State Roundup, December 9, 2019

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HAS SCHOOL RATING SYSTEM GONE TOO FAR? Liz Bowie of the Sun writes that with two years of results now in, some critics say Maryland’s five-star rating system — in which a school’s test results account for roughly 60% of its score — may have gone too far. They charge the new system can inflate the quality of a low performing school and obscure gaps in performance between students of different races and economic groups.

WA CO MONITORS STATE ED PROPOSALS: With the start of the 2020 Maryland General Assembly session a month away, Washington County government and education officials said they are watching proposed education legislation carefully, Alexis Fitzpatrick reports for the Hagerstown Herald-Mail. Recent figures from the Kirwan Commission suggest a potential local contribution increase of $5.9 million annually within the next decade. On Thursday, Gov. Larry Hogan announced his Building Opportunity Act, touted as the “largest investment in school construction in Maryland history.”

OPINION: QUALITY, EQUALITY IN EDUCATION: The editorial board of the Sun opines that Gov. Larry Hogan’s two proposals are aimed at increasing investment and accountability in schools. … we say kudos for turning his attention to what can be done to improve Maryland education, rather than limiting his focus to what he believes can’t be done — namely raising taxes. Each proposal is thus far light on details, and we look forward to learning more about them in the new year. But the governor must do more than bolster earlier ideas if he’s going to truly make education his “administration’s highest priority,” as he says it is, and work toward giving “every single child in Maryland” the “world-class education” he acknowledges they deserve — “regardless of what neighborhood they happen to grow up in.”

OPINION: KIRWAN RETURNS UNREALISTIC: In a column for Maryland Matters, Frank DeFilippo questions the results of a Sage Policy Group study on the returns it expects from the Kirwan education reforms, opining that if “there’s such a thing as reincarnation, every Maryland taxpayer should engage Strong Schools Maryland and the Sage Policy Group to plot the kind of investment return they claim the Kirwan education reform plan promises its debtors, we, the people. We should all be so lucky as the Kirwan jackpot.”

FOOD AID CHANGES COULD HARM 80,000 MARYLANDERS: The Trump administration last week finalized a regulation that could knock more than 6,000 Marylanders off food stamp benefits, Robin Bravender of Maryland Matters reports. It’s one of three controversial policies the administration is pursuing that aim to limit eligibility for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits that could ultimately result in nearly 80,000 Marylanders losing food assistance.

LEADERSHIP CHANGES COULD BENEFIT CITY, BURBS: The ascendance of House Speaker Adrienne Jones, of Baltimore County, and incoming Senate President Bill Ferguson, of Baltimore, will likely benefit the city and the region. As leaders of their respective chambers, Jones and Ferguson are two of the three most powerful people in state politics. Their roles provide a tremendous opportunity to benefit their home districts and regions, reports Bryan Sears for the Daily Record. “This comes at a very needed time for Baltimore,” said Annapolis lobbyist Bruce Bereano, who worked for two former Senate presidents. “It’s a wonderful holiday gift to Baltimore city and the Baltimore region.”

OPINION: SOLUTION TO GERRYMANDERING: Anti-gerrymandering activist Howard Gorrell opines in a column for Maryland Matters that while the Supreme Court says it is up to Congress and the states to restrict highly partisan gerrymandering, Maryland’s legislators are passing the ball to Congress, urging a national solution. Members of Congress have sponsored bills to reform redistricting in the past three decades; however, neither party has shown mass support for such measures.

OPINION: SAVING TREES IN SUBURBIA: The editorial board of the Sun lauds the work of two suburban counties in protecting trees, opining that builders everywhere follow a familiar pattern of development: cutting down forests in order to accommodate growth. First, you clear much of the land. Until now. In November, the Anne Arundel County Council passed County Executive Steuart Pittman’s forest conservation legislation that supporters proudly proclaimed as Maryland’s most rigorous ever countywide tree protection ordinance. And it was until Dec. 2, when the Howard County Council approved Howard County Executive Calvin Ball’s even-tougher plan to force developers to either keep trees, replace them with new trees or pay a fee to the county that would use the money to protect and expand forests.

‘4th WHEEL’ OF BPW RETIRING: There’s a fourth person who looms large at the twice-monthly meetings of the three member Board of Public Works. For the last 20 years, she has sat to the side, with the other aides, advisers and cabinet members. Her presence in the room is unmistakable. The BPW executive secretary is Sheila C. McDonald. Through three elected comptrollers, four governors and three treasurers, McDonald has served as guide to the proceedings, able to summon the right expert when a question arises and to shoo chatty members of the audience out into the hall. And she will be retiring at the end of the year, writes Bruce DePuyt for Maryland Matters.

