Delaware Dept. of Education Requesting 7.7% Increase In Operational Costs For FY2018 Budget

The Delaware Dept. of Education just held their FY2018 budget request hearing with the Delaware Office of Management and Budget.  They are requesting a 7.7% increase over their FY2017 budget.  This would push Delaware public education costs over the $1.4 billion mark to an astonishing $1,485,183,000 which would leave it closer to the $1.5 billion mark.  But just because the Delaware DOE is requesting this it doesn’t mean they are going to get it.  With the state facing a deficit of anywhere from $150 to $300 million for FY2018, many requests by various state agencies won’t be granted.

Among the increases are the following:

$39.838 million for FY2017 Salary/OEC Contingency (benefits)

$9.238 million for Educator Step Increases

$945,100 for Paraprofessional Salary Compression

$12.221 million for 2016-2017 unit growth of 144 units

$16.175 million for General Contingency increase of 190 units

$202,000 for Delmar tuition

$751,200 for related services

$685,600 for academic excellence

$3.9725 million for public school transportation

$602,000 for technology operations (there are three categories under this, I will find out what each one is for)

$7.98 million for Early Childhood initiatives

$3 million for public education bandwidth

$1 million for Technology Block Grant

$1.75 million for one-time replacement of DEEDS

$473,000 for technology operations for district/charters for

$219,500 to replace federal funds for personnel costs

$2.7 million for World Language Immersion expansion

$1.2 million for Teacher Leader Pilot expansion

$25,000 for Professional Standards Board

$18,000 for increases in Schoology

$500,000 for Seed Scholarships

$2.4 million for public school transportation

$500,000 for Career Pathways

 

They are also looking to made reductions of $4 million to the following:

$50,000 from SEED/Inspire marketing

$2.52 million from K-12 Pass Through Programs

$113,000 for Tech-Prep 2+2

$150,000 from Prison Education

$1.2 million from Driver Training

 

The Dept. of Education is also requesting $920,000 for Major Capital FY2018 Certificate of Necessity requests.  $633,745 of that would come from the state share and $286,862 would come from the Local source of funding.  I will have more to write on this later based on the presentation given.

 

 

 

 

Now Governor Markell Wants All State Employees To Make Better Choices With Healthcare

All Delaware state employees, including public school ones, are “strongly encouraged” to take an online class on “Being A Wise Health Care Consumer”.  I have to wonder how the data on this is being tracked!  But seriously, health care costs are completely out of control.  For my own job, a good chunk of my paycheck goes toward medical, dental, and vision insurance.  It has risen dramatically in the over five years I have been at this job.  I don’t see this trend ending anytime soon.

Dear Fellow Employees,

 

Recently, Governor Markell sent an email strongly encouraging all benefit-eligible state, school district and charter school employees to complete the “Being a Wise Health Care Consumer” online course by December 26, 2016.  A special thanks to the more than 5,500 employees who have completed the course so far!  We are asking those of you who have not completed the consumerism course to take the time to learn how you can be part of the team to help control the rising costs of health care!  Learn more and access the course at de.gov/healthconsumer.

 
de.gov
State of Delaware – Office of Management and Budget – Statewide Benefits Office – Health Care Consumerism

 

What are employees saying about the course?

 

I will make better use of all of the information available to my family using the tools offered through our health plan.  The information presented about Emergency Room verses Urgent Care cost was eye-opening.  Any information about prevention is especially important to me and my family.  I am excited to look into having a health coach.  This was all very helpful and interesting and I am glad I took the time to take this training course.

 

“Thanks for providing this course.  Not only will it save the State of Delaware money, it will also save me some money and I learned about ways to get medical needs addressed in a much easier and cost effective manner.  Very good information…”

 

“I actually enjoyed this training.  Reduces some of the mystique re: health care benefits.  Also, it reminded me to call my PCP & schedule my yearly physical…”

 

“All of the information was useful, and it allowed me to see why the cost of our insurance increase.  I didn’t know why it was growing so much until I learned about the facts…”

 

“I found the information very useful about the Telemedicine resource that is available to me.  I found all of the information about prevention very interesting and I plan to use the resources available to me regarding Managing Stress and information on Cholesterol levels.”

 

All of it is useful… I’ve lived in six states and DE is the only one that provides this information, so I’m grateful for the educational experience.”

 

Overall results from the survey of employees completing the course indicate that 93% of participants agree that they learned ways to save money and improve/maintain the health and well-being of themselves and their family! A similar percentage felt that the course helped them understand how to be an overall better health care consumer.

 

Why is completing the online course so important?

