Tag Archives: Maryland

Keeping Baltimore’s Water in Public Hands

Source: Kevin Zapf Hanes, AFSCME Now, August 23, 2018 

Water profiteers have long sought to call Baltimore home. AFSCME Council 67 members joined with community allies years ago to educate city residents about the dangers of private water companies taking over the city’s water utilities.  At the continued urging of community and workers, the Baltimore City Council passed a resolution this month barring the sale of the city’s water utility. Mayor Catherine Pugh signed the measure soon thereafter. The measure will now be placed on the November ballot for voter approval. It’s expected to pass. … AFSCME Council 67 President and International Vice President Glenard Middleton testified before the city council.  He said, “Poor people and communities of color would be disproportionately harmed by water privatization. The water rate hikes needed to generate corporate profit would lead to water shutoffs in low-income neighborhoods and communities of color. And water corporations would likely invest more resources in wealthier areas of the city because these companies have a track record of cherry-picking projects to generate the highest returns for their investors, instead of keeping the public’s best interest at heart.” …

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Baltimore Set To Ban Privatization of Water System
Source: Ayana Byrd, Color Lines, August 8, 2018
 
Legislators in Baltimore have taken historic steps to ban water privatization in the city—a move that will benefit lower-income earning communities in the majority Black city.  On Monday (August 6), members of the Baltimore City Council approved a resolution that will ban water privatization via a nearly unanimous vote. … Baltimore, a city of approximately 611,000 people, is 63 percent Black. Twenty-one percent of its residents live below the federal poverty line, according to the latest Census information. Glen Middleton, the executive director of American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) Maryland Council 67, said, “Not only will water privatization increase water rates across the city, but it will also deprive low-income communities and communities of color access to clean and safe water…. Keep water privatization away from our communities.” …

Responding to activists, Mayor Pugh, DPW director assure they don’t want to privatize Baltimore’s water system
Source: Ethan McLeod, Baltimore Fishbowl, June 13, 2018
 
Fear not, Mayor Catherine Pugh and Baltimore City Department of Public Works Director Rudy Chow say: Baltimore’s water system will remain in public control, despite any charter amendments that activists worry could open up a pathway for privatization.   In a joint statement issued Wednesday morning, Pugh and Chow assured they’re not looking to let companies like Suez Environment in on managing Baltimore’s drinking water supply or any of its resources.  “Baltimore City’s drinking water system is a jewel that must be maintained in the public trust,” Pugh and Chow said. “From the reservoirs in Baltimore and Carroll counties, to our filtration plants in the Ashburton and Montebello communities, we share the commitment of prior generations of civic leaders to keep this life-sustaining resource in public hands.” …

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Future of Frederick County’s mental health clinic in flux as responsibility for services changes

Source: Kate Masters, Frederick News-Post, September 30, 2017
 
When it comes to mental health and substance abuse services at the Frederick County Health Department, one thing is sure: On Oct. 2, the department’s methadone program will be handed off to Concerted Care Group, a private company based in Baltimore that provides addiction treatment services.  What’s less clear is the fate of the department’s mental health clinic, a small group of psychiatrists, social workers and counselors who together provide mental-health care to roughly 1,500 low-income clients, according to a letter drafted by employees at the clinic. … Beavan and two other staff members were also startled, she said, when representatives from their labor unions, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees and the American Federation of Teachers, forwarded them an email from Alex Doring, the chief of labor relations and risk management at the Maryland Department of Health. The message addressed representatives from both unions and referenced a hard shutdown date of Dec. 31, 2017, for the clinic.  “Frederick Co. Health Department has decided to close its mental health clinic on December 31, 2017,” Doring wrote. “… I would like to schedule a teleconference “to discuss 1) ‘the relative merit of a layoff versus a separation for lack of appropriation,’ and 2) ‘in an effort to develop appropriate arrangements for affected employees.’” …

