16 Who Defined 2016: Dr. Steven Godowsky

Dr. Steven Godowsky had quite a year as the Delaware Secretary of Education!  As he sails off to distant shores (across the canal), away from the Townsend Building in Dover, Delaware, let’s look back on 2016.  And stay tuned for the end of this article where I may or may not reveal a VERY BIG secret about Godowsky.

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Continue reading “16 Who Defined 2016: Dr. Steven Godowsky”

Delaware School Choice Application Data For FY2017 By School District

The New Castle County Data Service Center compiled a report on school choice applications by the residing district for the Fiscal Year 2017 school year.  These are applications parents sent out to choice schools for the school year that began this year.  So these applications went out during the school choice calendar from November, 2015-January, 2016.  At least the bulk of them.  These are applications only, not actual acceptances in choice schools.  A student could have applied to five different choice schools so that would count as five different applications.  There are many districts that do not send this information through the system the Data Service Center provides.  Most of them are in Sussex County, including their largest district, Indian River.

While this is missing a lot of information, especially in Southern Delaware, it does give a good indication of which districts have a lot of choice activity going on and where students are applying.  This is very apparent in Christina.

Last week at the Strategic Plan for Specialized Educational Opportunities meeting at the Delaware DOE, Jeff Klein gave a presentation on this report.  Senator David Sokola asked why the applications don’t address low-income or disabilities.  I responded (as a member of the public) that wasn’t a good idea, especially since the Enrollment Preference Task Force (of which Sokola was on) recommended NOT having those items on choice applications.

17 Who Will Make An Impact In 2017: Kendall Massett

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Kendall Massett, the Executive Director of the Delaware Charter Schools Network, will soon be standing at a crossroads.  As someone who preaches district and charter collaboration on one hand, the other hand is busy trying to find ways to get more district money to follow students at Delaware charters.  This dichotomy is going to define the future of charter schools in Delaware.

As anyone breathing in Delaware is well aware, fifteen charter schools sued the Delaware Dept. of Education and the Christina School District over funds they felt should have been going to charter schools.  The defining moment in the lawsuit: when Secretary of Education Dr. Steven Godowsky reversed changes to the local funding formula for school choice payments after September 1st.  They could have been patient and allowed Godowsky or the next Delaware Secretary of Education and the General Assembly the opportunity to figure it out.  But instead, they took the legal route which was championed by Kendall Massett.  As a result, the law firm of Saul Ewing will get $300,000.  How many teachers could be hired with that kind of money?  How many students could have received a paraprofessional in a school room bursting with over 25 kids?

If the collaboration Massett truly desires took place, this lawsuit wouldn’t have happened in the first place.  If there is blame to be thrown around regarding who was at fault with the local funding formula, that blame lands solely at the feet of the Delaware Dept. of Education.  They should have been the ones answering the questions for the charters.  Christina performed their due diligence and submitted their exclusions to the Delaware DOE.  This originated last Winter, with Newark Charter School calling in the DOE who apparently “confessed” to the powers that be about the exclusions submitted by Christina.  The DOE had an opportunity right then and there to make good on this.  The charter schools could have gone public with this information and forced the DOE to do something about it.  And if that didn’t work, they could have brought in the General Assembly.  But instead, they kept this a secret for many months.  They had to know when the public found out about this they would be understandably upset.  These were huge funding changes with charter payments.  This was not a wise move for the charters involved.  By alleging that Christina was purposely withholding funds from these charters when the district did the same thing they had been doing for 12-13 years, which I might add was completely legal since the DOE approved them, the charters started a war.  It is not that difficult to see this was the original intent.  It boils down to Greg Meece having a hissy fit because his school wanted more money and if Christina wouldn’t willfully give it up, he was going to punish them and cast blame.

In an article on Delaware First Media, written by Meg Pauly on December 1st, Massett weighed in on the Christina Board of Education signing the settlement with the fifteen charters.  Massett, as the go-to spokeswoman for Delaware charter schools, seemed to have some very big misunderstandings about what this settlement really is.

She said the decision most likely won’t require a vote from each schools’ entire board of directors, which could make it easier to approve.

“Because there would not be any money going out – they’re not paying out a settlement, it would be money coming in – there’s not really a fiduciary responsibility that the board would have to approve,” Massett said.

There is certainly a fiduciary responsibility stemming from this settlement.  The charters, according to the settlement, would have to make sure the funds were allocated to certain functions similar to what those funds were used for in the Christina School District.  As well, the Pandora’s box called tuition tax funds were brought up in the settlement.  It states:

In the CSD settlement agreement, CSD has agreed to catalogue and describe, for DOE and CSD Charter Schools, those services provided by CSD to children with special needs (“Special Needs Services”) that are funded in whole, in whole or in part, with revenues generated by the levy of the so-called Tuition Tax by CSD.  The objective of this undertaking is to determine whether CSD shall be financially responsible under Section 509(f) for funding the same or similar Special Needs Services provided by CSD Charter Schools to their CSD resident students.  If requested, DOE will participate in the discussions and inquiry described in this subsection, and, where necessary, shall enforce this provision.

So what does Section 509(f) of Delaware State Code say?

For any student, who because of educational need requires services that are appropriately financed pursuant to the provisions of Chapter 6 of this title, either at the outset or subsequent to a decision to enroll in a charter school, the student’s district of residence shall remain financially responsible for such student and the charter school shall receive from such district a payment determined in accordance with the provisions of Chapter 6 of this title.

Which brings us back to Chapter 6 of Title 14:

(a) If any pupil is counted in the preschool, intensive or complex unit and attends school in a program operated by a district other than that in which the pupil resides, by an agency of the Department of Education or is in an approved private placement pursuant to § 3124 of this title, the receiving district or the Department of Education shall collect a tuition charge for the nonresident pupil, provided approval for attendance has been granted by the sending district. Such tuition charge shall be paid by the school board of the reorganized school district in which the pupil is a resident from the proceeds of a local tax levied for this specific purpose, except that in the case of a district assigned by the Department with the approval of the State Board of Education to administer a school or program for children with disabilities, or special programs approved by the Department of Education for persons without disabilities such as programs for bilingual students or programs for pregnant students, the district so assigned shall be both the sending and receiving district in regard to that school or program and is authorized to collect tuition charges accordingly.

(b) In determining the tuition to be charged for a pupil counted in the preschool, intensive or complex units or for a person without disabilities attending approved special programs, such as bilingual programs or programs for pregnant students operated by a district other than that in which the student resides or by an agency of the State Department of Education, the receiving district or the State Department of Education shall compute the tuition by adding such receiving district’s share of educational related expenses as allowed by the Department of Education regulations. The sum so obtained shall be divided by the total number of pupils in the special program as of September 30 of the current school year. The resulting figure shall represent the amount of the “tuition charge” per pupil.

(c) In determining the tuition charged to the sending district in the case of private placement for children with disabilities, tuition will be defined as in § 3124 of this title and the sending district will be charged 30 percent of the total tuition cost. The remaining 70 percent will be covered through funding provided by the State Department of Education from the annual appropriation for this purpose.

The charter schools get IDEA Part B funding from the federal government.  They receive special education funding from the state for Basic Special Education for students in pre-school (if they have those programs) and students in 4th-12th grade.  They get intensive and complex funding for students in all grades.  Where the tuition tax gets very complex is how it is determined.  The local school board votes to set the current year’s tuition tax rate for taxpayers.  It is not something the district can change on a whim.  And state code is very specific about what those funds can be used for.  What makes Christina very unique is that they are the management district for several special needs programs.  Those are not funds the charter schools could touch based on this settlement unless they are providing comparable services.  Then we get into the definition of a comparable service.  Would Gateway Lab School be considered the same school as the special schools within Christina?

Where Kendall, as well as the entire settlement, performs a massive overreach is in this particular section.  It is tampering with state code in unbelievable ways.  State code does not legally have to honor a settlement stemming from a lawsuit between a school district and a group of charters.  As well, it can not, and should not, dictate what a state agency has to do.  That is what we have our General Assembly for, to create and amend laws.  We can certainly discuss the merit of some of those laws, but that is the very essence of the Constitution of Delaware.  A settlement should not create new contradictions that try to negate existing law.  Which is why Secretary Godowsky wanted the General Assembly to intervene in this entire funding process.  I am assuming the Delaware DOE signed their settlement agreement with the fifteen charters.  Which is even more concerning in my eyes.  The fact they would allow changes in Delaware law without approval of the legislative body charged with performing that task.  A settlement cannot create laws or regulations.

What this section does is change the duty of charter schools in regards to their adherence of special education law which they should already be doing to the best of their ability.  This settlement is much more than a “fiduciary responsibility” in nature, as Massett put it.  Something that magnanimous in scope should be approved by a charter school board, not a Head of School or even an interim principal in one case.  It is fiduciary in a sense that the charters would receive more money from a tuition tax, but it would require an oversight of the special education services within each of those charter schools to make sure they are performing at a comparable level to Christina.  That could involve extra resources and staff those charters may not have.  Could a charter hire that staff and pay for those resources and then submit for those tuition tax funds?  Or would those services and staff have to already be in place to be eligible for those funds?  The settlement does not define that.

If, for some odd reason, legislation is created out of this part of the settlement, it would require districts to collect even more tuition tax from taxpaying citizens within their district.  They would have to because more would be required to go out to charter schools for those students.  They should not be tasked with divvying up the existing tuition tax they receive for the students within their own district with those needs or funds they are already sending to special education schools outside of their district.  That would take away from those students.  But here is the major problem with this: the local boards have to determine the tuition tax rate in the summer before the school year starts.  They base this on projections within their own district.  How can they determine the needs of special education students who reside in their district but attend charter schools before the school year even starts?  For some they can, but special education can be very fluid, evolving from year to year.  It is hard enough for the districts to do this for their own students.

If Kendall Massett wants more collaboration between districts and charters going forward, she needs to stop drawing this line in the sand when it comes to money.  She is going to continue to piss off the districts and they will not want to collaborate with the charters who keep demanding more and more from them.  Districts can’t always get performance funds or donations from foundations.  They can’t always have silent auctions like many charter schools do.  All Delaware public schools have the capability of applying for grants from the state or the federal government, including charters.  Districts don’t get to keep their excess transportation spending if they set their budget higher than what they actually spend.  And charters are free to use this money as they please.  So please, tell me Kendall, if the charters are getting what you view as their “fair share“, will you promote removing those extra perks for the charters that districts don’t get?  When it comes to education funding, there is a crystal-clear difference between what a charter school needs and what an entire district needs.  In some ways, it is like comparing apples to oranges.  You can’t complain about charters not receiving capital funding.  That was the way the law for charters was set up.  It was the price of admission into Delaware public education.  So by default, on paper, it would appear charters get less than districts for that very reason.

Some could argue that this latest misstep by the charters is just more of an ongoing agenda to privatize public education.  Just one more chunk taken from school districts and flowing into the hands of charter schools which are actually non-profit corporations.  By state law, those corporations are required to file IRS tax returns.  But because of loopholes in IRS guidance, the one charter school who actually started this whole charter payment mess is the one school that does not file those tax returns.  The guiding force behind the lawsuit was Greg Meece and Newark Charter School.  They created the very conditions that led to the lawsuit.  The settlement promises severe disruption to all Delaware schools involving special education and funding.  But Newark Charter School is not transparent with their own finances the same way the rest of Delaware charters are.  I have grave issues with that.  And I have no doubt in my mind Kendall is aware of this.

