Thursday, May 14, 2015

Gov Larry Hogan's Tax Cuts & Kids

Saraia Collins, 9, victim of school bus beating [Photo - WJLA]
When I read Breanna Edwards heart-breaking story posted on The earlier today about a little nine year-old student from Highland Park Elementary school named Saraia Collins (pictured left) suffering a concussion after being punched and kicked repeatedly by a group of students on a school bus - my initial thought was; What the Hell is wrong with these kids?

But then I remembered, these are kids.

They're young, prone to mistakes and are in school not just to get an education and expand their minds, but to learn how to get along with other kids - and of course, not to do stupid S#@% like gang up on a nine year-old on the bus, taunt her mercilessly, then beat the crap out of her.

So my next thought was; Okay, where the Hell was the supervision? Turns out there was none.

Well, there was but there wasn't. According to a report by Maryland television station WJLA, the driver of the bus made no effort to stop the bus and break up the fight, warn the kids to stop or even call the cops.

Said driver is currently under investigation by the Transportation Department after Saraia's outraged parents demanded answers from the Prince George's County Police Department and Highland Park Elementary school officials.

Of the remarkably disinterested driver of her school bus, young Saraia was surprisingly insightful, telling WJLA during an interview, "Even if it’s not his job to break up fights, it’s still his job to try to prevent it,”

Aside from the fact that a nine year-old elementary school student should NOT have to be the one who lays out the basic tenets of an adult school bus driver's basic responsibility for student safety, I'm interested in how it could have happened in the first place.

Now we all took the school bus at some point in our lives. After school, it can get pretty rowdy on a bus full of students brimming with pent up energy and excitedly blowing off steam after a long day spent in the classroom.

But I went to elementary, middle and high school in Montgomery County Maryland myself. And I clearly recall that if ANY student ever got up out of his or her seat while the bus was in motion; the driver, male or female, would glare back through that big-ass rectangular mirror with an icy look, and slow or stop the bus and demand that the offending wandering kid get his or her butt back in their seat immediately.

Boys were usually the offenders, girls were so much more socially mature at that age. I remember that a look from the driver through the mirror was like a warning, the bus slowing down was strike two - and if the driver stopped and got up out of his or her seat? Fuggeddaboudit.

An offending wanderer dumb enough to test the mettle of a bus driver was either getting thrown off at the next safe intersection; or they would be reported to the principal and suspended from the bus for a period of time.

Example of modern school bus seat belts
These days some schools have drivers AND a bus security monitor or a chaperon on board to ride along to watch the kids.

By now many states have voluntarily adopted policies to ensure that all school buses are equipped with seat belts (pictured left) and many are equipped with security cameras mounted on the ceiling to record any incidents.

So I'm confused about not only why the driver didn't do anything to help poor Saraia while she was crying and pleading for her attackers to leave her alone; why was it that a cell phone video taken of the incident is the crucial evidence of what happened?

It's easy to play Monday morning quarterback (and maybe I'm naive) but wouldn't it have been just as easy for the kid who took the time to click the record button on his or her cell phone to take video of Saraia getting pummeled to use it to dial 911?

Did the bus driver have training on what to do in the event of a fight on board the bus?

Governor Larry Hogan (R) Maryland
If you recall, during the recent civic unrest in Baltimore in the wake of the funeral of Freddie Gray, Republican Governor Larry Hogan didn't waste a whole lot of time authorizing the deployment of members of the National Guard " order to restore order."

Now I'm not saying he shouldn't have intervened with resources to help the city of Baltimore during that recent unrest over Freddie Gray; which wouldn't have happened in the first place had BPD cops not broken his spine and killed him.

But what I am suggesting is that maybe one of Governor Hogan's priorities should be to take responsibility to assign someone in the Department of Education to "restore order" in the Prince George's County public school system so kids can attend school (and travel back and forth) in safety without worrying about getting the crap kicked out of them.

It's not just elementary schools either.