Editorial: Another round in the Hogan-teachers union feud

Source: Baltimore Sun, September 18, 2017 
Gov. Larry Hogan’s announcement that he will not sign Maryland’s proposed plan to implement the requirements of the federal Every Student Succeeds Act — the Obama era successor to No Child Left Behind — got him some swift criticism from the Maryland teachers union and its allies, including a claim from one of his prospective 2018 opponents that he is the “anti-public education governor.” The critics claim that he is putting some $250 million in federal funding for Maryland schools at risk and aligning himself with the extreme school privatization agenda of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos. …

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Despite veto threat, Maryland lawmakers send Hogan bill to limit school reforms
Source: Erin Cox, Baltimore Sun, March 28, 2017

Disregarding Republican Gov. Larry Hogan’s veto threat, the Democrat-dominated General Assembly passed a bill Tuesday to forbid the state from using vouchers or charter schools to fix struggling schools. Both the Senate and House approved the bill by veto-proof margins, setting in motion a political showdown with Hogan for the final two weeks of session. …

Maryland Democrats blast Hogan’s education agenda, likening it to Trump’s
Source: Pamela Wood, The Baltimore Sun, February 7, 2017

Maryland Democratic lawmakers on Tuesday made their case against a series of state education bills that they say push a “privatization agenda” also championed by President Donald Trump and his controversial new education secretary, Betsy DeVos. Dozens of Democrats joined the state teachers union to decry bills backed by Gov. Larry Hogan that would provide scholarships to private schools and encourage more charter schools in Maryland. They said the Republican governor is following the same philosophy as Trump and DeVos, promoting private and charter schools at the expense of public schools. … Weller criticized Hogan’s plans to increase the amount of tax dollars used to help poor children afford a seat in private schools, as well as to set up a new state panel that would approve applications to open new charter schools, an authority currently held by local school boards. … The teachers union and Democrats rattled off a list of bills they plan to pass and Hogan efforts they plan to defeat this General Assembly session. They’re proposing a bill that would prevent the state from looking to school privatization as a way to comply with a federal law requiring turnaround plans for poor-performing schools. … The Democrats also are mobilizing to block Hogan’s proposal to help charter schools by, among other things, creating a new state board that will review and authorize new charter schools to open. Critics say Hogan can stack the panel with allies who will allow a flood of new charter schools that will siphon funding from public schools. … The Democratic lawmakers said they will oppose Hogan’s promise to gradually increase funding for a private school scholarship program known as Broadening Options & Opportunities for Students Today or BOOST from $5 million to $10 million. …

Construction of long-awaited Purple Line begins in Prince George’s

Source: Sara Gilgore, Washington Busines Journal, August 28, 2017
 
The latest investment in the 16.2-mile, $5.6 billion project is a $900 million infusion of federal dollars, including the $325 million already appropriated for the project — funding the Trump administration had proposed cutting but saved partly because the public-private partnership building the Purple Line could serve as a model for other U.S. transit systems. The Purple Line P3, to be funded by the federal, state and local governments and the private sector, is the largest in the country’s history.  The system’s construction alone will mean thousands of jobs for the state — more than 6,000 construction positions and more than 400 ongoing jobs — and is expected to generate millions of dollars in economic development. …

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MD: ARTBA: Purple Line legal woes seen as bad precedent for transportation P3s
Jim Watts, Bond Buyer, August 25, 2017 (subscription required)
 
A year-long legal delay in Maryland’s $5.6 billion Purple Line light rail system being financed as a public-private partnership poses risks for the future of similar transportation P3 projects, the American Road & Transportation Builders Association said in a brief filed with a federal appeals court. In its friend-of-the-court brief, ARTBA contends that federal Judge Richard Leon of the District Court for the District of Columbia misapplied the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) when he revoked the project’s environmental permits, stopping work on the project.  “Unless reversed, this precedent will have adverse consequences for complex transportation and related infrastructure projects across the country.” ARTBA said. “The district court’s holding injects new delay and litigation risks, thereby stifling the growth of this key financing mechanism to leverage and combine governmental and private dollars and responsibilities to meet the nation’s exigent transportation needs.” …