In a News Journal article from December 5th discussing the settlement details, written by Adam Duvernay, Kendall states the following:

“I’m glad everyone will have a seat at the table, and that the process will be transparent, so we don’t find ourselves in this situation again where charter schools go for years without answers and feel like they need to resort to legal action to make their voices heard,” Massett said.

What about the questions many Delawareans have been asking the charter schools for years without any real answers?  Like how certain Delaware charter schools can cherry-pick students in defiance of state and federal law?  When does Newark Charter School, which created this whole mess, finally implement their plan to balance their demographics at their school?  When does Newark Charter School become fully transparent with their own money the way every other Delaware charter school is required by law to do?  Massett cherry-picks her statements.  She wants districts to answer any questions charters have, but when those answers are needed by others, she either deflects or states it just isn’t true.  And when people do take legal actions surrounding charter demographics?  Like when the Office of Civil Rights asked for all charter school applications a couple of years ago going back the two years before that request?  The Delaware Charter Schools Network became the organization tasked with collecting that information.  And what happened?  Massett informed the Office of Civil Rights the charters did not know they needed to keep that information.  And then there is the matter of the now two-year-old complaint from the Delaware ACLU against the State of Delaware and Red Clay regarding practices of segregation and discrimination from some Delaware charter schools.  Kendall called that “a myth.”  Two years later and that complaint has gone nowhere.  Forcing someone to sit at the table with a menu where there are two choices, our way or no way, is not collaboration.  It is not legal action.  It is manipulation that doesn’t belong in education.  With education, every decision eventually affects students in a good way or a bad way.  For far too long, those decisions have existed for the benefit of charter school students.

Getting real here, Kendall’s job is to promote charter schools and to serve as a buffer between them and the state in certain areas.  At heart, Kendall is a lobbyist, seeking to influence the General Assembly and the Delaware DOE in ways that will benefit charter schools in the state.  Charter schools pay dues to the Delaware Charter Schools Network.  In a sense, they are very similar to some of the roles the Delaware State Education Association plays in education politics.  But the difference is that DSEA represents the teachers in district schools.  They promote or oppose legislation that will benefit the teachers within their organization.  I have no doubt DSEA would love to have charter school teachers unionize.  But the Delaware Charter School Network exists for a niche within public education that almost serves as a parasite on the districts they feed from.  It takes from the host body and sucks the energy out of it.  That is the price of school choice that Kendall cannot seem to fathom.

In 2017, education will once again be front and center in Delaware.  The corporate education reform movement, led by the Rodel Foundation in Delaware, will become more pronounced with the implementation of the Every Student Succeeds Act.  But in some ways, it almost seems like the charter movement in Delaware and those who advocate for them, seem to have become more emboldened with the election of Donald Trump as President of the USA.  He promised billions of dollars to charter schools.  To add salt to that wound, he appointed Betsy DeVos as the next U.S. Secretary of Education.  A charter school lover if there ever was one.  I have no doubt charter advocates across the country are feeling almost empowered by these events.  Supporters of public education are very worried about what will happen to further erode an education system that has been in place long before the very idea of a charter school was introduced.

In Delaware, Kendall Massett will continue to have great relationships with the Dept. of Education and the State Board of Education.  She will exert her influence on the General Assembly.  If any bill is introduced that will negatively impact charter schools, she will wield her power and influence to put a stop to it.  She is backed by some very powerful forces in Delaware that will not be trifled with in any way.  But none of these forces see what their choices and decisions make to education as a whole.  If charters and districts were funded the same way as the vo-tech schools in Delaware, I don’t think the issues with charter schools in the state would be as big.  But this parasitic relationship between districts and charters is paralyzing to education in Delaware.  There are other things that perform the same damaging results,  but we can control how this particular relationship evolves.  Districts and charters aren’t going anywhere.  If charters want to co-exist with districts and have true and meaningful collaboration, they have to stop these games.  And Kendall Massett, as the spokeswoman for the charters, will have to take on a different mantra.  It isn’t a question of choice at this point, it is an answer that demands immediate implementation.  Fair goes both ways.

If I were Kendall Massett, I would actually recommend the Christina Board of Education rescinds their vote on the settlement.  Funding is important, but shaking down a district like this which will only tick off the other districts in the state, is not something to be proud of.  It is not a victory when students continue to pay the price.

The Christina Settlement Memes You May Not Have Seen

Last night, I posted a series of memes on Facebook.  I also put them on Twitter.  I do recognize that some folks don’t participate in social media, so for those 21st Century hold-outs, here they are.

restrictedfunds

tuition-tax

attorneyfees

whatchatalkinbout

fieldtrips

shakedown

fundsmold

cafetorium

santachristina

swimminginextramoney

settlementduedate

rescindthevote

forthekids

mutual

murphy-resign

brandywine

donaldbetsy

blogvote

 

Kilroy, Stop The Union-Bashing! You Have MUCH Bigger Fish To Fry!

Every once in a while, Kilroy posts something about me.  It is usually in regards to some comment someone made over on his blog.  But lately, especially on social media, I see Kilroy taking potshots at DSEA and a couple of members in particular.  This led to a dust-up on Kilroy’s Facebook page tonight, over all things, social justice.

It appears Kilroy didn’t understand the context and went into a tirade over it.  This led to other commenters talking about the validity of unions and how the dues work.  Steve Newton completely evaporated the opposition and proved conclusively that union dues come with the application for a teaching job in Delaware school districts.  It isn’t a question of right or wrong, it is just the way it is.

Kilroy needs to stop trying to poke holes into DSEA and their upcoming elections and really focus on the things that are happening outside of teacher unions.  Like the complete and utter privatization of public education if certain parties get their way.  Like the Rodel-led hijacking of Delaware’s Every Student Succeeds Act state plan.  Like the Christina-charter school settlement that will take away funds from every single school district in the state for things that are rightfully excluded from charter payments.  Like an incoming Governor who has not announced any leadership positions for Delaware education with a little over a month before his inauguration.  Like the swarm of education technology in our classrooms that is collecting a plethora of private student information with algorithms we will never know about.  Like how it doesn’t matter who won President of the country, that march to privatization continues.  Like the “Bad News Betsy” that will make Arne Duncan and John King look like rank amateurs.  Like the stealth tests coming our way sooner than we think in Rodel’s when you wish upon a star personalized learning and competency-based education environment.

For someone who claims to support teacher unions, he sure does talk about them a lot.  Especially their role in Race To The Top.  Six years ago.  Which, I might add, all nineteen school districts signed up for, along with the Delaware PTA and every other education organization in the state.  To say DSEA was the only party that led RTTT into Delaware is very misleading.  Being real here, I wasn’t involved in all of this when RTTT came out.  So my window on this is seen in perceptions of that time from others after the fact in the past few years.  But there comes a time when beating it over us is not productive.  Who is still in DSEA leadership from that time?  I don’t think anyone running for DSEA leadership was instrumental in the decisions from six years ago.  But if Kilroy has a grandchild in Red Clay, he needs to get up to speed with what is going on in education.  Cause it is not pretty and he needs to be on the right side of things.  I admire the hell out of Kilroy.  He got me my start in the Delaware blogosphere.  And I want him to focus on more because he has a great deal of influence on education.

In terms of social justice, I’m not sure what context Kilroy took it in, but as a result of Kilroy’s post, Mike Matthews updated his status to show what his definition of social justice is:

Social justice means to me…

…standing at a school board meeting begging for more supports for special needs students.

…going to Dover and speaking in support of the Opt Out movement before the House education committee.

…reading a book to kindergarteners on why sharing and respect are key values.

…protesting the State’s attempts to shut down community schools because of test scores.

…letting a Black student know that when all around them they feel like the world hates them, that their life DOES matter.

…demanding that Delaware get off the list of four states that doesn’t fund ELL students.

…ensuring that ALL students know that a classroom is a place where they can be themselves — no matter how different — and be accepted.

…organizing educators to make sure they understand their rights to speak up and ADVOCATE for their students when the time comes.

Social Justice, to me, is about education and NEVER indoctrination. Social justice is about respect. Kindness. Acceptance. Organizing. Advocating. Speaking up. Believing in who you are as a human being and being able to take action to fight for the most vulnerable.

That’s what social justice is. While that phrase may be dangerous to some, I will always wear it like a badge of honor.

Besides, it’s too much fun being an outspoken pain in the ass sometimes.

 

Well said Mr. Matthews.  That is some social justice I can get behind.  While I have been critical of DSEA leadership in the past, I have always seen the potential of what a united and strong DSEA could become in this state.  A DSEA that will have to align with parents in the coming years if they want to save public education.  Perhaps that is why I have been critical of DSEA at times because I have high expectations for them to be the voice that has the power to influence public education in this state, not be an observer while others feast on the scraps.

We ALL need to be concerned about Donald Trump and his very poor selection of Betsy DeVos as U.S. Secretary of Education.  Trump really doesn’t have a clue about education.  But he will surround himself with people who do.  And what they know and what they have planned is not good.

 

Christina Board Meeting Agenda Has A Nuclear Action Item For Consideration Next Week

The Christina Board of Education voted last week to accept the settlement concerning the lawsuit filed by 15 charters against them and the Delaware DOE.  Next week, an action item submitted by a board member could cause a tsunami of controversy.  As well, there is another action item that will certainly cause another ordeal just by being there. Continue reading “Christina Board Meeting Agenda Has A Nuclear Action Item For Consideration Next Week”

Delaware DOE Postpones Submission Of State ESSA Plan By One Month

As predicted, the Delaware Dept. of Education is delaying the final sending of their state Every Student Succeeds Plan to the United States Dept. of Education by one month.  Last week, the U.S. DOE released the final regulations for the accountability portion of the new federal education law.  As a result, they are giving states more time to submit their state plans.

For Delaware, this means the State Board of Education will vote on the final plan at their March, 2017 board meeting.  On April 3rd, Delaware will send the plan to the U.S. DOE.  This changes many of the public comment periods for the Delaware plan as well.  Here is the press release from the Delaware DOE from yesterday:

The U.S. Department of Education has extended its submission deadline for states’ Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) plans, allowing Delaware to adjust its plan submission schedule and provide more time for public input and plan development.

Delaware now will submit its final plan on April 3. Other dates leading up to that submission also have been adjusted and are reflected below:

 

·         January 11: Release of second draft of plan

·         February 28: Release of final draft of plan

·         April 3: Submission of final plan to U.S. Department of Education for approval

 

The public has several on-going opportunities to provide input on the plan:

 

·         Community conversations: Three of the seven sessions of this second round of public input sessions remain. The next is Thursday night in Newark followed by two sessions for Spanish-speaking community members in Georgetown and Wilmington on December 14 and December 20, respectively. Find more information on these and the previous sessions here.

·         Online surveys: Members of the public also may submit their feedback via three online surveys available here. This is the second round of online surveys.

·         Discussion groups: Stakeholders are serving on two on-going discussion groups, one focusing on school supports and the second on measures and reporting. These are public meetings, and public comment is available at each session. The next session is tonight. Find more information, including minutes from past meetings here.

·         Governor’s ESSA Advisory Committee: Governor Jack Markell’s advisory committee also continues to meeting. These public sessions also include public comment. The next session is Jan. 11.

·         Feedback also can be submitted via a designated email address, ESSAStatePlan@doe.k12.de.us.

Alison May
alison.may@doe.k12.de.us
(302) 735-4006
Last night, the ESSA discussion groups held a meeting.  As a result of the changes, the schedules for the discussion groups are as follows:
Student and school supports will meet at some point in January, date to be determined.
Measuring student success will hold their next meeting, as scheduled, on December 12th from 6pm-8pm at the Collette Resource Center in Dover, DE.
The Community Conversation meeting held on Thursday evening will be at Newark Charter School.

