Delaware DOE Keeps 8 Race To The Top Positions From General Fund “Vacancies” With Salaries Over $800,000

The below emails say it all.  The DOE was supposed to cut 10 positions funded from Race To The Top when it expired on June 30th, 2015.  The DOE is allowed to use any remaining funds until the end of this calendar year.  But those are federal funds, not state funds.  When the Delaware Joint Finance Committee cut the budgeted $7.5 million down to $3.75 million, the remaining funds were only supposed to be used for initiatives, not positions.  But instead, the DOE is using state taxpayer funds from the state’s General Fund to pay for positions earmarked by a federal initiative.  State Rep. John Kowalko advised DOE and the State Board of Education he wasn’t going to stand for this.  Thank you to Rep. Kowalko for getting these answers as it is something that has crossed my mind lately.  Race To The Top is over, but it seems the Delaware DOE didn’t get the memo on this…


From: Kowalko, John (LegHall)
Sent: Sunday, October 4, 2015 7:09 PM
To: Morton, Michael (LegHall); Jackson, Michael A. (DSCYF)
Cc: Bennett, Andria (LegHall); Baumbach, Paul (LegHall); Lynn, Sean M (LegHall); Matthews, Sean (LegHall); Williams, Kimberly (LegHall); Kowalko, John (LegHall); Osienski, Edward (LegHall); Potter, Jr, Charles (LegHall)
Subject: information urgently needed

Gentlemen,

I need an explicit breakdown of the use, actual or intended, for the remaining $3.75 million (of the original $7.5 million Governor requested) RTTT money that was authorized with the budget passage. Most importantly, I am requesting a specific listing of all paid positions that were created, extended, filled or funded by the $3.75 million. Originally it was presented that approval of the full $7.5 million would allow for ten positions to be either funded or made permanent and they were specifically listed in our briefing papers and synopsis. I am requesting the specific titles and names of the employees that were funded due to the passage of the $3.75 million budget item listed under RTTT. I hope you will send me this information forthwith.

Respectfully,

Representative John Kowalko (25th District)


From: Jackson, Michael S (LegHall)
Sent: Monday, October 5, 2015 1:54 PM
To: Kowalko, John (LegHall)
Cc: Bennett, Andria (LegHall); Baumbach, Paul (LegHall); Lynn, Sean M (LegHall); Matthews, Sean (LegHall); Williams, Kimberly (LegHall); Osienski, Edward (LegHall); Potter, Jr, Charles (LegHall); Morton, Michael (LegHall); Jackson, Michael S (LegHall)
Subject: RE: information urgently needed

Rep. Kowalko – –

Here is the breakdown of the $3,750.0 included in the FY 2016 Budget for Race to the Top Initiatives:

1.       $2,550.0 was allocated to the Professional Accountability and Instructional Advancement Fund for educator preparation and development such as pre-service training for future teachers and leaders; educator recruitment platforms and tools for school districts and charters; evaluating teacher effectiveness; and supporting teacher-leadership opportunities and professional learning networks.

2.       $600.0 for common core resources for school districts and charter schools and funding of professional development and instructional materials for the transition to the Next Generation Science Standards; and

3.       $600.0 for the maintenance of the Educator Insight Portal  that provides a dashboard of data, pulling from several technology systems, for student, class, school, district and state performance statistics. All districts use portal for various information, such as a teacher reviewing performance data for incoming students to his/her classroom.

Regarding the positions, there was no new funding or positions included in the budget for any of the 10.0 positions and budget epilogue prevents the allocation of any of the $3,750.0 in funding to be used towards positions. Below is the language:

Section 301.  Section 1 of this Act appropriates $3,750.0 for the following school based initiatives: Next Generation Science Standards/College Readiness/Common Ground, teacher preparation initiatives and technology support for the Educator Insight Portal. These funds shall not be used to hire or retain positions in the Department of Education.

