month-Old Girl Found Inside Car in Gaithersburg

June 4, 2010

Royce Hanson farewell on June 14

Royce Hanson has been chairman of the Maryland National Capital Park and Planning Commission during two pivotal eras, first, 1972-81, creating the Montgomery County Agricultural Reserve (which preserved green land in a wealthy and dense county) and then, since 2006, as the down county shifted from a purely suburban character to a more urban setting. More info. Now he is retiring, again, and a celebration is planned. Please note: you must RSVP by June 10 and a donation of $10 is requested.

Barnaby Zall. SOURCE: Friends of White Flint

Second Body Found in Potomac River Search

GLEN ECHO, Md. - A family's hope for a miracle apparently ended Thursday with the discovery of a second body in the Potomac River. The mother and daughter were swept away on Monday. A search helicopter discovered the first body Wednesday. Those involved in the rescue efforts gave a stern warning to anyone who dares go into the river. The timing of the body's discovery seemed eerie, coming minutes after the park service, fire and police ended a press conference reminding people the river is deadly. Boats began the search around 10:00 a.m. for a fourth straight day. What had been a search and rescue mission was now a recovery operation. About 30 minutes into the search, rescuers spotted a body near Perry Island, about two miles from where the mother and daughter disappeared.

"Four days ago, the river reminded us that this is an unforgiving river and can kill," said Kevin Brandt, Superintendent for the C&O Canal National Historic Park.

The family had waited by the river for days but the discovery of the first body, about six miles away near Little Falls Wednesday, seemed to confirm the inevitable. The bodies are presumed to be 35-year old Olga Gaspar and her 13-year old daughter Emily, although the medical examiner must still determine a positive identification. The two disappeared during a family outing near Great Falls on Memorial Day. Relatives say they had been standing in water only ankle or knee deep.

"Even in shallow water, [that] can be deadlier than ocean riptides and can take you down in seconds," said Chief Richard Bowers of Montgomery County Fire and Rescue.

Hidden beneath the surface are rocks and debris that can pin you under. Swift water rescue teams were on the water within 11 minutes of the 911 call with the odds already against them. SOURCE: FOX DC

Leisure World town hall meeting on June 16

ROCKVILLE, Md., June 3, 2010—The Montgomery County Council will continue its efforts to find out what issues most concern residents when it hosts a Town Hall Meeting for the Leisure World / Northern Silver Spring area on Wednesday, June 16. The meeting at the Leisure World Social Hall will start at 2 p.m. This will be the third Town Hall Meeting hosted by the Council in 2010. The Council is composed of President Nancy Floreen, Vice President Valerie Ervin and Councilmembers Phil Andrews, Roger Berliner, Marc Elrich, Mike Knapp, George Leventhal, Nancy Navarro and Duchy Trachtenberg. In February, more than 400 attended as the Council hosted its first-ever Town Hall Meeting for students. A capacity crowd attended a meeting at the Housing Opportunities Commission Office in Kensington in March.

Leisure World is located at 3700 Rossmoor Blvd. in Silver Spring. Non-residents of the community must check in at the security gate before proceeding to the Town Hall Meeting. The meeting will enable residents to voice opinions on specific issues and will allow them to ask questions of the Councilmembers in an organized, but informal, setting. Topics expected to be of interest include the public safety, traffic, growth, the County budget, health programs and taxes—including the recently increased energy tax.

“We recently approved the Fiscal Year 2011 budget that required closing a shortfall of almost $1 billion due to decreasing revenues,” said Council President Floreen. “We made some very difficult decisions that will impact every resident of this County. This meeting will allow us to hear from residents about their priorities and their concerns. It also gives us the opportunity to explain some of the issues that are before us. This Council has made a priority of having better direct communication with residents, and Town Hall Meetings have proven to be an excellent way to do just that,” she said. “For residents, these meetings provide a forum where they can see their elected officials in a different format than a televised meeting or through a news release.”

