Appoquinimink To Create Safety Task Force Due To Incident Yesterday

Appoquinimink Superintendent Matt Burrows sent an email to parents minutes ago giving more detail about the district’s role in the handgun incident yesterday at Middletown High School.  I will certainly give Burrows credit for fully owning up to the omission of details in his parent letter yesterday as those facts seem to have been discovered by the Delaware State Police after he sent out the parent letter.  While I am not a member of the MOT Residents Facebook page, I understand parents have been going off on there all day long about the differences between the parent letter and the Delaware State Police press release.  I just have one question, and it is a big one: who discovered the student pulled out the gun on another student?  Was it the district or the State Police?  I posted my article about those differences less than two hours ago.

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Appo Superintendent Matt Burrows Failed To Disclose Student Pointed Handgun At Student In Parent Letter

The Delaware State Police issued a press release today about the arrest of Tymere Moore, an 18 year old Middletown High School student in Appoquinimink School District.  It gives much more information than the statement Appoquinimink Superintendent Matt Burrows sent to parents yesterday.  Including the very disturbing fact that the student actually pulled out the handgun and pointed it at another student.  The primary charge in the arrest was for brandishing a handgun.  Which was not mentioned in Burrows’ parent letter at all. Continue reading “Appo Superintendent Matt Burrows Failed To Disclose Student Pointed Handgun At Student In Parent Letter”

Gun Found In Student’s Bag At Middletown High School In Appoquinimink Today

Following a break-up of a potential fight, a handgun was found in a student’s bag at Middletown High School in the Appoquinimink School District earlier today.  Sadly, this came shortly after news broke out of another school shooting.  The shooting in Santa Fe, Texas killed nine students and a teacher.  While I salute the staff at Middletown High for defusing this situation very fast, it is indicative of potential threats in our schools.  I’ve been told by other educators that weapons are brought into schools constantly but they are rarely found.  I fully support metal detectors in ALL of our schools.  Is it a burden?  Yes.  But Delaware does not want to be on the news for innocent students being gunned down.  Hats off to Superintendent Matt Burrows for letting parents know this went down as well!  Earlier reports in the day addressed a situation but it wasn’t until Burrows released the letter about the gun being found that I felt it was appropriate to post this.

 

Charter Nepotism At ASPIRA & DAPSS

Delaware Academy of Public Safety and Security will have a new Director of Instruction as of July 1st.  Deborah Panchisin resigned as an Executive Director of Instruction at Appoquinimink School District last month, effective July 1st.  Greg Panchisin is the Chief Operating Officer at Las Americas ASPIRA Academy.  Greg and Deborah Panchisin are married.  Margie Lopez-Waite is the Head of School at Las Americas ASPIRA.  Margie Lopez-Waite is the current President of DAPSS’ board.  Margie Lopez-Waite is slated to be the next Head of School at Delaware Academy of Public Safety & Security.  Margie Lopez-Waite proudly boasted of having someone lined up to take over the position of Director of Instruction a few months ago at a Charter School Accountability Committee meeting when DAPSS was under formal review.

This is what happens when anyone is allowed to insert themselves into a leadership role at a charter school.  They cause chaos and use personal connections to hire who they want and who cares if it is a very personal connection.  Because they are two different schools, it is not against the law.  But it is certainly a manipulative and scummy move.  Please continue to tell me this is “for the students”.  Margie Lopez-Waite played the Charter School Accountability Committee and the State Board of Education.  And Secretary Bunting.  And they fell for it hook, line and sinker.

The Panchisins make a combined income of $245,000 in their current roles.  Deborah Panchisin makes $136k at Appoquinimink.  Greg Panchisin makes $109k at ASPIRA.  Say she gets a pay cut for her role at DAPSS.  They would still most likely be making a combined income well over $200k.  I imagine that handling instruction for 200 students as opposed to many more at Appo would be less work.  Less stress.

This is Delaware…

Appoquinimink School District Salaries Over $100,000

The first in the FOIA series about districts and charters with employees making over $100,000 in annual salary goes to Appoquinimink School District.  Located in the Middletown/Odessa/Townsend part of Delaware, Appo is one of the fastest growing districts in the state.  Four years ago, they had 31 employees making over $100,000.  They now have 54.  Much of this is due to the huge increase in student enrollment and new schools in the district.  Things change with funding once you get past that 10,000 mark with student count because four years ago they had 9,750 students in the district. Continue reading “Appoquinimink School District Salaries Over $100,000”

Carney Cremates Christina

If you thought the arrow Delaware Governor John Carney shot through Christina School District’s heart was bad, you haven’t seen anything yet!  Plans are afoot.  And what will be left standing after Carney does his coup d’état will shock everyone! Continue reading “Carney Cremates Christina”

Updated: Bomb Threat Cleared At Appoquinimink High School On First Day Of School But Student Taken By Helicopter Due To “Long Fall”

Updated, 2:53pm: The Delaware State Police cleared the bomb threat around 11am.  But a student had to be taken by a medical helicopter due to injuries sustained by a “long fall” according to this article from First State Update.

The first day of school. A time for renewal and transition, not bomb threats. But that happened this morning at Appoquinimink High School. Parents were alerted right away by the district’s Public Information Officer, Lilian Miles. What the alert didn’t provide was information on where the student were evacuated too. This is no joking matter and I sincerely hope this was just a prank and not something more serious. If it was a prank, and the perp is caught, that is a federal crime. I also hope this isn’t a return to the national string of bomb threats America faced in 2015.

Updated with other information about what happened in the district today:

Christina Board Passes MOU With New Castle County School Districts With No Public Input

The Christina School District Board of Education passed a controversial motion to send the same funds going to charter schools (from the infamous settlement) to all traditional New Castle County School Districts (except for NCC Vo-Tech).  The Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) would bind Christina School District to sending the same funds they agreed upon in the charter school settlement to Red Clay Consolidated, Brandywine, Colonial, Appoquinimink, and Smyrna School Districts.  The price tag for this year will be $350,000 but this is a “forever” contract so those funds will go to those districts for students choicing out of Christina to those districts forever.  But another motion, that would have allowed for public comment on the issue, failed.  Board member John Young summed up the meeting in three paragraphs earlier this morning on Facebook.  Newly sworn-in board member Angela Mitchell abstained from both votes.

Last night, Christina School District BOE motioned to settle with Red Clay, Brandywine, Appoquinimink, Smryna and Colonial for $350K + this year and each year in the future forever pursuant to the charter school settlement. The meeting was at Sarah Pyle Academy at 7PM.

It was moved to approve the settlement MOU. Then it was moved to be voted on at the 6.13.17 meeting so the public could comment more fully. There was debate. Board members indicated that public opinion would have NO SWAY in their vote. The vote to vote on 6.13.17 was defeated 2 YES, 4 NO, 1 Abstention. Then the vote to approve handing over CSD monies without input from the public was approved 5 YES, 1 NO, 1 abstention. Of course all votes were public, but if you want details feel free to PM me. I am reeling from shock that board members and key employee(s) deliberately and intentionally told the taxpayers to go to hell with regards to their input. My disappointment extends beyond the board and includes CSD employees and the Supers of all NCC schools and Smyrna SD. An unreal night, I assure you.

I hope there is VOCIFEROUS public comment on 6.13.17 to protest the way the board operated tonight.

I always hated the settlement with the charters.  But, let us all hope this is the last song on this record…

Proposed MOU Between Christina and Red Clay, Appo, Brandywine, Colonial, and Smyrna Over Referendum Funds From 2003

As I wrote the other night, Red Clay, Appoquinimink and Brandywine want their share of the local funds for choice students from Christina stemming from the charter school settlement with Christina last fall.  It looks like Colonial and Smyrna have now jumped in as well.  The Christina Board of Education will hold a special board meeting on May 24th to discuss this issue.  The below document shows how much it would cost Christina if approved.

Red Clay, Brandywine, & Appoquinimink Go After Christina For The Same Bling The Charters Got In Settlement

Christina School District is about to get screwed again!  But not by the charters this time.  This time it is districts who should be their allies!