ARTIST SUES MD ENVIRO DEPT OVER IMAGE USE: An artist and biologist from Kansas has filed a $1 million copyright infringement lawsuit against the Maryland Department of the Environment for using his fish illustrations on its website, Lorraine Mirabella and Wilborn Nobles III of the Sun report. Joseph R. Tomelleri accuses the state Environment Department and an unidentified “John Doe” of reproducing and displaying “at least seven” of his illustrations on the state website without his permission.

HETTLEMAN, CARDIN TO SEEK ZIRKIN’s SEAT: Two state delegates are likely to face off for the Baltimore County state Senate seat opened up by Sen. Bobby Zirkin’s resignation. Del. Shelly Hettleman, 55, of Pikesville, told the Sun on Friday that she is running for the seat and has begun campaigning and picking up endorsements. Luke Broadwater and Pamela Wood report that Del. Jon Cardin said he’s “very likely” to run for the seat, as well.

YVETTE LEWIS ELECTED DEM PARTY CHAIR: The Maryland Democratic Party turned to a prior party leader to guide it through the next two elections. The Maryland Democratic State Central Committee on Saturday elected Yvette Lewis, who was the party’s chairwoman from 2011 through 2015, to serve as party chairwoman again through December 2022, Pamela Wood reports for the Sun.

  • Lewis was re-elected party chair in December 2014, immediately after the Democrats suffered an embarrassing loss in the gubernatorial race to Republican Gov. Larry Hogan, but resigned a few months later saying she needed to spend more time with her family. Lewis will serve the remainder of Rockeymoore Cummings’s term, which ends in December 2022, meaning she’ll lead the party through two statewide elections, Teddy Amenabar of the Post reports.

NEW MaCO PREZ: Baltimore City Councilwoman Sharon Green Middleton was elected president of the Maryland Association of Counties during the group’s winter conference this week on the Eastern Shore, Talia Richman reports for the Sun. Middleton, a Democrat, will lead the influential organization for a one-year term. The president typically serves as a spokesperson for issues affecting local government during the General Assembly session, which begins next month.

PERMAN TO BECOME UM CHANCELLOR IN JANUARY: Jay Perman will take over as chancellor of the University System of Maryland on Jan. 6, in time for the start of the next legislative session, the system announced Friday. To replace Perman as the president of the University of Maryland, Baltimore, the Board of Regents named Bruce Jarrell as interim president, Tim Curtis reports for the Daily Record.

MIKE CORAM, REPORTER AND PRIEST, DIES: The Rev. James M. “Mike” Coram, who had dual careers as an Episcopal priest and a Baltimore Sun newspaperman, died Nov. 15 of complications from a blood infection at Mercy Medical Center. The Columbia resident was 80. Fred Rasmussen of the Sun does his usual great job on the long and complicated career of Mike Coram, who covered Howard County government for the Columbia Flier and Howard County Times in the 1980s.

D.C. REGION TRAIL NETWORK: A plan to complete a network of nearly 900 miles of trails connecting the Washington region could be accomplished with an investment of just over $1 billion, according to a coalition of nonprofits, business and government groups, Luz Lazo reports for the Post. The estimate, from the Capital Trails Coalition, would build 408 miles of trails that are planned across the region, nearly doubling the size of the existing network.

CONTRACTOR OF FT MEADE HOUSING CRITICIZED: The company in charge of privatized military housing projects on Fort Meade has been accused of retaliating against service members who complained of poor conditions there, according to documents reviewed by The Washington Post. Aaron Gregg of the Post reports that in a letter addressed to Fort Meade Garrison Commander Col. Erich Spragg, Rep. Anthony Brown (D-Md.) criticized Corvias Management-Army LLC of presiding over “rodent-infested and dilapidated housing.” The letter also states that the company failed to address the issues a year after they were raised and also pressured military families to keep quiet.

ACLU INTERVENES IN SUIT AGAINST McKESSON: The ACLU is asking the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn a lower court decision allowing Baltimore activist and Black Lives Matter organizer DeRay Mckesson to be sued by a police officer injured during a protest in Louisiana. “We’re asking the Supreme Court to defend the First Amendment right to protest,” the organization tweeted Saturday morning, Lorraine Mirabella reports in the Sun.

WA CO SCHOOLS LEAD TRI-STATE AREA IN TECHNOLOGY: Alexis Fitzpatrick of the Hagerstown Herald-Mail reports that Washington County Public Schools is ahead of the technological curve compared to many other Tri-State school districts, according to officials. The district of around 23,000 students launched its Digital Learning Plan in 2015, with all students grade three to 12 being assigned an iPad by 2016.