My Email To Attorney General Matt Denn and Governor Carney Regarding Family Services Cabinet Council

I sent an email to Delaware Attorney General Matt Denn and Governor Carney a few seconds ago alleging the legal opinion in regards to my FOIA complaint about the Family Services Cabinet Council was false in nature.  Since the Council disburses funds, they fit the category of a public body.


Hello again,
While I would sincerely hope this very big omission was not intended, I found categorical proof the Family Services Cabinet Council IS a public body as defined within Delaware State Code.
From Title 14:

§ 1605A Prevention component.

The Family Services Cabinet Council (Council), with the Department of Education and the Department of Services for Children, Youth and Their Families acting as lead agencies, shall administer a program to offer prevention-related student support services (prevention services) to students to prevent them from becoming discipline problems and from failing academically in our schools. Within the limits of appropriations made for this purpose, the Council shall provide rules and regulations for the award of prevention grants and the conduct of prevention programs authorized under this section, subject to the following limitations:

(1) The Council shall issue prevention funding to local school districts proposing to establish an integrated plan to deliver prevention services including, but not limited to, academic tutoring and student mentoring programs to provide at-risk students with the extra help they may need to succeed academically and with positive adult role models; outreach programs to promote parental, family and community involvement in students’ academic studies and in reducing and resolving school discipline problems; school-linked support services to help students with family or health problems that may be adversely affecting their academic performance and their conduct at school; training to help students and school personnel resolve conflicts peacefully and non-disruptively; and assistance to help teachers better manage the behavior of students in their classrooms.

(2) Applications for funding pursuant to this section shall be made by school districts in accordance with procedures and standards established by the Council. Each applicant shall set forth an integrated plan to provide prevention services consistent with paragraph (1) of this section. To avoid duplication of effort, maximize the impact of limited resources, and increase the effect of efforts by state, local, community and private, nonprofit agencies through increased coordination and cooperation, the Council shall give preference to applications which:

a. Are submitted by 2 or more school districts working in concert, where appropriate;

b. Include private, nonprofit agencies and community organizations as partners in the application, and identify the roles those agencies and organizations are to play in delivering prevention services in the community;

c. Indicate how grants from the federal government and foundations will be used or sought to help deliver prevention services in the community; and

d. Identify the roles state and local agencies are to play in delivering prevention services in the community.

(3) The Council shall provide technical assistance to districts preparing applications and ongoing assistance to districts awarded funding pursuant to this section.

(4) The Council shall establish a timetable for the award of grants pursuant to this section which shall provide, at minimum, for a period of 1 month for joint planning between the Council and the applicants that the Counsel selects as finalists eligible for a funding award. During such joint planning, the Council and the applicant shall refine the applicant’s prevention plan, ensure that the plan makes cost-effective use of the resources and services of state, local, community and private, nonprofit agencies, and consider the incorporation of successful elements of other districts’ prevention programs into the applicant’s plans. Final awards shall be made by the Council on or before January 15 of each year for the subsequent school year, contingent upon the appropriation of funds for such purpose in the annual appropriations act.

70 Del. Laws, c. 215, § 1; 71 Del. Laws, c. 180, § 92.;

And in the legal opinion issued today from the Attorney General’s Office:
Delaware’s FOIA defines a “public body” as:
any regulatory, administrative, advisory, executive, appointive or legislative body of the State, or of any political subdivision of the State, including, but not limited to, any board, bureau, commission, department, agency, committee, ad hoc committee, special committee, temporary committee, advisory board and committee, subcommittee, legislative committee, association, group, panel, council or any other entity or body established by an act of the General Assembly of the State, or established by any body established by the General Assembly of the State, or appointed by any body or public official of the State or otherwise empowered by any state governmental entity, which:
(1)        Is supported in whole or in part by any public funds; or

(2)      Expends or disburses any public funds, including grants, gifts or other similar disbursals and distributions; or

(3)      Is impliedly or specifically charged by any other public official, body, or agency to advise or to make reports, investigations or recommendations.[21]

Since the Family Services Cabinet Council DOES disburse public funds, including grants, it IS a public body and needs to call itself that.  This is not the first time I have had to do my own research on a FOIA complaint opinion rendered by the Attorney General’s Office and found the opinion to be invalid because not enough research was done to see HOW it was a FOIA violation to begin with.
Thank you,
Kevin Ohlandt

Governor Carney’s Office Cites “Executive Privilege” With Family Services Cabinet Council FOIA Complaint

The Delaware Attorney General’s office released a Freedom of Information Act legal opinion today giving Delaware Governor Carney the right to use executive privilege for a council designed to improve family services in Delaware.  In other words, they are allowed to hold non-public meetings and invite whomever they choose with no one the wiser.  The Attorney General’s office agreed with Carney’s office because of a very bad “separation of powers” clause in state law. Continue reading “Governor Carney’s Office Cites “Executive Privilege” With Family Services Cabinet Council FOIA Complaint”

Governor Carney Shuts Out The Public With Family Services Cabinet Council And Screws Transparency & FOIA In Delaware

Delaware Governor John Carney is embarking down a very dangerous path.  I assume this is in response to my article last month about how the first meeting of the Family Services Cabinet Council was closed to the public.  Governor Carney rescinded his Executive Order #5 to create Executive Order #9 which established new wording in recreation of the Family Services Cabinet Council:

In accordance with the common law privilege protecting executive communications concerning the deliberative and policy-making processes, the records, investigations, internal communications, deliberations and draft work product of the Council shall be confidential and may be disclosed only at the direction of the Governor.

