How The General Assembly Turned What Should Have Been A Fast June 30th Into An Endless Night

I don’t get it.  Every single year the Delaware General Assembly insists on having their late-night marathon with hundreds of bills on the agendas.  They had many opportunities to prevent that this year.  But instead, they had unending tributes to departing legislators, the Governor scheduled non-budget bill signings on June 30th, and they waited until the last minute to put up a minimum wage bill.

The tributes to the departing legislators had been going on for days.  And they never seemed to end.  I get that you want to honor those who wrote bills for decades.  But a time limit on the comments would have been really good.

The temperature in Legislative Hall went up as Governor Carney signed an Executive Order around 4:45pm to put the methodology of “budget smoothing” into his proposed budget each year.  Since the Democrats in the General Assembly balked on this idea that would change the Delaware Constitution, Carney felt he had to get something about it in writing, thus the Executive Order.

Around the same time, an unending line of pro-gun supporters flooded Legislative Hall.  It was already a hot day, and just having more bodies in the place physically rose the temperature in there!  All the suits began sweating and it became uncomfortable.  As the pro-gun folk realized there was NOT going to be any last-minute legislation (which was their reason for coming- a just in case), they began to leave and you could actually feel the air in there.

Many candidates who filed for the upcoming election were seen in the halls.  Even Kathy McGimmick was seen dashing in, heading towards Speaker of the House Pete Schwartkopf’s office, and leaving about 10-15 minutes later.  It was a good opportunity to meet some of the candidates I had not met yet and to chat with those I had.

Even a wine bill caused chaos!  When Rep. Dave Wilson changed what I assume was a yes vote to a no, Rep. Jeff Spiegelman did not mince his words with Wilson as he yelled “You stabbed me in the back!”

For education, the VERY controversial House Bill #454 was stricken.  This was the “show me the money” bill for developers and a decrease in their property assessments for redeveloped land.  Buh-bye bad bill!

But here is what gets me.  They talk about how much they respect their staff but treat them to intolerable working conditions.  Some of their staff came in at 11am yesterday.  They were still there at 7:30am this morning.  Some of their staff are senior citizens.  Hell, some of the legislators are senior citizens!  I don’t blame every legislator for this.  But the leadership is who determines these monstrous agendas.

It is not a party no matter what you hear.  Having legislators pass laws when they are beyond the point of exhaustion is the very definition of insanity.  Tempers flare and they grumble.  Visitors wait in the lobby and constantly ask what the heck is going on.  This morning, when I left around 2:45am, the Capitol Police were already indicating their workers were past the 16 hour shift mark.  Sure, the free ice cream for visitors helps.  But the cafeteria closes at 8pm.  You have to go to WaWa to get coffee!

This is what kills me about Legislative Hall- the lack of plugs!  We live in a cell phone society now.  The plug shortage (except for legislators and their staff) causes folks to huddle around the rare plug outlets.  Which brings me to my next point- why do they not have TVs in the lobbies showing live feeds of the House or Senate?  This isn’t 1950 anymore Delaware!  We can do this.  Hell, they could do live feeds on the internet as well!

There has to be a better way.  It wasn’t like there were a ton of new bills that were introduced on the last day.  It was the fact they left tons of bills languishing until the last minute.  Instead of having all these tributes and fluff stuff during their many other legislative days, maybe they could do what we elected them to do- vote on legislation!

I was one of the lucky ones.  The last education legislation passed at 2am.  Delaware Secretary of Education Dr. Susan Bunting left immediately after that vote.  I should have taken her queue but decided to stick around until I asked myself what was so important for me to stick around.  Sure, I could have seen the minimum wage bill debacle.  Which would have consisted of me rolling my eyes when they decided to stay open.

