In a bill filed today, House Bill #33, State Rep. Mike Ramone is proposing ALL members of the Delaware General Assembly, be they a State Representative or State Senator, be limited to 20 consecutive years in their role. But the devil is in the details which gives Ramone more time in the General Assembly, if he doesn’t get ousted in the 2020 election…
DE State Rep Mike Ramone
Breaking News: State Rep. Mike Ramone Is Having A Pool Party!DE State Rep Mike Ramone
State Representative Mike Ramone from the 21st Representative District is hosting a pool party for constituents on September 9th, three days after the Primary Election. In lieu of his Coffee Conversations, he is holding this bash for his 200th constituent meeting. It looks like this is open to ALL of the constituents of the 21st! Ramone faces Democrat Stephanie Barry in the General Election this November. I hope he gets a lot of hot dogs!
For those who may be wondering why I am posting this, it is an inside joke which Mike Ramone will definitely get. I have no doubt he will appreciate the irony here!
Exclusive: Delaware Swim & Fitness Center’s November Inspection Report & New Information About Delaware Spa PartyDelaware Spa Party
Earlier this week, I put a post up about the Delaware Spa Party, a nudist party held at Delaware Swim & Fitness Center in New Castle. As Delaware social media exploded for the rest of the week, many felt I was attacking a seemingly innocent event. At that time, I was unable to respond accurately to those accusations. In this situation with the Delaware Spa Party, there IS more to the story. Those who want to believe this was just some harmless “naturalist” event can certainly choose that option, but recently uncovered information suggests otherwise. Before we go on, I will say the rest of this article is most likely not safe for work.
Kowalko Blasts Carney, Bunting, & Several Christina LegislatorsSecret Meeting
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.
As House Republicans Storm Out Of Their Chamber, Delaware Citizens Held Hostage To Party AnticsUncategorized
Last night. The walkout. The fury.
I missed it. I got in my car and drove to Legislative Hall once the Grant-In-Aid bill was introduced and went to committee around 11pm last night. I arrived at Legislative Hall as the Capital police officer, the same one I see every single time I go there, told me it was over. He also said “They aren’t happy.” I went in anyways and got the scoop from Reps. John Kowalko and Andria Bennett.
Will The Delaware House Repeal The Estate Tax Today? And Which State Rep Had A “Folder” Incident Yesterday?Estate Tax Repeal
House Bill 16 will get a vote today. This bill would repeal the estate tax in Delaware. State Rep. John Kowalko issued the following statement last evening concerning this bill:
Today 5/18/17, a bill to repeal the “estate tax”, has been placed on the House Agenda by Speaker Schwartzkopf. It will require a suspension of rules due to notification inadequacies but more importantly it will guarantee less revenue for the state and amounts to a giveaway to the Republicans and the wealthy. This tax garnered $9.3 million in revenue in 2016 and to date there have been no suggestions from leadership of either party or the JFC as to how that revenue loss will be replaced. I have asked this question of all of my Democratic colleagues and have not received one suggestion. This bill should not receive one Democrat vote but it will as deals have been cut to the detriment of Delaware’s taxpayers to ensure passage. This is irresponsible and abhorrent behavior that contradicts true Democratic party principles and ideals and all Democrat legislators should reject this or be held accountable. -Representative John Kowalko
Delaware Senate Bill 75 Would Put The Hammer On Pimps Who Use Craigslist And Backpage For Human Sex TraffickingHuman Sex Trafficking
Delaware Senator Bryant Richardson and State Reps Helene Keeley and Mike Ramone brought forth legislation today that could curtail many activities with human sex trafficking in Delaware. In a sense, it could severely limit the ability of pimps to use websites such as Craigslist or Backpage to pimp out their victims. Senate Bill 75 would strengthen Delaware code by including key words such as “advertising”, “patronizing”, and “soliciting”. This is going after those kind of websites. This language is already written into federal law so it is adding to what should have already been in Delaware state code.
I’m very happy to see our legislators jumping on these common sense laws to protect children and even adults who are sucked into these crimes of humanity! For far too long, these pimps have used websites to lure johns into prostitution with people who are truly victims of the worst abuses humanity has to offer. By adding this wording, an alleged pimp could be prosecuted for using those websites in their despicable crimes.
New Faces In The Delaware House Education CommitteeDelaware House Education Committee
The Delaware 149th General Assembly goes back into session next Tuesday, January 10th. The Delaware House of Representatives leadership picked the members for their committees. Some surprising changes are going on with the House Education Committee.
The 2016 Anti-EndorsementsAnti-Endorsements, Delaware Election 2016
I see so many endorsements these days based on nothing but vapor. I thought I would do the opposite. An anti-endorsement. Those who I wouldn’t vote for even if they were in my district and they were the only ones running. These are candidates who have either done some really dumb things or are very clueless about what is going on. And then there are the elite candidates who think their name is sufficient enough to stay in office. Sorry, but I see right through you on many issues. As for my Presidential anti-endorsements, it is a matter of choosing evil either way. While we can certainly argue all day long about who is more evil, evil is as evil does…
David Sokola, 8th Senate District, incumbent, Democrat: If ever there were someone I would want to disappear from Legislative Hall, it would be Sokola. It seems like every day I find out more about the damage Sokola has done over the past 25 years. Enough. If the 8th Senate District votes this guy in again, they are making a very big mistake. I will be coming out with something in the next few days that will even cause Newark Charter School parents to rethink any support they may have for him.
Melanie George Smith, 5th Rep District, incumbent, unopposed, Democrat: She is a slippery one, this co-chair of the Joint Finance Committee. Using that kind of pulpit for dubious allocations of state funds is a big no-no in my book. She has power down at Legislative Hall… too much. Her recent home purchase in the Newark Charter School 5 mile radius is an transparent as Saran wrap. I have to wonder what else she has done in the past couple of months in regards to that 5 mile radius…
John Carney, Delaware Governor, Democrat: I’ve heard John is a really nice guy. He speaks from the heart, but what I worry about is his mind. In a come from behind primary victory in 2008, Jack Markell beat John Carney. I believe Carney remembers that very well. Instead of looking at how bad Markell has been for Delaware over the past eight years, Carney is embracing the Markell mindset and forming the very same allegiances Jack had. Carney’s “we all have to get along” doesn’t work for me. It is easy to say that AFTER things have been set in place. Stacking the deck with certain people and then saying “Let’s get together and talk” is pure politics and that is NOT the change I’m looking for.
Donald Trump, U.S. President, Republican: I lived in New York growing up. Trump has been around a long time. I still remember the controversy and shenanigans this guy has pulled going back to the 1980’s. How he got this far is something I will always wonder about. He is a bully, pure and simple. A clown in a suit. I firmly believe, should he win, he won’t sit long in the Oval Office. And that will give us a President Mike Pence. Another corporate education reform lover. No thanks!