The meeting will be taped for later broadcast on County Cable Montgomery (CCM—cable Channel 6 on Comcast and RCN, Channel 30 on Verizon). Susan Kenedy, a producer for the county station, will moderate the meeting. For more information about the Town Hall Meeting or about the broadcast times, call 240-777-7931. SOURCE: Montgomery County

Obama defends offshore oil drilling, wants more reports

Chevy Chase resident was aboard pro-Palestinian boat headed to Gaza

In 1979, Edward Peck was the U.S. Department of State's chief of mission in Baghdad when Americans were taken hostage in Iran. More than three decades later, the Chevy Chase Village resident finds himself in the center of another Middle East controversy. The former ambassador, who has lived in the Village since 1980, was on one of the ships in a reported aid flotilla bound for Gaza when it was boarded by troops from the Israel Defense Forces early Monday in international waters. He said there was relatively little violence on his ship, however several people who were part of the flotilla were killed, including an American student, according to news reports.

"There must be 140 messages from people who wanted to talk to me," said Peck, 81, in an interview at his home Thursday morning.

His wife, Ann was swamped helping to manage his interviews with media outlets, and he said he was still calling embassies and organizations to get his personal possessions back from Israel. He was taken off his boat, the Sfendoni, and was detained by the Israeli government for a bit more than a day before being deported on a flight to Newark, N.J. He arrived home Tuesday with just the clothes he was wearing and his hat.

A Foreign Service Officer for the State Department for 32 years who also runs a consulting firm, Foreign Services International, Peck boarded the Sfendoni in Greece at the invitation of an American group supporting Palestinians. After decades of diplomatic work and trips bringing visitors to the Middle East, Peck said he wanted to join the flotilla bringing aid to Gaza because he wanted to bring items, such as medicine and water purifiers, to the area.

"I was also interested in participating in a peaceful effort to conduct a humanitarian effort, while perhaps at the same time, easing or breaking the blockade," said Peck, referring to Israel's blockade of Gaza, located between Egypt and Israel.

Peck was willing to sacrifice comfort to participate in the mission. During the five to six days he was on the ship, he cleaned himself with wet wipes, and had only the deck or a chair to sleep on. There was some anticipation among those on board that they could encounter the Israeli military, but the ship did not have procedures in place to deal with such an encounter, such using a bullhorn or flares, Peck said.

June 3, 2010

Mirant sues Montgomery County over pollution tax

Montgomery County's largest polluter is suing the county over a new law that imposes a tax on its carbon dioxide emissions. A much-anticipated lawsuit was filed Monday on behalf of the Mirant coal-fired power plant in Dickerson, claiming the county's law is unconstitutional because it singles out the business. In the lawsuit, the Atlanta company is seeking to overturn the law and avoid paying the county until the issue is worked out in court. If Mirant's injunction is successful, the money would be placed in escrow and would go to the county if the company loses the lawsuit. The lawsuit was filed in U.S. District Court in Greenbelt.

"I would predict [Mirant] would take this all the way to the [U.S.] Supreme Court if given the opportunity," said Montgomery County Councilman Roger Berliner (D-Dist. 1) of Potomac.

Berliner, an environmental attorney, proposed the tax, which charges $5 per ton of carbon dioxide emissions for companies that generate more than 1 million tons. Currently, the law applies only to the Mirant power plant. SOURCE: Gazette

County news

Coffee & Conversation - Stop by and chat with Ken Hartman, Director of the Bethesda-Chevy Chase Regional Services Center. Find out about programs and services in Montgomery County, learn more about the Western Montgomery County Citizens Advisory Board and their role in the community, or just bring your concerns for your community to discuss. Any time between 9:00 am and 12:00 noon ˆ Friday, June 4, 2010.

HeritageQuest Online - Rich resource for genealogists, including Census and U.S. military records and over 25,000 full-text family and local histories. For more information go to: http://www.montgomerycountymd.gov/Apps/Libraries/researchatopic/genealogy.asp

The Spirit of Silver Spring - An annual community wide celebration celebrating Silver Spring‚s unsung heroes - inspirational individuals and groups who bring their commitment and passions to making the Silver Spring community a successful place to be. To learn more about the event or to RSVP contact Noelle Haile noelle@impactsilverspring.org , Network Building Manager, at 301-495-3336.