 

In addition to helping you and your family save money and be healthy, we are focused on controlling health care costs for our State.  One of the biggest challenges the State of Delaware faces as an employer is the increasing cost of health care for employees.

 

Expenditures in the State Group Health Insurance Program (GHIP) have risen almost 50 percent since the start of the decade.  This trend is not sustainable.  Skyrocketing costs of employee health care mean potentially millions of dollars that the State would be unable to invest in areas important to all Delawareans such as improving our schools, protecting our environment, making our neighborhoods safer and maintaining our quality of life across our State.

 

The “Being a Wise Health Care Consumer” online course is one important step to help our members understand the costs of health care for themselves as well as to the GHIP.  The course is designed to promote smart consumerism and increase employee’s understanding and use of wellness, disease management and preventive services and tools.

It will take a team approach with all of us doing our part as educated health care consumers to control health care costs and ensure great care is available and affordable for present and future employees.  Putting our health and wellness first also means greater happiness, longevity, family time, feeling better, having more energy and maintaining independence as we get older.  These are benefits to all of us, both at home and at work.

Thank you,

The State Employee Benefits Committee (SEBC)

Members:

Brian Maxwell, SEBC Chair, Director-Office of Management and Budget

Tom Cook, Secretary-Department of Finance

Geoff Klopp, President of Correctional Officers Association of Delaware

Rita Landgraf, Secretary-Department of Health and Social Services

Michael Morton, Controller General

Ken Simpler, State Treasurer

Karen Weldin Stewart, Insurance Commissioner

Leo E. Strine, Chief Justice-Supreme Court

For information about the SEBC, visit www.ben.omb.delaware.gov/sebc.

Appoquinimink & The Sleight Of Hand Board Meeting Shows No Transparency Or Explanations

Appoquinimink finally released the documents from their board meeting on July 12th yesterday… six days later.  This morning they also put up the board audio recording from the same board meeting.  We got a bit of insight into their “special education costs” tax warrant “increase”.  And they clearly spell out how much of the money is going towards out-of-district placements and what is staying in-district.  We also find out something the money is going towards for those in-district costs.  Once again, the district is as quiet as a church mouse in a response to me.  I guess they don’t feel answering questions in the state where “sunshine is the best policy” is important.

AppoFY2017PrelimBudget&Tuition

Now we know the Middletown/Odessa area is growing.  I don’t think anyone is questioning that.  But they aren’t using this tax warrant increase of 7.76 cents per resident for increased special education costs.  They are using it to increase salaries as part of the FY2017 Delaware budget.  Which is provided by the state and local funds.  As well, they are also using it to increase benefits and pensions.  Keep in mind that in FY2016, their amount for needs-based instruction was $6,500,000.  Now we are expected to believe it has jumped to $7,860,000?  Without a final student enrollment count which won’t come until after September 30th?  I know, budgeting is predictive in nature.  But in my mind, they still haven’t justified the original $6,500,000 number.  They can say what it is for, but until I see a breakdown of exactly what these collected tax dollars in the form of tuition tax is going towards, I’m not satisfied.  Of particular interest is the fact that their out-of-district placement costs actually went down between FY2016 and FY2017, even though this was a major thorn in the side for the Appo board just five months ago.  I have to wonder who is calling the shots here and who knows about what.  I want to believe the board isn’t aware of what is going on.  Which is an issue in itself.  But clearly Dr. Charles Longfellow would have some insight into this but thus far has not provided ANY information.  Nothing.  I suppose we are just supposed to take this at face value without any logical explanation whatsoever.  How much does Superintendent Matt Burrows know about this?

AppoFY2017PrelimBudget&Tuition2

The entire operating budget is going up over $11 million dollars.  That is a lot of coin.  That is also a 10% increase over last year.  Did the district receive an additional 10% amount of students?  They had 10, 378 in FY2016, 9,877 in FY2015, and 9,750 in FY2014 based on their September 30th enrollment counts for the past three years.  But we are expected to believe this is about the students…

AppoFY2017PrelimBudget&Tuition3

Now things like a carryover budget don’t really concern me.  It is normal to have that.  If everything wound up exact I would be very alarmed.  That is to be expected.

To see the full presentation, budget, and the budget amendment to increase the FY2016 budget (done based on May 2016 numbers in the budget…very troubling in my opinion), see the below documents.  Of particular concern to me is the budget amendment request.  This is where it all gets very shady.  On the original pdf, if you do the right-click thing for this document and go to properties, it shows the document was created on 6/29/16.  But if the Appo Board of Education didn’t approve it until 7/12/16 how can their CFO write a letter like this before the board even voted on it?

