Wow! The Brandywine School District won their second referendum attempt this year with a ton of votes and a wide margin between pass and against. With over 15,000 citizens of the district voting today, this is huge. Compare that to the recent school board elections in Delaware. I doubt there were 15,000 total votes for the whole state!
After a two-week recess, the Delaware General Assembly returns tomorrow Both the Delaware Senate and House Education Committee meetings have some controversy coming on Wednesday in the form of two bills. Both of these bills may draw a crowd, so get there early! And two very popular bills will finally get a vote this week.
In the House, the Education Committee will meet at 2:30pm to discuss State Rep. Hudson’s school voucher bill. House Bill 161, introduced a year ago, would take the state funding allocated to a particular student and put it in a “Parent Empowerment Education Savings Account”. So, as an example, say a student gets $11,000 in state funding from Lake Forest School District. If the student goes to a private school, those funds would be deposited into the savings account and it would go towards the tuition at the private school (which can also include books, tests, and more). The bill does specify this would only be used for “exceptional children” as defined by state code. When this bill first came out, many thought it would not just mean a child with a disability, but also talented and gifted students. An amendment, added to the bill last June, eliminates that option. This bill is just for students with disabilities.
The problem with school vouchers is it is more funds disappearing from the local education district. The referendums are bad enough, but this would just add fuel to the fire. Many folks who are anti-referendum want school vouchers and they don’t want their local taxes paying for public education. In my opinion, if a parent makes a choice to send their child to a private school, you should still have to pay school taxes. Every state has school taxes, and Delaware is no exception. School vouchers are very popular with Republicans, but the results from other states have been very mixed.
At 3pm, the Senate Education Committee will hear Senate Bill 165. After the controversial Red Clay referendum last year, Delaware Senator Karen Peterson introduced Senate Bill 165. This legislation would cut polling places in school board elections and referendums, and all voting would be done through the U.S. mail. As well, all voters would have to be registered to vote. To add more heat, all school board elections AND referenda would be on the second Tuesday of May. For districts that don’t have a referendum pass, they would have to wait another year to have another one.
A lot of folks do not like this bill at all. Ironically, First State Liberty, the organization in Delaware that makes robo-calls during Christina referenda, is vehemently against this bill. To be honest, I haven’t talked to anyone who supports this bill. This one will draw a crowd. I imagine some folks may want to attend both meetings, so I could see a mad rush to get through the House Education Committee meeting and then folks literally running upstairs to get to the Senate meeting half an hour later.
The Senate meeting will also have a presentation from the Parent Advocacy Council for Education (PACE). Another bill which will be heard in the House meeting will be State Rep. Kim Williams very awesome House Bill 232. This bill would allow public comment on any action item, be it a resolution, a charter school action, or anything else the State Board of Education votes on. Currently, the State Board does not allow public comment at any of their meetings on any action item unless they give explicit permission (as they recently did with the Wilmington Education Improvement Commission redistricting plan). As well, the House Education Committee will hear Senate Joint Resolution #8, which honors Delaware State University for their 125th Anniversary.
School vouchers, referenda, and school board elections. While I don’t expect any of these drawing a crowd like House Bill 50 (the opt out legislation) did last year, I already know people who will be there. The votes from the committee members will be very interesting on these bills.
Two bills released from the Senate Education Committee last June will be given a full Senate vote on Thursday. Senate Bills 92 and 93, both dealing with Autism (see the Education Legislation tab at the top of the page). April is also Autism Awareness Month, so it is fitting these bills will get a vote this month.
Robert Andrzejewski, the Acting Superintendent for the Christina School District in Wilmington, led a battle cry last night to lift the district from their troubled past and send it to a bright future.
Hundreds of students, parents, educators, and citizens attended the Christina Referendum kick-off last night at Christiana High School. The district wants to raise school taxes by 30 cents. According to “Bob A”, the Acting Superintendent’s nick-name in New Castle County, the increase will result in an additional $16.2 million for the district allowing them to bring more quality resources to the district. Bob A alluded to eventual magnet schools within the district. In an apparent snafu, he said this would only cost taxpayers in the district an extra $300 a month or $15 a week. Both are wrong, but we can put the blame on that towards Common Core which puts everyone’s math skills in serious jeopardy!