Greg Meece Letter To Newark Charter School Parents About Settlement Is Going To Stir Up Trouble

Greg Meece didn’t wait long.  We still don’t have verification that all the charter schools signed the settlement between the Christina School District and the 15 charter schools.  But Meece took his opportunity to brag and he did so with arrogance and a pompous attitude.  Yes, NCS parents, this is your not so humble leader.  I have no doubt this was Greg Meece’s favorite moment of the year.  But the big question surrounds the truth.  It was under the assumption the charter schools and their attorneys over at Saul Ewing offered the settlement.  Other sources have all parties working together over the Thanksgiving weekend to hammer it out.  But what Greg Meece states is something completely new.  And there is another downright dirty thing in this letter which was not written in the settlement the way Meece wrote it.  To me, that kind of negates the spirit of the settlement.  The settlement explicitly stated this was not a case of wrongdoing on Christina’s part, but Meece’s one sentence inclusion in here suggests otherwise.  That line is bolded for emphasis below.

As I was working on my article this weekend about Greg Meece and Newark Charter School, I went over a lot of articles pertaining to the lawsuit.  Why on earth would Christina offer to settle based on their own Legislative Briefing?  Furthermore, I don’t recall their board ever voting on action pertaining to the lawsuit.  I would imagine only the Christina board could direct their attorneys to negotiate a settlement.  The only vote they held about the lawsuit was the one regarding the actual settlement.  So someone is lying.  Is it Christina or Greg Meece?

Dear NCS Parents and Staff:

This regards the lawsuit that Newark Charter School, in conjunction with 14 other charter schools and four parents, filed against the Christina School District (CSD) and Delaware’s Department of Education (DDOE). The general idea of Delaware’s school finance law is that the property taxes paid by residents, which are initially held by the local school districts, should follow the child when families choose to enroll their children to a public charter or choice school in Delaware. In the case of CSD that was not being done. Charter and choice school students were not getting their fair share. The DDOE performed a detailed analysis of this past year’s funding between districts and charter schools. It concluded that CSD had excluded from charter schools more funds than it was allowed to exclude. Delaware law requires that the Secretary of Education make the final determination regarding the allowable exclusions from districts. In August, the Secretary of Education made his decision. This decision would have provided charter and choice students who live in the CSD approximately $450 more per student. In early September, over the charter schools’ objections, the Secretary reversed his own decision, due to outside pressures being made on him. This is when the 15 charter schools decided to sue both CSD and DDOE.

Both CSD and DDOE offered to settle the lawsuit before it went before the courts and the charter schools agreed to the terms of the settlement. Among the details of the settlement:

* The CSD now agrees that $5.5 million in revenue that had been excluded from the pool of funds shared among all students in the district, including those who attend our school, will now be shared with all charter and choice schools serving Christina students.

* The DDOE agrees to bring greater transparency to the process through which it determines each district’s Local Cost Per Student. DDOE is obliged to share information and seek input from charter schools as part of this process.

* We will be working with the CSD to examine whether opportunities exist to share resources to serve special needs students.

* Both CSD and DDOE agreed to cover the cost of the charter schools’ legal costs.

* In return, the charter schools agreed to relinquish claims on funds that may have been inappropriately withheld in past years.

As a result, the tax dollars that should follow your children to Newark Charter School will arrive for this school year and in future years. These funds will be put to good use here, where they belong and where they are needed.

I would like to thank you for your support as we worked through this legal process, and I’m happy to answer any other questions you might have. If you would like to see a full copy of the settlement, we will be glad to send you an electronic copy.

Sincerely,

Gregory Meece, School Director and the NCS Board of Directors

Excuse the hell out of me Greg Meece, but did you just write a letter to parents indicating that Christina broke the law even though the settlement you just signed clearly indicates otherwise?  I have to ask, what the hell is wrong with you?  You just violated your own settlement with this public letter.

Meanwhile, the Christina School District put out a press release on their own website today which doesn’t have a few of the things Meece mentioned in his letter:

Christina School District Signs Principled Settlement Agreement

The Christina School District has signed a principled settlement agreement to a Civil Action by 15 charter schools regarding the sharing of local property tax revenue.

The Christina School District has signed a principled settlement agreement to a Civil Action by 15 charter schools regarding the sharing of local property tax revenue. The charter schools filed the Civil Action asserting that the Delaware Department of Education (DOE), the Secretary of Education, the Christina School District, and the Christina School District’s Chief Financial Officer had breached Delaware law as a result of actions taken by the Department of Education in August and September. The agreement requires the approval of all 20 other parties to the suit, which states that settlement is made by December 2. The Christina Board of Education was required as part of the agreement to approve the agreement on or before December 1. The Christina Board voted to approve the agreement on November 30.
With the settlement, the Christina School District resolves the dispute over revenue generated by a 2003 Referendum passed by Christina taxpayers in a manner which honors the promise made to voters in 2003. In that Referendum, 10 cents per $100 of assessed property value was restricted for expenditures on: 1) Phase-in of full day kindergarten for academically at risk students; 2) Expansion of services for Gifted and Talented Program; 3) Expansion of services for Alternative Programs; 4) Technology replacement schedule. All parties in the civil suit have agreed that the 2003 Referendum revenue will be considered restricted, and may only be used to support these four programs as identified in Section II of the 2003 Referendum ballot. In addition, all parties further agreed that:
  • In the annual certification of Christina School District’s Local Cost Per Student pursuant to Section 509 (e), both the 2003 Referendum Revenue and CSD’s expenditures posted against those revenues will be ignored. In other words, such expenditures will be neither included in, nor excluded from, CSD’s Total Local Operating Expenditures. This is important because under the statutory formula for sharing local property tax revenue with charter schools, if such expenditures are included in CSD’s Total Local Operating Expenditures, the 2003 Referendum Revenue shared with the charter schools would not be subject to the restrictions imposed by the voters in 2003.
  • Beginning with Fiscal Year 17, the revenue generated by the 10 cent levy shall be divided by the total number of students residing in CSD and attending public schools in order to determine the per student share of the 2003 Referendum Revenue.
  • The parties agree that the dismissal shall include all claims that were brought or could have been brought, in the Lawsuit regarding FY’17 or any earlier fiscal year.
  • DOE will recommend a process to be used by the DOE in the future for determining Local Cost Per Student. In this process:
    • Districts will have the opportunity to request DOE approval for Exclusions from Total Local Operating Expenditures, with Districts providing justification for their request.
    • DOE will make a tentative determination responding to each requested Exclusion, together with DOE’s reasoning
    • Districts will have the opportunity to discuss with DOE its tentative determination before such determination is final and included within the annual certification
    • Prior to the annual certification, DOE will provide all charter schools with its tentative determinations, along with District justifications, and will afford the charter schools an opportunity to discuss such determination
    • DOE shall establish a schedule by which it proposes to meet each of the steps noted above.

 

The total amount of restricted funds generated by the 2003 Referendum is approximately $5.5 million. The agreement provides a mechanism for the appropriate portion of these funds to be applied to charter schools that educate Christina students, based on number of Christina students they serve. The portion of restricted funds for all Christina students attending charter schools is estimated to be $1.5 million. The Department of Education is required to establish a unique appropriation for these restricted funds, and is responsible for assuring that they are utilized only for the four programs as identified in Section II of the 2003 Referendum ballot.
For background information on this topic, please use this link to see the presentation made by the District at a Legislative Briefing for elected officials and the public held on September 7, 2016.
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Look For New Charter Schools In Delaware For The 2018-2019 School Year

The Delaware charter school train is back on the schedule.  The Delaware Department of Education is accepting applications for new charter schools.  The moratorium on new charter school applications will be lifted once the DOE finished the Statewide Review of Educational Opportunities strategic plan.  The committee coming up with this has one more meeting (tentatively scheduled for 12/19) and the strategic plan will come out.  Assistant Deputy Secretary of Education David Blowman hinted at the meeting last week that the DOE anticipates at least two new charter school applications.

While this doesn’t mean these charters will get past the application phase, it means the machine is revving its engines again.  No new charter schools have been approved for Delaware since the very crazy Spring of 2014 when the State Board of Education was handing out charters like they were candy.  The ramifications of their carelessness and haste caused two charters to close.  Delaware Met closed less than six months after they opened and Delaware STEM Academy never even opened.

Meanwhile, the settlement between the Christina School District and 15 charter schools will set precedent that all charters will get more money from the tuition tax if they are implementing special education with fidelity.  Say what you will about the settlement, but this will provide greater oversight of special education in Delaware charter schools.  In my eyes, greater oversight is needed for ALL Delaware schools.

Will Delaware STEM Academy make another attempt at a new school?  Last Spring, the school underwent a formal review due to low enrollment for their opening.  This resulted in the State Board of Education taking their charter back.  Will the Mapleton Charter School try to come back in some form in some town?  Last year they submitted a modification to open up a charter school in Dover instead of at Whitehall (a new development in the Middletown area) but rescinded the request and handed their charter back to the DOE.

In my opinion, Wilmington is still saturated with charter schools.  More is not the answer at all for that city.  Sussex County, with only one charter school, would be my best guess for the next wave of Delaware charters.  The way Kendall Massett kept giving comment at the above strategic plan meetings about Sussex districts collaborating to meet programs they couldn’t do on their own tells me the Delaware Charter Schools Network really wants more charters in lower Delaware.

We shall see who applies this year.  At this point, no applications have been uploaded on the DOE website, but give it time!

16 Who Defined 2016: Greg Meece & Newark Charter School

No one seemed to be the center of controversy in Delaware education more than Head of School Greg Meece, the face of Newark Charter School.  Greg Meece had a very busy year behind the scenes of many headlines.  It almost seemed like the ongoing district and charter school war centers around NCS and the Christina School District.  Here, in it’s entirety, is the story of Newark Charter School in 2016.  There are still 27 days left, so I may have to put some updates in before 11:59pm on December 31st!  If you see blue in the article, that is a link to an article I published on NCS or Greg Meece.

Before I get into the whole local funding formula fiasco, we need to look at other events Meece was involved in.  Prior to this year, I really didn’t write about NCS that much.  The school tends to keep things to themselves.  What happens at NCS stays at NCS.  That changed in February.  On February 5th, it was announced NCS would get a “distinguished Title I” designation for their students outstanding scores on the Smarter Balanced Assessment.  The only problem?  NCS isn’t really a Title I school.  The reward was based on the district surrounding them which has Title I schools all over the place.

The next day, I posted how a special needs girl was denied an opportunity to participate in NCS’ lottery.  This caused a massive outcry all over the state.  The NCS board, the previous fall, said any child who turned six after a certain date would not be able to participate in the lottery.  For children with developmental or other disabilities who may start school later, this would prevent those families for applying to NCS.  I had people email Greg Meece.  He responded to my email the next day.  and it eventually caused the school to change their mind.  The girl was let into the lottery but she did not win a placement.

A month later, I discovered NCS does not file IRS tax returns because of very vague loopholes from the IRS dating back to 1995.  I sent a tip to the Delaware Auditor of Accounts office on this.  As well, I submitted a FOIA to NCS to which they responded very fast.  Nearly ten months later and nothing has come of the tip to the auditor.  I know they were investigating this because I received a call from the state auditor’s office about this.  When I called over the summer to find out that status of the investigation, I never received a confirmation that it was being worked on.

