Vision Coalition To Sell Their Nonsense At Legislative Hall Next Week

Leave it to Earl Jaques to start off the 150th General Assembly House Education Committee with a load of crap right from the get-go.  At the first House Education Committee meeting next Wednesday, legislators will get to hear the latest corporate education reform malarkey from the Vision Coalition.

Really Earl?  That’s the best you can do?  What’s next? A presentation the next week from DelawareCAN? The Charter Schools Network?  Ugh.  Would you let DSEA give a huge presentation to the Education Committee?  Or how about a group of opt out parents to explain why the Smarter Balanced Assessment is the worst test ever?  Perhaps you could let all the Christina Wilmington teachers get together and let the legislators know about how they feel about the MOU.  Or get the Odyssey education association to come in and talk about what is going on with their board.  Nope, instead,  we get the usual flim-flam from the snake oil Rodelian led band of education bandits.

I have no doubt they will be taking credit for what is to come.

The Strange Case Of The Disappearing Christina Board Meeting

I see this with charter schools quite a bit but postponing a regular board meeting for a school district?  That is highly unusual!  Today, the Christina School District postponed their regular January Board of Education meeting scheduled for tonight at Bayard Middle School.  Is this a fluke or is there a specific reason the meeting was postponed? Continue reading

DOE Develops A Case Of Pretendonitis With Education Funding Transparency Meeting

The Delaware Department of Education held their first public meeting for Senate Bill #172 which is supposed to show clear transparency with education funding so people can compare how much schools are spending compared to other schools.  The poorly attended event, filled with the usual stakeholders and barely anyone from the general public, showcased a Department that really doesn’t know what this bill means or what they plan to do with it.  In other words, they have a scorching case of pretendonitis. Continue reading

The Heat Is On At The Delaware DOE Building Tomorrow! Time To Fix Their Mess And Make Some Noise!

Tomorrow night, the Delaware Department of Education will hold the first meeting on education funding.  More specifically, cleaning up the hot mess where you can’t really tell how over a billion dollars in taxpayer dollars is spent.  The meeting is tomorrow (Monday) from 5-7pm at the Townsend Building in the 2nd Floor Cabinet Room.

I’ve been pushing for more transparency with this for years.  I love how the DOE ignores a federal mandate that passed in 2015 and waits three years to do something about it.  Here is the problem- none of our districts and charters code things the same way.  It makes it impossible to accurately compare.  One district may put something as “maintenance” while a charter school puts it as “operational costs”.

Nothing will satisfy me until there is a uniform coding structure for EVERYTHING.  That is the only way we can unravel what appears to be a Gordian knot.  And EVERYTHING has to be published in a clear and concise manner so people can understand it.  The current Delaware Online Checkbook is useless.  By the time you can figure the damn thing out it either freezes on you or you give up.

Senate Bill #172 is the state version of what the Every Student Succeeds Act already requires.  But it isn’t what is needed.  It would help a little bit but not the massive change that is needed.  My sense is the DOE already knows what they want and they are just putting on their dog and pony show to say the people wanted what they already want.  Seen it many times folks!  Don’t be fooled.  To read the final version of SB #172 with amendments, read here.  There should be NO exclusions when it comes to transparency of taxpayer dollars.  It is past time The First State became #1 with transparency.

If you have the means and the time, I would get there.  Sign up for public comment and just go for the throat.  Tell them you want to see every penny accounted for, by school and NO EXCEPTIONS!  You get five minutes for public comment so make it count!  This is what the DOE is looking for from the public according to their post on the Delaware Public Meeting Calendar:

The Department of Education will develop a standardized approach with input from district/charter leaders and other community members. To that end, three public meetings are scheduled for this fall so DOE can share its vision and hear from members of the public. Public comment will be limited to five minutes per person; DOE will accept written comments at any of the meetings or via email by Friday, October 12th to jennifer.roussell@doe.k12.de.us.
Both the federal Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) and Senate Bill 172, passed by the 149th General Assembly this spring, require the development of a statewide approach to define and report school-level expenditures so school leaders and the public can better compare per-pupil spending across Delaware. The Department of Education (DOE) will begin reporting school-level per-pupil expenditures in Dec. 2019.

The New State Board of Education Has The Shortest Meeting In Living Memory!

(L to R) Vincent Lofink, Nina Lou Bunting, Secretary of Education Dr. Susan Bunting, Deputy Attorney General Valerie Dunkle, Whitney Sweeney, Dr. Audrey Noble, Wali Rushdan, Candice Fifer, Dr. Terry Whittaker

The State Board of Education meeting was over in half an hour today.

With so many new members, it was short but sweet.  The new members are new President Whitney Sweeney, former State Rep. Vince Lofink, and Candice Fifer.  The agenda was very light today.

Former State Board Vice President Nina Lou Bunting nominated Dr. Audrey Noble to be the new Vice President.  Board member Wali Rushdan seconded the nomination.  The board voted and Noble was unanimously selected as their Vice President.

The board passed a DIAA regulation.  The board got an update on DAPSS’ probation.  The new members introduced themselves.  Dr. Bunting introduced the new Deputy Secretary of Performance Support, Dr. Christine Alois.  She also introduced the new Associate Secretary of Academic Support, Monica Gant.  She is replacing Michael Watson, who left the DOE earlier this year.  Bunting announced that her restructuring of the Delaware DOE is now complete.

At the end of the meeting, the State Board of Education announced they would be going into Executive Session to discuss personnel issues.  The State Board of Education said they did have interviews for the Executive Director position and would be discussing that.  Based on that discussion, they could be letting Secretary Bunting know their decision.  At that point, the Human Resources Department of the Delaware DOE would be notified.  So we don’t have an announcement on who is replacing Donna Johnson just yet!

