Delaware Governor John Carney held a closed-door, non-public, secret meeting with two Christina Board of Education members yesterday. Which members? And what was the discussion? And which board member got shafted when they should have been there based on the discussion? Continue reading “Carney Has Closed-Door, Non-Public, Secret Meeting With Select Christina Board Members”
In a letter dated to parents on June 2nd, 2017, Christina School District Assistant Superintendent Noreen LaSorsa sent a letter to parents advising that Kirk Middle School Principal Brian Curtis was placed on leave. The letter did not indicate if the leave is a paid leave or not. In conducting a search for more information, I found a post on Facebook to the Christina School District Facebook page where a parent asked the district if he was fired for embezzlement.
When you go to Christina’s Facebook page, all visitor posts are now gone. I tried to submit a post asking where they all went and received a message that it would be reviewed. But the post still shows up on Facebook’s search engine. I edited the picture just for basic privacy rights of the person who submitted the question although it is public information on Facebook. The response to the parent post by the administrator of their Facebook page was 10:55am on June 2nd. The timestamp of the PDF letter sent to parents was 11:53am on June 2nd.
Curtis worked at the Delaware Department of Education for four and a half years in the school turnaround unit (i.e. priority schools) before he was hired to become Principal at Kirk Middle School in 2015. He replaced outgoing Principal Dan Shelton who became the Superintendent of the Capital School District. Curtis never updated his LinkedIn page with his new position. I searched for any recent news or events with Brian Curtis in Delaware and found nothing. While I am sure the district will not release any information pertaining to a pending investigation, this could not come at a worse time in Delaware as the General Assembly is in the final stages of preparing their FY2018 budget which has a current deficit of nearly $400 million dollars. Many school districts and state agencies are feeling the pinch as budget cuts are expected throughout the state.
In recent years, Delaware school district and charter schools have gone through many audit investigations due to financial abuse of some sort at their schools. Charter schools Providence Creek Academy, Academy of Dover, Family Foundations Academy, Delaware Military Academy and the closed Pencader Business School as well as the Indian River School District and Sussex Technical School District have all had reports from that office since 2013.
While working on another article about a situation not related to this one at all, I stumbled across the Facebook post which led me to the announcement about Curtis being placed on leave. While a question posed by a parent does not give any clear picture of wrongdoing, the fact the school district deleted the ability for anyone to see it on their main district page along with all other visitor posts IS cause for concern.
The Christina School District Board of Education passed a controversial motion to send the same funds going to charter schools (from the infamous settlement) to all traditional New Castle County School Districts (except for NCC Vo-Tech). The Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) would bind Christina School District to sending the same funds they agreed upon in the charter school settlement to Red Clay Consolidated, Brandywine, Colonial, Appoquinimink, and Smyrna School Districts. The price tag for this year will be $350,000 but this is a “forever” contract so those funds will go to those districts for students choicing out of Christina to those districts forever. But another motion, that would have allowed for public comment on the issue, failed. Board member John Young summed up the meeting in three paragraphs earlier this morning on Facebook. Newly sworn-in board member Angela Mitchell abstained from both votes.
Last night, Christina School District BOE motioned to settle with Red Clay, Brandywine, Appoquinimink, Smryna and Colonial for $350K + this year and each year in the future forever pursuant to the charter school settlement. The meeting was at Sarah Pyle Academy at 7PM.
It was moved to approve the settlement MOU. Then it was moved to be voted on at the 6.13.17 meeting so the public could comment more fully. There was debate. Board members indicated that public opinion would have NO SWAY in their vote. The vote to vote on 6.13.17 was defeated 2 YES, 4 NO, 1 Abstention. Then the vote to approve handing over CSD monies without input from the public was approved 5 YES, 1 NO, 1 abstention. Of course all votes were public, but if you want details feel free to PM me. I am reeling from shock that board members and key employee(s) deliberately and intentionally told the taxpayers to go to hell with regards to their input. My disappointment extends beyond the board and includes CSD employees and the Supers of all NCC schools and Smyrna SD. An unreal night, I assure you.
I hope there is VOCIFEROUS public comment on 6.13.17 to protest the way the board operated tonight.
I always hated the settlement with the charters. But, let us all hope this is the last song on this record…
As I wrote the other night, Red Clay, Appoquinimink and Brandywine want their share of the local funds for choice students from Christina stemming from the charter school settlement with Christina last fall. It looks like Colonial and Smyrna have now jumped in as well. The Christina Board of Education will hold a special board meeting on May 24th to discuss this issue. The below document shows how much it would cost Christina if approved.
Christina School District is about to get screwed again! But not by the charters this time. This time it is districts who should be their allies!
Okay, time to let the cat out of the bag. A month ago, and if you blinked you missed it, the Christina Board of Education discussed and voted no on the Chief Financial Officer of their district negotiating a Memorandum of Understanding between Christina, Red Clay, Appoquinimink and Brandywine. The MOU would have given authority to the CFO of Christina to send those local funds to the three other districts for students that choice to those districts out of Christina. The board said no. Look for a special board meeting sometime next week. From what I’m hearing, now the Superintendents of the districts (all four) want to have the MOU between them. Welcome to Christina Richard Gregg!
That’s what happens when you open Pandora’s Box like that with that stupid settlement between Christina and the charters. I’m talking to you four Christina board members who voted FOR the settlement and then voted against rescinding the settlement a week later. Did I not distinctly hear that it would set a precedent? That it would come back to bite them in the ass? I know I said it. I believe a few others did as well. Karma truly is a vengeful and mean bitch.
Do I have anything against Brandywine, Appo, or Red Clay for going after these funds? I don’t know. The timing sucks. And how soon until Colonial jumps on the train? All this happened because, supposedly, according to some commenter named Elizabeth, Jack Markell had some secret deal with Lillian Lowery and Christina when she became Secretary of Education. The way I’ve heard it, Lowery was involved in a lawsuit when she became Secretary and Captain Jack wanted it all hush-hush so all sorts of crazy crap happened. I heard that from someone who used to be on the board who hasn’t been too quiet about it over the past year or so. Funny how stuff gets out in The First State.
So what happens if Christina’s board says no again? Will the big three (and possibly Colonial) get their feathers in a twist and file a lawsuit against Christina as well? My gut tells me Christina’s board will be forced to vote yes because of the precedent set in the charter settlement. So last week, the board announced they will be laying off 44 or so teachers. Will this cause that number to rise? And how the hell does their CFO Robert Silber still have a job there?
How much money are we talking? I don’t think it would be as much as the cha-ching the charters got, but it will leave a mark on their budget. At this point, anything more is suck city. Here’s a novel idea… how about going after Jack Markell and Lillian Lowery for their side deals that went on. Better catch Jack quick before he goes on his Forrest Gump tour of America! Yeah, like that will ever happen. Captain Jack seems to have some special immunity shield around him. It’s a special kind, where you screw things up for eight years and you get to go biking into the
Education never gets boring in this state. But this will not be a joking matter for the teachers and staff in Christina School District. These are good people who have been the victim of these education funding games for many years now. Throw in priority schools and the constant labeling and shaming of the district. I feel bad for all the districts right now. Students and teachers should not be the sacrificial targets because the adults in charge can’t get their shit together. Sorry to be so blunt, but I’m really getting sick of it.
Here’s the kicker! I submitted a FOIA to the Delaware Auditor of Accounts office a couple of weeks ago. This is what I asked for:
Please provide, in PDF format, all reports, letters, guidance, or inspections for any Delaware school district, vocational school district, or charter school generated by the Office of the Auditor of Accounts that is not listed on the Auditor of Accounts website for fiscal years 2014, 2015, and 2016. This would include any of the above listed documents sent to members of the General Assembly, the Delaware Department of Education, the Office of Management and Budget, Office of the Controller General, or the Office of Management and Budget that would be considered a public document 29 Del. C. Paragraph 10002(1).
Wanna know what I got? Bupkis, that’s what! I got the petty cash letters sent to a handful of charters last year along with the letters about that specific situation sent to various state agencies. For three fiscal years!
Wanna know what that means? The Auditor of Accounts office is NOT auditing ANY school district unless it is an investigation based on something submitted on their tip line. Which means that office is breaking the law. But the General Assembly won’t give them the funds to do their job as required by Delaware State Law (which the General Assembly does: create laws). So who do we take to court? The Auditor of Accounts office or the General Assembly? Who is tracking where the hell education funds actually go? NO ONE! Except myself and Jack Wells it looks like. But yeah, let’s layoff teachers and make classrooms into sardine cans while people in district offices are making over $100,000 in salary. Cause that makes a lot of fucking sense! Let’s keep paying for state testing and all these one-to-on devices so we can just weed out teachers and turn education into a reformer wonderland! as I said, I’m getting tired of all this nonsense. And if I were a teacher, I would be too! If I were a parent (which I am) I would be shouting this from the rooftops: Stop screwing over our schools! And when I say schools, that primarily means the students and teachers. That is the heart of it all.
The “Shared Sacrifice” proposed by Delaware Governor John Carney is now going to result in massive layoffs in Delaware school districts. Christina School District just made public a recommendation from their Chief Financial Officer to cut 77 teachers and increase classroom sizes within their district. This is in response to Governor Carney’s god-awful and horrible budget proposal. You know, the one that shifts the blame from the state and on to local school boards to increase taxes. The one where the Richey Rich crowd of Delaware pay a little bit more in taxes but so does everyone. The one where the low-income and middle class get screwed. The one where students will suffer because our state government can’t ever seem to figure out what is best for kids.
