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

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

School District Consolidation Task Force – HCR 39

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

September 20, 2017 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Respectfully Signed,

Earl Jaques

27th Representative District

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School District Consolidation Task Force & Sub-Committees Meeting Schedule & How YOU Can Help!

The Delaware School District Consolidation Task Force, as authorized by House Concurrent Resolution #39, is in full swing.  Whatever that means!  But below is a list of ALL the meetings scheduled to date.  No sane person could possibly attend all of them.  I’m sure someone will try though.  Not this guy!  The first sub-committee meeting for the Structure group met last Monday, August 28th.  All meetings are open to the public and public comment will be allowed.  Whether you agree or not with district consolidation, make your voice heard.  I like that the main task force group is utilizing schools from each county.  Below the schedule is information the task force wants from YOU!

District Consolidation Task Force

Monday, September 18th, 6:30pm, Woodbridge High School, Bridgeville, DE

Monday, October 16th, 6:30pm, William Penn High School, New Castle, DE

Thursday, November 16th, 6:30pm, Caesar Rodney High School, Camden, DE

Academic & Children Needs Sub-Committee

Wednesday, September 13th, 6:30-8:30pm, Library Conference Room, Dept. of Education, Townsend Bldg., Dover, DE

Monday, October 2nd, 6:30-8:30pm, Georgetown Middle School, Georgetown, DE

Tuesday, November 7th, 6:30-8:30pm, Independence Conference Room, Carvel Bldg., N. French St., Wilmington, DE

Monday, December 4th, 6:30-8:30pm, Cabinet Room, Delaware Dept. of Education, Townsend Bldg., Dover, DE

Finance Sub-Committee

Thursday, September 7th, 9:00-11:00am, Government Center, 87 Reads Way, New Castle, DE

Thursday, October 5th, 9:00-11:00am, Office of Management and Budget, Haslet Armory, 3rd Floor, Dover, DE

Thursday, November 9th, 4:30-6:30pm, Government Center, 87 Reads Way, New Castle, DE

Thursday, December 7th, 4:30-6:30pm, Office of Management and Budget, Haslet Armory, 3rd Floor, Dover, DE

Structure Sub-Committee

Met on August 28th

Wednesday, September 27th, 6:30-8:30pm, St. George’s Technical High School, Middletown, DE

Teachers & Staff Sub-Committee

Monday, September 11th, 5:00-7:00pm, Colonial School District offices, 318 E. Basin Rd., New Castle, DE

no other future meetings known as of yet

 

I will pin this article to the top of the blog and will update meetings as the information becomes available.

 

As well, State Rep. Earl Jaques is looking for YOUR suggestions on how a district consolidation would take place.  Below is a Suggestion Graphic which, should you choose to participate, would need to be sent back by September 11th.  This would be up for discussion at the next regular Task Force meeting, on September 18th.

Feel free to slice and dice the State of Delaware any way you want for this.  But take it seriously.  You never know… your suggestion could become the final outcome!  I am a member of the Finance Sub-Committee but will be paying attention to every meeting taking place.  Sorry I missed the first Structure Sub-Committee meeting!  To find out more information about the Task Force, please go here.

 

 

Kowalko Blasts Carney, Bunting, & Several Christina Legislators

Last Thursday, Delaware Governor John Carney held yet another secret meeting.  This one was with Secretary of Education Dr. Susan Bunting and several legislators whose districts are a part of the Christina School District.  Those legislators were Senators David Sokola and Bryan Townsend and Reps Earl Jaques, Ed Osienski, Joe Miro, Mike Ramone, Melanie Smith, and John Kowalko.  The subject: those damn test scores for Christina!

Carney was pulling the usual “why are Christina’s reading and math scores so low?”  If I were a déjà vu kind of guy, I would say it is the same record spun by Governor Markell and former Secretary of Education Mark Murphy.  Sokola talked about capacity and too much of it in Christina.  Ramone talked about how the state has closed failing charter schools and why not public schools.  Jaques talked about how we need to fill schools with psychiatrists and psychologists while not realizing budget cuts have affected the ability to properly staff schools with educators and resources before we even need to get to that point.  Miro talked about… who knows!  But Kowalko talked about the funding cuts that have already happened that is causing the suffering of poverty students in Christina.  He suggested Christina consolidates two of their high schools and actually build a Wilmington high school for Wilmington students so they aren’t bussed all over Christina School District.

Governor Carney is proving to be more of a Jack Markell wannabe than I ever thought he could be.  I agree with Kowalko.  When Markell cut the reading specialists Governor Ruth Ann Minner created years ago, the problems in Christina got bigger.  When Markell began his dance with corporations to “fix” education it got worse.  Now we’ve had three years of Smarter Balanced and, as predicted, the scores suck.  They suck bad.  No one in power ever stops to think the test is the problem.  No, we must get new leaders in our schools.  We have to fix poverty in the schools.  How about creating real jobs, for real people?  Not these new start-up tech companies Carney gets excited about.  Cause they aren’t going to fix poverty.  They are only going to further the divide between the haves and the have nots.

Kowalko told me the only legislator who made any sense was Senator Townsend.  The rest, he felt, were playing the same skipped record on Delaware education particularly in Christina.  And Secretary Bunting… I don’t know where your head is at these days.  You’ve been drinking far too much of the Rodel Kool-Aid lately.  Taking money away from districts (see recent articles about match tax) and just giving it away to the charters is not a solution.  For someone who came from a large district with financial issues, you sure do seem to be forgetting what is truly needed in education.  Who is advising these people?  How many other secret meetings are going on?  Thank God we have legislators like Kowalko who value transparency above all else.

Rep. Melanie Smith is one of the true catalysts, along with other charter-loving legislators, who don’t care about Christina.  They care about the charters they want their kids and grandchildren to go to.  And a few of them who have relatives that teach at charter schools.  The jig is up.  You aren’t fooling any of us with your grand posturing and false bravado.  Smith, Jaques, Sokola, Ramone, Miro… enough already.  The charter lobbyists don’t need to shove anything up your ass.  You do it gladly all on your own.

