Tony Allen: Lawsuit Coming If We Don’t Fix Wilmington Schools

Tony Allen issued a stern warning about Wilmington schools.  He said a lawsuit is coming soon if we don’t fix it.

Last Wednesday evening, the Progressive Democrats of Delaware held a panel on Delaware education funding.  The panelists were myself, Tony Allen (the Chair of the Wilmington Education Improvement Commission), Brian Stephan (on the Christina Citizens Budget Oversight Committee), and State Rep. Paul Baumbach.

The main emphasis of the panel was to discuss the pros and cons of implementing a weighted funding system for Delaware schools.  In this type of system, students with higher needs would have more money allocated to them.  These would include low-income students, English Language Learners, and students with disabilities.  For the last, this already takes place with the exception of basic special education for students in Kindergarten to 3rd grade.

All the panelists were in agreement that the system we have is not working at all.  While I don’t necessarily have an issue with a weighted funding system, the devil is in the details.  But beneath the surface, as I stated towards the end of the panel, is the huge elephant in the room concerning accountability.  Not for standardized tests but where money is currently going.  There is no viable mechanism in Delaware to ensure the funds we are using in public education are truly going to the needs of students.  Our state auditor is supposed to audit every single traditional school district for all expenses, but when was the last time we saw one of those reports unless it was part of an official audit inspection?  There is no consistency with where funds are going.  There are so many sub-groups of payment allocations with many overlapping each other.  It is a beast to understand.  Coding expenses in definitive places is a must, but no one seems to want to address that at a state level.  It is my contention that throwing more money into the system is a recipe for disaster.

Say the advocates for better education in Wilmington schools do file a lawsuit.  What would the result be?  The feds have made important decisions in the past that put temporary band-aids on the issues but eventually the situation with “failing schools” comes up again and again.  The definition of a “failing school” is now tied to standardized tests.  It is the heart of all accountability in public education.  But it fails to address the issues facing students of poverty, spoken languages that are not English, and disabilities that are neurologically based.  The “one size fits all” mentality, which the Delaware Dept. of Education is still pushing in their first draft of the Every Student Succeeds Act state plan, doesn’t work.

Tony Allen told the group he was disappointed the WEIC Redistricting Plan didn’t pass in the General Assembly.  He said, without hesitation, that he fears a lawsuit will have to happen to truly address the issues facing Wilmington students.  He did concede that one of the biggest issues facing WEIC was not having representation from Kent and Sussex counties in the group.  This was something I advised WEIC about in public comment at their very first meeting in August of 2015.  It was also why I didn’t go to as many meetings as I could have.  But will a federal lawsuit fix Wilmington schools?

In my opinion, the biggest problem in Delaware education among high-needs students is a problem no judge, accountability system, General Assembly, or any advocate can fix: hopelessness.  In our biggest cities in the state, and reaching out into the suburbs and rural areas, is a drug problem of epic proportions.  And with African-American youth, that comes with a potential of joining a gang.  Until that problem is fixed, we will continue to spin our wheels trying to fix education.  We can have after-school programs and more guidance counselors in our schools.  That will help, but it will NOT solve the problem.  I don’t have the answer to that.  I don’t know who does.  But until we can fix that problem, making our schools the penicillin for the disease facing our state will not get to the heart of the issue.  With the drugs and gangs come extreme violence and people getting shot in the streets.  This “be tough or die” mentality is the deadliest issue facing Delaware.  And when those issues come into our schools, that is when education gets put in the bulls-eye of blame.

I have no doubt, at some point, Tony Allen, Jea Street and others will file some huge lawsuit against the State of Delaware.  And many will look towards a judge to solve all our problems.  It won’t.  Until we get really tough on hopelessness, we will fail.

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A Day Like No Other And Why Governor Markell Should Not Be Trusted

Seven weeks ago, the Democrats in the Delaware House of Representatives were in caucus discussing the Wilmington education bill which would allow the Wilmington Education Improvement Commission to draft up plans which would in turn authorize the State Board of Education to redraw district lines.  After that, as the plan goes, the schools in the city of Wilmington that belong to the Christina School District would convert over to Red Clay Consolidated School District.  But something went awry.

I have heard this story, from both sides, and the truth is most likely somewhere in the middle.  I will not name legislators in this story, but Senate Bill 122 almost died that day.  Two problems arose during their caucus.  One was the issue with Brandywine.  Did they not want to be a part of the redistricting or were they not included in it on purpose.  Of note is the fact that Brandywine School District has no charter schools in their district.  The second, and even bigger problem, was something Governor Markell may or may not have said.  I am inclined to believe he did say it based on history surrounding what was said.

A discussion came up with the Governor surrounding a traditional high school in Wilmington, which there is none of right now belonging to any district within the city limits.  When asked where high school students will go after the redistricting, Markell was overheard to say they would go to the Community Education Building.  This is the property donated by Bank of America and the Longwood Foundation to run charter schools.  There are currently two charters in the building with another set to open later this month, Great Oaks.