I believe the agenda was kept to a minimum so the new board members could acclimate to the process.  Whitney Sweeney did a good job in her new role as President.  I did get to meet Fifer and Lofink before the meeting.  I chatted with Lofink for a little bit.  He is a funny guy!

Attendance at the meeting was very low.  Aside from myself, a representative from DSEA, and some folks from the DOE, that was it.  But this is how it usually is at State Board meetings in July.  Next month they may go over the Smarter Balanced Assessment results and have some presentations, so attendance and the length of the meeting will pick up.  And with seven charter schools up for renewal this year, I know their December meeting will be a long one!

Updated, 9:22pm: No, Dr. Susan Bunting and Nina Lou Bunting are NOT related.  Bunting is like the last name “Smith” in Sussex County.  Several people have asked me this recently.

Margie Lopez-Waite New Head Of School At DAPSS But Is Colonial Backing Out? Conflicts Of Interest All Over The Place!

After waiting an extra ten days to put up the audio of their June board meeting, the future of the Delaware Academy of Public Safety & Security is once again in doubt.  Immediately into their board meeting, Margie Lopez-Waite resigned as President of their board and was than voted into the new Head of School position. Continue reading

What Is Up With Superintendent Richard Gregg In Christina School District?

Something is up in the Christina School District involving Superintendent Richard Gregg.  The following appears on Board Docs for their next Board of Education meeting on July 10th: Continue reading

Should Charter School Board Members Be Allowed To Manipulate Their Board To Allow Themselves To Lead A School?

Stack the deck towards a power play and you often get what you want.  That is the case with Delaware Academy of Public Safety & Security.  Tomorrow night they will hold their monthly board meeting.  The rumor mill has it that Margie Lopez-Waite, the current President of their board, will resign as President and the board will vote her in as the Head of School.  With that will assuredly come some type of financial incentive for Margie’s undying loyalty to the school (insert sarcasm here).  Together with her salary at Las Americas ASPIRA, she will be making a pretty penny.  Oh yeah, Delaware state code dictates you can get your pension based on your three highest years of salary.  Something the soon to be departed Providence Creek Academy Head of School took full advantage of.

Here is the issue though.  From what I hear, Margie doesn’t spend enough time at her current school.  She has her trusted minions and followers who pretty much run the school.  By her cut throat first and answer questions later tactics yesterday, she is stacking the staff deck at DAPSS to do the same thing.  In essence, Margie Lopez-Waite is a power-hungry dictator who is completely running the school.  Unless there is a mutiny, the Delaware DOE will let it happen.  This is a classic power play on her part.  But she may have shown her cards too early.  I expect a huge crowd at their board meeting tomorrow night.  She pissed off a lot of people.  I would say I hope the Charter School Office at the Delaware DOE shows up, but their leader will be leaving them soon as she… wait for it… replaces Chuck Taylor at PCA.  Perhaps it is time Secretary of Education Dr. Susan Bunting actually took the reins on this and stopped Margie’s power trip and exposes it for what it really is.

Margie’s bloody coup is not new.  We’ve seen other “leaders” throughout history do the same thing.  We call them dictators.  Tyrants.  They don’t last in the annals of history.  Eventually the people rise up and take back the power.  This is my big issue with some of our Delaware charters.  They are run by folks who tend to answer to the ruler of the school, not the other way around.  Far too many of their board members, which are appointed, not elected, are meant to curry favor with said ruler.  While commenters on my article from last night come to the plate in defense of Margie, I have yet to hear those commenters say anything about the lives Margie destroyed yesterday.  About teachers and staff who came to work yesterday with a job and are now wondering how they will feed their families after June 30th.  Even though Margie promised more training for them through Colonial.

Margie will take full advantage of Colonial’s relationship with Relay Graduate School and get cheap teachers for DAPSS.  Relay is just another teacher-prep fast track program.  They bounce around like kangaroos in the Outback, but they are fiercely loyal to their leaders.  In other words, they are cheap puppets.  Be careful what you wish for.  You may get exactly what you want.  It helps to have friends from high school help you get what you want, doesn’t it Margie?

Gregory Coverdale Resigned From The State Board of Education & Other State Board News

The Delaware State Board of Education has a vacancy!  Board member Gregory Coverdale resigned before the November State Board meeting and it was announced by President Dennis Loftus at the meeting.  His term expired prior to that but he decided to continue his seat until a replacement was found.  Coverdale was unable to continue serving due to work commitments.  Chances are good Governor John Carney will wait until the new year to nominate Coverdale’s replacement.  The 149th General Assembly returns in mid-January.

The State Board of Ed has their next meeting on December 14th, at 5pm.  The big news will be the charter school renewal-palooza with five schools awaiting the big decision.  Public comment on those renewals ended today.  Academia Antonia Alonso, Early College High School, First State Montessori Academy, Sussex Academy, and Thomas Edison Charter School are all up for renewal.  Delaware Secretary of Education will announce her recommendation for each school and then the State Board will vote on each school.

Other items on the agenda for the State Board meeting include an update on the State Board’s Literacy Campaign, a presentation on the DPAS Annual Report, a Regulation dealing with matching Delaware state code with Federal Law concerning visually impaired students, a Regulation about Financial Literacy and Computer Science standards, a few Regulations from the Professional Standards Board on teacher licensure, and a couple of information items about appeals between students and the Smyrna School District.