What kind of nonsense is this John Carney?  A Cabinet-level council, and you deliberately shut any discussion this group has out of the public eye?  The very term “deliberative and policy-making processes” demands it be open to the public.  You are full of it Governor Carney.  Your campaign promise and the part on your inaugural address about an open state government was a complete and utter lie.  We both know what will happen in these meetings.  Stop pretending you are a Governor and not a corporate puppet to the special interests that want to turn education and the workforce into their own molding.  I am done listening to anything you have to say.  With the stroke of a pen, in response to my article about transparency in your office, you have shown your true colors once and for all.  Shame on you Governor Carney.  You have destroyed FOIA in Delaware with this action by essentially excluding any of your Cabinet members on this charade of a Family Services Cabinet Council.  They can cite executive privilege in any FOIA request by stating it is tied to the activities of this council.  And with one line on this, you have made damn sure you can invite anyone to the party and protect them as well with no oversight or transparency whatsoever: “…and such others as the Governor shall invite.” But we will NEVER know who those others are, will we.  Open government my ass.  Dictatorship is more like it.

 

My No Holds Barred Response To Governor Carney’s Letter To Delaware Teachers As Districts Prepare Layoffs

Governor Carney sent a letter to all Delaware public school teachers this morning for Teacher Appreciation Week.  The irony of this letter, as several Delaware school districts are getting ready to layoff teachers, is astounding.  Because of Carney’s proposed budget for FY2018, Delaware school districts are put in a no-win situation.  School boards can either raise property taxes with the match tax or reduce their own budgets (of which they have to do anyways).  Carney shifted the onus of the budget deficit away from his office with his “shared sacrifice” language.  What he did was attempt to make damn sure the taxpayers of the state shift their anger at Delaware school boards when their taxes go up or see their children suffocate in huge classrooms with less teachers and programs.

I have this to say to Governor Carney: what you have done is shady and despicable.  It is the ultimate in political posturing, but your muscle flex is going to backfire on you.  You won’t get away with playing the budgetary Darth Vader where others do the dirty work for you if you want to survive past 2020.  Your opponents are most likely salivating over all this because you exposed a major Achilles heel very early in the game.  And you better believe if charters somehow benefit over all this, I won’t be the only one protesting.  Many will join me.  As an example, will the General Assembly get rid of the very useless charter school transportation slush fund?  Will charter schools also have teacher layoffs?  Will they actually lose some of their transportation budget like all the local school districts will?  If the answer to any of these is a no, I don’t see much “shared” sacrifice.

If any members of our General Assembly think they can sneak in the usual perks into the epilogue language of the budget in the final hours of this legislative session (I’m talking to you most of all Mrs. Death Penalty flipper), it will cause a ruckus unseen in Legislative Hall for some time.

It is past time Delaware stopped using students and teachers as sacrificial lambs.  It isn’t just Carney and the General Assembly who are doing this, it is also the school districts.  I have yet to see any school district cutting administrative positions.  So far, I am fairly sure Indian River, Christina, Caesar Rodney, and Colonial will be cutting teachers.  That list will grow.

Below is Carney’s letter to teachers.  Like I said, this is almost insulting.  I have no doubt students said many things about their teachers, but Carney (or whichever staff member wrote this letter) seems to cherry-pick certain things to further his Rodel’s own agenda.  Can we just stop pretending John Carney?  Just come out and rename the state Rodelaware.  You aren’t fooling anyone.  This letter demands the famous “John Young redline edition”…

From: Carney, Governor (Governor) <Governor.Carney@state.de.us>
Sent: Wednesday, May 10, 2017 8:34:32 AM
To: K12 Employees
Subject: Thank you

 

As the nation recognizes National Teacher Appreciation Week, we in Delaware have a lot to celebrate. Secretary of Education Susan Bunting joins me in thanking all of you for helping our students succeed in school and in life.

When you say “celebrate”, who is celebrating?  Of course Bunting is going to join you.  She will do whatever you want!  Nothing against Dr. Bunting, but if I have learned one thing about a Governor’s Cabinet, they follow whatever the Governor says, which usually translates to what Rodel wants.  Please don’t use words like celebrate at the same time teachers are facing unemployment.  It is the ultimate insult.

If I needed any help remembering how lucky we are in Delaware to have such great educators, I got it Monday morning. Secretary Bunting and I visited Capital School District’s Hartly Elementary School and I asked the students why their teachers are special. Their rapid-fire answers were right on point:

What were the other answers provided by students?  I have a very hard time believing that the majority of answers given by students in an elementary school were geared towards post-secondary education plans.  But I’m sure the Rodel and Delaware Business Roundtable business types love these answers.  Feed the beast!

“They make sure we’re ready for college.”

See above.

“Without them we wouldn’t know how to use decimal points.”

Okay, that’s a good answer.

“They’re helping us get good jobs some day.”

By standardize testing the hell out of these kids and forcing them to learn in digital technology classrooms, the state is robbing children of a true educational experience.  This data collecting of children, geared towards shifting the workforce to select jobs for the future, is social engineering at its absolute worst Governor Carney.  Please stop with the Markellian way of thinking and be your own man.

And my favorite:

“They teach us to care about each other.”

Awwww, that is so cute.  Reminding teachers, as many prepare to get pink slips, that it is about the students and they should just shut up and share the sacrifice for the good of the state.  And just so you know, many Delaware parents teach their children to care about each other.  That isn’t solely owned by teachers.  For many students, it is.  But parents across the state play the main part in raising their children.  So let’s not even get into the plans to transform education into a “public-private partnership”.  Kids need to be in brick and mortar schools, not the local non-profits at younger ages. 

Our kids get it. They know just how much you do and how invested you are in them.