Say the General Assembly doesn’t pass the budget with Carney’s proposed budget. The district still has to let teachers know their hiring decisions this month. So even if Carney’s budget doesn’t pass, the district could still lose those teachers as they would be forced to look elsewhere for employment next year. But it will be tougher because most of the districts will be going through this. I imagine even the charters will feel the bite of this as well. Not a good time in Delaware these days. Welcome to Christina School District Richard Gregg!
Tonight at the Christina Board of Education meeting, the board voted in favor of NOT eliminating the following in their schools and the district based on recommendations from their Chief Financial Officer, Bob Silber and Superintendent Richard Gregg. This was under the direction of “Minimize the number of students impacted by cuts.”
Elementary & Secondary Strings
Elementary Instrumental Music
A motion to reduce elementary specialists (such as music, library, etc.)
A motion to decrease technology investment
Reduce Department Budgets
Reduce School Budgets (based on need)
Change Credit Recovery Delivery Model-Integrate SPA with High Schools
The following DID pass the board:
Reduce EPER (Extra Pay for Extra Responsibilities)
Do not fill Vacant Non-Academic positions
Decrease in Professional Development
While these are good for the positions and programs not eliminated, those holes in the budget will have to be filled somewhere with other cuts, which could mean up to 100 teachers being cut from the district as well as higher classroom sizes. This isn’t a good situation no matter how you slice it. I don’t envy any school board faced with these decisions largely set in motion by Governor Carney’s proposed budget for FY2018. He is recommending districts be able to raise match taxes without a referendum. Many districts are balking at this scenario presented by Carney. However, they have to give notice to teachers about returning this month, well before the Delaware General Assembly gives their final vote on the budget which will occur on either June 30th, or more likely, the wee hours of the morning on July 1st.
Christina School District Board of Education member John Young is going head to toe with President Donald Trump in what could be a first for Delaware! In response to what many are viewing as President Trump’s very heavy-handed immigration tactics initiated shortly after his inauguration, Young crafted a brilliant resolution declaring the district a safe zone for any student within its property.
The resolution would make it so any United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement official would have to get permission from the district Superintendent and coördinate any activities before entering any of the buildings of the district. When asked what prompted the decision for the resolution, Young stated the following:
This resolution is in response to current political environment which was spurred on by a presidential immigration ban but it was not designed to be a reaction to it but an act to protect our students and our schools as the learning environments that they were and are designed to be. Basically students should not fear coming to school for any reason and no student should be subjected to being a witness to a federal immigration and customs enforcement action.
Yes, the words “chicken-fried awesome” were used by a Christina board member last night. But first they had to get through 45 excruciating minutes of approving their agenda. Board member Harrie-Ellen Minnehan introduced motions to remove three action items from the agenda and to table another item. That was just the beginning of a meeting that had topics as varied as car shopping to a very strong use of the word culpability. A member of the audience drew a great rendering of the meeting and asked me to put it in this article.
The four motions Minnehan put forth failed to move forward. Board member Shirley Saffer kept alleging Minnehan had a personal agenda going on. There was a ton of discussion about the motions and how it was unprecedented for one board member to attempt to remove action items like that. As a result of the motions, what should have been a 1-2 minutes process turned into a 45 minute ordeal for the audience. A lot of the audience had come for the presenting of the Honor Roll which is done right after the approval of the agenda and board minutes.
The charter settlement with Christina fell after a 3-4 vote by the board, exactly how the vote went when they voted for the settlement two weeks ago. Board member Fred Polaski tried to convince everyone that he believed the district would lose if it went to court with the charters. He offered no viable reason for why he felt they would lose. But it didn’t seem to matter because the board was clearly divided on many of the same action items with Polaski, Minnehan, George Evans and Meg Mason on one side. On the other were members John Young, Saffer, and President Elizabeth Paige. Young stated the minutes of the executive meeting would now become public since the need for the meeting was no longer valid and the settlement is public. He said he will be submitting updated minutes on that meeting. He also stated he had concerns about the culpability of the district in the matter. He also had grave concerns about the back and forth between the district and attorneys over Thanksgiving weekend and what amounted to a short time period of 90 minutes for the board to review the settlement. Young said that would make for a very interesting FOIA request. He had many concerns about the authority of charter leaders in signing the document, such as an Interim Principal, a Head of School, or a Board President. He reviewed many charter school bylaws and did not see that authority granted to those parties without permission from the entire board. He also did not special board meetings for the charter boards to vote on the settlement.
One of the shockers of the evening (and there were many), was the situation with the Montessori program in Christina. There was an action item to end the program. This became the controversy of the evening as parents and staff members gave public comment in support of the program. When it came time for the board to discuss the matter, Paige asked a question that solidified a crucial problem with the district, that of transparency. Delaware schools receive academic excellence units which they are free to cash in and do as they please. The Montessori program had three of those units. Paige asked about them and it was revealed by the district the Honors Academy would use three academic excellence units. While the district hemmed and hawed about the “coincidence”, Paige said the “optics” look very bad. In a rare moment of unity, the board voted 6-1 in favor of keeping the program with Polaski as the lone no vote. This prompted Young’s quote of the evening. He said the district believes competition is so “chicken-fried awesome” that they should be doing everything they can to get students who are a wait list at First Sstate Montessori Academy into Christina’s Montessori program. Board member Polaski suggested partnering up with the Wilmington charter school to have them open a satellite school in the Christina school district. No one even responded to this rather absurd notion. But it did point to what I see as a very charter friendly Polaski.
Once again, with a 3-4 vote, the board voted against annulling the Honors Academy vote from November with the same 3-4 blocks. Young pointed out that many of Christina’s existing Cambridge programs are disproportionate with the amount of minorities represented in them. The irony of the district wanting to close a program where there is equity (the Montessori program) in favor of moving forward with a program which has a strong potential of inequity (The Honors Academy) did not escape members of the audience. Concerns around placement tests, a parent letter, and standardized test scores were the chief reasons three of the board members wanted to annul the prior vote. There were also concerns around opt out and how the application for the academy could penalize those students who were opted out despite a board policy that explicitly forbids that.
The point of exhaustion for members of the audience surrounded the district’s Superintendent interviews. Yesterday, the Delaware Attorney General answered a FOIA complaint surrounding the board’s November executive meeting to formulate questions for the Superintendent candidate. Some board members refused to participate in the meeting since they had already figured out it would be a FOIA violation. This prompted the board to make public the questions for candidates. There was also a matter about interviewing the candidates the week before Christmas and a mad rush to get it done. As a result, the board voted in favor of naming an Interim Superintendent with Noreen LaSorsa taking on the role. It was agreed the board would conduct Superintendent interviews the first week of January. Saffer argued the board needed the public to see the candidates in the schools and interacting with students and staff as they had done in the past. Board member Evans said he would not participate in any of that. Young’s action item to begin the Superintendent search again to get a more diverse pool of candidates fell with a 2-5 vote with Saffer and Young as the two no votes.
This board is a house divided. Mostly between common sense and… I don’t know what. On the one side we have Young, Paige, and Saffer who seem to know the law and sees how decisions made today could cause problems in the future. On the other is the not-so Fantastic Four who always seem to be in this frantic hurry to get things done now without looking at all of the angles. They also seem to be easily intimidated by the district and outside forces. This shapes their votes. Minnehan took a pointed jab at Young as she said she would never want to go car-shopping with him because he takes too long to make a decision. I would rather have that than winding up with a lemon Mrs. Minnehan! As I drove down to Dover after this very long meeting which entered an actual new day, I saw a warrior district succumbing to the privatization movement that is paralyzing public education. I believed for a long time Christina was the last hold-out in Delaware, but after some of the votes last night, it was painfully obvious the last blockade fell. At this point, Delaware needs a hero. We need an Obi-Wan moment where someone answers the call of “you’re my only hope“. Will that person come from Christina or somewhere else?
I gave the following public comment to the board last night but despite my six minutes thanks to borrowed time, I was not able to get to the end of it which I will notate in the below comment.
Good evening ladies and gentlemen of the Christina School District Board of Education. It has been a long time since I came up to this podium to speak before this board. The last time I did so was seventeen months ago. I believe Ms. Minnehan was the Board President at that time. A lot happened at that meeting. I did want to offer an apology in regards to that. I’m sorry it has taken me so long to give public comment here.
I have a lot to talk about tonight, mostly in regards to the charter school shakedown, er, uhm, lawsuit.
First, can you please, for the love of all we hold sacred, fix the sound for the audio recordings on your website? It is a recurring issue and I’m certain it wouldn’t cost that much money to correct this.
Second, I am very curious why a FOIA request I sent to the district was never followed up on. I sent a FOIA request to the district asking for the past three years of all air quality inspections for every single one of the Christina schools. I received an email back that a cost estimate would be forthcoming. That was almost two months ago. I received nothing. As Delaware state code gives any public agency a period of 15 business days to respond to a FOIA request, the district has violated FOIA. Please remedy this by tomorrow so I do not have to file another FOIA complaint with the Delaware Attorney General’s office. Which I’m sure this district has had enough of. But I digress.