Hillary Clinton, U.S. President, Democrat: When Hillary was running for the New York Senate, an incident happened at Westchester County Airport. It was covered up. Someone died. I wasn’t a big fan of her before that, and I’m not now. She is the embodiment of all that is wrong with this country. Corporate interests rule the day for her. The will of the people will be sapped and broken if she wins. Not right away. But it will happen. She knows damn well exactly what she is doing. While not as transparent an evil as Donald Trump, it is the snake that is coiled up and hissing behind a rock you have to watch out for.
Colin Bonini, Delaware Governor, Republican: He ran for Governor but every time I hear him talk it sounds like a concession speech to John Carney. He pretends to hate standardized test scores, but he blasts traditional school districts while thinking charter schools are a worthy replacement. He forgets that test scores are the apparatus that damages high-need schools in Delaware. And Colin, slavery apologies don’t change history, but it is a gesture of good faith. It is not a crutch.
Harris McDowell, 1st Senate District, incumbent: You have long outlived your purpose in Legislative Hall Senator. I wasn’t a big fan of McDowell before I saw this old post on Delaware Liberal the other night. He was one of the four flippers on House Bill #334 which made the wretched Smarter Balanced Assessment the law of the land in Delaware. He also voted no not once, but twice on House Bill 50, the parent opt out bill. As the Senate co-chair of the Joint Finance Committee, it is more than obvious he has used that pulpit for his own purposes. Shady as shady gets…
Anthony Delcollo, 7th Senate District, candidate, Republican: This candidate did one thing to earn an anti-endorsement. I attended a fund-raiser for State Rep. Kim Williams and Senator Patti Blevins a couple of weeks ago. Kim Williams will always have my support. That is a no-brainer. But Delcollo actually thought it was a good idea to ride around the restaurant where the fundraiser was being held with smears against Blevins on his truck. This is extremely bad taste and gave me a gross feeling about him. No thanks…
Pete Schwartzkopf, 14th Rep. District, incumbent, Democrat: A Jack Markell water carrier thick and thin. It wasn’t just his appalling tactics with his desk-drawer veto of House Bill 50. It was the disrespect he showed to members of the House. As Speaker of the House, he has abused that role to further certain interests while using the big chair as a bully pulpit. But all that pales to his behavior in caucus… There is a very good reason many in Delaware refer to him as “Sneaky Pete”.
Joe Miro, 22nd Rep. District, incumbent, Republican: The one who brought the VERY WEAK opt out legislation forward when the House could have suspended the rules and overturned Jack Markell’s veto of House Bill 50. Nothing happened with that legislation and it was a way for Miro and other House Republicans make it look like they supported parental rights but instead brought it a crushing defeat that actually made parents feel like legislators don’t care about their rights.
Mike Ramone, 21st Rep. District, incumbent, Republican: See above. But add to that, his telling me he can’t support the override because of John Kowalko… not a good thing to tell me at all. Add in his fervent support of charter school legislation that would have benefited charters for nothing but pleasing the charter crowd.
Bethany Hall-Long, Lieutenant Governor, Democrat: When I saw Hall-Long at the Del. State debate the other night, I saw someone who was pandering to a crowd. I know, that’s what politicians do in many cases. But it was thick as mud. She was overdoing it. She talks and talks and I don’t know if she truly understand what is coming out. Her very quick plug for Teach For America the other night, after getting an endorsement from DSEA, spoke volumes.
Lisa Blunt-Rochester, U.S. Congress, Democrat: Her refusal to support parental rights in regards to standardized testing is a big reason I can’t support her. But her Delaware Way of thinking, where everyone has to hash it out, hasn’t worked for Delaware. And it is not going to work in Congress. None of our Delaware reps in Congress have done anything really good for Delaware the past few years. All of them voted no on an opt out amendment prior to the ESEA reauthorization. I don’t see her supporting public education the way I would expect her to. She seems far too connected with the Rodel crowd. Those connections have been very bad for Delaware education. While I think it would be great to have a female African-American Delaware Representative in Congress, I don’t think it should be her.
There are a few others who, a year ago, would have easily made this list. But they earned some points for me in the last year. It doesn’t mean I’m not watching them like a hawk though. Some who I easily supported a year ago actually took a turn for the worse but they haven’t completely fallen into the pit. Their conduct in the 149th General Assembly will tell the tale. Not every anti-endorsement means I am 100% behind their challenger if they have one. But my real endorsements are coming soon.
Christina Legislative Briefing Q&A Transcription: Part 1Christina School District
Yes, there will be two parts to this. Part 1 represents about 60% of the question and answer session from the Christina School District Legislative Briefing on the charter school funding issue. If you haven’t read it yet, you may want to read this post first as it has the presentation Christina Chief Financial Officer Bob Silber gave to legislators and members of the public at the meeting this morning. It could be difficult to understand everything in these questions until you read that first.
Welcome back to those who left. Without further ado, here it is:
Monica Moriak (member of Christina’s Citizens Budget Oversight Committee): The district did not mean to exclude something specific? They noticed that in 2014 you were not including the 10 cent Referendum in the financial position report because you did not see that as something you could use for anything and that’s when they noticed that and so that’s when they decided, “Ooo, we need a different number” so Dr. Meece walked away from the charter bill? Is that when that got separated because you used a different number?
Robert Silber (Christina’s Chief Financial Officer): Yes, for those of you who didn’t ask the question, I’ll repeat. In 2014, the Department of Education recognized that there are, at least for the Christina School District, there are three series of numbers that are used or assigned to our district: 9100 series, 9800 series, and 9900 series. The 9100 series and the 9900 series are dollars that are excluded, the 9800 series are dollars that are included. If I take a look at… well, why don’t I do it this way… our Citizen’s Budget Oversight Committee, about a year or two ago, as the district started having its financial challenges, started asking the district to provide information on a monthly basis, focused on what our local unrestricted expenditures are. So every month, we prepare financial statements that are unique within the state, that also include a breakdown of what we know to be excluded, and what we know to be included. It’s a very simple issue- 9800, included, and everything else, excluded. And last year, as an example, when you look at FY2015’s financial results, not (FY)16’s, but 15’s financial report, and we take a look at what was our total spend of what we consider to be unrestricted local dollars, that number matched to the penny to what the Department of Education calculated on their form what the local cost per student should be. So that was validation, if you will, of the process over the years. The components, as to what goes where, again, I can’t answer. But specifically, there was a question raised, I believe, because one of the goals of the Department of Education is to take the process that they use today and automate it. But if you’re gonna automate something to say I want to include certain numbers and exclude certain numbers, you’re going to want to make sure that everything that is in that included bucket all have a common number that you can pull from. So any appropriation beginning with 98, which is included, anything that begins with something other than 98, would be excluded. That’s what their goal is.