Yeah, too bad our state isn’t invested in them.  Too bad they aren’t invested in our students either.  Unless you like having over 35 kids in a classroom.  Tell me Governor Carney, how many kids were in YOUR classrooms when you went to school back in the day?  But let’s keep paying for Smarter Balanced and all the Common Core bullshit.  Let’s keep our classrooms wired at all times so corporations get those nice bottom line numbers at the expense of students.  Let’s let the data whores continue to collect private information on our students through their iPhones and Google Chrome.  Schools, teachers, and students are not “investments”.  Those are corporate education reform words.  Yes, the children are the future, but by putting them in terms of financial gain, you insult every single child in this state.

I hope you were able to join us on April 27, when we hosted a Telephone Town Hall with Delaware educators to discuss issues around public education in Delaware. Specifically, we discussed education and our state budget.

I was on that call.  Most town halls end when the questions run out.  But not on your schedule Governor Carney. 

This is an important discussion, and I will continue to listen to educators during school visits across Delaware. We face a $400 million budget shortfall, but I remain dedicated to each of you and your students.

Dedication is more than “listening”.  It means making damn sure any sacrifice stays the hell out of the classroom.  But you can’t do that, can you?  Let’s pray our General Assembly finally and collectively says NO to your horrible budget proposal.

Our plan is to fix our structural deficit, and get to a place where we can again invest in areas that will move our state forward: early childhood education, arts, additional supports for at-risk students, health and wellness, and after-school programing, to name a few.

The key wording is “get to a place”.  That means you want to kick the can down the road, which Delaware is fantastic at doing.  Your predecessor was excellent in that regard.  “Invest now” all too often means “pay the price later”.  No child should pay the price for adult decisions.  If you want to fix the structural deficit, how about you actually go after delinquent property taxes?  Sign an Executive Order demanding the counties exert pressure on those who feel they don’t have to pay at all!  Like the Chinese company that owes Red Clay over a million bucks in back property taxes.  Or the golf club in Middletown that likes to play games with Appoquinimink.  Make sure our State Auditor has the ability to properly audit our schools and see where every single penny in Delaware education funding is REALLY going.  Cause we both know there is foul play going on in some circumstances.  But turning a blind eye to that has helped to lead us to where we are at now.

All Delaware students deserve a quality education, and an equal opportunity to succeed. And I know you work hard every day to deliver on that promise. Thank you for all you do.

All Delaware students do deserve a quality education.  But not your definition of it.  And let’s not even get into this “weighted funding” nonsense.  We both know what that is really about Governor Carney, don’t we.  If I were you, I would give considerable thought in the next week to revising your proposed budget.  Because if you truly care about students, this is not the way to go.  I tried to give you a chance and have faith in you.  I have yet to see you live up to that promise.  Tax the rich more.  Seriously.  That is the best way to start. 

Sincerely,

Governor John Carney

John Carney

Sincerely,

Kevin Ohlandt, the blogger who is getting sick of public education being a sacrificial lamb to the likes of Rodel and the Delaware Business Roundtable in the name of corporate profit and social engineering.

Live, From Delaware, It’s The Carney & Bunting Education Funding Tele-Town Hall

I will get the call at 7:45pm.

For those following, Mike Matthews is also going to live comment on his Facebook account.  I told him I was going to live blog.  He said to do it cause he won’t catch everything.  I told him that is okay because I can just screenshot everything he says.

It is 7:46pm and no call yet.  Mike Matthews hasn’t received one either.  A government function running late?  Say it isn’t so!

Out of ten people on Mike’s Facebook page, only one has gotten the call.  Just got the call!

Carney is on the line!  Thanking DASA and DSEA for getting the word out.  Vehicle he has been using since he was our lone Congressman.

Been travelling up and down the state and has participated in about a dozen town hall meetings.  Legislators helped to organize these.  Has heard from people we have a structural budget problem.  This should be a balanced solution.  People want us to run government more effectively and proficiently.  Thinks with “shared sacrifice” more people will chip in.

Most folks don’t want to see cuts in programs or tax increases. People want a balanced approach with shared sacrifice.

More kids with special needs.  Forced to deal with almost $400 million dollar shortfall.

Purpose of call is to talk about education cuts and way to bring this to General Assembly.  Thinks it will be $200 million in cuts and $200 million in new revenue.  Corporate franchise tax will give us some extra bling.

Cigarettes going up a $1.oo.

Education spending is flat.  Fund teacher units based on student growth, early childhood education, teacher step increases, professional development.  Education is $1.4 billion.  $1.2 billion goes to districts to pay for teacher salaries and other costs.  State pays about 60% of all education spending in our state.  Suggesting is an across the board cut of 1.5% and $22 million cut in educational sustainment fund.  Wants districts to cut $22 million.  When federal funds went away for math and reading specialists, state picked them up.  Doesn’t want to cut anything.  Need for Delaware to be more competitive in the long-term.

Talking about spending time at Red Clay school in 2nd grade class.  Skipped around on questions.  The moderator interrupted to hear my question.  My question surrounds tuition funding for special education.

Sandy from Newark was cut off.  Cindy from Dover asked if how long it could take the state to go from 19 school districts to 6 school districts and central supply ordering.  To cut down on everything.  Carney said the idea of district consolidation has been raised in the town halls.  He said you would have to look at actual cost saving as a result.  Was done in the 1960s down in Sussex County and in New Castle County under the desegregation order.  Difference in pay scales can result in a level-up effect.  Could be higher pay and larger cost to districts.  Looking at all expenses for state through state-wide committee.

Back to Sandy from Newark.  No Sandy.  Got my question (Wow).  Asked if they are going to look at tuition funding for special education students.  Said the numbers have grown as much as twice a regular student to eight times a regular student depending on challenges for student.  Making sure students meet that qualification is important.  Dr. Bunting got on.  If a student’s needs can’t be served in the district, tuition funding kicks in to make sure those funds are used for that child.  It is also used for gifted students in Sussex County.  There are specific allocations for those costs so they do look at them.