Things stayed relatively quiet until shortly after the school year ended.  Delaware Senator David Sokola nuked a great bill dealing with teacher evaluations in Delaware.  House Bill 399 was meant to undo some of the very damaging practices thrust open teachers from the state.  Sokola got involved with the bill and put an amendment on it.  One of the aspects of the amendment, the addition of parent surveys at the pilot schools, is something  Meece implemented at Newark Charter School.  The ties between Sokola and NCS just kept opening up like a can of worms.

As folks were getting ready for the 4th of July, I thought out loud about NCS, Senator Sokola, and the missing Kathleen Davies.  I wonder if NCS had anything to do with that.  Davies disappearance from the Auditor’s office hit mainstream media with a lot of details missing.  While NCS and Meece were not mentioned in that article, that didn’t rule them out on my suspect list for what happened to Davies.  State Rep. Kim Williams broke the news in comments on Kavips blog about a petty cash audit Davies had been working on that disappeared as well.  I went into a lot of detail and started naming suspects.  A few months later the mystery deepened what the petty cash audit turned into petty cash warning letters but NCS wasn’t involved.

While the Kathleen Davies mystery was simmering, I discovered NCS did away with the age restriction for Kindergarten applicants but they came up with a new policy that students entering Kindergarten could only apply once.  So if a child with developmental or other disabilities did spend another year in pre-school, and the parents applied to NCS before that, they could not apply the next year.  It was the same discriminatory package decorated in different wrapping paper.

After I received detailed breakdowns of every school district and charter’s payment allocations for Fiscal Year 2016, I began to take a closer look at NCS payments.  I found they spent an exorbitant amount on student body activities.  Only one district was higher than them.  This raised my suspicions that something funky was going on which led me to examine the funding for their “cafetorium” addition along with a STEM laboratory.  I didn’t find anything conclusive, but it was very ironic how numbers matched with other things.

By the end of August, as the school year started off nice and quiet, all hell broke loose.  The local funding formula was changing so charter schools would get more from the local districts.  I immediately pegged Greg Meece as the catalyst for this and dumped my feelings about NCS throughout the article.  Less than 24 hours later, Secretary Godowsky changed his mind on the change to the charter payments.  The next day I posed my theories on who was responsible for this at the Delaware DOE and openly asked Meece many questions about NCS.  I never did get a response from him.  I can’t imagine he is my biggest fan.  This led to a resurfacing of Greg Meece’s famous crab bucket analogy.  While all this was going on, Senator Sokola wrote a letter to the News Journal on his latest “discovery” for education.  Speaking of the News Journal, they wrote a very misleading article on the whole thing which prompted me to do even more research.  The President of the Christina board gave me the official news there would be no changes to the formula the next day.  But apparently Meece and NCS Board President had their own thoughts on the matter and wrote their version of events in a letter to NCS parents.  The true shock came the next day when a Senator Sokola email defended NCS and cast blame on Christina but I debunked a lot of his theories.  Then Christina sent a letter to parents.  For a week, NCS parents were coming out to defend their school.  Some of them got very nasty which prompted this response from me.  After a long ten days, I had to recap the whole thing and give some new information about district exclusions.  On September 7th, Christina held an open to the public legislative briefing to explain their side of the story and how the funding works with payments to charters.  I attended the meeting and recorded it.  Transcribing it was a bitch but it gave a ton of key information (which still makes my head hurt when the final outcome of this reached its climax this week).  I’ll have to see if I still have the recording to transcribe Part 2 of this meeting.  I assumed Christina argued their case so well it caused Secretary Godowsky to issue a letter to the legislators calling off the whole thing for this year.  Many assumed nothing would happen on this until the legislators returned in January based on Godowsky’s letter.

In the Spring, the General Assembly finally passed the Kilroy-inspired “All school boards must record” legislation.  For Newark Charter School’s very first audio recording, it was a whopping 16 minutes.  You can’t make this stuff up.  The next week, they won the Blue Ribbon School status from the U.S. DOE for their “outstanding” test scores (smelling a theme here?).  Senator Sokola got the spotlight treatment based on his upcoming General Election contest against Meredith Chapman so I felt obliged to showcase his very sad charter school legacy.  Of course NCS got a nod.

One would think after such a crazy month, NCS would try to stay out of the news.  Not the case.  The school ended September with a student sit-in.  Inspired by the U.S. Congress, students staged a sit-in when a teacher was fired over an incident with a student.  Instead of getting barbecued by the parents, the students jumped in on the comment roasting of this blog.  I actually admired the students for what some called “The Slappening”.  The teacher got her job back a couple of weeks later as Earth started spinning on its axis again.

On October 5th, Delaware found out the charter school response to Secretary Godowsky not moving forward with the change in the charter school payments from Christina.  15 charters filed a lawsuit against Christina and the Delaware DOE.  I got my hands on the actual filing which named all the schools and parties involved.  By this point, everyone knew it was NCS who started this whole thing which they confirmed in another letter to NCS parents.  I soon received the whole timeline for the shenanigans involving Greg Meece, Kendall Massett, and Bill Manning.  This prompted me to look at some things that were very peculiar about this lawsuit.

A couple of weeks later, Delaware United made a three-part video series where they interviewed Senator Sokola.  Care to guess what the biggest topic was?  Education and Newark Charter School!

At the end of October, I found out that Newark Charter School was supposed to have an outreach plan to get more sub-groups in their school.  This was a condition of their major modification to start their new high school.  We are still waiting for this.

Last week, the Charter School lawsuit against Christina and the Delaware DOE came back in a big way.  Christina’s board accepted a settlement with a 4-3 vote.  By the end of the week, the settlement leaked out before all the signatures were on paper.  Where did the leak come from?  Governor Markell’s office!

So there you have it: Greg Meece and Newark Charter School.  More controversy than Donald Trump at a rally for Democrats!  More scandalous than… I can’t think of anything…  I sure do hope 2017 is quieter for Newark Charter School.  They lost their isolationism label this year!

Mike Matthews Lampoons Governor Markell And Does A Damn Good Job!

The Delaware World Language Immersion program is in many of our school districts.  Students in Kindergarten start learning Spanish and Chinese (Mandarin) and continue through school learning one of the languages.  Spanish I can understand.  Chinese?  I know China is a major world power, but come on!  Okay, this is old news.  But what happened when Delaware Governor Markell sold the idea to Delaware Superintendents?  Mike Matthews has the scoop!

Gov. Markell (speaking to a roomful of superintendents): “OK folks, we’ve had so many education successes in my eight years. Race to the Top. Priority Schools. Educator Compensation. Lots of brand new successful charter schools. Smarter Balanced. Time for something new. I want you all to put language-immersion programs in your schools.”

Superintendent: “That’s a good idea, Governor, but how are we gonna do that?”

Gov. Markell: “Well I’ll leave all of that up to you, but I want Spanish and Chinese in our elementary, middle, and high schools, and I want them now.”

Superintendent: “Well, we don’t have enough Spanish- and Chinese-speaking educators in this state. Our Districts will have to bear great costs of not just the salaries of these folks, but the fees associated with getting them into the country and getting them work visas as well as the fees of the programs sponsoring them.”

Gov. Markell: “So…?

Superintendent: “And this will be very disruptive to our schools. At elementary levels, we will need to get rid of two teachers per grade level so we can bring in the Spanish- and Chinese-speaking teachers. And not to mention all the content-area teachers at the middle and high schools who will be impacted.”

Gov. Markell: “And the problem is…?”

Superintendent: “Well, Governor, have you actually thought any of this through? Are you going to be funding these positions above and beyond the unit count so the teachers with whom our students have built relationships won’t be impacted by this huge change?”

Gov. Markell: “Funding additional positions? No. But we do have a few thousand dollars in grant money your districts can fight over to get the ball rolling.”

Superintendents: (crickets)

Gov. Markell: “So who’s gonna go first?!?!?”

And fight they did for the paltry sums to get this program going.  This was actually a lampoon written by Mike Matthews on Facebook.  I have to imagine there have been many similar conversations with all of Governor Markell’s education programs.  This is Delaware.  If it sounds to good to be true, we throw caution to the wind and do it anyway!  I’m sure half of Delaware has seen this already since Mike seems to be friends with about half of the state.  But for the other half…

Restraint & Seclusion Report For Delaware 15-16 Is Out… Numbers Rising…

The Delaware Department of Education released the Restraint & Seclusion report for the 2015-2016 school year.  The number of physical restraints this year were 2,695, up from 2,307 in 2014-2015.  That means there were 388 more physical restraints of students last year compared to the year before.  I have to ask why everything is increasing with discipline in our schools.  I can’t help but think that Common Core really isn’t working, especially for students with disabilities.  Like last year, most of these physical restraints are going to students with disabilities and over half of them were African-American students.  The highest age group was 9-11, and boys were more likely to be restrained than girls.  You can read the full report below.  I broke it down last year, but I really don’t have the stomach for that today.

Did The Governor’s Office Just Scuttle The Charter Settlement With Christina In An Act Of Premature Celebration?

In their haste to get the settlement out, did Governor Markell’s office actually blow the whole thing?

Governor Markell’s office let the settlement between the 15 charter schools and Christina School District get out to the public before all parties signed the document.  Markell’s Chief Legal Counsel, Meredith Tweedie, sent an email to State Representative Paul Baumbach yesterday according to Christina School District board member John Young.  Young posted the following on Facebook this morning:

If you needed any proof that the Charter lawsuit against Christina (not against the Governor’s office) wasn’t a shakedown, ask your self this: Why is the Governor’s office, a non-party, disseminating the not-yet-final settlement to legislators before the actual parties that signed it? They are clearly invested in this, and it comes off rotten. Here’s the email (you can see the document on Delaware Liberal):

From: Tweedie, Meredith (Governor)
Sent: Friday, December 2, 2016 7:14:23 PM
To: Baumbach, Paul (LegHall)
Subject: Charter settlement agreement–with some signatures

Good evening Representative Baumbach,

Attached is a copy of the signed Settlement Agreement (actually two copies, but it’s the same document with different signature counter-parts). This will be fully “final” when all of the Charter signatures are acquired, which we anticipate will occur early next week.

If you have any questions, please feel free to call or email me. Otherwise, have a great weekend.

Best regards,
Meredith
2 Attachments

When Christina approved the settlement at their board meeting on 12/1/16, the motion included that the settlement would not be made public until it was final.  No legal settlement is final until ALL parties have signed.  In the settlement on Delaware Liberal the  parents representing the minor children had not signed and two of the charter schools didn’t either.  Even if they publicly stated they would approve the settlement this does not translate to the settlement being final.  Presumed approval is not the same as final approval.  Since this leak from Markell’s office broke the condition of the Christina board’s approval of the settlement, does that render the settlement null and void?

Why would Jack Markell’s office leak a legal settlement that had already caused a great deal of controversy in the state to begin with?  To what purpose?  Why was the Governor’s office even in possession of this document to begin with before all parties signed on?  And even some of those signatures are suspicious based on their authorization in some of those schools.  Last night, Delaware Liberal posted the entire settlement.  I knew this wasn’t leaked from the Christina board because it had the other signatures on it which would not have been on it before or even immediately after  Christina’s board meeting.

According to the above email from Tweedie, there were two attachments, one for Christina and one for the DOE.  What were the stipulations in the DOE settlement?

