FOIA complaint filed against the State Board of Education

State Rep. Kim Williams FOIAs the State Board of Education!!!!

DelawareFirstState

My email to AG Denn regarding the State Board of Education, January 21, 2016 meeting.
AG Denn, I am writing to you today to file a complaint with regards to the State Board of Education most recent board meeting held on Thursday, January  21, 2016 in the Townsend Building, Dover. If you listen to the State Board meeting audio from Thursday, you can hear that Dr. Gray instructed someone to have a side bar conversation during the State Board meeting, this was a public meeting she should not have instructed someone to go off the record, I have provided the audio below. Later on during the meeting after the WEIC Commission left, I witnessed along with Mike Matthews, RCEA president, Dr. Gray coming over to the attorney’s table and asked the attorney questions about WEIC and what had taken place with the vote and the amendment, again she should not be asking questions off the record. The State…

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Delaware GOP Senate Declares War On Poverty!

The Delaware Republican Minority in the Delaware Senate had some very strong words to say on the subject of poverty earlier today.

 

Taking On The Issue Of Poverty In Delaware – You Can Help!

Poverty is one of the greatest challenges of our society. Too many people go to bed at night without the basics of life – proper food, shelter and clothing. And those who have these basics, many are often insecure about whether they will have them in the future.

Delaware can no longer measure success on poverty issues simply by how many tax dollars we can spend. Success can only be measured by how many of our fellow Delawareans are lifted out of poverty and set off on a better path.

Beginning now, we are making it a priority to help Delawareans lift themselves out of poverty, and in doing so, reduce the demand for government resources. We believe we can help people improve their lives and shrink the size of government at the same time.

We are preparing to release a Republican Senate Poverty Agenda that focuses on three categories: improving skills and opportunity for workers, increasing educational options for kids in poverty, and strengthening families.

Ideas up for consideration in our agenda include:

* An increase in the Earned Income Tax Credit, rewarding Delaware’s poorest working people for sticking it out in the job market;

* Scholarship Tax Credits that encourage individuals and businesses to fund scholarships for low-income students to attend private schools;

* A resolution to call on the federal government to fund our anti-poverty programs through a “block grant with rails,” which allows decisions to be made at the level closest to the people, while protecting the integrity of the funds;

* A pro-marriage media campaign to promote the benefits of marriage for economic stability;

* A tax credit for businesses who hire apprentices and provide on-the-job training of a marketable skill; and

* Creating a commission to perform a comprehensive review of all Delaware worker training programs, seeking out best practices and ensuring that skills training for the jobs of today takes the highest priority.

This is just a portion of our agenda, and while we are proud of our ideas, we are also eager to work across the aisle on ideas that have merit. This is why many in our caucus have joined with Democratic Rep. Paul Baumbach on a bill to give a refundable tax cut to our poorest working people. And this is why we have reached out to the Governor’s office for a genuine role in his upcoming reform of our occupational licensing system, which is on our agenda as well.

While we have been researching this issue for some time now, and are confident we have ideas and a philosophy that will make a real difference, we know that the true innovators are the people of the state of Delaware. So we are sending out a Call For Ideas to address the issue of poverty in Delaware.

We invite you to submit your ideas via email to our Chief of Staff, Dave Burris, at david.burris@state.de.us. The criteria for submissions:

* Ideas must be addressable at the state level. We have little to no control over federal programs and spending.

* Ideas must not create a permanently funded government program. While government can be the impetus for change, creating layers upon layers of new programs simply puts a band-aid on the problem, and keeps people in poverty. It is not a solution. So we will accept ideas that use short-term investments of state dollars, but not permanently funded new programs.

* While we always welcome constituent ideas, the deadline for consideration in the poverty agenda is Friday, February 12th.

If your new idea is chosen to be part of our Poverty Agenda, we will credit you and you will be invited to be part of our press event when we roll out the legislation.

We thank you for helping us tackle some of the largest problems facing Delaware today. We know that together, we can solve problems and help our fellow Delawareans lift themselves out of poverty.

 

I think this is an excellent idea!  So much that I have already submitted my idea:

From: Kevin Ohlandt <kevino3670@yahoo.com>
To:
“david.burris@state.de.us” <david.burris@state.de.us>
Sent:
Tuesday, February 2, 2016 3:12 PM
Subject:
Senate GOP Poverty Agenda Call For Ideas

Mr. Burris,
I am responding to the call for ideas from the Senate GOP Poverty Agenda Call issued today.  I have a proposed idea that would solve a large controversial issue and would also generate funds for students in poverty. 
In 2013, the 147th General Assembly passed House Bill 165, a charter school reform bill.  Included in this was a stipulation that charter schools could keep any excess funds provided from the state for their transportation budget.  As an example, say Delaware Charter School budgets $150,000 for their bus transportation budget, but only spends $115,000.  Based on that law, they get to keep that $35,000 difference.  What if we did away with that loophole, and had those funds go directly to families and individuals in poverty?  This transportation fund usually averages out to an average of $1.45 million a year based on the last two years of this program.  If these funds were redistributed to families in poverty, it could be the difference between a family actually eating for a few weeks or being hungry.
Quite a few legislators stand opposed to this “slush” fund as some call it.  I am in agreement with them.  Thank you for your consideration on this matter. 
Respectfully,
Kevin Ohlandt

