District Consolidation Task Forces Passes All Recommendations But There Were No Recommendations For Actual Consolidation Of Districts

Sorry for the long title.  Yes, the Delaware School District Consolidation Task Force did not have any recommendations to actually consolidate any school districts in the state.  But there were a ton of other recommendations that were passed by the task force.  However, State Rep. Earl Jaques (the Task Force Chair) did manage to anger one citizen who came all the way down from Wilmington to give public comment.  Jaques adjourned the meeting without asking if anyone wanted to give public comment even though it was on the agenda.  I did ask Earl if he could readjourn the meeting before everyone left to allow the citizen to speak but he just gave his infamous head roll.  Bad form Earl!

All the recommendations passed (which you can read here) with a few edits to some of them.  I will get those up when they come out.  I voted no on a few of the recommendations.  One that really got my goat concerned professional development days for ALL employees of a district.  I wasn’t opposed to the original wording which said “establish” but it was changed to “support”, as in give the local school board the ability to provide it based on its merits.  I wanted “establish”, and even suggested an addendum covering special education for ALL employees, but I was told by the Committee Chair (Dr. Dusty Blakey, Superintendent of Colonial School District) it would include special education.  I voted no because the addendum took out the word “establish”.

While the actual task force report won’t come out until May 7th, folks may be surprised the majority of the task force voted yes on tax increases to be created by the State which would come as either a Statewide or Countywide tax to cover a projected deficit of $125 million to “reduce class sizes, provide after school programs, wellness centers, additional reading, Math and ELL specialists, early childhood education for 2,3, and 4 year olds and other programs needed to level the playing field for children in those underserved communities.”  While I support many of those items, I voted no because the task force also recommended providing additional funding for English Language Learners and students living in poverty (note it was NOT for low-income students).  Four of us voted no on that.  Another one of those no votes was Senator Dave Sokola.  See Dave, we can agree at times!  By implementing a statewide or countywide tax, that is more money coming out of taxpayer pockets and leaves the legislators off the hook.  It is their job to balance the state budget and I would think there is enough “fluff” in our budget to cover those deficits.  As an example, get rid of the very horrible charter school transportation slush fund.  That did come up as a recommendation but since the legislation creating the task force did not include charter school matters for points of discussion that recommendation was not voted on by the task force.

Transportation was a major issue and created much discussion around it.  There is a tremendous shortage of bus drivers in Delaware and the recommendation passed to look at potential raises for district bus drivers.  Contractors set their own rates based on what the district can pay them.  Anything more would have to come from the contractor.

 

 

 

 

 

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Who Is On The School District Consolidation Task Force? Live From Legislative Hall

We got a full house here at Legislative Hall.  Seems a lot of suits showed up for this impromptu meeting.  But who is on the Delaware School District School District Consolidation Task Force?

Secretary of Education Dr. Susan Bunting

Jon Sheehan (Education Policy Advisor for Governor Carney)

State Rep. Earl Jaques

State Rep. Joe Miro

Senator David Sokola

Senator Brian Pettyjohn

Woodbridge Superintendent Heath Chasanov

Caesar Rodney Superintendent Dr. Kevin Fitzgerald

Colonial Superintendent Dr. Dusty Blakey

Director of OMB Mike Jackson

DSEA Representative Jeff Taschner

DSBA Representative John Skrobot

GACEC Representative Robert Overmiller

Delaware PTA President Dr. Terri Hodges

New Castle Co. Parent Rep. Nacole Gardner

Kent Co. Parent Rep. Loretta Greig

Sussex Co. Parent Rep. Lauren Hudson

Vo-Tech School Districts Parent Rep. Mark Dufendach

Wilmington City Council Rep. Hanifa Shabazz

New Castle Co. Executive Matthew Meyer

Kent Co. Designee Michael Petit DeMange

Sussex Co. Designee Gina Jennings

 

State Rep. Earl Jaques ran introductions.  He said there will be a lot of hard work for this committee.  He is hopeful the report will be done by January but he doubts it.  Everyone, members and audience members, introduced themselves.  Jaques said there are 22 members on the task force, not 23.  He said this task force is not just about money.  If we aren’t putting children first none of that matters.  That’s because the Charter Schools Network rep. was voted out on June 30th since the charters didn’t want to be included in the conversation.  Dr. Bunting is giving a history of past attempts at district consolidation.  See the 2002 report (I will put a link up later).