I lost big time.  I called a departure time of 12:38am.  They left hours after the sun came up this morning.  On the plus side, they get to rest for the next six months!  But like the myth of teachers doing nothing during the summer, many of our legislators plan for the next session and do a ton of research on bills they would like to introduce.  Many of them will spend the next few months campaigning as all 41 of the State Reps and 10 of the State Senators are up for re-election.  For some of them, they will sail off into the retirement sunset and, no doubt, thank the lucky stars they will never have to pull the June 30th/July 1st all-nighter.

The sad part?  I’ll probably do this again next year.  I’m a glutton for punishment!  But I have to admit, I do enjoy Delaware politics for a few reasons.  We are a small state.  You can drive an hour or so from any direction and wind up at Legislative Hall.  It can take time, but you can get to know pretty much every single legislator in the state.  You can hang out at Legislative Hall and say hi to the Governor when he emerges from the bat cave.  You can joke around with his staff as they walk around looking like the weight of the world rests on their shoulders and manage to get them to crack a smile.  You can attend a rally against separating families one minute and chat with folks who wear “live free or die” t-shirts the next.  You can chat with the Delaware Secretary of Education and not worry about detention.  If you go to Leg. Hall often enough, the Capitol Police call you by your name when you walk in the door.  For me, it is my home away from home in a weird way.

The Supermoon

Before a secret is told, one can often feel the weight of it in the atmosphere.

-Susan Griffin

On January 26th, 1948, a full moon shone brightly in the Winter sky.  The next time the full moon will be that close to the earth will be on Monday morning at 6:22am.  The next time you can see a Supermoon that close to Terra Firma will be 2034.  Tonight, it is just Waxing Gibbous.  It is at 97.4% of a full moon.  And it is cold out.  There is a frost in the air and the stars are shining bright.  Winter is coming.

They are saying it is going to be a mild winter this year.  Another La Niña.  So this means I could probably lay on the beach for New Years.

It’s the middle of the night.  Sleep comes and goes tonight.  I’m feeling restless, more than I have in a long time.  Afraid to close my eyes and afraid to stay awake.  Work comes in three and a half hours.  It will be a long day.

My arm is doing better.  I had a case of hairspray fall on my left elbow a month ago.  It hurt like hell when it happened, but only for a few minutes.  But then a week later this… thing… started sticking out of my elbow.  Like a Dr. Scholl’s pad golf ball.  I’ve been to doctors a few times for this.  I even had my first MRI.  Not an experience I care to repeat.  Last week I learned I had a slight tear in a tendon.  So I’ve been on light duty at work for a month and will be for another few weeks.  I work a tough job, but for scheduling purposes, there are reasons why I work that job.  It isn’t for the weak, that’s for sure.  But I feel the weight of age creeping up on me sometimes.  An odd ache here, a desire to take a nap in the middle of a day off.  And I’m not even fifty.

I haven’t been writing here as much as I could.  I have plenty to say, and plenty or articles ready to pop.  I’ve never had more research in my life.  But right now, America and Delaware seem to be dealing with President Trump in one of two ways: it is the end of democracy as we know it or it is the best post-coital bliss ever.  I don’t want to throw stuff out there that will get bypassed for yet another article about Trump.  I’m also at that point in education where I have to start calling people and organizations out.  Ones that, when I began this journey, I thought were on the side of kids.  But they aren’t.  The picture starts to get blurry and the colors start to merge.  I wish I could say there are those that I thought were the “bad guys” but then I discovered they aren’t.  But I can’t say that.  Yes, Jack Markell will sail off into the sunset.  Secretary Godowsky will go with him.  But what Jack made for Delaware is still in play.

I have this sense of foreboding tonight.  I don’t know why.  Maybe I do.  Things are going to change.  I know this but I want to wish it away.  Taking things for granted is never a good idea.  I want things to be simple again.  But they won’t be.  The last time things were simple for me was in 1975.