What is NOT on the agenda is Regulation 225.  For those who don’t know, the Regulation received 11,000 comments which will take some time for Secretary Bunting to review.  She did thank all who submitted public comment.  This information appeared on the agenda for the meeting on Thursday concerning Regulation 225:

The public comment period for proposed 225 Prohibition of Discrimination Regulation closed on December 4, 2017. The Department received more than 11,000 comments, which deserve careful review before a decision is made. Secretary Bunting is asking the Development Team to reconvene in January to review the comments and make recommendations for changes to the regulation. If substantive changes are made, the regulation will be published in the Register again with another 30-day public comment period before any decision on a final regulation is made.

Secretary Bunting thanks, those who shared their feedback during the formal comment period. All comments received will be posted online so the public, as well as committee members, can review them prior to the January Development Team meeting.

I expect a full house with the charter renewals so if you plan on attending I would get there early!  Good luck to Greg Coverdale in his future endeavors!

An Open Letter From State Rep. Earl Jaques About The School District Consolidation Task Force

I just received this email in regards to the School District Consolidation Task Force and where it will go from here:

School District Consolidation Task Force – HCR 39

A Letter from the Chair – Rep. Earl G. Jaques, Jr. 

September 20, 2017 

I have gotten a lot of questions from task force members and those who attended this week’s meeting about the path of this task force moving forward. Where are we going from here? 

I thought it would be helpful to review what we have achieved so far as a task force and outline my goals for our future meetings. 

Our first two meetings have been focused mainly on organizational matters.  At the first meeting we elected the Task Force Chair as required by HCR 39. Then we established four sub-committees (Academics/Student Needs, Finance, Teachers/Staff, and Structure). These four sub-committees are being led by four outstanding individuals with extensive knowledge and experience in their fields. In order to include a diversity of opinions and perspectives, we added additional members to the original 22 members designated by HCR 39. At our second meeting, we approved these additional members to give us a group with backgrounds and experiences from across our state.  

To ensure transparency, we have put all minutes, power point slides and other related material on our designated section on the legislative website; more materials will be uploaded to this site soon. To view the documents uploaded please scroll to the bottom of the page to “Minutes, Reports, and Information.” In addition, all materials have been sent to every member of the taskforce and those members of the public who asked to be included on the email lists. In cooperation with our statewide media partners we were able to get the citizens of Delaware to provide us with their ideas, suggestions and comments on what they would like to see happen with our school districts. We received 146 different written responses.  

This past Monday we hosted a task force meeting in Sussex County to receive verbal comments from county residents. At this meeting David Blowman, from the Department of Education, presented an overview of our state’s districts, schools and students with some informative graphs and maps. The response to his presentation was overwhelmingly positive, so much so that members present expressed their wishes for residents in Kent and New Castle Counties to have the opportunity to view it as well.

In accordance with this feedback, we plan to hold the same meeting at William Penn High School (October 16th) for New Castle County residents and then shortly after that meeting to hold one again for Kent County residents. In order to give residents of each county the opportunity to view the presentation and share their thoughts we have decided to move the meeting schedule a bit.

Instead of waiting until November to meet as a full task force as was originally planned, the Kent County meeting will be moved to October 25th at Caesar Rodney High School. Then the full task force will meet in early November (details TBA) to vote on the various plans suggested so that the sub-committees can start their work. I envision this vote as being one where 2-3 proposals are chosen to be explored and modeled and compared with the current system. This is a very important topic and so our work cannot be rushed. I will ensure that sub-committees have adequate time to complete their work while also making sure that public submissions and comments are properly heard. 

Once the sub-committees’ work is completed we will meet as a full task force to determine the feasibility of the various components and discuss recommendations to be included in our final report to the State Legislature. 

I look forward to continue working with all of you on this very important issue area. If you have any questions or concerns please feel free to reach out to me or my legislative aide, Madinah Wilson-Anton.

Respectfully Signed,

Earl Jaques

27th Representative District

Delaware Attorney General’s Office Ignores FOIA Law In, Uhm, Opinion About, Uhm, A FOIA Complaint!

Carve me up and serve me on a platter!  I have seen a lot in Delaware the past few years, but this one takes the proverbial cake!  On May 26th, I submitted a FOIA complaint against Early College High School regarding their Board of Director meetings.  It was three-fold.  The Delaware Attorney General’s office responded today.  I get what they were saying regarding my first two complaints.  But the third one.  Oh.  My.  God.  This is stuff kids on Romper Room know about FOIA! Continue reading

FOIApalooza At Early College High School Board Meeting Going On Right Now!!!!

At this present moment, 5:46pm, the Early College High School in Dover, Delaware is holding their monthly board of directors meeting.  But the charter school has NO sign-in sheet for public comment, the front door is locked, and a receptionist at the school told a parent there would be no ability for the public to speak at the meeting this evening.  Hello FOIA, meet Early College High School.

I’m a HUGE fan of transparency.  Real big fan.  I don’t like it when parents are denied the ability to speak at a public meeting.  Nothing gets my education flames going more than that.  Especially when it is planned in advance.  How fortunate for myself that I was able to catch this in real-time!  That takes some major chutzpah to do that.  But not only is all this going on, but they started the meeting early thus denying the public the ability to even hear everything that was discussed if they were able to get through their locked doors.

It makes me wonder why the Board of Directors wouldn’t allow public comment at this meeting.  When I went to check their website to see what is on the agenda, I found it very difficult to ascertain anything since NO AGENDA WAS POSTED!!!!  But during the meeting, there was discussion ABOUT public comment and that anyone wishing to speak has to meet certain conditions first.  Too bad the public didn’t have the opportunity to hear this discussion about their public comment procedures.  One parent went and had something to say, but she never had the opportunity so she left.  Meanwhile, the front doors are still locked.