Carrie from Newark asked how budget cuts will affect related arts teachers.  Said a lot of the decisions will be made by local districts and school boards.  He would like to see administrative overhead cuts and not personnel cuts.  Said he would much rather see higher tax revenue than cuts.  $37 million in total cuts for education out of the total $200 million they are looking for.  More than he would prefer.

Mike from Middletown is asking about rainy day fund.  Carney said it is 5% and it is a one-time amount and if you built spending on it, it would be held inappropriated against that.  It is for downturn in middle of fiscal year.  Legislature can’t appropriate more than 98% of the budget.  Rainy day plus that 2% cushion would be against the law.  It is more for emergency situation.  Can’t use those funds from year to year.

Jerry from Cape Henlopen is on the line.  He is an ESL teacher.  Hasn’t received 2% increase in five years and has more students that don’t speak English.  Said he has no support.  They have higher special education funding but none for ESL students.  Very disappointed in Delaware with this.  Said he talked to teachers in Georgetown about their needs.  Wants more funds for these students.  Biggest problem we have is the difference in proficiency levels between lower advantaged students and those from higher income.  Wants ALL students to be able to read by 3rd grade.

Kurt from Dover asked about raising gas tax. Said we have the lowest gas in the area.  Everyone would pay equally.  Has heard this suggestion.  Said if we have two funds for budget and one is transportation trust fund.  Gas tax goes towards that.  Transportation should pay for itself.  Allows us to go to financial markets and get bonds.  Started under Governor Castle.  General Assembly refused to raise this under Governor Markell.  Said they are in good shape.   Secretary Cohen said doesn’t need a gas tax.  Deficit is in the General Fund.

Jennifer from Kent County asked about classroom sizes.  How can classroom ratios meet the needs of ALL our students.  He supports the lowest ratios the districts can provide based on their funding needs.  A lot of districts take waivers in K-3 for classroom ratios, allows 22 students to teacher.  They get these waivers to allow for other programs like art and music.  Budget would keep overall spending flat, would fund teachers, step increases, professional service days, discretionary funds like education sustainability funds.  In perfect world, would love to spend on positive things.

Cameron from Woodside.  Teacher at Poly-Tech High School.  Have the budget cuts proposed looked at how tech programs could be cut?  Looking at how student transportation funding works.  Doesn’t think is as cost-efficient as it could be.  Thinks we should consolidate in some way.  Said transportation for vo-techs is same proportionate to districts.  Asking districts to take on 5% more of those costs.

Andrea from Newark talked about school boards raising taxes without referendum.  Would what they are asking for be equal to what they are asking for in Colonial’s referendum?  Carney said $22 million is relatively small amount, would amount to $40-$50 increase.  Said we can pay for these services.  Said local district money that comes from property taxes is very low compared to New Jersey, Maryland, and Pennsylvania.  He said that is important cause people move here based on those low property taxes.  He said that doesn’t mean people willingly want more property taxes.  Said this keeps Delaware competitive.

Bob from Wilmington asked about raising property assessment values.  They haven’t been raised in 30-40 years.  Carney said he was on the property reassessment task force under former Governor Carper.  Property assessments are not current.  State law said if reassessment is done, districts are required to lower tax rates.  That can change through legislation.  Can’t be done in five months to put together budget proposal in March and then approved by June.  Thinks it is something we need to look at.

Dawn from Delmar asked about lowering number of days state employees work.  Right now she works 188 days.  Said she would be willing to work 185.  Carney said his budget director proposed lowering professional development days but he doesn’t want actual paycheck cuts.  Believes that is counter-productive.  Said half the cuts he is proposing would be recoverable from the districts through higher taxes.

Ashley from Kent County asked about after-school programs.  If those programs are cut such as 21st Century, what are the plans to keep kids off the street and keep them away from legal issues.  What do we do with those students?  Carney said he supports partnering with non-profit agencies like Boys & Girls Club.  Supports grant-in-aid funding for those types of programs.  Wants sustainable budget to cover those programs and to make sure disadvantaged background students get those needs.  Said 21st Century is federal program.  His approach to budget is to maintain programs and funding we have.

Laurie from Wilmington thanked Carney for listening to teachers.  Said we spend a lot on micro-management.  Race To The Top gave us a very irresponsible and expensive accountability system.  Said we need an overhaul of this system.  Carney said he asked Secretary Bunting to reorganize the Dept. of Education be more of a resource department as opposed to an accountability machine.  Administrative overhead costs are huge according to Carney across the state.  Said this can be done with district administrative overhead.

In a poll, 68% of callers support paying higher property taxes to support education, 32% said no.

Michelle from Dover is up next.  She asked if the solutions on the table are going to fix the structural problems.  She said another place to look at is our income taxes.  She said by raising income taxes a full 1% instead of 2/10th of a percent, it would raise $160 million dollars.  Surrounding states are about 3% higher in overall taxes.  Carney said PA and MD have sales tax.  He thinks Trump’s decline in taxes announced this week is a bad idea.  He said our tax bracket is low at $60,000.  Seven states have flat rates and no brackets, like PA.  He said one of the goals is to reduce the top marginal tax rates when our top rate was 19%.  Today it is at 6.6% and he is proposing it go up to 6.8%.  Wants to get rid of itemized deductions.  Said this benefits higher income households.  Said increasing the standardized deduction helps lower-income families.  Said it is a shared sacrifice.

Jill from Smyrna asked why step raises always occur for teachers.  He said they are contractual.  They could suspend those but it is a relationship between teachers and school districts.  He said there are other groups of employees that get steps as well, can’t recall what they were.  He said it is unusual to do due to contractual obligations.

Last question is from Devon from Wilmington.  I know that guy!  He asked about assurances that shared sacrifice won’t disproportionately affect disadvantaged students.  Carney said he thinks students will get what they need with his balanced approach.  He said the WEIC group has worked on these issues for a number of years.  He wants Bunting to take a hard look at this.  He does have a million in education opportunity grants in his proposed budget.  We still get federal Title I funding for these supports.