Saturday, June 5, 2010, 2:00 PM onwards. Downtown Silver Spring. Ellsworth Drive, Silver Spring, MD

Gazette Talks to Next President, Dr. DeRionne Pollard - English classes at Iowa State University made Dr. DeRionne Pollard "fall in love" with college, according to a recent article in The Gazette. Dr. Pollard spoke at length with the Gazette's education reporter to share more about her background and her future presidency at Montgomery College. For more information go to: http://insidemc.montgomerycollege.edu/showStory.php?id=19755

Sustainable Commuting Workshop - Recent news articles and research indicate that work commutes are a heavy burden on businesses and employees in our region. Long commutes sap productivity and can impact a company‚s profit margin. Now is the time to implement commute-reducing programs that can reduce turnover costs, improve morale, and better position your business for the competitive future. Hear what area businesses are doing to shorten or eliminate commutes, increase productivity and improve bottom lines. Hear from local experts from the housing, telework and transportation fields.

Date: Thursday, June 10, 2010. Time: 8:30 am to 12 noon
Place: Executive Office Building. Auditorium Lobby Level, Rockville, MD
Registration: Call Commuter Services at 240-777-8384 or register online at https://www2.montgomerycountymd.gov/meetingregistration/

12th Annual Paws in the Park - Paws in the Park is the annual 1K, 3K, 5K dog walk, a signature event to benefit the homeless animals under the care of the Montgomery County Humane Society.

Sunday, June 6, Noon-4 pm. Registration: 12 noon. Walk begins: 1 pm
Wheaton Regional Park, 11751 Orebaugh Ave., Wheaton, MD. Rain date: Sunday, June 13
For more information go to: http://mchumane.org/Paws10.shtml

Cabin John Watershed Study - Public information meeting for the updated Cabin John Watershed study at City Hall will be held on June 10th at 7pm. City staff and watershed consultants will present the current stream and watershed conditions that were assessed in the spring, and discuss how these compare to the 1996 study, as well as explain the next steps of evaluating potential watershed protection projects this summer. For more information go to: http://www.rockvillemd.gov/environment/watersheds/cabinjohn.html

Montgomery College to Hold Information Session for Adult Learners, June 19 - Montgomery College representatives will provide assistance with course registration, transfer credits, assessment testing and financial aid to prospective adult students at the "one stop shop" session Saturday, June 19 from 10 am-1 pm. The session will be held in Room 015 of the Campus Center Building on the Rockville Campus. For more information go to: http://insidemc.montgomerycollege.edu/showStory.php?id=19821

Community Branding -The City of Rockville wants to create a community brand to define what makes Rockville such a special place to live and work; retain and attract residents; and promote the preservation and development of local businesses and the economy. As one of the first steps in this process, the City is conducting a brief anonymous survey. Additional research and community outreach will be conducted summer 2010. To take the survey go to: http://survey.constantcontact.com/survey/a07e2wi3zeeg9d09u7r/a015vga010nv8/greeting

Frost Middle School principal apologizes for kids who baked in sun

ROCKVILLE, Md. - Hundreds of students were left stuck in the hot sun for hours last Wednesday and now some parents in Montgomery County (web | news) are up-in-arms. EMS crews treated dozens for dehydration at Robert Frost Middle School in Rockville. wednesday night, parents looked for answers at a meeting at the school.

"This was an unusually incident. I regret that it that it happened," Jones told them.

Last Wednesday, a bomb threat forced the entire student body to evacuate the building. School officials say they didn't walk students to nearly Wooton High School, which is only a half-mile away, because they were told the scare would only last about 30 minutes. But bomb-sniffing dogs showed up late, exposing more than 1,000 children to temperatures in the high 80s for a couple hours.

