What Is Going On With Gateway’s Board Of Directors? Did They Violate FOIA & Their Own By-Laws?

The Gateway Lab School Board of Directors went through a radical shift between their July and August board meetings.  Four board members disappeared but nothing was found in the minutes or audio recordings stating those board members resigned.  As well, changes to their by-laws might have been done illegally. Continue reading

Guide To The Delaware General Assembly, Legislation & Committees

The Delaware 148th General Assembly returns to legislative session on January 12th, 2016.  The General Assembly meets in public Tuesdays to Thursdays from the 2nd Tuesday in January until June 30th (or whenever the State Budget passes).  The General Assembly is divided into two houses: The House of Representatives which has 41 State Representatives and the Senate, with 21 State Senators.

The House of Representatives:

Speaker of the House: Pete Schwartzkopf, House Majority Leader: Valerie Longhurst, House Majority Whip: John Viola, House Minority Leader: Daniel Short, House Minority Whip: Deb Hudson

House Committees: Agriculture, Appropriations, Capital Infrastructure, Corrections, Economic Development/Banking/Insurance/Commerce, Education, Energy, Ethics, Gaming & Parimutuels, Health & Human Development, House Administration, House Rules, Housing & Community Affairs, Joint Finance, Judiciary, Labor, Manufactured Housing, Natural Resources, Public Safety & Homeland Security, Revenue & Finance, Sunset Committee (Policy Analysis & Government Accountability), Telecommunication Internet & Technology, Transportation/Land Use and Infrastructure, Veterans Affairs

The Senate:

President Pro Tempore: Patricia Blevins, Senate Majority Leader: David McBride, Senate Majority Whip: Margaret Rose Henry, Senate Minority Leader: Gary Simpson, Senate Majority Whip: Greg Lavelle, *normally, the Lieutenant Governor is the President of the Senate but since there is no Lieutenant Governor since Matt Denn became the Attorney General, the President Pro Tempore holds the function.

Senate Committees: Administrative Services/Elections, Adult & Juvenile Corrections, Agriculture, Banking and Business, Bond, Children Youth & Families, Community/County Affairs, Education, Energy & Transit, Ethics, Executive, Finance, Health & Social Services, Highways & Transportation, Insurance & Telecommunications, Judiciary, Labor & Industrial Relations, Legislative Council, Natural Resources & Environmental Control, Permanent Rules, Public Safety, Sunset, Veterans Affairs

Bill Process:

The below chart as shown on the General Assembly website, shows what happens when a bill is introduced.  Prior to a bill being filed, a State Representative of the House or a State Senator writes a bill.  They send it out to their fellow legislators for sponsorship.  It is very typical to see a bill co-sponsored by a House Rep. and a Senator.  But wherever the bill originates from this is the chamber it is heard in first.

BillProcessDelaware

Other Legislation:

The House and Senate both have Resolutions, Concurrent Resolutions, and Joint Resolutions.  A resolution refers to a matter within either the House or the Senate, not both.  A concurrent resolution is not statutory, meaning it does not change anything in the law.  For example, the Senate in the 147th General Assembly passed Senate Concurrent Resolution #63, which created the IEP Task Force.  The House had to approve it as well, but it didn’t have legislative power in that the task force created from it could create law.  They recommended different things which then became Senate Bill 33 in the 148th General Assembly.  A Joint Resolution has to be signed by the Governor once it passes both chambers.  As per the General Assembly website, “a joint resolution is not a law but is used to employ temporary measures and has the force of law while in effect.”  A recent example of this would be the Senate Joint Resolution #2 Assessment Inventory Committee.  The Senate handles Nominations.  These are typically nominations from the Governor.  It could be for committees outside of Legislative Hall, or even a Cabinet position, like the nomination hearing for Dr. Steven Godowsky at the end of October when he became the Secretary of Education for Delaware.  It can be very typical to see the Senate reconvening during their “off time” for a set of nominations.

Many bills are introduced, get assigned to a committee, and they just sit there.  Nothing happens with them.  Or it could be released from committee and goes on what is called the “ready list”, meaning the full chamber can vote on it.  But before the vote, it has to be put on the agenda, and either the Speaker of the House or the President Pro Tempore for the Senate holds the power to determine what gets put on the agenda and what doesn’t.

