Board Discusses Graduation Rates, Takes Action on Policies

October 28, 2009
The Montgomery County Board of Education met on Monday, October 26, and discussed graduation rates, passed a proposed amendment to the MCPS Employees' Retirement and Pension systems, and took both final and tentative action on a number of Board policies. The Board also recognized the MCPS Educational Foundation, Principal Billie-Jean Bensen, the winner of the Mark Mann Excellence and Harmony Award, and Highland Elementary School Principal A. Raymond Myrtle. The Board also received a plaque from All Kids Count in honor of longtime MCPS Board member Blair G. Ewing.

Graduation Rates
The Board of Education discussed MCPS graduation and dropout rates. Education Week's 2009 Diplomas Count recently recognized MCPS as the district with the highest graduation rate among the nation's 50 largest school districts. The publication also noted the disproportionately low graduation rates for African American and Hispanic students nationwide. MCPS graduation rates are above the state and national averages; however, the overall graduation rate in MCPS has declined over the last seven years, and the graduation rates for African American, Hispanic, ESOL, FARMS and special education subgroups are lower than the overall rate. The school system's overall graduation rate for 2009 was 87.4 percent, exceeding the state target, with an African American rate of 81.6 percent and Hispanic rate of 77.2 percent. Maryland public schools use the federally approved ¡§leaver rate¡¨ method for calculating the graduation rate. Over the next few years, nearly every state will implement a cohort rate calculation that follows a graduating cohort from grade 9 to grade 12. MCPS is continuing to develop a range of strategies and interventions to engage students so they are not at risk of dropping out. The Board of Education passed unanimously a motion to advocate for a change in state law to increase the compulsory school attendance age from 16 years old, Board of Education President Shirley Brandman stated, "It is remarkable that our students cannot vote until age 18, but at age 16 they can fill out a form to essentially check themselves out of an education. Although this is not the sole answer to the very complex issue of why students drop out of school, I believe raising the compulsory school attendance from age 16 is an important incentive for our students to stay in school."

Board of Education Policies
The Board discussed and took final action on two revised policies:
- Policy GIG, Funding Retirement/Pension Systems, which sets forth priorities of the MCPS Employees¡¦ Retirement and Pension System.
- Policy GIH, Funding Other Postemployment Benefits, which sets forth the Board¡¦s commitment to providing postemployment health benefits for eligible employees and retirees.
The Board took tentative action on the following policies and will send them out for public comment:
- Policy JHF, Bullying, Harassment, or Intimidation, which demonstrates the school system¡¦s commitment to addressing this issue and complies with requirements of state law and is based on the model policy draft by the Maryland State Department of Education.
- Policy GFC, Reassignment of Personnel after 25 Years of Service or Age 50, which would be renamed to Reassignment of Employees within Two Years of Normal Retirement Eligibility, and seeks to revise criteria for maintaining salary and retirement benefit levels for certain employees who are transferred or assigned to positions with a lower salary classification.
- Policy ECK, Use of Smith Center for Non-MCPS Groups, which has been revised to reflect that MCPS reserves the right to schedule use of the Lathrop E. Smith Environmental Center by nonprofit groups to ensure appropriate use of this unique facility and to maximize flexibility in scheduling its use by MCPS students and staff.
The Board also rescinded or technically modified two policies:
- Policy ECD, Use of Playgrounds, was rescinded because the use of playgrounds is not a matter central to school system governance thus warranting a policy, and two existing regulations provide guidance on use of playgrounds by outside groups and trespassing.
- Policy BOA, Legal Services, was revised with nonsubstantive changes to clarify the primary functions of counsel retained by the Board and to ensure the Board will receive evaluative reports on legal services on a cycle aligned with contract reconsideration.

Recognition of the MCPS Educational Foundation, Inc.
The Board recognized the MCPS Educational Foundation, Inc., and all of its directors for its most successful scholarship campaign ever. The scholarships benefit MCPS graduates in need of financial aid to attend college. During the 2009¡V2010 school year, the Foundation awarded more than $275,000 in scholarships. Established in 1988, the Foundation also provides funds for student and staff academic enrichment, and grants to schools for after-school technology programs and instruction.

Amendment to the Montgomery County Public Schools Employees' Retirement and Pension Systems--Calculating Cost-of-Living Adjustments
The Board approved an amendment to the MCPS Employees' Retirement and Pension Systems so there will be no reduction in retirement benefits if there is a decline in the Consumer Price Index, which is used as the basis for the annual cost-of-living adjustment (COLA), with declines offset against future COLAs. Due to the current economy, the CPI used by the plan is negative for the first time since 1955, which would result in a COLA reduction of 1.68 percent in retirees' pension payments, if the amendment had not been approved.

In Appreciation of A. Raymond Myrtle, Principal of Highland Elementary School
The Board approved a resolution expressing appreciation of A. Raymond Myrtle, principal of Highland Elementary School, for being one of 10 principals nationwide to receive the Terrel H. Bell Award for School Leadership, and for his accomplishments. Highland, a Title 1 school with a poverty rate of almost 82 percent, was named a National Blue Ribbon School.

Superintendent's Annual Mark Mann Excellence and Harmony Award
The Board recognized Billie-Jean Bensen, principal of Herbert Hoover Middle School, as the recipient of this year¡¦s Mark Mann Excellence and Harmony Award. The award is presented annually to an MCPS administrator who has shown exceptional performance in promoting academic excellence, positive human relations and community outreach.

Plaque Presentation from All Kids Count
The Board was presented with a plaque from All Kids Count honoring Blair G. Ewing, a 22-year member of the Montgomery County Board of Education, who was also a member of the County Council and the Maryland State Board of Education. Mr. Ewing was a long-time advocate for special needs students in Montgomery County and throughout the state of Maryland. The plaque will be hung in the MCPS offices as a way to remember Mr. Ewing and his mission.

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