We have a Secretary and Governor who allow situations like the train wreck that is Providence Creek Academy’s administration and the continuing de facto segregation factory called Newark Charter School.  You want to put your money where your mouths are?  Don’t let the charters bitch for one iota of a second about match tax and all their other funding whining when they get to keep their damn transportation slush fund.  It is a disgrace.  Democrat or Republican, it doesn’t matter.  Most of you support it as evidenced by your budget vote every single damn year.  The ones that say no to that… those are the ones I respect down at Legislative Hall.  The rest of you are phoneys pretending to be lawmakers.  Allowing charters to suck at the public teat while cutting funds from districts.  And Bunting… perhaps the biggest traitor of them all allowing this to continue.  I thought coming from a district you were going to be the watcher on the wall against this crap.  But you have proven to be just like the other Governor mouthpieces for education.

Delaware School District Consolidation Task Force Meeting Tonight At Legislative Hall

Thanks for State Rep. Kim Williams for getting the word out on this.  Yes, this task force is meeting tonight.  At Legislative Hall in the House Hearing Room on the 2nd floor.  From 6:30 to 8:00pm.  Come, give public comment.

I don’t know who the members are except for the following State Reps and Senators: State Reps. Earl Jaques and Joe Miro and Senator David Sokola and Brian Pettyjohn.  I’m guessing since Dave is biking somewhere in Illinois or Ohio at this point, he won’t be there.  That is an interesting group right there.  I’m assuming Earl is the Chair of this cabal since he is the one funning the meeting.  Come, or be square!  We know the Delaware Charter Schools Network won’t have a membership because of Rep. Williams last minute amendment on the bill.

Seriously, whose idea was it to have meetings in the middle of the Summer?  The Dept. of Education is the coordinator.  So I just answered my own question, duh!  Sorry for the late notice folks, but I literally just found out about this myself!

Here Comes The School District Consolidation Task Force!

House Concurrent Resolution #39 would create a School District Consolidation Task Force.  Yes, another task force in Delaware.  Because we must always have a group of people sitting around a table before we can do anything.  This task force would study if it is worth consolidating school districts in Delaware.  This is something I actually favor.  Nineteen school districts in little old Delaware?  There are school districts in other states with more students than the entire student population of Delaware.  I believe it will happen, but the question is how many?  I don’t think there should be more than five.  Expect a lot of battles on this one.  I am fairly sure nineteen superintendents won’t want to give up their titles.  Some would have to if this went through.  This will be one of the hottest topics in the second leg of the 149th General Assembly beginning in January, 2018.  I’m calling it now!

Where it goes from here is the House Education Committee.  It is on the agenda for the meeting tomorrow (must be nice to be the Sponsor of the bill AND the Chair of the Committee).  But tomorrow is the last day of committee meetings before the General Assembly closes up shop this year so this is my guestimation on what will happen: clears House Education Committee, gets a House vote in the affirmative, gets sent to Senate Education Committee, a suspension of rules allows it to bypass the committee, Senate votes yes, and the task force gets going late summer/early fall.

 

The CHAIR of the House Education Committee LIES About Opt Out Bill Controversy #grammarmatters

Today, State Rep. Earl Jaques (who is also the Chair of the House Education Committee) finally responded to my Facebook post about the status of the opt out bill, House Bill 60.  He is claiming…well, sort of…that no bills were walked because of the non-existence of a quorum in the House Education Committee meeting last week.  Which is funny, because the other four bills show they are out of committee.  As for House Bill 60, it is still showing as “House Education Committee”.  It doesn’t say if it was released or not released.  Can someone please tell the right hand what the left hand is doing?

It is hard to know what he is saying because his grammar usage was…how shall I put this…without offending him…very poor.  For a Chair of the House Education Committee I would expect more, but I digress.  This led to some very hysterical responses by the way.  Which can be seen below…

Gotta love that Earl Jaques!  To be honest, aside from opt out bills, Earl and I get along very well.  I would love to know what it is about opt out that makes him so crotchety!  So if ALL bills were signed during the committee meeting, doesn’t that mean House Bill 60 should be on the House Ready List, meaning it gets a full House vote?  Why is it showing this:

Whereas, as an example, House Bill 193 shows it was released:

And by the way, Speaker of the House Pete Schwartzkopf never responded to my email.

Rep. Jaques Turns Simple Opt Out Parental Rights Bill Into A Three-Ring Circus

State Rep. Earl Jaques showed off his “Big Man on Campus” persona in an embarrassing display of supposed power today which he may be wrong about.

Advocates for any opt out bill in Delaware knew there would be opposition.  Those of us who have advocated for a bill which codifies and honors a parent’s right to opt their child out of the state assessment knew this going in.  However, hanging your hat on a superficial and made-up procedure the way Delaware State Rep. Earl Jaques did is shameful and embarrassing.  State Rep. John Kowalko, the primary sponsor of the bill, was composed and polished today.  There was no back and forth between himself and Jaques as there was two years ago.

House Bill 60 was not released from the House Education Committee.  With only eight out of seventeen members voting to release the bill, Jaques declared the bill dead.  However, there is a big caveat to his declaration.  Although there were 12 members on the floor, the committee is made up of 17 state representatives.  Five bills were heard in committee today.  For the other four, Jaques indicated he would walk the bill to the members.  For the opt out bill, he said he would not release the bill since there was a majority of members on the floor during the vote.  State Rep. Sean Lynn called for a parliamentary inquiry on the matter.  There is a chance Jaques could be overruled on his refusal to walk the bill for signatures and it could be released.  However, Jaques absolute disdain and contempt against this bill is clouding his better judgment.  He set the precedent for this by agreeing to walk the other four bills in my opinion.

After the committee adjourned the second time (since Jaques declared the meeting over a first time without asking for or getting a motion to adjourn), I spoke to him in the lobby of Legislative Hall. I said “Earl, you have to walk the bill.”  I wasn’t angry, I wasn’t upset.  He began yelling at me and said “The bill is not released.”  I asked him why he was yelling at me and advised I wasn’t yelling at him.  He continued to yell and said “The bill is not released.  It’s done.  The bill is dead,” as he stormed off.

