Live, From Delaware, It’s The Carney & Bunting Education Funding Tele-Town Hall

I will get the call at 7:45pm.

For those following, Mike Matthews is also going to live comment on his Facebook account.  I told him I was going to live blog.  He said to do it cause he won’t catch everything.  I told him that is okay because I can just screenshot everything he says.

It is 7:46pm and no call yet.  Mike Matthews hasn’t received one either.  A government function running late?  Say it isn’t so!

Out of ten people on Mike’s Facebook page, only one has gotten the call.  Just got the call!

Carney is on the line!  Thanking DASA and DSEA for getting the word out.  Vehicle he has been using since he was our lone Congressman.

Been travelling up and down the state and has participated in about a dozen town hall meetings.  Legislators helped to organize these.  Has heard from people we have a structural budget problem.  This should be a balanced solution.  People want us to run government more effectively and proficiently.  Thinks with “shared sacrifice” more people will chip in.

Most folks don’t want to see cuts in programs or tax increases. People want a balanced approach with shared sacrifice.

More kids with special needs.  Forced to deal with almost $400 million dollar shortfall.

Purpose of call is to talk about education cuts and way to bring this to General Assembly.  Thinks it will be $200 million in cuts and $200 million in new revenue.  Corporate franchise tax will give us some extra bling.

Cigarettes going up a $1.oo.

Education spending is flat.  Fund teacher units based on student growth, early childhood education, teacher step increases, professional development.  Education is $1.4 billion.  $1.2 billion goes to districts to pay for teacher salaries and other costs.  State pays about 60% of all education spending in our state.  Suggesting is an across the board cut of 1.5% and $22 million cut in educational sustainment fund.  Wants districts to cut $22 million.  When federal funds went away for math and reading specialists, state picked them up.  Doesn’t want to cut anything.  Need for Delaware to be more competitive in the long-term.

Talking about spending time at Red Clay school in 2nd grade class.  Skipped around on questions.  The moderator interrupted to hear my question.  My question surrounds tuition funding for special education.

Sandy from Newark was cut off.  Cindy from Dover asked if how long it could take the state to go from 19 school districts to 6 school districts and central supply ordering.  To cut down on everything.  Carney said the idea of district consolidation has been raised in the town halls.  He said you would have to look at actual cost saving as a result.  Was done in the 1960s down in Sussex County and in New Castle County under the desegregation order.  Difference in pay scales can result in a level-up effect.  Could be higher pay and larger cost to districts.  Looking at all expenses for state through state-wide committee.

Back to Sandy from Newark.  No Sandy.  Got my question (Wow).  Asked if they are going to look at tuition funding for special education students.  Said the numbers have grown as much as twice a regular student to eight times a regular student depending on challenges for student.  Making sure students meet that qualification is important.  Dr. Bunting got on.  If a student’s needs can’t be served in the district, tuition funding kicks in to make sure those funds are used for that child.  It is also used for gifted students in Sussex County.  There are specific allocations for those costs so they do look at them.

Carrie from Newark asked how budget cuts will affect related arts teachers.  Said a lot of the decisions will be made by local districts and school boards.  He would like to see administrative overhead cuts and not personnel cuts.  Said he would much rather see higher tax revenue than cuts.  $37 million in total cuts for education out of the total $200 million they are looking for.  More than he would prefer.

Mike from Middletown is asking about rainy day fund.  Carney said it is 5% and it is a one-time amount and if you built spending on it, it would be held inappropriated against that.  It is for downturn in middle of fiscal year.  Legislature can’t appropriate more than 98% of the budget.  Rainy day plus that 2% cushion would be against the law.  It is more for emergency situation.  Can’t use those funds from year to year.

Jerry from Cape Henlopen is on the line.  He is an ESL teacher.  Hasn’t received 2% increase in five years and has more students that don’t speak English.  Said he has no support.  They have higher special education funding but none for ESL students.  Very disappointed in Delaware with this.  Said he talked to teachers in Georgetown about their needs.  Wants more funds for these students.  Biggest problem we have is the difference in proficiency levels between lower advantaged students and those from higher income.  Wants ALL students to be able to read by 3rd grade.

Kurt from Dover asked about raising gas tax. Said we have the lowest gas in the area.  Everyone would pay equally.  Has heard this suggestion.  Said if we have two funds for budget and one is transportation trust fund.  Gas tax goes towards that.  Transportation should pay for itself.  Allows us to go to financial markets and get bonds.  Started under Governor Castle.  General Assembly refused to raise this under Governor Markell.  Said they are in good shape.   Secretary Cohen said doesn’t need a gas tax.  Deficit is in the General Fund.