Governor Carney thanked everyone for being on the call.  5,000 people were on the call according to Carney.  Appreciates the dialogue we’ve had.  Encourage people to talk to their legislators about the revenue package.  To all the teachers, thank you for all the great work you do every day.  Thank you, and God Bless everyone.

With that, the Education Funding Tele-Town Hall is over.  Thanks for following along!

 

 

 

 

 

Governor Carney

governorcarney

Today, during a rainy and cold January morning, John Carney was sworn in as the new Governor of Delaware. We have a new Governor of Delaware who will face many challenges from the very start. I am willing to give Carney a shot. I have nothing to lose. I am hoping he keeps his eye on the people of Delaware over that of corporate interests. Especially when it comes to education. I also pray he is willing to listen to those who may not be cut from a certain cloth. This is our Delaware and he is here to serve us, not the other way around. But I will give him a chance. He will make mistakes. No politician is perfect. Congratulations Governor Carney!

Carney’s Pick Of Susan Bunting For DE Secretary Of Education May Not Be The Wisest Choice

Today, Delaware Governor-elect John Carney picked Indian River Superintendent Susan Bunting as the Delaware Secretary of Education when his term begins in January, 2017.  This is probably the worst choice he could make and it has the potential to become ripe with scandal. Continue reading “Carney’s Pick Of Susan Bunting For DE Secretary Of Education May Not Be The Wisest Choice”

Santa And John

santaclaus

Once upon a holiday season, in the land of Delaware, there lived a man who would become Governor.  He was promised the throne eight years ago, but another man took his seat.  In this land, the people chose their Governor  every four years.  The man who would be Governor finally won the seat and 58.34% of the people rejoiced.  As he sat in his car one day after returning from his job in D.C., he looked out the window.  He saw the sun setting in the distance.

John was anxious to get things going in Delaware.  He had to officially wait until January 17th, 2017.  “Only 47 days,” John said to himself.  He had been so busy for so long.  Things wouldn’t slow down for him in the next four years, and hopefully the four after that.  His day was filled with phone calls, texts, and emails.  Everyone wanted a piece of Delaware.  He knew not everyone could get a piece.  He called his wife from the driveway and told her he was going to go for a walk to clear his head.  Always supportive, she knew John needed this and told him to take all the time he needed.  John drove to the nearby park.  As he walked out of his car, he put on his hat.  It was rare he could get away from his security detail but at the same time he didn’t want to be bothered.  John walked down the trail…

Meanwhile, 3,529.75 miles away, the jolly one was settling into his favorite chair.  The elves were busy preparing for the big day.  Santa was happy he had an extra day to prepare this year.  As a tradition, during these leap years, he would pick one day off each leap year to do whatever he wanted.  Mrs. Claus always forgot about it, but Santa didn’t.  Today was his day off!  Santa picked up his laptop and on his favorites bar was the website he enjoyed going to the most: Exceptional Delaware.  Ever since Santa learned about Common Core and opt out, he found himself checking back in to see what was happening with the children of Delaware and the rest of the country.  Santa was not happy when he found out what happened a few weeks after Christmas earlier this year.  The people of Delaware wanted the lawmakers to override Governor Jack’s veto of the opt out bill, but it got hung up in some silly rule business.  He knew exactly which of those lawmakers would be getting coal this year, led by their Speaker and the leaders below him.  Santa heard there was a new Governor in Delaware so he decided he would pay him a visit.  While he didn’t usually venture so far south during the busy month, it was his day off and he could do whatever he wanted.  At least the things Mrs. Claus wouldn’t have cause to file for divorce over.

As hard as he tried, John couldn’t stop thinking about his plans.  He didn’t count on the new President actually winning the election.  All his plans were contingent on the Hill winning.  But the Tower Man won and he had to plan around it.  The Tower Man was picking people who John couldn’t picture running things down in D.C.  His office was frantic over the mess.  John had to strategize very carefully how he moved forward with everything.  Not only did the Tower Man win, but the two bodies of Congress won a majority in the election as well.  John’s Delaware was still blue, but a shocking election there threatened to turn the Delaware Senate red too.  The state he was to lead had some peculiar problems in it and at the top of that list was the economy and education.  Governor Jack treated the two as if they were symbiotic with each other and made some poor choices along the way.  John knew if he was going to improve both he would have to find a way to draw everyone in.  It was a difficult maze and John knew he wouldn’t please everyone.  Governor Jack chose a particular route but John knew if he did the same it would not be good.

Santa knew John’s mind was heavy.  As his sleigh crossed the border between Pennsylvania and Delaware, Santa could feel the weight on John’s shoulders.  Leadership always carries a heavy burden.  Santa knew that better than anyone.  Santa knew John ever since he was a little boy.  He always knew John would become a leader.  John didn’t have the same political sharpness so many politicians had but this also made him more relatable to the people.  He watched John’s humble beginnings in the town of Claymont.  Carney was one of those tough kids who excelled in football which helped him out at St. Mark’s High School and then Dartmouth College.  Santa remembers John’s awards.  As John was teaching freshmen football at the University of Delaware, he was also studying public administration.  From there, John began his political career working for the county he lived in and then for Governor Tom.  From there, John’s political ladder kept getting bigger and bigger.  He became the Lieutenant Governor for eight years and decided to run for Governor.  But the future “education” Governor Jack beat him in a close race.  Others told Jack to wait his turn, it was John’s turn, but Jack ignored them.  A couple of years later, John ran for Congress and won.  For six years, having to run every two years for a total of three Congressional terms, John worked in D.C. and learned how the game of politics really works.  But he never gave up on getting back to Delaware to win as Governor.  After Governor Jack was expected to end his tenure, many thought Vice-President Joe’s son Beau would run, but tragically Beau passed away after a long illness.  It was then that John decided he would run but wished it had been under better circumstances.