The Department of Education used existing General Fund vacancies to retain 8 of the 10 people who were in Race to the Top positions. Below are the salaries, names and titles of the 8 people:

Assessment, Accountability, Performance and Evaluation Branch

Chief Officer for the Branch (Penny Schwinn) $134,337

Director, Office of Assessment (Ryan Reyna) $110,551

Chief Performance Officer, Office of Performance Management (Katherine Villari) $116,419

Deputy Officer, Office of Performance Management (Elizabeth Jetter) $85,020)

Teacher and Leader Effectiveness Branch

Chief Officer for the Branch (Christopher Ruszkowski) $134,337

Director, Educator Effectiveness and Talent Management (Atnreakn Alleyne) $110,551

Deputy Officer, Talent Recruitment and Acquisition (Tasha Cannon) $99,750 (this position has become vacant)

Chief of Staff for the Branch (Shana Young) $116,000

The remaining 2 positions that were not retained were vacant positions in the Assessment, Accountability, Performance and Evaluation Branch. 

Mike Jackson

Governor Markell Will Have State Board Of Education Do His Bidding

The future of the Delaware accountability system for its school is now in the State Board of Education’s hands.  Despite having the Accountability Framework Working Group meet 16 times for over a year.  Despite whatever the Delaware Education Support System (DESS) says tomorrow at their 1pm meeting.  Despite what the people say.  If Governor Markell wants things a certain way, it will happen.

Despite my telling Penny Schwinn and the Accountability Framework Working Group that there is no Federal law stating there must be a consequence for participation rates on standardized assessments dipping below 95%, the AFWG group voted to pick one of the following consequences.

  1. Go down one level on the performance rating, but use the average proficiency rate over a two-year period so that a school is not penalized for a one-year dip or anomaly.
  2. School must write a plan for how they will address low participation rates and then do not have access to supplementary federal grants.
  3. Use the multiplier for schools that are below 95% only.  Essentially we would have 100% on a 95 point scale, so that if a school had 93% participation and 60% proficiency, the multiplier would be (93/95)*(60%).  Any school at 95% proficiency or above would get full credit.
  4. School would automatically not be able to be a reward or recognition school and automatically be placed on the list as a potential Focus school.
  5. For federal designation calculations ONLY, the school would have all non-participants count as a zero score.

The group voted for part of Option #2 and part of Option #4: School would write a plan and could not be a reward school.

I don’t think there should be any participation rate penalty at all.  The Delaware DOE has not sufficiently provided evidence with exact code.  It’s easy to look at words and cherry-pick what applies.  It’s easy to treat guidance as mandatory, or a letter from an Assistant Secretary who no longer works at US DOE.  But here is the part of the recipe the public doesn’t know about.  On Friday, Penny Schwinn and Interim Secretary of Education Dr. Steven Godowsky met with Governor Markell.  They presented the options to him, and he wants #3.  The very same penalty that the non-Delaware DOE members of the AFWG voted unanimously to remove at their last meeting.  When asked why they changed their mind on this, Gerri Marshall from the Red Clay Consolidated School district thought it would be a moot point because nobody thought the opt-out numbers would be as high as they were in many schools and districts.

When asked if the legislators override Governor Markell’s veto of House Bill 50, Donna Johnson stated “Federal law trumps state law.”  But once again, they are cherry-picking parts of the law that suit their needs.  Because the Smarter Balanced Assessment doesn’t allow for a human reader under many circumstances even though his IEP stated he should be given this accommodation during testing.  I told the DOE the same words, federal law trumps state law.  I never received a response from them or anyone at the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium about that.  Ever.  But back to a potential veto override, if the DOE submits their ESEA waiver and it is approved by the Federal Government, through the US DOE, House Bill 50 could not have the line about opt-out not being included in a school’s accountability ratings.  This is IF the State Board of Education chooses Governor Markell’s #3 option with participation rate.

The Delaware DOE admitted they actually rounded up the participation rates as much as they could for schools in Delaware.  Why would they do that?  Was the same metric for this rounding up applied to ALL schools?  I would love to see the actual data on that.

The Governor doesn’t want the Delaware School Success Framework to publish a school’s overall rating.  But it will be subject to FOIA, the State Board will announce it at their meeting, and media will write about it.  This is the part that leaves me feeling very perplexed.  Why put yourself in a position where you have to get a FOIA when you can just choose to make it public knowledge?