Delaware Design-Lab High School Parent Complaints Show Disturbing Patterns

On Saturday, after I posted an article on Delaware Design-Lab High School’s major modification request, the Delaware DOE asked me to remove the  parent complaints because of some student identifying information that was in that section of the article.  The DOE has revised the complaints, so I am giving this its own article.  Like I said in the original article, it is very disturbing to see this go on in any of our Delaware schools.  It is more than obvious our new charters need much more training in discipline and due process…

Charters Making Out Like Bandits With Minor Capital Improvements Loophole!

Delaware State Representative John Kowalko requested information on how much Delaware charters are getting in minor capital improvement funding through Governor Markell’s proposed budget.  In the past three fiscal years, Delaware charters were allowed to receive $351,857 total from the state budget.  This year, Markell has an astonishing $1,587,310 allocated for charter school minor capital funding.  This is approximately four and a half times the average yearly amount.  Kowalko is not happy about this and asked to share this letter he wrote his colleagues in the 148th General Assembly.

Dear Colleagues,

Here is the amount of minor cap improvement money spent on Charter School facilities. This is out of a proposed $11 million in the Governor’s budget for MCI allotted for all public schools in Delaware including the many crumbling and outdated buildings in Wilmington and elsewhere.  It should not be necessary to point out to all of you that none of these charter school facilities are owned in whole or part by Delaware taxpayers and every dollar spent goes to enhancing the value of privately owned facilities. Not one penny will come back to the taxpayer if these buildings are sold or abandoned. This is an abuse of taxpayer monies and an abdication of our responsibilities to those taxpayers.

Representative John Kowalko
A voice of reason in an out of control charter friendly General Assembly!
And here are the amount each charter will get.  Of course, this is subject to the approval of the General Assembly when they pass the budget.

CharterMinorCapFundingPt1

CharterMinorCapFundingPt2

Yeah, I wasn’t too happy when I saw this either.  So aside from this surplus funding which was not part of the original charter school law but got added in to House Bill 165 in 2013, charters also get funds from the charter school performance fund, the charter school transportation slush fund, and many donations from places like the Longwood Foundation, Rodel, and The Welfare Foundation along with others.  When will the madness stop?  Kendall Massett spoke at the House Education Committee meeting last week to speak against House Bill 231, sponsored by State Rep. Sean Matthews.  His bill would require charters to have all teachers as part of the state retirement fund.  Massett spoke against it stating that the original charter school bill allowed charters to have extra flexibility from state bureaucracy.  But apparently when it benefits the charters, they don’t speak out against that…

Delaware Gets A Grade Of “D” From The Network For Public Education

The Network for Public Education released their 50 State Report Card today and Delaware got a D.  This is no surprise to me considering all the education policies Governor Markell has brought about in the last year.  Frankly, I’m shocked we didn’t get an F.  As Markell continues to tout his success with education, it becomes more clear how flawed his initiatives truly are.  Below you can read the entire report card.

First State Montessori Academy Enrollment Preference Arguments Heat Up

 

fsma-icons

On Saturday, I published an article concerning First State Montessori Academy’s major modification request to increase their enrollment and add middle school grades.  To say this has been controversial would be an understatement.  Public Comment, whether it was on this blog or through the official public comment channel on the DOE Charter School Office website.  Last night, the Public Hearing for First State Montessori’s major modification request was held.  When the transcript from the hearing becomes available I will put it up here.

At their December 2nd board meeting, First State Montessori talked about forming a committee to explore the option of increasing their enrollment and adding extra grades.  The board passed a motion to increase their enrollment by 5-15%.  School leader Courtney Fox said they would have to get a major modification request to the DOE by 12/31/15.  What is very interesting here is the school leader’s mention of the Delaware Met building next to them, at 920 N. French St.  While she doesn’t come out and say it, it is obvious the school is assuming Delaware Met would be closed.  The board doesn’t even mention the possibility of adding middle school grades at this point in time either, only adding more Kindergarten and 1st grade classrooms.  As well, Fox, who is NOT a member of the board, announces a future meeting to discuss the possibility of the modification request and increasing their enrollment.  Why did the board not vote on this?  Does Fox run the board as well as the school?

On December 19th, an agenda for a 12/28/15 board meeting was put up on their website.  It indicated their would be an update on the Exploring Expansion Committee.  One would assume the board voted at that meeting on their major modification request and to add middle school grades.  By this time, the announcement by the State Board of Education over Del Met’s closure was old news.  Three days after Christmas is a very odd time to have a board meeting.  While the board did do the right thing in putting up the agenda at least a week prior to the meeting, how much ability was there for members of the public to know about this meeting and potentially weigh in on the topic?  On the flip side, the State Board voted on the charter revocation for Del Met on 12/16 so the school had to see what would happen with that decision before moving forward.  But I still find it ironic there is no definitive plan set in motion earlier in December to add middle school grades to the school and all of a sudden it materializes in their major modification request submitted on 12/30/15.