Most committees meet on Wednesdays, but some do meet on Tuesdays or Thursdays.  Committee meetings are open to the public and you do have the ability to give public comment in most situations.  The House releases minutes of their committee meetings but the Senate does not.  In the Senate as well, committee members do not have to be present at a meeting to release legislation from committee.  For both chambers, there is no set time for committee meetings each week.  The only requirement for public notice is for these meetings to have an agenda at least five days prior to the committee meeting and  list of which legislation is going to be discussed.  That is not always a guarantee the legislation will be heard in that committee meeting, which happened with House Bill 50 last year in the Senate Education Committee.  It was heard a week later, but there was also a very full docket of bills on the first agenda.  In terms of education legislation and committee meetings, I will be posting all of that on here, along with agendas and meeting times.  But for other committees you may be interested in I strongly suggest bookmarking the General Assembly website.

For the most part, the voting action by the full House or Senate takes place on Tuesdays and Thursdays.  The typical day consists of both chambers opening up at 2pm.  This is open to the public, and this is where you will see House or Senate business discussion as well as “honorary” legislation.  As an example, House Concurrent Resolution #36 recognized Tourette Syndrome Awareness month.  When this part of the session ends, the House and Senate go into Caucus.  This is driven by the political party so the Democrats go to their caucus and the Republicans to their own.  Typically, the legislators return to session at 4pm, and this is where legislation on the Agenda gets a vote.  The public can attend but they are not allowed to speak to the legislators once the session begins until either a recess or termination of the session.

In my experience at Legislative Hall, I have found all of the legislators to be nice people.  They are all friendly and responsive to the public.  Even the ones you may be at odds with over issues.  They are also insanely busy, exponentially so as the months go by.  The best way to get your concerns out is to contact your district State Representative or Senator, but I talk to a lot of legislators not in my district.  If you go to the top of the stairs at Legislative Hall, you will see chairs in the lobby.  This is where you see a lot of folks dressed very nice, usually huddled in conversation or very quiet, just waiting.  These are the lobbyists.  Their job is to sway votes for certain issues for their bosses.  There is no easier way to put it.

If there is certain legislation you may want to see, understand a State Rep. or Senator most likely isn’t going to just jump on it.  My best advice would be to get others involved who may want to see the same type of legislation and have them contact the legislators in your district.  Your chances are better if your issue becomes their issue.  That doesn’t always happen with one voice, but several.  If, for some reason, you don’t feel your district legislators are responding, it may help to reach out to another legislator.  It is a very tricky process.  I would present your collective idea with research to back it up and make sure it is something that could be done without changing the Delaware Constitution.  Legislation stating Delaware would now have three Governors or five chambers in Legislative Hall just isn’t going to happen!

The General Assembly works in two year blocks of time.  We are entering the second half of the 148th General Assembly, so any legislation that doesn’t pass or doesn’t receive a vote by June 30th is dead.  Any legislation still active or pending from the first half of the 148th General Assembly is still alive, even though the legislators were in recess (with a few exceptions) for six months.  In 2017, the 149th General Assembly will begin, which will run until 6/30/18.  The entire House of Representatives is up for re-election every two years.  Senators typically have four-year terms.  This year, 11 out of the 21 Senators are up for re-election.

Getting involved in the legislative process is not as hard as it seems.  Your voice is important.  Find other voices that feel the same and let them be heard.  Showing up in person is usually the best, but emails, phone calls, and Social Media are just as important.

 

 

Wilmington Education Improvement Commission First Meeting Notes

I attended the first meeting of the Wilmington Education Improvement Commission this evening.  It was held at the Red Clay Consolidated School District office in Wilmington.  The meeting was very informal, and non-commission members of the audience were able to ask questions outside of the “formal” public comment period.  It was more of a Town Hall atmosphere.