I do not believe the board should even entertain not voting on the rescission of the settlement. I am glad that motion failed. (I adlibbed the last sentence because of the board not passing Minnehan’s motion but I am not entirely sure on the wording). I believe it is very important you vote in the majority to vote yes on rescinding the settlement. As we all know, this was brought forth by Greg Meece over at Newark Charter School. What has never been answered is HOW Greg Meece suddenly, last winter, decided to get a meeting with the fine people at the Delaware DOE. How, all of a sudden, Meece knew EXACTLY what to look for. According to a letter Meece wrote last week to the parents of NCS students, Secretary Godowsky never knew about the change to the local funding formula. So Godowsky reversing a decision he never made, which was cited in the lawsuit and settlement, is frivolous at best. This entire shenanigan was meant to intimidate Christina, and sadly, the district took the bait. They didn’t just take the bait, they swallowed it and regurgitated it to four board members who voted out of fear rather than common sense. That is something that needs to be reversed tonight. I would rather see this district take this ALL THE WAY than see one more penny going out of this district to certain charters who want for nothing. If anything, the DOE should be the entity paying for this year’s charter share of the 2003 referendum and all future costs due to their colossal screw-up, not just getting off the hook by paying for half the attorney fees. But more than that, what may not have come out of all this, is the role the Office of Management and Budget played. As Brian Stephan wrote in a recent article on Delaware Liberal, something happened in 2014 that changed everything with the local funding formula. What he didn’t write, which he may not have been aware of, was why everything changed that year. The Office of Management and Budget, a section of Governor Jack Markell’s office, took over the responsibility from Mark Murphy to oversee this aspect of Delaware education financing. Oh so coincidentally, that was the same year the Delaware DOE launched the priority schools debacle and launched a coordinated attack against Christina when this board would not cower and buckle to Governor Markell’s shameful education agendas. While I am not an attorney or an accountant, I am just a blogger. According to Newark Charter School parents, I’m a sneaky snake blogger. But it is my belief this omission of paying the charter schools their portion of the 2003 referendum was, at best, an egregious error that the State of Delaware should pay moving forward. If that were not enough, the fact that tuition and match taxes were brought up in the settlement is very troubling. The charters have no right to those funds so why it was brought up in a settlement is beyond me. I certainly hope none of that nonsense was the district’s idea. That just opens the door for future siphoning of district funds the local taxpayers entrusted to the district, not to fifteen charter schools. If I’m not mistaken, Christina does not get large donations from the Longwood Foundation, they don’t get a larger proportion of minor capital funds based on their student populations like the charters do, and they certainly don’t get to keep excess transportation funds under their “budgeted” amount.
While we can sit here and pretend the charter cabal, led by Saul Ewing LLC, is a force to be reckoned with, the simple fact is they made unprecedented money grab. This could have been done a dozen different ways, but they chose threats and intimidation, with support from certain legislators in both the House and the Senate, to get what they wanted. As a result, if this board does NOT rescind the settlement, it will continue to give away funds this district desperately needs to 15 charter schools who have more than enough money already. And if you are going to put your trust in the Delaware Dept. of Education to do the right thing, you have already put one more nail in the coffin of this district.
At this point my time ran out, but this is how I planned to finish my public comment:
I strongly urge this board to continue to keep CSD moving forward. That does not mean responding to bullying threats by what amounts to non-profit corporations in Delaware. That means fighting for what is yours. As your CFO, Bob Silber, rightly argued, this district did what they were supposed to do. It was the State that screwed up. If this board is truly supposed to represent this district, and not Saul Ewing, Greg Meece, and the charters that have taken more funding from this district than any other force in this state, they will need to do the right thing and rescind this farce of a settlement that will allow charter schools to plunder funds not just from Christina, but would set a precedent for every district in this state.
I love the fact that the anonymous donation to Stubbs was highlighted by so much media in this state. But those students deserve more than having additional funds taken from them that would put the lunch balance to shame.
Thank you, and I do want to wish all of you a great holiday. Bob A, thank you for the Frozen memory. Good luck in your future endeavors.
To read the response to the FOIA complaint from the Delaware Attorney General’s office, please read below:
Red Clay taxpayers beware: You might get a sticker shock on a future tax bill! The Delaware Department of Education issued a Request For Proposal on November 28th for a “time sensitive” Facilities Condition Evaluation of all the Christina schools based in Wilmington. While I initially thought this could have been related to Christina’s recent mold issues, I found this went much deeper than that. Is this some type of surprise announcement that will come in John Carney’s State of the State address?
The schools that will be evaluated are Bancroft Elementary School, Bayard Middle School, Elbert Palmer Elementary School, Pulaski Elementary School, Stubbs Elementary School, Douglass School, and the Sarah Pyle Academy. Even the district office at the Drew Education Support Center is on the list! The smoking gun is this part:
Develop cost estimates to bring each of the above listed facilities to a similar state and with the same control systems such as building controls, camera systems, keysets, alarm, access control, phones, tech. infrastructure (switches), and wifi as Highlands Elementary School, 2100 Gilpin Avenue; Shortledge Elementary School, 100 West 18th Street; Lewis Dual Language Elementary School, 920 North Van Buren Street; Baltz Elementary School, 1500 Spruce Avenue; and DuPont Middle School, 3130 Kennett Pike.
Those are all Red Clay schools. If this were just some random facilities evaluation, there is no way there would be something to bring Christina schools up to Red Clay specifications. There is going to be a big move coming soon!
Identical to the process and methodology followed for typical school facilities assessment work, the assessment will identify any potential issues related to major building systems and building components such as the building envelope/structure, roofing, HVAC/mechanical, electrical, plumbing, fire protection, telecommunications, and security systems as well as any site improvements required to the immediate surrounding area for building access. Data generated from this effort will:
• Evaluate the above listed schools in 1. facility condition indices as compared to RCCSD facilities as listed in 2.
• Identify and prioritize required short and long term improvements
• Identify code compliance, accessibility and system coordination issues requiring immediate attention
• Identify potential energy conservation opportunities
But does the Wilmington Education Improvement Commission know about this? They are having a regular commission meeting next Wednesday at Warner Elementary School. If they don’t, boy are they in for a surprise!
As well, it looks like the Delaware Autism Program could be shifted to Red Clay as well:
Prepare a design analysis for the Christina Administrative space, Douglas Alternative School, Sarah Pyle Program and Delaware Autism Program as currently located in one of the buildings listed above.
Who is the driving force behind this? If it is John Carney, he may want to open with a huge splash by finally giving the civil rights advocates in Wilmington their hearts desire. But if this is his move, it would also be a huge smack in the face to the Red Clay taxpayers. Carney was very wishey-washey during his campaign about what he would do with the WEIC redistricting plan. He hinted at liking some of it but not all of it. But WEIC Chair Tony Allen is on his transition team. If Carney pulls this off without the General Assembly he risks alienating many of State Reps and Senators. Which may not work out in his favor with the special election for Bethany Hall-Long’s seat. That race will determine whether the Democrats or Republicans control the Delaware Senate.
Another option is Governor Jack Markell. With the time sensitive status around this and a due date for bids of December 13th, could he have the gumption to stick it to Christina one last time before he leaves office? While ticking off the taxpayers at the same time?
The RFP was authored by a Renee Harris. The only thing I found on her while doing a Google search and a State of Delaware search was related to the Tobacco Settlement from the Delaware Attorney General’s office.
No matter what this is, it is going to be something that will change the Wilmington education landscape. There is absolutely no way the DOE would issue an RFP like this without something waiting in the wings. The WEIC redistricting plan was put on hold for a year. The state isn’t overflowing in cash right now either.
**UPDATED** 12:35pm, 12/2/16: Senate Bill 300 with House Amendment 1 was what allowed the WEIC Redistricting Plan to survive. But there is key language in the amendment put forth by State Rep. Kim Williams:
The amendment removes language obligating the Wilmington Education Improvement Commission and affected school districts to develop, before February 2017, a detailed assessment of the impact of transitioning City of Wilmington Students from the Christina School District to the Red Clay Consolidated School District. Such detailed assessment would require development of school- and student-level changes that require public input and facility analysis that cannot be completed in the timeframes in the original bill. Instead, they should be undertaken as part of the planning phase for redistricting upon commitment of necessary and sufficient funding. The amendment preserves appropriation of $200,000 to continue the work related to the Wilmington Education Improvement Commission, including analysis of fiscal impacts, and language clarifying and ensuring that any additional state funding requires further action of the General Assembly.
That date of February 2017 flies in the face of this RFP. I would strongly consider a “Facilities Evaluation” part of a “detailed assessment of the impact…” for the WEIC plan. The amendment does not include the Delaware DOE though. But the original WEIC bills from 2015 do not give the Delaware DOE to have this much involvement. Something is happening…
**UPDATED** 2:04pm, 12/2/16: If you read the fiscal note for Senate Bill 200, it states the following:
- This Act is effective upon signature of the Governor.
- This Act provides a supplemental appropriation of $200,000 to establish the Wilmington Redistricting Transition Fund to assess the fiscal impact of transitioning City of Wilmington students from the Christina School District to the Red Clay Consolidated School District. The funding is to be used by the Red Clay Consolidated School District, in consultation with the Wilmington Education Improvement Commission and the Christina School District, for the assessment in which said assessment is to be substantially completed on or before January 31, 2017.
