WEIC Needs To Make Sure Current Education Funding Is Legit First & A Message For Candidates

As I plow head-first into Delaware education funding, I am finding inconsistencies galore!  Now that the Wilmington Education Improvement Commission has “officially” voted to suspend the timeline based on the Delaware General Assembly crafting legislation which essentially kicks the can for just another year, they have also been charged with taking another look at the fiscal impact.  The News Journal came out with an article on this today.  My advice to WEIC: make sure the education funding we already have is being used properly before you dive into weighted funding formulas for Delaware at-risk students.

Dan Rich, the policy advisor for WEIC from the University of Delaware, had this to say about weighted funding:

“That’s a key piece,” Rich said. “The top priority for funding is not for redistricting, per se, but for providing funding for the kids at greatest risk.”

It is a key piece of a puzzle that has thousands of pieces and no one has made sure the pieces fit together.  Some districts and charters are not spending money wisely, or even ethically.  We all know this, but in Delaware we have become a “hear nothing, do nothing” state.  With the simple art of just not listening and ignoring the people of the state, our leaders in Government look the other way.  They don’t want to deal with the corruption and fraud, and not just in education.

But according to Rich, he wants to bring outside organizations into this convoluted mess in our schools.  Saranac Hale Spencer from the News Journal wrote:

While the commission examines the fiscal impact of the plan in the coming months, it will also be working on other things, Rich said, explaining that it has begun mapping out the kinds of educational services offered by Wilmington institutions. A number of organizations offer resources to students and schools, but they aren’t necessarily in communication with each other.

It will also be looking to other communities to see how they have connected those assets to support schools and, in a similar project, it will be looking at the various state and local policies that affect poor families and children to see how they align and how they are funded.

Let me be crystal clear: I am all for better schools.  I think every student deserves a chance at success, even the most at-risk students.  But when the system is already broken, through federal, state and district mandates, and a funding system that has no checks and balances already, why the hell would we try something new and unproven (for Delaware)?  If we can’t control education funding now with proper oversight and audits of our districts and charters, why would we add to the existing mess?  We can’t guarantee funding is going to the right places now.  And some (many in power) want to add more funding to that?

This is the biggest problem in Delaware.  Everyone always has a solution to move forward, but they leave the old wreckage behind and try to cover it up.  It’s still there, rotting under the surface.  If the foundation is rotten, nothing anyone says or does will fix anything.  We all know this, but nothing changes.  Until we take the current system apart and find the cracks in the foundations and fix them, no new funding mechanism is going to change anything.  I know what it means if this happened.  It takes courage for this to happen.  It takes courage for enough of us to step up and demand this from our state.  Sending emails with everyone and their mother cc’ed on it doesn’t work.  We know this.  We need to take this to the next level.  Some of us are taking those next steps.  But if you are reading this, comment.  Come up with ideas.  Beyond the “request a meeting and talk about it behind closed doors when nothing ever gets accomplished”.  Beyond the next task force that will come up empty-handed.  We need to start asking the big questions, but more importantly, the right questions.  This is not a teacher issue.  This is not a student issue.  These are administration issues.  Financial issues.  That go way beyond a miscoding here and there.  We can pretend this isn’t really going on, but it is.  Our state knows about it.  The DOE knows a lot of this.  And our State Auditor most certainly knows about it.  It isn’t just a district or a charter thing.  It is all of it.  It is time to rip the Band-Aides off the rotting flesh and expose.  Who is in?

In the meantime, John Carney weighed in on the whole WEIC thing with what amounts to his usual hum-drum responses with absolutely no backbone behind anything.

His likely successor, U.S. Rep. John Carney, who is running on the Democratic ticket for governor, hasn’t committed to keeping that money in the budget.

He said in a prepared statement, “I am, however, committed to doing whatever is necessary to give every child the quality education they deserve, particularly those facing the kinds of obstacles WEIC is most concerned about.”

I’m sorry Mr. Carney, but at this point in the game, you should be coming up with ideas of your own and not relying on others to come up with them.  You are running for Governor!  Not the school student council.