As Kilroy’s Delaware pointed out earlier this evening, this is in sharp contrast to the town hall meeting WEIC had in Red Clay last night, where the comments from the audience were not as reserved at the main meeting tonight.  I strongly encourage all the parents who are attending these town halls to go to the regular meetings.  First off, most of the WEIC members will be there, and two, this is where questions may have answers.  Not that the town halls aren’t important.

Tonight’s meeting did answer some questions of my own.  During my public comment, I asked the members of WEIC why this was going on, the DOE’s Statewide Review of Educational Opportunities (SREO) and the Rodel/Vision Coalition’s Student Success 2025.  I advised they could all start bumping into each other.  Dan Rich, the WEIC Policy Advisor, advised the SREO sprung out of the charter school moratorium legislation, House Bill 56.  He said Governor Markell saw it and ran with it.  For the Rodel thing, he stated there group is more for actual education in the classroom as opposed to redistricting and funding our schools.  I then asked why, if there is a charter school moratorium, why are schools like Family Foundations Academy allowed to submit a major modification request to increase enrollment.  He said that was done prior to the law being enacted.  WEIC member Chandra Pitts made a point to reinforce WEIC is not against charter schools, and neither was WEAC.  So yes, this was intentional in some respects, but not overtly planned.

WEIC member Vicki Seifred said she is hearing all the right things, but there is skepticism that this will be the group to fix everything.  She also pointed out that even though WEIC wants more district and charter collaboration, there is a lot of animosity, especially between some of the Wilmington districts and the more “high-performing” charters and this needs to be addressed.  (Editor’s note: I think the upcoming final report coming from the Enrollment Preference Task Force will provide some type of resolution to these types of situations.)

Yvonne Johnson brought up the million-dollar question about funding, and she stated even though she has chaired a referendum and been very involved in education matters for 20+ years, the whole funding issues facing WEIC and the redistricting are new to her.  She asked if members can be brought up to speed on how to explain this at the Town Hall meetings at the four Wilmington school districts going forward.  Red Clay Chief Financial Officer Jill Flores advised she may be able to come up with some type of presentation for this as questions come up.

Basically, the first meeting was introductions, even with members of the public (which I thought gave it a very personal touch: kudos to Tony Allen for this), and going over the basic layout of the whole thing.  The committee chairs will be able to pick their own members on those groups, but of course the WEIC leaders do have some “suggested” members on these groups.  Tony Allen did say he expects every WEIC member to be on one of the committees.

Jackie Kook, a teacher in Christina as well as the Vice-President of the Christina Educators Association, said she is really hoping all this works out for the best of Wilmington students.  A sentiment echoed by State Rep. Kim Williams.

The incoming Secretary of Education, Dr. Steven Sodowsky, was in attendance.  He seemed more personable in two hours than Mark Murphy did in three years!  Tony Allen did mention several times that WEIC does not answer to the DOE or Governor Markell.  While I want to believe this, I don’t trust the DOE or Markell, and for good reason.  We really have no clue about Sodowsky yet, but I’m glad he felt it was necessary to show up here.  He did say he would have probably been involved with this Commission through his work at University of Delaware, but something else came up…

At first I didn’t get why this group has to act so fast with their implementation plan to the State Board of Education.  WEIC has until 12/31/15 to get the State Board their plans, the State Board has until 3/31/16, and then the General Assembly takes the ball with it from there and if they pass a joint resolution, it goes to Governor Markell.  I think this last part is the reason for the tight time-frame.  This will essentially be the last General Assembly Governor Markell deals with.  After 6/30/16, they will be gone until the same time Governor Markell leaves office.  And with upcoming elections, the next General Assembly could look radically different than the one we have now.  Plus, I’m sure Jack Markell will be using this on his resume for the next fifty years…if it works.

Aside from State Rep. Kim Williams, the only other legislators in attendance were the two on WEIC, State Rep. Charles Potter and Senator David Sokola.  Allen wanted to give a shout-out to Williams who attended every single meeting of the Wilmington Education Advisory Committee last fall and winter.

No questions were asked about a Wilmington all-charter school district, and even if Governor Markell may want that, I don’t think it would fly with this group’s make-up.  Yes, there are some very pro-charter folks on it, but there is also a balance with many representing traditional school districts.  Very smart move for whoever came up with this!