Markell and Christina… this chapter needs to close fast.  Watching Markell support Christina’s referendum in a video last Spring was like watching a root canal.  The man obviously has no love for the district which spread to his puppets in the DOE during his administration.  Should a Governor target an entire school district?  It almost seems personal for him.  Certain legislators who chair certain education committees in the General Assembly don’t really hide it either.  They are transparent as Saran wrap.  Will Carney carry on this very obvious disdain?  I certainly hope not.  It has been very damaging not only to Christina but the entire education system in the state.

The Christina-Charter School Lawsuit Is Now Public!

That didn’t take long.  Three days ago, the Christina board agreed to the settlement.  Last night it went public.  Delaware Liberal has the whole thing in all its glory.  From what I’ve read, the district is off the hook for any back exclusions.  There will be a one-time payout for this year of $150,000 plus the per student allocation from a 2003 referendum that amounts to 10 cents for every $100 worth of assessed property value.  Christina will pay out the charter school payment part of the $5.5 million they received from the last fiscal year.   But going forward…

DOE will have to determine the exclusions and let the charters review them before the annual determination is made.  Tuition tax will now be a part of the local district payments to charter schools if the charter has comparable special education services to Christina.  Which explains why Newark Charter School took in a special needs child over the summer.  As the parent wrote in comments on this blog, this student was 17th on the wait list at NCS.  One day the parent got a call from the school and her child was in.  That would mean a student left and sixteen parents said no or left the school.  The parent did reach out to me to let me know NCS does not have a football team and that with students who may have moved played a factor.  As well, the parent states the school was not aware her daughter had special needs and had to scramble a week before school to make sure she got a one-on-one para.  They also said there are quite a few students at NCS with either Downs Syndrome or autism that have one-on-one paras.

The settlement also allows for both parties to claim or not claim exclusions from the Match tax.  Which means more headaches in the future.  I have to wonder how all the other school districts feel about part of their tuition tax now going to charter schools if the charters meet that “need”.  Is this why Appoquinimink hiked up their tuition tax last summer?  Did they know what the charters were planning back then?

This settlement releases the charter schools claims against Christina and their CFO, Robert Silber.  But they also filed against the Delaware Dept. of Education.  I don’t see language releasing the DOE.  Is their suit against the DOE still alive?

I would attach the Scribd document from Delaware Liberal, but the ink isn’t dry on the settlement yet.  Thirteen charters, the Christina board President, and Silber all signed.  That leaves two more charters.  Not a (legal) done deal yet.  But why aren’t all the signatures by the President of each charter board?   Some are.  Some are signed by the Head of School or a title similar to that.  But the board is the legal entity behind a charter school, not the Head of School.  I suppose it would depend on the ability of a Head of School to legally bind the corporation to this settlement.  I don’t have time right now to look through the bylaws of fifteen charter schools.  I would think an interim principal, like the one at Great Oaks, does not have that kind of authority.

Out of everything I’ve written about this whole Christina/charter school funding war, beginning at the end of August, as well as the countless other articles in Delaware media, one question still hasn’t been answered.  What made Greg Meece, Steve Dressel, and Joanne Schlossberg from NCS request a meeting with the Delaware DOE and Christina to discuss the local funding formula?  In other words, for 13 years, this 2003 referendum and the 10 cent thing was in play.  DOE signed off in it each year.  But Greg Meece found out about this earlier this year which prompted this whole thing.  Who told Meece about it?  Meece would have gone after this a long time ago had he known about it.  So who betrayed Christina?  It had to be someone with inside knowledge of the district’s finances.  Someone who knew a 13 year history of the finances.  Someone with a deep understanding of school finances.  Someone who had the motive and means and willingness to go after Christina.  Someone who didn’t care that this would affect tens of thousands of kids across the state.  Someone who didn’t care that telling Meece this would instantly cause him to bite the apple and unleash a lot of crap on the Delaware education world.  That is cold and unfeeling.  I am about 99.9% sure of who you are.  I’ve known for a long time.  I know how you like to play the long con.  I also know how you play people.  I know who your allies are and who your enemies are.  One day, your actions will come out.  And your justification for this does nothing.  Not when your sins will cause thousands of students who already had less to lose out even more.  You sold out the kids you claim to stand for.  It doesn’t balance any scales and it doesn’t even begin to absolve you.  You aren’t that crafty.  I saw you coming a mile away.

This is a shakedown no matter how you slice it.  The Delaware DOE, who approved the exclusions for all these years, gets the stiff penalty of having to do some more paperwork, something they thrive at already.  In the settlement, Secretary Godowsky escapes any blame by simply stating he wasn’t aware of the exclusions.  Which could very well be true since he wasn’t confirmed by the Delaware Senate until October, 2015.  But all the former Secretaries of Education would have known: Mark Murphy, Lillian Lowery, and Valarie Woodruff.  Why weren’t they named in the lawsuit if the charter schools had allegations going back to 2003?

I see this as just one more nail in the coffin of public education.  Now this opens the door for charter schools to get more funds from a referendum.  Funds earmarked for a district are now questionable.  Unless some shady deal went down at some point between 2003 and 2015, Christina is not to blame.  So why on earth would they settle?  I highly doubt their attorney fees would have climbed higher than the results of this settlement.  There is no possible way ninety minutes was enough time for their board to digest this settlement.  I read it last night and I still have many doubts.

The whole part about Christina paying $150,000 as a “one-time payment”?  That reeks of the amount Saul Ewing will charge the charter schools for their legal fees.  Wasn’t the Longwood Foundation going to pay for them?

This will be seen as a victory by many charter school parents, especially the ones at Newark Charter School.  They will point fingers at Christina and say “See, you settled, it was your fault.”  This is not a win for kids.

Is The DOE About To Dump 7 Christina Schools On Red Clay? Does WEIC Know About This?

Red Clay taxpayers beware: You might get a sticker shock on a future tax bill!  The Delaware Department of Education issued a Request For Proposal on November 28th for a “time sensitive” Facilities Condition Evaluation of all the Christina schools based in Wilmington.  While I initially thought this could have been related to Christina’s recent mold issues, I found this went much deeper than that.  Is this some type of surprise announcement that will come in John Carney’s State of the State address?

The schools that will be evaluated are Bancroft Elementary School, Bayard Middle School, Elbert Palmer Elementary School, Pulaski Elementary School, Stubbs Elementary School, Douglass School, and the Sarah Pyle Academy.  Even the district office at the Drew Education Support Center is on the list!  The smoking gun is this part:

Develop cost estimates to bring each of the above listed facilities to a similar state and with the same control systems such as building controls, camera systems, keysets, alarm, access control, phones, tech. infrastructure (switches), and wifi as Highlands Elementary School, 2100 Gilpin Avenue; Shortledge Elementary School, 100 West 18th Street; Lewis Dual Language Elementary School, 920 North Van Buren Street; Baltz Elementary School, 1500 Spruce Avenue; and DuPont Middle School, 3130 Kennett Pike.

Those are all Red Clay schools.  If this were just some random facilities evaluation, there is no way there would be something to bring Christina schools up to Red Clay specifications.  There is going to be a big move coming soon!

Identical to the process and methodology followed for typical school facilities assessment work, the assessment will identify any potential issues related to major building systems and building components such as the building envelope/structure, roofing, HVAC/mechanical, electrical, plumbing, fire protection, telecommunications, and security systems as well as any site improvements required to the immediate surrounding area for building access. Data generated from this effort will:

• Evaluate the above listed schools in 1. facility condition indices as compared to RCCSD facilities as listed in 2.

• Identify and prioritize required short and long term improvements

• Identify code compliance, accessibility and system coordination issues requiring immediate attention

• Identify potential energy conservation opportunities

But does the Wilmington Education Improvement Commission know about this?  They are having a regular commission meeting next Wednesday at Warner Elementary School.  If they don’t, boy are they in for a surprise!

As well, it looks like the Delaware Autism Program could be shifted to Red Clay as well:

Prepare a design analysis for the Christina Administrative space, Douglas Alternative School, Sarah Pyle Program and Delaware Autism Program as currently located in one of the buildings listed above.

Who is the driving force behind this?  If it is John Carney, he may want to open with a huge splash by finally giving the civil rights advocates in Wilmington their hearts desire.  But if this is his move, it would also be a huge smack in the face to the Red Clay taxpayers.  Carney was very wishey-washey during his campaign about what he would do with the WEIC redistricting plan.  He hinted at liking some of it but not all of it.  But WEIC Chair Tony Allen is on his transition team.  If Carney pulls this off without the General Assembly he risks alienating many of State Reps and Senators.  Which may not work out in his favor with the special election for Bethany Hall-Long’s seat.  That race will determine whether the Democrats or Republicans control the Delaware Senate.

Another option is Governor Jack Markell.  With the time sensitive status around this and a due date for bids of December 13th, could he have the gumption to stick it to Christina one last time before he leaves office?  While ticking off the taxpayers at the same time?

The RFP was authored by a Renee Harris.  The only thing I found on her while doing a Google search and a State of Delaware search was related to the Tobacco Settlement from the Delaware Attorney General’s office.

No matter what this is, it is going to be something that will change the Wilmington education landscape.  There is absolutely no way the DOE would issue an RFP like this without something waiting in the wings.  The WEIC redistricting plan was put on hold for a year.  The state isn’t overflowing in cash right now either.

**UPDATED** 12:35pm, 12/2/16: Senate Bill 300 with House Amendment 1 was what allowed the WEIC Redistricting Plan to survive.  But there is key language in the amendment put forth by State Rep. Kim Williams:

The amendment removes language obligating the Wilmington Education Improvement Commission and affected school districts to develop, before February 2017, a detailed assessment of the impact of transitioning City of Wilmington Students from the Christina School District to the Red Clay Consolidated School District. Such detailed assessment would require development of school- and student-level changes that require public input and facility analysis that cannot be completed in the timeframes in the original bill. Instead, they should be undertaken as part of the planning phase for redistricting upon commitment of necessary and sufficient funding. The amendment preserves appropriation of $200,000 to continue the work related to the Wilmington Education Improvement Commission, including analysis of fiscal impacts, and language clarifying and ensuring that any additional state funding requires further action of the General Assembly.

That date of February 2017 flies in the face of this RFP.  I would strongly consider a “Facilities Evaluation” part of a “detailed assessment of the impact…” for the WEIC plan.  The amendment does not include the Delaware DOE though.  But the original WEIC bills from 2015 do not give the Delaware DOE to have this much involvement.  Something is happening…

**UPDATED** 2:04pm, 12/2/16: If you read the fiscal note for Senate Bill 200, it states the following:

  1. This Act is effective upon signature of the Governor.
  2. This Act provides a supplemental appropriation of $200,000 to establish the Wilmington Redistricting Transition Fund to assess the fiscal impact of transitioning City of Wilmington students from the Christina School District to the Red Clay Consolidated School District. The funding is to be used by the Red Clay Consolidated School District, in consultation with the Wilmington Education Improvement Commission and the Christina School District, for the assessment in which said assessment is to be substantially completed on or before January 31, 2017.
  3. This Act also establishes a working group to review the fiscal impact assessment that is prepared by the Red Clay Consolidated School District in consultation with the Wilmington Education Improvement Commission and the Christina School District. The Department of Education is to provide staff support to the working group, upon request, and it is assumed that the Department will provide this support within existing resources. The working group shall submit its review by March 31, 2017 to the Governor, Speaker of the House of Representatives and President Pro Tempore of the Senate.
  4. Funding is set aside in the Fiscal Year 2017 budget process in the amount of $200,000.