Governor Carney & Secretary Bunting Will Be At Big WEIC Meeting Next Week

The Wilmington Education Improvement Commission will hold their next meeting on Tuesday, February 28th.  On the agenda is an appearance by none other than Delaware Governor John Carney and Delaware Secretary of Education Dr. Susan Bunting.  This will be interesting!

weicagenda22817

This week, Carney gutted a proposed weighted funding formula for the FY2018 state budget stating there is no money for it.  WEIC doesn’t work at all if the money isn’t in that budget either.  The state is facing a $350-$400 million dollar budget deficit.  In November, WEIC Chair Tony Allen publicly announced that if WEIC doesn’t go through he can foresee some type of legal action against the State of Delaware.  Interestingly enough, WEIC member Meredith Griffin filed today to run for the Christina School District Board of Education for the election in May.  That sets up that election for a four-person race with still another week to file for potential candidates.  This week, issues of race and due process came up in Red Clay stemming from an incident at a basketball game between A.I. DuPont High School and Delaware Military Academy.  Carney and Bunting are getting an hour to talk.  That is actually a long time.  I can’t say if I’ve ever heard Carney talk about education that long.  I don’t know if all of these issues will come up at the meeting, but this meeting comes at a very interesting time.  This will also be a big moment for Secretary Bunting as she is new in office and will be tasked with restricting the Delaware Dept. of Education.

WEIC and it’s earlier incarnation, WEAC, have been around for two and a half years.  Eventually, WEIC presented a plan to send Christina Wilmington students to Red Clay along with several other initiatives throughout the state to improve education for high-needs students.  After a long and drawn-out battle with the State Board of Education, WEIC’s plan turned into legislation.  That legislation failed to pass in the Delaware Senate.  New legislation extended the planning period for another year.  But with this year’s budget deficit looking dismal, will WEIC get the bypass again?  If it does, what will folks like Tony Allen and Jea Street’s next move be?

This could be a crowded meeting.  Get there early.  And what is up with five minutes of public comment?  They may want to stretch that out!

Susan Bunting’s Senate Nomination Will Not Happen Today

Delaware Governor John Carney named Dr. Susan Bunting, the Superintendent of the Indian River School District, as his Secretary of Education for the First State. In a discussion with current Delaware Secretary of Education Dr. Steven Godowsky a week ago, he informed me Bunting’s nomination would take place today. There are Senate Confirmation Hearings on the agenda, but Bunting is not one of them. Godowsky told me she wanted to be confirmed by the time of the State Board of Education meeting tomorrow. It does not look like that will happen as a hearing date has not been set at this point.

Bunting’s nomination was read in for the Delaware Senate yesterday along with all of Carney’s selections. Those could not be formally recognized by the General Assembly until Carney was sworn in which happened yesterday. I don’t believe this means anything as the docket is very full today for nominations. I just talked to a source at Legislative Hall who informed me that if it is not on there it won’t happen today. But I have no doubt it will. It could happen tomorrow or next week knowing how things worked around these chambers.

Many in Delaware education have saluted the possibility of Bunting as the Secretary of Education. Many in lower Delaware were pleased this position went to someone from Sussex County which has not been a practice in many years. Many feel that the Indian River audit investigation seemed to place the blame on Patrick Miller, the former Chief Financial Officer who allegedly abused finances in the district for well over a decade. The scope of the audit investigation was limited to the past few years but many feel Miller’s transgressions occurred years before that. The Delaware Attorney General’s office did announce they would be looking into the matter with Miller shortly after the audit investigation came out.

It remains to be seen if the audit investigation will affect Bunting’s confirmation hearing. I would have to assume someone will bring it up and potentially ask her how she could have not seen what was going on. As Secretary of Education for Delaware, Bunting would be responsible to oversee roughly a third of Delaware’s state budget. I will let readers know when Bunting’s confirmation hearing is scheduled.

At a national level, Betsy DeVos had her own U.S. Senate Confirmation Hearing yesterday but the U.S. Senate has not taken a vote on her nomination by President-Elect Donald Trump as of this writing. Her hearing was somewhat controversial as some Democrat Senators grilled DeVos on her motivations with public education. At one point, Senator Al Franken asked DeVos a question about proficiency and growth and she did not appear to know they are two different things.

Christina Board Meeting Agenda Has A Nuclear Action Item For Consideration Next Week

The Christina Board of Education voted last week to accept the settlement concerning the lawsuit filed by 15 charters against them and the Delaware DOE.  Next week, an action item submitted by a board member could cause a tsunami of controversy.  As well, there is another action item that will certainly cause another ordeal just by being there. Continue reading

Attorney General Opinion On Delaware Pathways Steering Committee Issued Today Is Sloppy, Inconsistent, & Incorrect

On October 7th, the Delaware Pathways Steering Committee held their first meeting with no public notice or an agenda put up 7 days prior to the meeting as required by Delaware state code.  In August, Delaware Governor Jack Markell issued an Executive Order creating this public body.  The only reason I found out about it was due to tweets from the Rodel Foundation and Mark Brainard of Delaware Tech.  I promptly filed a FOIA complaint on October 11th.  Seventeen days later, the Delaware Attorney General’s office has already responded to the FOIA complaint.  To put this in perspective, I filed a FOIA complaint last March which just had the Attorney General opinion issued last week.  BI submitted another FOIA complaint around that same time period and there has been no official opinion released from the Attorney General’s office.  But Alison May from the Delaware DOE did respond in record time with their side of the complaint, but she has before.  So why was this FOIA complaint rushed?