After you read those, come back to see what the district wants to get in one of their schools.  Keep in mind, they seem to want this more than adding programs to take care of the complex special needs students that live in the district but have to go out-of-district to get the special education services they are rightfully and legally entitled to.

FY2017 Preliminary Budget Presentation

Actual FY2017 Preliminary Budget

FY2016 Budget Amendment Request

While all this is going on, the district really wants a pool.  Not just any pool, but a “shark tank”.  An actual, indoor pool.  While I don’t have an issue with any school having an indoor pool, I would think it wouldn’t be a priority until ALL students living in the district get what they need to succeed.  Especially the very students the district doesn’t serve: complex special education students.  Granted, this is just in the, pardon the pun, ground stages.  But how about an RFP for something similar to the Delaware Autism Program or something like that?  Nope, they really want a pool!

RFP for Nanotorium

In listening to the board audio recording from the July 12th board meeting, we once again hear there was not a quorum of their Financial Advisory Committee present at their last meeting, but the board once again approves their monthly financial report.  Who is on this committee?  Even more concerning is this comment from CFO Dr. Charles Longfellow:

I never budget for assessment growth.

So if we know the entire region of Delaware is growing rapidly, and their CFO doesn’t take this into account in any way, and the board is approving tax warrants based on this, what happens when the district experiences a surplus every year based on this growing population?  If the CFO is going to set firm guidelines with his budget like that, why does he overestimate on charter school payouts?  (This is the amount the district has to send to charter schools when a local student choices out to a charter school).  We did find out that in this district, for every $1.00 they spend in salaries, spends an addition 31 cents to cover Other Employment Costs which covers benefits and pensions.  The trailers the school is putting at select schools due to running out of room are all coming out of local funds.  This was correctly referred to as “portable classrooms” by a board member and Longfellow.  I found it very interesting that Longfellow stated the board couldn’t approve the budget if they didn’t approve the tax warrant for the tuition costs.  He did state that was later on in the board agenda, but the two went together.  The board is going out for a referendum in December.  There was obvious concern from one board member about pushing these tax warrants now prior to a referendum.  When asked what each revenue base goes towards, Longfellow said Tuition Tax pays for out-of-district placements and programs for students with disabilities.  When asked by a board member if it was accurate to say the increase in tuition tax was based on the district receiving more students with intensive and complex special needs, Longfellow said that was accurate.  Giving kudos where they are due, one board member did explain that assessed value and real value of homes are two different animals.  He explained the assessed value formula hasn’t changed since 1983.  Longfellow explained that the state gives local boards the “right” to increase tuition taxes to make sure students get what they need but it isn’t a “fun right to have”.  At no point did the board ask for a breakdown of how this amount increased at such a dramatic rate.  There was absolutely nothing put forth in the preliminary budget or the tax warrant request to the board.  Just numbers without any justification whatsoever.  The board voted unanimously on the tax warrant first and then the preliminary budget.

Later on in the meeting, the board approved an increase for all administrators and specialists of an additional $500 above the state increase of 1.5% or $750, whichever is greater.  So at a minimum, specialists will be getting a $1,250 raise for the year.  Note the board approved this increase after the preliminary budget was approved, not before.  A very careful sleight of hand on Longfellow’s part…

AppoAdminSpecPayScaleFY2017

Once again, I implore the New Castle County Council to ask for a full breakdown of these costs before deciding on the tax warrant.  If the district fails to give that requested information, I would highly recommend not approving their tax warrant.

In adhering to the district’s policy on Fair Use:

Fair Use
Unless otherwise noted, users who wish to download and/or reproduce text and image files from this website for non-commercial educational purposes may do so without the Appoquinimink School District’s express permission, provided that they comply with the following conditions:
  1. The content may only be used for noncommercial educational purposes;
  2. Users must cite the district, school, author and source of the content as they would material from any printed work;
  3. The citation must include all copyright information and other information associated with the content and the URL for the ASD website;
  4. None of the content may be altered or modified; and
  5. Users must comply with all other terms or restrictions which may be applicable to the individual file, image, or text.

All graphics, links, and pdfs in this article, as well as the ones about the Appoquinimink School District I posted on 7/14/16 and 7/17/16 are used for noncommercial educational purposes.  I hereby cite the district for ownership of all applicable material in all three articles.  No document was modified or altered.  The district did not notify me of anything associated with this but I felt it was prudent to inform my readers of this. All material can be found at http://apposchooldistrict.com/

This district and board can keep ignoring me but I will not cease publishing my findings and their extreme lack of transparency in regards to this and any other issues I find with them.  As such, I submitted a Freedom of Information Act request to Superintendent Matt Burrows and his office to obtain a full breakdown for each dollar spent on their tuition costs and where and to whom those costs are associated.  I also included, in the request, any documents presented to the Appoquinimink Board of Education for their July 12th board meeting in regards to the tuition tax increase of $815,000 and their approval of a tax warrant.