Purple Line P3 back on track for $900 million federal transit grant
Source: Jim Watts, Bond Buyer, August 22, 2017 (subscription required)

Maryland and federal officials will sign a federal funding agreement next week for a promised $900 million federal grant to help fund the construction of the $5.6 billion Purple Line light rail system being financed as a public-private partnership. The Purple Line would connect with the Washington Area Mass Transit Authority’s Metrorail system and Amtrak at several points on its 16-mile route through the Maryland suburbs of Washington, D.C. A spokesman for Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan said late Monday that the Transportation Department agreed to move ahead on the grant following “very productive, high-level conversations” between Hogan and Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao. …

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Maryland Judiciary fails to monitor contracts, audit finds

Source: Doug Donovan and Jean Marbella, The Baltimore Sun, May 10, 2017

Maryland’s court system has failed for years to properly monitor how it spent tens of millions of dollars in contracts and lacked adequate oversight to prove it was getting the most cost-effective deals for taxpayers, a state audit released Friday has found. The Maryland Judiciary lacked “sufficient documentation” to support four contract awards totaling $26 million between July 1, 2012, and Dec. 20, 2015, the audit reported. … Auditors said the judiciary did not provide adequate cost-benefit analyses to support the award of two contracts to existing vendors: a five-year, $21 million contract for Internet services, and a four-year, $2.1 million contract for a digital recording system. In the latter contract, there was a competing bid for almost two-thirds less, $736,000, according to the audit. Additionally, the judiciary didn’t save information about the losing bidders’ proposals for three contracts totaling about $5 million. … The audit also raised concerns about the number of staff allowed to access the purchasing and payment system; the security of its financial management system and database; the processing of traffic citations; and the controls over its equipment and warehouses. … The findings come as the Maryland Judiciary is beginning to prepare a report requested by the Department of Legislative Services to explain “the apparent pattern of overbudgeting” for the state’s Clerks of the Circuit Court offices, according to budget analysis documents. Between 2012 and 2016 the clerks offices were allocated up to 9 percent more than they spent, a surplus that funded other efforts “without the opportunity for the General Assembly to vet those purposes,” according to the legislative services analysis. …

Metro halts plans to privatize parking

Source: Max Smith, WTOP, November 18, 2016

Metro has canceled a request for proposals to privatize its parking lots. Documents related to the procurement, dated Thursday, say that Metro must re-evaluate the requirements. When Metro published the initial formal request in September, it hoped to find a way to give a private company the responsibility for maintenance and upgrades in exchange for the rights to collect parking fees. General Manager Paul Wiedefeld included privatizing parking on his list of potential management changes for Metro back in March. Concerns about the proposal included whether there could be a conflict between maximizing parking revenue and maximizing the number of people who take the train rather than joining D.C. area traffic jams.

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The Deal That Could Hurt D.C. For 50 Years
Source: Donald Cohen, Huffington Post, September 15, 2016

Public transit in Washington, D.C., is in rough shape. After years of safety issues, including several train collisions, the agency in charge, the Washington Metro Area Transit Authority (WMATA), is proposing to cut train service hours. But another proposal may be even more troubling. Two weeks ago, WMATA began taking bids from private companies to operate its parking facilities. In exchange for a big up-front payment to the agency, the winning company would collect fees from people parked at train stations for the next 50 years. … It discourages public transit. In order for the private company to make a profit, parking rates will have to go up — as much as 3% a year, according to WMATA. If it costs more money to park and ride the train, people may look for other ways into the city. We lose control of assets we own. In a similar 75-year deal, Chicago handed over its parking meters in 2008 to banking giant Morgan Stanley for a one-time $1.2 billion payment. But that’s not all it handed over. The city is penalized if they do anything that cuts into Morgan Stanley’s profit, like adding bus or bike lanes. … It’s short-term thinking. The parking facilities currently pull in nearly $50 million a year for WMATA. Privatization would send that money—and more—to a private company instead of the public. In Chicago, Morgan Stanley is on pace to make back its $1.2 billion upfront payment by 2020, with more than 60 years of meter money still to come. …