"My kid came home miserable, sunburned, dehydrated, starving," said parent Tasha Museles.

Fire officials say while no one was hospitalized, two dozen children were treated at the scene for heat-related illnesses like dehydration and dizziness.

"Common sense has to take over after about a half hour sitting out in 85 degree heat with no water," said parent John Wright.

Parent Cheryl Callahan added, "I just think they didn't plan well...the temperature was really hot, they had no backup water, kids hadn't eaten." School officials admitted at a meeting with parents that they didn't provide enough water or shade for students. They assured parents that improvements in communication and planning are underway.

"I am sincerely sorry for any adverse impact upon your children. My number one priority is their safety and security," said Jones.

School officials say one of the first things they'll do is get more bottled water on site in the event students are forced outside again. The bomb threat was a hoax. That case remains under investigation. SOURCE: Channel 8

Frost Middle School students stand in heat during bomb scare

Montgomery County Schools eliminate 400 positions, 2 dozen teachers

About two dozen staff, almost all of them teachers, will be laid off from Montgomery County public schools, school officials said Thursday. A total of more than 400 staff positions are being eliminated under cuts that have been expanded because of the final funding figures that the Montgomery County Council approved last month. Those don't all translate into layoffs because of retirements, reassignments and other attrition. The newest cuts were unveiled Thursday. They include eliminating 30 percent of the textbook budget, six fewer maintenance staff and no after-school buses for elementary school activities, said Larry Bowers, chief operating officer for the Montgomery schools. The budget is being cut by $97 million for fiscal 2011, to $2.1 billion. SOURCE: Washington Post

June 2, 2010

Body Found in Potomac River

ROCKVILLE, Md. - Rescuers found a body in the Potomac River Wednesday afternoon. Rescuers had been searching for 13-year-old Emily Escalante Arotinco and her 35-year-old mother Olga Arotinco Gaspar. They both disappeared on Memorial Day under powerful currents just northwest of the District. On Tuesday, family members recounted the tragic accident. The family says they gathered along the river, but everyone knew to stay out of the water. In a matter of seconds, a fun family holiday get-together turned tragic. Relatives watched as the two went under water.

"She screamed, ‘She needs help! Help.’ Everybody, all my friends wanted to help her but we couldn’t. The river was too dangerous," said Jorge Oribares, the girl's uncle.

It is a heartbreaking story and hope is fading for the missing mother and daughter. Emily’s uncle was a few feet nearby and painfully remembers watching and feeling helpless.

"It was bad. I felt very bad. I tried to do everything. I can't do it. I said God help my niece and my sister in law. I can't do nothing," cried Oribares.

As the family holds vigil by the shore, rescue crews searched a second day. The family says Juan Escalante desperately tried to hold on to his wife and daughter but the river current was just too powerful.

"My uncle went in to help them and was holding them but he couldn't hold on anymore," said Rossi Ferrer.

Relatives say 35-year-old Olga Arotinco Gaspar lost her footing while trying to get a runaway volleyball. Her daughter, 13-year old Emily Escalante Arotinco, went to help her mother but got sucked into the water too. SOURCE: FOX DC

Montgomery County police chief wants illegal immigration ignored locally

The public doesn't understand the consequences of putting local police in the role of immigration enforcers, Montgomery County Police Chief J. Thomas Manger said in an interview last week. A law such as Arizona's controversial immigration measure would require county police officers to spend hours, instead of five minutes, on a traffic stop trying to determine the vehicle occupant's immigration status, Manger said.

"That would be taking a whole squad out of duty," he said.

Speaking a day after he joined about a dozen police chiefs from Arizona, as well as Los Angeles, Houston and other metropolitan areas, in meeting with U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, Manger said, "Every one of us realizes the frustration the public has on the issue."

But, he said, the Arizona law would lead to more problems without addressing the root causes of illegal immigration. At the Washington, D.C., meeting May 26, the chiefs told Holder they are concerned that the new law could force illegal immigrants to go even further underground.

"Laws like this will actually increase crime, not decrease crime," said Los Angeles Police Chief Charlie Beck.