Okay, time to let the cat out of the bag.  A month ago, and if you blinked you missed it, the Christina Board of Education discussed and voted no on the Chief Financial Officer of their district negotiating a Memorandum of Understanding between Christina, Red Clay, Appoquinimink and Brandywine.  The MOU would have given authority to the CFO of Christina to send those local funds to the three other districts for students that choice to those districts out of Christina.  The board said no.  Look for a special board meeting sometime next week.  From what I’m hearing, now the Superintendents of the districts (all four) want to have the MOU between them.  Welcome to Christina Richard Gregg!

That’s what happens when you open Pandora’s Box like that with that stupid settlement between Christina and the charters.  I’m talking to you four Christina board members who voted FOR the settlement and then voted against rescinding the settlement a week later.  Did I not distinctly hear that it would set a precedent?  That it would come back to bite them in the ass?  I know I said it.  I believe a few others did as well.  Karma truly is a vengeful and mean bitch.

Do I have anything against Brandywine, Appo, or Red Clay for going after these funds?  I don’t know.  The timing sucks.  And how soon until Colonial jumps on the train?  All this happened because, supposedly, according to some commenter named Elizabeth, Jack Markell had some secret deal with Lillian Lowery and Christina when she became Secretary of Education.  The way I’ve heard it, Lowery was involved in a lawsuit when she became Secretary and Captain Jack wanted it all hush-hush so all sorts of crazy crap happened.  I heard that from someone who used to be on the board who hasn’t been too quiet about it over the past year or so.  Funny how stuff gets out in The First State.

So what happens if Christina’s board says no again?  Will the big three (and possibly Colonial) get their feathers in a twist and file a lawsuit against Christina as well?  My gut tells me Christina’s board will be forced to vote yes because of the precedent set in the charter settlement.  So last week, the board announced they will be laying off 44 or so teachers.  Will this cause that number to rise?  And how the hell does their CFO Robert Silber still have a job there?

How much money are we talking?  I don’t think it would be as much as the cha-ching the charters got, but it will leave a mark on their budget.  At this point, anything more is suck city.  Here’s a novel idea… how about going after Jack Markell and Lillian Lowery for their side deals that went on.  Better catch Jack quick before he goes on his Forrest Gump tour of America!  Yeah, like that will ever happen.  Captain Jack seems to have some special immunity shield around him.  It’s a special kind, where you screw things up for eight years and you get to go biking into the Pacific sunset.

Education never gets boring in this state.  But this will not be a joking matter for the teachers and staff in Christina School District.  These are good people who have been the victim of these education funding games for many years now.  Throw in priority schools and the constant labeling and shaming of the district.  I feel bad for all the districts right now.  Students and teachers should not be the sacrificial targets because the adults in charge can’t get their shit together.  Sorry to be so blunt, but I’m really getting sick of it.

Here’s the kicker!  I submitted a FOIA to the Delaware Auditor of Accounts office a couple of weeks ago.  This is what I asked for:

Please provide, in PDF format, all reports, letters, guidance, or inspections for any Delaware school district, vocational school district, or charter school generated by the Office of the Auditor of Accounts that is not listed on the Auditor of Accounts website for fiscal years 2014, 2015, and 2016. This would include any of the above listed documents sent to members of the General Assembly, the Delaware Department of Education, the Office of Management and Budget, Office of the Controller General, or the Office of Management and Budget that would be considered a public document 29 Del. C. Paragraph 10002(1).

Wanna know what I got?  Bupkis, that’s what!  I got the petty cash letters sent to a handful of charters last year along with the letters about that specific situation sent to various state agencies.  For three fiscal years!

Wanna know what that means?  The Auditor of Accounts office is NOT auditing ANY school district unless it is an investigation based on something submitted on their tip line.  Which means that office is breaking the law.  But the General Assembly won’t give them the funds to do their job as required by Delaware State Law (which the General Assembly does: create laws).  So who do we take to court?  The Auditor of Accounts office or the General Assembly?  Who is tracking where the hell education funds actually go?  NO ONE!  Except myself and Jack Wells it looks like.  But yeah, let’s layoff teachers and make classrooms into sardine cans while people in district offices are making over $100,000 in salary.  Cause that makes a lot of fucking sense!  Let’s keep paying for state testing and all these one-to-on devices so we can just weed out teachers and turn education into a reformer wonderland!  as I said, I’m getting tired of all this nonsense.  And if I were a teacher, I would be too!  If I were a parent (which I am) I would be shouting this from the rooftops: Stop screwing over our schools!  And when I say schools, that primarily means the students and teachers.  That is the heart of it all.

Exceptional Delaware Endorsements For 2017 School Board Candidates

Now that all the surveys are up, it is time for endorsements!  I’ve known who I was going to endorse in a few elections for some time.  Some I changed my mind on.  Some I have always known who I would NOT endorse.  Some I wavered back and forth on.  Some races won’t get an endorsement from me at all.  I don’t always go with the “popular” candidate.  I look, as best I can, at the issues facing education and which candidate is willing to stick their neck out and do what is best for students.  The biggest thing is if the candidate knows what the issues are.  Without further ado, here come the endorsements: Continue reading “Exceptional Delaware Endorsements For 2017 School Board Candidates”

Delaware School Board Election 2017 Surveys: Appoquinimink

First off, I want to apologize.  I should have had the remaining surveys up on Friday morning.  What happened?  Life.  It happens!  But my apologies to the remaining respondents who took the time to diligently answer my 14 question survey.  I do have one more district to cover after this one.  I should have that up shortly.  In this round, we have Appoquinimink.  The candidates are incumbent board member Charlisa Edlin, Keinna McKnight, and Trevor Tucker.  Only one of the candidates responded to my survey.  Which one? Continue reading “Delaware School Board Election 2017 Surveys: Appoquinimink”

Will Delaware Republicans Try To Paint The Wall Red In 10th Senate District Special Election?

The upcoming special election for the 10th Senate District just got very interesting.  As we all know, Bethany Hall-Long will vacate her Senate seat when she is appointed Lieutenant Governor of Delaware.  In February or March, a special election will take place for her seat.  I put up some possible contenders for the seat in an article last Friday.  I assumed the Delaware GOP party would pick John Marino as the Republican frontrunner for Hall-Long’s seat.  But from what I’m hearing today, a new name is being given serious thought on the Republican side… Continue reading “Will Delaware Republicans Try To Paint The Wall Red In 10th Senate District Special Election?”

Appoquinimink Having a Holly Jolly December 20th Education Showcase… Wait, Isn’t That The Day Of…

Merry Christmas Appo Citizens!  Santa is not only bringing you a potential tax increase on December 20th, but while you are voting on the referendum, you can also go to the Education Showcase at ALL the Appo schools!  The timing on this couldn’t be more of a coincidence!  I am like, totally, for sure, sure some wires got crossed here.  A school district would NEVER plan events around a referendum.  That just doesn’t happen.

Education Showcase: December 20
Hands-on curriculum-based activities, performances, lessons and special programs showcasing innovative practices across the Appoquinimink School District.  Activities will vary by school.
Time, Location: Offered at all schools. Times vary.
Contact: Raymond.Gravuer@appo.k12.de.us

Appoquinimink Having A Holly Jolly December 20th Referendum

Merry Christmas Appo Citizens!  Santa might bring you a tax increase for the holidays!  Appoquinimink School District is holding a referendum for capital projects and operational increases on December 20th, from 10am to 8pm.  The State of Delaware approved their request.  I find December 20th to be a very odd date for a referendum.  People are getting ready for the holidays and celebrating.