State Rep. John Kowalko: Yes, a couple questions. I appreciate the effort you put into this the effort to explain this. My concern is this- as we’re dealing with a very complex issue, which has a parameter of a coding issue put in place. You have to have an understand the finances of a public schools in Delaware, and it’s very complex, very complicated, with coding issues that are not always as capturing of the actual expenditure as we would like to see happen. But with that being said, in 2014 the DOE asked you to, more or less, justify some things and if it wasn’t justified, they were going to ask you to put a separate code for that mechanism in place. Do I have that right?
Silber: I would probably express it another way. In 2014, every district, three times a year, is required to do a financial position report. I don’t know what triggered their follow-up questions. In 2014, when Christina School District submitted theirs, we showed, without any question, that we had sufficient resources to pass the test. So the question the Dept. of Education had on a response may have been directed towards, or may have been triggered, by the district that may not have been able to reflect that they are in good standing, that I don’t know. All I know is that the question was raised. The question was raised by the Department, “Why are you not listing all of these appropriations? You’re giving me a short list.” And the answer came back, for any reason, from different individuals, ours was “We’re restricted on certain funds.”
Kowalko: I’m going to pass forward now to recent events and the new determinations, that apparently a decision was made August 24th, this stands out, the districts were informed of a meeting with select Superintendents, the key word is select Superintendents, and business managers would not be included. It’s mind-boggling to me that your office, Christina and the other districts I’m sure, would be offering a path forward, they would have done it in a collaborative process. But it seems to me that DOE has no intention of collaborating. When they asked you for a report, a spreadsheet of how you do it, then they make a final determination at the end of that tunnel without having said to you, “We question this or we think this or can you justify that”, to me, that’s almost a ruling, a one-sided rule that is not going to benefit the districts and/or public school systems. I know you don’t have the answer to that. I’ve asked Secretary Godowsky for a timeline and dates of who was at these meetings. I will follow-up, because his answer to me yesterday was very, very shallow. It was “I’m going to send out the report to everybody to explain the process.” This doesn’t ask for an explanation of the process. I know the process. I talked to Bob (Silber) for an hour yesterday. This asks for a timeline of who was involved when the decision-making, from May on to this point in time, and why were they excluding people that have knowledge, that actually put their pencils on paper. I find this to be an almost disgraceful performance by the DOE and I’m not here to pontificate, but I am angry that they tarnished the reputation of a district that has more challenges than any district in this state probably, cause of the special needs, the impoverished of the community. But that’s not to give an excuse here, but you have made remarkable strides and I really, really challenge any Department within this state that would unilaterally decide that they’re going to impose or question something without asking you for an answer. This is a ridiculous way for us to operate on behalf of our children. And I’m tired of it and I intend to follow-up with Secretary Godowsky. If I don’t get an answer for this, and his answer isn’t going to be responsive, I do have another letter prepared that I will release to the press and I’m telling you, it does not look good. I would ask the Chair of the Education Committee, and to think over it, the fact that we don’t get an appropriate answer to where we are today and how this embellishment of no facts or answers has caused a situation of turmoil, an anxiety, that has pitted charter schools against traditional schools for dollars. I’ve asked the Chair to consider that if we don’t get a response to hold hearings on this charge. Between now and then there should be a corrective course by DOE. This is not a one-sided issue. This is not something that you’re on the defense about. This is about due process. There has been no due process in the immediate discussion of this from May till now. No due process.
Kevin Ohlandt (“The Blogger” or “Sneaky Snake Blogger” as one person called me last week): I have two questions. Newark Charter School referenced a meeting with Dr. Andrzejewski that would be taking place in regards to this subject, the local cost per pupil. This is more for Dr. Andrzejewski. Were you aware that this would be coming up, I guess, last March or April?
Dr. Robert Andrzejewski (Acting Superintendent of Christina): I never met with the board of Newark Charter. I met with Greg Meece on the referendum. This issue we talked about has an ongoing history. And that was it. At some point, I offered to meet before the Board President to go through a similar thing.
Ohlandt: Senator Sokola had mentioned, in an email, something about funds going from $700,000 in 2011 to $9.2 million last year or the year before. Do you know what that was about and why he would choose that flashpoint in time to use in this issue?
Silber: I’ll go back to a couple of comments. If you take a look at the composition of the students within the Christina School District, and almost any other district in the state and certainly with charter schools, you’ll see that Christina School District has a significant higher population of students with special needs, not just within special programs but within our district. I can take a look at what has transpired over the five to seven years. There has been a very steady increase in our tuition tax rate as a result of needing to generate those dollars. Some of those programs, as I said, are unique to Christina. But where the Dept. of Education chooses to put those dollars… if it were my call, it would in that tuition fund. But if their putting it into the district specific program bucket, you’re going to see those dollars increase dramatically. I have no knowledge as to what causes them (the DOE) to put something in bucket A versus bucket B. All I can do is suggest that during one of those years, as I took a quick look over the past five years, we had a drop in dollars over on the tuition side. I can tell you, or our board can tell you, I don’t think I’ve ever generated a financial statement for the district that has shown our tuition related expenses were for students with special needs has gone down. If anything, it has consistently gone up. That’s a triggering question of… I don’t know who does the reports. I can’t direct you to go see Bob Silber at the Dept. of Education. That is their report. They should be held accountable and transparent for what’s behind those dollars. I would love to be able to see it to argue it, to challenge what should go to any one bucket if you will, but that’s obviously not a part of the process with the Department.
Bill Doolittle (Special Education Advocate): Did the Department ever provide a full list of the accounting codes they intend to move to 9800 or 98 class and the amounts for each district in those classes?
Silber: For this year?
Doolittle: For their initial intent.
Silber: No. The only thing that has transpired was, as I said at the beginning, there was a request from the Department, “Every business manager go through this list.” And they generated, when they sent that list out, probably, if I had to guess, the top 15 rows were items that they specifically said, “Yup, these are items we already know the answers to. So for Christina, the other 254, you have to tell us one way or the other.” I think one of the important things to recognize is that every organization, it doesn’t matter if it’s a charter school, a traditional public school, or a business entity, or any organization. You have to make decisions around budgets and you have to be able to depend upon systems associated with that. So if there are variations, something that’s going to happen that creates a wild swing, you can’t afford those things to occur. In the public education arena, one of the issues that we tried to bring to the Secretary’s attention, it was the longer you delay the communication around this process or the challenges to the charter schools, the less informed they’re going to be. Every charter school should have been told, by the Department of Education, that for FY2017, this current school year, every one should have been informed that expect your local cost per students for the Christina School District to go down this year. Because the Christina School District had reduced our local unrestricted expenditures by about $9 million dollars last year. The department was aware of it. Did the Department inform the charter community, “Brace yourself, this is coming”? At our board meetings, we clearly articulated our charter bills for last year were predicated upon the prior year. They will not feel the pain we are feeling this year until the following year. Just as when we are successful in an operating referendum, the monies don’t hit until the following year and then the following year after that from a sequencing perspective route how the law recognizes what local costs per student are. I don’t know if that answered your question.