Metro Seeking Private Contractor to Manage Its Parking Garages; Prices Could Go Up
Source: Scott MacFarlane, NBC Washington, September 3, 2016

Metrorail is preparing to hand over responsibility of its lucrative parking garages to a private contractor, the News4 I-Team has learned. WMATA currently manages 26 parking garages and 30 parking lots among its stations in D.C., Virginia and Maryland. Now the agency is seeking bids from companies interested in operating, financing and maintaining the transit system’s parking system. … While WMATA would be giving up the bulk of its parking revenue, the contract would grant money to WMATA. While the amount is unknown, it could exceed WMATA’s current parking revenues. In its proposal to would-be contractors, WMATA suggests the price of “base parking fees” increase 3 percent each year for the duration of the deal. The agency said it would also consider expanding the hours during which parking is charged, to include holidays and late nights. … The bids from private contractors are due by Oct. 28. WMATA is seeking a 50-year agreement with the contractor, according to an agency proposal reviewed by the I-Team. The proposal said it expects to close the deal by next July 1. The contractor would oversee the system’s 59,267 daily parking spaces, 56 parking lots and garages, and 3,445 parking meters. …

GAO to scrutinize financial solvency of DoD’s privatized housing programs

Source: Jared Serbu, Federal News Radio, October 24, 2016

The U.S. military’s program to privatize the living quarters on its bases — contentious and controversial at its inception 1996 — is now universally regarded as a great idea. Of on-base homes, 94 percent meet the Defense Department’s housing standards, compared to 22 percent when the government was in charge. But Congress and the Government Accountability Office are asking new questions about the long-term viability of the Military Privatized Housing Initiative (MHPI), particularly with regard to how it’s financed: Developers and investors were promised a steady income stream from each home they built, tied directly to military members’ basic allowances for housing (BAH) which are calculated to match leasing and utility rates in a given community. But Congress has since gone along with a DoD proposal which cuts those allowances by 5 percent, and occupancy rates are falling as the military shrinks in size. … Lepore said GAO will soon begin work on a new audit of each military service’s privatized housing projects, based on language the Senate suggested in its version of the 2017 Defense authorization bill. Although that bill has not yet passed, it tasks GAO to assess the financial solvency of each project because, in the Senate’s words, the BAH reductions “were implemented without an appropriate level of consideration on the impact such changes would have on the military housing privatization initiative.” … Until then, the Army is encouraging housing providers to offset any of their financial losses by cutting back on non-critical services — mowing lawns less frequently, for example — but Hammack said none of the Army’s housing providers have yet come forward with a case that the cuts are putting them in dire financial straits. Underutilized base housing is another concern. All of the military services are smaller than they were at the start of MHPI; the Army in particular is in the midst of a drawdown that will bring it to its lowest active duty level since midway through the last century. … The audit, which looked at several installations that had reached the bottom of the waterfall — Fort Detrick, Maryland; Naval Station Mayport, Florida and Barksdale Air Force Base, Louisiana — found installation officials had failed to conduct appropriate security checks: Of 128 tenants the IG sampled, only eight had been run through all of the proper databases and several were given installation passes for longer than their lease terms. …

Maryland’s Move to Pull Children From Group Homes Came Too Late for Teenager Who Died