For example, the WJLA Website reports that just six months ago back on November 15, 2014, a 16 year-old high school student named Drequan Yates was severely beaten into unconsciousness by a group of students while they were inside the school; he suffered a concussion and a broken jaw and other injuries including broken bones and had to be taken to Children's National Medical Center for emergency center according to WJLA.

That 2014 incident happened in Suitland High School; another school in the Prince George's County Public School system. What was the reaction from the PGCPS officials?

According to the WJLA article, "Prince George’s County Public Schools released a statement Friday saying, “There was an altercation at Suitland High School today. An investigation is underway. This is an isolated incident.”

Isolated incident. Right. Tell that to nine year-old Saraia, I'm sure she and her parents will be relieved to hear that as she recovers from the concussion she received during the beating she got on the bus.

Now I'm not just harping on Larry Hogan because he's Republican (well I sort of am but...), after all, before he ran for Governor, Larry created a group called "Change Maryland".

Change Maryland is a 527 non-profit anti-tax group Hogan founded in 2011 that supposedly functions as a "watchdog group" that monitors the Maryland state government for fiscal waste and promotes cutting taxes; raising money from big donors and businesses.

It essentially functioned as a "shadow campaign" operation to get Hogan's run for Governor off the ground that was also cited for improper use of campaign funds; including a payment of over $35,000 to Hogan's own campaign manger for consulting and polling services performed on the campaign's behalf as reported by The Washington Post.

The group's actual function was to blast former Maryland Governor Martin O'Malley's administration for raising taxes on gas, tolls and bridges in an effort to bring in much needed revenue to the state.

Once he was elected, Hogan quickly went to work repealing taxes across the board. At a recent press event marking his first 100 days in office, Governor Hogan was non-committal about whether or not he will authorize a request for an additional $68 million in funding for Maryland counties with higher education costs; putting himself at odds with the teachers union and state legislators who insist the funding is necessary.

Given the disastrous anti-tax experiments by Kansas Governor Sam Brownback and Governor Chris Christie here in New Jersey, you can probably guess where Governor Hogan will end up on funding Maryland school districts facing increasing costs to provide educational services to the children they serve.

But I doubt any of that will make much sense to nine year-old Saraia Collins as she recovers from her concussion and her parents weigh the decision of whether to send her back to the school.

Maybe additional funding from the state might have paid for a better trained bus driver who would have known how to protect her from being beaten up on a school bus that had just left the parking lot of Highland Park Elementary School.

Maybe some additional funding could have paid for a chaperon on the bus so the driver could concentrate on the road while another adult monitored the children.

Maybe some additional funding would have paid for the kinds of productive and engaging after school activities that might have given the bullies who taunted and attacked Saraia on the bus a more constructive outlet for their energy.

During the unrest in Baltimore one thing I heard over and over in interviews with both regular folks on the street and from former and current law enforcement officers was the lament about how state funding had been slashed so severely over the years in West Baltimore that many of the engaging kinds of after-school activities like recreation centers where kids could go after school to socialize in supervised environments, learn skills or simply have someplace besides the street to look forward to going to - those types of places have all but disappeared.

Ex-police officers talked about how the Police Athletic Leagues (PAL) used to offer chances for kids in at-risk communities to regularly interact with members of the Baltimore Police Department in a more fun and constructive environment.

So cops and kids could get to know each other rather than just fear each other.

But those types of opportunities in West Baltimore have dwindled along with funding for both police departments and summer jobs programs; even as millions of tax dollars have poured into development of the downtown Inner Harbor area, new football and baseball stadiums and other tourist attractions.

Meanwhile the talking heads and experts will point their fingers and marvel at the destruction caused (largely) by disenfranchised Baltimore youths who, for years now, have been cut off from programs designed to engage, teach and nurture them.

And a little nine year-old girl in Prince George's County will grip her book bag a little tighter and look carefully over her shoulder as she gets back onto the school bus where she was attacked so recently; if she decides to get back on at all.

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