Last night the Christina Board of Education, in front of a packed house, passed the Memorandum of Understanding between the district, the Delaware Department of Education and Governor John Carney’s office with a 4-2-1 vote. Board members John Young and Elizabeth Paige voted no while member Angela Mitchell abstained. The tense meeting, which lasted over three hours, had Carney sitting in the audience the entire time. While the News Journal, WHYY, and WDEL all came to the meeting, many parts of the meeting were not covered in their articles.
During public comment, many speakers objected to the MOU claiming it would create warehousing of Christina’s Kindergarten to 8th grade students. Others opposed it due to the loss of community surrounding the schools that will close. Those schools will be Pulaski and Elbert-Palmer, effective in 2019. Michelle Taylor, who runs the Delaware United Way, urged the board to vote yes on the plan. The MOU, which calls for an extended school day and summer classes, would also create a Dual Generation Center at Stubbs Elementary School.
Governor Carney said it is not the intent of the state to make empty Christina buildings convert to charter schools. When asked by board member John Young if he would support legislation condemning the use of those buildings in that fashion, Carney said he would support that. The subject of charter schools came up again in the meeting when Carney, during a question asked by one of the board members, said he wants Wilmington children to return to their neighborhood schools. He explained that when he was door-knocking to get the community on board with the plan, he noticed many students attended Thomas Edison Charter School. He said that school was further away than their feeder school and he didn’t understand that. He claimed he wants those students to come back to those schools.
Carney brought his inner circle with him to Christina. This included his Deputy Chief of Staff, Sheila Grant, his Education Policy Advisor, Jon Sheehan, and his Communications Director, Jonathan Starkey. From the Delaware DOE side, Dorrell Green, the leader of the Office of Innovation and Improvement attended the meeting. Sadly, only two legislators showed up. State Rep. John Kowalko gave public comment opposing the plan. As well, State Rep. Kim Williams came. She said she wants to know more about it because she will be voting on it (during the FY2019 budget vote). None of the other Christina legislators bothered to attend. Those are Reps. Paul Baumbach, Earl Jaques, Ed Osienski, John Viola, Charles Potter, and Stephanie Bolden. Senators David Sokola and Bryan Townsend did not attend either.
Much of the discussion around the MOU during the meeting consisted of language restructuring. Young said he fought for an opt-out clause for the district should the MOU go south. But Carney’s team shot him down. Instead, it wound up becoming a clause should one of the parties fail. During his public comment, Carney seemed to call out Young for his objection on this issue but Young clarified later he was able to work with the Governor’s counsel on the issue to his apparent satisfaction.
Once the vote took place, most of the audience left the meeting which only had a couple more items on it, including a resolution in support of the Delaware ACLU lawsuit against the state over education funding.
My take on the whole thing? Carney can talk the talk about supporting legislation forbidding charters from taking over those buildings all he wants, but getting the charter-leaning General Assembly to pass something like that would be tough. His comment about wanting Thomas Edison kids to come back to Christina? I don’t know what that was about. The fact that aside from Kowalko, no Christina legislators bothered to show up for such an important vote troubled me immensely. It shows a clear lack of commitment to their constituents, especially the Wilmington legislators. I understand they have their own lives but dammit, this is about the kids in their district. Unless they are away on vacation, there is no excuse. It was on a Tuesday night when the General Assembly is not in session. Disheartening is being too kind. Maybe they know what is coming and didn’t want to show their face. Carney did say he met with legislators before the plan even came out. If anything, the Board passing the MOU will put a slight delay on those plans. When the plan fails, and it will because it is based on outcomes from the Smarter Balanced Assessment as the success measure, I fully expect sweeping changes to come hard and fast.
Sokola and Jaques have made no secret about their disdain for Christina. At a recent event at Glasgow High School, Jaques was overheard by many calling the school “deplorable”. As the heads of their respective Education Committees at Legislative Hall, the destructive duo have done more to undermine public education than support it.
Of course Michelle Taylor would support it. Plans like this, which call for more wrap-around services, will need many vendors. Leading that group of vendors will assuredly be the Delaware United Way. They will stand to make a ton of money off this deal along other vendors who are no doubt salivating at the prospect. Meanwhile, a Christina counselor gave public comment about how she was underpaid by half for her duties at one of their elementary schools compared to Delaware Guidance, a vendor of the district. She said she made $29,000 in 2017 compared to contracted counselors who made $61,000.00. Way to save money there Christina! Embrace the public-private partnership and the hijacked buzzwords like “social-emotional learning” and “trauma informed”. Rodel has to be very proud of you!
The DelawareCAN/PACE Network/Christina Cultural Arts Center contingent was in full force at the meeting. I’m sorry, but whenever I hear PACE speak at something like this, all I can see in my mind is Atnre Alleyne writing the script. His DelawareCAN, an offshoot of the very charter friendly 50CAN, is just as bad as Rodel in my book. When the PACE speaker said the plan has a lot of the same initiatives they wanted in the plan, it became very obvious Alleyne’s influence has infiltrated Christina during this MOU process.
This plan is not complete. The devil is in the details and there a ton of them. Asking a board to sign a “partnership” without those details sorted out is a recipe for disaster which will come back to bite the district in the ass. The lack of true community input on these plans is the true shame. While Carney may complain about having to wait so long for the Board to approve this, the fact remains it is an incomplete plan. No thought was displayed on how this will affect the educators who will work longer hours and longer school years. Aside from comments from Paige, no one talked about students having longer school days. Carney wants his baby to crawl out of the crib but doesn’t realize it doesn’t know how to do it yet! He took off the guard rail and put his baby in danger! You want to talk about accountability? Look in the mirror Governor!
For the students in the Christina Wilmington schools, they will have new challenges ahead of them on top of the ones they go through on a daily basis. Some will leave their designated schools and be forced to intermingle with different areas of the city. This means rival gangs will be in the same buildings. Students in lower grades will have to contend with older students. I’m calling it now: this won’t end well. Even if the Governor’s intentions are the most noble in all possible worlds, this plan is destined to fail. In the end, it will be another failed initiative where children pay the ultimate price.