Rep. Miro said there are districts across state lines that have a district with the same number of students as all of Delaware’s public school student count.  He mentioned Fairfax County in Virginia.  Miro is opening the floor for nominations for the Chair of the Task Force.  A motion for State Rep. Earl Jaques to be the chair.  Motion seconded.  Only nomination.  Jaques is the Chair.  I am shocked (not).

There will be four sub-committees of the group:

Structure, Transportation and Manpower: led by Dr. Kevin Carson and assisted by Jaques

Financial: led by Fred Sears (think Rodel) and assisted by Mike Jackson, will deal with property assessments

Academic and Children Needs: led by Dr. Bunting and assisted by Rep. Miro

Teachers And Staff: led by Dusty Blakey, assisted by Jeff Taschner

These sub-committees will meet between meetings.  Miro invited members of the public to sign up for the sub-committees as non-voting members.  I actually signed up for the money sub-committee.  Next meeting will be at Woodbridge High School at 6:30pm on September 18th.  This will be down in Sussex County so you might want to leave early if you live up north.  October 16th meeting at William Penn High School at 6:30pm.  November 16th meeting at Caesar Rodney High School.

Jaques said this committee is not going to decide on closing schools.  Their job is to figure out if it works or doesn’t work.  I gave public comment urging more transparency for the group to which Jaques said that was his fault.  I also urged the task force to make sure this is about students first and to have the State Auditor make sure they can properly audit funds that are already in play.  Woodbridge Board Member Walter Gilefski said he is adamantly against district consolidation.  Caesar Rodney teacher Natalie Ganc said she is here to check this out.  She said she has a daughter in Smyrna School District and thinks they are awesome despite what I write about them.

Meeting adjourned.

Delaware Charter Schools Network Removed From District Consolidation Task Force Membership

It was one of those blink and you miss it moments.  In the midst of budget negotiations in the early hours of July 1st, the Delaware House of Representatives voted again on House Concurrent Resolution #39 after Senator Colin Bonini added an amendment in the Senate.  The bill passed the Senate but because the amendment was added, the House had to vote again.

Bonini’s amendment removed charter schools from being a part of any district consolidation discussion.  When the bill came back to the House, State Rep. Kim Williams added another amendment which would remove the Delaware Charter Schools Network from membership on the district consolidation task force.  It was a logical amendment.  If charters didn’t want to be a part of the discussion, why would they want membership?  The amendment barely passed with 21 yes and 20 no.  The sole Republican yes vote came from State Rep. Jeff Spiegelman.  Democrats who voted against it were Earl Jaques, Melanie Smith, Larry Mitchell, Quinton Johnson and Pete Schwartzkopf.  None of those Dem votes really surprise me.  Some who voted yes surprised me, but I have seen similar votes with charter related bills this year so perhaps there could be a shift in thinking on that front.

The Delaware Department of Education is the support agency for this task force.  While no meetings have been scheduled at this point, the final report is due to the General Assembly by January 30th, 2018.  I expect this task force will get going at some point later this summer.

Here Comes The School District Consolidation Task Force!

House Concurrent Resolution #39 would create a School District Consolidation Task Force.  Yes, another task force in Delaware.  Because we must always have a group of people sitting around a table before we can do anything.  This task force would study if it is worth consolidating school districts in Delaware.  This is something I actually favor.  Nineteen school districts in little old Delaware?  There are school districts in other states with more students than the entire student population of Delaware.  I believe it will happen, but the question is how many?  I don’t think there should be more than five.  Expect a lot of battles on this one.  I am fairly sure nineteen superintendents won’t want to give up their titles.  Some would have to if this went through.  This will be one of the hottest topics in the second leg of the 149th General Assembly beginning in January, 2018.  I’m calling it now!

Where it goes from here is the House Education Committee.  It is on the agenda for the meeting tomorrow (must be nice to be the Sponsor of the bill AND the Chair of the Committee).  But tomorrow is the last day of committee meetings before the General Assembly closes up shop this year so this is my guestimation on what will happen: clears House Education Committee, gets a House vote in the affirmative, gets sent to Senate Education Committee, a suspension of rules allows it to bypass the committee, Senate votes yes, and the task force gets going late summer/early fall.