The capital cost part of the referendum will call for the following:

A new High School and Middle School at the Fairview Campus

A new Elementary School at Whitehall

Renovating and expanding Silver Lake Elementary School

Rebuilding and expanding Everett Meredith Middle School

If the referendum passes, the state will pay 75% of the costs and Appoquinimink will pay 25% out of the referendum tax increase.  As well, they are also having a second part of the referendum to deal with operational costs in the following areas:

Enhancement and replacement of instructional technology

Staff recruitment and retention

Operating expenses associated with enrollment growth

The referendum would see taxpayers in the district paying an average of $17.36 more a month in school taxes based on an average assessed home price of $88,500.00.  Keep in mind, this is the assessed value of a home and not the actual value of the home. I find the new elementary school at Whitehall to be ironic given that the Delaware State Board of Education approved a charter school at that location but the Mapleton at Whitehall Charter School board decided to try their luck in Dover but then gave up unexpectedly and turned in their charter.

What The Hell Is This Appo? Data Freaks Much?

A parent of an Appo student sent me this.  This is the parental consent form for free and reduced lunch.  It’s like the ESEA Flexibility Waivers… “I’ll give you this, but in return I need this and this and this and this…”  Parents, watch what you are signing and do research on how much personal data you are allowing to go out about your child.  Because even if you trust the district, they are putting that information on grant applications, which go out to other agencies.  At that point, the federal law that is meant to “protect” student data, allows that information to go out to other education “research” companies.  Nothing in this world is free.

appoconsentform

Delaware Competency-Based Education, Part 1: Rodel, DOE & Achieve Inc. Team-Up

Personalized Learning, as a concept, has been around since the 1960’s.  In its original form, it was an effort to personalize learning between a teacher and a student.  Students don’t always learn at the same pace.  The term has been bastardized by corporate education reformers over the past five years.  Their idea is to launch a technology boom in the classroom where investors and ed-tech companies will get tons of money.  To do this, they had to use education “think-tanks” and foundations to sway the conversation towards this lucrative gold-mine.  No one has been a bigger supporter of personalized learning in Delaware than the Rodel Foundation.  They began talking about this new and exciting education reform movement as early as November, 2011.  A company called Digital Learning Now! released their 2011 report card on different states ability to transform into a digital learning environment and Delaware scored poorly on their report.  According to this Rodel article on the report written by Brett Turner (the link to the report card doesn’t exist anymore), Turner wrote:

…the initial results are not promising, demonstrating that we have significant work ahead of us before the necessary policies are in place to ensure our students benefit from high-quality next generation learning opportunities.

Digital Learning Now! was an initiative of the Foundation for Excellence in Education.  Other digital “experts” the company thanks in their 2012 report include the Alliance for Excellent Education, the Data Quality Campaign, iNACOL, SETDA, Chiefs for Change, Getting Smart, and the Innosight Institute.  The Foundation for Excellence in Education was founded by Jeb Bush in 2008, just as Common Core was in its formation stages.  In the Rodel article, Turner talks about how Delaware needs to adapt to this environment so our students can succeed.

Over the next two and a half years, as Race to the Top became more of a nightmare than a promise of better education, Rodel began to take steps to have Delaware become a part of this next big thing.  They formed the Rodel Teacher Council to recruit well-intentioned teachers to join their personalized learning dream team.  I don’t see these teachers as evil but rather teachers who are easily manipulated and coerced into being connected with the “next big thing”.  I see them as unwitting pawns of Rodel.

Rodel didn’t write much about personalized learning too much during this time, but they did release a Personalized Learning 101 flyer in 2013.  At the same time, four Delaware districts formed BRINC: Brandywine, Indian River, New Castle County Vo-Tech, and Colonial.  Using funds from Race To the Top and a Delaware DOE “innovation grant”, the districts used Schoology and Modern Teacher to usher Delaware into the digital learning age.  Rodel’s blog posts about personalized learning didn’t touch on the concept again until February, 2014 when a Rodel employee by the name of Matthew Korobkin began writing posts about digital learning.  More followed by other Rodel employees in the coming months.  At this time, Dr. Paul Herdman of Rodel was palling around with an ed-tech company called 2Revolutions and went around Delaware talking to groups about the glory of personalized learning.

In the beginning of June in 2014, Rachel Chan with the Rodel Foundation attended a seminar in Washington D.C. on personalized learning sponsored by iNACOL.  She wrote about this extensively on the Rodel website.

Later that month, the United States Department of Education released their state reports on special education in America.  Delaware received a rating of “needs intervention”, prompting Governor Jack Markell to set aside funding in the state budget for a special education “Strategic Plan”.  What no one knew until recently was this plan consisted of hiring Korobkin away from Rodel and into Secretary of Education Mark Murphy’s office to put this plan together.

Later in the summer of 2014, the Delaware Department of Education, with the Rodel Foundation of Delaware, banded together to form a clandestine group of “stakeholders” to look at competency-based education in a personalized learning environment in Delaware.  The biggest hurdle in getting this going in Delaware was the barriers in the state code.  Their were many players in this non-public group, including members of the Rodel Teacher Council who were also working on a “Personalized Learning Blueprint” at the same time.  This group shaped the future of education in Delaware.  But they used people to do so, including some of the members of this group.

The timing for this group couldn’t have come at a better time.  There were many distractions happening that allowed them to fly under the radar with no one the wiser.  Invitations were sent out to select participants from Theresa Bennett at the Delaware DOE.  She was an Education Specialist for English/Language Arts in the Curriculum, Instruction and Professional Development area of the DOE.  She was the person who scheduled all the meetings.  An introductory webinar, sponsored by Achieve Inc., was held on August 14th, 2014.

After an explanation of competency-based education and personalized learning from some folks at Achieve Inc., they opened the webinar up for questions.  At the 30:07 mark on the video, Appoquinimink Superintendent Matt Burrows explained his district already began the process for personalized learning.  He mentioned several hurdles, especially the teachers’ union.  Next came Judi Coffield, the former Head of School at Early College High School, a charter school run through Delaware State University.  Coffield asked how Carniege units and high school grades would come into play with this.  Bennett explained what role the DOE played in this and how she and Rachel Chan from the Rodel Foundation were going to run the group.  Bennett went on to explain that select allies were invited to participate in this group.  She also talked about a meeting with Achieve Inc. in Washington D.C. in May of 2014 to pave a path forward.

Bennett did a roll call of who was participating in the webinar.  Jose Aviles, the director of admissions at the University of Delaware, was not on the call.  Bennett explains how Aviles accompanied her to the Achieve Inc. meeting.  “Is there a representative from Delaware PTA on the call?”  No response.  “Is Donna Johnson on the call?”  Silence.  “Kim Joyce from Del-Tech?”  Nothing.  “Pat Michle from Developmental Disabilities Council?”  Empty air.  She added Laurie Rowe and Stanley Spoor with Howard High School of Technology would be joining them.  Susan Haberstroh with the Delaware DOE joined later in the Webinar.

Rodel and Markell knew they needed to stage a distraction to further this personalized learning agenda away from prying eyes while at the same time steering the conversation towards their end goals by using the distraction.  They knew one of these distractions would automatically happen based on federal mandates from the US DOE, but the other would need careful planning and coördination.  The first drove the need for the second.

A few weeks later, Governor Markell and then Secretary of Education Mark Murphy announced the six priority schools in Wilmington.  The DOE picked the six “lowest-performing” schools in Wilmington, DE and announced the two school districts involved, Red Clay and Christina, would have to sign a “memorandum of understanding” and submit to the demands of the Delaware DOE.  This put the entire city into an educational tailspin.  Teachers in the affected schools felt outrage at the Governor and the DOE.  Parents didn’t know what this meant.  Politicians scrambled to make sense of it all as primaries and general elections faced them while constituents furiously called them.  Teachers in Delaware were still reeling from the upcoming Smarter Balanced Assessment and the scores tied into their evaluations.  Meanwhile, the secret meetings of the Delaware Department of Education Competency-Based Learning Guiding Coalition began without any public notice as an email went out from Bennett…

Thank you for your interest in the Competency-Based Learning Guiding Coalition.  If you were unable to attend the informational webinar, please use this link to access the recording:   http://www.achieve.org/DelawareCBLwebinar  

The Guiding Coalition will be charged with laying the foundation for competency-based learning in Delaware. This will include creating a working definition of competency-based learning and what it could look like in Delaware, understanding current barriers to implementing CBL in Delaware, and establishing support for CBL initiatives to take root in the state. Once we have a common understanding of CBL, we will surface key ideas and develop recommended strategies for helping CBL take shape in the state.