Doolittle: I think the answer is DOE still hasn’t told everybody what they’re doing.
Silber: No, no. They’re given a list and some of the response around some of the detail had to be pulled. So, as an example, in this list that they provided to us initially, they said MCI, minor capital improvements, would be included. Well the language associated with match taxes forever has been bundled with MCI. They were called MCI/Match. And our tax warrants, all districts, up and down the state, are predicated on its match dollars. It includes funds that are match for minor capital, and match for these unique legislative driven programs. It wasn’t until we asked a question that they said, “No, all of those programs that legislators approved and have been included for the past 14-17 years, they’re no longer going to excluded, they’re going to be included.”
(Editor’s note: I know for a fact that any charter school that went through a charter renewal or modification process with the Charter School Accountability Committee at the Delaware DOE in FY2016 was told to expect this.)
Kowalko: A follow-up, on that very statement you just made. They said that, without you having any ability to or chance to retort? They assumed that, presumed that, decided that? Did they say why it shouldn’t be done that way?
Silber: Their answer, not to me but to another business manager, was that they believe they are interpreting the code correctly.
Kowalko: I just want to clarify one thing for Mr. Ohlandt. Correct me if I’m right here, or wrong here. There is not a 98110 that had several hundred thousand dollars in it that now has $9 million in it?
Silber: It’s not that simple. No.
Kowalko: Cause that seemed to be the message…
Kowalko: …that was put out there and resonated. I just wanted you to confirm it. Thank you.
State Rep. Michael Ramone: First off, thank you. This is very helpful. It definitely solidifies and clarifies the perception, at least for us, to be able to speak intelligently to people and say what the heck is going on. You just said the interpretation, interpreting the code correctly, and to me, it seems the biggest issue is not only communication, which I agree with Representative Kowalko, this should have been handled differently with different people at the table. Whatever. It is what it is. I think communication could have been better. I think clarity is an issue, and the word that you use- interpretation- it sounds to me that the interpretation that used to be the interpretation is a different interpretation today. I’m not looking for a comment. It’s my perception of what I’m hearing. So, I guess, to me, a big question, and maybe the dialogue should go to the Chair and the Co-Chair of the Education (Committee), do we need to do anything, in your opinion, as the guy doing the work, as the manager’s opinion to clarify the current law so their isn’t, quote, an “interpretation” maybe one year that would be a different interpretation next year. Or even have new laws added. And I’m not asking you to answer that today, I’m saying that’s a discussion we need to have. But a point of clarity I do need to hear, because I don’t know if I’m interpreting what you wrote or what you said here, but right or wrong, is there an issue or was there an issue with the referendums that were passed in the specific designation of how much tax money, or the referendum was going to be added? Are you suggesting that there is a question of how we’re passing or wording the referendums we are passing or not? Because the way I’m reading that it seems like some of the lack of clarity, or quote “interpretation”, that they have seems to stem from the verbiage as its written in the referendum that was passed or am I interpreting that wrong?
Silber: I would argue that, again I would preface that by saying I didn’t author the document, the document that was put before the community was specific. It said “You will use the money for the following programs. Let me give you a shift for a moment. It didn’t come to pass but you can use this to crystalize the thought. This last year, Brandywine School District, as some of you may know, ran a referendum that failed. That referendum had multiple parts to it. One of the parts of that referendum was, “Will you guys give us additional money so that we can build turf fields?” A very specific request. And if the answer to that question had been yes, that money coming into the Brandywine School District, for the years that they were asking those dollars to follow, could not have been used to pay for teacher salaries or higher administrators. It would have been used for the purpose intended by that referendum, similar to the referendum that we had in 2003. The interpretation that I would get from the actions of the Department of Education, as I’m trying to do today, would suggest that once those dollars came in, that were a very specific purpose for Brandywine, to be used to build a turf field, would then the following year have to come out of their discretionary funds to help support their charters. And I don’t believe the intent, it is very clear, we’re giving you money to build this, or we’re giving Christina School District opportunities for these programs. There are a number of ways, a number of questions, in our perspective that go around the Christina School District and programs that are unique to the Christina School District. A question could be asked when a parent chooses not to go to the Christina School District and chooses to go to the Red Clay School District through the choice process, are they leaving the programs of the Christina School District they took advantage of, if they leave the Christina School District to go to Kuumba Academy, then yes, they are leaving the programs of the Christina School District. So in one respect, to look at those unique programs and say “they’re unique to the Christina School District,” and the taxpayers agree to that. That’s why it’s restricted to you for these particular purposes. What the Secretary and the Dept. of Education are suggesting is that those dollars that are restricted over here move over here as an unrestricted basis. And what I’m suggesting is that in 2014, when the Department said, “No, they’re restricted,” they made a decision that it couldn’t move over here to unrestricted. I’m not necessarily sure that it’s about wording or it’s about interpretation. I think it’s more around intent. Is the intent to find ways to increase the amount of money flowing to a charter school as opposed to what should? That’s an intent question that my personal perception may not necessarily… Everything I’ve tried to share with you today is a statement of fact.
Ramone: Let me just follow-up, because what I think, I understand what you’re saying. My question is, the monies, the referendum…First of all, referendums are, we have to find a different way to… they’re not working. I think everyone in this room agrees on that. But that’s the beast we’re dealing with. In order to make them more plausible, more acceptable, more digestible, for people to have more clarity on the taxes you’re raising that might pass in the referendum, you started become very creative in the referendum requests, which I actually thought was a good thing. All I’m asking, is in that creativity of making very specific… letting people have a better idea of where the money was going and how it was going… was there a lapse in our legislative body in not clarifying the laws or doing something that makes something more specific, and I don’t mean to say it this way, but then yes, it would take discretion away from the Secretary of Education and whether it’s Joe Schmo today or Peter John tomorrow, but they would have less discretion, it’s clear, it’s a law, we should, is there something that we should be considering or would you all review whether there is something we should be considering to give clarity so you don’t have any subjectivity to these decisions that could be a little chaotic when you tell everybody that one year it’s one way, the next month (meant year) it should be…
Silber: The best way that I can answer your question Representative, is to state the following- The Dept. of Education this year has taken actions that are substantially different than the actions that they’ve taken for any number of years. The laws that are on the books for the past 14-17 years didn’t seem to have that same degree of challenge. Something triggered this year that all of a sudden those individuals that are currently at the Dept. of Education are now saying that something’s wrong. So if there is a question associated with that, again, what was the impetus behind making the change? Is there someone saying, “Okay, here’s a flaw, I’m going to take advantage of it?” Again, I come back to the initial statement. The district does not make these decisions. The district does not define, the State has to define process to prevent me from doing just that.