About fifteen minutes later, I found myself in Speaker of the House Pete Schwartzkopf’s reception area.  In the office were Secretary of Education Dr. Susan Bunting, Meghan Wallace, and Jaques.  The receptionist said there was a wait and I advised I would just send him an email.  The email is below.

In terms of the discussion on the bill in committee, it was very much a repeat of 2015.  The usual suspects opposed the bill: Delaware DOE, State Board of Education, Delaware Business Roundtable, State Rep. Tim Dukes, a couple of women from Wilmington who were sitting next to DelawareCAN’s Atnre Alleyne, etc.  Even the Delaware School Boards Association opposed the bill because they believed it is a local decision and detracts from the issues surrounding testing.  There was a lot of discussion around losing federal funds even though it has never happened.  The excuse this time was “We don’t know what will happen with Secretary Betsy DeVos.”  I love when a State Rep. has something important to say about a bill they oppose after they get a piece of paper from someone in the audience, but I digress.  There was talk about how bad Smarter Balanced is, the amount of time wasted on testing, and so forth, but there was far too little about the heart of the bill: the parental right to opt out.

No state has ever lost federal funding over dipping below the 95% participation rate.  And I don’t think little old Delaware would be the first.  If the feds really put their money where their mouth is, it would have happened in New York or New Jersey years ago.  So I don’t care what they say (and no one is actually saying it these days), it is not a good idea to cut federal Title I money from schools with poor kids.  Secretary Bunting did say Delaware got feedback on its state ESSA plan last evening and believes the US Dept. of Education will be tougher than she thought, but as a state with a 97% participation rate, I don’t think we are on the Title I money chopping block.  Let’s get real here.

To be fair, I don’t ever expect the Delaware DOE and the usual cast of opposers to ever support an opt out bill.  It just isn’t going to happen.  Expecting it is as likely as convincing the wind to change direction.  It isn’t something I’m even upset about anymore, it just is.

My public comment was as simple as the bill: it is a parental right bill.  And since there was a question about what districts or charters have given parents a rough time about opting their child out, I named them: Red Clay, Christina, Freire Charter School, and so forth.  I even advised Rep. Dukes a constituent in his own district tried to opt their child out two years ago, the only one in that school district.  When the school refused, they told the mother he could not opt out.  It got so bad the mother was ostracized by members of her community.  After, Dukes came up to me and told me he didn’t appreciate me calling him out.  He asked me which district, and I told him which one I believed it was.  He said “you don’t know?”  I said it was two years ago and I talk to a lot of parents.  He said next time I better know before I call him out like that.  I advised him the parent tried reaching him at the time and he claimed he never heard from the parent.

One public commenter said he wasn’t even there for that bill but felt he had to comment.  He said, as someone who makes six figures and works for Fortune 500 companies, he has never looked at a single standardized test score.  He said if a college student in an interview told him they opted out of the state assessment, he would give them an internship based solely on that.

Here is the email I sent to Schwartzkopf:

Speaker of the House Peter Schwartzkopf,

Good evening.  I attempted to see you in person, but you had a long line in your office about half an hour ago.  I advised your receptionist I would email you, which I prefer to do at this point since it is in writing.

As  you are no doubt aware, I am very passionate about education.  But I have calmed down with my public comments regarding certain legislation.  I wish the same could be said of the Chair of the House Education Committee.  The behavior I saw from him today regarding House Bill 60 was offensive, both as a citizen of Delaware and as a parent.

I am sure you know about the situation with “walking the bill” after Rep. Jaques set the standard for that with four other bills in the committee today.  It was very obvious to all he wanted this bill to die a messy death and he wanted to be the one to do it.  That is conjecture on my part, but based on his attitudes and attempts to kill the bill in 2015, I would say that is a fair assessment.  But his behavior in the lobby of Legislative Hall was unacceptable.  I simply said “Earl, you have to walk the bill.”  He began yelling at me, loud enough for many folks nearby to overhear.  When I asked him why he was yelling at me and that I wasn’t yelling at him, he continued to yell at me claiming “the bill is dead” and stormed off like a petulant child.  While I certainly can’t say I have never shown anger about legislation, I believe a certain decorum is expected out of our elected officials.  I don’t agree with Earl’s decision about deciding not to walk the bill, but I have to believe two grown adults can treat each other with respect and discuss the matter like two gentlemen.  I wanted to advise you of this issue because of his position as Chair of the House Education Committee.  Please consider this a formal complaint against Rep. Jaques.  I do believe this is something the House leadership should investigate.  I would have accepted a decision on the bill if it was given a fair shake, but I found Rep. Jaques behavior and conduct unbefitting for a Chair of a committee.

As I’m sure you know, I am a firm believer in transparency, so this email will be a part of my article about the opt out bill heard in committee today. 

Respectfully,

Kevin Ohlandt

ALL The Delaware Education Legislation In The General Assembly: Signed, Passed, Pending, & Tabled

*Updated with new legislation, votes on the floor, and committee agendas for tomorrow

Confused by all the Education legislation floating around in Delaware?  Can’t keep track of it all?  Don’t worry, I can’t either sometimes.  But I felt it was necessary to reestablish my old tradition of putting it all together.  I will update this as the Delaware 149th General Assembly finishes off the first half of this session on June 30th and when they reconvene in January 2018.  Below are all 50 of the education bills that have come up in the 149th General Assembly just this year alone.  More legislation will come by the time it is all done on June 30th, 2018. Continue reading “ALL The Delaware Education Legislation In The General Assembly: Signed, Passed, Pending, & Tabled”

Delaware Senate Passes Blockchain Bill With Unanimous Vote & Things I Heard At Legislative Hall Today

My question is how many of these Senators even know what this bill means.  Do they know what they are opening the door to?  To be fair, all this bill does is allow Blockchain technology into Delaware corporate law.  The word “education” does not even appear in the bill.  Blockchain would allow for secure transactions.  It also allows for secure dataflow.  But who owns that data?  If it is meant for one business or one person, does that business or that person own that data?

