Monday, February 19, 2007

Get recall notices emailed to you

Go to the Consumer Product Safety Commission and sign up for emails about recalled products. (You'll wonder how we have any lead left in the world, given that most of it seems to be used to paint kids' toys.)

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Home-improvement clinics

Home Depot and Lowes have free clinics on things such as painting techniques, remodeling, etc. Also, kids' projects (building a birdhouse and that kind of thing). Of course, for everyday hardware needs, we shop at Ayd Hardware at 6801 York Road, 410.377.0220

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free 411 service

Have you tried 1-800-FREE-411? It's like regular 411, but it's free. You have to listen to two short ads, but if you're on your cell and need a number, it's a nice way to save a buck or two.

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Avoid the hassle of the DMV when you buy a car

I bought a car a while back and found out about Norman's Tag and Title. It's a tiny place on York Road just above the beltway. You can handle all tag-related business there. You pay a small fee for their services, but if it keeps you out of the DMV, then I think almost any price is fair. You're in and out in just a few minutes. ... I also drove by Fred's Tag & Title the other day, also on York Road but a bit farther north. I wonder if Norman and Fred are friends or mortal enemies?

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"Life enrichment" courses at area schools

Take courses from Baltimore County Community College in areas such as photography, foreign languages, jewelry making and writing. Many are held at Dumbarton Middle School. Roland Park Country School also offers a lot of interesting courses and lectures.

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Get rid of your junk the green way is great resource for getting rid of anything you don't need anymore -- especially things that would be a hassle to get rid of, such as old washers and dryers. It's a listserv where you can "offer" items or post "wanted" pleas for items you're seeking. It's like CraigsList but everything is free. We've gotten rid of things like extra laminate countertop material, old basement lights and lots of baby gear.

The Baltimore Free Store will come pick up large loads of donated goods. They then give these things away at traveling "stores" throughout Baltimore. It's like Goodwill, but people don't have to pay anything for the items. The Free Store asks for a donation to pickup, or you can drop stuff at their building. Tax deductable. Added benefit over other donation places -- they can usually come get your stuff within a day or two, not in a month or two.

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Stop unwanted catalogs

According to the National Wildlife Federation, 19 billion catalogs are mailed each year to American consumers, which equals 53 million trees and 38 trillion BTUs used to produce this volume of paper—enough to power 1.2 million homes per year. To help cut down on this pollution, and on the clutter in your house, you can go to Catalog Choice (the site was created by the NWF) and enter the customer numbers from catalogs you don't want. They do all the rest. I unsubscribed to about a dozen catalogs in just minutes.

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contact info for your elected officials

Here's a list of contact info for representatives serving the Rodgers Forge area and Maryland in general.

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Fire, car seats and submerged car

Fire: Here's a list of resources on fire safety (which kind of smoke detector to buy, creating escape plans, etc.).

Car seats: Did you know most car seats are installed incorrectly and are not as safe as they should be? Here's a list of places that will do a free check to make sure your seat is in right.

Submerged car: This is kind of a fear of mine, especially when I'm going north on 95/395 entering the city on that tall ramp. (The fear seems a bit less irrational after the bridge collapse in Minneapolis.) Here's an article on what to do if your car lands in water.

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Saving money on kitchen, bedroom, bathroom stuff

I'm not a coupon user for the most part, but the 20% off coupons at Bed, Bath & Beyond can save you a bunch of money. A little secret: They never expire, even though they say they do. Also, you know all the small print on the coupon that says it's not applicable to certain brands? It is; you can use it for anything. (Michaels, JoAnn Fabrics and AC Moore also accept each others' coupons.)

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donating a car to a good cause

Have a car to get rid of? Consider donating it to Vehicles for Change and getting a nice tax deduction (usually better than what you can write off if you donate it elsewhere) and support a good cause.

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Who owns that dump anyway?

Many areas in Baltimore County, including in Rodgers Forge, require that rental properties be registered and kept in good condition. Here's the regulation. You can also go to this web site and enter any address in Maryland and find out who owns the property. ... Perfect for nosy neighbors and stalkers!

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Wednesday, February 14, 2007

recap of meeting at Rodgers Forge elementary on Feb. 14, 2008

February 14, 2008

Tonight’s meeting with Baltimore County school officials was an exercise in frustration.

The sparks really flew in the latter part of the meeting, but let’s start with the news of what will happen next year at Rodgers Forge Elementary. Neither kindergarten nor the 5th graders will be housed at Dumbarton, which had been on the table before. Instead

- the Park and Rec office located in RFES will move and that area will become classroom space or in some other way be utilized by the school

- the computer lab will be housed in the library and there will also be a mobile laptop lab, freeing up another classroom

- two more trailers will be added in back (we were told in November that there was only room for one more back there, but, hey, we were told a lot of things in November).

They’re also going to add security cameras by the back doors, reconfigure schedules so kids won’t be going in and out of the building so frequently, and decrease the number of kids per trailer. They are also going to change the lunch schedule so kids don’t eat so early; they’ll still get afternoon snacks.

Parents gave Principal Susan Deise and the teachers/staff a standing ovation for all their hard work during these difficult times. We all know they didn’t cause the problem and they don’t have the power to fix it.

As for those who do have the power to fix it but have not done so, there was no such applause.

Most of the gory details will follow, but the bottom line is that this is all still being “studied” and “discussed.” There were hints that Ridge Ruxton could still be used as a traditional school, but no promises were made.