Part 2 will be up later tonight or tomorrow morning! Stay tuned!
Christina Legislative Briefing Clearly Shows Delaware DOE’s Incompetence With District-Charter Funding FightChristina School District
The Christina School District held a Legislative Briefing for Delaware legislators this morning. The subject: the ongoing district-charter local cost per pupil. Answers were given in a very effective way by Christina’s Chief Financial Officer, Bob Silber. Legislators in attendance were State Reps. John Kowalko, Earl Jaques, Ed Osienski, Mike Ramone, Kim Williams and Senator Bryan Townsend. Most of the Christina Board of Education also attended as well as Acting Christina Superintendent Bob Andrzejewski. Some charter advocates, such as Henry Clampitt who now serves on the Gateway Lab School Board of Directors also attended.
Silber gave specifics on what he believes the Delaware Department of Education is attempting to take out of Christina’s exclusion list from their local funding. He also gave enlightening information on how the DOE specifically asked district Superintendents not to inform their local boards of the changes until a certain time. As well, the meeting held at the DOE last week with district Superintendents was for them only. No business managers were allowed to attend this meeting about education funding. Which is ironic given that the business managers would have the most insight into these issues. To me, it shows an unwillingness on the DOE’s part to make this a transparent and collaborative process.
Silber also presented a timeline of events from Christina’s perspective which almost mirrors my own that I posted last week. Silber did mention that their legal counsel sent a letter to the Delaware DOE on August 26th. The current status is that charter bills were pulled by Secretary Godowsky. Silber did say some districts in Southern Delaware paid their charter bills but Christina will not until the funding amounts are correct.
I walked away from this meeting more convinced than ever that this began with Newark Charter School and once the DOE got involved, they took over and went crazy with it with absolutely no justification or ability to succinctly present anything associated with this mess that is in any way legal. I will have more to say on this later when I transcribe the question and answer question with members of the audience, but in the meantime, feast on the presentation given by Silber. He hit a grand slam on this and evaporated the DOE’s position on this, in my opinion.
What is always fascinating with meetings like this is who is watching who when certain things are said or questions are asked.
Legislation Heading Into July 1st148th General Assembly
I went to the Wilmington Blue Rocks game earlier tonight and now I am at Legislative Hall. The Delaware Senate defeated the WEIC redistricting legislation, HJR #12 with 6 yes and 15 no votes. But they passed the new SJR #17 and SB #300 which kicks the can down the road and makes WEIC plan more. There is a chance WEIC could continue based on a lot of stuff I heard involving amendments and very certain conditions which I didn’t completely understand. Don’t get your hopes up too much though.
Kim Williams charter school audit bill is on the Senate ready list. I wish I could tell you what the heck is on the agenda, but right now it says nothing and we all know that isn’t the case! But the Senate and the House are in Caucus right now, so I haven’t seen Sneaky Pete or Val yet. Went outside and talked to the one and only Danny Rufo next to the “tiki bar” outside.
House is back in session. Sneaky Pete waved at someone up in the balcony. I didn’t know who, so I waved back. Val came in and was talking w/Sneaky Pete and then looked up at me with a kind of sort of smile. I smiled back. I heard Jack summoned Tony Allen and Kenny Rivera to come to the office to talk WEIC. Hearing it is still on life support but might be coming off it soon. It is now July 1st. No word on HB #435 (charter audit bill). Earl told me the Senate will be putting an amendment on HB #399 (teacher evaluation bill) and he hopes it comes back to the House. Now they are going to work on Senate Joint Resolution #17, the latest WEIC bill.
There is a motion to suspend rules on SJR #17. Passed, 22 yes, 17 no, 2 absent. Rep. Collins talked about the letter from Red Clay and Christina asking them not to move forward. Rep. J. Johnson said things have worked out and the districts are okay with the compromise reached (this was the meeting in Jack Markell’s office). I have to wonder who on the Red Clay and Christina school districts are okay with this. But it passed, with 22 yes and 17 no, 2 absent. Okay, I’m going to stop writing two absent for every damn bill because they are going to be absent the rest of the night! Now we are onto SB #300, the second WEIC bill covered in July, 2016. Kim Williams put an amendment on it. Amendment to SB #300 State Rep. Miro is asking about the possibility of Red Clay suspending the plan at their next board meeting. Tony Allen was called up. Tony said if this doesn’t move forward he will be suspending the plan right after the vote. Something is up here. Something isn’t right. There is bait in the water, but I’m not sure who is biting.
State Rep. Mike Ramone asked what the $200,000 is for in the amendment and SB #300. Tony said it would be to fund the commission moving forward. Tony said the prior funding for the WEAC and WEIC books came from companies, donations, and even the Chair of WEIC (Tony Allen himself). Kowalko asked Tony if this is similar to an architect, needing planning. Tony said yes. Senate Bill #300 w/Amendment #1 passes, 21 yes, 18 no. The plan moves forward. I don’t know what the hell any of this means. Someone needs to explain it to me.
Heading over to the Senate now. HB #399 is on the agenda. And SB #300 has to come back to the Senate because the House put an amendment on it. They are doing other bills so I’ll update on other bills during the wait. Absolutely nothing on HB #30 (basic spec. ed. funding for K-3 students). The School Breakfast bill is up in the Senate (HB #408 w/House Amendment #2).
And my battery died. To be continued in a new post!
A Time For Promises Fulfilled And A Restoration Of Honor: The General Assembly’s True Test This WeekHouse Bill 50, Parent Opt Out of the Smarter Balanced Assessment
The worst time I ever had blogging was last January. Once I heard the Governor was rounding up his posse of legislators to vote no on the override of his veto on House Bill 50, I knew it wasn’t going to happen. There were events that day I didn’t count on, but they happened. But it is time for State Rep. Mike Ramone to live up to the promise he made to me that day.
To give a quick refresher, the Delaware House and Senate passed House Bill 50 last year, a parent opt out bill honoring their right and preventing schools from giving parents a hard time. Governor Markell vetoed the bill. On the third day the General Assembly was back in session this year, State Rep. John Kowalko brought HB50 back. But first, a suspension of rules had to happen to get it on the agenda for a full House vote. The majority of the legislators voted no on the suspension of rules. For whatever reason, many of them didn’t want to vote on overriding the veto. To make matters worse, many House Republicans introduced new opt out legislation. One was a House Resolution, which passed, directing Secretary Godowsky to come up with uniform policies for opt out. This report was due by May 1st. Another was a bill to remove opt out from any accountability ratings. The accountability bill was never heard from the House Education Committee.