The time commitment for the Advisory Group of the Guiding Coalition will be attending approximately two or three 2-hour meetings during the coming school year, with 30-60 minutes of pre-work for each meeting. There will also be opportunities to engage further through optional readings, school visits, webinars, and other convenings if your schedule/level of interest allows.

We are excited to share that an expert facilitator will be guiding each of our meetings; we would like to collect information to inform our meeting agendas.  Please complete the following survey by September 10th:  https://www.surveymonkey.com/s/DECompetency-BasedLearning.  

Please complete a Doodle to help us best schedule the meetings for this group.  We hope to begin late September/early October, with meetings held in Dover. Responses to the Doodle poll will help us find the best day/time for the first meeting. Please use this link: http://doodle.com/mts6ncf74v77mnf

Best,

Theresa

Theresa Bennett

Education Associate, ELA

Curriculum, Instruction, and Professional Development

Delaware Department of Education

401 Federal Street, Suite #2

Dover, DE 19901-3639

Coming up in Part 2: Delaware gets Marzanoed

Schools In Delaware Get Ugly By Using SBAC Scores Or Opt Out To Deny Student Access To AP Classes

In the past week, I have heard from several parents in our state that their children are not getting into AP or advanced classes based on either their Smarter Balanced scores or the fact that their parents opted them out of the test.  This is a horrible idea.  Some of these students are straight A students.  What the hell is wrong with these Principals and Superintendents who are making these foolish decisions?  While I won’t name schools or districts due to the privacy of these families, I think these actions are abusive on unheard of levels.

Depression

When did Smarter Balanced become the barometer of student success in Delaware?   The sole purpose of this test is to understand where our children compare to each other, so we can reduce the so-called achievement gaps.  Now it is turning into a punitive measurement tool and it is affecting many lives.  What kind of sick and twisted crap is this?  Who is mandating this?  Is it the Delaware DOE or the districts themselves?  The Smarter Balanced Assessment is a fraudulent test.  It is horrible and how anyone can think this test in any way should decide what classes a student takes needs to take a look at what true education is all about.

Thecryingboy

We are gearing our kids toward this ridiculous notion of “rigor” at a very early age in Delaware.  I get that children need to read at earlier ages.  But the way we are going about it, by taking away play time and stripping these innocent children from the very creativity which allows them to grow as a human being is truly sad.

UpsetTeenager

Every single parent of a Delaware student this is happening to needs to be very loud and vocal.  They need to tell the school Principal this is unacceptable.  If the Principal doesn’t bend, go to the Superintendent.  If the Superintendent doesn’t bend, go to the School Board.  Go to the State Board of Education.  Go to the media.  Write letters to the editor of your local newspapers, Delaware State News, and the News Journal.  Spread this to everyone you know on Facebook and other social media.  Email your friends and family about this.  Nothing in Delaware ever changes unless the people speak.  And on this issue, parents MUST speak.  And for those parents who don’t have kids in AP classes, if they are doing this to those students, just imagine how they are classifying other kids.  The best thing you can all do is opt out in mass numbers to make this waste of a test invalid.  That is the greatest option to end the destruction of public education.  You need to advocate for your child.  You are their parent.  If they are a victim of this insane testing abuse, you have to speak up for them.  Do not believe the lies far too many schools, districts, education non-profits like Rodel, and certain legislators are telling you.

It’s bad enough the Delaware DOE endorses ethical trickery with parents who try to opt their kids out.  It’s bad enough the Smarter Balanced Assessment students take isn’t the same test for every student (which in my mind makes this test worth less than fools gold).  But now we have this.  This is a state assessment.  Not a district mandated, or even school related assessment.  It was created by the state for state usage.  It should have absolutely no bearing on a student’s classroom progress.  Using Smarter Balanced as a competency-based model of student achievement is not a good idea at all.

crying-girl1

Can you imagine how students feel, who try their best in school, only to be victimized because of a once a year test?  The heartbreak they feel, like they just aren’t good enough.  This is what Delaware education has become, a travesty of epic proportions.  We have turned the Smarter Balanced Assessment into the center of education.  If it isn’t data walls, it’s accountability.  If it isn’t libraries closing for weeks at a time, it is teacher evaluations based on this wretched test.  If it isn’t state special education ratings from the feds, it’s standards-based IEPs designed to “help” kids do better on this test.  If it isn’t reshuffling of classrooms to have high-performing SBAC students help low-performing SBAC students, it’s fighting parents when they don’t want their kids taking the test.  If it isn’t students with disabilities being forced to take this test for 2-3 times longer than their peers, it’s the State Board of Education passing opt-out penalties in their school report card accountability joke.  This is NOT the best test Delaware ever made, despite Governor Markell’s comments to the contrary.

ChildCrying

When the 149th General Assembly reconvenes in January, their top priority needs to be setting firm laws dictating what this test can and can’t be used for.  They also need to finish the job with opt out and codify a parent’s right to opt their child out of these punitive tests without penalty to the student in any way, whether it is AP classes, graduation, summer school, standards-based IEPs, abuse by administration, or denying a student the ability to choice to another school.  This could have been written into law last January.  I warned them then this issue was only going to get worse.  My advice was unheeded by the majority of them.  Those that supported the override attempt know the real deal.  Those who didn’t need to seriously rethink their position on this.

And for any school in this state that has any type of data wall up in classrooms or anywhere in your schools with student names on them, take them down now.  The days of shaming students for a state assessment are done.  If any parent sees these data walls in any school, please take a picture of them and send them to me at kevino3670@yahoo.com and I will file a Family Education Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) complaint the very same day.  I will need to know the name of the school and the district.  I am in the process of filing a few of these today.

The abuse of students in this state needs to stop.  These are children, not testing guinea pigs for the data freaks.  Is this really what education is about?  Mental torture of children?  All in the name of progress and accountability.  I don’t think so.  People wonder why I am so passionate about education.  This is the main reason.  What we are doing to kids.  We are destroying the future.

NotGoodEnough

 

The Teacher Leader Pilot Program Comes To Us Courtesy Of Rodelaware

The Delaware Department of Education continues their self-righteous Rodel led agendas.  In their latest corporate education reform press release, Godowsky and the gang announced the nineteen members of the Delaware Teacher Leader Pilot program kicking off this year.  I find it more than a coincidence that most of the districts who got these positions are very tight with the “Leader In Me” program.  The only districts selected were Capital and Appoquinimink.  Three charters are joining the bandwagon which are MOT, Kuumba Academy and Odyssey.

At their April board meeting, the Capital Board of Education tentatively approved going forward with this program.  But they had deep concerns about setting up competitions in schools.  They cited the very controversial Delaware Talent Co-op Program from a few years ago and how it caused many problems among teachers.  As well, the board was concerned with the amount of time the selected Teacher Leaders would spend out of the classroom and how additional substitute teachers would need to take their place.  The principals of these schools were very enthusiastic about the program.  Both are “focus” schools, one of the latest “turnaround” labels thrown at schools over low state assessment scores.  In a sense, I don’t blame these principals for doing what they can to get their schools out of these false labels put on them by the Delaware DOE.  If you go to the Capital board audio recording from their April 20th board meeting, click on the second audio recording link, and the discussion begins around the 1:22:03 mark.  When asked how much the program would cost, Superintendent Dan Shelton mentioned the stipend teachers would get but also that the training would take up the bulk of the costs.  A figure of $50,000 was thrown around.