What made the whole evening so frustrating is that it's obvious there is a bunch of politicking going on behind the scenes. But none of that was discussed, of course, and parents -- nearly 300 were in attendance -- were told that Gee, officials are working hard at their monthly/weekly meetings between the county and the school system but it's just a difficult situation.

What might have been more accurate was to say, "We've come up with some ideas, but they keep getting shot down for political reasons." It was really quite ridiculous. Parents were shouting out what seemed like pretty good solutions (see below) and were told planners would "look into it." Well, what have they been doing this whole time? This is what they were elected/hired to do.

Of course, one can't really expect an employee of the school system to stand up in front of a large crowd and say that his bosses are behaving like children. But it would be great for someone to dig into this more and get the real story. Clearly what we're being given is just pablum.

So, for starters on the recap, Baltimore County Executive Jim Smith did not show up at the meeting. Towson Families United made a specific point of inviting him and saving him a chair. Someone from his office did come, but she didn’t really explain much other than to say they were working on the issues.

One parent said to the school officials, “You’re coming out here and acting like leaders and it’s time for Jim Smith to be a leader and face his constituents.” This met with loud applause and whoops of approval. The parent then added, “This is not a good way to start a campaign for comptroller.”

According to his public schedule, available in PDF form here, Smith had nothing else on his agenda.

Another parent stood up and said to the officials, “Your credibility is nil. You told us the Mays Chapel project would be done and it’s not. Now you’re showing us the same slides you showed us in November.”

Back at that November meeting, someone asked why the Bykota Senior Center (which was once Towson Elementary) couldn’t be changed back to into a school. Lyle Patzkowsky, the central area superintendent, joked at that November meeting that that would be a BAD IDEA (to irritate seniors and that they basically don’t want to even consider it). No one really pushed the point then because he also said the only thing that could stop the Mays Chapel project was if dinosaur bones were found during excavation. Ha. Ha.

Tonight people were not so passive about that. Why, numerous people asked, do seniors need to have the elementary school? They don’t need the playground space, etc. Why not move the senior center or build a new senior center somewhere else, which would take up far less space than a school, and give us back Towson Elementary?

One person said she believed that if the seniors knew our plight, they would happily move, since many of them are parents and grandparents and they probably value kids' education. Has anyone even asked them, she wondered?

We were simply told it was off the table. (Read: seniors vote in larger numbers than you do.)

One parent asked why they don’t just move the school headquarters to the Mays Chapel site and build a new school at the (very spacious) site of the current headquarters at Greenwood. Patzkowsky said, “We will certainly look at that.”

Also proposed by parents was the option of the county buying the YMCA site and putting a school there. School officials said the site is not for sale, although it is listed as being for sale and the Towson Times had an article recently saying it was for sale. [Update: Here's the word from the YMCA itself.]

Another parent, voicing everyone's frustration at the lack of explanation from Jim Smith’s representative, Erin Roberts, and the fact that she kept saying it was a hard situation, said, “This is what you do! We’re sorry it’s not always easy, but this is what you do!”

“And we’re doing it, ma’am!” Roberts replied, to which she was greeted with a thundering NO YOU’RE NOT!!! from about everyone in the audience.

We were shown all the same slides that they showed us in November (recap of that meeting here), except at the November meeting they said the plan to build a new special-needs school at Mays Chapel was a great idea. They said back then that even if they couldn’t get state or federal money they would still go ahead with the project.

Tonight, and in recent weeks, we were told a federal law prohibits such a facility. Unless there’s an “early childhood” education component, which no official last night could even define. (Pre-K? Up to second grade? Who knows?) When pressed on if a federal law actually PROHIBITS building the facility, or simply discourages it, Patzkowsky said the feds wouldn’t give money for it and therefore it was not happening. (So much for going ahead with this high-priority project even without outside funds.) Click here to read what State Sen. Jim Brochin learned about this from superintendent Nancy Grasmick.

Patzkowsky said the short-term plan outlined above will provide four additional classrooms and should tide us over until a long-term plan is in place, which will happen in the next two to three years, he said.

He indicated the plan is still to convert Ridge Ruxton into a traditional elementary school and either keep the current kids there or move them somewhere else (no word on where). He said, “Ridge Ruxton – that’s going to happen.” Then a few minutes later he said, “It’s still on the table. No decision has been made.” Parents were curious about which statement was correct.

Patzkowsky also said there could be additions built onto one or more schools, but he didn’t say which ones. That's being studied. In November, we were told that option was considered and it was not feasible.

Patzkowsky and Ghassan Shah, planning administrator for BCPS, encouraged parents to attend a "pre-budget" meeting for the 2010 fiscal budget on March 13 meeting at Dumbarton Middle School at 7 p.m. and make our case.

This outraged many parents who pointed out that BCPS has supposedly been studying this issue since 2004 and has known about the problem for years … and now we’re being told we need to make our case again and spend our time telling people what they already know ... for a budget that's two years away?

After the officials said that the county and BCPS meet about this on a monthly basis, one parent stood up and said the county found it easy to close two elementary schools when enrollment figures were down; why was it so hard to open new ones when the numbers go up?

“I’m just at a loss as to what you do at those monthly meetings,” she said.

Someone yelled, “You need to stop meeting and start doing!

So, basically, a few short-term fixes and a lot of assurances that this is all being taken very seriously and that a resolution is on the way.

We left at about 9 p.m., so if any blood was shed after that point, do tell.

That's my scoop.

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