What happens when a student’s standardized test data, medical information, discipline record, and attendance become a part of this permanent record?  What happens if that information is wrong?  How do you go about correcting it?  Who puts information in this distributed ledger?  There are so many unanswered questions about this technology.  For businesses and corporations, I get it.  But when it comes to the eventual distribution to ALL people, my red flags go way up.

The Senate passed Senate Bill 69 with 20 yes and 1 not voting (Senator Bryant Richardson).  I’m not sure why he chose not to vote.  There was hardly anyone else during this vote.  A handful of lobbyists and that was about it.  I did see the primary sponsor, Senator Bryan Townsend, leaving Governor Carney’s office shortly before the Senate convened.

There was a flurry of activity at Legislative Hall today.  Pro-lifers and some pro-choicers caused a long line to get in.  I guess nobody told them that arriving at 2pm does nothing because the House doesn’t vote on bills until after they go to Caucus.  Which they are still in since the House isn’t back in session yet.  I went for the SB69 vote and got back home a little while ago.  Many of the pro-lifers left.

I did have some chats down here.  I heard some rumblings about a few things.  One of them being a school district consolidation bill that is floating around.  I haven’t seen it yet.

I did have this conversation:

I just wanted to let you know your analysis is always right.  I read every article you put on your blog.

Yeah, but does HE read it? (pointing to Governor Carney’s office)

He doesn’t read your stuff.  He doesn’t have time for that.  But I know his education policy advisor does.

That is always a comforting thought.  The most powerful political guy in the state doesn’t read my stuff.  How assuring!  I know Jack did.  Jack read everything that had his name on it, good or bad.  This led to a conversation about the time I sang for Jack Markell.  When asked if I was going to make a song for John Carney, I answered my singing days are over.  But you never know…

State Rep. Earl Jaques’ new tax ’em without a referendum bill was officially introduced today.  House Bill 213 was assigned to the House Education Committee.

I heard some people having extreme agita about Senate Bill 50, Senator Harris McDowell’s love fest for Del-Tech.  Which would mimic how vocational school districts are funded for minor and major capital projects.  It would also give Del-Tech’s board the, you guessed it, ability to raise property taxes without a referendum for these projects.  Yes folks, they want us taxpayers to now fund community colleges and their pet projects as well!

State Rep. John Kowalko introduced House Bill #209 which would prevent the abuse of epilogue language in the state budget.  Kowalko’s bill would prevent the “waivers” that occur every single year which go against Delaware state code.  Think of the Charter School Transportation Slush Fund as just one example of this abuse.

I can’t imagine what State Rep. Jeff Spiegelman was thinking when he introduced House Bill #194 which would eliminate the senior tax credit for anyone born after 1967.  I can’t imagine too many Republicans would be on board with this, but they are all Republican sponsors on the bill.  That tax credit was something I was looking forward to.  Thanks for that Jeff!  It still has to pass.  Can’t imagine that happening with all this talk about budget deficits and “shared sacrifice”… insert sarcasm here…

I saw some faces from yesteryear as well.  Always good to chat with people I didn’t think I would see again.  I see on social media that some people I know were there today and I didn’t even see them.  Maybe next time.

That’s it for now folks.  In the coming days I’m going to have to list ALL the Delaware education legislation floating around.  I used to keep track of this stuff daily but it is a lot of work.

Exclusive: Pending Legislation Would Give Delaware School Boards MORE Authority To Raise Taxes Without Referendum

A bill is circulating among Delaware legislators that would give school boards more power with raising taxes.  In my view, this is just another way to shift state funding to local school boards.  The bill hasn’t even been given a number yet and it is important to know it is only in circulation, which means State Rep Earl Jaques is looking for sponsors.  I heard, through that infamous Delaware grapevine, that Senator David Sokola is on board.  Funny how Sokola didn’t mention this at all at the Education Forum the other night.  The pending bill is dated 5/11/2017 and given that Sokola is the Chair of the Senate Education Committee, he would definitely know about this.

I said it yesterday, and I’ll say it again: watch out for stealth legislation coming out between now and June 30th that will most likely tick a lot of people off.  The Delaware Education Hunger Games just went up to a new unbelievable level!

Updated, 2:52pm: State Rep. John Kowalko just released the following statement about this bill in circulation:

In one of the most blatant attempts to shift the blame and the costs for the irresponsible and destructive $37 million cuts to public education, Senator Sokola and Representative Jaques, chairs of the Senate and House Education committees, are circulating legislation that purports to enable local school boards to fund rather than cut a number of necessary programs. The elimination of these programs, due to the proposed funding cuts, will spell disaster for the children, educators and public school districts. This bill is a blatant attempt to shirk the Legislature’s responsibility to adequately fund public education and seek the necessary revenue to do so. The taxpayers should not overlook the additional fact that the proposed $37 million in cuts will not include $6 million that is left to the charter schools to fund these same programs. The prime sponsors of this proposed legislation, who have been less than aggressive supporters of equal treatment and funding between charter schools and traditional schools, instead seem to feel that the public will find tax increases imposed by a volunteer (unpaid) board of elected citizens as palatable. I imagine that another benefit will be to disguise and hide the fact that the General Assembly is abdicating its responsibility and authority to raise revenue for public services not to mention that any school board choosing to use such authority would probably doom the chances of success for any future referendums, regardless of their legitimacy. 

Rep. John Kowalko

Homeowners Set To Get Screwed With Governor Carney’s “Shared Sacrifice”

Yesterday, the Delaware Economic Forecast Advisory Committee (DEFAC) projected Delaware’s budget deficit for Fiscal Year 2018 to be $395 million dollars.  This is up ten million from the last time the committee met.  Tonight, the Christina Board of Education will discuss the impact on taxpayers.  Governor Carney is suggesting school boards raise what is known as the match tax (the portion the state matches certain funding) by having the district school boards levy the tax without a referendum.