So with that being said, I am offering an invitation to all the candidates running for Governor, Lieutenant Governor, and Congress.  I am inviting you all to an education forum on The Green, in front of Legislative Hall.  There will be no admission for the public.  Please commit a few hours for this.  I’ll do the legwork and get the people there.  We need to hear from all of you about what your plans are for education in our state.  My email address is kevino3670@yahoo.com.  Let’s all coordinate a date so ALL of you can make it, before the primary.  And let’s do this soon.  Let’s also do this before school starts.  Do your homework, formulate your positions.  And know that we are going to ask the tough questions without any easy answers.  You won’t know what they are beforehand.  Education is too important to have your staff come up with the answers for you.  If you want to lead, then know what you are leading.  If any of you email me and say “I can’t make it but I would love to sit down with you and discuss education with you”, then in my mind you aren’t willing to go that extra step for the people of this state.

So if the following candidates could email me with five possible dates, in the early evening, between now and August 19th.  Yes, time is short.  It is less than two months before the primaries.  And less than four months until the General Election.  But I want to hear from ALL of you.  The people do as well.  And Mr. Carney, please do not ignore this.  As the front-runner for Governor, you are who I want to hear from the most.  We need to know you won’t be a rubber stamp for Jack Markell’s very damaging policies.  We also don’t want you thinking this is going to be an easy ride for you.  And Jack Markell, I would respectfully ask you to please stay out of this.  You had your time.  It’s ending.  It is time for new and better ideas.

John Carney

Colin Bonini

Lacey Lafferty

Sean Goward

Lisa Blunt Rochester

Mike Miller

Bryan Townsend

Elias Weir

Hans Reigle

Scott Gesty

Sherry Dorsey-Walker

Brad Eaby

Greg Fuller

Bethany Hall-Long

Kathleen McGuiness

Ciro Poppiti

La Mar Gunn

I can tell you right now, weekends and Mondays are out.  This could be your chance to truly leave a mark on this election.  Your audience will want to hear what you are going to do, not what you have done.  Yes, your many accomplishments are important.  But we need a change for the future.  This is your chance to shine.  Not in front of a group of wealthy people who can afford an expensive plate.  This is you getting real, with real people.  This debate is not sponsored by anyone.  It is a grassroots gathering, outside.  No microphones.  Just people talking.  I encourage as many Delaware residents who can make it to attend.

I won’t assume all of you read this article, so I will be emailing you and contacting all of you tomorrow.

 

Delaware Education Funding: Teacher Salaries For District & Charters By Student

Teacher Salaries.  This is the bulk of the costs in education.  As it should be.  Teachers are the lifeblood of a child’s education.  The funding for teachers should always be the highest cost for any school, whether it is in a district school or a charter school.  With that being said, below are what our districts and charter schools pay for teachers.  But as with the article on overall spending, it is all in relation to how many students a district or charter has.  There are several opinions that can be drawn from these pictures, but as with all these articles, the percentage of high-needs students can play a huge factor, especially when it comes to special education.  But we can see, based on the numbers, that having too many new teachers may save money in the short-term but it doesn’t bode well for students.

With this article, we have the first charter schools to suffer from what I call BAP: Bad Accounting Practices.  Delaware Military Academy and Delaware College Prep are not included in this because it would be impossible to figure out their teacher salaries.  For the sole reason that they put ALL their salaries under a code of “General Salaries”.  There is no breakdown of teacher, principal, head of school, secretaries, and so forth.  I know their authorizer, Red Clay, has approached them about this with absolutely no change whatsoever.  And Del. Military Academy already had a run-in with the State Auditor a few years back over personal spending.  Del. College Prep had their charter revoked by the Red Clay board and closed at the end of June.

Before you react to the first picture, I would like to remind everyone that the number of students in each district is the biggest factor in all of this.  Some district and charter accounting gurus may look at these and think I have all my numbers wrong.  If they are looking at just the state code that falls under teacher salaries, most of them would be right.  But for the purposes of this article and to get a true understanding of how teachers are paid overall in our districts and charters, I added the following together to come up with the teacher salaries: teacher salaries, academic excellence (essentially a bonus for some teachers), what are known as Extra Pay for Extra Responsibility categories (Sports, Extra-Curricular, and Misc.), Visiting Teachers, and the three Related Services for special education that only about half the districts use for special education teachers (Basic, Intensive, and Complex).  There is absolutely no way to determine how many teachers are tenured or have more experience at each district or charter.  But these are straight-out salaries and do not include benefits or pensions.  That will come soon, but there is a specific reason why I am not including this with the regular salaries.  As well, based on this information, there is no way to calculate how many teachers are in each district or charter.