But once again, that due date was changed based on House Amendment #1 to the bill.  So, once again, why is the DOE issuing an RFP with a submission due date for bids of 12/13/16 and labeling this as “time sensitive”?  The key words in the amendment are this- “commitment of necessary and sufficient” funding.  The amendment states this work should not take place until a time when that commitment is assured.  No budget proposal will come out until towards the end of January.  And a budget proposal does nothing until the General Assembly approves it.  So even if folks are saying this is part of the $200,000 allocated to WEIC as a result of SB300, it appears the amendment is being completely ignored.  The bill was dead before the amendment.  The amendment saved WEIC.  I am not convinced of anything I am hearing at this point.  Whomever is directing these actions is breaking the law.

**UPDATED** 2:16pm, 12/2/16: Upon further analysis of the above amendment, it states the type of work included in this RFP should be done during the “planning phase” of the redistricting plan.  As per the plan approved by the State Board of Education, the timeline consists of the following:

December 17, 2015 to June 30, 2016 Approval Stage

July 1, 2016 to June 30, 2017 Planning Stage

July 1, 2017 to June 30, 2018 Transition Stage

July 1, 2018 to June 30, 2019 Implementation Stage

But because the General Assembly did not pass the legislation that would make the redistricting plan happen, they instead bumped it up a year.  So the Planning Stage of July 1, 2016 to June 30, 2017 is no longer in place.  The amendment is very clear about what should happen during this stage.  That planning stage can’t begin again until July 1, 2017 if the General Assembly allows for that to happen based on signed legislation.  I’m just a blogger without the legal expertise the WEIC and DOE attorneys would have.  But if I can clearly see that the law is not being followed, they would assuredly know.

To read the RFP, please read below:

 

 

Santa And John

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Once upon a holiday season, in the land of Delaware, there lived a man who would become Governor.  He was promised the throne eight years ago, but another man took his seat.  In this land, the people chose their Governor  every four years.  The man who would be Governor finally won the seat and 58.34% of the people rejoiced.  As he sat in his car one day after returning from his job in D.C., he looked out the window.  He saw the sun setting in the distance.

John was anxious to get things going in Delaware.  He had to officially wait until January 17th, 2017.  “Only 47 days,” John said to himself.  He had been so busy for so long.  Things wouldn’t slow down for him in the next four years, and hopefully the four after that.  His day was filled with phone calls, texts, and emails.  Everyone wanted a piece of Delaware.  He knew not everyone could get a piece.  He called his wife from the driveway and told her he was going to go for a walk to clear his head.  Always supportive, she knew John needed this and told him to take all the time he needed.  John drove to the nearby park.  As he walked out of his car, he put on his hat.  It was rare he could get away from his security detail but at the same time he didn’t want to be bothered.  John walked down the trail…

Meanwhile, 3,529.75 miles away, the jolly one was settling into his favorite chair.  The elves were busy preparing for the big day.  Santa was happy he had an extra day to prepare this year.  As a tradition, during these leap years, he would pick one day off each leap year to do whatever he wanted.  Mrs. Claus always forgot about it, but Santa didn’t.  Today was his day off!  Santa picked up his laptop and on his favorites bar was the website he enjoyed going to the most: Exceptional Delaware.  Ever since Santa learned about Common Core and opt out, he found himself checking back in to see what was happening with the children of Delaware and the rest of the country.  Santa was not happy when he found out what happened a few weeks after Christmas earlier this year.  The people of Delaware wanted the lawmakers to override Governor Jack’s veto of the opt out bill, but it got hung up in some silly rule business.  He knew exactly which of those lawmakers would be getting coal this year, led by their Speaker and the leaders below him.  Santa heard there was a new Governor in Delaware so he decided he would pay him a visit.  While he didn’t usually venture so far south during the busy month, it was his day off and he could do whatever he wanted.  At least the things Mrs. Claus wouldn’t have cause to file for divorce over.

As hard as he tried, John couldn’t stop thinking about his plans.  He didn’t count on the new President actually winning the election.  All his plans were contingent on the Hill winning.  But the Tower Man won and he had to plan around it.  The Tower Man was picking people who John couldn’t picture running things down in D.C.  His office was frantic over the mess.  John had to strategize very carefully how he moved forward with everything.  Not only did the Tower Man win, but the two bodies of Congress won a majority in the election as well.  John’s Delaware was still blue, but a shocking election there threatened to turn the Delaware Senate red too.  The state he was to lead had some peculiar problems in it and at the top of that list was the economy and education.  Governor Jack treated the two as if they were symbiotic with each other and made some poor choices along the way.  John knew if he was going to improve both he would have to find a way to draw everyone in.  It was a difficult maze and John knew he wouldn’t please everyone.  Governor Jack chose a particular route but John knew if he did the same it would not be good.

Santa knew John’s mind was heavy.  As his sleigh crossed the border between Pennsylvania and Delaware, Santa could feel the weight on John’s shoulders.  Leadership always carries a heavy burden.  Santa knew that better than anyone.  Santa knew John ever since he was a little boy.  He always knew John would become a leader.  John didn’t have the same political sharpness so many politicians had but this also made him more relatable to the people.  He watched John’s humble beginnings in the town of Claymont.  Carney was one of those tough kids who excelled in football which helped him out at St. Mark’s High School and then Dartmouth College.  Santa remembers John’s awards.  As John was teaching freshmen football at the University of Delaware, he was also studying public administration.  From there, John began his political career working for the county he lived in and then for Governor Tom.  From there, John’s political ladder kept getting bigger and bigger.  He became the Lieutenant Governor for eight years and decided to run for Governor.  But the future “education” Governor Jack beat him in a close race.  Others told Jack to wait his turn, it was John’s turn, but Jack ignored them.  A couple of years later, John ran for Congress and won.  For six years, having to run every two years for a total of three Congressional terms, John worked in D.C. and learned how the game of politics really works.  But he never gave up on getting back to Delaware to win as Governor.  After Governor Jack was expected to end his tenure, many thought Vice-President Joe’s son Beau would run, but tragically Beau passed away after a long illness.  It was then that John decided he would run but wished it had been under better circumstances.

John walked down the path.  There was a crisp wind in the air but the moon was bright.  He used to walk down this path many times.  It hadn’t changed much over time and he remembered it like the back of his hand.  John tripped on a branch and fell to the ground.  As he looked up, he saw a bright light in the sky above him.  A voice cried out “John, we need to talk.”  John reached for his phone but he had left it in the car.  He thought to himself, “This is it, all alone in the woods with no one to help.”  He began to picture the headline in the News Journal the next day.  “Who are you?” John asked.  “Someone you haven’t thought about in a long time John.”  Santa gracefully landed the sleigh on the path in front of John.  His lights were still on so John couldn’t tell who it was.  “I do have security watching me right now.  They are watching you right now.  So I wouldn’t try anything  They will find you if anything happens to me.”  “No they won’t,” Santa said.  “Remember you let all of them have the night off and you so conveniently told each one there was coverage?”  John wondered how this guy would know that.  “It’s me, John.  Santa.”

John couldn’t believe his eyes.  As a child, he always believed.  But as children grew older, that magic disappeared.  John saw Santa everywhere this time of year.  He began seeing him in stores as early as October.  But it wasn’t the same as the man who just walked off a sleigh that came down in the middle of the woods.  John took that early childhood magic for granted, as every adult does.  John wondered what in the world Santa Claus wanted with him.  Did he visit all the new leaders?  “John,” Santa said, “We have to talk about the kids.  Come with me.”  John felt the world spin beneath him.  Santa’s words captured him.  They weren’t words demanding John obey him, but those of comfort and a calm John hadn’t felt for a long time.  John looked at his watch.  It was 6:30pm.

Santa and John got in the sleigh.  The reindeer, who John hadn’t noticed before, began running down the path.  John felt the sleigh lift up into the December night.  “John, did you read my letter last year?” Santa asked.  John read letters every day.  There were some days he couldn’t remember what he had for breakfast he was so busy.  John shook his head.  “Did you send it to me?” John asked.  He knew he probably had not seen it unless it was an issue of critical importance.  He was sure if one of his staffers opened it and saw a letter from Santa Claus it would go in the circular bin next to their desk.  “No, I let Exceptional Delaware put it up.  I thought everyone in Delaware reads it.”  That was a name John was familiar with the past six months.  The blogger.  “You mean the crazy education blogger from DoverThat guy wants to meet with me but I don’t know…” Santa abruptly interrupted John  “Watch yourself,” Santa warned.  “I have the utmost respect for the blogger.  He helped me out last year and he knows what he is talking about.”  John responded to Santa.  “But he tends to tick off a lot of people.  People I’m going to have to work with.  I was warned to stay away from him.”  Santa’s eyes widened.  “Oh really?  Would that have been Senator So-coal-A,” Santa carefully empathized.  “And all those other adults who don’t have the first clue about what education really is?  Let me tell you something John.  You will be a leader of Delaware.  Any state has a foundation from which it must build on.  That foundation is the kids.  Not the adults, and especially not the adults who try to make money and get power from kidsThere are those out there who will pretend to speak the truth.  You surround yourself with them.  But there are those who speak uncomfortable truths that people don’t always want to hear.  But they do so out of an innate need for change, in the hopes someone with the ability to hear will actually listen.”

John was familiar with what was going on in education.  He was told of the long-range plans and how education would be reformed so all kids can succeed.  The children would be trained to become the workforce of tomorrow.  As he began his campaign, he knew many people in Delaware were hurting.  When he ran for Governor the first time, the economy of the whole country was collapsing.  Even though Delaware recovered from this, not all of the citizens did.  Some never got the jobs back that made them more money.  The cities were becoming too violent again.  Drug use was up and children were getting shot in the street.  But still, Delaware did the one thing it knows how to do best- spend money.  John knew all that money wasn’t going to the right places.  He also knew that when he became the leader he would have to fix a lot of these problems.  Many of his advisors told him that education was going to fix all these problems.  Not now, but down the road.  But if he didn’t help follow the same paths Governor Jack made, nothing would ever get fixed.  This was happening all over the country.  There were critics, like the damn blogger, but they were just a whisper in the wind.  They didn’t see the big picture and how this was for the good of the state and the country.

Santa, where are we going?” John asked.  “To see the children John.”

Uhm, Santa.  We are flying into downtown Wilmington.  No offense sir, but I can’t be seen riding around in a sleigh with someone people don’t believe in along with eight reindeer.”  Santa pulled out a pouch from his pocket.  “Thanks for reminding me John, I almost forgot.”  Santa took out a handful of dust and blew it all around him and John.  “They won’t see us now.”  Santa parked the sleigh on top of the Community Education Building.  The duo went down through the building and to the streets below.  They walked over to the playground next to the building.

In a dark corner, an African-American boy was reading with a flashlight.  The boy was shivering as he turned a page.  “Why is this boy out here Santa?  Why doesn’t he go home?”  Santa sighed.  “This is his home John.  He lives on the streets.  During the really cold months he goes to a shelter with his aunt.  She is at work right now.”  John saw a grocery cart a few feet away from the boy.  Covering it was a blue tarp.  John could see some clothes in there and a few boxes.  As John looked away for a moment in horror, he saw a hypodermic needle on the ground.  The boy was reading a worn-out copy of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone with a flashlight between his yellow teeth.  He saw the boy lift a crumpled up bag out of his coat pocket.  The boy began eating the few crumbs left in the bag of potato chips.  Santa told John about how his father went to prison a few years ago.  He belonged to one of the gangs.  During a shoot-out in front of their apartment building, a bullet missed hitting the boy but instead lodged itself in his mother’s brain.  He told John this is the first thing the boy sees when he wakes up in the morning and the last thing he sees at night.  “Come on John, we have more stops to make tonight.”  John walked to the sleigh but kept looking back at the boy.