At a press conference the same day outside the Justice Department, the chiefs also said they worried that other states could adopt the law. Several chiefs said an Arizona-type law could drive a wedge between immigrant communities and the police, eroding trust that police departments have worked to build over the years as a crime-fighting strategy. SOURCE: Gazette

Maryland Republican website problems continue

Thanks to a spy, we have learned that the Maryland Republican Party website (MDGOP.com) is down yet again! This follows when the official Maryland Republican website was down during their State convention, which followed when Montgomery County's Republican website was down.

At one point, the Montgomery County Republicans claimed State Senator George Edwards was running against Rep. Chris van Hollen. Apparently he was not, though their website claimed he was.

Union blood at Montgomery County Council Building?

On Thursday, May 27, 2010, as about 100 police officers protested severe cuts to their department, I photographed a bizarre red splotch at the Montgomery County Council Building. At first I thought it was blood, but it smelled more like barbeque sauce. Why would such a bizarre stain appear in front of that sign on the final day of the official budget vote? If you have more information, please contact us. SOURCE: Montgomery County Daily

MCPS teachers ratify contract renegotiation

On May 26, 71 percent of eligible teachers cast the ballot in favor of the renegotiated contract between the Montgomery County Education Association (MCEA) ñ an association that acts as a bargaining agent for teacher contracts ñ and the Montgomery County Public School Board of Education (BOE), according to MCEA Executive Director Tom Israel. Teacher contracts dictate how teachers are compensated for their work as well as policies teachers must follow. The new contract called for individual planning time for Elementary School teachers, giving teachers the option to work from home on grading day, mandatory department meetings and the elimination of interims, according to MCEA vice president Christopher Lloyd.

Despite changes, tensions continue between the two parties due to BOE's suppression of teacher raises, according to MCEA Blair liaison Marc Grossman. Like Grossman, some teachers were concerned about BOE's repression of salary raises. "Last year, all schools with employees gave up a 5.3 percent raise for a guarantee of health benefit costs," Lloyd said. "Teachers would pay 10 percent of the health premium and the school system would pay 90 percent." In 2009, the MCEA and BOE agreed to push back raises until Montgomery County Public Schools (MCPS) would be fiscally capable of fulfilling the current contract. Grossman was not content with BOE's unfulfilled promise as there was no talk of a raise in the newly negotiated agreement; he felt that MCPS should have had enough money for raises by the time the contract was finalized.

Grossman expressed his disappointment in an email concerning the contract's ratification. "I [voted] no, because a dangerous precedent is being set that will delegitimize the contract negotiation process," he said. "Negotiated agreements should not be treated as suggestions to be broken when politically expedient."

The Representative Assembly of MCEA ñ composed of teacher liaisons from each school in the county ñ decided to advise teachers to ratify the contract, however. "The Representative Assembly voted 83-30 to approve of the contract," Grossman said.

MCEA president Doug Prouty acknowledged the severity of the salary raise issue in a letter to teachers. "The biggest issue is that there is no cost of living adjustment or step increases included for the 2010-11 school year in the contract," Prouty wrote. He addressed future opportunities for salary increases. "We will bargain again next year about salaries for 2011-12." SOURCE: Silver Chips

Schools face budget sting, but not irreparable damage

The county's school board members want to make one point clear: Although money is going to be tight next school year, the school system's financial struggles could have been a lot worse. On Tuesday, the county school board is scheduled to approve a $2.1 billion operating budget for fiscal 2011, which is $159 million less than the school system's initial proposal. If the board accepts the new proposal, school administrators next year will purchase fewer textbooks, use older school buses to transport students and defer purchasing some furniture, school board President Patricia B. O'Neill said.

"We can live with older textbooks; it's been done before," said school board member Judith R. Docca (Dist. 1) of Montgomery Village, a former middle school principal in the county. "I'm concerned about the workload we're putting on people. They'll have more to do; we'll all have more to do."