The only schools in Capital who are instituting this pilot program are Towne Point and East Dover Elementary.  Towne Point is a huge advocate of the “Leader In Me” program.  Fairview Elementary in Capital also has this program.  Appoquinimink School District brought Leader In Me to Delaware.  Payments for this program are made to a company called Franklin Covey.  Many of the teachers at Towne Point who advocate for this program are also members of this Teacher Leader pilot program.  One of them is also very involved with the Rodel Teacher Council.  I have no doubt this teacher is an excellent teacher, but when you see one name associated with so many things I can not support, it is hard to draw the line between saying nothing and pointing it out.  I fully welcome any discussion with this teacher about anything written in this article, especially the part I write about later on.

The Delaware General Assembly passed their budget bill in late June with an appropriation of $800,000 in state funds going to the recipient districts and charters towards the Teacher Leader program.

SB285Sect362

What I don’t understand is how the DOE can move forward with a program that is contingent on approval in the State Budget.  The funds for this state grant weren’t approved until late June.  But here we have the DOE sending out invitations to apply after Spring Break.  For Capital school district, students came back after Spring Break on April 4th.  They gave schools a very short time to apply for this program, a matter of 25 days.  What was the insane rush behind this?  I will touch on this later, but for now check out the press release from Alison May at the DOE:

First teacher leaders announced

Nineteen teachers have been selected to serve as teacher leaders in a pilot program launching this school year. The program is among the first of its kind in the nation to take place at the state level.

Providing this kind of teacher leadership opportunity was among the recommendations of the Committee to Advance Educator Compensation and Careers. During his administration, Governor Jack Markell has championed the creation of a compensation system that makes Delaware educator salaries more competitive with neighboring states and rewards teachers for helping their peers to best support our students.

“Through this pilot, teacher leaders are provided a career pathway that both rewards educators for excellence and provides opportunities in formal leadership positions,” said Markell, who recommended funding for the pilot in his Fiscal Year 2017 budget that was approved by the General Assembly on June 30. “Through these roles, teacher leaders will use their skills to support schools where they need it most: helping other educators develop their practices and better prepare Delaware’s students for college and careers —all while allowing teacher leaders to maintain a foot in the classroom and earn additional compensation without needing to take on administrative roles.”

The Governor joined Secretary of Education Steve Godowsky today at Appoquinimink High School in Middletown to participate with members of the pilot in a discussion about the coming year.

The five teacher leader roles to launch this year will support educators in the following areas:

·         Instructional practice leads will improve the instructional practice of fellow educators using a variety of high-impact support strategies focused on frequent, targeted feedback in educators’ development areas.

·         Digital content leads will help educators build their instructional technology knowledge so more students have access to technology that helps improve their academic outcomes.

·         Instructional strategy leads will introduce new instructional strategies into schools to help educators meet their learning needs and help schools meet their academic goals.

·         Community partnership leads will help students gain access to services designed to improve their physical and mental health, giving them a greater chance at academic success.

·         Instructional culture leads will help schools build a philosophy around culture, discipline and culturally responsive teaching.

Schools across Delaware were invited to participate in the teacher leader pilot. A nine-member committee representing educators, administrators and external partners selected eight schools and those schools created selection committees that designed a rigorous, multi-stage process to meet their schools’ needs and choose the 19 teacher leaders.

Each school is identifying a set of goals that teacher leaders will work toward. This summer, teacher leaders and school leaders came together to meet other pilot participants, plan pilot implementation for their schools, and learn more about teacher leadership to ensure a successful launch this fall.

“Being a novice teacher can be overwhelming at first, especially when it comes to lesson planning and classroom management. That’s why we want to use this new position to target support for our novice teachers in these areas,” said Kirsten Belair, who will work as an instructional practice lead at Odyssey Charter School.

The 2016-17 teacher leaders are:

 

·         Amanda Alexander, instructional culture, Towne Point Elementary (Capital School District)

·         Colleen Barrett, digital content, Middletown High School (Appoquinimink School District)

·         Chelsea Baxter, instructional culture, Kuumba Academy (Charter)

·         Kirsten Belair, instructional practice, Odyssey Charter School (Charter)

·         Lindsay Bouvy, instructional practice, Appoquinimink High School (Appoquinimink School District)

·         Michelle Duke, instructional practice, Towne Point Elementary (Capital School District)

·         Carrie Howe, community partnerships, MOT Charter School (Charter)

·         Melanie Fauvelle, digital content, Appoquinimink High School (Appoquinimink School District)

·         Michele Johnson, instructional practice, Towne Point Elementary (Capital School District)

·         Kris King, instructional practice, Cedar Lane Elementary (Appoquinimink School District)

·         Heather Patricco, instructional practice, Cedar Lane Elementary (Appoquinimink School District)

·         Heather Mann, instructional practice, East Dover Elementary (Capital School District)

·         Shana Noll, instructional practice, MOT Charter School (Charter)

·         Crystal Samuels, digital content, Middletown High School (Appoquinimink School District)

·         Katharine Sawyer, instructional practice, Middletown High School (Appoquinimink School District)

·         Krista Seifert, instructional culture, East Dover Elementary (Capital School District)

·         John Tanner, instructional practice, Appoquinimink High School (Appoquinimink School District)

·         Kady Taylor, instructional strategy (K-8 reading), Kuumba Academy (Charter)

·         Tamara Walker, instructional strategy (K-8 math), Kuumba Academy (Charter)

Alison May

alison.may@doe.k12.de.us
(302) 735-4006

Last May, educators were “encouraged” to apply for this program.  The Teacher Leader Effectiveness Unit at the Delaware DOE issued an overview of the program along with applications and descriptions of the different categories teachers could apply for:

Based on all of these descriptions, the teachers selected into this program would receive a stipend ranging from $5000-$6000 depending on whether or not the school is a “high-needs” school.  Assuming all of the schools are “high-needs”, that would give each teacher a stipend of $6000.  With nineteen teachers selected, that is a total of $114,000.  So my question would be where the other $684,000 allocated for this program is going to.  I emailed the DOE about this earlier this afternoon.

This program spun out of the Committee to Advance Educator Compension & Careers Committee which spun out of the 147th General Assembly and Senate Bill 254.  In the beginning of this committee, Delaware teachers were outraged because the vendor for the committee, The New Teacher Project (TNTP), suggested Smarter Balanced scores should determine if a teacher could become a teacher leader.  Eventually, the committee ran out of time and the committee was extended through House Joint Resolution #7 in the 148th General Assembly.  The group was led by an employee in Governor Markell’s office named Ryan Fennerty.  This name may sound familiar to some readers.  Another member of the committee, Lindsay O’Mara, former wife of Colin O’Mara, is engaged to Fennerty.  She also worked in Governor Markell’s office as his education policy advisor before leaving last winter to get a job at the United States Dept. of Education.  Delaware or Peyton Place?  You decide!  But I digress…

If you look at the minutes for this committee, the last three meetings have no minutes.  This is where the final votes would be shown on what became today’s announcement by the Delaware DOE.  These last three meetings were held on 5/11/15, 1/29/16 and 4/22/16.  The Delaware DOE obviously jumped the gun on this a bit because Capital’s board discussed their two schools applying for this on April 20th, two days before the final vote took place.  I did email the chair of the CAECC, Dr. Teri Quinn Gray, as well as Donna Johnson, the legislators on the committee, and Dr. Godowsky for a status on these minutes earlier today.  There was also an Educator Work Group as a subset of this committee, and this section of the CAECC website has NO minutes at all for the four meetings that were held between November 2015 to January 2016.  So much for transparency in Delaware.

This committee had a lot of familiar faces.  The heads of the Senate and House Education Committees for the 147th General Assembly were on it, Senator David Sokola and former State Rep. Darryl Scott.  Senator Brian Pettyjohn and State Rep. Joe Miro rounded out the legislative portion of the committee from the other side of the aisle.  State Rep. Kim Williams replaced Scott when he opted not to run again in the 148th General Assembly.  The Delaware State Education Association, Dr. Mark Holodick (Superintendent of Brandywine School District), and eventually, the Delaware Association of School Administrators had a seat at the table.  On the state financial side of things, Meghan Brennan represented the Office of Management and Budget and Controller General Michael Morton from his office.  It is important to note there were no actual teachers on the main committee. 