The summer after Kindergarten, my mom had to have an operation of some sort.  I couldn’t tell you what it was for, but it was enough for my parents to send me and my brothers to a family friend’s house for a couple of days.  We went to see Peter Pan, the classic cartoon version.  Afterwards, we went to our friend’s church.  I don’t remember how it got to that point, but I remember the minister asking me if I had anything to say.  So I told the whole church about Peter Pan.  I went on and on and on.  Everyone in the church was laughing and smiling.  I didn’t understand at the time that they weren’t laughing at how great Peter Pan was, but the fact that a five year-old boy was talking about this in God’s House of Worship.  Of course, I felt like the king of the world and the audience loved me.  I was the star of the show.

That was the last time things were truly simple for me.  Genuine, unadulterated bliss.  When you are that young, the world revolves around you.  You are the center of the universe.

I won’t be falling back to sleep tonight.  I would be getting up in an hour and a half anyways, so what’s the point.  I’ve already started my first cup of coffee.  To me, there isn’t anything better than that first sip.  Hopefully that, and a couple more, will do the trick for the day ahead of me.

Now I’m thinking of an earlier time, before Peter Pan.  My family and I were in church.  My Dad, Mom, my three brothers, and myself.  All I remember was that I was crying because my Mom went up to get Communion.  My Dad was holding me in his arms.  But I felt lost and scared.  I couldn’t have been older than two or three.  My father pulled out a little toy giraffe, no bigger than my hand.  For some reason, that giraffe gave me comfort.  It eased my troubled toddler little mind.  But I see it differently now.  I see a father holding a crying baby who wanted his mommy.  And in that moment, he found a connection.  Instead of getting upset, he gave me something he hoped would give me comfort and a feeling of safety.  It worked.  I remember holding that giraffe in my tiny hand and looking up at my dad.  In his eyes I saw a feeling of calm, of peace.

I haven’t thought, or written, about that moment in a long time.  The last time I wrote about it was in 1988.  I was in a creative writing class for the first half of my Senior year of high school.  Our final project was to write an autobiography based on something important in our life.  I wrote about my walk with God.  And I couldn’t very well talk about God without writing about all the people in my life.  This project became bigger and bigger the more I wrote.  It was about my life, from birth until that very snowy January over seventeen years later.  I believe it was about 24 pages, typed.  I got an A on it.  We had to read it in class.  I remember a few of my classmates crying when I read it.  I remember asking them later why they cried.  They said they had no idea or close I was with God.  I wasn’t a Bible-thumping evangelist running around my high school reading scripture every chance I got.  But in my thoughts, I pondered and wrestled with questions of faith back then.

It’s always darkest before the dawn.  At least that’s what they say.  It is now 3:15am.  My alarm will be going off at 4:30am.  I’m leaving it on in case weariness overcomes me and I succumb to somnus.

I was  a wreck last Christmas.  I never got the tree fully set up.  My son was transitioning to his fifth school since Kindergarten.  In six years.  It took its toll on me.  On my family.  I wonder sometimes if I will ever find a reason or answers to why my son had to go through so much at such an early age.  I watch him sometimes, struggling with his disability.  Those times when he asks God why he has to suffer through painful and repetitive tics.  Why his mind sometimes feels muddled.  Other times he refuses to believe in God because how could any God do that to a human being.  I see the host of people who have come in and out of his life.  Too much “goodbye” and not enough “hello”.  I struggle with my own thoughts on this.  When do I let go a little?  When does my fighting interfere with his ability to self-advocate?  He is fast becoming a teenager.  That transition period between boy and man.  When do I see the disability?  When do I see the boy-turning-into-a-man chrysalis?  Tourette Syndrome is not all he is.  He has it.  It affects him.  But it isn’t his whole being.  It is not his whole life.  It is just baggage he has to carry with him on his own walk through life.  One day, he will have to find peace with it.  I pray that day comes soon, but all things come in time.