The AFWG, after much discussion, agreed to use points as a school’s calculation based on a 500 point scale.  So if a school gets total points of 70 based on the calculated weights for each category, on this scale their score would be 350.  Whatever the school gets it will be heavily tied to their overall Smarter Balanced Assessment.  The DOE publishes the Smarter Balanced results, and since 90% of an elementary and middle school’s score will be based on either proficiency, growth, or growth to proficiency (all based on SBAC), that other average daily attendance is not going to make that much of a difference.  For high schools, 70% will be based on the same SBAC criteria, with other measurements of 30% tied to college and career preparation and “on track to graduation” levels.

Delaware State Rep. Kim Williams asked the AFWG many tough questions concerning charter school enrollment preferences, Governor Markell’s position on the participation rate penalty, and the need for the group to have a united front on these issues.

Tomorrow, the DOE will present the Delaware School Success Framework based on the recommendations by the AFWG to DESS.  But even Penny Schwinn said Governor Markell is her boss.  He selected her for the position of Chief Officer of Accountability and Assessment at the DOE and it is her job to do what he says.  Jack hates parents who opt-out, for all of the obvious reasons.  And if Jack doesn’t like, that must mean Rodel doesn’t like it.

The AFWG’s work is done, unless the DOE has to get another month extension from US DOE if needed.  But most of the members of the group know they can’t really discuss this any further.  Their thoughts are known, and many members of the work group wish they could just blow it up and not have to worry about this insane school report card to begin with.  I echo that sentiment.

Governor Markell To Attend Freire’s Ribbon-Cutting Ceremony Later Today

At 5pm, Delaware Governor Jack Markell will give the opening remarks at Freire Charter School of Wilmington’s ribbon-cutting ceremony.  Freire, who last year submitted a modification request to take away their specific interest clause in their enrollment preferences, was known for their “zero tolerance” policy.  Of course, zero tolerance didn’t seem to matter to the former Head of School named Bill Porter who was arrested after assaulting a female protester last March.  Members of the Midtown Brandywine Neighborhoods Association protested the school moving in the middle of their neighborhood due to changes in traffic patterns.

It is widely rumored that Markell was instrumental in bringing Freire to town.  Freire has a few charter schools in Philadelphia, but they are known for counseling out students.  At Freire’s formal review last Spring, due to low enrollment, special education was a main concern of the Delaware Department of Education.  Freire had a plan for getting out of state services for its students with disabilities.  The DOE said nope.  As well, Freire never hired a new head of school.  Instead the school is run by their academic heads, Paul Ramirez and Felecia Wennell.

Out of all the education events going on this week, Markell picks a ribbon-cutting ceremony at a charter school.  Lame-duck indeed…

Seven Delaware Charters Bow Out of DPAS-II Teacher Evaluation System

Last month at the State Board of Education meeting, former Secretary of Education Mark Murphy announced he approved many charter schools for a minor modification involving their Teacher Evaluation system.  The schools are Positive Outcomes Charter School, Family Foundations Academy, Las Americas ASPIRA, Academia Antonia Alsonso, Early College High School, First State Military Academy, and The Delaware Met.  Oddly enough, the only school I knew that applied for this does not have anything listed on the Delaware DOE website about this.  But Freire Charter School of Wilmington is still on probation status.  Family Foundations Academy had their probation lifted at the same State Board of Education meeting. Family Foundation’s alternate teacher evaluation system will fall under the Delaware Charter Collaborative system that already includes East Side, Prestige Academy, Kuumba, and Thomas Edison.

By Delaware law, the Secretary of Education does not need the assent of the State Board of Education to approve a minor modification, nor are formal meetings of the Charter School Accountability Committee or formal Public Hearings.  But here’s my thing with all this.  One of the questions on the application for a minor modification request is this:

The authorizer will review your most recent Performance Review Reports as part of your application. Discuss the school’s academic performance, compliance with the terms of its charter, and financial viability as measured by the Performance Framework.