I’ve heard tales from these meetings and how DSEA fought against SBAC scores tying into these Teacher Leader creations.  I actually wrote about how teachers went to a Town Hall based on this at the Bear Public Library and many weren’t allowed entrance because the library had too many people.  But I can’t find the article.  But needless to say, teachers were VERY pissed off about this.

I have to wonder how many applications were received by the Delaware DOE for this and how many different districts or charters applied.  And yet, we only have two districts and three charters represented in this pilot program.  Appoquinimink is pretty much a grant whore and applies for every grant under the sun (and usually gets it) and is a proud member of BRINC and The Leader In Me program, Capital is an unknown quantity: heavily involved in The Leader In Me, just joined BRINC (the digital blended learning consortium representing 8-9 districts in Delaware), and now this program, Kuumba is one of the darling charters loved by the DOE, the Delaware Charter Schools Network and several legislators, MOT Charter School is one of the Smarter Balanced superstars with high scores (take a look at their demographics), and Odyssey Charter School is… I don’t know what they are.  They have been under my radar for a long time, but I have a sneaky feeling that will change in the coming months.

Now, to be fair, I don’t think every teacher involved with these type of things are evil or the Judas Iscariot of the Delaware teaching profession.  I think they are regular teachers who want to do more but don’t want to necessarily go into administrative roles.  They jump on things like this, or the Leader In Me program, or the Rodel Teacher Council, in an honest intention of diversifying their resume and their professional career path.  But, with that being said, I don’t trust Rodel, or a DOE sponsored program, or the Leader In Me.  I think a lot of them are not in it for kids and teachers and have bigger plans.  And behind all of this, we have Smiling Jack, leading the pep rally behind this latest pilot program.  But what I do take extreme offense to is the arrogance of people who knew 1) the CAECC had not approved the program when applications went out, and 2) the General Assembly had not approved the funding for the program before applications went out.

In the grand scheme of things, $800,000 for a Teacher Leader Pilot Program is not that much money considering the state spends a third of it’s budget on education.  But the danger is when it is labeled a success and the funds no longer flow freely from the state in the form of grants.  In a year or three, when the local school districts are asked to pick up a share and they jump on it because they don’t want to disrupt the program, that is when we will find out the true cost of a program like this.  And as we have more teachers jumping to become a Teacher Leader, spending less time in the classroom with less instruction they are giving students, what happens to the kids?  I believe the Capital board members should have pushed harder against having their two schools apply.  There were no firm answers about what to do with the vast amount of substitute teachers needed to make up for these teachers being out of the classroom.  Not only do you have the teacher’s salary, but you also have an ever-growing number of substitute teacher wages that the districts will  have to eat.  I truly don’t think it is a wise idea to have seasoned teachers out of the classroom up to half the day.  If they want to do this stuff outside of school hours, that is one thing.  But our students deserve better than to have half a teacher.

Oh yeah, there is just one more tiny, itty-bitty, little thing with all this.  On April 21st, Angeline Rivello, the Chief of the Teacher/Leader Effectiveness Unit and also an Assistant Secretary at the Delaware DOE, sent out an email to the Selection Committee of the Teacher Leader Pilot program.  I was able to get this email.  And it is a doozy of an email.

How does a member of the Selection Committee manage to get selected for this program?  Can you answer that for me Michele Johnson?  Why do I constantly see the names of the aforementioned Michele Johnson, Robyn Howton and Jennifer Nauman attached to so much Rodel/Vision stuff and now this selection committee?  Under whose authority did you allow schools to apply for this before any decision was made granting the authority by legislative decree to a public committee or before the funds were even appropriated for this program?  Can you answer that for me Angeline Rivello?  Or do you answer to Donna Johnson?  Because there is a crystal clear reason she was cc’ed on this email.  Who chose the selection committee for a program that, once again, wasn’t even approved?  Your email said there was a chance to get a “wide diversity” of schools but we have only one Kent Country district, one New Castle County district, and three New Castle charters.  How did that work out?  What was the rubric for scoring applications?  How many applications were received?  Did the selection committee read every single application or what it divvied up among the selection committee?

I think it is past time the DOE fessed up on their sneakiness and manipulation. Secretary Godowsky PROMISED a greater degree of transparency and open communication coming from this Department, and all I see are more lies, secret agendas, emails to select individuals with no public awareness, funds committed to things before they are even approved, focus groups or special meetings with no public notice, no minutes provided for certain things, or even links to certain groups (hello Competency-Based Learning Guiding Coalition).  Meanwhile, you allow charters and districts to allocate money wherever they want with no true oversight, browbeat the auditor’s office until a good woman is put on leave while charters get away with financial murder, manipulate the ESSA regulatory process by claiming to have true stakeholder input when it is really just school administrators and lobbyists, force a school report card scheme on our schools without any regulatory authority to impose it, and have our students take a test that judges everything and the students don’t even take the test.  Secretary Godowsky, I don’t care what anyone says, you are a HORRIBLE Secretary of Education.  This kind of crap makes even Mark Murphy look okay in comparison.  The rot in YOUR Department still exists, more than ever.  This happened under YOUR watch.  I hope the pieces of silver from Rodel and Markell were worth it… 

Angeline Rivello, when I announced Chris Ruszkowski was leaving the DOE, a lot of teachers in this state reached out to me and they expressed how they wanted to give you a chance and hoped the stink from the TLEU would disappear.  It is stronger then ever. 

Donna Johnson, this just once again proves what I have always known: you don’t believe in transparency and you are well aware of everything that goes on in the Townsend Building.  Does your beloved State Board know what you know?  How the hell are you even still employed there?  All of you are liars, plain and simple.  There is no other justification for your actions. 

Governor Markell, you tricked us again. You are a mastermind at turning something that looks good on the surface into a tangled web of lies and deception. If I had my way, I would impeach you even though you have less than five months in office.

If those in Delaware thought maybe I would temper things down eventually, my commitment to exposure in this state has NEVER been stronger.  Every single day I see the corruption and fraud going on in our state.  This isn’t a democracy.  We have the most corrupt and vile state government in the country.  None of this is about our kids.  It is about power, position, and money.  You all need to start coming clean before I find out about it.  Because if you think only a few Delaware teachers and parents read this blog, you are VERY wrong.  You have no idea, no one does, who is watching all of you.  Recording every single thing I come out with, just building a very large and thick file.

And I do have a final item to throw out there.  How can three contracts, which I can only assume may play into the total of $800,000 for Section 362is program which answers some of my questions for the funds involved in this sham, be signed on the following dates: 4/19/16, 4/21/16, 4/26/16, 5/2/16, 5/4/16, 5/10/16, 5/11/16, and 5/23/16?  If these are for this program, and the General Assembly had not approved the funds for this program, how can you have contracts starting before the Joint Finance Committee even released their budget?  Or should I assume the Rodel Foundation will be the one training these teacher leaders?  With funds from the Vision Coalition?  Or should I say Schools That Lead?  Because when I look up Schools That Lead’s IRS 990 tax forms, it comes up with 990s for 2012, 2013, and 2014.  Since Schools That Lead wasn’t really around then, care to take a guess what company comes up?  The Vision Network.  And if this description of their purpose doesn’t fit the bill for this Teacher Leader Pilot, I don’t know what does:

VisionIRS9902014

Care to take a close look at who Schools That Lead’s “partners” are?  Just look at this.  And if you aren’t aware of the backbone behind the Vision Coalition’s Student Success 2025, you need to take a look at this.  The Vision Coalition wants us to be “rethinking roles and responsibilities” and that includes teacher leaders and their compensation levels.  Take a look at the contracts above with Teach For America, University of Delaware and Supporting School Success.  Sound familiar based on all this?  Even more fascinating, even though Delaware has paid millions of dollars to the Rodel/Vision education incorporated enterprise, we never see any contracts with them listed on the awarded vendors portion of the state contracts website.  I would have to imagine this contract could land them anywhere from $500,000-$600,000.  Would that be a good guess Dr. Paul Herdman?  With an address at 100 W. 10th St. in Wilmington, DE, it stands to reason Rodel is somehow going to profit off this.