Christina’s Chief Financial Officer, Bob Silber, created an impact budget for how this increase would hit taxpayers.  In the below example, a home that just sold for $224,000 would see their property taxes raised $46.50 with the match tax scenario.  Keep in mind, this is based on the property assessment value of $63,700, which is almost a quarter of the home’s actual value based on the sale price.

This is not the only sting homeowners, as well as all Delaware citizens, will feel starting July 1st.  State taxes, collected from paychecks, will go up for most.  State employees will see higher insurance rates.  Salary raises for state employees will most likely disappear.  Services will be cut.  It is all rather bleak.  Our General Assembly has utilized every single benefit to state funding, such as the proceeds from the tobacco lawsuit, without realizing those perks were eventually going to disappear.  State revenue does not match state expenses.  Companies, such as DuPont and soon Barclays, left Delaware for the most part, causing a severe lack of revenue and jobs.  Delaware has, and will continue to, spend more than it makes.

With the Wilmington Education Improvement Commission, there was a request to raise property assessment values.  While Delaware’s assessment values are still far lower than most states, it also created an influx of senior citizens moving to The First State because of that.  But the ability of school boards to raise property taxes, already through the special education tuition tax and soon the match tax, could have a negative impact on the desire of the elderly to move to Delaware or even stay here.

Meanwhile, there has been no action on the Governor’s part to institute the basic special education funding for students in Kindergarten to 3rd Grade.  State Rep. Kim Williams introduced two bills in the last two General Assemblies to take care of this but neither bill has moved forward due to the state funding issues.  Oblivious to all the future costs by not having this essential funding in place, our state continues to bumble through special education with this very real omission to the foundation of special education students who are just beginning to manifest their disabilities.  The projected amount to fund what should have always been there is a little bit less than $13 million a year.  By not providing that funding, the state relies on the school districts or charter schools to pay for these services.  Either way, it has a negative effect.  If the school does provide those services, it results in more of a drain on local funding.  If the school doesn’t, they are not only breaking special education law if the child qualifies for an Individualized Education Program, but they are also looking at higher costs for that student in the future by not providing that foundation.  So that $13 million a year mushrooms to much higher costs for these students down the road.

Just this morning, State Rep. Earl Jaques announced a new bill on Facebook creating a fund in the Delaware Dept. of Education budget for an Educational Support Professional of the Year award.  Delaware has 16 school districts, 3 vocational districts, and over 20 charter schools.  This bill would allow each district (20, which includes one award for all the charters) to give their winner an extra $1000.00.  The overall winner would get $1,500.00.  While $21,500 in the DOE budget doesn’t amount to much, it is symptomatic of the mindset of far too many of our legislators.  Instead of finding solutions, too many of them find ways to spend even more money.  If our state was swimming in money, I would be okay with this bill.  But not now.

Delaware’s legislature is going to have their hands full when they return from Spring Break next Tuesday.  This budget deficit is not the result of a national recession like what we faced in 2009.  This is Delaware created.  We spent our way out of the recession and now we are paying the piper.  Governor Carney looks like a deer running towards headlights with his reactions to this ever-increasing budget deficit.  I predict he will have a very tough time getting re-elected in 2020 if this trend continues.

House Bill 50 To Be Heard In House Education Committee Today…. Say What?

The Delaware General Assembly returns today!  It was supposed to happen yesterday, but the impending doom of the snowstorm that didn’t quite live up to its potential postponed the return.  Today is Committee day!  House Bill 50 WILL be heard in the House Education Committee today.  Say what?  Didn’t former Governor Jack Markell veto that bill? Continue reading “House Bill 50 To Be Heard In House Education Committee Today…. Say What?”

Earl Jaques Threw A Doozy Out There On Friday. Does It Have Legs?

Last Friday, Delaware State Rep. Earl Jaques responded to a post I put up on Facebook concerning the Delaware State Auditor’s office.  One of his replies was news to me as well as everyone else I asked about this reveal. Continue reading “Earl Jaques Threw A Doozy Out There On Friday. Does It Have Legs?”

New 149th General Assembly Education Legislation Deals With Special Education, ESSA & Attendance

The 149th General Assembly officially began on January 10th, this past Tuesday.  But the first few weeks tend to be slow.  Especially when it comes to education.  But we already have seven education bills submitted by the Delaware House of Representatives.  No Senate education bills have come forth at this point.

The biggest of these is a carryover from the 148th General Assembly, that of funding for basic special education for students in Kindergarten to 3rd grade.  State Rep. Kim Williams made a ton of noise about the need for this funding during the last go-around, and she needs to keep making more noise!  There should be NO question whatsoever about the need for this bill.  NONE!  It should not come down to fiscal concerns either.  It needs to happen even if they have to cut some slush fund somewhere.  House Substitute 1 for House Bill 12 will be a bill I advocate for this year, no doubt about it!  I have to say I am disappointed there are NO Delaware Republicans that signed on to the substitute for this bill although Reps. Spiegelman and Briggs-King did sign on for the original House Bill #12.  This is on the agenda for the House Education Committee meeting on Wednesday, January 18th at 2:30pm.

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State Rep. Earl Jaques’ House Joint Resolution #3 would ensure both the House and Senate Education Committees see the Delaware Every Student Succeeds Act state plan before it is completed and sent to the United States Dept. of Education.  That is a step, but I would prefer the General Assembly has authority to accept or reject the plan before it goes to the US DOE!  This is also on the agenda for the House Education Committee meeting on Wednesday, January 18th at 2:30pm.

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The drop-out age and school attendance came out roaring through the legislative gate!  State Rep. Sean Matthews submitted two bills while State Rep. Tim Dukes submitted one.  Dukes’ House Bill #17 would increase the drop-out age from 16 to 17.  It would also include truancy.  Matthews’ House Bill #23 takes it a step further and would require a parent or guardian to agree to a student dropping out if they are over the age of 16.  Where this could get a bit sticky is what happens if a student is 18?  They are of legal age at that point.  Some students with disabilities attend school until the age of 21.  Matthews’ House Bill #24 would require a parent conference if a student misses five consecutive days without an excuse.  My take on this is if parents don’t know their kids are missing five days of school and just wandering around somewhere, it will be tough to get that parent to come to a conference if they are already so disengaged they don’t know what their kid is doing.  All of these bills are meant to discourage dropping out and keeping students in school.  I wholeheartedly agree with that.  The trick is in the details.