John walked down the path.  There was a crisp wind in the air but the moon was bright.  He used to walk down this path many times.  It hadn’t changed much over time and he remembered it like the back of his hand.  John tripped on a branch and fell to the ground.  As he looked up, he saw a bright light in the sky above him.  A voice cried out “John, we need to talk.”  John reached for his phone but he had left it in the car.  He thought to himself, “This is it, all alone in the woods with no one to help.”  He began to picture the headline in the News Journal the next day.  “Who are you?” John asked.  “Someone you haven’t thought about in a long time John.”  Santa gracefully landed the sleigh on the path in front of John.  His lights were still on so John couldn’t tell who it was.  “I do have security watching me right now.  They are watching you right now.  So I wouldn’t try anything  They will find you if anything happens to me.”  “No they won’t,” Santa said.  “Remember you let all of them have the night off and you so conveniently told each one there was coverage?”  John wondered how this guy would know that.  “It’s me, John.  Santa.”

John couldn’t believe his eyes.  As a child, he always believed.  But as children grew older, that magic disappeared.  John saw Santa everywhere this time of year.  He began seeing him in stores as early as October.  But it wasn’t the same as the man who just walked off a sleigh that came down in the middle of the woods.  John took that early childhood magic for granted, as every adult does.  John wondered what in the world Santa Claus wanted with him.  Did he visit all the new leaders?  “John,” Santa said, “We have to talk about the kids.  Come with me.”  John felt the world spin beneath him.  Santa’s words captured him.  They weren’t words demanding John obey him, but those of comfort and a calm John hadn’t felt for a long time.  John looked at his watch.  It was 6:30pm.

Santa and John got in the sleigh.  The reindeer, who John hadn’t noticed before, began running down the path.  John felt the sleigh lift up into the December night.  “John, did you read my letter last year?” Santa asked.  John read letters every day.  There were some days he couldn’t remember what he had for breakfast he was so busy.  John shook his head.  “Did you send it to me?” John asked.  He knew he probably had not seen it unless it was an issue of critical importance.  He was sure if one of his staffers opened it and saw a letter from Santa Claus it would go in the circular bin next to their desk.  “No, I let Exceptional Delaware put it up.  I thought everyone in Delaware reads it.”  That was a name John was familiar with the past six months.  The blogger.  “You mean the crazy education blogger from DoverThat guy wants to meet with me but I don’t know…” Santa abruptly interrupted John  “Watch yourself,” Santa warned.  “I have the utmost respect for the blogger.  He helped me out last year and he knows what he is talking about.”  John responded to Santa.  “But he tends to tick off a lot of people.  People I’m going to have to work with.  I was warned to stay away from him.”  Santa’s eyes widened.  “Oh really?  Would that have been Senator So-coal-A,” Santa carefully empathized.  “And all those other adults who don’t have the first clue about what education really is?  Let me tell you something John.  You will be a leader of Delaware.  Any state has a foundation from which it must build on.  That foundation is the kids.  Not the adults, and especially not the adults who try to make money and get power from kidsThere are those out there who will pretend to speak the truth.  You surround yourself with them.  But there are those who speak uncomfortable truths that people don’t always want to hear.  But they do so out of an innate need for change, in the hopes someone with the ability to hear will actually listen.”

John was familiar with what was going on in education.  He was told of the long-range plans and how education would be reformed so all kids can succeed.  The children would be trained to become the workforce of tomorrow.  As he began his campaign, he knew many people in Delaware were hurting.  When he ran for Governor the first time, the economy of the whole country was collapsing.  Even though Delaware recovered from this, not all of the citizens did.  Some never got the jobs back that made them more money.  The cities were becoming too violent again.  Drug use was up and children were getting shot in the street.  But still, Delaware did the one thing it knows how to do best- spend money.  John knew all that money wasn’t going to the right places.  He also knew that when he became the leader he would have to fix a lot of these problems.  Many of his advisors told him that education was going to fix all these problems.  Not now, but down the road.  But if he didn’t help follow the same paths Governor Jack made, nothing would ever get fixed.  This was happening all over the country.  There were critics, like the damn blogger, but they were just a whisper in the wind.  They didn’t see the big picture and how this was for the good of the state and the country.

Santa, where are we going?” John asked.  “To see the children John.”

Uhm, Santa.  We are flying into downtown Wilmington.  No offense sir, but I can’t be seen riding around in a sleigh with someone people don’t believe in along with eight reindeer.”  Santa pulled out a pouch from his pocket.  “Thanks for reminding me John, I almost forgot.”  Santa took out a handful of dust and blew it all around him and John.  “They won’t see us now.”  Santa parked the sleigh on top of the Community Education Building.  The duo went down through the building and to the streets below.  They walked over to the playground next to the building.

In a dark corner, an African-American boy was reading with a flashlight.  The boy was shivering as he turned a page.  “Why is this boy out here Santa?  Why doesn’t he go home?”  Santa sighed.  “This is his home John.  He lives on the streets.  During the really cold months he goes to a shelter with his aunt.  She is at work right now.”  John saw a grocery cart a few feet away from the boy.  Covering it was a blue tarp.  John could see some clothes in there and a few boxes.  As John looked away for a moment in horror, he saw a hypodermic needle on the ground.  The boy was reading a worn-out copy of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone with a flashlight between his yellow teeth.  He saw the boy lift a crumpled up bag out of his coat pocket.  The boy began eating the few crumbs left in the bag of potato chips.  Santa told John about how his father went to prison a few years ago.  He belonged to one of the gangs.  During a shoot-out in front of their apartment building, a bullet missed hitting the boy but instead lodged itself in his mother’s brain.  He told John this is the first thing the boy sees when he wakes up in the morning and the last thing he sees at night.  “Come on John, we have more stops to make tonight.”  John walked to the sleigh but kept looking back at the boy.