Source: Heather Vogell, ProPublica, October 13, 2016

Once again, government actions against a controversial for-profit company’s chain of group homes for the disabled may have come too late to protect a child. ProPublica has learned that Maryland had begun pulling about 30 children out of homes owned and managed by AdvoServ in August, but hadn’t yet relocated a teenage girl when she died a month later after being manually restrained by staff. … Maryland, which plans to terminate its contract with AdvoServ at the end of this month, isn’t the only state to have increased its scrutiny of the company since the ProPublica series. In March, Delaware placed the company on probation, a spokeswoman for the state’s Department of Services for Children, Youth and Their Families said. In June, Florida officials said they had begun moving clients out of the company’s facility in the state, and stationed an investigator there. Through a spokesman, the company declined to comment on the decisions by Maryland and Delaware regulators. AdvoServ’s shortcomings add to the growing concerns about for-profit companies taking over delivery of human services, from prisons to hospice care, that were traditionally provided by government or non-profit agencies. … Officials elsewhere have repeatedly backed off from sanctioning the company, which is aided by well-connected lobbyists that include prominent former state legislators. In 2012, for example, Florida reneged on plans to bar an AdvoServ home, where both adults and a child had allegedly been punched and kicked, from accepting new clients for a year. … The girl was not the first teenager to die at an AdvoServ home. In 1997, a 14-year-old autistic boy with epilepsy was found dead in his bed with low levels of anti-seizure medicine in his blood. In 2013, a 14-year-old autistic girl died at the company’s Florida home after a night in which she was restrained — at times fastened to a bed and chair — while she vomited repeatedly. …

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Teenage Girl Dies After Incident at For-profit Group Home
Source: Heather Vogell, ProPublica, September 20, 2016

A teenage girl died last week after an incident at a group home in Delaware run by a for-profit company, AdvoServ, whose long record of problematic treatment ProPublica chronicled last year. Attorney Chris Gowen, who has a lawsuit against AdvoServ concerning a different teen, said he has learned workers were manually restraining the girl when she became unresponsive. He and his clients have spoken to current and former workers about the incident. … Delaware state police and regulators also haven’t said what happened to the 15-year-old from Maryland. The state medical examiner’s office is conducting an autopsy, but a spokeswoman said the results will not be made public. Maryland is one of several states that send difficult cases to AdvoServ because they cannot find beds and schooling closer to home. The company, which is owned by a private equity firm, is based in Delaware and reported last year that it cared for roughly 700 children and adults in that state, Florida, and New Jersey, and was expanding into Virginia. …

… The girl is not the first child to die under questionable circumstances at AdvoServ’s homes and schools. In 2013, Paige Lunsford, 14 and autistic, died at the company’s Florida complex after a night in which she was restrained – at times latched to a bed and chair – while she vomited repeatedly. And in 1997, 14-year-old Jon Henley, who was autistic and had epilepsy, was found dead in his bed one morning after an apparent seizure. An autopsy revealed low levels of anti-seizure medication in his blood. Regulators in multiple states have fielded decades of complaints of abuse, neglect and inadequate medical care at AdvoServ facilities. … A former worker for AdvoServ in Delaware, who asked that his name not be used, said he left three years ago in part because he felt staff did not receive enough training in deescalating conflicts or restraining clients. The company had been trying out new restraint procedures that were supposed to make restraints less forceful by involving more staff members. But, he said, with too few staff often available to carry out the restraints as planned, “It just becomes unsafe.” …

… The company is one of the few group home operators that still use restraint devices to confine clients who become aggressive. As ProPublica has reported, AdvoServ staff used such mechanical restraints on clients at its 200-bed campus northwest of Orlando roughly 28,000 times. Florida officials said in June that they were moving clients out of AdvoServ’s complex and stationing an investigator there to provide extra oversight during the transition, which they expected to take months.