MakeOurChildrenDumb_zpsa514b437

When I first started digging into education stuff in Delaware, I remember reading an article on Kilroy’s where he wrote about talking with Jack Markell in 2008.  Kilroy wanted to support him, and he asked Markell flat-out if he was going to stop the spread of Rodel into Delaware education to which Markell said he would.  Jack lied Kilroy.  He lied to all of us.  Rodel runs the education show in Delaware.  They have for 12 years.  Every single decision made in Delaware education has been at the behest of the Rodel Foundation since Jack Markell took office.  Together with their order-takers at the Delaware DOE, the State Board of Education, the Delaware Charter Schools Network, the Delaware Business Roundtable, the Christina Cultural Arts Center, Governor Markell’s office, and the Wilmington Metropolitan Urban League, they have single-handedly turned Delaware education into a billion dollar corporation.  And our kids lose more and more every single day.  Because their minions have infiltrated every charter, every district, every state agency, and even our General Assembly.  We gave them this power.  Now, it is time to take it all back.

Did Appo Shoot Itself In The Foot Tuesday Night?

Lastly, to the charge that money was transferred out of the tuition fund, Longfellow said that was true, but said that happens nearly every year and is a legal maneuver.

Additionally, Forsten explained that the money went to funds that help settle costs that aren’t part of the tuition tax budget itself.

Mr. Forsten, could you please tell me what the legal maneuver is that allows Appoquinimink School District to transfer funds out of the tuition fund and how it is legal?

I saw an item on Appoquinimink’s board agenda for last night that said “Tuition Tax Clarification”.  Assuming this was in response to my articles about their tuition tax warrant last month, I figured I would wait until their board audio recording to address this.  But as luck would have it, I didn’t have to wait very long because Kilroy just wrote an article based off WDEL’s article on the subject at their board meeting Tuesday night.  The above quote, taken from the WDEL article, clearly shows that Appoquinimink Superintendent Matt Burrows, Chief Financial Officer Dr. Charles Longfellow, and the Appo Board President Richard Forsten aren’t too familiar with Delaware accounting procedures and policies.

You can’t just take money from revenue collected through a tuition tax warrant and apply it anywhere you want.  That isn’t how it goes.  The law in Delaware is VERY clear about this:

(a) If any pupil is counted in the preschool, intensive or complex unit and attends school in a program operated by a district other than that in which the pupil resides, by an agency of the Department of Education or is in an approved private placement pursuant to § 3124 of this title, the receiving district or the Department of Education shall collect a tuition charge for the nonresident pupil, provided approval for attendance has been granted by the sending district. Such tuition charge shall be paid by the school board of the reorganized school district in which the pupil is a resident from the proceeds of a local tax levied for this specific purpose, except that in the case of a district assigned by the Department with the approval of the State Board of Education to administer a school or program for children with disabilities, or special programs approved by the Department of Education for persons without disabilities such as programs for bilingual students or programs for pregnant students, the district so assigned shall be both the sending and receiving district in regard to that school or program and is authorized to collect tuition charges accordingly.

(b) In determining the tuition to be charged for a pupil counted in the preschool, intensive or complex units or for a person without disabilities attending approved special programs, such as bilingual programs or programs for pregnant students operated by a district other than that in which the student resides or by an agency of the State Department of Education, the receiving district or the State Department of Education shall compute the tuition by adding such receiving district’s share of educational related expenses as allowed by the Department of Education regulations. The sum so obtained shall be divided by the total number of pupils in the special program as of September 30 of the current school year. The resulting figure shall represent the amount of the “tuition charge” per pupil.

(c) In determining the tuition charged to the sending district in the case of private placement for children with disabilities, tuition will be defined as in § 3124 of this title and the sending district will be charged 30 percent of the total tuition cost. The remaining 70 percent will be covered through funding provided by the State Department of Education from the annual appropriation for this purpose.

(d) Section 602(c)-(e) of this title shall apply to this section.

And let’s see what Section 602(c)-(e) states:

(c) The bill for tuition charges shall be verified by the Secretary of Education within 20 days after receipt of such bill. No bill for tuition charges shall be paid until such time as it has been certified by the Secretary of Education as being true and correct.

(d) For each pupil attending a public school of another district as of September 30, the receiving district shall bill the sending district and the sending district shall pay the tuition charges per pupil on or before January 1 of the fiscal year in which the bill is submitted to the sending district for payment. In the case of pupils attending the public schools of the receiving district for less than a full term, the tuition charge shall be prorated by reference to the period of time during which such pupils actually attended the receiving district’s schools, provided that attendance for part of any month shall be counted as a full month of attendance.

(e) Any reorganized school district sending pupils to the schools of another district shall levy and collect a tax to pay any tuition charges to the receiving district, and such tuition shall be collected by local taxation within the sending district according to the provisions of taxation as set forth in Chapter 19 of this title, except that no referendum shall be required. The sending district shall estimate the amount of, determine the rate for and levy the tax upon the estimate at the time that regular tax levies are announced to the appropriate taxing authorities, and the levy shall be adjusted annually to correct errors in the estimate as provided for in subsection (b) of this section.

So the tuition tax that caused the Appo board to issue a tax warrant last month is based on Section 604, and only Section 604.  There are additional areas where these funds can be used though, as per House Bill 1 from the Delaware 146th General Assembly:

House Bill 1, 146th General Assembly:

b. The following provisions shall apply to the Preschool unit:

v. Districts may use tuition to pay for the local share and excess costs of special education and related services.

b. The following provisions shall apply to the Pre-K – 12 Intensive Special Education (“Intensive”) unit:

ix. Districts may use tuition to pay for the local share and excess costs of the program.

b. The following provisions shall apply for the Pre-K-12 Complex Special Education (“Complex”) unit:

ix. Districts may use tuition to pay for the local share and excess costs of the program.

So districts can use tuition tax to pay  for their local share of special education and excess costs for each specific program.  But not for Basic Special Education students, just Preschool Special Education students, Pre-K-12th grade Intensive Special Education students and Pre-K-12th grade Complex Special Education students.

In Appo’s FY2017 preliminary budget, they state exactly what the Tuition Tax increase of $818,000 will be going towards:

FY2017AppoPrelimBudget

I submitted a Freedom of Information Act request to the Appoquinimink School District last month which I promptly received.  I had not gone through it extensively until now.

I can see the out-of-district placements for students with disabilities going to Special Schools or day or residential treatment centers going up by $100,000.  For FY2016, they spent $2,441,295 for these students.  In FY2017, they are projecting it will go up to $2,570,633.  That seems like a modest projection based on the history with these payments.  I have no qualms with those figures whatsoever.  What I do take issue with though is the appropriation section #99970020/99999999 Needs-Based going up from $7,148,711 to $7,863,582 without any justification for that increase.  As well, we can see their projected amounts for FY2018 which will generate another tax warrant next year but maybe 10% less than this year’s based on their projected numbers.  But Appo did supply two other documents in my FOIA request…

In this document, we see a seven year history with students in the category of Pre-K, Intensive, and Complex.  Also included are the teacher units generated from these increases.  Note the Pre-K units are going down each year.  On the flip side, Intensive and Complex special education students are going up which generates more teaching units as well as services related to those students, such as occupational therapists, speech therapists, and so on.

Now the district was kind enough to give a breakdown of how much went to each category for FY2016.  I do appreciate that.  It does give quite a bit of insight into where they think the funds should go.  Now keep in mind Appo dated this document 7/20/16.

In their projections for FY2017, they based the FY2016 final figure at $9,590,006.  But in this document, it is $9,424,524.26.  That is a difference of $165,481.54.  So they are already way off on their FY2017 budget by having this amount wrong.  This is what they based their tax warrant on, the figure of $9,590,006 for FY2016, and they are basing their FY2017 budgeted projection off that number.  They are already off.  Even in their board meeting Tuesday night, they gave an amount spent as of 6/30/16 on Local Tuition Tax of $9,508,447.03.  This was the part of their board meeting where they approved the monthly budget as of 6/30/16 based on their Citizen Budget Oversight Committee recommendation.  Even they weren’t given the correct amount.  Do I go by a FOIA request, which has to be legal, or their preliminary budget, or the amount their CBOC provided to the board which comes from their CFO?  I’m sticking with the FOIA figure because that has the latest figures, as of 7/20/16.

