Delaware Secretary of Education Dr. Susan Bunting, under the policies of Delaware Governor John Carney, has transformed the Delaware Department of Education into a support organization. Before Bunting, Carney recognized the DOE as an enforcement organization during former Governor Jack Markell’s two terms. Carney put it on Bunting to make that transformation. Did she succeed?
I decided to test the Delaware DOE on their major initiatives and actions since Susan Bunting took over the role of Secretary of Education from Dr. Steven Godowsky in January, 2017. I found the Delaware DOE either supported, enforced, or ignored in certain situations.
The Every Student Succeeds Act: A lot of the groundwork for this was covered by
Rodel and DelawareCAN Secretary Godowsky, Bunting took the lead on it and did manage to get some nasty opt-out penalties out of Delaware’s plan to U.S. DOE. So I will give that a strong support label even though ESSA is still a horrible law.
The Christina/Governor Carney/Delaware DOE MOU to consolidate Wilmington schools: I would say this was a support measure with some strings of enforcement and ignore thrown in. Within weeks of Carney and Bunting announcing the creation of their “Office of Innovation and Improvement”, which was basically an additional division of the DOE to go after low-performing Wilmington schools, Governor Carney announced his grand plan for the Christina Wilmington schools. While the goal of it is to give support, there are certain benchmarks Christina will have to meet. The state is giving them extra money for it but ignoring the fact the district will most likely have to go out for a referendum at some point. Many city parents felt their voice wasn’t heard in the negotiations and are worried about rival gangs coexisting in the same schools. The Christina Educators Association has not agreed to the MOU yet. So what happens if they don’t meet their extended deadline of September 15th? Will this, like so many failed efforts to “transform” these schools, wind up with the same resounding thud we’ve heard the past two decades?
Regulation 225: This was very much an enforcement measure until it blew up in their faces. It culminated in Secretary Bunting facing an angry mob of parents at Del-Tech in Dover back in January. The regulation, which would have allowed students to choose their own race and gender and would have prevented discrimination agents transgender students, angered conservative parents who felt the schools would take away parental rights. This resulted in the regulation changing to appease those parents. Ultimately, it just went away as announced by the DOE earlier this month. In other words- not during an election year and certainly not while John Carney sits in office!
State Testing: It is still mandatory. Delaware still sucks with proficiency on the tests. The Delaware DOE still has the capability of the “test, label, punish” scheme that has existed before Bunting. As new generations of students take the Smarter Balanced Assessment, the opt out movement in Delaware has weakened but I anticipate an upswing (see: future articles on Exceptional Delaware). Definitely an enforcement measure!
Delaware Academy of Public Safety & Security: Before a few days ago, I would have said this was an enforcement measure. But after what I heard about the Delaware DOE storming in last December when they discovered the school had over 30 “ghost students” who were not actually students at the school, I would say ignore. Even though the State Board of Education put the school on formal review, the “ghost students” issue NEVER came up. Which would have changed the whole formal review status. The Charter School Office certainly knew about this and I would think it would have gone up to Bunting’s office. But the public, and presumably, the State Board of Education, never knew about it. While the school is on probation status, with many measures of enforcement put on the school by Bunting, they are pretty much getting a free ride until they turn their charter into the DOE next June and Colonial takes them on next school year.
Public Perception: This was a big goal that Carney wanted. He wanted to turn the perception of the DOE as a “villain agency” into that of a warm and cozy support organization. Under Markell’s Delaware reign, the DOE had three Secretaries of Education- Lillian Lowery, Mark Murphy, and Dr. Steven Godowsky. Lowery led the state into Common Coreville and Race To The Top. Murphy was the guy that got to enforce it all. After votes of No Confidence from DSEA, various union locals, and the Delaware State Administrators Association, alongside the implementation of nasty teacher evaluations and priority schools, Murphy “resigned” in 2015. Godowsky filled out the end of Markell’s term as Secretary. When Bunting came aboard, the state was facing a huge budget deficit and had to juggle all that during her first six months.
It wasn’t until the fall of 2017 when it started going south for her. The Christina MOU and Regulation 225 sucked all the energy out of the DOE. Then came Exceptional Delaware this summer, showcasing how Bunting’s time at Indian River as Superintendent was rife with scandal. She lied to the Auditor’s office about the district having no clue their former CFO, Patrick Miller, was robbing the district. She also said there were no complaints against the guy. There probably weren’t because nothing was in his file. Doesn’t mean complaints weren’t filed. Until I started writing about them. She knew Miller was stealing money from state grant funds ten years ago. Both the DOE and Governor Carney have remained silent on the issue even though it is out there. It is making both of them look really bad. Now that Patrick Miller is under investigation again with his adventures with Indian River Volunteer Fire Company, everyone in the state is wondering how the hell this guy has been getting away with it and why Bunting still has her job! This one definitely goes into the ignore category!
Even though it wasn’t during her time, recent revelations came out about the Delaware DOE crying like a little baby over a performance audit about Unit Counts in 2016. This led, in part, to State Auditor Tom Wagner’s second-in-command, Kathleen Davies, getting wrongly terminated from the office. Even though the News Journal and other media in the state have cherry-picked the details, the people of Delaware aren’t idiots and see through the smoke and mirrors. This has only made the Delaware DOE look weaker in the eyes of the people. I would put this under past-enforcement of a whiney nature that came up again recently.
The public relations nightmare the Delaware DOE created yesterday by calling the cops on me for sitting in the PUBLIC LOBBY of the building they have space in was the frosting on the cake of the whole Bunting scandal. It has made them the laughingstock of the state in the past two days. I would definitely put this one under enforcement but stepping out of their circle to do so.
So overall, the only label I can give the Delaware DOE under Secretary Bunting is a “What happened” label. This is what I think happened. We got a new Secretary as a third or fourth pick from Carney, right after a financial nightmare in her district. The Governor’s office clearly either a) didn’t do their homework, b) did their homework and didn’t care because this is Delaware, or c) said “Let’s go with Bunting, no one else wants it.” While I don’t see the Delaware DOE looking nearly as bad as the Murphy years (which attendance by the public at State Board of Education meetings clearly shows), many wondering what is going on in the halls of the Townsend Building in Dover. Rumors circulate about Bunting retiring sooner than expected in light of all this, but the DOE won’t let anything out about any of this.