This is merely conjecture on my part, but we already know the DOE suggested DAPSS submit a major modification request instead of a minor modification request.  How much input should the DOE have in suggesting modification requests to Delaware charter schools?  And what of Kendall Massett with the Delaware Charter Schools Network who seems to be a intermediary between charter schools and the Delaware DOE?  I will be very upfront and say something really doesn’t smell right here.  And with all these modification requests coming from charter schools how can we be sure this could not somehow influence the State Board of Education’s vote on the Wilmington Education Improvement Commission redistricting plan?

In the meantime, check out what folks had to say about this hot topic:

“J” said:

Kevin, the interest in Montessori thing is as easy as taking a tour or even talking for a moment to someone from the school in the community. They are at the expo and other events. Have held info sessions at local libraries, etc. It’s easy. The Montessori model is very different. There are mixed grade classrooms, no traditional desks, no traditional homework packets. Very different and something that families and students should be aware of. “Interest” in this case is awareness of the differences, that’s all.
Ask about it – learn about it. Heck, e mail me. This doesn’t cherry pick anything.

Eve Buckley said:

The questions raised in the final comment have been asked since FSMA opened. According to DOE’s “school profiles” for this school year, FSMA students are 65% white and 8% low-income. The two districts surrounding it are 44% white, 35% low-income (Red Clay) and 32% white, 41% low-income (Christina); those figures include suburban regions with less poverty than the city. So FSMA could clearly be doing more to attract and retain a student population more reflective of its surrounding communities (or even of the countywide student population). No pressure in that direction from its authorizer?
Note that Cab and Newark Charter, also very popular “choice” options, also have low-income % around 8. That seems to be the sweet spot for appealing to middle class public school consumers in the area (if you can’t achieve the 2% attained via testing by CSW).

Mike O said:

For families who “choose not to apply” to charters such as NCS or Montessori, I am sure many don’t even realize those are public schools their child is eligible for. Which is how you get to 8% low income without testing

jane s said:

it’s especially sad to see this happening at an elementary school. the goal should be to give children the best start possible regardless of their background. this could be a place that helps children enter middle school and high school on equal ground, but instead it’s just adding to the divide. nothing will change if people don’t speak out.

Eve Buckley said:

I agree! It is really sad–waste of an opportunity.

jenn said:

hi. i think the practices of fsma are fair and comprehensive. interest becomes a priority only because the montessori method is not of interest to everyone, much like a dual-language school like aspira is not of high-priority to many families. if you are to apply to fsma, because it’s a school in your neighborhood, without carrying any interest in montessori principles, then how detrimental will that student be in the classroom? (in terms of congruence, not as a human!) i do not know why the five-mile radius is not ‘more of a priority’, but i believe the admissions process does indeed actively reach out to all areas throughout delaware. it just depends on who researches montessori/has experience with it, and who thinks it is an important addition to the learning process. shown by the small number of montessori schools across the country, and the small classroom size within those schools, one can only surmise that is it not a hot topic among majority of families in delaware or beyond, regardleses of SES, ethnicity or neighborhood. we are ultimately creatures of comfort, and stick to the path most traveled. a school like this, or any other magnet, charter, votech, etc has enrollment because of interest and the desire to trek the brambly, gravel path. please see the good nature of such schools. i know it doesn’t sell like trash-talking does, but in a society deprived of an identity, the journey to recreating one for delaware schools could stand to be a lot less hotheaded. thank you.

John Young said:

No idea who Jenn is, but maybe she should join that sorry CSAC team which appears to olnly authorize losing propositions in DE Charterland. Bet it would be a great fit for a truly dysfunctional organization.

Natalie Ganc said:

I think that a stipulation should be put on all of these charter schools claiming that their school panders to their geographical radius: They should have to go pound-the-pavement (pamphlet in hand) to educate their neighbors to inform them of all of the benefits their child will receive if they choose to enroll. I say this, because I am quite certain that the folks living in the high-poverty areas have no idea what some charter schools are all about.

And from the official public comment section on the DOE website:

 

State Board of Education’s Lightning Rod Letter To WEIC Questions Redistricting Plan

WEIC

The Delaware State Board of Education fulfilled their obligation to the Wilmington Education Improvement Commission by providing them a letter regarding their rejection of the final redistricting plan. There are serious questions as to the legality of the State Board’s actions at their meeting on January 21st. But in the meantime, WEIC is meeting tonight to go over the letter and plan their next move. The meeting will begin at 5:30pm at the Red Clay Consolidated School District office on 1502 Spruce Avenue in Wilmington.

Below are the letter the State Board sent to WEIC on 1/31/16 and WEIC’s response letter from the same day.