Ask Teachers One Question And…

Alright, I admit it.  Asking Delaware teachers if they would consider taking a cut in their benefits and pensions probably wasn’t the smartest move in the book, but many of you came out in droves to respond.  Granted, no administrators, principals, or superintendents replied.  The article went over like a resounding thud.  But I challenge every single teacher in the state: if not benefits or pension, what do you view as wasted money in our schools?  And please don’t say “nothing”.  We spend a billion dollars on education in Delaware and that’s just from the state.  We also get federal money and local funds from school taxes.  While other states may laugh and say “that’s it?”, we are a small state with less than a million people and about 133,000 kids in public education.  Since this could be a hot topic with certain folks, feel free to post anonymously on this!

Since I just got home from work and grocery shopping and I’m dead to the world now, just a few updates on recent stuff.  They must have a huge cricket crisis going on in the Appoquinimink School District, because that’s all I’ve heard from them since I dropped the special education funding bomb on them last week.  I did have an interesting comment on the “Unsustainable” article that had me wracking my brain all day.  Delaware school districts and charters might be thinking I’ve slowed down on them and my target of the month is Appo.  Wrong!  I have a ton of articles that will be coming out in the next couple of weeks.  One is about an interesting superintendent situation going on in one of our school districts.  That one led to a VERY interesting board meeting last month.  Dr. Mark Holodick is winning the “who will be the next Secretary of Education in Delaware poll”, followed by Susan Bunting.  Every one seems to be playing pin the tail on the auditor in the past week and everyone wants to know when Tom Wagner is actually going to, you know, do some audits.  Kenny Rivera is now the Vice-President of the Red Clay Board of Education and Michael Piccio was voted in as the President.  The State Board is having their monthly snooze fest on Thursday.  Expect to hear some type of hip-hop hooray about the latest Smarter Balanced Assessment results but not the actual final scores cause they aren’t done yet.  Both the Christina and Red Clay Boards of Education passed resolutions to suspend the WEIC timeline which will be echoed by WEIC at a meeting on July 26th.  On Wednesday, WEIC will be honored by the Progressive Democrats of Delaware as their Education Heroes of the Year.  So Elizabeth Lockman gets a two-peat!  Jack Markell hasn’t signed the teacher evaluation bill yet, House Bill 399.  I guess he was too busy not filing to run for Congress (okay, I never said I bat home runs every time)!  Delaware Military Academy wants to build a sports dome, but not with any funding from the state.  They said it will all be from private donations.  Apparently Chief of Instruction Michael Watson at the Delaware DOE has been “chosen” to be on John Carney’s “transition team”.  How very presumptuous of you Mr. Carney.  Today is State Rep. Trey Paradee’s birthday so wish him a Happy Birthday on Facebook.  I did hear back from EFIC about their epic fail, which is the Education Funding Improvement Committee’s final report.  Apparently “their work isn’t done yet” after having a due date of March 31st which was extended until June 30th.  Publius disappeared from Kilroy’s Delaware about a month ago and hasn’t been seen since.  He said something about the sign is in the yard.  It makes me very curious why he would feel he shouldn’t comment “anonymously” on a blog anymore.  Especially in light of a recent vacancy in Dover (totally speculating on this one folks).  Unless…

Unsustainable

Delaware education funding is out of control. It is unsustainable!!!!  Something is going to have to give.  Kids can’t take any more hits, so it is going to have to come from the adults.  I hate to say this, and teachers, principals, administrators, and superintendents will want my head on a platter, but your pensions and benefits are skyrocketing through the roof.  Every time you get a step raise, your OEC (benefits and pensions) go up as well.  When these OEC amount to 44% of your pay, we are having serious issues keeping up with it.  I know you want raises, but you actually get raises every year because your benefits keep going up.  For those who aren’t state employees, our insurance rates keeps going up as well, but we pay for much more of it than you do.  It comes out of our take-home pay where yours are not like that.  I hate to ask this, but would you be willing to pay more for insurance if it meant the resources and lower-size classrooms could happen because of that?  Something to think about.

In the meantime, taxes keep going up.  Not at a state level.  They are adamant about not raising those taxes.  So who takes the hit?  Every single school district when they have to keep raising taxes every single year.  It makes the state look like heroes.  It is unsustainable!