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This is another carryover from the 148th.  State Rep. Deb Heffernan had this one ready to go on June 30th but I have to believe there simply wasn’t enough time to get to every bill that night/morning.  But it is back with House Bill #15 which would make computer science a graduation requirement for high school students.  This is also on the agenda for the House Education Committee meeting on Wednesday, January 18th at 2:30pm.

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It wouldn’t be a General Assembly in the 2010s without some type of librarian legislation from State Rep. Paul Baumbach!  House Bill #34 would increase the participants in a very long-sounding scholarship name.

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The Battle For The 10th Begins As Republicans Pick John Marino

The 10th Senate District will have a vacancy when Senator Bethany Hall-Long officially steps down when she becomes the next Delaware Lieutenant Governor.  As many predicted, the Delaware GOP chose John Marino as the Republican candidate.  Who will the Dems pick?  Whoever it is, this will be a hot race.  The winner determines which party controls the Delaware Senate.  Many felt State Rep. Earl Jaques would run, but he informed me two weeks ago he is NOT running for this Senate seat.  Here is the official release from the Delaware GOP:

Republicans Choose Marino for Upcoming Special Election:

 Middletown Republican Won 49% Of The Vote in 2014

Newark, DE: The Republican Party of Delaware announced today that they have selected John Marino of Middletown as the party’s candidate for the upcoming special election to replace Lt. Gov.-elect Bethany Hall-Long in the State Senate.

John Marino is a highly-decorated retired police officer, and is currently President of J & J Homes, LLC and a top-producing Realtor®. John has been an active volunteer in the New Castle County community for many years: as the former President of Lea Eara Farms/Summit Farms Maintenance Corporation, a volunteer position which he held for ten years; as a longtime volunteer at a horse rescue; as a Little League Coach at MOT Little League, winning the State tournament and taking his team to the regional championship; as well as a past volunteer for the Appoquinimink Sports Boosters.

Marino has lived for the last 20 years in the Middletown area with JoiAnn, his wife of 25 years, and their three children.

“I am honored that the Republican Party has selected our team for this important challenge,” said Marino. “I look forward to spreading my message of reforming and improving our government to the great people of the 10th District. Delaware deserves much better than we’ve been getting from our state government, and I have a plan to get the results Delawareans deserve.”

State GOP Chairman Charlie Copeland noted Marino’s campaign experience, in particular his 2014 campaign against Hall-Long, where Marino earned 49% of the vote and fell short by a narrow margin.

“John Marino knows how to run a top-flight campaign and earn the votes of the people of the 10th District,” said Delaware GOP Chairman Charlie Copeland. “And the people of the 10th District can see that one-party rule has failed our schools, our government and our economy. We look forward to a fantastic campaign.”

Should Marino be successful, the Delaware Senate would change power for the first time in over 40 years. The Senate will be evenly split between the Democrats and the Republicans following Hall-Long’s inauguration.

“The Senate Republicans have been offering consistent solutions for years, only to be shut down entirely by the ruling Democrats,” said Senate Minority Whip Greg Lavelle (R-Sharpley). “We’re ready to win this race and show Delaware that balanced government can make a lasting difference for them. John Marino is exactly the right person to win this race and serve the people of the 10th District in the State Senate.”

Had Hillary Clinton become President, this election would not mean as much.  It still would have been big, but now that we live in Trumplandia and all that will come from that, this should add some extra oomph to this election.

Rep Kim Williams Rips Into The Delaware DOE During Public Meeting

The Delaware Dept. of Education held the third meeting of the Strategic Plan for Specialized Education Opportunities in Delaware today.  I can’t even make an abbreviation out of that one.  Do not be confused with the Strategic Plan for Special Education that the DOE is also working on.  In any event, Delaware State Rep. Kim Williams was NOT a happy camper.  While she is not a member of this committee, she attended the meeting and had some words to say to the DOE.

Apparently this committee came about as a result of an amendment on House Bill #56, the Wilmington charter school moratorium legislation signed by Governor Markell in 2015.  The Dept. was tasked with reviewing all educational opportunities in the state including charter, district, and vo-tech.  The DOE contracted with Public Consulting Group (PCG) to write up the report which came out last December.  PCG continued to work on the strategic plan and came out with another report in October.  In the October report, PCG made a reference to a District-Charter Collaboration Task Force.  Which is ironic since they didn’t post minutes nor did they come out with a final report.

At one point during the meeting today, Delaware Senator David Sokola mentioned a need for low-income and special education information on school choice applications.  David Blowman from the Delaware DOE allowed me to speak and I mentioned how the Enrollment Preferences Task Force, of which Sokola was a member, voted in the majority that information like that should not be on choice applications.  I mentioned that it was recommendations from the task force but it showed a clear decision to not have those items on choice applications.  Blowman agreed with me and said those items should not be on applications.  This prompted Rep. Williams to speak…

In August, Rep. Williams contacted the DOE about this strategic plan.  She contacted PCG and discussed the Enrollment Preferences Task Force, which met for a year and a half, kept all their minutes, and came out with a mammoth-sized final report which was sent to the DOE and the General Assembly.  She emailed a link to PCG.  Nothing even mentioning the Enrollment Preferences Task Force made it into PCG’s October report.  Williams blasted the DOE for this by stating she failed to understand how this strategic plan is meant to provide opportunities for ALL students.  She was clearly (and understandably) upset the report gave no mention to a task force she devoted a year and a half to.  But the District-Charter Collaboration Task Force, which had severe issues with transparency and no final report.  It was obvious to many in the audience that this oversight was not simply a mistake on PCG’s report.  I know for a fact the Delaware DOE and State Board of Education Executive Director Donna Johnson worked with PCG on their initial report which came out a few days before the final report for the Enrollment Preferences Task Force came out.