Now look at the document and where it says “Indirect Cost” for an amount of $276,709.36.  These are funds they transferred out of their tuition tax revenue bucket into another bucket with no explanation of where it went or why.  So adding what they were already off and the “Indirect Cost”, we are up to $442,190.90, which is over half of their tuition tax increase of $818,000 going towards mathematical errors or shifting the money out of the revenue bucket it was supposed to stay in.  You can’t just transfer funds out and call that a legitimate expense.

Which brings us to legal costs.  In FY2017, Appoquinimink spent a total of $171,783.75 in legal costs for the entire district.  But we are expected to believe they spent $124,279.20 out of that figure just for special education legal costs?  Furthermore, should funds spent on legal costs in a special education dispute where a parent is suing the district be counted as legitimate funds to come out of a tax warrant?  Because I can see at least $28,500 going towards that purpose right off the bat.  That means the parents feel the school did not provide a Free Appropriate Public Education for their disabled child.  And if the school is paying those attorneys, that means at the very least there was some type of settlement involved whereby the district paid the opposing attorney as well as their own attorney costs.  As well, we see a payment made to another school covered under legal fees.  This could be a case where a parent sued the district and the district agreed to pay the tuition costs for another school.  That was for $25,575.  So with these VERY questionable legal items Appo feels they can cover under funds generated from a tax warrant, we are looking at another $54,075 in questionable charges in their FY2016 tuition tax expenditures, which brings us up to $496,265.90.    We are now up to over 60% of their $818,000 tax warrant increase.  I won’t even get into the fact they are paying a school nurse under legal fees.  Shall I keep going?

There are legitimate expenses they put on this document.  Teacher salaries and their benefits are okay to have in there.  Related services, which means “Specialists”, according to House Bill 1, does have some caveats:

“(12) Specialists. All related services units are earned at the district or charter school level. Preschool, Basic, Intensive and Complex related services units earned shall be used to support related services needs of students in those units. Districts may use earned units to hire any related services staff necessary or alternatively choose to provide all or part of those services through a contractual arrangement with a public or private agency. When providing services by contract, the dollar value of the contract shall not exceed the authorized salary for a teacher at the Master’s level plus 10 years and employed for a period of 12 months per year as provided for in 14 Del. C. § 1305 of this title, divided by the number of months in the terms of the contract. Partial unit funding is provided based on the dollar value of the unit. Any school district wishing to use funds under the contractual option set forth in this section shall make application to the Department of Education for that use, provided that the State Board may review any objection to the Department decision;”

So, as an example to this, Appo currently has two contracts with Therapy Services of Delaware for three occupational therapists and two physical therapists.  This contract is for FY2017, and I could not find one for FY2016.  But given that they keep projecting up with students who would need these services, it would stand to reason the contract for FY2016 was either similar or less.  But I will operate on the assumption it is similar.  That means, based on the above law, the district can’t pay out more than $60,558.00 for a full-time “specialist” based on the Appo Salary Schedule for a Teacher at the Master’s level plus 10 years.  In the case of Therapy Services, the contracts call for three full-time occupational therapists and two full-time physical therapists.  So they can’t pay more than $302,790.  In FY2016, according to Delaware Online Checkbook, Appo paid Therapy Services $302,442.63.  So it appears they are acutely aware of the laws surrounding these special education services given how very close to the maximum number they could go up to in the contracts.

The reason I brought up a situation where they are doing everything by the book was to illustrate they do know what they are doing.  But for some reason, maybe because of how they are audited by the DOE for certain special education costs, they are able to curtail other things that have a dramatic effect on what they are including in the tuition tax part of their budget.

I could go through more of these, but I believe you get my point.  Appo’s $818,000 tuition tax increase is based on very faulty math, bad accounting procedures, and violations of Delaware state code from their previous fiscal year.  The expenses they are covering under tuition tax don’t hold water with my tests in some areas but in others they do.  Yes, I do own the fact that when I originally wrote about this issues, I seriously questioned where $5 million disappeared to.  But I quickly corrected that a few days later when I found the missing $5 million in related services.  I just didn’t account for the related services amounts in my initial article.  But when I’ve already killed over 60% of your increase of $818,000, and I have barely scratched the surface of your entire tuition tax expenditures for FY2016, I have no doubt that percentage would increase.  So you are NOT justified Appoquinimink School Board of Education, to approve a tuition tax increase costing the Appoquinimink property owners an additional $7.76 per $100 of assessed property values based on this.  As a board, and some have done this in Delaware so they don’t raise the ire of local taxpayers, they can forego or decrease a tuition tax increase based on the projected increase.  But what you can’t do is charge more than what should be the budgeted amount.  Something Longfellow seems to think is the opposite case according to WDEL:

He said, not only is the district justified to increase the tuition tax based on enrollment, Appoquinimink isn’t even increasing the tax to the fullest extent permitted.

Would I expect the Appoquinimink School Board to know these facts?  Not really.  Unless you really do some digging like I have, you won’t just find these things on a piece of paper looking at it.  But should Longfellow and Burrows know these things?  Absolutely.  Let’s not forget, their board approved their FY2017 Preliminary Budget and the tax warrant before they approved a $500 increase for administrators in the district at their July board meeting.  I called that a sleight of hand on Longfellow’s part.  I believe he knew exactly what he was doing.  But the board just skimmed right past that part.

“It was just a case of someone not understanding everything,” Board President Richard Forsten said to WDEL after the meeting.

I will give Forsten that.  I knew something was wrong and I made some incorrect assumptions.  But my gut instinct still told me something was wrong even after I found my error.  And then I found Appoquinimink’s errors.  To be fair, I received the FOIA request two days after I requested it.  But did I get everything I asked for in the FOIA request?

719AppoFOIARequest

For the most part, I did.  But what the FOIA did not cover, and no one has been able to answer, is the breakdown of funds allocated in the categories of related services for intense and basic, as well as allocations for occupational therapists, physical therapists, speech therapists and so on.  By lumping so much of their special education costs into very broad categories of “consultants”, “other professional service” or “medical services” would not give any member of the public the ability to see exactly what is going towards tuition costs.

Furthermore, neither Burrows or Longfellow ever replied to my email requests to discuss these matters after my original article on July 14th.  Not one single email, phone call, or response.  Until their board meeting last night.

Part of the blame for this lies with the state.  We have a Division of Accounting within the Department of Finance.  We have a State Auditor.  We have an Office of Management and Budget.  We have a General Assembly.  They should all be keeping track of these things and providing oversight into not only what our schools are spending money on, but how they are spending money.  When I hear a Board President state transferring over a quarter of a million dollars out of an account earmarked for only certain things related to special education as a “legal maneuver”, that concerns me.

“All the numbers are there and they’re all justified, its just that you have to know what you’re looking for,” said Forsten.

Are they Mr. Forsten?  I beg to differ…

But the biggest concern I have is the extreme lack of oversight from the Delaware Department of Education in these matters.  When it comes to special education funding, especially tuition tax expenditures, they should be looking into these matters.  It isn’t a question of “may”, it is a question of “shall” according to Section 352 of HS1 for House Bill 225, the budget bill for FY2016.  While this mostly concerns out-of-district placements, the last line says it all…

HS1ForHB225Sect352

I’m fairly certain that special education lawsuits should NOT be covered in tuition tax payments.  Nor should Indirect Costs going out of this fund.  And tax warrants should be based on a specific amount based on the prior year spending, not the highest of three amounts (and most likely the most inaccurate amount).  I look forward to their response to this article.  Will I get an email, a phone call, or another special section of their board meeting?  Or none of the above?