Below is my original request, the acknowledgment from the Attorney General’s office, the Delaware DOE’s response to the complaint, and the opinion on the FOIA complaint issued today.  As well, I am including an email that was still in draft form disputing the facts provided by Alison May in the Delaware DOE’s response.  I truly believed I had more time given the turnaround time on FOIA complaints coming out of the AG’s office but this one had a lightning fast response.  Given the below findings and other inconsistencies with their opinion, I believe this was a very rushed job they wanted to put to bed fast.  But that opens up a whole other can of worms…

Original FOIA Complaint, issued 10/11/16

From: Kevin Ohlandt [mailto:kevino3670@yahoo.com]
Sent: Tuesday, October 11, 2016 9:23 AM
To: OpenGovernment (DOJ) <OpenGovernment@state.de.us>
Subject: FOIA Complaint

 

 Good morning,

I am submitting a FOIA complaint in regards to the newly created Pathways Steering Committee.  This body came out of Executive Order #61, issued by Governor Markell on Thursday, August 11th, 2016.  While there was nothing anywhere indicating they were holding a meeting, tweets appeared on October 7th suggesting the body met as a group.  This is a state group, created by an elected official.  Yet there was no posting of the meeting or an agenda.  Attached are screen shots of the tweets posted by Mark Brainard and the Rodel Foundation of Delaware.  

I take this violation very seriously.  For a group that is supposed to be all about students, I find it ironic they would operate in secrecy with no ability for the public to attend.  This does not translate into anything close to an open government.  

Thank you,

Kevin Ohlandt

9 Crosley Court

Dover, DE 19904

On October 12th, the Delaware Attorney General acknowledged receipt of my FOIA Complaint

October 11, 2016 Correspondence Regarding the Pathways to Prosperity Steering Committee

VIA EMAIL

 

Mr. Kevin Ohlandt

9 Crosley Ct.
Dover, DE 19904
kevino@yahoo.com

RE:     October 11, 2016 Correspondence Regarding the Pathways to Prosperity Steering Committee

Dear Mr. Ohlandt:

            This will acknowledge receipt of your correspondence regarding the Pathways to Prosperity Steering Committee (the “Committee”), received on October 11, 2016, alleging certain violations of the open meetings provisions of Delaware’s Freedom of Information Act, 29 Del. C. §§ 10001-10007 (“FOIA”). We treat your correspondence as a petition for determination pursuant to 29 Del. C. § 10005.  We are forwarding your correspondence to the Committee’s counsel, asking that they respond to your allegations by October 19, 2016.  When we have received the Committee’s response, we will determine whether additional information from either party is required and decide what further action, if any, is appropriate.

Very truly yours, 

                                                                        /s/ Kim Siegel

                                                                        Kim Siegel

                                                                        FOIA Coordinator

KS/ks

cc:        Danielle Gibbs, Chief Deputy Attorney General (via email)

            Michelle E. Whalen, Deputy Attorney General (via email)

            Meredith S. Tweedie, Esq. (via email)

The Delaware Department of Education’s Response to the FOIA Complaint, 10/19/16

Issued today was the official opinion from the Delaware Attorney General’s office:

16-IB23 10/28/2016 FOIA Opinion Letter to Mr. Kevin Ohlandt re: FOIA Complaint Concerning the Pathways to Prosperity Steering Committee

This is the draft I was working on to send to the Attorney General’s office that I believed I had more time to formulate:

October 26th, 2016

Good afternoon Ms. Siegel,

In reviewing Alison May from the Dept. of Education’s response to my FOIA complaint from October 11th, in the letter provided from her on October 19th, she states the following:

…and the draft minutes of the October 7th meeting (attached hereto, along with the other documents discussed at the meeting) will be posted online by the end of this week.
In doing an extensive search this afternoon, I have not been able to see anywhere in the State of Delaware, on the Delawarepathways.org website, or any such place on the World Wide Web where Alison May’s assurance of transparency actually took place.
This attempt at a good-faith effort on the Dept. of Education’s response to the complaint seems a bit odd considering this does not exist.  And while I know the Governor is not obligated to publicly report on where he speaks publicly, the fact that no documentation exists anywhere in regards to this meeting on the internet aside from I wrote about it on Exceptional Delaware and a few tweets from those associated with this group, I find that to be very suspect.  While Ms. May states “this was an oversight on the part of the involved State agencies and organizations and not an intentional effort to circumvent FOIA requirements” in her response, the very minutes she attached to the DOE’s response indicate Luke Rhine from the Department of Education would be in charge of coordinating staffing.  And since Alison May from the Dept. of Education was the responding party for the response to the complaint, that leads me to the belief that the Delaware Dept. of Education would have been the State Agency to fulfill FOIA requirements for a public body.  Since they did not, I take issue with Ms. May’s response about not coordinating with other state agencies and do not believe that to be a true statement. In regards to the reasoning for not making this meeting public to the citizens of Delaware, a statement of “oversight” bears little meaning in the contextual framework of following state code.
In a prior FOIA complaint of mine against the Delaware Dept. of Education, #15-IB12, Danielle Gibbs, the Chief Deputy Attorney General wrote:
The DOE provided no explanation as to why the notices and agendas were posted less than seven days in advance of the meetings, and it concedes that the postings did not comply with FOIA.  The DOE also explained that no action was taken by the AFWG at either meeting.  The DOE apologized and said it would “endeavor to determine the agenda of any future AFWG meetings as of the time of any required public notice of them, and include the agenda in any such required notice.
The notices and agendas for the AFWG meetings held in September violated FOIA because they were not posted at least seven days in advance of the meeting as required by 29 Del. C. §10004(e)(2).  We find that these errors were technical violations that did not negatively affect substantial public rights.[17]  Therefore, we find that no remediation is required.”
Given that the words “substantial public rights” means no action was taken at those meetings, it was during a regulatory process for Regulation 103 where key issues concerning that regulation would have been discussed at the AFWG meetings.  So in a finding that “substantial public rights” did not apply in that situation with pending legislative action, I take issue with that.  As well, in the attached minutes from the minutes for the Pathways Steering Committee, there is talk of legislative action and a discussion with the Delaware General Assembly.
In FOIA Complaint #13-IB05, issued October 1st, 2013, citizens filed a complaint against the Charter School Reform Working Group in regards to having closed-door meetings not open to the public.  In that Attorney General opinion, it states the following:
By letters dated July 31 and August 1, 2012, the Governor extended invitations to a number of individuals to participate in the Working Group as representatives of several public bodies, including the General Assembly, the Department of Education and the State Board of Education, and various private stakeholder groups (the “Invitations”).
While that opinion was an appeal to an earlier complaint, it states the following:
On June 10, 2013, you filed this appeal seeking access to the Working Group’s meeting minutes.  We received a response on July 11, 2013.  The response indicates that the Working Group did not consider itself to be a “public body” within the meaning of section 10002(h), due primarily to the informal nature of the Working Group.