Next school year, county teachers will have one additional student in each of their classes, because the school system increased class sizes to save money. There is also a proposal from the school system to cut some of its academic intervention teacher positions, said school board Vice President Christopher S. Barclay. Those teachers provide additional support to struggling students.

"How do we make sure our struggling students get the support that they need to continue to be successful?" said Barclay (Dist. 4) of Takoma Park. "We can't afford to be stagnant. We've got some big challenges in front of us."

But there's also a silver lining in the budget. Under a recommendation from schools Superintendent Jerry D. Weast, administrators will not cut transportation to magnet, International Baccalaureate or language immersion programs, or reduce stipends that support high school sports. School board member Laura V. Berthiaume said she was "glad" that Weast decided not to cut transportation to special programs.

"Personally, I think it would've been bad policy to cut the magnet transportation," said Berthiaume (Dist. 2) of Rockville.

In February, the school board approved a $2.2 billion fiscal 2011 operating budget and acknowledged that significant cuts could be coming. A month later, County Executive Isiah Leggett (D) proposed a schools budget that was $137.7 million less than what the school system sought. SOURE: Gazette

EDITORIAL: A Tale of Two Counties

MONTGOMERY COUNTY has just completed a nightmarish budget year. Stressed, squabbling and besieged elected officials savaged services and programs and jacked up taxes to eliminate an eye-popping deficit of almost $1 billion in a $4.3 billion spending plan. Meanwhile, across the Potomac River in Fairfax County, all was sweetness and light by comparison. With a budget roughly equal to Montgomery's, Fairfax officials erased a deficit a quarter as large with relative ease and far less drama. The picture isn't likely to change anytime soon. Montgomery, having already pruned the low-, medium- and some high-hanging budgetary fruit, is facing annual deficits in the hundreds of millions of dollars as far as the eye can see. Fairfax, though facing tough choices and further cuts in an economy clouded by recession, has a brighter future.

The region's two largest jurisdictions -- demographic cousins with populations around 1 million, school systems among the nation's biggest and best, and public spending equal to that of small countries -- have parted ways. To put it bluntly, Montgomery is lurching under the weight of irresponsible governance, unsustainable commitments and political spinelessness -- particularly in the face of politically powerful public employees unions.

Over the past few months, some readers have asked why we lately have devoted attention to those unions. The diverging paths of Montgomery and Fairfax provide one explanation. We respect the public employees in both counties and their dedication to public service. Clean parks, cheerful classrooms, safe streets, bustling libraries -- the work of these employees helps keep these counties such attractive places to live. But when 80 percent of all outlays are related to personnel, labor contracts that get out of whack can endanger the public welfare.

Take a snapshot of one year, 2006, when times were flush. In Fairfax, the county executive, an unelected technocrat, proposed a budget with a relatively robust spending increase of about 6 percent. In Montgomery, County Executive Douglas M. Duncan, a career politician then running in the Democratic primary for governor, pitched a gold-plated, pork-laden grab bag of political largess that drove county spending up by 11 percent.

Mr. Duncan's budget that year capped a three-year spree in which county spending rose by almost 30 percent. It reflected major multiyear increases in pay and benefits that he had negotiated for police, firefighters and other county workers. At the same time, Jerry D. Weast, Montgomery's schools superintendent, negotiated a contract that promised pay increases for most teachers of 26 to 29 percent over three years -- about twice the raise Fairfax teachers got -- plus health benefits virtually unmatched in the region. Montgomery County Council members, most of whom were hoping for union endorsements in the fall elections, rubber-stamped Mr. Duncan's contracts. The Board of Education, equally beholden to the teachers union, did the same for Mr. Weast.

The primary culprits here, as this account should make clear, are not the unions, which are supposed to represent their workers energetically, but county leaders. These include an inexperienced and now all-Democratic County Council, whose current members' average tenure, less than six years, is half that of the members of the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors; a politically agile schools superintendent who has rallied support by striking generous deals with the teachers union; and successive county executives who signed their own unaffordable contracts with police, firefighters and other public employees unions.