- This Act also establishes a working group to review the fiscal impact assessment that is prepared by the Red Clay Consolidated School District in consultation with the Wilmington Education Improvement Commission and the Christina School District. The Department of Education is to provide staff support to the working group, upon request, and it is assumed that the Department will provide this support within existing resources. The working group shall submit its review by March 31, 2017 to the Governor, Speaker of the House of Representatives and President Pro Tempore of the Senate.
- Funding is set aside in the Fiscal Year 2017 budget process in the amount of $200,000.
But once again, that due date was changed based on House Amendment #1 to the bill. So, once again, why is the DOE issuing an RFP with a submission due date for bids of 12/13/16 and labeling this as “time sensitive”? The key words in the amendment are this- “commitment of necessary and sufficient” funding. The amendment states this work should not take place until a time when that commitment is assured. No budget proposal will come out until towards the end of January. And a budget proposal does nothing until the General Assembly approves it. So even if folks are saying this is part of the $200,000 allocated to WEIC as a result of SB300, it appears the amendment is being completely ignored. The bill was dead before the amendment. The amendment saved WEIC. I am not convinced of anything I am hearing at this point. Whomever is directing these actions is breaking the law.
**UPDATED** 2:16pm, 12/2/16: Upon further analysis of the above amendment, it states the type of work included in this RFP should be done during the “planning phase” of the redistricting plan. As per the plan approved by the State Board of Education, the timeline consists of the following:
• December 17, 2015 to June 30, 2016 Approval Stage
• July 1, 2016 to June 30, 2017 Planning Stage
• July 1, 2017 to June 30, 2018 Transition Stage
• July 1, 2018 to June 30, 2019 Implementation Stage
But because the General Assembly did not pass the legislation that would make the redistricting plan happen, they instead bumped it up a year. So the Planning Stage of July 1, 2016 to June 30, 2017 is no longer in place. The amendment is very clear about what should happen during this stage. That planning stage can’t begin again until July 1, 2017 if the General Assembly allows for that to happen based on signed legislation. I’m just a blogger without the legal expertise the WEIC and DOE attorneys would have. But if I can clearly see that the law is not being followed, they would assuredly know.
To read the RFP, please read below:
One of the reasons I have always admired the Christina School District is because they don’t have magnet schools or choice schools within their district. That could change tomorrow night when the Christina Board of Education will vote on a proposal to expand the Honors program at Christiana High School from a 9th-12th grade program to a 6th-12th grade program. I understand the why behind it as the district has empty seats in some of their buildings and they will be forced to consolidate at some point. But this… I can’t get behind it.
Before I get into why I can’t support this, let me explain why they are doing it. Christina, over the past fifteen years, has lost a ton of students to charter schools. I truly believe the district wants to let go of the past and start offering richer programs to keep students in the district and to hopefully lure students back from the charters. As well, they are losing honors students to Dickinson High School in Red Clay who offers an International Baccalaureate program. Eventually, the Christina students in Wilmington issue will be resolved one way or another and Christina will lose those students. The district has to make some major changes if they want to survive in the next decade.
But this idea is not good. First off, I don’t think it is a wise idea to place middle school students in a high school setting. Developmentally, they are not on the same level playing field. By osmosis, these students will be exposed to things they are not ready for. There is a reason students in public education are at elementary schools, middle schools, and high schools. To make matters worse, the plan would call for this to start with 6th graders only for the next school year and by 2019 all 6th-8th grade students participating in this program would be integrated as students at a high school. This cohort of 6th graders are going to have a very difficult time at a building with peers who are far older than them.
Furthermore, what happens when all the honors students leave the existing middle schools in the district? That will leave a higher concentration of students who have larger needs. Our current state accountability system for schools will place those schools with a bulls-eye on them when test scores come out. If anyone thinks the Every Student Succeeds Act is going to take care of that they are deluding themselves. It will set up an irreversible system of discrimination and segregation all over again, within their own district. That is something all schools in Delaware should be steering away from, not towards.
This program would have smaller “cohorts” which would mean smaller class sizes. I am all for that but it has to be done across the board. There are existing classrooms in elementary and middle schools that do not have enough support in this district but teachers are forced to handle large classrooms with no support whatsoever. But giving this preference to students who would most likely be considered talented and gifted while not giving those same choices to other students with just as much need if not more is just reinventing the discrimination wheel. I’m not saying talented and gifted students shouldn’t be given those benefits, but I am saying if that benefit exists it needs to happen for all students. No one wins in the large classroom scenario with one teacher.
The State of Delaware, and more specifically, the General Assembly, needs to look at the state school choice law. While the intent may have been honorable in the beginning, it has morphed into pockets of segregation across the state. Some are big and some are small, but they exist. While charter schools take the brunt of the shots fired at these practices, many districts are setting up programs within their own districts that are dividing students. Take the World Language Immersion program as an example. In my day, you took a language. They didn’t put a fancy name on it and start teaching Kindergartners Chinese or Spanish. While I do think it is good for students to learn a second language, and possibly a third depending on their abilities, we are already seeing school districts around the state dealing with issues of segregation between the smarter kids and those with higher needs based on this program. This isn’t even inequity, it is also inequality. When you have both, it is a recipe for disaster for the overall educational health of a state. This example is not just affecting New Castle County schools. Districts in Kent and Sussex County are having these issues as well. But their boards and administration don’t seem to be addressing what is happening within their own schools.
I don’t know what the solution is, but this isn’t it. I don’t understand why they wouldn’t attempt to instill those honors programs in the schools they have now. If they need to combine some schools and possibly sell old property that isn’t being used, that is one thing. But dividing students like this is a lesson Delaware doesn’t want to learn. This is a recommendation from the Superintendent (even though it is an Acting Superintendent). When Christina passed their referendum earlier this year one of their promises was to create programs like this. I am all for better programs in schools. But school choice has led to such severe competition among Delaware schools that future generations of adults are going to be more divided than ever between the haves and the have-nots. We have traditional school districts, charter schools, vo-techs, magnet schools, honors programs, World Immersion programs, and so forth. And I’m not even getting into the Pathways to Prosperity program and how that is setting up particular societal roles in the future.
How can we talk about equity in schools with a weighted funding system when we are forcing schools into that position? We are killing education in this state, one choice program at a time. I believe Christina is trying to rush a program like this into place. Let it marinate a bit. Look at other options. Slow your roll! I’m not convinced this isn’t a case where the Acting Superintendent who will be gone in a few months at most just wants a notch like this on his résumé. I think something this big would need to still be in the discussion stage with a new Superintendent who would be tasked to carry it out.
And in the name of all that is holy can we please get the words rigor or rigorous legally banned from discussion about education? As well, the word “Academy” in traditional school districts signifies something elite that only select students can get into. Not a smart idea to put an “Academy” into a school district.
To read the action item, which will be read for a second time, please go below.
In the world of education, someone is always willing to make a buck. In the Christina School District, Hanover Research is the latest vendor to say cha-ching when the district gets an idea.
On Thursday, the district released a press release announcing they are looking into changing the start time for their schools. In Delaware, Superintendents and district administrators get paid a ton of money. Why are we paying outside vendors to do the work they should obviously be doing themselves? It is just cash in the trash! This is a district facing mold issues and a charter school lawsuit on top of dwindling funds and resources. Their board passed a resolution for the district to look at this topic, but that doesn’t translate to pay someone else to do it. We all know their vendor is going to do the same thing anyone else could do: a Google search. And then they will come up with a very pretty report. I know Acting Superintendent Bob Andrzejewski has his eye on the Delaware Secretary of Education slot, but is this the kind of continuing crap we could expect from his “ascendancy”: more meaningless contracts and vendors? Here is the press release:
Christina Explores Changing School Start Times
Impact of early/late start times on student learning will be considered
Wilmington, DE – The Christina School District is exploring the issue of school start times and their impact on student learning, with a goal of determining if changing start times in its secondary schools could increase student achievement. The main focus is on middle and high school students and the impact of early morning start times on adolescents’ learning. The Christina Board of Education passed a resolution in May calling for the Superintendent to identify and provide a list of practices in school systems that start middle and/or high school after 8:00 a.m. Christina middle and high school students currently start school at 7:05 a.m.
The District will be working with research firm Hanover Research to determine how school districts who have adjusted their start times have dealt with issues such as communication, scheduling, transportation, sports, and after-school activities. The District is also engaging staff, parents, students, and the community through an online survey asking for feedback on how school start times may affect student success.
The Christina School District School Start Times Survey is available at the following link: http://www.surveygizmo.com/s3/ 3063051/e2158fc28598
The survey will be live until the end of November, and additional research and analysis will be gathered in the coming weeks.
Wendy Lapham, Public Information Officer
Christina School District
600 N. Lombard St.
Wilmington, DE 19801
Christina School District Board of Education member John Young posted this publicly on Facebook about the Christina Superintendent search. I am posting it on here to get this to a wider audience. For clarification purposes, SME stands for “Subject Matter Expert” and James Flynn is running the Superintendent search for Christina through the University of Delaware’s Institute for Public Administration (IPA). I don’t know how many districts have used IPA in the past. I do know Capital used them last year for their new Superintendent which led to Dan Shelton getting the post. And I want to say Colonial did as well which led to Dusty Blakey, but don’t quote me on that. I’ll let Mr. Young’s Facebook post take it from here.