FOIA, with certain exceptions not relevant here, establishes a public right to inspect all “public records” and requires that all meetings of public bodies be open to the public.4   FOIA’s “open meeting” provisions call for advance notice to the public of all public meetings and require public bodies to prepare and make available to the public agendas for and minutes of their public meetings.5

Section 10002(h) provides substantial guidance as to the types of entities and bodies encompassed within the phrase “body of the State.”  That concept, as used in FOIA, includes, among other things, any “group . . . appointed by any . . . public official of the State” that was “impliedly or specifically charged” with making recommendations.9   The Working Group was a “body of the State” within the meaning of section 10002(h).

But the key part from this opinion rests on the following and is key to my own FOIA complaint:

First, this Office consistently has rejected arguments that FOIA’s applicability hinges on adherence to formalities in the creation of a public body, lest FOIA’s goals of openness and government accountability be subverted.14

This was where my draft ended which I fully intended on doing further research on in the next week.

Now here are my issues with the Attorney General’s response to the FOIA complaint.  First off, in Alison May’s response from the Delaware DOE, she said it was under the Delaware Dept. of Education’s control to issue the agenda.  However, in the link on the FOIA complaint, we see an Agenda created on 10/17/16, ten days after the meeting, and it was issued from Governor Markell’s office, not the Delaware DOE.  Furthermore, if this was indeed a public body, why was there no agenda item for public comment?  As well, the minutes submitted by Alison May in the DOE’s response to the FOIA complaint are actually different than those that appear on the Googledrive website.

In the original minutes, submitted with Alison May in the Delaware DOE response to my FOIA complaint, it states the following:

Dr. Brainard charged Mr. Rhine to conduct outreach to Steering Committee members to review the draft strategic plan and collect additional input;

Dr. Brainard charged Mr. Rhine to develop a transition report for partnering state agencies to be used as a transitional tool in planning for the next executive administration;

But in the minutes on the Googledrive for the steering committee, it said this:
Mr. Rhine will conduct outreach to Steering Committee members to review the draft strategic plan and collect additional input;
Mr. Rhine will develop a transition report for partnering state agencies to be used as a transitional tool in planning for the next executive administration;
While the two items look very similar on the surface, the action of taking out Dr. Brainard from the updated minutes which were created on October 24th by Luke Rhine, which the Googledrive suggests that no action was directed to Luke Rhine, the main Delaware Dept. of Education representative, when in reality it was.  This change is substantial.  The opinion issued today states that no action was taken at this meeting so the perception that no “substantial public rights” violations occurred by not making a public body meeting public is visibly changed between the two meeting minutes.  As well, if the Delaware DOE is the state entity that answered the FOIA complaint and is in charge of posting information about it, why is there absolutely nothing on the Career and Technical Education portion of their website?
We are also expected to believe the minutes and agenda they presented are accurate when they were created at the earliest, six days after the meeting, and at the latest, seventeen days after the meeting:
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As well, the response from the Attorney General’s response today shows a link to a website that was not included in the original DOE response to the complaint which means there was further communication between the Attorney General’s office and the parties to which I issued the FOIA complaint against.  In all other FOIA complaints I have submitted, I have been a party to those communications every single step of the way but not with this one.
The Deputy Attorney General who wrote this opinion, Danielle Gibbs, handled a FOIA opinion from a complaint I submitted in 2015.  She made sure I received all communication from the Delaware DOE on that every single step of the way.  But this time I guess I wasn’t so blessed.  She actually wrote in the FOIA opinion issued today:

Moreover, as you note in your Petition, certain members of the Committee published photographs of its meeting on social media either, contemporaneously or immediately following the meeting. We find this to be inconsistent with an intentional failure to adhere to FOIA’s open meetings provisions. We see no evidence of an intent – by the Governor or any other Committee member – to circumvent FOIA. Nor do we see an ongoing pattern of FOIA non-compliance which might warrant extreme remedy.

Here is a newsflash for the Attorney General’s office: having a non-profit foundation and a member of the committee post tweets about a non-transparent meeting of a public body issued by a Governor’s Executive Order, does not point either way towards an intentional failure to adhere to FOIA’s open meetings provisions.  What it shows is someone tweeting.  So to give this extra bearing in a legal opinion about something that was already established to be under the Delaware Dept. of Education’s responsibility is misleading at best.