Secretary Godowsky did honor the resolution. I’ve heard two different stories with this report. One was that it was submitted to State Rep. Joe Miro, the sponsor of the resolution. The other was that it was submitted to State Rep. Earl Jaques, who is also the Chair of the House Education Committee. That would mean Jaques has been sitting on this for well over a month and a half with no intention of doing anything with it. Either way, this was never made public. Miro told me well over a month ago the report was “vanilla”, meaning it didn’t do anything. I’m not sure what the real story is, but I don’t really care. Nothing happened with either of the bills the House Republicans introduced. And now it is time for State Rep. Mike Ramone to keep his word. On January 14th, when the House refused to suspend the rules, Ramone promised me they would bring back House Bill 50 if nothing happened with the new legislation they introduced that day. Guess what Ramone? Nothing happened. And I don’t want to hear one word about next January. You made a deal with me and I expect you to honor it. There were enough people that overheard you say this. Now only Kowalko can put forth a suspension of rules for it as the bill’s sponsor in the House. But I expect Ramone and the House Republicans to fully support the suspension of rules and the override of the veto. House Bill 50 is on the ready list. But this can happen. It has to. It is time. There is no more House Bill 50 after June 30th.
The Senate can’t vote on an override of a veto on the same day, but I hope if the House does the right thing, the Senate will have it up for a vote the next day. If not, I fully hope Senator Dave Lawson will request a suspension of rules as the Senate co-sponsor of the bill. I’ve waited patiently, along with countless other parents, for our General Assembly to do the right thing here. They unanimously passed a bill in the House that would make the Smarter Balanced an option in teacher evaluations. This is it General Assembly. You have three days to do this. Elections are coming up for a lot of you. Parents and teachers are a large portion of your voters. Are you really going to keep disrespecting parents like this? This is your chance to make up for past mistakes. It’s up to you. The only reason the Delaware PTA isn’t pushing this is because they were cut off at the knees by National PTA. But trust me, the people still want this. All you have to do is truly listen.
Delaware House Education Committee Baffled By Inability Of Public To Comment On Action Items At State Board of Education MeetingsDelaware State Board of Education, House Bill 232, Public Comment
At the House Education Committee meeting in Delaware today, members looked confused as State Board of Education Executive Director Donna Johnson tried to explain to them why they don’t allow public comment before any action items. Citing regulatory laws and charter applications, which are in the synopsis of the bill, Johnson said regulations have a set period of public comment. For charter applications, she said State Board members are required to vote on the charter file which is set up with a public comment period. State Rep. Kim Williams brought House Bill 232 forward because of events she witnessed at State Board of Education meetings.
For a while there, the volley went back and forth between Williams and Johnson. Williams stated she wanted to give public comment on Gateway Lab School’s formal review the day the State Board made their decision but she couldn’t because of this rule. She also cited a recent Regulation, #616, that she wanted to give public comment on but couldn’t. Johnson explained that Regulation 616 was a Secretary only regulation so she could have given public comment. How anyone could ever keep track of all this stuff is beyond me. If you are just a curious member of the public going to these meetings, you would have no clue!
Johnson went on to say the State Board could face a risk of a lawsuit if they voted on something based on a public comment after they have reviewed the entire record. When asked if there has ever been any lawsuit in any situation like this for any state agency, the answer was no. As State Rep after State Rep tried to figure out why the State Board wouldn’t allow public comment, it culminated in State Rep. Sean Lynn stating he felt the opposition to the bill (which only came from Johnson and Kendall Massett with the Delaware Charter Schools Network) was disingenuous and was filled with self-interests. No one on the committee had any reason to oppose the bill and it was released from committee.
For a split second, I almost felt bad for Donna Johnson. Not because I felt she was right, but because she has no idea how she sounds to decision-makers. She doesn’t see how going to bat for her friends in the charter community actually hurts her in the long run. When a fervent charter school supporter like State Rep. Mike Ramone is saying this is an excellent bill and doesn’t understand why this isn’t already allowed, you know there is something wrong with the policy. He questioned Johnson about the ability for a three minute public comment to completely sway a vote. He felt that an official on any board should have enough knowledge of the events to be able to make a sound decision on matters.
Massett gave public comment. She recalled a charter application in Southern Delaware where someone gave a statement that was completely false but there was no ability for the person they were talking about to rebut the comment. This was the only “evidence” she could give to oppose House Bill 232. I believe it was State Rep. Kevin Hensley who stated someone could still file a defamation of character suit in an incident like that.
Both State Reps Kim Williams and Kevin Hensley talked about their time on school boards and they couldn’t fathom not letting the public speak about an action item. Hensley explained there were times when parents or a member of the community approached him about an issue right before a board meeting. He said he would tell them to make sure to give public comment so the whole Board could hear it. Red Clay Superintendent Dr. Merv Daugherty said he may not always like what he hears in public comment, but he appreciates the public comment process. As Lynn said today, “this bill is a no-brainer.”
I gave public comment before the vote. I explained the public comment ban also happens for other charter issues, such as modifications or formal reviews. I cited Family Foundations Academy and the Delaware Met as examples where things happened after the charter record closed and the State Board voted on something without giving the ability to the public to add new events. I said there was an inherent danger with this.
One of the funnier moments came when Ramone kept going on and on about how the meeting room for State Board meetings was too small. He recalled how it is standing room only and many people are forced to stand in the hall. He suggested maybe they meet in the House chambers! While it would be difficult to have seven state board members, an executive director and the Secretary of Education cram into the front of the House chamber, I’ve always suggested utilizing the VERY large conference room at the DOE’s other building over at the Collette Center in Dover. While it isn’t as “official” looking as the Cabinet Room at the Townsend Building, it is certainly big enough to fit the State Board, DOE Chiefs, and at least a hundred members of the public, if not more.
It became very apparent to everyone in the audience today exactly why the Delaware State Board of Education was put on review by the Joint Sunset Committee yesterday. In my opinion, I think this antiquated rule is something that comes from a country where dictators rule and the people are put on mute. Transparency isn’t just being open with your records and dealings, it is also letting the public be transparent about how they feel.
One quick note: House Bill 161, which deals with Parent Empowerment Savings Accounts for students with disabilities, or as most call them, school vouchers, was taken off the agenda for today’s House Education Committee.
State Rep. Mike Ramone Is Going To Ignite An All-Out Charter-District War With House Bill 261Charter-District War, DE State Rep Mike Ramone, House Bill 261
Delaware State Representative Mike Ramone’s House Bill 261 may cause even more controversy than the war of the charter school audit bills! Ramone’s proposed legislation would protect charter schools if they don’t get timely records from school districts when an expelled student or a student who was placed in an alternative school setting for disciplinary reasons choices into a Delaware charter school. The bill would make it so the local school district would have to pick up any costs for that student. This bill is assuredly in response to what happened at Delaware Met. Many students who went to the school were alleged to have been either expelled or came from an alternative school setting.
I see red flags all over this bill. I am already picturing charters not taking these students based on this information. The key word in this legislation is “applies”. How would a local school district know when a student applies to a charter? Of course it is the burden of the charter to request that information. It would be like applying for a new job and my old job would be responsible for proactively sending my references to the new job, prior to my even being accepted at the new job. Using the word “burden” in the synopsis of this bill makes it look like “Oh, the poor charters. The problems they have with those bothersome districts.”