Some public information on the CSD Super search. Started with a few questions and since I will not be able to attend the 11.9.16 meeting as I will be out of town, and because Mr. Polaski raised the concern below I wanted to get this out there as I would have discussed all of this in person anyway, as those that know me know I would. Also, Note Dr. Flynn’s comments regarding direction given on 10.24 does not comport with the timing of the contract which Mr. Polaski references in points 1 indirectly and 2 directly…meaning I remain confused on the issue.
Today, 8:08 AM
YOUNG JOHN;PAIGE ELIZABETH;EVANS GEORGE;Meg Mason; MINNEHAN HARRIE E; SAFFER SHIRLEY
Subject: Re: Task Force Update
Two reactions to Mr. Young’s requests:
1. The process being implemented by Dr. Flynn and IPA at the U of D was approved by the CSD Board at a BOE public meeting. Any changes to the process or contract MUST be approved by the Board after discussion at a public meeting, not by any one or more Board members by email.
2. The Board approved use of IPA to facilitate the process to select a new superintendent and directed the CSD Administration to negotiate the contract with IPA, which Mr. Silber did as the CFO of CSD.
Any further discussion of this topic, or any proposals for changes, must only be done at CSD board meetings in public, the next one being Nov. 9. I would hope to not see any more emails between 7 board members on this subject as that could be determined to constitute a Board meeting, subject to FOIA.
From: YOUNG JOHN
Sent: Monday, October 31, 2016 10:28:23 PM
To: PAIGE ELIZABETH; EVANS GEORGE; Meg Mason; MINNEHAN HARRIE E; POLASKI FRED; SAFFER SHIRLEY
Subject: Re: Task Force Update
Obviously I speak only for myself on this: without the names of the SMEs, I am unable to support any recommendation whatsoever.
As for the one candidate: the advantage is CLEARLY the ability to prepare answers with additional time not supplied to other candidates. I am disappointed Dr. Flynn cannot see this plainly. Another reason to be very suspect of the process thus far. Is Mr Silber in charge of the board process? This confuses me.
From: PAIGE ELIZABETH
Sent: Monday, October 31, 2016 10:19:33 PM
To: EVANS GEORGE; Meg Mason; MINNEHAN HARRIE E; POLASKI FRED; SAFFER SHIRLEY; YOUNG JOHN
Subject: Fwd: Task Force Update
Sent from my iPhone
Begin forwarded message:
From: James Flynn <email@example.com<mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org>>
Date: October 31, 2016 at 4:52:23 PM EDT
To: PAIGE ELIZABETH <email@example.com<mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org>>
Cc: ROBERT.SILBER@christina.k12.de.us<mailto:ROBERT.SILBER@christina.k12.de.us>, LAPHAM WENDY WENDY.LAPHAM@christina.k12.de.us<mailto:email@example.com>>
Subject: Re: Fw: Task Force Update
Ms. Paige: Hi. I’ll try to respond to Mr. Young’s questions in the order posed.
SMEs – As I’ve said at our public presentations, selection of the number and designation of SMEs is determined by the IPA as one of the steps to insure impartiality and confidentiality. Our goal is to select highly qualified individuals for the applicant screening process who are familiar with Delaware districts and Delaware education issues. For the Christina search, we identified three SMEs – two retired Delaware superintendents and a senior administrator with more than 30 years experience serving several Wilmington area districts (the contract obligates us to two SMEs). Our usual practice is not to share the names of the SMEs to further fortify confidentiality in future searches with other districts. If the CSD Board feels strongly that knowing the names of the SMEs is a critical point, I’d be willing to contact them (the SMEs) for their approval. Please remember, the SMEs review all of the applications independently first and the applicant names have been redacted. When the SMEs come together to discuss the applicants, their references are to ‘Applicant A’ and ‘Applicant B’, etc.
Impact of Extra Time for one Candidate – This applicant e-mailed me just before the midnight deadline on Friday, Sept 23. I replied to her on the morning of Monday, Sept 26 and had all her materials e-mailed to me by early that afternoon. Remember, she claimed she had everything ready for submission on 9/23, but the site was closed before midnight. I’m not sure how this may have created an ‘advantage’ since we didn’t start processing any of the applications until after 9/26.
Task Force Reporting – The instructions from Mr. Silber on 10/24 said to prepare a report of the Task Force proceedings on 11/1 directly to the Board. Changing those instructions by having the Task Force report back to the full Search Committee in a confidential setting (i.e. Task Force and Board) is your choice.
Sub-Par Candidates – I would do all in my power to dissuade the Task Force from recommending a sub-par candidate(s) to the Board. In my opinion, this Task Force has worked too long and too diligently to submit the names of candidates who wouldn’t meet the needs of the CSD.
Board Members and Applicants – I’m not sure what this statement refers to, and don’t feel competent to respond.
Please let me know if I can provide any further information or if wish to alter the Task Force reporting process going forward.
On Mon, Oct 31, 2016 at 1:20 PM, PAIGE ELIZABETH
See below for questions that I told Mr. Young I do not have answers to and provide a response that I can share with the Board.
From: YOUNG JOHN
Sent: Monday, October 31, 2016 12:48 PM
To: PAIGE ELIZABETH; EVANS GEORGE; Meg Mason; MINNEHAN HARRIE E; POLASKI FRED; SAFFER SHIRLEY
Subject: Re: Task Force Update
I am still unsure of process. Jim has not revealed the names of the SMEs used to go through the applications.
What impact did the extra time given one candidate have on creating an advantage?
Aren’t the task force members reporting back to the committee as a whole rather than putting name(s) directly to the board?
Also, if no one stands out, does the task force know to recommend going back out rather than sending us a subpar candidate (if applicable)?
Lastly, I have a deep concern that individual board members are creating an advantage or perception of one by being seen in public with certain applicants, but not others
Hmm… sounds like something is going on up there… and in Christina… they are usually so quiet…
Like the evil Empire in the Star Wars saga, the Christina School District can’t seem to catch a break with mold issues. Parents at another Christina School District building of education received a letter yesterday indicating mold was found at their child’s school. Which school? Another elementary school… Continue reading “Spore Wars Episode II: The Mold Strikes Back…Mold Found At Another Christina School”
On the Pulaski Elementary School website, a letter from Assistant to the Superintendent Ed Mayfield from yesterday fully states what the Christina School District is doing in regards to the mold issue at the school. Meanwhile, I submitted a FOIA request to the Christina School District for the BATTA reports for all of their schools for FY2015, 2016, and 2017.
October 11, 2016
Dear Pulaski Elementary School Parents/Guardians:
Christina School District officials and facilities staff are in the process of addressing an issue of mold being present in three school classrooms. These classrooms, Room 10, Room 11, and the computer room, are not being used by students or staff, and will be off-limits until the issue has been thoroughly addressed.
Between Friday, October 7 and Sunday, October 9, the three rooms were isolated and all exposed surfaces were vacuumed using special filters that trap harmful particles, and were wiped down using an antibacterial solution. Filtration devices were also placed in the rooms and were left in place for a period of 72 hours.
An environmental company will be conducting air-quality tests of the entire building beginning on Wednesday, October 12 and continuing on Thursday, October 13, and Friday, October 14. A representative of the Department of Public Health will also do a walk-through of the building on Friday, October 14. The test results will help us determine if problems exist in any other part of the building. If air-quality issues are identified in other parts of our building, district protocols will continue to be implemented, and, if necessary, we will put additional action plans in place.
We will communicate any updates to you as soon as they are available. If you have questions or need additional information, please direct them to Mr. Ed Mayfield, Assistant to the Superintendent, firstname.lastname@example.org; 552-2601.
Assistant to the Superintendent Christina School District
Last week, the Christina Board of Education met to discuss a lingering problem at one of their schools: mold and health issues reported by staff. Teachers have brought in notes with medical issues stemming from the presence of mold at Pulaski Elementary School, in Wilmington. While issues of mold in schools are not new in Delaware schools, exposure can cause serious health issues among students and staff.
The issue came up when a teacher at Pulaski gave public comment at the district’s September 20th board meeting about mold at Pulaski Elementary School. Unfortunately, the audio recording part of the public comment was not audible. Based on the public comment, the district acted to investigate the issue. I did listen to the October 4th board meeting audio. During public comment, the Christina Educator’s Association representative for Pulaski, Leslie Footman, stated she had letters from staff about issues of asthma, air quality, and headaches.
When people go home or go away for the summer, they don’t have these symptoms. We call this the Pulaski Kennel Cough because the time you come in the first two weeks of school, people are developing symptoms.
The teacher explained how she took pictures of a classroom. On a Thursday night, a picture was taken of one dot. The next day, it grew to several dots. Other pictures showed pictures of mold appearing on bulletin boards, closets, and poles. Mold is created from water that is allowed to remain stagnant. Christina is not the only Delaware district or charter school plagued by issues of mold.
Another teacher said this has been an ongoing issue at the school for three years when giving public comment at the October 4th board meeting. This teacher was a testing coördinator at the school. She mentioned the computer lab was closed for four weeks. She claimed there was mold all over the building and the blame of a broken water main that weekend was not the cause of the ongoing issue.
Christina teacher Jackie Kook spoke about issues with mold at Newark High School and Kirk Middle School as well over the 15 years since she has taught for the district.
