All hell broke loose at Smyrna High School’s auditorium tonight. The Chair of the School District Consolidation Task Force talked about a recommendation for state takeover of struggling school districts.
State Representative Earl Jaques, as the Chair of the School District Consolidation Task Force, dropped the mother of all bombs at the latest meeting tonight. When going over all the sub-committee reports, Jaques discussed potential proposals for the task force to discuss moving forward. He brought up how the state holds charter schools accountable based on their Performance Framework. He said a proposal from one of the Structure Sub-Committee meetings dealt with a proposal to give the State Board of Education the authority to have the charter Performance Framework for traditional school districts and if a district (not a school) did not meet those performance benchmarks they could be eligible for state takeover. Another option could be to have that struggling district merge with another district.
This caused most of the task force members in attendance to collectively say “that wasn’t in the minutes” or “I attended all of those meetings and that was never discussed”. At first Jaques said it was at one of the meetings in Seaford but then “remembered” it was at a meeting in Cape Henlopen. Even with that, DSEA Executive Director
Jeff Taschner said he was at all the Structure Subcommittee meetings and never remembered that talking point. I was sitting next to Taschner who was taking diligent notes over everything discussed at the meeting tonight.
As I am a member of the finance sub-committee, I also sit on the full task force. I asked Jaques for more clarification on this potential recommendation. He said it has been discussed with the State Board of Education President, Dr. Dennis Loftus, who is on board with this potential future, according to Jaques. I told him I am vehemently against this proposal. This caused Colonial Superintendent Dusty Blakey to ask if the full task force would have the ability to vote on this proposal if it moves forward. Jaques said they would.
The Superintendents at the meeting, Polytech’s Mark Dufendach, Capital’s Dan Shelton, and Blakey had a look of horror on their face when this was thrown out there. Delaware School Board Association Executive Director John Marinucci said any such proposal would have to have input from all school boards. Tammy Croce of the Delaware Association of School Administrators did not want to give comment about it but appeared to be thoroughly disgusted. On the other side of the long table sat Jon Sheehan, Governor Carney’s Education Policy Advisor. He had nothing to say about the subject.
After the meeting, while I was talking to another task force member, Jaques came up to me and said “I’m surprised this isn’t on your blog yet.” To which I responded, “It will be.” Then Earl, in his own way, said “What did you think would happen if Christina didn’t sign that MOU?” Which is news to me because there was NEVER an indication of a threat, or even a veiled threat, if they didn’t sign it.
Anyone involved in Delaware education politics could have told you this task force was not about actually consolidating school districts. I always felt there were ulterior motives at play. Jaques played his hand tonight, in front of the whole task force. Finally, the curtain has lifted. I’ve been around Jaques long enough to know, at heart, he is a soldier and he does what he is told. This isn’t his idea. This is a task force about school district consolidation. It should not, and never should have been, used as a lynchpin for matters outside of that realm. Jaques has used this task force, as the Chair, for his own agenda. I will say Secretary of Education Dr. Susan Bunting looked white as a ghost as she sat next to Earl. She looked at me and knew this would be a blog post tonight. I have no idea if she knew of this potential recommendation or if she was shocked it was discussed like it was.
Embedded in Regulation 103 is an apparatus for state takeover of school districts. But there is no mechanism in Title 14 giving the State Board of Education, who are not publicly elected, the ability to use a matrix based on charter schools to decide on a takeover of an entire school district or force them to merge with another district.
I reviewed the entire task force agenda and minutes on their website. There was absolutely nothing in ANY of the minutes with this proposal. In fact, there are no minutes from the Structure Sub-Committee. It does show an agenda for the Seaford meeting on 12/13/17. But there were no structure sub-committee meetings held in the Cape Henlopen School District.
This will cause an uproar in Delaware like none seen before if this moves anywhere past the basic discussion from the meeting tonight. When I heard this, I almost resigned from any affiliation with this task force, but my vote could be needed down the road. I do not believe the State Board of Education, with folks appointed by the Governor, should have any authority to close a school district. Districts are NOT charter schools. They are different animals as charter advocates love to tell us. But this plan to judge districts the same way charters are will be the worst idea ever in Delaware education.
Updated, 9:05pm: I just emailed State Rep. Earl Jaques and his legislative aide to have ALL minutes of the Structure Sub-Committee minutes uploaded to the General Assembly website. Another member in attendance, Robert Overmiller, said the true bomb tonight was the revelation about a secret meeting where the final recommendations for the task force will be selected.
Updated, 9:07pm: So much for the Delaware DOE being a “support” organization. We are right back to the dark days of “Partnership Zones”, “Priority Schools” and “Race To The Top”.
Updated, 9:34pm: It is my opinion State Rep. Earl Jaques has been holding secret meetings under the auspices of this task force. He should be held accountable for this as all meetings of this task force should be public, with minutes and agendas posted for every single regular meeting and sub-committee meeting. He is abusing his authority as the Chair of the task force and making decisions without input from the entire task force. While this task force is meant to make recommendations for the General Assembly to consider for potential legislation, Jaques is using the task force.