Santa and John flew once more into the night.  It was very quiet between them.  They landed in a very wealthy neighborhood with mansions all around them.  John wasn’t sure if he had been on this street when he was campaigning.  Many houses were decked out in Christmas lights and he even saw Santas made up in lights.  “This is never what Christmas was supposed to be John,” as Santa looked down at his belly.  They got out of the sleigh and went into one of the houses.  A girl was on her computer playing the latest version of Minecraft.  Her mom asked her if she finished her homework.  “I sure did,” the girl said.  “You can check it on Schoology.”  “Did you finish all the stuff on iReady?” the mother asked.  “Yes Mom,” as the girl rolled her eyes.  She had just finished eating the steak and shrimp but she was still hungry.  “Can you turn the heat down Mom?” she yelled.  As her hand grabbed the ice cream bowl, Santa and John left.  As Sarah pulled the spoon to her mouth, she wondered if she had to be at the school in her cheerleader’s outfit by 9am tomorrow or 9:15.

They flew down to Georgetown.  John was last there on Return Day in November.  All the candidates who run for office, whether they win or not, participate in this event to “bury the hatchet”.  But they flew away from the town to a trailer park.  Inside, a Hispanic girl was kicking a ball around with her little brother.  A man came into the room.  “Hicerion sus deberes?” the man asked.  “No podríamos papá. No sabíamos lo que significaban las palabras,” the boy answered.  The man watched as his children did what they do after school almost every day.  Kicking around the same ball.  “Sorry Santa, my Spanish is very rusty.  What did they say?” John asked.  “The father asked if his children did their homework.  They couldn’t because they can’t read the words.  They don’t know English very well.  They know enough for very basic things, but not enough to learn what they need to know.  Their mother is still at the chicken farm working her shift.  One of them always has to be with the kids. They aren’t here legally.  The father is afraid all the time that his kids will be taken from him and he and his wife will have to go back to their country.  He doesn’t know English at all.” 

John felt his mind stir as they flew north.  He was very troubled by what he saw.  When he was campaigning, he tended to see the best of Delaware.  In the daylight or early evening when many of his “Meet and Chews” with people were attended by those who had the means and the desire to see him.  When he went to schools, he could tell the kids were on their best behavior because “an important man” was coming to visit.  He didn’t see people in their homes or on the streets the way he did tonight.  He felt uncomfortable, like he was seeing a side of the world he heard about but didn’t see first-hand.  “Santa, I should really be getting back.  It’s getting late and my wife is probably worrying about me.”  Santa laughed so hard the sleigh shook. Look at your watch John.  What time is it?”  John looked at his watch in bewilderment.  It was still 6:30pm.  No time had passed since he first got in the sleigh with Santa back on the trail.  “Let me guess, another bit of your magic?”  Santa smiled at John as they flew into a middle-class neighborhood in Dover.

The odd couple went into the house.  Inside, a boy was crying on the couch.  His parents were arguing in the kitchen.  “What do you mean he was suspended again?” the father asked.  “I got a call from school.  They said he was acting out in class again and when the teacher told him to stop he ran out of the room.  When another teacher found him, he pushed her away.  The Principal came down the hall and yelled at him to come with him.  David yelled back at him and Dr. Smith called two teachers to help bring him to the office,” the mother explained.  “I didn’t get the call until two hours later.  By the time I got there he was so upset.”  “Did they give him any work to do when he was in there for two hours?” the boy’s father asked.  “I don’t know.  But this is not what his IEP says.  They aren’t supposed to drag him down the hall and yell at him.  He isn’t learning anything there.  He’s depressed all the time.  He can’t learn in a class with thirty kids.”  John knelt down in front of the boy.  He saw such pain and sadness in the boy’s eyes.  “This boy has no friends John.  The things you had growing up, kids to play with and throw a football around, running around in the woods, even going to the amusement park, David can’t do those things.”  Santa explained how David was labeled as high-functioning Autism.  He could do the work, but only under certain conditions.  If there was a lot of activity in the classroom, people talking, moving around, David couldn’t handle that.  His brain couldn’t filter out all the stimuli.  Some days it worked, but for David, it was an endless litany of suspensions and leaving school early.  “Special education John.  If you don’t know what is going on with a child, and everyone is different, how can we put all kids in the same box?” Santa asked him.

John could see what Santa was doing.  He understood that not every kid is the same.  But if they didn’t try to help all the kids nothing would change.  The two flew to the building where John was destined to spend many of his days in the next four years.  Legislative Hall.  Where all the laws in Delaware happened.  John didn’t think there would be any kids there at 6:30pm, and he was right.  Inside, a meeting was taking place.  John knew about half the people at the large table in the House Majority Caucus room.  There were some from the Department of Education, a couple from the Rodel Foundation of Delaware, the usual Delaware State Education Association contingent, some Superintendents, a few teachers, Delaware PTA, some of the disability advocates, the lady from the Delaware Charter Schools Network, four legislators, and a couple of State Board members.  He knew them.  A few people sat in the chairs outside of the table.  A woman from the Delaware DOE was giving a presentation on the Every Student Succeeds Act.  Delaware had to come up with a state plan so all students can succeed.  She was talking about the Delaware School Success Framework and the measurements they wanted included in their state accountability system.  It was all about proficiency and growth.  Which John knew was based on the Smarter Balanced Assessment.  All these adults, sitting there talking about kids and how they can make education better.  John knew a few of the people there had the best of intentions but this was what they do in Delaware.  They sit around a table and talk.  This was how things got done.  They even had a name for it, The Delaware Way.

You don’t get it!” John cried out.  “We can’t keep testing these kids.  They aren’t the same.  We can’t keep doing this.  Their lives mean so much more than these tests.”  Santa looked at John.  “They can’t hear you.  Even if they could, too many of them wouldn’t listen.  They think they know what is best.  They forget what it was like when they were kids.  Even that man over there.”  Santa pointed to a man from Wilmington.  “He kept fighting for the kids in Wilmington and how the teachers need to be better,” Santa explained.  “The man believed what he said but he didn’t realize how much these children don’t have outside of school.  The man didn’t understand that you can’t just wave a magic wand and make teachers better.  And the best teachers, they were the ones already in those classrooms in Wilmington.  They were the ones who came to school every day, knowing the problems these kids brought to the classroom.  The look of hunger in their eyes as they wore the same clothes for the third day in a row.  They dedicated their lives to helping these kids in the hardest classrooms in the state.  In return, they were shamed by many of the people in this room.  The little boy we saw on the playground tonight?  He goes to the poorest school in the state.  Most of the people in this room have never walked into his school.  They don’t understand what he needs.  That legislator over there?  She sponsored a bill so special education would get better in the state.  In their eyes, it did.  Students went from 21% proficiency on the ELA part of Smarter Balanced to 23%.  To them, that is growth.  The Superintendent over there?  She runs the district where the two kids from Georgetown go to school.  She has a lot of students who can’t speak or read English.  She hasn’t said one word tonight about how to help them.  See the man over there?  He runs a charter school in Newark.  They just settled on a lawsuit against the Christina School District.  In return they will get more money in the future.  Remember the girl in the mansion?  She goes to that charter school.  That money will be taken from the homeless boy’s school.  He will get less than he has today at school.  The man over there?  He sits on the board at the Rodel Foundation.  He sees opportunity.  He sees how the business leaders in the state can profit from all this.  He is hoping they will start talking about more career pathway programs in our high schools.  He knows that some will go to the coding school he sits on the board of.  He talks with other business leaders and the graduates of that program do internships at their companies.  Sometimes they get jobs.  While they are learning, these coding students are building the network of tomorrow.  They develop algorithms that will go into the education technology in all the schools.  All that data, all that blessed data.  They store it all.  They keep everything, these futurists and visionaries.  They have the money and influence to make sure what they want becomes policy and law.  It is the way the modern world works John.  Perhaps they know, and don’t care, that what they are setting up now will only make those children who struggle the most even further apart from any true opportunity to succeed.  And them, over there, they work for the Department of Education.  They are the middlemen between the schools and the business community.  They make sure the business community gets what they want in the schools.  They do this through regulations and conversations you will never hear about.  That woman there, she runs the accountability section of the Department.  Her job is to make sure all children in certain grades take the Smarter Balanced Assessment.  When she sees the results come in, she doesn’t see the faces of the children who took the test.  She sees numbers.  Results.  Scores.  Her job is to understand why all the children we saw tonight got a 1 on the test last Spring except for the girl in the mansion who got a 4.  She doesn’t see David’s disability.  Or the two siblings who can’t read the instructions for the test in English much less understand the context of a passage  in Spanish about the stock market.  She doesn’t know that the African-American boy in Wilmington has slept in 124 different beds in the past year alone and the other 241 nights were outside with blankets.  But she actually thinks they can close the achievement gaps and these children will grow into prosperity.  How does she know this?  It’s what her bosses tell her every single day.  She hears the lie so much she believes it.

John and Santa left the building.  As the two flew north, they talked about what John had to do.  What he needed to change.  They talked about the blogger and the parents, teachers, legislators, advocates, and citizens who thought like Santa did.  “Those are the ones you really need to talk to John.  I’m sure you have heard from many of the people who were in that meeting tonight.  If you haven’t, I have no doubt your advisors have.”  John knew this to be true.  “You need to understand the other side of the coin John, where the real world lives.  These aren’t pleasant realities you saw tonight.  For those fighting for the kids, even opting out of the test isn’t as easy as it once was.  They are fighting for these kids, their kids.  And their grandchildren.  They are fighting for their jobs.  They see beyond the results and the growth.  They see what needs to change but no one listens.  No one who can really make a difference.  Some do, but not enough to make the changes.  When they do speak, they are shunned by their peers.  Given less importance.  It isn’t right John.  What the people in that room wanted, it won’t change anything.  It will only cause more damage.  You can’t incorporate education.  These are children.  You need to change all this.”

John walked out of the sleigh.  He thanked Santa for showing him so much of the Delaware he didn’t see before.  The two shook hands.  “Santa, I don’t know if I can change all of this by myself.  You know if I try I will make enemies.  Those enemies won’t make my job any easier.”  Santa put his hand on John’s shoulder.  “That is what all leaders who understand what is right and just have to face.  Some succeed and some fail.  Some do it alone and some have support.  All I can say is this John-  remember what you saw tonight.  Every single time you make a decision.  Remember the children’s faces before you see the adults.  You know in your heart who is really in this for the kids and who isn’t.  When you hear that voice in your head, questioning what the true motives are, listen to that.  Let that be your shield against your enemies John.”  John hugged Santa.  “Merry Christmas Santa.”  “And to you as well Governor Carney.”  Santa walked toward his sleigh and turned around. “John, find those who speak the uncomfortable truths.”

John looked down at his watch.  It was 6:31pm.  Santa was gone.

16 Who Defined 2016: Amy Joyner-Francis

amy-joyner-francis

April 21st was a very dark day for Delaware.  Amy Joyner-Francis was beaten in a bathroom at Howard Technical High School in Wilmington leading to her death shortly after.  Delaware didn’t have a death like this in one of our schools since 1973.  For weeks, Delaware citizens felt the impact of Amy’s death.