Caring isn’t enough. Our students deserve better than to breathe asbestos and mold…
Christina’s Assistant to the Superintendent, Director of Operations Ed Mayfield addressed the board about the issue at the same meeting on October 4th. Along with a representative from BATTA, Mayfield indicated that when mold is present, it needs to be addressed. The BATTA representative explicitly stated that he is not a doctor and would be unable to diagnose health issues. He said his job is to diagnose mold issues and to remediate it. Mayfield said the custodial staff cleaned the school. Board member Fred Polaski asked if the mold found after the cleaning was mold that already existent or if it was a new development. No clear answer was given to this question. Board member Shirley Saffer was very upset about the issue. She said to just throw out items that have had mold present, regardless of the costs. She said she would gladly have her mortgage payment raised $50 a month if it meant their schools were free of mold. She stated far too many students in Christina have issues with asthma and health issues and they deserve better than this.
Mayfield said not every room was tested for mold, but observed in a walk-through. He said no black mold was visible upon that inspection. The board disputed these findings based on the pictures presented by teachers during the public comment section of the board meeting. Board member John Young said some of the pictures appear to be garden-variety roof leaks but they are pervasive.
Board President Elizabeth Paige asked what the fiscal impact for the district has been for this year. Mayfield told her it would be difficult to pinpoint a fixed number. Paige said she wants that type of information at their next board meeting. Fred Polaski said they need to pinpoint how mold is getting into Pulaski and questioned the ventilation systems in the building. Paige said this is present in more than one building based on walking into them. Saffer asked if the state would be able to assist if this turns out to be a district-wide issue. Mayfield said there is no line item in the budget for mold issues or the treatment of mold remediation. Mayfield said the report fails to give the proper context of the issue, but common sense prevails when issues of mold are present and they need to be addressed. Young stressed the need for teachers to be able to communicate and share information surrounding this issue.
If we can’t provide a safe and healthy environment, we’re not doing our jobs.
The BATTA representative, when asked by Paige how to stop mold from even appearing in the schools, said directives were given to staff on what to look for. If mold spores are present, the school needs to get rid of things like books (of which mold spores were found). He insisted old cardboard boxes should be disposed of over time. Once they get wet, it could be a magnet for mold. He stressed they didn’t see any fuzzy mold or black mold. Young said he doesn’t care about the numbers except zero people coming to the microphone to address mold issues. He pondered if the custodial staff had become desensitized to these issues over time.
On Friday, October 7th, a staff meeting was held at Pulaski to talk about the issue. In attendance were Board of Education members Paige, Polaski, and Young. An independent inspector gave some very concerning advice to the participants, which she wrote about on her Facebook account that afternoon:
When asked, the mold specialist said he would not send his own child to the school based on what he saw.
Since then, the district has hired another company to get a second opinion. I would have to assume if their findings are different than those of BATTA, the district will have to act for the health and safety of students and staff. This could mean temporarily closing the school until any potential mold was completely treated. Black mold can not be simply washed off or cleaned up as it gets into the very fibers of building materials.
While the term “toxic mold” is ripe with controversy, the Centers for Disease Control issued findings which indicate the issues staff members at Pulaski Elementary School are facing could indeed be caused by the presence of mold:
In 2004 the Institute of Medicine (IOM) found there was sufficient evidence to link indoor exposure to mold with upper respiratory tract symptoms, cough, and wheeze in otherwise healthy people; with asthma symptoms in people with asthma; and with hypersensitivity pneumonitis in individuals susceptible to that immune-mediated condition. The IOM also found limited or suggestive evidence linking indoor mold exposure and respiratory illness in otherwise healthy children. In 2009, the World Health Organization issued additional guidance, the WHO Guidelines for Indoor Air Quality: Dampness and Mould. Other recent studies have suggested a potential link of early mold exposure to development of asthma in some children, particularly among children who may be genetically susceptible to asthma development, and that selected interventions that improve housing conditions can reduce morbidity from asthma and respiratory allergies, but more research is needed in this regard.
The Christina Board of Education will address the matter again at their board meeting next Tuesday, October 18th.
The document provided to the Board by the district can be seen below. Readers can hear the board audio recording from the October 4th board meeting here. To read the guidance issued by the Environmental Protection Agency in 2008 for mold remediation in schools, please go here.
If, based on reading about mold and what it looks like, do not hesitate to reach out to your building administrator. If you find the building administrator is not acting appropriately about the issue, go to the Superintendent. If, yet again, you aren’t getting satisfaction, go to the school board and give public comment. If nothing happens then, contact me. I will make sure the public becomes well aware of the issue. Nothing is worth more than the safety of children and the educators tasked with giving them an education.
The News Journal just reported that a group of Delaware charter schools are suing Christina School District and the Delaware Dept. of Education over the charter school funding issue that I broke at the end of August. This is unbelievable! I can’t believe they have the unmitigated gall to go behind the districts’ backs all Spring, have the DOE issue “updated” funding formulas in August, and then sue Christina and the DOE after Secretary Godowsky reversed course on the plan.
And who does the News Journal have as a fresh picture, taken two days ago? None other than Kendall Massett with the Delaware Charter Schools Network. When Newark Charter School’s Head of School Greg Meece and Kendall Massett get together, we should expect nothing but trouble. For all of Massett’s talk about wanting district and charter collaboration, she sure has a funny way of showing it.
Fifteen charter schools have filed suit against the state Department of Education and Christina School District to get what they claim is their fair share of funding. Christina has been withholding millions of dollars in local tax revenue from charter schools for years and the Department of Education has been complicit, according to the lawsuit.
Their fair share of funding is what they already get. I actually can’t wait to see this go to court. I will say it here and now… the charter schools will lose! Who is paying for their attorney fees?
Under the adjusted formula, Christina School District would have had to pay about $3 million more this year than it had been planning. For Newark Charter School, one of the chief beneficiaries of those funds, that would have meant an additional $1 million in revenue.
I said it before, and I’ll say it again… this amounts to Greg Meece going for an unprecedented money grab for Christina after they won their referendum last Spring. And I also have a pretty good idea why he thinks the charters will win. But I will hold that close to the vest for now. But that one goes all the way to the top of Delaware, right Jack? So how far back does this lawsuit go? How about 2008!
The lawsuit aims at reinstating the adjustments made to the statewide formula and forcing Christina to pay back what it has withheld since 2008.
Newark Charter knows that if they win this would bankrupt Christina which I have no doubt is their overall plan. And what then? All of Christina goes back to the state and would most likely convert to charters. Is Meece going to lead his long dreamed of Newark Charter School Network and take all those kids he didn’t want for the past 15 years? I know what happened in 2008 when a former Christina Board member told Meece they would get additional funds from their referendum but the board member spoke out of turn. Ever since, Meece has been gunning for Christina because of bad information. I also have a pretty good idea of where Meece got certain information from that is making him think he has a case. That will be the true revelation when all is revealed!
I would have to assume these fifteen charters are the ones that get funding from Christina School District, which is most likely every one in New Castle County.
Yes, there will be two parts to this. Part 1 represents about 60% of the question and answer session from the Christina School District Legislative Briefing on the charter school funding issue. If you haven’t read it yet, you may want to read this post first as it has the presentation Christina Chief Financial Officer Bob Silber gave to legislators and members of the public at the meeting this morning. It could be difficult to understand everything in these questions until you read that first.
Welcome back to those who left. Without further ado, here it is:
Monica Moriak (member of Christina’s Citizens Budget Oversight Committee): The district did not mean to exclude something specific? They noticed that in 2014 you were not including the 10 cent Referendum in the financial position report because you did not see that as something you could use for anything and that’s when they noticed that and so that’s when they decided, “Ooo, we need a different number” so Dr. Meece walked away from the charter bill? Is that when that got separated because you used a different number?
Robert Silber (Christina’s Chief Financial Officer): Yes, for those of you who didn’t ask the question, I’ll repeat. In 2014, the Department of Education recognized that there are, at least for the Christina School District, there are three series of numbers that are used or assigned to our district: 9100 series, 9800 series, and 9900 series. The 9100 series and the 9900 series are dollars that are excluded, the 9800 series are dollars that are included. If I take a look at… well, why don’t I do it this way… our Citizen’s Budget Oversight Committee, about a year or two ago, as the district started having its financial challenges, started asking the district to provide information on a monthly basis, focused on what our local unrestricted expenditures are. So every month, we prepare financial statements that are unique within the state, that also include a breakdown of what we know to be excluded, and what we know to be included. It’s a very simple issue- 9800, included, and everything else, excluded. And last year, as an example, when you look at FY2015’s financial results, not (FY)16’s, but 15’s financial report, and we take a look at what was our total spend of what we consider to be unrestricted local dollars, that number matched to the penny to what the Department of Education calculated on their form what the local cost per student should be. So that was validation, if you will, of the process over the years. The components, as to what goes where, again, I can’t answer. But specifically, there was a question raised, I believe, because one of the goals of the Department of Education is to take the process that they use today and automate it. But if you’re gonna automate something to say I want to include certain numbers and exclude certain numbers, you’re going to want to make sure that everything that is in that included bucket all have a common number that you can pull from. So any appropriation beginning with 98, which is included, anything that begins with something other than 98, would be excluded. That’s what their goal is.