For-profit trade schools offer more debt, fewer jobs

Source: Jill Rosen, Futurity, September 16, 2016

Students from disadvantaged neighborhoods are often drawn to for-profit trade schools after high school, seeing them as the quickest route to jobs. A new study finds the streamlined, focused curriculum that makes for-profit schools appealing is also the reason many poor students drop out, however. A new study of 150 black youths from some of Baltimore’s lowest-income neighborhoods shows that young people who attended for-profit institutions ended up in more debt and with fewer job prospects than they might have had they attempted two- or four-year nonprofit schools. The findings, which shed new light on what attracts students to for-profit institutions and why they struggle to complete certifications, appear in the journal Sociology of Education. …

… Most of the young people in the study, 53 percent, pursued certifications at for-profit trade schools that offer occupational training programs in fields like cosmetology, auto mechanics, computer networking, and phlebotomy. Most students who enroll in these programs are very low-income, and studies show the number of disadvantaged students choosing for-profit programs is increasing. … These young people had very grounded career expectations; most hoped to find working-class jobs, the research shows. And because of their family and financial circumstances, they wanted jobs as soon as possible. … Although most of the for-profit trade programs lasted less than two years, they were expensive. Unlike nonprofit schools, they didn’t allow undecided students to switch courses of study once a program was paid for upfront. Once enrolled, the young people tended to realize they’d committed to occupations they either weren’t qualified for or didn’t enjoy. They dropped out, or hopped from one program to another, or tried taking several programs at a time, racking up debt and increasing chances they would quit it all before earning certification. Of the young people who enrolled in a for-profit college, only 31 percent earned certification by the time the study ended. …

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“Why Wait Years to Become Something?” Low-income African American Youth and the Costly Career Search in For-profit Trade Schools
Source: Megan M. Holland1 & Stefanie DeLuca, Sociology of Education, September 15, 2016

Abstract:
Increasing numbers of low-income and minority youth are now pursuing shorter-duration sub-baccalaureate credentials at for-profit trade and technical schools. However, many students drop out of these schools, leaving with large debts and few job prospects. Despite these dismal outcomes, we know very little about students’ experiences in for-profit programs and how these institutions shape postsecondary attainment. Using data from fieldwork with 150 inner-city African American youth, we examine why disadvantaged youth are attracted to these schools and why they struggle to complete certifications. In contrast to previous research, we find that the youth in our study have quite modest ambitions and look to for-profit trade schools as the quickest and most direct route to work. However, youth receive little information or guidance to support such postsecondary transitions. Therefore, the very element that makes for-profit trade school programs seem the most appealing—a curriculum focused on one particular career—becomes an obstacle when it requires youth to commit to a program of study before they have explored their interests. When youth realize they do not like or are not prepared for their chosen career, they adopt coping strategies that keep them in school but swirling between programs, rather than accumulating any credentials.

County’s New Economic Development Chief Touts Talented Work Force

Source: Douglas Tallman, Bethesda Magazine, September 13, 2016

David Petr, who has been hired to guide economic development in Montgomery County, said the county has what it needs to compete against rival Fairfax County: a quality work force. … Petr, 44, is the president and CEO of the Montgomery County Economic Development Corp., which resulted from an initiative spearheaded by County Executive Ike Leggett and passed by the County Council last year. The corporation is a nonprofit, public-private partnership handling the county’s efforts to retain, expand, create and attract businesses.  It takes over for the county’s Department of Economic Development and the Montgomery Business Development Corp. Both were dissolved with the creation the MCEDC, with much of the funding directed at the new nonprofit. … Only six days on the job, Petr arrived in Montgomery after serving as president and CEO at the Central Florida Development Council in Lakeland. There, he converted the council from a public-private partnership to a private organization, according to information supplied by the MCEDC. …

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Leggett, Montgomery County approve privatization of County economic development
Source: District Chronicles, July 13, 2015

The Montgomery County Council approved County Executive Isiah “Ike” Leggett’s initiative to privatize county economic development efforts in order to boost business attraction and retention and further strengthen the growth of good jobs in the county…Leggett continued, “Montgomery County is competitive – but we need to be more competitive in order to meet the dynamic challenges that face the Washington, D.C., metropolitan region. To continue moving forward, I believe it is necessary to eliminate even more barriers to remain competitive regionally, nationally and globally…“Creating this new organization does not take away the County government’s need to be actively engaged in economic development or provide overall leadership and vision. The County will continue to play a role in economic development through other functions that a local government usually performs, including land use, community development and transportation.