Santa and John flew once more into the night.  It was very quiet between them.  They landed in a very wealthy neighborhood with mansions all around them.  John wasn’t sure if he had been on this street when he was campaigning.  Many houses were decked out in Christmas lights and he even saw Santas made up in lights.  “This is never what Christmas was supposed to be John,” as Santa looked down at his belly.  They got out of the sleigh and went into one of the houses.  A girl was on her computer playing the latest version of Minecraft.  Her mom asked her if she finished her homework.  “I sure did,” the girl said.  “You can check it on Schoology.”  “Did you finish all the stuff on iReady?” the mother asked.  “Yes Mom,” as the girl rolled her eyes.  She had just finished eating the steak and shrimp but she was still hungry.  “Can you turn the heat down Mom?” she yelled.  As her hand grabbed the ice cream bowl, Santa and John left.  As Sarah pulled the spoon to her mouth, she wondered if she had to be at the school in her cheerleader’s outfit by 9am tomorrow or 9:15.

They flew down to Georgetown.  John was last there on Return Day in November.  All the candidates who run for office, whether they win or not, participate in this event to “bury the hatchet”.  But they flew away from the town to a trailer park.  Inside, a Hispanic girl was kicking a ball around with her little brother.  A man came into the room.  “Hicerion sus deberes?” the man asked.  “No podríamos papá. No sabíamos lo que significaban las palabras,” the boy answered.  The man watched as his children did what they do after school almost every day.  Kicking around the same ball.  “Sorry Santa, my Spanish is very rusty.  What did they say?” John asked.  “The father asked if his children did their homework.  They couldn’t because they can’t read the words.  They don’t know English very well.  They know enough for very basic things, but not enough to learn what they need to know.  Their mother is still at the chicken farm working her shift.  One of them always has to be with the kids. They aren’t here legally.  The father is afraid all the time that his kids will be taken from him and he and his wife will have to go back to their country.  He doesn’t know English at all.” 

John felt his mind stir as they flew north.  He was very troubled by what he saw.  When he was campaigning, he tended to see the best of Delaware.  In the daylight or early evening when many of his “Meet and Chews” with people were attended by those who had the means and the desire to see him.  When he went to schools, he could tell the kids were on their best behavior because “an important man” was coming to visit.  He didn’t see people in their homes or on the streets the way he did tonight.  He felt uncomfortable, like he was seeing a side of the world he heard about but didn’t see first-hand.  “Santa, I should really be getting back.  It’s getting late and my wife is probably worrying about me.”  Santa laughed so hard the sleigh shook. Look at your watch John.  What time is it?”  John looked at his watch in bewilderment.  It was still 6:30pm.  No time had passed since he first got in the sleigh with Santa back on the trail.  “Let me guess, another bit of your magic?”  Santa smiled at John as they flew into a middle-class neighborhood in Dover.

The odd couple went into the house.  Inside, a boy was crying on the couch.  His parents were arguing in the kitchen.  “What do you mean he was suspended again?” the father asked.  “I got a call from school.  They said he was acting out in class again and when the teacher told him to stop he ran out of the room.  When another teacher found him, he pushed her away.  The Principal came down the hall and yelled at him to come with him.  David yelled back at him and Dr. Smith called two teachers to help bring him to the office,” the mother explained.  “I didn’t get the call until two hours later.  By the time I got there he was so upset.”  “Did they give him any work to do when he was in there for two hours?” the boy’s father asked.  “I don’t know.  But this is not what his IEP says.  They aren’t supposed to drag him down the hall and yell at him.  He isn’t learning anything there.  He’s depressed all the time.  He can’t learn in a class with thirty kids.”  John knelt down in front of the boy.  He saw such pain and sadness in the boy’s eyes.  “This boy has no friends John.  The things you had growing up, kids to play with and throw a football around, running around in the woods, even going to the amusement park, David can’t do those things.”  Santa explained how David was labeled as high-functioning Autism.  He could do the work, but only under certain conditions.  If there was a lot of activity in the classroom, people talking, moving around, David couldn’t handle that.  His brain couldn’t filter out all the stimuli.  Some days it worked, but for David, it was an endless litany of suspensions and leaving school early.  “Special education John.  If you don’t know what is going on with a child, and everyone is different, how can we put all kids in the same box?” Santa asked him.

John could see what Santa was doing.  He understood that not every kid is the same.  But if they didn’t try to help all the kids nothing would change.  The two flew to the building where John was destined to spend many of his days in the next four years.  Legislative Hall.  Where all the laws in Delaware happened.  John didn’t think there would be any kids there at 6:30pm, and he was right.  Inside, a meeting was taking place.  John knew about half the people at the large table in the House Majority Caucus room.  There were some from the Department of Education, a couple from the Rodel Foundation of Delaware, the usual Delaware State Education Association contingent, some Superintendents, a few teachers, Delaware PTA, some of the disability advocates, the lady from the Delaware Charter Schools Network, four legislators, and a couple of State Board members.  He knew them.  A few people sat in the chairs outside of the table.  A woman from the Delaware DOE was giving a presentation on the Every Student Succeeds Act.  Delaware had to come up with a state plan so all students can succeed.  She was talking about the Delaware School Success Framework and the measurements they wanted included in their state accountability system.  It was all about proficiency and growth.  Which John knew was based on the Smarter Balanced Assessment.  All these adults, sitting there talking about kids and how they can make education better.  John knew a few of the people there had the best of intentions but this was what they do in Delaware.  They sit around a table and talk.  This was how things got done.  They even had a name for it, The Delaware Way.

