The Wilmington Education Improvement Commission had two meetings tonight. At 5pm, they had their Redistricting Committee meeting and at 6:30 they had a regular commission meeting. During the public comment part of the redistricting meeting, State Rep. Kim Williams advised the audience State Board of Education Executive Director Donna Johnson was telling State Board members how to vote on the WEIC plan at last week’s controversial State Board of Education meeting. This was overheard by a few people in the audience at the State Board of Education meeting. The best part… Donna Johnson was sitting in the row behind her. As reported to me by several people, Johnson immediately began shaking her head no. She did not look happy at all by the time I got there.
I was not there for that stunning announcement, but I did arrive late to the commission meeting. As Milli Vanilli would say, blame it on the rain. But the meeting was in full swing by the time I got there. Commission member Yvonne Johnson introduced a motion to send the WEIC plan back to the State Board without their amendments concerning “shall” and “may” and the Christina priority school plans. The motion passed, after a lot of heated discussion on both sides of the argument, with 15 yes, 6 no, and 2 absent.
Prior to that, State Board President Dr. Teri Quinn Gray and Secretary of Education Dr. Steven Godowsky were there to answer questions. The best moment of the evening, which drew a huge round of applause, was when Christina Board President Harrie Ellen Minnehan informed Dr. Gray about how former Secretary of Education Mark Murphy never signed their memorandum of understanding developed with their board, the DOE, and representatives from Governor Markell’s office. Dr. Gray actually said she wasn’t aware of that even though she was told this at the December State Board meeting. She told Minnehan she misread the addendum to the WEIC plan, even though it was very clearly spelled out. I have to wonder if these State Board members read anything or if Donna Johnson is calling the shots 100% of the time. Minnehan told Dr. Gray she wanted an apology from the State Board for their misleading labeling of the Christina School District. Many members of the commission and nearly all of the audience clapped at this. Of course, Dr. Gray did not apologize. I guess they need a board vote to determine if they “may” or “shall” do that.
Commission member Chandra Pitts asked Gray if she understood the intent of Senate Bill 122, which was that the WEIC plan either got a yes or a no vote from the State Board. Gray responded by saying she did understand the legislation. Pitts asked Secretary Godowsky what his plans are for Wilmington students after he openly said he wanted to make sure the Christina priority schools clause was put into the State Board’s consideration for the WEIC plan.
Gray said the State Board will advocate for Wilmington students just as much as they do for all of Delaware’s students. This didn’t soothe any of the emotions in the crowd. As I wrote on Facebook tonight, their idea of advocacy is ruling as tyrants in the Cabinet Room at the DOE Building once a month. They are the most disconnected education group in the state, yet they have this power to make or break education. All I see is a lot of breaking at the expense of Delaware’s students. When the majority of the voices out there are telling you “this is wrong” or “don’t do this”, the State Board usually takes it upon themselves to ignore those voices and essentially do whatever Governor Markell tells Donna Johnson who then tells them what to do. One member of the commission asked why the State Board brought up this whole “shall” and “may” stuff in Mid-February when they had the plan since December. No response…
The districts were united in their response to the State Board’s change of the “shall” and “may” with no way! They will have no part of an unfunded mandate that could eventually leave the citizens in their districts on the hook to pay for all of this. Colonial Board Member Joseph Laws told Gray he thought it was ridiculous that the State Board would change those words based on the possibility of “tying the hands of the future State Board”. He said the General Assembly and school board members pass laws, resolutions, and policies all the time. Basically, and these are my words, it was lame of the State Board to change a whole plan based on future boards.
During the deliberation of the motion to send the original plan back to the State Board, WEIC member Rev. Meredith Griffiths told the group it should be about the students. He felt if they send the plan back to the State Board where they will vote no on it again, it won’t help the students because the adults self-posture. I see it as defending their local turf. Had they done this during the Race To The Top days, things could be very different now. Perhaps they have learned their lesson and we are seeing this now with the WEIC vs. State Board fight.
Bottom line: you can’t trust the State Board. They are not publicly elected officials. They are appointed by the Governor. Granted, not all of the State Board members were appointed by Markell, but they have let him run the show since he became Governor. And by using his puppet Donna Johnson to give the marching orders to the State Board, we get events like tonight.
Gray was not in her turf, so she couldn’t do her grand posturing and her bouts of Christina Derangement Syndrome the way she does in State Board meetings. But make no mistake, beneath her calm demeanor, her arrogance could still be seen by all. For the most part, Godowsky sat there stone-faced without much comment at all. Our State Board of Education needs some major changes. The trust in them is gone. And I am still not convinced Godowsky’s changes in the DOE are enough to restore any semblance of faith in them as well. At the end of the day, it is still Governor Markell’s commands being followed. He may tweak those plans here and there in a vain attempt to restore public faith in his failed agendas, but the results are still the same.
If someone could please answer how the hell Donna Johnson still has her job I would greatly appreciate it. How does someone advance from being on the Common Core math implementation team to the Executive Director of the State Board of Education in just a couple years? It is my opinion, shared by many, that Donna Johnson abuses her power time and time again and no one at a state level who has the power to do anything about it does. Like I said, we need drastic change in Dover. The State Board’s incompetence at either passing or denying a redistricting plan is clear evidence of this, but this is just the culmination of years of their Markell-driven need for control.