FY2016DistrictTeacherSalaries

For the most part, district teacher salaries fall in line with how many students are in each district, with only some slight variances between a few districts, and nothing that put them more than one spot ahead or below another district.  Christina cut a lot of teachers after their referenda from FY2015 failed.  So their numbers could be higher next year since their referendum did pass this year and they restored most of the teaching positions.  Not every district has “academic excellence” bonus money they give to teachers.  A lot of these funds come from grants based on AP and advanced classes.  Districts that did not give any funds to teachers for “academic excellence” are Caesar Rodney, Colonial, Indian River, Laurel, Seaford, Woodbridge and Sussex Tech.  Brandywine and Appoquinimink led the pack with these bonuses, with $3.1 and $2.6 million given to teachers in each district.  Christina only had $784 in academic excellence, which leads me to believe something was either miscoded or carried over from the prior year.

FY2016CharterTeacherSalaries

With almost twice the amount of students as Odyssey, it would stand to reason that Newark Charter School would be number one on this graph.  We do see more variances among the charters for teacher spending than exists for the districts.  Charter school teachers in Delaware are not part of teacher unions so collective bargaining does not play a role in their salary negotiations.  What concerns me the most are Freire and Great Oaks which I will go into more detail a bit later.  All of the charter schools that just opened a little less than a year ago came in last for teacher salaries.  Newer charters tend to get less experienced teachers who are new to the profession.  This can cause severe growing pains for new charters.  In fact, out of the seven charters that opened in the past few years, all are in the bottom half when it comes to teacher salaries.

FY2016DistrictTeacherSalariesPerStudent

This is where the pictures change drastically.  New Castle County Vo-Tech takes the number one spot.  Followed by a district in Sussex County.  The top two districts for teacher spending overall, Red Clay and Christina, come in 6th and 8th on this based on the teacher salaries divided by the number of students in the district.  Once again, there is a very direct correlation between how vo-techs are funded and how much they are able to spend.  By not relying on referenda and worrying about local funding, they experience much more freedom than traditional school districts.  It must be nice to be a line item on the state budget!

FY2016CharterTeacherSalariesPerStudent

With charters, we see a vast amount of difference between teacher salaries divided by the number of students in each school.  For schools that have been around for a long time, like Thomas Edison, Academy of Dover, and Family Foundations, they have very low teacher salaries per student.  Especially since they serve some high-need populations.  Either they are paying too little in teacher salaries, there is high turnover, or a combination of both.  On the flip side, how Prestige Academy has the highest teacher salary per student amount in the state, at $6,544 baffles me.  My guess, which will come up in future articles, is they are putting other salaries in with teacher salaries.  Another BAP at play.  Freire, at $1573 a student, and Great Oaks, at an incredibly low $1175 a student, is almost unbelievable.  Either they are miscoding salaries or they do not have enough certified teachers.  Are they utilizing programs like Teach For America and Relay Graduate School too much?  Those programs have very high turnover compared to regular teachers.  These are also high schools, which makes me worried about the post-graduate outcomes of these students.  And no, I don’t mean based on Smarter Balanced Assessment scores.  Not many charters give “academic excellence” funds to teachers.  Only Newark Charter School and Campus Community do this in larger amounts, while Positive Outcomes and Kuumba do this in very low amounts.

teachersalarystudentpercentages

In this last graph, I took the teacher salaries divided by the student count for each charter or district and then divided that by the total per student count.  Sadly, the percentage of cost per student going towards teacher salaries appears to be 7% for Great Oaks.  I would say any charter or district below 25% is not good.  If at least a quarter of spending in schools isn’t going towards teachers, there are most likely some issues.  By the same token, if the amount is too high, like with the four charters at the top, something probably isn’t being coded right in the state accounting system.

Once again, I will reiterate that these amounts are based on expenditures by particular accounting codes during FY2016 for Delaware school districts and charter schools as reported by the state.  This information is put into the Delaware accounting system by each district or charter school.  In certain situations, I can only surmise what might be going on.  They are supposed to follow certain codes, but none of them do it by the book.  And with little or no oversight by our state, they get away with it.  I believe in local control, but there are certain things, in the name of transparency and best practices, that dictate a uniformity, and education spending is at the top of that list!