When this came up in caucus, the whole group of representatives charged into Governor Markell’s office in Legislative Hall to demand the truth.  Imagine, if you will, multiple elected officials bursting into a Governor’s office to find out if a rumor was true.  This would never happen on a Federal level, but this is Delaware.  Tony Allen, the Bank of America executive, chair of the Wilmington Education Advisory Committee and the just announced chair of the Wilmington Education Improvement Commission, who was with Markell in his office, said if this was true he would pull out of the whole initiative.  Markell denied ever saying anything of the sort and after the legislators calmed down and came out of caucus, they assembled in their legislative session and passed Senate Bill 122 with a vote of 36 Yes, 3 Not Voting, and 2 Absent.  The bill had already passed the Senate on 6/11/15.

Yesterday, Governor Jack Markell signed Senate Bill 122 into law, along with House Bill 148, which creates WEIC.  The glaring elephant in the room with all of this comes down to funding.  I would find it very hard to believe a Governor as on top of things as Jack Markell would not see the funding just plain doesn’t exist for this redistricting of Wilmington schools.  The projected deficit of $160-170 million next year will not allow for this to happen.  If it did, funds would need to be taken from many other demanded services in our state.  The DOE can’t even afford to keep to their promised allocated amount with Red Clay’s three priority schools.  Which is seriously ticking off Red Clay.  Their board president, Kenny Rivera, will be one of the vice-chairs on WEIC, so he will be very close to any discussion at the planning and meetings for all of this.

So if the funding doesn’t exist for this on a state level, where would the millions upon millions of dollars to make this happen come from?  It would be quite logical for corporations to “donate” funds for this.  It would also be logical for them to want their own stipulations for this as well, such as making the schools in Wilmington a charter district.

None of this exists in Senate Bill 122.  To prevent a referendum, the affected school districts would have to agree to the transfer of property to the receiving district and their boards would have to pass a resolution in support of this.  The trick will be in the timing.  Say WEIC makes their plans, and all the schools in Christina go to Red Clay.  The State Board does the redistricting, and it happens as written.  This is the crucial moment: funding.  WEIC is required to determine this in their report.  The State Board has until March 31st next year to complete this or their authority goes away.  Shortly after the General Assembly returns in January, Governor Markell will release the FY2017 proposed budget.  If WEIC completes their report prior to this, Markell will have to plan the budget around that.  Otherwise the legislators will have to see where these puzzle pieces would fit into a picture that may not allow this to happen.

Why would Tony Allen, a very high-functioning and brilliant executive at Bank of America, one of the largest financial institutions in the world, agree to chair not one but two committees when issues of funding would be paramount to the whole thing?  I can’t help but remember the Christina Board of Education meeting at the Sarah Pyle Academy last September.  Nnamdi Chukwuocha, the 1st District Council Member for the Wilmington City Council and also the chair of their Education Committee, spoke during public comment about funding for Wilmington Schools.

We talk so much about the quality and what is happening at some of our charter schools.  We often mention East Side Charter School, but one thing that’s not ever mentioned about East Side Charter School is the relationship that they have with Barclay’s Bank, and Barclay’s Bank supporting that initiative.  You want to do something for me, do something for my children in the City of Wilmington, I want all these institutions, let’s take JP Morgan Chase, let’s take DuPont, take Bank One, all of these banks, and let each one of them adopt one of these six schools and then let’s talk about this initiative. To me that’s what we need, we need these priority schools to be supported.

If I were a betting man, I would guess this is already in play and has been for years.

Senate Bill 122 Passes, Allows State Board of Education To Redraw District Lines For Wilmington, House Bill 148 Should Pass Next Week, Creating Wilmington Education Improvement Commission

For legislation introduced last week, these two sure flew through the Delaware House and Senate. I know this is a dream of many in Wilmington, and most especially Tony Allen. So congrats Tony!  Senate Bill 122 passed with a 36 Yes, 3 Not Voting and 2 Absent.  House Bill 148 passed the Senate today but an amendment was added which will kick it back to the House.  Tonight, Allen issued a statement on the passage of Senate Bill 122 and the eventual passage of House Bill 148:

The Wilmington Education Advisory Committee was created last fall out of an executive order issued by Governor Jack Markell. At the same time, the priority schools announcement was just made weeks before, and Wilmington education was a very hot topic. The Committee met for a few months and issued their report in March which gave recommendations to have all Wilmington schools convert to Red Clay Consolidated and Brandywine School Districts. This meant Christina would hand over their schools which they agreed to as a sort of impasse on the priority schools in their district. The WEAC recommendations prevented the priority school deadlines from falling into the DOE and Markell’s hands. It was a moment of conversation that is continuing to this day. I eagerly await what happens next with these two bills. I have no doubt Markell will sign both of them as soon as possible.