You don’t get it!” John cried out.  “We can’t keep testing these kids.  They aren’t the same.  We can’t keep doing this.  Their lives mean so much more than these tests.”  Santa looked at John.  “They can’t hear you.  Even if they could, too many of them wouldn’t listen.  They think they know what is best.  They forget what it was like when they were kids.  Even that man over there.”  Santa pointed to a man from Wilmington.  “He kept fighting for the kids in Wilmington and how the teachers need to be better,” Santa explained.  “The man believed what he said but he didn’t realize how much these children don’t have outside of school.  The man didn’t understand that you can’t just wave a magic wand and make teachers better.  And the best teachers, they were the ones already in those classrooms in Wilmington.  They were the ones who came to school every day, knowing the problems these kids brought to the classroom.  The look of hunger in their eyes as they wore the same clothes for the third day in a row.  They dedicated their lives to helping these kids in the hardest classrooms in the state.  In return, they were shamed by many of the people in this room.  The little boy we saw on the playground tonight?  He goes to the poorest school in the state.  Most of the people in this room have never walked into his school.  They don’t understand what he needs.  That legislator over there?  She sponsored a bill so special education would get better in the state.  In their eyes, it did.  Students went from 21% proficiency on the ELA part of Smarter Balanced to 23%.  To them, that is growth.  The Superintendent over there?  She runs the district where the two kids from Georgetown go to school.  She has a lot of students who can’t speak or read English.  She hasn’t said one word tonight about how to help them.  See the man over there?  He runs a charter school in Newark.  They just settled on a lawsuit against the Christina School District.  In return they will get more money in the future.  Remember the girl in the mansion?  She goes to that charter school.  That money will be taken from the homeless boy’s school.  He will get less than he has today at school.  The man over there?  He sits on the board at the Rodel Foundation.  He sees opportunity.  He sees how the business leaders in the state can profit from all this.  He is hoping they will start talking about more career pathway programs in our high schools.  He knows that some will go to the coding school he sits on the board of.  He talks with other business leaders and the graduates of that program do internships at their companies.  Sometimes they get jobs.  While they are learning, these coding students are building the network of tomorrow.  They develop algorithms that will go into the education technology in all the schools.  All that data, all that blessed data.  They store it all.  They keep everything, these futurists and visionaries.  They have the money and influence to make sure what they want becomes policy and law.  It is the way the modern world works John.  Perhaps they know, and don’t care, that what they are setting up now will only make those children who struggle the most even further apart from any true opportunity to succeed.  And them, over there, they work for the Department of Education.  They are the middlemen between the schools and the business community.  They make sure the business community gets what they want in the schools.  They do this through regulations and conversations you will never hear about.  That woman there, she runs the accountability section of the Department.  Her job is to make sure all children in certain grades take the Smarter Balanced Assessment.  When she sees the results come in, she doesn’t see the faces of the children who took the test.  She sees numbers.  Results.  Scores.  Her job is to understand why all the children we saw tonight got a 1 on the test last Spring except for the girl in the mansion who got a 4.  She doesn’t see David’s disability.  Or the two siblings who can’t read the instructions for the test in English much less understand the context of a passage  in Spanish about the stock market.  She doesn’t know that the African-American boy in Wilmington has slept in 124 different beds in the past year alone and the other 241 nights were outside with blankets.  But she actually thinks they can close the achievement gaps and these children will grow into prosperity.  How does she know this?  It’s what her bosses tell her every single day.  She hears the lie so much she believes it.

John and Santa left the building.  As the two flew north, they talked about what John had to do.  What he needed to change.  They talked about the blogger and the parents, teachers, legislators, advocates, and citizens who thought like Santa did.  “Those are the ones you really need to talk to John.  I’m sure you have heard from many of the people who were in that meeting tonight.  If you haven’t, I have no doubt your advisors have.”  John knew this to be true.  “You need to understand the other side of the coin John, where the real world lives.  These aren’t pleasant realities you saw tonight.  For those fighting for the kids, even opting out of the test isn’t as easy as it once was.  They are fighting for these kids, their kids.  And their grandchildren.  They are fighting for their jobs.  They see beyond the results and the growth.  They see what needs to change but no one listens.  No one who can really make a difference.  Some do, but not enough to make the changes.  When they do speak, they are shunned by their peers.  Given less importance.  It isn’t right John.  What the people in that room wanted, it won’t change anything.  It will only cause more damage.  You can’t incorporate education.  These are children.  You need to change all this.”

John walked out of the sleigh.  He thanked Santa for showing him so much of the Delaware he didn’t see before.  The two shook hands.  “Santa, I don’t know if I can change all of this by myself.  You know if I try I will make enemies.  Those enemies won’t make my job any easier.”  Santa put his hand on John’s shoulder.  “That is what all leaders who understand what is right and just have to face.  Some succeed and some fail.  Some do it alone and some have support.  All I can say is this John-  remember what you saw tonight.  Every single time you make a decision.  Remember the children’s faces before you see the adults.  You know in your heart who is really in this for the kids and who isn’t.  When you hear that voice in your head, questioning what the true motives are, listen to that.  Let that be your shield against your enemies John.”  John hugged Santa.  “Merry Christmas Santa.”  “And to you as well Governor Carney.”  Santa walked toward his sleigh and turned around. “John, find those who speak the uncomfortable truths.”

John looked down at his watch.  It was 6:31pm.  Santa was gone.

New Faces Enter The Mix For Delaware Secretary Of Education & A Message For John Carney

Who will be the Delaware Secretary of Education under Governor John Carney?  My moles and sources have given me new names in the hunt for the Education Czar of Delaware.  One of them I really, really like! Continue reading “New Faces Enter The Mix For Delaware Secretary Of Education & A Message For John Carney”