What madness has struck upon me during this waxing gibbous that I am poring all these memories and feelings onto the screen?  I don’t know.  But it feels right.  Sometimes writing is my way of purging things.  Or coming to terms.  Reconnecting with the world.  I can throw numbers and statistics and secrets on the screen all day long.  But none of it means anything if I don’t have that reconnection.  I can’t be tethered to education all the time.  How I see education is not how most see it.  I dive into the cesspools most don’t even know exist.  Waters that don’t look that deep, but they will suck you in and drown you for all its worth.  But it is worth plenty.  I have no regrets.  This is my way of walking away from it.  At least for this moment.  To see life beyond the lies.  Because there is so much that human beings never learn in the classroom.  The painful and hard lessons they learn in real life.

schoolgaiman

Neil Gaiman is one of my favorite authors.  He has this uncanny knack for dealing with the most abstract of thoughts in the simplest of ways.  So that anyone can understand it.  The above picture comes from his Sandman comic-book series.  It ran 75 issues, from 1988 until 1996.  I didn’t catch on to this series until 1991.  By then it was well-known.  Each issue became a gold-mine when it came out.  By the time the 74th issue came out, I was preparing to move to another country.  Young love and a huge sense of wanderlust brought me to Sweden in 1996.  I was there for two months when I walked into a newsstand one evening.  I was killing time before going over to a friend’s house.  I sold about 90% of my comic-book collection before moving and I didn’t really have much intention of picking up the habit again.  But there it was, staring at me.  Sandman #75.  The last issue.

William Shakespeare appeared in an earlier issue of Sandman.  Gaiman crafted a reimagining of the Bard’s inspiration for A Mid-Summer Night’s Dream in the story.  Morpheus, also known as the Sandman or Dream, granted William Shakespeare the inspiration for all his plays in exchange for a boon.  Shakespeare wrote two plays for Morpheus.  The play highlighted in the earlier issue was A Mid-Summer Night’s Dream.  But the last issue was based on The Tempest.  Ironically, this took place prior to the pivotal moment in the series six issues earlier, but it served as the perfect moment for Dream to sleep.

I’m halfway done with my second cup of coffee.  For the first time in well over eight years, I read the last issue of Sandman again.  I am left wondering: do I inspire or am I inspired?  Do I write for you or do you read for me?  Do I amuse or am I your muse?  Weighty thoughts, heavier on my shoulders by little sleep and not having the ability to dream.

I leave for work in an hour.  This has been a distraction.  Away from my fears, my worries.  A distraction from a truth wrapped up in a secret.  We all do this.  We refuse to face a reality so we hide from it.  We try to cover it up.  But it’s always there, staring down at us like a Supermoon.

secrets

 

 

Breaking News: Vision Coalition Not Offering Eclairs To Citizens, Just Coffee

This just in.  The attendees at the annual Vision Coalition conference get eclairs.  However, they have to pay an admittance fee to the shindig.  I just got an email indicating the Vision Coalition will be holding public meetings in each county between November and January at the big libraries for each county.  The kicker though is they are not offering the eclairs, just coffee.  As Dale Cooper from Twin Peaks once said, that better be “a damn fine cup of coffee”.  Speaking of Twin Peaks, if you go, you will see a lot of the same logic applied by Herdman and friends at these meetings.  I would say I’m shocked they aren’t offering Kool-Aid, but they really are….

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Mark Murphy and the horrible, terrible, no good day

Just imagine being Mark Murphy today.  Having all that bad news heaped upon him today.  It can’t be easy being Delaware’s Secretary of Education.  I have to imagine what his day must have been like today…

Mark arrived late at the office.  He explained to his administrative assistant why he was half an hour late. “There I am, driving down Route 1.  Beautiful sunrise, nice weather.  John Kowalko called me with questions about opt out.  Every time I tried to talk he cut me off.  Half an hour later, he’s still going.  I had to take it off blue tooth.  That’s when he nabbed me and I got a ticket.” “How fast were you going?” she asked.  “I wasn’t going too fast, I was going too slow.  I was going 35 in a 65.”

