Delaware’s budget deficit hit a new stage last night when Christina School District students took over State Rep. Paul Baumbach’s Education Forum at Newark High School. As well, Senator David Sokola said the issue with the 5 mile radius bill was about transportation. It was an evening full of dodged questions and skirting around the issues. It was a night when things were as confusing as Twin Peaks and the Mighty Thor put her hammer down!
The panel consisted of Newark Charter Head of School Greg Meece, Delaware Secretary of Education Dr. Susan Bunting, Senator Sokola, Christina Board of Education President Elizabeth “Thor” Paige, and Christina Superintendent Dr. Richard (Super)Gregg. Moderated by Baumbach, the questions were pre-planned and members of the audience were not allowed to ask questions. When students began asking questions and complaining about the style of the event, at one point Baumbach stated “There’s the exit.” When the audience booed loudly, Baumbach began allowing questions from the audience.
The very controversial HS1 for House Bill 85 came up. When Meece told the audience about how NCS would love to take all the Greater Newark Christina students, he omitted the whole Wilmington portion of Christina. Sokola said the original 5-mile radius was to control transportation costs while conveniently forgetting the whole part about charter schools get to keep their transportation funds if they spend less than what they budgeted while districts can’t. When Bunting, Meece, and Sokola danced around the fairness aspect of the bill, Paige, putting down her “Thor hammer” as Senator Bryan Townsend tweeted, told the audience she had dinner with the other panelists prior to the forum. She told Meece she wished NCS looked more like the student populations of the rest of the Christina School District. But she did add she had more she agreed with Meece about than disagreed. Bryan Stephan, of Blue Delaware, dubbed Gregg “Super Gregg” for the rest of the evening. Gregg said there should be nothing blocking any student in Delaware from choicing to any school. He said if there are transportation cost issues outside of the district, then parents should provide that transportation to and from school since it is their choice.
The issue of teacher cuts came up a lot last night. A Christina teacher from Pulaski, an elementary school in Wilmington, stopped the q&a to ask why no one is talking about the fact that students will be looking at a 35 to 1 student teacher ratio in her school in the fall. She wanted to know why no one was coming up with ideas to fix it instead of telling the audience what they can’t do. She said teachers wash kid’s clothes and give them food and these students are stuck where they are. She wanted to know how we are going to educate these students in these kind of conditions. Newark High School students were very upset about district cuts to arts and music programs. They said panelists were talking about these great programs they want the district to have so they can retain students or get them back to the district, but they are laying off the teachers that teach these programs. One said the facility doesn’t matter if you don’t have the teachers.
Baumbach attempted to stir the conversation back to his pre-planned pattern, but it fell apart. At one point I joined the fray and asked why Delaware charters are keeping their $6 million from the education sustainment fund while the districts are losing their portion of the $28 million. Meece said it was his understanding the districts would be able to take advantage of the option of a one-time board approved match tax hike without a referendum which charters can’t do. Which sounds good in theory, but how many districts are going to take advantage of that very bad option? If they do that, good luck passing another referendum. As well, districts had to give any reduction notices to teachers by May 15th, a month and a half before the General Assembly even approves the final budget.
A question came up about discipline in schools and Meece said that was one of the biggest things they instill at Newark Charter School. He said it is much easier when they bring up students in a K-12 atmosphere in one building. He made a comment about having students “tuck in their shirts” as if that is an easy way to solve discipline issues. Paige recognized the district needs to do more on this issue and Gregg said he is a “rules guy” indicating discipline will become a stronger issue in the years to come in Christina.
There was an emphasis on weighted funding, where the money follows the needs of the student. Delaware does this to some extent already with special education funding. Even Meece weighed in on the lack of basic funding for students in Kindergarten to 3rd grade by saying it is needed. But when Meece said “Just take the amount of money we have for education and divide it by the number of students”, this contradicted his statements about weighted funding for students with disabilities and low-income students.
It was Senator Sokola who came up with some very head-scratching comments throughout the evening though. When talking about teacher cuts, he went on a long speech about his time over 25 years ago when he was a teacher and got laid off. He spent the next year substituting wherever he could. But when talking about increasing revenue for the state, Sokola said he wrote a lot of legislation in an attempt to increase revenue and he never got a thank you note for it. Perhaps, Dave, that is because of your very bad education policy that has resulted in the state spending our way to the current budget deficit! When discussion ensued about Christina consolidating and potentially closing some of their schools, Paige said it could be foolish for them to do that if they are attempting to bring students back with new programs. But Sokola talked about how districts have to submit a certificate of need to add new buildings. He said perhaps their should be a certificate of need program to close schools.
Other highlights included the following:
Paige felt we needed more mental health supports in our schools.
Paige also said their was a proposal to do a feasibility study on Christina consolidating schools or resources but the majority of the board shot that down.
On the Wilmington Education Improvement Commission’s recommendation to move Christina’s Wilmington students into Red Clay, Gregg said the district isn’t waiting around for legislation and groups to decide the best way to education the district’s students. Christina needs to step up and do it.
Baumbach asked Bunting what the DOE can do about the redistricting issue with the Wilmington portion of Christina. As most already knew, Bunting said the Department has no say on that. It is a decision which can only be made by legislation and the State Board of Education.