Ramone, you are letting your charter bias shine through with this bill. This could put the stigmatism of “cherry-picking” to a whole new level! I understand the intent here, but this is NOT the way to do it. As well, the proof is in the pudding on whether or not records are sent. This is also a two-way street. Local districts do not always get records from charters in the allotted time period. If you want to further the tensions between districts and charters, this is a great way to go about it. I hope this bill dies a quick and sudden death in the House Education Committee…
Opt-Out Heats Up Again During Arctic ChillHouse Bill 50 Veto Override
Here we go again! The opt-out movement is back! And smack dab in the middle of it all is Delaware’s 62 legislators in the House and Senate. Matthew Albright with the News Journal wrote about the Veto Override of House Bill 50. There are some great quotes in here… and then there is Earl…
“If you’re a Democrat, and the governor’s a Democrat, you have to think long and hard, ‘Do I want to override my governor?” said Rep. Earl Jaques, D-Glasgow, chairman of the House Education Committee. “It has to be a really big issue for you to do that.”
Jaques was one of five representatives who voted against House Bill 50. He says parents already have the right to opt out, so he doesn’t understand the need for a new law.
Earl, Earl, Earl… when are you going to get what this is all about? I’ve already put Earl in the no column on this. I don’t expect him to change his vote at all. There is no law when it comes to parents opting out, thus House Bill 50!!! It protects the parents, but it is more than obvious Earl wants to side with the Governor. Luckily, State Rep. John Kowalko is able to comment on this insanity with a breath of fresh air”
“If it’s a good policy, you voted for it because it’s a good policy,” Kowalko said. “That policy does not change its makeup just because the governor has decided that he doesn’t like it. If we start considering another branch of government as dictating to us how our decisions should be made, we are seriously compromising our rights as an independent body.”
State Rep. Mike Ramone is once again thinking this is all about the amount of testing kids take. Mike, I’m going to tell you right now I have never once heard from any parent about any other test but the Smarter Balanced Assessment. Parents don’t want to opt out of any other test but the Smarter Balanced. Once again, those who are pro “assessment inventory” are missing some basic facts. When DCAS was around, it was taken two to three times a year depending on how the students did on the first Spring test. If they didn’t hit proficiency, they had to take it again. That’s when parents were talking about “too much testing”. But what happens when we do get rid of the assessments that do matter in favor of SBAC and the interim assessments that accompany it? Then you will have opt-out and NO assessments that give good feedback. I am not anti-assessment. Like the PTA, I support assessments that give timely feedback with a validated test. I already gave my predictions on the final results for the Assessment Inventory Committee. But Ramone… does he realize what House Bill 50 actually is?
Ramone also said he wants to see a statewide process for opting out, since the current rules are a patchwork of district-by district rules.
A statewide process for opting out? It’s called House Bill 50. It specifically states when schools would receive letters from parents and that students who are opted out need to receive another form of instruction. Does he want us to do it through the DOE? That would be a never-ending nightmare! Let’s not muddy the waters any more Mike. House Bill 50 is what it is. You are either for parental rights or you’re not. At the end of the day, this is what it all boils down to. Something Delaware PTA President Dr. Terri Hodges agrees with:
“The message we’re trying to send is that parents and teachers and the community have spoken,” said Terri Hodges, the PTA’s president. “We are hoping our legislators honor the will of the people and follow their original vote.”
I am already hearing the DOE is talking about Smarter Balanced results coming in before kids leave school for summer. I saw that one coming a mile away! This will be another one of their attempts to dissuade legislators from voting for the override. “Look, parents said they wanted quicker feedback. We’re going to make that happen.” But no matter when the results come in, we have to face facts. The Smarter Balanced Assessment is a BAD test. Period. I am all for getting rid of SBAC for high school juniors. But I am also for getting rid of it for ALL Delaware students. Until that happens, parents will opt out, and there isn’t a damn thing anyone can do about it. Yes, the legislators do need to look at the reasons why. I won’t disagree with that. But talking about it doesn’t do anything for parents. The legislators who voted for the Smarter Balanced Assessment knew there were issues with it. But they voted it in anyways. This is the consequence of that action. Yes, Murphy already bought the test. We all know that. But look at the results. Has it changed anything for our students? Not really. It has brought disruption and chaos to our children’s education. The only ones who support this assessment are the very ones who seem to profit, whether financially or through an illusion of success by having “great scores”.
As for the infamous letter the ten Democrats sent Governor Markell about the SAT replacing the Smarter Balanced Assessment, this is NOT their idea. The Delaware DOE has been talking about this publicly since last May. The College Board is redesigning the SAT to be more like the Smarter Balanced and make it all about the Common Core. So guess what, it’s not like it will be that much of an improvement. Can’t wait to see those SAT scores on top of Delaware’s already horrible scores.
This is a bill that comes down to basic and fundamental parental rights. Meanwhile, over 200 parents have already signed the Delaware PTA Petition. More will sign as well before it is all said and done. This is a battle parents aren’t giving up on. We won’t stop until our rights are protected. I am frankly shocked that some legislators would rather see parents fighting with schools than overriding a ridiculous veto by a Governor who is so entrenched in corporate education reform he can’t see the forest from the trees.
Delaware Senate Bill 165 Would Make Referendums Once A Year & Change School Board Elections To US Mail OnlyReferendum, School Board Elections, Senate Bill 165
Apparently there was a Delaware Senate Bill submitted on July 15th that I didn’t know about. I found out because the House has a pre-filing day today so I thought I would check the Senate Side. House Bill 165 would drastically change things with school district referendums. Instead of a district having more than one referendum in a year, all school districts would have their referendum on the 2nd Tuesday of May. This is also the same day when school board elections take place. As for those school board elections, instead of having them at schools, they would take place through the US Mail system. This bill is sponsored by Senator Karen Peterson and State Reps Michael Ramone and Deborah Hudson. Co-sponsors are Senators Brian Bushweller and Margaret Rose-Henry and State Rep. Stephanie Bolden. I assume a lot of this is in reaction to the Red Clay referendum last winter which is also part of a lawsuit. To read the legislation, please see below:
House Bill 50 Released From House Education Committee, State Rep. Mike Ramone is the Hero of the Day!!!!Uncategorized
On an 8-6 vote, House Bill 50 was released from the House Education Committee. It’s next destination: The Delaware House of Representatives. There is one man who controls this, Delaware Speaker of the House Pete Schwartzkopf. He can control when the bill is voted on in the House.
