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About $12.3 million in state education funds went unused over several years while local school boards were frustrated by a lack of guidance on how to spend them, a state audit found.
The audit by the Maryland Office of the Inspector General for Education, released Feb. 6, chided state education officials for not giving adequate training on how to use millions in “concentration of poverty” funds distributed to school systems under the Blueprint for Maryland’s Future, a 10-year education reform plan. In written responses, the Maryland State Department of Education said it planned to implement new grant management policies by March 1.
In eight counties that were allocated those grant funds, which are focused on supporting students living in communities with high poverty and little access to health care and social services, about a quarter of the roughly $42.7 million went unspent in fiscal years 2020 through 2022, the report says, attributing the low utilization to deficiencies in training.
Although the law lays out 13 services the funds can be spent on, “several [local education systems] shared frustrations about the lack of clarification or guidance by MSDE staff about whether certain items, positions, or services could/could not be procured using [concentration of poverty] funding,” the report says, noting that school officials said state staff “would primarily provide only verbal guidance” on how to spend the funds.
The audit, which focused on funds allocated to Anne Arundel, Baltimore and Montgomery counties’ school systems, as well as five other local education agencies in Western Maryland and the Eastern Shore, found the state board had prepared various training materials related to the funds — but little documentation that the school systems were ultimately trained on how to spend them.
Instead, county school systems ended up using their allocated funds to pay for consultants to explain how to use them, the report notes.
As an example, the report says one school system entered a $4.1 million, five-year contract for “continued technical support in implementing a community school strategy.”
In fiscal year 2022, Montgomery County only spent 30% of over $4.7 million it was allocated for personnel grants and used none of its per-pupil grant money, the report says. The same fiscal year, Baltimore County spent less than half of the funds it was allocated, according to the report.
The office recommended that the state education department set up policies and procedures, including a monitoring process to make sure additional funds aren’t misused.
In its response to the audit, the state school board agreed with most of the inspector general’s findings and detailed a plan to communicate policies for using the funds, though disagreed with a recommendation for the education department to “establish an ongoing audit” of Blueprint expenses, saying that they had already hired a firm to probe grant spending.
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5-star basketball recruit Derik Queen, a Baltimore native, commits to Maryland
Derik Queen, a Baltimore native and one of the nationâs top basketball prospects in the Class of 2024, committed to Maryland on Wednesday, giving Terps coach Kevin Willard a potential cornerstone big man after a winding pursuit.
Queen, a consensus five-star recruit, chose the Terps over Indiana, Kansas and Houston. Maryland was long considered the favorite for the 6-foot-10 McDonaldâs All American, but Queenâs decision to not sign his letter of intent during the NCAAâs early signing period in November drew out his recruitment. Only two other top-50 prospects in 247Sportsâs composite rankings for the Class of 2024 entered the week uncommitted.
Maryland was among the first schools to seriously recruit Queen, offering him a scholarship the summer before his freshman year of high school. Their relationship endured despite significant shakeups. In July 2021, Queen announced that he was leaving St. Frances Academy, where heâd earned MaxPreps National Freshman of the Year honors and played alongside future Maryland guard Jahnathan Lamothe, and transferring to Floridaâs Montverde Academy, a perennial national power.
In March 2022, Seton Hallâs Kevin Willard was hired as the Terpsâ head coach, replacing Mark Turgeon, whoâd stepped down four months earlier. Willard landed three top-150 prospects in his first recruiting class, all from the Baltimore-Washington area, but he lost assistant coach Tony Skinn, Queenâs primary recruiter, after he was named George Masonâs head coach in March.
âOur first couple recruits, we really tried to get local kids, just to kind of let the fanbase know that this area is huge to us,â Willard told reporters during his first season. âWeâre going to recruit it, weâre going to bring kids in, weâre going to make sure that theyâre the stars, kind of what â¦ I did at Seton Hall.â
In 28 games this season for Montverde, which features three other five-star recruits, including Cooper Flagg, a potential top pick in the 2025 NBA draft, Queen is averaging 16.7 points and 7.8 rebounds per game, both team highs, while shooting a team-high 69% from the field, according to MaxPreps. While Queen is not considered exceptionally athletic or a reliable outside shooter, heâs a gifted rebounder and finisher with a well-rounded skill set.
âOverall, he projects as a skilled facilitating big who can handle, pass, rebound, and create all kinds of mismatch problems because of the rare overlap of those tools. If his shooting, conditioning, and athleticism evolve, it will unlock new levels to his game altogether,â 247Sports director of scouting Adam Finkelstein wrote last year.
Queen, the No. 15 overall player in 247Sportsâ composite rankings, is Marylandâs highest-ranked pledge since fellow Baltimore native Jalen Smith signed in 2017. Queen joins guard Malachi Palmer, a three-star guard and top-150 recruit, in the Terpsâ class, though he canât officially sign until mid-April.
Still, Willard will need to add more than just Queen over the next offseason to help restore the program to prominence. Maryland, which was picked to finish third in the Big Ten Conference this season, fell to 14-13 overall and 12th in the league after a 74-70 loss Tuesday at Wisconsin. Barring a run in the Big Ten tournament, the team is expected to miss the NCAA tournament for the third time in the past five years.
Even if forward Julian Reese (13.8 points per game) returns for his senior season in College Park, pairing with Queen down low, the Terpsâ offense could again struggle. Maryland ranks No. 338 out of 351 Division I teams in 3-point shooting (28.8%) and is set to lose its two most prolific outside shooters, star guard Jahmir Young (21.1 points per game) and starting forward Donta Scott (11.6 points per game)
Maryland District Attorney’s Office appoints Simpson Thacher partner as special counsel
The US Attorney’s Office for the District of Maryland has hired Simpson Thacher & Bartlett litigation partner Alicia Washington as a special counsel.
Washington returns to the public sector after almost two and a half years at Simpson Thacher having previously served as an assistant US Attorney in the US Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of New York. In her role as special counsel in Maryland, she will advise US Attorney for the District of Maryland Erek Barron on a wide variety of legal matters impacting the office, with a particular focus on the Criminal Division and other complex cases.
During her time in the Eastern District of New York, Washington was involved in investigating and prosecuting public corruption, white collar crime, narcotics, money laundering, civil rights, firearms cases and child exploitation.
Her arrival in Maryland coincides with the promotion of assistant US Attorney John Sippel to a role coordinating the Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force’s Mid-Atlantic region. Sippel has been an assistant US Attorney in Maryland since 2003 when he joined from legacy Baltimore firm Ober Kaler.
Barron said: “The hiring of Alicia Washington and promotion of John Sippel adds greater depth of experience and perspective to our decision-making to better serve Marylanders and the mission of the Department of Justice.”
Before her previous spell in the Eastern District of New York, Washington was an associate at Davis & Gilbert and also had two earlier stints as an associate at Simpson Thacher either side of a year spent clerking to Barbara Lynn in the US District Court for the Northern District of Texas. Prior to starting law school she also spent a year as a paralegal in the DOJ’s Antitrust Division and before that spent three months in London interning for MP and now Liberal Democrats leader Ed Davey.
Washington and Sippel join a management team that also includes first assistant US Attorney Phil Selden, executive assistant US Attorney Lillian Stewart and counsel to the US Attorney, David Salem.
Baltimore, Maryland’s biggest city, is frequently ranked as one of the most dangerous cities in the US based on crime rates and homicide rates.
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