Mark went to his morning meetings and went over the agenda for the State Board meeting.  He spilled some coffee all over his brand-new white shirt when Penny Schwinn came running in with big news.  Mark read the news and his face turned pale, as if someone had taken his favorite pair of glasses.  Then his wife called.  “Mark, I just heard.  Are you okay?”  “No, I’m not okay.  Two years in a row.  How come I’m not in the top ten?”  “Mark, are you okay?  What are you talking about?  Have you been doing those Smarter Balanced interim tests again?”  “No, it’s Holodick.  I’m the Secretary of the whole gosh-darn Delaware education system, and he’s still making $45,000 more than me.  It just isn’t right.  And those not nice bloggers keep saying he will replace me one day.  Will he get to keep his salary then?”  “Maybe you’ll get his job honey.  It would be closer to home.  But that’s not what I called about.  It’s this article in Newsworks…”

Mrs. Murphy was cut off by the director of the Teacher and Leader Effectiveness Unit.  “Boss, holy crap, you gotta be pissed!  I’ll show those #@$%ing teachers!  I think it’s time for Operation Human Capital Drop!”  “Christopher Ruszkowsi, good gracious, I’m on the phone with my wife.  Can you come back at another time?”  “Sure Murph, I’ll come back in five.”  Murphy just stared at him as the “Rus Man” gave an enthusiastic thumbs up leaving the office.

“Sorry honey, what were you calling about?”  “On Newsworks, they reported…”  This time it was David Blowman, his Deputy Secretary.  “Mark, my friend, I’m so sorry.  We need to do a root-cause analysis and find out who put them up to this.”  “David, I’m on the line with Mrs….”  “Oh dear heavens Mark, I’m so sorry.  I will embark immediately.”  The coffee on Mark’s shirt was still seeping down his shirt.

“I’m going to have to call you back,” as Mark abruptly said his goodbyes.  This had been a hell of a morning, and all he wanted to do was crawl back into bed and watch “Common Core for Common People Part 9: The Commonalities of Common Teachers.”  He missed it the other night when Earl Jaques kept calling him asking for advice on how to handle the media.  Ruszkowski ran into his office again, “Holy crap Murph, your supposed to have green clothes on St. Patrick’s Day, not spill it on your shirt!”  Mark just stared at him.  “What, I was just messing around Boss!  Anyways, you know I got your back on this.  I’m gonna TFA their schools like we’ve never seen before.  I got an ad on Craigslist as we speak!  And we are going to lower the requirement from 5 weeks to 3 weeks to get them in faster.”  “But that’s not in regulation Christopher, we can’t just…”  “Sure we can, we’ve done it before.  Remember that time when we…”

Karen Field Rogers, his Associate Secretary of Financial Reform and Resource Management came into his office.  “Mark, I think you spilled some coffee on…”  “Yeah, the Boss doesn’t really have the luck of the Irish today!” Ruszkowski shouted.  “What can I do for you Karen?”  “I just got off the phone with Rep. Hudson.  She’s going to need us to do a cursive study.  Do we have any funds left from Race To The Top to do an RFP for a contractor on this?” she asked.  “I don’t know.  Call Herdman, he controls all that.”  “But Mark, Jack wants this out there right away.   He think this might turn the tide with the opt out movement and distract parents from the blogs.”  “Better call Paul!” Ruszkowsi shouted.  Mark looked at them both, his cheeks as red as John Young’s Red Pen editions on Transparent Christina.  “Look, I have to run out to Target.  I’ll handle it when I get back.”

Mark drove down to Target.  He was in such a hurry, he didn’t realize he parked in a handicapped spot.  As he ran into the store, he accidentally ran into a little boy.  As he helped him up, the boy sneezed in his face.  “Can this day get any worse?” Mark asked himself.  He got to the checkout line with a new white shirt.  The cashier was on her cell phone saying “Oh my God, I can’t believe it.”  Mark looked at her and asked “Is everything alright ma’am?”  “Yeah, I’m on Exceptional Delaware, and they just announced the DSEA voted for no confidence in that Mark Murphy guy.”  “Don’t you mean the CEA and RCEA?”  “No, that was last week.  This just came out today.  Sorry, let me ring you up.”  Mark reached for his wallet, but it wasn’t there.  He remembered he left it on the dashboard when he got his ticket.  “I’ll be right back, I left my wallet in my car.”  “I can’t keep this order open.  What’s your name?”  Murphy said “Never mind” and ran out.