In a long and contentious committee meeting, representatives from both sides of the legislation gave testimony on why they felt their voice had merit. Most of the public comments wanting the bill passed were parents, teachers, Delaware PTA, DSEA, and many legislators. The opposition included Delaware Secretary of Education Mark Murphy, Delaware State Board President Dr. Teri Quinn Gray, State Board Executive Director Donna Johnson, Brandywine Superintendent Dr. Mark Holodick. the president of the Metropolitan Urban League, Jea Street, the head of school at First State Montessori School and others.
The heart of the debate though was between the sponsor of the bill, State Rep. John Kowalko, and the Chair of the House Education Committee, State Rep. Earl Jaques. For nearly an hour, the two went back and forth with Jaques barreling questions at Kowalko, and Kowalko either answering or utilizing the services of the House Attorney to give legal advice. In this battle of wills, Jaques came off as very condescending as if this was a personal battle between himself and Kowalko.
After all the public comment was over, the bill was finally up for a vote. A motion was made by State Rep. Michael Ramone to table the bill. This is done usually to save the bill instead of a no vote in committee which would kill the bill. However, there were not enough votes to table the legislation. Only six were in favor of this. Ramone then made a motion to release the bill, and after seven votes, it was unclear what Ramone’s vote was, but he indicated that as the person making the motion to release the bill, that was his yes vote. Jaques made him raise his hand as yes, and the bill was released.
I gave public comment, but due to a time constraint of two minutes, I had to cut much of my speech, but a copy of the full speech was given to each committee member for the public record, as well as a copy of the change.org petition to support the bill. This petition will continue with an updated version. If you have already signed the petition, you do not need to sign again. But please get the word out!
Governor Markell did not show up, but his Education Policy Advisor Lindsay O’Mara did. At one point during the committee meeting, she was stopped from talking with State Rep. Mike Ramone, which is one of the House rules. According to some chatter I heard prior to the meeting, Ramone was the wildcard with this vote. But he came through in the end.
Delaware Charter Schools Network & State Rep. Michael Ramone Fend Off Charter School Auditing House Bill 53Delaware Charter Schools
In the Delaware News Journal today, education reporter Matthew Albright wrote about House Bill 53, which would ensure all Delaware charter schools have their auditor selected by the State Auditor Tom Wagner’s office as opposed to them picking their own. The sponsor of the legislation, Delaware State Rep. Kim Williams, explained how this came about. What follows is a response from Kendall Massett with the Delaware Charter Schools Network and Delaware State Rep. Michael Ramone. I’ve decided to do the famous “John Young red-pen edition” on this article.
In the wake of bombshell allegations that the co-leaders of a charter school made thousands of dollars in personal purchases on school credit cards, some lawmakers want the state auditor’s office to run charter audits to make sure taxpayer money isn’t being misused.
This is a very wise idea. Dr. Tennell Brewington and Sean Moore got caught. Are there others that have been more crafty with finances? We need to know.
Charters are required to have audits done, but now the schools decide who audits them. Rep. Kim Williams, sponsor of House Bill 53, says having the state auditor, who already audits district and vo-tech schools, perform the work is the best way to monitor spending.
That sounds reasonable. Charters are always screaming about fairness, and this seems more than fair.
Williams said the legislation was spurred by revelations late last year that the co-leaders of Family Foundations Academy, a charter school in New Castle, had used school credit cards to make more than $94,000 in personal purchases for things like car payments, furniture, flowers and fine watches.
Don’t forget the spa treatments Albright! And the Sixers tickets!
Though the school was aware of the accusations for almost a year, the Department of Education only found out shortly before the school’s charter was up for renewal. Family Foundations fired the two leaders and replaced its board, bringing in the leadership of Eastside Charter School to convince state officials to renew the charter.
This is the part that always cracks me up. Why would you NOT report this to the DOE in the first place? These are heads of a charter school, not the mob. What were they afraid of? And I’m sorry, the timing on Eastside Charter coming in to save the day has always been a little suspicious to me. Does anyone think it is a coincidence the members on both boards happen to be the President, Vice-President, Secretary and Treasurer?
“There are lots of charter schools that are operating under the rules and doing a good job, but when these kinds of things happen it gives them all a bad name,” Williams said. “What this is about is making sure that everybody is playing by the same rules.”
Amen Kim! All schools should play by the same rules. Charters are no different, but they like to think they can.
The state auditor’s office would not directly audit the schools, but would select the firms that do the audits and set the rules for what the firms should be looking for.
Like a thorough review of their Amex purchase cards, spending that doesn’t quite jive with typical school spending, expenses showing up in the wrong categories, all receipts accounted for…
Charter school advocates say they simply need more clarity on what is expected of them and worry that the bill would limit their flexibility and autonomy if it becomes law.
What flexibility and autonomy? You can’t hide embezzlement, nor should you be put in a position where you could. Here’s clarity for you: Don’t steal school money!
“We’re all about transparency and we are fine with having an audit. In fact, it’s required under state law,” said Kendall Massett, executive director of the Delaware Charter Schools Network. “I do not believe that using a pass-through that will raise the cost and take money out of the classroom is the right solution. I think the solution they’re proposing is bigger than the problem that there is.”
Don’t worry Kendall, I’m sure a lot of them can pay the difference through their “after transportation costs slush fund.” Who are you kidding here? “We’re all about transparency.” Half the charters in the state don’t have their board minutes current, and the Red Clay charters seem to be making a point of it lately.
Massett argues charters will have to pay a management fee to the state and that the state-negotiated audit contracts will likely cost some schools more.
No more than the traditional school districts have to pay. And those fees could get in the way of their dues to YOUR organization Kendall!
But Williams says charters will only have to pay more if they aren’t keeping the right records or otherwise not handling their business correctly. For schools that are already doing everything they are supposed to, she says costs will not significantly rise.
I wonder which charters are opposed to this bill? Surely not the ones who are already doing everything they are supposed to do.
Rep. Michael Ramone says a change is necessary, but handing duties over to the auditor might not be the right one.
“Everybody looks bad if any of our schools aren’t being fiscally responsible,” Ramone said. “However, as a business guy, the approach I think we should take is to give these schools a clear expectation of what is required of their schools as far as their fiscal responsibility and reporting criteria, and I don’t think we’ve provided that yet.”
This coming from the guy who wanted to open up a charter but the application was declined. I would think all charters should be required to have their financial people be someone with an accounting background. As a business guy, you know what is crystal clear with bad business practices. Many people know the difference between right and wrong, they just don’t choose to use common sense when they are breaking the law.
Ramone said the state should establish a specific, detailed list of everything they expect charters to cover with an audit, so charters can be sure they are hiring the right firm to do the right thing.
I think you are missing the point here Rep. Ramone. If they don’t know what they are doing, then this legislation is absolutely necessary!
“If we clearly establish what they’re supposed to be doing, I believe our schools will do it,” he said.
Yes, that is outstanding logic. History has taught us that in Delaware! Here is an old saying: “Those with nothing to hide have nothing to worry about.”
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