When you go to this website, there are also extensive plans and reports, involving millions upon millions of dollars of funding.  I would think that would be crucial for the public to see.
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To see these large amounts of funds being talked about over the next three fiscal years, please go here: DE Pathways Priority 4 Funding Plan 10/6/16.  Feast your eyes on this document, created on October 6th, one day prior to the Steering Committee meeting.  Furthermore, the two entities planning this funding are not even state agencies, they are 3rd party non-profit companies: United Way of Delaware and the Rodel Foundation.
We have three entities involved with this FOIA complaint: the Delaware Dept. of Education, Governor Markell’s office, and Delaware Technical Community College.  How did the college get involved?  If you look at the Googledrive, the website is listed as:
This is a Del Tech website.  Why is Del Tech storing the minutes for this when it is supposed to be under the authority of the DOE?  And why is Markell’s office issuing the agenda (ten days after the fact)?  When I do a Google search for the past month using “pathways” “steering committee” “dtcc” and “minutes”, nothing comes up on the search.  So how would anyone be able to find these minutes without seeing them in a response to a FOIA complaint?  Even if I take out “dtcc” and replace it with “Delaware” nothing comes up.  Furthermore, there is nothing in the meeting minutes even discussing minutes or where these minutes were to be stored for public consumption.  I believe this to be a very sloppy response from all parties involved and further contend this Pathways Steering Committee is not making a good faith effort with transparency.  By allowing this public body to be open to the public, all three parties involved seemed to have communicated extensively with each other after I filed a FOIA complaint.  I will also add that additional communication provided by the other parties to the Delaware Attorney General’s office needs to be provided to me by the Delaware Attorney General’s office post haste.  The Attorney General opinion states it reviewed the website of the Steering Committee but the only way they would have been able to review that was by getting a link for it.  Since there is no viable way to search for this Steering Committee through internet search engines, I contend they were given this website by someone involved with it.
This Pathways Steering Committee, that is making gigantic decisions about students, in secondary and post-secondary setting, with plans for huge amounts of money at state and local levels, is all about substantial public rights.  When the General Assembly decided not to move forward with the Pathways Steering Committee as sponsored by Senator David Sokola with Senate Bill 277, Governor Markell took it upon himself to issue an Executive Order to create this committee.  When our Governor doesn’t get his way with the General Assembly, it seems he has the authority to bypass that with Executive Orders.
What is the point of a FOIA complaint if the Delaware Department of Justice, under the control of the Delaware Attorney General, has no ability to do anything substantial or with any consequences in regards to a FOIA complaint?  Why did they rush through the opinion on this FOIA Complaint without really checking into everything?  Why was there (in my view) an intentional attempt to lock me out of communication concerning this FOIA complaint when that has not happened in the past?  These are the things I want answers for, as well as Delaware Attorney General Matt Denn himself to issue a statement that this public body has to reconvene their October 7th meeting so the public is well aware of this Steering Committee that is deciding the future of thousands of Delaware students with significant amounts of taxpayer funds.
Updated, 4:53pm, 10/28/16: Since I finished this article, I can now see on the Delaware DOE website where they did a link to this on their website.  But it is filled with completely wrong information, as seen below.  First off, this is not a “task force”, it is a “steering committee”.  Second, it was not passed into law on June 14th, 2016 through Senate Bill 277.  It became law through Governor Markell’s Executive Order #61, issued on August 11th, 2016.  Senate Bill 277 was released from the Senate Education Committee on June 15th, 2016, but it never came up for a vote with the full Senate and the bill died as of the end of the 148th General Assembly on July 1st, 2016.
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FOIA Complaint: Delaware Pathways To Prosperity Steering Committee Holds Back-Door Meeting With Governor Markell

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I have no doubt they are working together.  But the sad part is no one else seems to be invited to the party…

Delaware Governor Jack Markell created a Delaware Pathways To Prosperity Steering Committee on August 11th of this year.  On Friday, October 7th, the steering committee convened with no notice to the public.  As well, there is no announcement of the membership of this committee.  I was only able to find out about this non-transparent meeting by sheer luck in looking at Rodel’s tweets yesterday.  What kind of steering committee, charged with decisions on how to help students become “career-ready”, operates in secret?

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The road to this steering committee was controversial to begin with.  Delaware Senator David Sokola created legislation to begin this committee in the form of Senate Bill 277, but it never made it to a full Senate vote.  Governor Markell went ahead anyway and created this steering committee after objections from Delaware legislators.  And now they are violating FOIA by holding back-door and closed to the public meetings.  Even Governor Markell attended the first meeting but you won’t find notice of this on his public schedule.  Why would he when the group didn’t seem to care if the public went.

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I filed a FOIA complaint with the Department of Justice ten minutes ago.  Why do these things happen whenever Rodel gets involved?  The same thing happened with the Rodel initiated Competency-Based Learning Guiding Coalition which operated in secret two years ago.  Can we expect this same type of secrecy with our next Governor?  What gives this group the right to discuss student and education matters with no involvement from the public?  What gives them the right to make decisions on what is best for children and teenagers without the ability for the public to view and give public comment about their ideas?  This is not open government.  This is a cabal of people with their own agendas, guiding society towards what they want, not the will of the people.  This nonsense needs to stop immediately.  People in this state actually wonder why I find it so hard to trust.  This is a classic example of why I find it impossible to trust anything associated with Governor Markell and Rodel.

In the above picture, I see Dr. Paul Herdman with Rodel, State Board of Education President Dr. Teri Quinn Gray, Director of Career & Technical Education STEM Initiatives Luke Rhine, Del-Tech President Dr. Mark Brainard, and New Castle County Vo-Tech Superintendent Victoria Gehrt.  I’ve seen some of the other faces before but if anyone else can fill in the blanks that would be most appreciated.  Feel free to leave the names in the comments.