Four of these charters have NEVER had a Performance Review since they either opened last year (Academia Antonia Alonso and Early College High School) or this year (First State Military Academy and The Delaware Met).  Granted, the first two charters will have a performance review in the next month or so, but my point is this- should we be changing an established system in favor of an alternate system for charters that have never been put through a performance review?  In my opinion, this should be reserved for schools that have some data behind them to back this up.  One only has to look at the horror show of the past month and a half with The Delaware Met to know they should not be approved for an alternate system for teacher evaluation when they can’t even prove they know how to run a school!  Below are all the school’s applications and the section of Delaware code that allows for this.

9.9 Minor modifications

9.9.1 A minor modification is any proposed change to a charter, including proposed changes to any condition placed on the charter, which is not a major modification. Minor modifications include, but are not limited to:

9.9.1.1 Changes to the name of either the charter school or charter holder; or

9.9.1.2 The first extension of any deadline imposed on the charter school or charter holder by thirty (30) working days or less (or by 15 calendar days in the case of the First Instructional Day); or

9.9.1.3 In the case of a charter school which is open with students in attendance, offering educational services at a site other than, or in addition to, the site approved as part of the school’s charter, when use of the approved site has unavoidably been lost by reason of fire or other casualty as that term is defined in Black’s Law Dictionary; or

9.9.1.4 An increase or decrease in the school’s total authorized enrollment of more than 5%, but not more than 15%, provided further the minor modification request must be filed between November 1st and December 31st and, if approved, shall be effective the following school year; or

9.9.1.5 Alter, expand or enhance existing or planned school facilities or structures, including any plan to use temporary or modular structures, provided that the applicant demonstrates that the school will maintain the health and safety of the students and staff and remain economically viable as provided in 4.4 above; or

9.9.1.6 Any change in the school’s agreement with an educational management organization other than as set forth in 9.4.3 and 9.8.1.1 above; or

9.9.1.7 A change to the current authorized number of hours, either daily or annually, devoted to actual school sessions. Regardless of any proposed change, the school shall maintain the minimum instructional hours required by Title 14 of the Delaware Code; or

9.9.1.8 A change in the terms of the current site facilities arrangements including, but not limited to, a lease to a purchase or a purchase to a lease arrangement; or

9.9.2 The Secretary may decide the minor modification application based on the supporting documents supplied with the application unless the Secretary finds that additional information is needed from the applicant.

9.9.3 The Secretary may refer a minor modification request to the Accountability Committee for review if the Secretary determines, in her/his sole discretion, that such review would be helpful in her/his consideration of the application. If the Secretary refers a minor modification application to the Accountability Committee, she/he may decide the application based on any report from the Committee and the supporting documents related to the application. The applicant for a minor modification shall be notified if the minor modification request has been forwarded to the Accountability Committee. The applicant may be asked to provide additional supporting documentation.

9.9.4 The Secretary may deny a minor modification request if the supporting documentation is incomplete or insufficient provided the applicant has been advised additional information was needed

9.9.5 Upon receiving an application for a minor modification, the Secretary shall notify the State Board of the application and her/his decision on whether to refer the application to the Accountability Committee.

9.9.6 The meeting and hearing process provided for in Section 511(h), (i) and (j) of the Charter School Law shall not apply to a minor modification application even where the Secretary refers the application to the Accountability Committee.

9.9.7 Decisions for minor modifications to a charter may be decided by the Secretary within 30 working days from the date the application was filed, unless the timeline is waived by mutual agreement of the Secretary and the applicant, or in any case where the Secretary, in the sole discretion of the Secretary, deems that it would be beneficial to either refer the matter to the Accountability Committee or to seek advice from the State Board prior to deciding the matter.

Nowhere in this part of Delaware code is there anything about teacher evaluation systems.  But that is covered under the very loose “Minor modifications include, but are not limited to” part of this in 9.9.1.  That is a very major change to a school’s operations, and should be a major modification.  When these schools apply, the applications go to the Teacher Leader Effectiveness Unit at the Delaware DOE, led by Chris Ruszkowski.  Once they approve it, it goes to the Secretary of Education.  But I’m not surprised the DOE and Secretary Murphy would play fast and loose with state code to get what they want with charters…