As Bob A talked about Christina escaping from his past, he brought up the movie “Frozen”. He talked about “that song” and the main character, saying “What’s her name”? Someone shouted “Elsa” which led Bob A to say “Yeah, Let It Go, Let It Go, Let It Go”.
Bob A railed on the current testing environment in Delaware during his speech, stating there is too much focus on testing and not enough on teaching to teach, which led to a round of applause from the audience. Other highlights included a call for more vocational certificates to be issued from the district as more and more districts around the state incorporate co-op programs.
Senator Bryan Townsend attended the event, along with Braeden Mannering from 3B: Brae’s Brown Bags. Board members Harrie Ellen Minnehan, Shirley Saffer, and John Young also attended. There was a significant amount of energy which was missing in last year’s unfortunate two failed referendum attempts. The referendum is on March 23rd.
I was asked to share the following letter to Delaware Attorney General Matt Denn about referendums in Delaware. There are many districts gearing up for their own referendums: Brandywine, Christina, Appoquinimink and I’m sure there are others. What do you think? Should referendums stop being a social gathering?
Letter to Attorney General Matt Denn
After making inquiries to the Board of Elections I was advised to
contact your office for further help.
The recent decision by Chancery Court to proceed with the Lawsuit
against the Red Clay school district exposes the unethical and
blatantly dishonest tactics used by School Boards in their desperate
attempts to win referendums. It is essential you investigate these
abuses so that voting Citizens are not subjected to this constant
badgering which has eroded public confidence in the voting process.
Another case in point is the Milford School board, which held its 3rd
referendum in just 18 months. While permitted, this relentless use of
referendum to raise taxes that had failed twice before has resulted in
voter fatigue and charges of Voter fraud.
School Boards have a saying “just try again”. Milford has said “we
did” and when that didn’t work they cheated, bullied and lied.
Delaware Law guarantees all elections shall have Free and Equal access
however the Superintendent and Milford School Board have colluded to
deny those in opposition from this fundamental right.
Cheated; they checked the Board of Elections and saw that there were
250 more No votes at LuLu Ross Elementary in the May 2015 referendum.
So they eliminated LuLu Ross as a polling location thwarting the
people in that community their right to vote. They replaced it with
the High School where Senior students were enticed to cut class to
vote yes. In the previous referendum the Seniors were transported by
bus to Banneker Elementary to vote. The bus was supposedly paid for by
a quasi- official lobbying group which was initially headquartered at
the Superintendent’s office. Students were essentially pressured to
vote yes because of the constant threats that all sports and numerous
personnel would be eliminated.
Bullied; they scheduled a non-essential family night at Banneker which
was another polling site the very same night the polls were open to
voters. This activity could have been rescheduled but instead the
parking lot was full of cars and the hallways were full of young
students. This was a deliberate attempt by the Board to fill the
parking lot with families and vehicles to discourage the Handicapped
and Elderly who traditionally vote no from exercising their legal
right to “Free and Equal Access”.
Lied to; the School Board, along with the Superintendent and CFO told
the public they had slashed the budget, fired personnel and eliminated
many programs. Only problem with this was the truth; the actual 2015
budget was $51,006.000 whereas the 2016 projected budget was
$49,961,000. A reduction of only $45,000. Are these the deceptive
tactics and legacy the Superintendent and Board want to set as
acceptable behavior to our students and citizens?
Questions that need to be answered in by your office;
Did anyone within the Milford School system or its lobby organization
known as Buccaneer Tomorrow use any means of communication, written or
verbal to “encourage H.S. students to vote? Did this constitute a
violation of Delaware law governing electioneering within the
designated voting area?
Did anyone within the school system contact parents of students asking
them to vote for the referendum using school resources and was this a
violation of Delaware law?
Why were voting booths eliminated at LuLu Ross?