Senator Sokola asked Williams why she didn’t introduce legislation based on the recommendations of the task force during the last legislative session.  Williams explained that the legislation wouldn’t have come out until March of this year and everyone was very wrapped up in the WEIC redistricting plan.  Sokola said he can see that.  But Williams did say she will be introducing legislation based on those recommendations when the General Assembly comes back in January.  Williams argued that if she didn’t look at the October report from PCG and she didn’t attend this meeting, the DOE wouldn’t have even thought to mention the work 27 members of the task force worked on for a year and a half into this strategic plan.  There was no clear response from Blowman or Susan Haberstroh (also with the DOE).

Williams mentioned the glaring omission two times.  Eventually, Haberstroh assured the committee and Rep. Williams the Enrollment Preference Task Force report would be a part of the strategic plan.  This was supposed to be the last meeting of this committee but once the subject of enrollment barriers came up it was obvious the committee would need to meet again which all agreed to.

There is something about this committee that seems off.  Sokola and State Rep. Earl Jaques talked about the Christina School District a few times when talking about surplus school seats.  As well, the subject of empty buildings districts own came up.  I always find it to be odd when Sokola and Jaques, who are in their seats primarily because of voters from the Christina School District, tear into them.  I didn’t trust it when Sokola mentioned having information on choice applications he knew damn well shouldn’t be on there.

When Jeff Klein with the University of Delaware presented a report on choice applications by zip code, he did say there was a section in Maryland.  Sokola mentioned it could be a teacher sending their child to a Delaware school.  Which I assume to be Newark Charter School.  The DOE responded by saying it would be illegal for Delaware to pay for a Maryland student in a Delaware school.  Sokola had a puzzled look on his face…

Kendall Massett with the Delaware Charter Schools Network asked a question similar to one she asked at the meeting a few weeks ago.  She questioned why, as an example, if Woodbridge and Delmar school districts wanted a culinary program but didn’t have enough students to have a program, why they couldn’t push for opening a charter school to serve that need.  Heath Chasanov with Woodbridge explained they do have a program with Delmar that Del Tech coordinates.  I don’t fault Kendall for asking the question, but it would be more financially feasible for the districts to work together to offer programs in coordination as opposed to opening a brand new charter school that may or not fail.  This was echoed by David Blowman.

I did find out, 100%, that there are NO plans for Prestige Academy to merge into EastSide Charter School and Family Foundations.  Massett did explain that all the Wilmington charters are working with Prestige for a smooth transition for the students when the charter closes at the end of the year.

To read the reports PCG came out with in October, please see below.

Who Will Run For Bethany Hall-Long’s Senate Seat?

And you thought election season was over? HA!  Not in Delaware!  I know, many are suffering from Trump fatigue and depression.  But now that Bethany Hall-Long is the new Delaware Lieutenant Governor, there will be a special election in 2017 for her Senate seat in the 10th District.  With ten Republicans and ten Democrats, expect a lot of attention on this race.  The winner of this race determines party control of the Delaware Senate.  I know of a few possible contenders, although none have “officially” thrown their hat in the ring.

DEMOCRATS

State Rep. Earl Jaques: I see him as a top contender.  So much so that I asked him about it yesterday at a meeting at the Delaware Dept. of Education.  He didn’t rule it out, but he said it is something he and his wife are currently discussing.  Odds: 2-1

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State Rep. Quinn Johnson: He and Bethany are very tight.  He lives in the district.  But he is also well-ensconced in the House.  Odds: 4-1

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New Castle County Clerk of the Peace Ken Boulden: This could be a viable option if the state wants to save money.  If Jaques or Johnson won, there would have to be another special election for their State Rep. Seat should they win.  If Boulden won, it would save Delaware taxpayers from shelling out more money in what will be a very tight budget year.  And I hear there is interest!  Odds: 5-1

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Dana Long: Would Bethany’s husband run for the Senate?  I don’t think he could steal this election!  Odds: Infinity-1

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REPUBLICANS

John Marino: He ran for Bethany’s Senate seat in 2014 and lost.  But it was a VERY close race, with Hall-Long getting 51% of the vote and Marino getting 49%.  I can easily picture him making another run. Odds: 2-1

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Matt Brown: He ran against Quinn Johnson in 2012.  Would he be willing to run for another race?  Odds 20-1

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THE TWITTER PARTY

Precious Little: She made a name for herself in Delaware one September day in 2014.  Does she live in the district?  No, she lives in Estonia. But who cares!  This is Delaware where no one keeps track of that kind of silly stuff!  Odds: 3,000-1

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Delaware School Safety Report Shows Severe Limitations In Our Schools For Controlling Violence

If we are to have a chance to reduce and reverse this type of behavior, it is necessary to begin early and to start in the home. Efforts must be made to reach out students and to provide them with positive new directions in elementary school. Several committee members pointed out that “middle school is too late.”

“If joining a gang is the only way to survive, the kids will join gangs,” one committee member said, adding, “A lot of teachers don’t know who gang members are. You, as a teacher, should know how to interact with kids and parents because kids and parents may not have the ability to interact with us.”

The committee discussed the possibility of cell phone bans in schools, but public schools in Delaware have not done so because parents want to be able to reach their children by phone.

These were just a few of the topics discussed in the Special Committee on Public Safety.

School safety.  Two words that mean so many things to so many people.  To some, it means making sure every single student and staff member is protected from violence.  To some it means reporting requirements.  Many think of Sandy Hook or Columbine.  Others think of a mounting problem that can never be corrected.

Earlier this year, in the wake of two very violent deaths in Wilmington, a group was formed by Senator Robert Marshall.  Marshall is the Chair of the Senate Public Safety Committee.  He formed a group that met twice to discuss school safety issues with various topics introduced.  Out of these meetings, Senate Concurrent Resolution #83 formed a Special Committee on School Safety.  The final report was given to the President Pro Tempore of the Delaware Senate and Governor Markell yesterday.

The below report has a great deal of information.  It is very long but it is worth the read.  Take the time to read it.  Every single word.  Whether you are for or against School Resource Officers or Constables in Delaware schools, it is important to know what is happening out there.  It affects every single citizen of this state.  Issues in schools can explode outside of schools often, but issues outside of schools are brought into schools all the time.