The results have been striking -- and strikingly unaffordable -- in a county where more than half of all spending goes to public schools. The average teacher salary in Montgomery today is $76,483, the highest in the region. Average pay for teachers is now almost 20 percent higher in Montgomery than in Fairfax and has increased much faster than in most local suburban school systems. Since 2000, salaries for Montgomery teachers, as for many other county employees, have nearly doubled, rising at almost triple the rate of inflation.

Teachers are pillars of any community, and Montgomery's are highly rated. But their compensation has outstripped the marketplace. Today, Montgomery schools spend about 20 percent more per pupil than Fairfax schools; they consume a greater share of the public spending than in any other locality in the region. The spending gap is not about classroom quality and student achievement; in those terms the two school systems are comparable. Rather, the difference is compensation, which accounts for 90 percent of Montgomery's education spending.

Virginia law denies public employees collective bargaining rights; that's helped Fairfax resist budget-busting wage and benefit demands. As revenue dipped two years ago, Fairfax officials froze all salaries for county government and school employees with little ado. By contrast, Montgomery leaders were badly equipped to cope with recession. County Executive Isiah Leggett took office proposing fat budgets and negotiating openhanded union deals after he succeeded Mr. Duncan. Then, as economic storm clouds gathered, he shifted gears and cut spending -- while still trying to appease the unions.

Notoriously, one such deal guaranteed almost $300 million in pension benefits over 40 years to thousands of employees based on salary increases they never received. The giveaway became known as "Phantom COLAs," for the cost-of-living raises that were never paid. And even when Montgomery's teachers agreed to give up cost-of-living raises last year, about two-thirds of them continued to receive step increases of up to 4 percent.

The cozy ties between elected officials and public employees unions in Montgomery have formed the backdrop for a drumbeat of reports about county employees' bountiful benefits, perks and abuses. In the past few years we've learned about county police officers who helped themselves to hundreds of thousands of taxpayers' dollars to secure cut-rate weapons for personal use. More than half the officers who retired recently from the police force left claiming "severe disabilities," some of them dubious, entitling them to huge taxpayer-funded benefits for life. Veteran firefighters may retire at age 46 and continue working for three years while simultaneously accruing pension payments that increase at a taxpayer-guaranteed rate of 8.25 percent annually, regardless of market performance. Meanwhile, Montgomery's teachers union has wielded such outsized electoral clout that politicians who received the teachers' endorsement in the most recent elections reached into their pockets and wrote checks to the union. As far as we know, this occurs nowhere else in America.

Some of Montgomery's problem is also structural. It has relied for more than a quarter of its revenue on a local income tax, an option available to localities in Maryland but not in Virginia. The income tax is volatile: In good times it yielded windfalls for Montgomery -- and no-holds-barred spending sprees -- but in the current downturn it has meant a cruel collapse in revenue. Over the past two years, Montgomery's take from the income tax has plummeted by $400 million -- by itself the equivalent of 10 percent of all county revenue.

The recession has had a bracing effect on Montgomery's elected officials, some of whom now express contrition about their spendthrift ways and deference to unions. This year council members, along with Mr. Leggett, by necessity turned into cost-cutters. A year ago, just one council member, Phil Andrews (D-Gaithersburg-Rockville), voted against the phantom COLAs; this month Mr. Andrews was able to muster a unanimous vote on the council to overturn them. Even Mr. Leggett, who negotiated the phantom COLAs, endorsed the council's action to scrap them -- a rare instance of government repealing an entitlement.

Contrition is fine as long as it's accompanied by concrete steps to reform. The county has just about run out of revenue-raising options, having boosted nearly its entire menu of taxes to the legal or practical limit. Montgomery's higher taxes already put it at a competitive disadvantage with Fairfax, which has a wide lead in attracting business and creating high-wage jobs; now Montgomery risks a downward spiral. To avoid that, a cultural shift must take place. Some helpful measures would include:

-- Candidates for council and school board in Montgomery should foreswear all donations to or from public employees unions. This is a minimum necessary step to sever the cozy ties that have indebted officeholders to the employees they are supposed to oversee and whose compensation forms a critical aspect of the county's fiscal integrity.