Why was the non-essential family math night at Banneker not
rescheduled so as to not interfere with the People’s right to Vote?
Was there a Quid Pro Quo made with the Teachers Union regarding Raises?
10284 Webb Farm Rd
Lincoln, De 19960
Apparently there was a Delaware Senate Bill submitted on July 15th that I didn’t know about. I found out because the House has a pre-filing day today so I thought I would check the Senate Side. House Bill 165 would drastically change things with school district referendums. Instead of a district having more than one referendum in a year, all school districts would have their referendum on the 2nd Tuesday of May. This is also the same day when school board elections take place. As for those school board elections, instead of having them at schools, they would take place through the US Mail system. This bill is sponsored by Senator Karen Peterson and State Reps Michael Ramone and Deborah Hudson. Co-sponsors are Senators Brian Bushweller and Margaret Rose-Henry and State Rep. Stephanie Bolden. I assume a lot of this is in reaction to the Red Clay referendum last winter which is also part of a lawsuit. To read the legislation, please see below:
This hasn’t been discussed in mainstream media too much, but the Delaware Chancery Court just wrote a legal opinion concerning Red Clay’s last referendum. The Red Clay Consolidated School District wanted to case dismissed, but the Chancery Vice Chancellor Laster denied the dismissal on October 7th. The entire opinion can be read here. Keep in mind this is not an actual verdict, merely an opinion by a judge. Key highlights from this legal opinion are as follows:
Finally, to the extent this decision has erred by treating the Family-Focused Events as a reward for voting, at a minimum they were selectively targeted get-out-the-vote events designed to appeal to a readily identifiable group that Red Clay believed would support the tax increase. Viewed as such, the Complaint states a viable challenge under the Elections Clause to the Family-Focused Events. The Abbott decision stated that the purpose of the Elections Clause ―is to ensure that the right of citizens to vote in an election is unfettered.‖ 2008 WL 821522, at *19 (Del. Ch. Mar. 27, 2008.
The opinion goes into great detail about the events going on at various Red Clay schools the same day as the referendum.
Using the Family-Focused Events, Red Clay encouraged and facilitated voting by families with school-aged and pre-school-aged children. By doing so, Red Clay made the election unequal, not through traditionally negative means, but through positive means. Whether Red Clay‘s conduct went too far is necessarily a matter of degree, but for pleading-stage purposes, the plaintiffs have stated a claim under the Elections Clause.
The heart of the complaint behind this case was a woman brought her elderly parents to a school to vote. She claimed parking was a huge issue and there were empty school busses taking up spots. She claims her parents, who are disabled, were not given unfettered access to the polling booth.
Moreover, in the current case, Red Clay‘s selective get-out-the-vote efforts had negative effects on the elderly and disabled. As the Abbott decision recognized, a potential violation of the Elections Clause exists if the plaintiffs allege that ―their access to the polls was disturbed….‖ 2008 WL 821522, at *20.
Vice-Chancellor Laster denied the dismissal request by the Red Clay attorneys:
In challenging Red Clay‘s electoral interventions as a whole, the Complaint states a claim on which relief can be granted under both federal and state law. Red Clay‘s motion to dismiss is therefore denied.
The Vice Chancellor basically said if Red Clay does the Referendum again without some of the contested events taking place, and they have the same results, it would render the case moot.
Red Clay has the option of addressing the plaintiffs‘ contentions by returning to the electorate. This decision has concluded that the plaintiffs would not be able to state a claim for relief if Red Clay only engaged in certain types of conduct and avoided others, such as the Family-Focused Events and electioneering in close proximity to the voting rooms. If Red Clay called for a new special election and limited its electoral interventions, and if Red Clay‘s voters ratified the result of the February 2015 election by voting in favor of the tax increase, then this litigation would be moot.
This will certainly be an interesting case to watch if it does make it to trial. There was a lot of heat put on Red Clay based on the events of this referendum, and even though Attorney General Matt Denn did not find anything wrong, several Delaware legislators did. The final decision in this could change the way referendums in Delaware occur. Or maybe someone will finally get the good sense to do away with it for good!