What happened to Amy that day led to much-needed discussion about school safety and climate in The First State.  The perpetrators of the incident, Trinity Carr, Zion Snow, and Chakeira Wright faced criminal charges.  Snow and Wright were charged as conspirators while primary charges were filed against Carr but a judge ruled she would be tried as a juvenile.  The trial will take place in April 2017.  Many Delaware citizens felt the charges against Carr should have been bigger.  At a maximum, if found guilty of criminally negligent homicide, Carr, 16, would face community service and therapy until the age of 19.

The cause of death ruled by the medical examiner kicked off controversy.  The examiner ruled that Amy had a pre-existing heart condition which led to her death, not the severe beating she received from Carr.  Many in the field disputed these findings.

The most disturbing part about Amy’s death was the fact that many students watched this go down in a high school bathroom and did nothing.  By the time a teacher got there, it was too late for Amy.  Not touched on by major media was the fact that school monitors did not respond to the situation fast enough (if at all) and that most teachers were involved in a training class at the time of the incident.  Governor Markell issued a brief response to the murder as he went on his “Common Core Tour” at a Delaware school far away from the crime.  The New Castle County Vo-Tech School District held a press conference hours after the death proclaiming that their schools were safe.

In the first week of the incident, conflicting reports about what happened flooded online media, including this blog.  Debates over what happened, and some tried to profit off Amy’s death.  As her family and friends struggled to deal with her death, the media onslaught continued.  News quickly came out that the beating was filmed by students along with pictures taken on cell phones.  An entire state grieved for Amy.  For Amy, her life was tragically cut short in an environment where this should have never happened.  Over seven months later, her death still makes no sense…

I ask that all continue to pray for Amy’s family and friends as they face the holidays, especially her parents.  No parent should outlive their child and it is a weight that will never leave them.

17 Who Will Make An Impact In 2017: State Rep Paul Baumbach

paulbaumbach

A month ago, I participated in a forum on Delaware education funding at the monthly Progressive Democrats for Delaware meeting.  State Representative Paul Baumbach from the 23rd Rep District also discussed the issue.  Baumbach is very supportive of implementing a weighted education funding formula in Delaware.  Last Winter, Baumbach and then Deputy Secretary of Education David Blowman presented a report on a weighted funding system to the Education Funding Improvement Commission.  That commission was unable to get a consensus on any particular funding apparatus and ended the 148th General Assembly with no final report.  The WEIC redistricting plan also called for implementation of a weighted funding system.

Education funding, with implementation of the Every Student Succeeds Act, will take center stage in 2017.  As more and more citizens realize the system we have now is not working for all students, attempts at fixing the problems will appear.  The Wilmington Education Improvement Commission and their redistricting plan for Wilmington Christina School District students is still bubbling under the surface.  Last night, Christina’s board voted 4-3 to settle on a lawsuit filed against them and the Delaware Dept. of Education by 15 charter schools that receive students from Christina.  The charters claim Christina was filing exclusions that were “improper” to the Delaware DOE and the DOE signed off on them.  While the settlement has not been made public, it will assuredly have an impact on local funding formulas going forward.

Baumbach’s plan is to have more money go to students with higher needs, such as low-income or poverty, English Language Learners, and students with disabilities.  Currently, students with disabilities do receive additional funding based on a unit-count system (with the exception of basic special education for students in Kindergarten to 3rd grade).  This system determines how much staff each district or charter school receive based on their September 30th count of students.  With the funding system Baumbach is pushing for, the money would follow the student based on their needs.  Another question involving this funding system is if Talented and Gifted students would be considered high need as well.

This is not equality funding but equity funding.  Schools who have less sub-groups of students with higher needs would receive less money.  Final accountability regulations for ESSA will require each public school in America to show the amount of funding per student based on local, state, and federal funding.  The biggest problem with education funding in Delaware is property assessments.  No county in Delaware has increased their property assessments in decades resulting in severe imbalances to what the current assessed values would be.  As well, referenda held by school districts have had mixed results.  Adding to this mix is the potential of school vouchers coming to Delaware if President Donald Trump and his pick for U.S. Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos, get their way.  Baumbach argued against a bill that would allow vouchers for special education students last Spring and stated it would be a violation of Delaware’s Constitution to send state funds to a religious private school.  Trump also announced he wants to incentivize new charter schools across America.  Capital costs for school buildings is also a major issue.  Delaware has many outdated schools that have serious structural issues with the recent Christina mold problem as a glaring example.

Baumbach will most likely bring forth legislation in 2017 to change how we fund our schools.  As well, there is increasing talk in Delaware about re-examining property assessments.  Some state officials have even suggested consolidating school districts to save money, possibly to a county school district system with New Castle County having two districts based on the population.

For my part, I can’t support ANY changes to our education funding system until we can get more assurances the money we are already spending is used with fidelity and honesty.  The recent audit investigation into Indian River showed very clearly that this district was not being honest.  We’ve had far too many Delaware charter school leaders and employees committing major fraud with funds that are not getting to students.  Our state auditor is supposed to audit each school district every year and publish the results.  This is not happening.  Charter school annual audits, usually, do not have the ability to catch financial fraud.  The State Auditor of Accounts Office, run by Tom Wagner, is massively understaffed.  Why in the world would we dump more  money into education when we can’t accurately keep track of the money already there?  This is the viewpoint of many conservatives in Delaware, but more on the left are also waking up to a reality that can no longer be ignored.

As the chief legislative advocate for a weighted funding system, Baumbach will have his hands full in the first six months of 2017.  If the Republicans manage to take control of the Delaware Senate after the special election for Bethany Hall-Long’s Senate seat, the voucher conversation will become very loud at Legislative Hall.  Tony Allen also warned that time is running out to fix education for Wilmington students and advocates may file a federal lawsuit against Delaware which could leave education funding and districting in the hands of a federal judge.  The icing on this education funding cake is the very flawed measurement of success for Delaware schools- the standardized test.  If we use them as a barometer of success or need, the system will continue to be a confusing mess with no end in sight.

No matter how you slice and dice money for education, no system will please everyone.  This has become painfully obvious.  We need to look at what is best for Delaware students and not those of corporations who seek to profit from education.  As corporate education reform is more embedded in our schools, more administrators are implementing the very bad policies from those reformers thus turning them into profiteers of education.  Yeah, Baumbach is going to have a big fight on his hands with any legislation involving this system!

To read the final report conducted by Hanover Research for the Delaware DOE on a weighted funding system, please read below:

DSEA President Battle Heats Up As Three Vie For The Top Spot

To date, three Delaware educators have announced their intention to run for President of the Delaware State Education Association.  All three have announced this on Facebook.  I know two of them, but I haven’t met the other candidate.  Two of the candidates are running on a ticket with a Vice-President candidate.  Who are these brave souls? Continue reading “DSEA President Battle Heats Up As Three Vie For The Top Spot”

Rep Kim Williams Rips Into The Delaware DOE During Public Meeting

The Delaware Dept. of Education held the third meeting of the Strategic Plan for Specialized Education Opportunities in Delaware today.  I can’t even make an abbreviation out of that one.  Do not be confused with the Strategic Plan for Special Education that the DOE is also working on.  In any event, Delaware State Rep. Kim Williams was NOT a happy camper.  While she is not a member of this committee, she attended the meeting and had some words to say to the DOE.

Apparently this committee came about as a result of an amendment on House Bill #56, the Wilmington charter school moratorium legislation signed by Governor Markell in 2015.  The Dept. was tasked with reviewing all educational opportunities in the state including charter, district, and vo-tech.  The DOE contracted with Public Consulting Group (PCG) to write up the report which came out last December.  PCG continued to work on the strategic plan and came out with another report in October.  In the October report, PCG made a reference to a District-Charter Collaboration Task Force.  Which is ironic since they didn’t post minutes nor did they come out with a final report.

At one point during the meeting today, Delaware Senator David Sokola mentioned a need for low-income and special education information on school choice applications.  David Blowman from the Delaware DOE allowed me to speak and I mentioned how the Enrollment Preferences Task Force, of which Sokola was a member, voted in the majority that information like that should not be on choice applications.  I mentioned that it was recommendations from the task force but it showed a clear decision to not have those items on choice applications.  Blowman agreed with me and said those items should not be on applications.  This prompted Rep. Williams to speak…

In August, Rep. Williams contacted the DOE about this strategic plan.  She contacted PCG and discussed the Enrollment Preferences Task Force, which met for a year and a half, kept all their minutes, and came out with a mammoth-sized final report which was sent to the DOE and the General Assembly.  She emailed a link to PCG.  Nothing even mentioning the Enrollment Preferences Task Force made it into PCG’s October report.  Williams blasted the DOE for this by stating she failed to understand how this strategic plan is meant to provide opportunities for ALL students.  She was clearly (and understandably) upset the report gave no mention to a task force she devoted a year and a half to.  But the District-Charter Collaboration Task Force, which had severe issues with transparency and no final report.  It was obvious to many in the audience that this oversight was not simply a mistake on PCG’s report.  I know for a fact the Delaware DOE and State Board of Education Executive Director Donna Johnson worked with PCG on their initial report which came out a few days before the final report for the Enrollment Preferences Task Force came out.

Senator Sokola asked Williams why she didn’t introduce legislation based on the recommendations of the task force during the last legislative session.  Williams explained that the legislation wouldn’t have come out until March of this year and everyone was very wrapped up in the WEIC redistricting plan.  Sokola said he can see that.  But Williams did say she will be introducing legislation based on those recommendations when the General Assembly comes back in January.  Williams argued that if she didn’t look at the October report from PCG and she didn’t attend this meeting, the DOE wouldn’t have even thought to mention the work 27 members of the task force worked on for a year and a half into this strategic plan.  There was no clear response from Blowman or Susan Haberstroh (also with the DOE).

Williams mentioned the glaring omission two times.  Eventually, Haberstroh assured the committee and Rep. Williams the Enrollment Preference Task Force report would be a part of the strategic plan.  This was supposed to be the last meeting of this committee but once the subject of enrollment barriers came up it was obvious the committee would need to meet again which all agreed to.

There is something about this committee that seems off.  Sokola and State Rep. Earl Jaques talked about the Christina School District a few times when talking about surplus school seats.  As well, the subject of empty buildings districts own came up.  I always find it to be odd when Sokola and Jaques, who are in their seats primarily because of voters from the Christina School District, tear into them.  I didn’t trust it when Sokola mentioned having information on choice applications he knew damn well shouldn’t be on there.

When Jeff Klein with the University of Delaware presented a report on choice applications by zip code, he did say there was a section in Maryland.  Sokola mentioned it could be a teacher sending their child to a Delaware school.  Which I assume to be Newark Charter School.  The DOE responded by saying it would be illegal for Delaware to pay for a Maryland student in a Delaware school.  Sokola had a puzzled look on his face…

Kendall Massett with the Delaware Charter Schools Network asked a question similar to one she asked at the meeting a few weeks ago.  She questioned why, as an example, if Woodbridge and Delmar school districts wanted a culinary program but didn’t have enough students to have a program, why they couldn’t push for opening a charter school to serve that need.  Heath Chasanov with Woodbridge explained they do have a program with Delmar that Del Tech coordinates.  I don’t fault Kendall for asking the question, but it would be more financially feasible for the districts to work together to offer programs in coordination as opposed to opening a brand new charter school that may or not fail.  This was echoed by David Blowman.

I did find out, 100%, that there are NO plans for Prestige Academy to merge into EastSide Charter School and Family Foundations.  Massett did explain that all the Wilmington charters are working with Prestige for a smooth transition for the students when the charter closes at the end of the year.

To read the reports PCG came out with in October, please see below.