State Rep. John Kowalko: Yes, a couple questions. I appreciate the effort you put into this the effort to explain this. My concern is this- as we’re dealing with a very complex issue, which has a parameter of a coding issue put in place. You have to have an understand the finances of a public schools in Delaware, and it’s very complex, very complicated, with coding issues that are not always as capturing of the actual expenditure as we would like to see happen. But with that being said, in 2014 the DOE asked you to, more or less, justify some things and if it wasn’t justified, they were going to ask you to put a separate code for that mechanism in place. Do I have that right?
Silber: I would probably express it another way. In 2014, every district, three times a year, is required to do a financial position report. I don’t know what triggered their follow-up questions. In 2014, when Christina School District submitted theirs, we showed, without any question, that we had sufficient resources to pass the test. So the question the Dept. of Education had on a response may have been directed towards, or may have been triggered, by the district that may not have been able to reflect that they are in good standing, that I don’t know. All I know is that the question was raised. The question was raised by the Department, “Why are you not listing all of these appropriations? You’re giving me a short list.” And the answer came back, for any reason, from different individuals, ours was “We’re restricted on certain funds.”
Kowalko: I’m going to pass forward now to recent events and the new determinations, that apparently a decision was made August 24th, this stands out, the districts were informed of a meeting with select Superintendents, the key word is select Superintendents, and business managers would not be included. It’s mind-boggling to me that your office, Christina and the other districts I’m sure, would be offering a path forward, they would have done it in a collaborative process. But it seems to me that DOE has no intention of collaborating. When they asked you for a report, a spreadsheet of how you do it, then they make a final determination at the end of that tunnel without having said to you, “We question this or we think this or can you justify that”, to me, that’s almost a ruling, a one-sided rule that is not going to benefit the districts and/or public school systems. I know you don’t have the answer to that. I’ve asked Secretary Godowsky for a timeline and dates of who was at these meetings. I will follow-up, because his answer to me yesterday was very, very shallow. It was “I’m going to send out the report to everybody to explain the process.” This doesn’t ask for an explanation of the process. I know the process. I talked to Bob (Silber) for an hour yesterday. This asks for a timeline of who was involved when the decision-making, from May on to this point in time, and why were they excluding people that have knowledge, that actually put their pencils on paper. I find this to be an almost disgraceful performance by the DOE and I’m not here to pontificate, but I am angry that they tarnished the reputation of a district that has more challenges than any district in this state probably, cause of the special needs, the impoverished of the community. But that’s not to give an excuse here, but you have made remarkable strides and I really, really challenge any Department within this state that would unilaterally decide that they’re going to impose or question something without asking you for an answer. This is a ridiculous way for us to operate on behalf of our children. And I’m tired of it and I intend to follow-up with Secretary Godowsky. If I don’t get an answer for this, and his answer isn’t going to be responsive, I do have another letter prepared that I will release to the press and I’m telling you, it does not look good. I would ask the Chair of the Education Committee, and to think over it, the fact that we don’t get an appropriate answer to where we are today and how this embellishment of no facts or answers has caused a situation of turmoil, an anxiety, that has pitted charter schools against traditional schools for dollars. I’ve asked the Chair to consider that if we don’t get a response to hold hearings on this charge. Between now and then there should be a corrective course by DOE. This is not a one-sided issue. This is not something that you’re on the defense about. This is about due process. There has been no due process in the immediate discussion of this from May till now. No due process.
Kevin Ohlandt (“The Blogger” or “Sneaky Snake Blogger” as one person called me last week): I have two questions. Newark Charter School referenced a meeting with Dr. Andrzejewski that would be taking place in regards to this subject, the local cost per pupil. This is more for Dr. Andrzejewski. Were you aware that this would be coming up, I guess, last March or April?
Dr. Robert Andrzejewski (Acting Superintendent of Christina): I never met with the board of Newark Charter. I met with Greg Meece on the referendum. This issue we talked about has an ongoing history. And that was it. At some point, I offered to meet before the Board President to go through a similar thing.
Ohlandt: Senator Sokola had mentioned, in an email, something about funds going from $700,000 in 2011 to $9.2 million last year or the year before. Do you know what that was about and why he would choose that flashpoint in time to use in this issue?
Silber: I’ll go back to a couple of comments. If you take a look at the composition of the students within the Christina School District, and almost any other district in the state and certainly with charter schools, you’ll see that Christina School District has a significant higher population of students with special needs, not just within special programs but within our district. I can take a look at what has transpired over the five to seven years. There has been a very steady increase in our tuition tax rate as a result of needing to generate those dollars. Some of those programs, as I said, are unique to Christina. But where the Dept. of Education chooses to put those dollars… if it were my call, it would in that tuition fund. But if their putting it into the district specific program bucket, you’re going to see those dollars increase dramatically. I have no knowledge as to what causes them (the DOE) to put something in bucket A versus bucket B. All I can do is suggest that during one of those years, as I took a quick look over the past five years, we had a drop in dollars over on the tuition side. I can tell you, or our board can tell you, I don’t think I’ve ever generated a financial statement for the district that has shown our tuition related expenses were for students with special needs has gone down. If anything, it has consistently gone up. That’s a triggering question of… I don’t know who does the reports. I can’t direct you to go see Bob Silber at the Dept. of Education. That is their report. They should be held accountable and transparent for what’s behind those dollars. I would love to be able to see it to argue it, to challenge what should go to any one bucket if you will, but that’s obviously not a part of the process with the Department.
Bill Doolittle (Special Education Advocate): Did the Department ever provide a full list of the accounting codes they intend to move to 9800 or 98 class and the amounts for each district in those classes?
Silber: For this year?
Doolittle: For their initial intent.
Silber: No. The only thing that has transpired was, as I said at the beginning, there was a request from the Department, “Every business manager go through this list.” And they generated, when they sent that list out, probably, if I had to guess, the top 15 rows were items that they specifically said, “Yup, these are items we already know the answers to. So for Christina, the other 254, you have to tell us one way or the other.” I think one of the important things to recognize is that every organization, it doesn’t matter if it’s a charter school, a traditional public school, or a business entity, or any organization. You have to make decisions around budgets and you have to be able to depend upon systems associated with that. So if there are variations, something that’s going to happen that creates a wild swing, you can’t afford those things to occur. In the public education arena, one of the issues that we tried to bring to the Secretary’s attention, it was the longer you delay the communication around this process or the challenges to the charter schools, the less informed they’re going to be. Every charter school should have been told, by the Department of Education, that for FY2017, this current school year, every one should have been informed that expect your local cost per students for the Christina School District to go down this year. Because the Christina School District had reduced our local unrestricted expenditures by about $9 million dollars last year. The department was aware of it. Did the Department inform the charter community, “Brace yourself, this is coming”? At our board meetings, we clearly articulated our charter bills for last year were predicated upon the prior year. They will not feel the pain we are feeling this year until the following year. Just as when we are successful in an operating referendum, the monies don’t hit until the following year and then the following year after that from a sequencing perspective route how the law recognizes what local costs per student are. I don’t know if that answered your question.
Doolittle: I think the answer is DOE still hasn’t told everybody what they’re doing.
Silber: No, no. They’re given a list and some of the response around some of the detail had to be pulled. So, as an example, in this list that they provided to us initially, they said MCI, minor capital improvements, would be included. Well the language associated with match taxes forever has been bundled with MCI. They were called MCI/Match. And our tax warrants, all districts, up and down the state, are predicated on its match dollars. It includes funds that are match for minor capital, and match for these unique legislative driven programs. It wasn’t until we asked a question that they said, “No, all of those programs that legislators approved and have been included for the past 14-17 years, they’re no longer going to excluded, they’re going to be included.”
(Editor’s note: I know for a fact that any charter school that went through a charter renewal or modification process with the Charter School Accountability Committee at the Delaware DOE in FY2016 was told to expect this.)
Kowalko: A follow-up, on that very statement you just made. They said that, without you having any ability to or chance to retort? They assumed that, presumed that, decided that? Did they say why it shouldn’t be done that way?
Silber: Their answer, not to me but to another business manager, was that they believe they are interpreting the code correctly.
Kowalko: I just want to clarify one thing for Mr. Ohlandt. Correct me if I’m right here, or wrong here. There is not a 98110 that had several hundred thousand dollars in it that now has $9 million in it?
Silber: It’s not that simple. No.
Kowalko: Cause that seemed to be the message…
Kowalko: …that was put out there and resonated. I just wanted you to confirm it. Thank you.
State Rep. Michael Ramone: First off, thank you. This is very helpful. It definitely solidifies and clarifies the perception, at least for us, to be able to speak intelligently to people and say what the heck is going on. You just said the interpretation, interpreting the code correctly, and to me, it seems the biggest issue is not only communication, which I agree with Representative Kowalko, this should have been handled differently with different people at the table. Whatever. It is what it is. I think communication could have been better. I think clarity is an issue, and the word that you use- interpretation- it sounds to me that the interpretation that used to be the interpretation is a different interpretation today. I’m not looking for a comment. It’s my perception of what I’m hearing. So, I guess, to me, a big question, and maybe the dialogue should go to the Chair and the Co-Chair of the Education (Committee), do we need to do anything, in your opinion, as the guy doing the work, as the manager’s opinion to clarify the current law so their isn’t, quote, an “interpretation” maybe one year that would be a different interpretation next year. Or even have new laws added. And I’m not asking you to answer that today, I’m saying that’s a discussion we need to have. But a point of clarity I do need to hear, because I don’t know if I’m interpreting what you wrote or what you said here, but right or wrong, is there an issue or was there an issue with the referendums that were passed in the specific designation of how much tax money, or the referendum was going to be added? Are you suggesting that there is a question of how we’re passing or wording the referendums we are passing or not? Because the way I’m reading that it seems like some of the lack of clarity, or quote “interpretation”, that they have seems to stem from the verbiage as its written in the referendum that was passed or am I interpreting that wrong?