Epic Fail of the Week: Afterschool Task Force Holds First Meeting In The Morning

For a task force created to discuss issues surrounding the Statewide Afterschool Initiative Learning, it would stand to reason that many students would participate in an afterschool program because their parents are working.  Logic would dictate that if you were going to have public meetings about such an initiative, they would be held in the evening when working parents could attend.  But not with this task force!  They had their first meeting this morning at 9am.  Today was also the second day of school for most Delaware students.

And who is on this task force?  Obviously not too many working parents who should be the primary stakeholders on a group like this.  Or was that intentional?

SAILTaskForceMembership

Jack Polidori is with the National Education Association, Jim Kelly is with YMCA, Michelle Taylor is with United Way, Richard Heffron is with the Delaware Chamber of Commerce, John Fisher-Klein is from the Newark Day Nursery & Children’s Center, Sheila Bravo is from the Delaware Alliance for Non-Profit Advancement, and Carol Scott is with the University of Delaware.  And we have Rep. Valerie Longhurst and Senator Nicole Poore.  And regular parents?  Nope, not on this task force.  Shut out again!

This was their agenda:

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Teacher Evaluation Bill Will Be Heard In Senate Education Committee On Wednesday

I was told by many people there would be no Senate Education Committee meeting next week.  That appears to have changed since an agenda is up, and House Bill 399 is on it!  The meeting will be on Wednesday at 2:3opm in the Senate Majority Caucus Room (first floor, behind the Senate Chamber).  If you are an educator in Delaware who has some free time, I would strongly suggest attending and lending your support.  The bell will start ringing at 3:00pm for the full Senate to convene in session.  So if you want to give public comment, I would suggest using your time wisely but also giving full support of the teacher evaluation bill.

Thank you Senator Sokola for making this happen.  Sokola tends to add legislation at the last minute.  It is my sincere hope that his and Kim William’s charter audit bill (House Bill 435) appears on the Senate Education Committee agenda.  Both bills got unanimous votes in the House last week.

Will The WEIC Redistricting Plan Die In The House Education Committee Next Week?

That was quick!  In the same day the WEIC redistricting plan turns into pending legislation, the bill is also placed on the House Education Committee agenda for next week!  I’m not sure what this fast-track means.  But we are well into May and the General Assembly finishes up on June 30th.  But there are some other potentially controversial bills on the agenda as well!

House Joint Resolution #12, the now famous Wilmington Education Improvement Commission redistricting bill introduced today, turns all the WEAC and WEIC recommendations into a bill.  The WEIC did what they had to do, the State Board of Education finally passed it in March, now it is the General Assembly’s turn.  This is where this bill could either move forward or actually die in committee.  While you can’t go by who the sponsors are on a bill, it is a good sign of who will definitely say yes when it comes up for a vote.  But with this bill being so Wilmington and New Castle County specific, it would stand to assume that those who are legislators up there and support the redistricting would sponsor the bill.  The House Education Committee has 14 members.  The following members are sponsors on the bill: Jaques, Bentz, Bolden, Lynn, Osienski, and Potter.  Red Clay legislators Kim Williams (Democrat), Joseph Miro (Republican) and Michael Ramone (Republican), who also serve on the committee, are not sponsors on the bill.  There are no House Republican sponsors whatsoever on the bill.  Which leads me to believe (and this is only speculation on my part) none of them will support this.  Which also takes Dukes, Hensley, and Kenton off the yes list.  That leaves two other Democrats on the House Education Committee who aren’t sponsors on the bill but also come from the Wilmington area: Sean Matthews and Deb Heffernan.  Both of them did not vote on Senate Bill 122 when it had the full House vote last June, along with Mike Ramone.  So this bill could die in committee with 6 yes and 8 no. Specifically, the bill would be tabled.

Once again, this is merely speculation on my part and I have not heard anything from anyone on this.  I imagine Kim Williams could be swayed if House Bill 30 were also given equal merit and taken out of the appropriations committee.  But it would still face a full House vote.  If it passed then, it would go to the Senate Education Committee, and if released from there it would be up for a full Senate vote.  That is a lot of variables.  If I that were my bargaining chip, I wouldn’t cash it in until House Bill 30 is signed by the Governor!  But it still needs a majority vote.

To get out of the House Education Committee, House rules state:

Bills and resolutions shall be reported out of committee by a majority of the committee or subcommittee by signing the backer. A bill or resolution may be tabled in any committee or subcommittee by a majority vote of the full committee or subcommittee.

This is assuming everyone attends the committee meeting as well.  I could picture some members who don’t want to be put in a position of killing the WEIC bill to just not show up!  It wouldn’t be the first time.  But this is also an election year.  If the majority of the constituents in your district don’t support WEIC and the bill winds up passing, an absent from committee could potentially change an election if it ticks off enough voters.  This chess game could get a checkmate next week!

But there are other bills on the agenda as well:

A somewhat odd school choice bill would give priority to students who have certain medical conditions.  House Bill 229 states “if a parent, relative, guardian or caregiver can demonstrate that they would be able to respond quicker to an emergency at the selected school, the student will receive a priority consideration.”  This one could open a big old can of worms!

The Restorative Justice Senate Bill 207 which seeks to reduce suspensions unless it is for fighting, drug offenses are other such serious infractions has a lot of support.  The bill would also put restorative justice techniques in Delaware schools.  But with the recent Howard High School tragedy, I wouldn’t be surprised to see an amendment or two tacked on this one!

House Bill 355, which was just filed on Tuesday, would make computer science a mandatory course in high school and the credit would go towards the math or science graduation requirements.  When I put this up the other day, many folks on Facebook were shocked this wasn’t already a requirement.  I expect this will get a quick release without a lot of discussion.

If I know the WEIC crowd, this will be a packed House (literally) next week.  Especially after this article comes out!  As I said yesterday, get there early!