Jennifer from Kent County asked about classroom sizes.  How can classroom ratios meet the needs of ALL our students.  He supports the lowest ratios the districts can provide based on their funding needs.  A lot of districts take waivers in K-3 for classroom ratios, allows 22 students to teacher.  They get these waivers to allow for other programs like art and music.  Budget would keep overall spending flat, would fund teachers, step increases, professional service days, discretionary funds like education sustainability funds.  In perfect world, would love to spend on positive things.

Cameron from Woodside.  Teacher at Poly-Tech High School.  Have the budget cuts proposed looked at how tech programs could be cut?  Looking at how student transportation funding works.  Doesn’t think is as cost-efficient as it could be.  Thinks we should consolidate in some way.  Said transportation for vo-techs is same proportionate to districts.  Asking districts to take on 5% more of those costs.

Andrea from Newark talked about school boards raising taxes without referendum.  Would what they are asking for be equal to what they are asking for in Colonial’s referendum?  Carney said $22 million is relatively small amount, would amount to $40-$50 increase.  Said we can pay for these services.  Said local district money that comes from property taxes is very low compared to New Jersey, Maryland, and Pennsylvania.  He said that is important cause people move here based on those low property taxes.  He said that doesn’t mean people willingly want more property taxes.  Said this keeps Delaware competitive.

Bob from Wilmington asked about raising property assessment values.  They haven’t been raised in 30-40 years.  Carney said he was on the property reassessment task force under former Governor Carper.  Property assessments are not current.  State law said if reassessment is done, districts are required to lower tax rates.  That can change through legislation.  Can’t be done in five months to put together budget proposal in March and then approved by June.  Thinks it is something we need to look at.

Dawn from Delmar asked about lowering number of days state employees work.  Right now she works 188 days.  Said she would be willing to work 185.  Carney said his budget director proposed lowering professional development days but he doesn’t want actual paycheck cuts.  Believes that is counter-productive.  Said half the cuts he is proposing would be recoverable from the districts through higher taxes.

Ashley from Kent County asked about after-school programs.  If those programs are cut such as 21st Century, what are the plans to keep kids off the street and keep them away from legal issues.  What do we do with those students?  Carney said he supports partnering with non-profit agencies like Boys & Girls Club.  Supports grant-in-aid funding for those types of programs.  Wants sustainable budget to cover those programs and to make sure disadvantaged background students get those needs.  Said 21st Century is federal program.  His approach to budget is to maintain programs and funding we have.

Laurie from Wilmington thanked Carney for listening to teachers.  Said we spend a lot on micro-management.  Race To The Top gave us a very irresponsible and expensive accountability system.  Said we need an overhaul of this system.  Carney said he asked Secretary Bunting to reorganize the Dept. of Education be more of a resource department as opposed to an accountability machine.  Administrative overhead costs are huge according to Carney across the state.  Said this can be done with district administrative overhead.

In a poll, 68% of callers support paying higher property taxes to support education, 32% said no.

Michelle from Dover is up next.  She asked if the solutions on the table are going to fix the structural problems.  She said another place to look at is our income taxes.  She said by raising income taxes a full 1% instead of 2/10th of a percent, it would raise $160 million dollars.  Surrounding states are about 3% higher in overall taxes.  Carney said PA and MD have sales tax.  He thinks Trump’s decline in taxes announced this week is a bad idea.  He said our tax bracket is low at $60,000.  Seven states have flat rates and no brackets, like PA.  He said one of the goals is to reduce the top marginal tax rates when our top rate was 19%.  Today it is at 6.6% and he is proposing it go up to 6.8%.  Wants to get rid of itemized deductions.  Said this benefits higher income households.  Said increasing the standardized deduction helps lower-income families.  Said it is a shared sacrifice.

Jill from Smyrna asked why step raises always occur for teachers.  He said they are contractual.  They could suspend those but it is a relationship between teachers and school districts.  He said there are other groups of employees that get steps as well, can’t recall what they were.  He said it is unusual to do due to contractual obligations.

Last question is from Devon from Wilmington.  I know that guy!  He asked about assurances that shared sacrifice won’t disproportionately affect disadvantaged students.  Carney said he thinks students will get what they need with his balanced approach.  He said the WEIC group has worked on these issues for a number of years.  He wants Bunting to take a hard look at this.  He does have a million in education opportunity grants in his proposed budget.  We still get federal Title I funding for these supports.

Governor Carney thanked everyone for being on the call.  5,000 people were on the call according to Carney.  Appreciates the dialogue we’ve had.  Encourage people to talk to their legislators about the revenue package.  To all the teachers, thank you for all the great work you do every day.  Thank you, and God Bless everyone.

With that, the Education Funding Tele-Town Hall is over.  Thanks for following along!

 

 

 

 

 

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