-- Candidates for public office, who are routinely asked to fill out questionnaires from public employees unions and other special interests in election years, should refuse to answer any question that would commit them to undefined future spending.

-- The county should beef up its rainy-day reserve funds as a means to protect against future downturns, provide an incentive to fiscal restraint and safeguard the county's shaky AAA bond rating.

Nancy Floreen (D-At Large), president of the County Council, has asked the county staff to prepare options for shrinking future deficits. County officials will encounter inevitable pushback from unions and other interests warning that more cost-cutting will have dire consequences. They may find that their best counter-arguments are close at hand, just across the river. SOURCE: Washington Post

May 31, 2010

Rockville Library's Name Honors Fallen Soldiers

In honor of service members who have died for the country, a library in Montgomery County, Md., is changing its name. As the sound of bagpipes filled the air, veterans and family and friends of loved ones who have served gathered in front of what was formerly the Rockville Library. Richard Doerflinger's son, Thomas, died fighting in Iraq. He says the library embodies what soldiers, like his son, fought for.

"The freedom to read, and speak and write, to think and believe as we wish, to share our thoughts and dreams with others," he says. "Our loved ones died defending these freedoms in far away places where many people hope one day to enjoy them as we do."

County Executive Isiah Leggett said the renaming is a small token of appreciation for the sacrifices troops and their families make.

"This library naming today will show that in Montgomery County we honor and respect the lives, the sacrifices that have been made by veterans," he said.

Leggett says he hopes the new name will help others remember what fallen heroes have given up for the country. SOURCE: WAMU

May 30, 2010

WASHED: Montgomery Schools spend $58 million a year on cleaning

Montgomery County Public Schools' (MCPS) Division of School Plant Operations (DSPO) began its transition to green cleaning in 1997 when it changed from oil-based wood floor finish to a water-based product. However, high standards for evaluation and approval of cleaning chemicals to be used in the school system long have been evaluated by a certified industrial hygienist, certified hazardous-materials managers, and occupational safety and health experts in the Department of Systemwide Safety and Environmental Services/Indoor Air Quality (IAQ) team. Factors that are considered are low volatile organic compounds (VOCs), non-carcinogen chemicals, low concentrate, flammability and exposure control. Any cleaning chemical to be used in the school system is evaluated by staff prior to its use. The product evaluation team in the DSPO also conducts effectiveness testing on products prior to use in schools.

The DSPO began using concentrated, Green Seal-certified (GSC) products in recyclable packaging in 2006. DSPO was able to replace five other products with the introduction of one GSC product.

Changes in the type of custodial equipment began in 2002. The DSPO purchased energy-efficient battery-operated scrubbers that dry floors faster, uses only clean water to capture dust particles from hard floor surfaces to prevent dust from being released into the air and changed from using mops and buckets. As a result, productivity doubled. In 2005, DSPO purchased high-speed burnishers to replace buffers. These burnishers are safer; are equipped with skirts and vacuums so they operate more cleanly, eliminating dust; are energy-efficient; eliminate the need to use a spray buffing chemical; and reduce the frequency of floor polishing. Consequently, productivity increased while the impact on the environment was reduced. To replace less efficient upright vacuums, brooms and dust mops, DSPO purchased backpack vacuums, which are certified by the Carpet and Rug Institute. Indoor air quality and the longevity of air filters was improved through the use of these vacuums, as they capture and retain more dust particles through a four-stage filtration system.

Program Information
Number of students: 142,000
Square footage maintained: 23,462,694
Number of full-time custodians: 1,333
Annual cleaning budget: $58,263,320

Green cleaning team members: Joe Lavorgna, Director, Department of Facilities Management; Dianne Jones, Director, Division of School Plant Operations; Larry Hurd, June Achamorfaw, John Colmes, Building Service Trainers. SOURCE: ASUMag