Silber: I would argue that, again I would preface that by saying I didn’t author the document, the document that was put before the community was specific. It said “You will use the money for the following programs. Let me give you a shift for a moment. It didn’t come to pass but you can use this to crystalize the thought. This last year, Brandywine School District, as some of you may know, ran a referendum that failed. That referendum had multiple parts to it. One of the parts of that referendum was, “Will you guys give us additional money so that we can build turf fields?” A very specific request. And if the answer to that question had been yes, that money coming into the Brandywine School District, for the years that they were asking those dollars to follow, could not have been used to pay for teacher salaries or higher administrators. It would have been used for the purpose intended by that referendum, similar to the referendum that we had in 2003. The interpretation that I would get from the actions of the Department of Education, as I’m trying to do today, would suggest that once those dollars came in, that were a very specific purpose for Brandywine, to be used to build a turf field, would then the following year have to come out of their discretionary funds to help support their charters. And I don’t believe the intent, it is very clear, we’re giving you money to build this, or we’re giving Christina School District opportunities for these programs. There are a number of ways, a number of questions, in our perspective that go around the Christina School District and programs that are unique to the Christina School District. A question could be asked when a parent chooses not to go to the Christina School District and chooses to go to the Red Clay School District through the choice process, are they leaving the programs of the Christina School District they took advantage of, if they leave the Christina School District to go to Kuumba Academy, then yes, they are leaving the programs of the Christina School District. So in one respect, to look at those unique programs and say “they’re unique to the Christina School District,” and the taxpayers agree to that. That’s why it’s restricted to you for these particular purposes. What the Secretary and the Dept. of Education are suggesting is that those dollars that are restricted over here move over here as an unrestricted basis. And what I’m suggesting is that in 2014, when the Department said, “No, they’re restricted,” they made a decision that it couldn’t move over here to unrestricted. I’m not necessarily sure that it’s about wording or it’s about interpretation. I think it’s more around intent. Is the intent to find ways to increase the amount of money flowing to a charter school as opposed to what should? That’s an intent question that my personal perception may not necessarily… Everything I’ve tried to share with you today is a statement of fact.
Ramone: Let me just follow-up, because what I think, I understand what you’re saying. My question is, the monies, the referendum…First of all, referendums are, we have to find a different way to… they’re not working. I think everyone in this room agrees on that. But that’s the beast we’re dealing with. In order to make them more plausible, more acceptable, more digestible, for people to have more clarity on the taxes you’re raising that might pass in the referendum, you started become very creative in the referendum requests, which I actually thought was a good thing. All I’m asking, is in that creativity of making very specific… letting people have a better idea of where the money was going and how it was going… was there a lapse in our legislative body in not clarifying the laws or doing something that makes something more specific, and I don’t mean to say it this way, but then yes, it would take discretion away from the Secretary of Education and whether it’s Joe Schmo today or Peter John tomorrow, but they would have less discretion, it’s clear, it’s a law, we should, is there something that we should be considering or would you all review whether there is something we should be considering to give clarity so you don’t have any subjectivity to these decisions that could be a little chaotic when you tell everybody that one year it’s one way, the next month (meant year) it should be…
Silber: The best way that I can answer your question Representative, is to state the following- The Dept. of Education this year has taken actions that are substantially different than the actions that they’ve taken for any number of years. The laws that are on the books for the past 14-17 years didn’t seem to have that same degree of challenge. Something triggered this year that all of a sudden those individuals that are currently at the Dept. of Education are now saying that something’s wrong. So if there is a question associated with that, again, what was the impetus behind making the change? Is there someone saying, “Okay, here’s a flaw, I’m going to take advantage of it?” Again, I come back to the initial statement. The district does not make these decisions. The district does not define, the State has to define process to prevent me from doing just that.
Part 2 will be up later tonight or tomorrow morning! Stay tuned!
The Christina School District held a Legislative Briefing for Delaware legislators this morning. The subject: the ongoing district-charter local cost per pupil. Answers were given in a very effective way by Christina’s Chief Financial Officer, Bob Silber. Legislators in attendance were State Reps. John Kowalko, Earl Jaques, Ed Osienski, Mike Ramone, Kim Williams and Senator Bryan Townsend. Most of the Christina Board of Education also attended as well as Acting Christina Superintendent Bob Andrzejewski. Some charter advocates, such as Henry Clampitt who now serves on the Gateway Lab School Board of Directors also attended.
Silber gave specifics on what he believes the Delaware Department of Education is attempting to take out of Christina’s exclusion list from their local funding. He also gave enlightening information on how the DOE specifically asked district Superintendents not to inform their local boards of the changes until a certain time. As well, the meeting held at the DOE last week with district Superintendents was for them only. No business managers were allowed to attend this meeting about education funding. Which is ironic given that the business managers would have the most insight into these issues. To me, it shows an unwillingness on the DOE’s part to make this a transparent and collaborative process.
Silber also presented a timeline of events from Christina’s perspective which almost mirrors my own that I posted last week. Silber did mention that their legal counsel sent a letter to the Delaware DOE on August 26th. The current status is that charter bills were pulled by Secretary Godowsky. Silber did say some districts in Southern Delaware paid their charter bills but Christina will not until the funding amounts are correct.
I walked away from this meeting more convinced than ever that this began with Newark Charter School and once the DOE got involved, they took over and went crazy with it with absolutely no justification or ability to succinctly present anything associated with this mess that is in any way legal. I will have more to say on this later when I transcribe the question and answer question with members of the audience, but in the meantime, feast on the presentation given by Silber. He hit a grand slam on this and evaporated the DOE’s position on this, in my opinion.
What is always fascinating with meetings like this is who is watching who when certain things are said or questions are asked.
The Christina School District just issued a letter to parents and citizens in the district to address the recent funding issues surrounding charter school payments and exclusions in their budget:
A Letter to Christina School District Parents and Residents
about Charter School Funding:
There have been recent reports in local media and on social media about possible changes to the funding formula used to determine the Local Cost per Student that determines payments to charter and choice students who attend schools other than traditional Christina public schools.
At a meeting on September 1 with the Superintendents of public school districts throughout the state, Delaware Secretary of Education Steven Godowsky stated that there would be no changes to the Local Cost per Student formula for the 2016-2017 school year. The district has not yet received a formal statement in writing from the Department of Education to this effect.
Unfortunately, statements have been made by a number of individuals that the Christina School District is excluding funds that should be included in the calculations of the Local Cost per Student.
We feel these are very serious statements that need to be addressed. We also feel that the Christina community deserves to know what these restricted funds are and how they support families who choose to send their children to traditional public schools in Christina.
The Christina School District does not decide what appropriations are included or excluded from the Local Cost of Funds. That determination rests with the Secretary of Education, as stated by Delaware Code.
The Department of Education informed District Business Managers, in August, that certain expenditures which have historically been deemed by the Secretary of Education to be inappropriate for inclusion in the Local Cost per Student Calculation may now be included. No explanations or justifications were provided other than citing that the decision is at the discretion of the Secretary of Education. This decision is contrary to the decisions made by previous Secretaries ranging as recently as last year and as far back as 17 years.
In 2003, Christina voters approved a referendum by a vote of 5,334 to 2,431 to restrict 10 cents per $100 of assessed property value to support four specific programs for Christina School District students. These programs were 1) phase-in of Full-Day Kindergarten, 2) expansion of services for Gifted and Talented program, 3) expansion of services for Alternative Programs, and 4) technology replacement schedule. These funds, authorized by taxpayers, are restricted, and are considered District Specific Exclusions.
Beginning in 2014, the Department of Education agreed that these funds were restricted and approved their exclusion from the calculation of Local Cost per Student.
Another example of funds considered a District Specific Exclusion are those funds generated through the Match Tax. State Legislators often create unique programs designed to help students, such as Reading Resource Teachers, Math Resource Teachers, Extra Time Funding, and Education Technology. These are taxes that impact all traditional school districts. For example, the State recognized the need to assist elementary students in reading. The State provided funding for Reading Resource Teacher positions in Traditional Public Schools and in Charter Schools. State legislation empowered the School Boards of the Traditional Public School Districts to raise taxes to “Match” state funds on a 70/30 state/local basis. School Boards were authorized to match the amount provided to the District only. These Match programs have been excluded from the Local Cost per Student calculation for the past 14-17 years.
The Christina School district welcomes open and public conversation around appropriate public funding for all public school students. As a district that serves a high proportion of low-income, English Language Learners, and special needs students, the Christina School District is invested in ensuring equity, and meeting the educational needs of our diverse population.
The District will hold a Legislative Briefing on Wednesday, September 7 at 7:30 a.m. at the Eden Support Services Center.
Robert Andrzejewski, Ed.D., Acting Superintendent
Christina School District
Robert Silber, Chief Financial Officer
Christina School District