Bunting said it was left to the school districts to determine how to cut their own budgets. She said every district was given numbers to cut as directed by the Office of Management and Budget. Sadly, she did not say the same for Delaware’s charter schools.
Paige said Christina needs to do more for talented and gifted students in the district. She also said the districts and charters need to do more to let the public know about district-charter collaboration. Meece cited examples of working with Colonial and Brandywine.
Bunting said the Delaware Dept. of Education is rebranding itself as more of a support organization than a regulatory one. She said the DOE is helping Christina with their priority schools in Wilmington by “placing” someone from the Department into those schools.
Paige felt districts need their own lobbyist organization the way charters do with the Delaware Charter Schools Network.
In one of the most shocking moments of the evening, Greg Meece actually said the words “I agree with John Young” in talking about Young’s letter to the editor in the News Journal about “shared sacrifice”.
Paige said it was ludicrous to think that $6 million in education cuts (just for Christina) wouldn’t affect people.
Paige made a public announcement that Christina School District was going to settle on the 300 Executive Drive this week (which she made another announcement today on Twitter that the deal was done).
Even I felt a little bad for Meece when a referendum question came up and Meece said they (NCS) do not participate in the referendum process. Members of the audience began shouting at Meece for this answer before he could finish his answer. Baumbach put a halt to that very fast.
In Delaware, no controversial education event takes place without some comical social media comments. I present some of the best I saw last night:
I need a beer!
My heart just broke — a Newark High student just turned to me and said “we haven’t had a librarian in two years.”
Christina students taking over the Education Forum tonight!! Demanding that the panel RESPECT their thoughts enough to hear them speak. Standing up for their educators who’ve been RIFed by the District. Go, students!
Biggest takeaway from tonight is something I’ve been saying for years. Stop the secrets. Stop the backroom deals. Just stop. Legislators have to stop. They have to speak out when necessary and engage their constituents. This doesn’t happen enough.
In response to this comment from Mike Matthews, someone wrote this:
Mike, and it’s with great admiration, respect, and love I say: When you get in a position with these guys and gals and shortly…and you will… don’t let them do it in front of you, call them the f&@$ out.
Oh wait —
@ecpaige just opened up a can of candor and dumped it on the table.
Can we just establish that I’ve created the handle for @ChristinaK12’s new Superintendent? #SuperGregg. Just let me have this one thing!
Governor John Carney should have moved his budget reset meeting to Newark High School tonight and heard from the victims of “shared sacrifice.”
Did Meece just say he agreed with John Young’s op/ed article?
Sokola: “Money should follow the Students.” It does already.
Tip of the hat to CSD Pres
@ecpaige for saying we must support candidates/legislators who are committed to education for all kids.
TALK ABOUT THE PARTISAN ISSUES stopping us from getting what we need (revenue). LET US HELP YOU.
On charter/district collaboration, panelists address some examples, but didn’t get to heart of sad education silo-ing in DE.
Yeah Just like separate water fountains and bathrooms were supposed to be about Public health.
Well then how is it controlling costs when the charters get to keep the “profit?” Absurd and offensive answer that relies on the ignorance of those of us in the audience.
They are taking advantage of our inability to FOLLOW UP! We need to just start raising hands and speaking up. This is our opportunity.
The amount of anger in Newark High auditorium should be shared up & down Delaware: status quo must change.
Selling school buildings cannot generate capital. Cannot. Sold buildings can only retire bond debt with the State.
Have I said this yet? Good ideas in schools need to be funded.
Mr. Meece runs a zoo: “What the hell do you mean the food budget for the elephants is 100x what we spend on the snakes? I specifically said to divide the money equally among all the animals!”
That was one of my stroke level moments.
At the end of the panel, Baumbach actually turned to a member of the audience when people were complaining about how to find out who their legislators are. Instead of telling the audience how to find out, Baumbach asked me to stand up. I did and he explained how I write a blog and said I could put up an article telling people how to find out this information. He also told members of the audience I could tell them after the forum how to do this. I wound up grabbing a microphone and telling the remaining audience how to do it. I advised them to go to the General Assembly website and to look on the maps to find out who their district State Rep or Senator is. I also advised them if there is a cell phone number listed to call that number. I also mentioned Brian Stephan who writes for Blue Delaware. I will put up an article later today with how to find your Delaware legislators if you don’t know who they are.
After leaving this Education Forum, I felt as though Twin Peaks was easier to understand than some of the responses I heard from three of the panelists. It is almost like they live in the same Black Lodge FBI Agent Dale Cooper has been stuck in for 25 years. But hearing the Mighty Thor’s no-holds-barred comments and replies to questions gives me hope. I was also very impressed with Christina’s new Superintendent. He said all the right things in my book. Education funding IS a hot mess. But something to think about: many of the same legislators demanding change vote for the budget every single year. Instead of complaining about how late they have to work one day a year, maybe they could stop rushing the damn thing in one night and do what is right for children!
Other elected officials in attendance included Senator Bryan Townsend and Christina Board members Shirley Saffer, Harrie-Ellen Minnehan, and Fred Polaski. Newly-elected but not sworn-in-yet Christina board member Meredith Griffin showed up as well, as did former board member Meg Mason. State Board of Education President Dr. Teri Quinn Gray also attended the forum.