He noticed a police officer standing over his car, writing something.  “Officer, is everything okay?”  “Sir, you parked in a handicapped space but you don’t have the plates or even the placard.  I have to give you a ticket.”  “You do realize I’m a high-level official in this state?” Murphy asked the officer.  “Oh are you?  This isn’t something you can just ignore or shake it off.”  Mark recognized the face immediately.  It was that Dover cop who did the Taylor Swift lip-synch video on Youtube.  How could he ever forget?  His children played the video non-stop the weekend it was released.  “I am the Secretary of Education Sir.”  “Oh, so you want to opt out of getting a ticket.  But that could affect funding,” as the cop laughed.  “Here you go Mr. Secretary.  By the way, it looks like you spilled some coffee on your shirt.”

Mark went back into the store, got another shirt, and the only cashier available was the one he went to before.  “Oh, you found your wallet!”  Mark gave her his card.  “Can I see some ID?”  Mark showed her his license.  “Hey, are you the same Mark Murphy as the DOE guy?”  “Yes I am.”  “That has to bite, having all those teachers saying you suck.”  “I haven’t read the article yet.”  “I still have Exceptional Delaware up on my iPad.  Do you want to read it?”  Mark muttered under his breath.  The last thing he wanted to do was read Exceptional Damn Delaware.  This blogger had been a thorn in his side for nine months, after dealing with Kilroys and the rest all those years.  “I’m good.”

Mark stopped by WaWa, changed into his new shirt in the bathroom.  As he came out, Donna Johnson, the executive director of the State Board saw him.  “Mark, are you okay?  I just left the building and everyone said you were really upset about the whole DSEA article.”  “I’m okay, we will get through this.  How is everyone else doing?”  “What are you talking about Mark?  It was just you.  They didn’t give the DOE and the State Board a vote of no confidence.  It was just you.”  Mark stared at Donna and felt his world spinning around him.  Since the bathroom doors are right next to the service door, Mark wasn’t paying attention when a delivery man pushed the door open with a cart causing the door to swing into Mark.  Mark felt the lights go out around him.

He woke up in a bright room.  Everything was blurry.  Mark went to push his glasses up, but they weren’t there.  He heard a voice.  “Murph.  You’re up.  Hot damn, you are a mess!”  It was Ruszkowski.  “Where am I?”  “You’re at Bayhealth.  You passed out in WaWa man!  Donna called me.  She’s in the next room.”  “What happened to her?” Mark asked.  “She hit her head against a Twinkie display when you pushed her down.  She’ll be okay, only a couple stitches.”  Mark went to get up, but he couldn’t move.  “Don’t try to get up Boss.  You’ll be in traction for a couple days.  You actually broke your ass Murph!”  Ruszkowski kept talking about how he talked to Paul and Laurissa about getting some TFA action going immediately in light of the DSEA announcement.  “In fact, there’s a new bill to get another year extension.  Can you believe that Boss?  Those *&%$ing legislators think they know more about education than we do.  Anyways, I gotta get back.  I know Jack is waiting to see you.”

Murphy started smiling.  Jack always had a way of making him feel better.  He looked outside, and it was dark out.  How long had he been unconscious?  Jack came in.  “Mark, Mark, Mark.  This isn’t good.  You made more news today than you’ve had during your entire tenure as my Secretary.”  Mark wanted to cry.  “I’m going to have to temporarily replace you while you mend.”  “Who do you have in mind Jack?” Murphy asked.  “I was thinking about Mark Holodick…”  Murphy screamed.  An endless scream.  It was heard by children down the street at Dover South Elementary School.  Priests came running out from Holy Cross across the street.  As Murphy stopped, Jack looked at Mark.  “Can I get you some coffee?”  Murphy screamed again…