The one thing I took out of this report is there are no easy answers.  Issues around funding and legality are some of the biggest obstacles to making schools safer.  Trauma plays a huge role in our high-needs schools.  Family issues outside of school are one of the biggest obstacles to safe schools.

There was one recommendation coming out of the final report that I didn’t see discussed anywhere in the meeting minutes.

Provide funding for the Delaware Department of Education to conduct a voluntary, statewide survey among students, parents, and teachers to get their thoughts on improving the learning environment and ways to make our schools safer.

It can’t be a report on education in Delaware without the Delaware Dept. of Education inserting something they want, which usually involves them getting more money.  One important thing to take note of in this report is that Delaware Senator David Sokola and State Rep. Earl Jaques were both listed as members of this committee but neither went to any of the meetings on it or bothered to assign a designee to attend in their absence.

The parts about Senate Bill 207, which I also issued severe problems with, were echoed by many in regards to future under-reporting of incidents in schools.  I thank God the House added an amendment to the bill that still requires mandatory reporting to the Delaware DOE.  But there is one line about Senate Bill 207 in the final report which will give any Delaware citizen severe anxiety.

Picture Of The Week: What Seems Out Of Place?

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For the full story behind this picture, please click here. Thank you to State Rep Earl Jaques for getting this picture up!

Governor Markell Signs Teacher Evaluation Bill With No Press Release Or Media Mention

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Yesterday, Delaware Governor Jack Markell signed House Bill 399, a teacher evaluation bill that began its journey with great intentions and wound up a victim to horrible amendments put on the bill by Senator David Sokola.  There was no announcement of the bill signing to the press.  It was not on the Governor’s public schedule  There has been no press announcement or even a mention of this bill signing anywhere on the internet.  Until now.

In attendance were Governor Markell, State Rep. Earl Jaques (the primary sponsor of the bill), Senator Bryan Townsend, Secretary of Education Dr. Steven Godowsky, DSEA President Frederika Jenner, one of the co-chairs of the DPAS-II Advisory Sub-Committee, Jackie Kook (Christina), Jill League (Red Clay teacher, on the DPAS-II Advisory Committee), Markell Education Policy Advisor Meghan Wallace, and Delaware parent Kevin Ohlandt.

Markell invitied the parties into his conference room and engaged in a conversation about the bill.  As he looked around and commented how it was an interesting group in attendance, Markell thanked Jaques for all his hard work on the bill.  Markell and Jaques talked about how they had many conversations about this bill.  He then went around the table and asked for folks thoughts on the bill.  Many were supportive of the bill.  One person, the parent, said he felt it was a great bill until Senator Sokola put his amendment on it.

Secretary Godowsky said two charter schools were picked for the pilot program coming out of the bill, which would allow for a teacher and an administrator to choose which test to use for Part A of Component V (with the administrator having final say), all components would be equally weighted, and student and parent surveys.  Sokola’s amendment added the administrator always having final say, the student and teacher surveys, and the pilot of three schools.  The two charter schools invited by the Delaware DOE were Providence Creek Academy and Odyssey Charter School.  Oddly enough, Providence Creek announced in a board meeting on June 21st, eight days before the Senate Education Committee and nine days before Sokola put his amendment on the bill on June 30th, that they were picked for a DPAS study by the Delaware DOE.  Governor Markell expressed an interest in having districts participate in the pilot program.  Secretary Godowsky said he thought Appoquinimink was on board but they opted out.  Markell stated he may want to see Christina or Red Clay participate.  Jenner said she would put out some feelers.

Markell was very cordial with the audience.  He asked the teachers how their school year was going and how the schools they worked at were.  He reflected on a program at Kirk Middle School from many years ago called “I Am Kirk” which was an anti-bullying program.

The time came for the bill signing, and everyone in attendance stood besides Markell as many pictures were taken by Markell staffers, James Dawson with Delaware Public Media, and even State Rep. Earl Jaques wanted a picture of the event.  When Markell was signing the bill, the parent noticed he wrote each letter with a different pen until he reached the second letter of his last name which he finished signing with the same pen.  Afterwards, he gave each participant one of the pens he signed the bill with, as seen in the above picture.  He shook hands with everyone as the crowd drifted off, with the exception of Senator Townsend who stayed.

Yes, my first bill signing.  I was very happy for the DPAS-II Advisory Sub-Committee when this legislation was first announced.  It was finally an end to the very harmful effect of standardized testing on teacher evaluations.  It opened a door for more medicine on the corporate education reform wounds inflicted on Delaware education.  But one ex-DOE employee (who worked in the Teacher Leader Effectiveness Unit there) was able to influence one advocacy group from Wilmington to intervene.  Then throw in Senator Sokola into the mix, and the amendment hijacked a great bill.  I firmly believe having student and parent surveys as a part of a teacher’s evaluation is very dangerous.  I am not sure why the DOE contacted schools to participate in this pilot program before Sokola even introduced the amendment (much less having the Senate approve the amendment).  That isn’t the first time they have done something like that, way before something else had to be done first.

I do think it is good the pilot program could morph into a permanent thing.  With Component V not always needing the Smarter Balanced Assessment, and giving the actual professionals: the teacher and the administrator the ability to collaborate and talk about a teacher’s choice is a good idea.  As well as the equal weighting of each component.  The DPAS-II Advisory Sub-Committee worked very hard for many months and they deserve major kudos for that.  The disrespect for teachers that stand up for their rights is alarming.  It is very disturbing that the Governor would not honor this bill the same as other bills he signs by making a pre-announcement of his signing and inviting any teacher who wanted to attend.  But to make it worse, by not even acknowledging he signed this bill shows something I don’t want to say right now but the words are in my head.  The disrespect for teachers that stand up for their rights is alarming.

As I eagerly awaited a picture or some type of announcement of the signing, from the Governor, Delaware Public Media, DSEA, Senator Townsend, or Rep. Jaques, with nary a paragraph or photo in sight, I was stuck with a Bic pen signed by Jack Markell.