Delaware House Education Committee Baffled By Inability Of Public To Comment On Action Items At State Board of Education Meetings

This bill is a no-brainer! DeStateBoardofEducation

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. Sean Lynn’s FOIA Legislation Opens Legislators To FOIA

SeanLynn

State Rep. Sean Lynn filed House Bill 269 on March 3rd.  In the State of Delaware, all state employees are subject to the Freedom of Information Act with one exception: the General Assembly.  Rep. Lynn’s bill would change that.  Any email from a General Assembly legislator, whether they are in the House or the Senate, would be subject to FOIA.  While this could certainly give Delaware more transparency, it would not allow for the FOIA treasure chest: cell phone texts.  I would imagine a lot of what goes on in Delaware happens this way.  But this is certainly a step in the right direction.

I would love to get a crack at State Rep. Earl Jaques and Senator Dave Sokola’s emails!  That would be fun!

HB269

 

 

16 To Watch In 2016: The Seans

seanmatthewslynn

Both of the Seans in the Delaware House of Representatives have a lot in common.  They are both Democrat, they are both named Sean, they both voted against the budget last June, and they both began their first terms as State Representatives this year.  They both supported House Bill 50 in a big way.  They brought in a much-needed amount of fresh young blood to the General Assembly.  They are both up for re-election this year.  Both of them dealt with some controversial issues in 2015.

Sean Lynn’s biggest moment came during the debate of Senate Bill 40, the legislation designed to repeal the death penalty in Delaware.  According to Delaware Liberal, Lynn plans to attempt a suspension of House rules to bring the bill back from its own form of death: not coming out of the Judiciary Committee.  This could happen as early as January according to the article.  The death penalty is one of those issues in Delaware that keeps coming back, draws the ire of both sides, and doesn’t move forward.  Will Lynn’s attempt to reanimate the bill be the difference?  Time will tell.

Sean Matthews sponsored or co-sponsored many education bills in the General Assembly.  He enjoyed moderate success with these bills, which helped to land him a slot on the assessment inventory task force stemming from Senate Joint Resolution #2.  As one of the key players in this group, Matthews will be the voice of reason in a group filled with many who lean toward Governor Markell’s way of thinking with state assessments.  Time will tell if this group can get rid of the Smarter Balanced Assessment, but I doubt it.

Both of the Seans will have their hands full with the rest of their own party.  As part of the “Six” who voted against the budget last year, along with State Reps. Baumbach, Bennett, Kowalko and Williams, many in their party felt it was a mighty bold move for two legislative rookies.  It was.  I would rather see legislators vote with conviction and belief than going along to get along.  I fear there could be retribution of a political sort this year by the House leadership.  The easiest targets are the new guys.  But both Seans are a mighty stock and I have faith they will deal with any fallout from their decision last year with grace.

With an election year looming, many are assuming no matter what the Democrats will keep their power in Legislative Hall.  But there is a growing feeling of discontent in Delaware.  After years of questioned policies and agendas coming from Governor Markell and the leadership in Legislative Hall, many Delawareans are willing to vote out of party this year.  I predict both of the Seans will be safe because they are among those questioning what is really going on in Delaware.  The key to all of this will come in January when Governor Markell releases his budget proposal for Delaware.  We will get a very firm idea on where Delaware stands in terms of a budget deficit.

 

A Night Of Celebration, Reflection, Laughter, & Recognition

Firestone2

Last night the Progressive Democrats of Delaware held their annual Firestone Restaurant celebration, and this year myself, as well as John Young, Mike Matthews and Tizzy Lockman were recognized as education heroes of Delaware.  This is an award I’m fairly certain I will never get from Governor Markell or the State Board of Education!

Firestone1

It was great to see so many friends, advocates and legislators in a non-formal location.  John Young talked about how we all owe Kilroy a debt of gratitude as he is the godfather of Delaware education blogging.  I spoke about my outstanding FOIA request with the DOE and how much help I need to raise the funds to cover the rest of it.  Tizzy Lockman thanked everyone for their support with the Wilmington Education Advisory Committee and the upcoming Wilmington Education Improvement Commission and how much work they have before them.  Mike Matthews spoke about the dangerous influences outside forces, like Rodel and Delaware Charter Schools Network, can have on candidates and asked that the party not support candidates who are aligned with theses types of corporate education reform companies.

Delaware State Reps. John Kowalko, Kim Williams, Paul Baumbach & Sean Lynn

Delaware State Reps. John Kowalko, Kim Williams, Paul Baumbach & Sean Lynn

The six Progressive State Representatives who voted no on the state budget on July 1st were honored as well with the PDD Bob Stachnik award.  State Rep. Sean Lynn explained why they voted no as they couldn’t sit by and watch funding be cut for those who need it the most without having any revenue coming in.  He also talked about the extreme difficulty the state will face next year with predicted budget deficits between $160-$180 million.  Reps. Paul Baumbach, John Kowalko and Kim Williams also spoke about the budget.  Kowalko said it was his proudest moment in his many years of serving the people of Delaware.

It was a great evening with perfect weather on the riverfront in Wilmington.  The food was excellent, and the atmosphere was festive.  It was great to talk with others about our kids, hysterical moments in the past year (Schwartzkopf’s Gavel, Christina Board meetings, Burger Girl, a certain video released last week by one of the education heroes) while new memories were created (“Vera”, the armpit –don’t ask–, the coffee mug).

Mike O from the seventh type was there, and we spoke for quite a while about blogging, House Bill 165, and charter schools.  I had never officially met him, so it was great to get a different perspective on blogging and whatnot.  I was given an excellent source for my charter school series of articles which I plan on using immediately!

There is a lot of interesting stuff coming up in the next few months with education in Delaware, and you can read all about it on the Delaware blogs!  I would like to thank President of the PDD, Nancy Willing, and all the members of the party for their recognition of myself and the three others.  It was quite an honor!

If you would like to donate for the Smarter Balanced FOIA request, please go to this link and help us find out what is really going on with these high-stakes tests and their vendors! http://www.gofundme.com/x6mb3j8

Happy 4th Of July, Especially To The Superior Six Of Delaware!

Independence Day.  Celebrated for the day our forefathers said “Enough is enough!  We’re mad as hell and we’re not going to take it anymore.”  When it gets right down to it, it was all about money.  They were taxed like crazy, over the stupidest stuff.  So they wrote a 1776 version of a blog and they all signed it.  It didn’t end the war.  That dragged on for another five years.  But they made their point, and that’s what we celebrate today for.

Last week, six of our leaders said “Enough is enough!” and they went against the tide and made their stand.  Ironically, it wasn’t because they were being taxed too much.  It’s because we weren’t being taxed enough.  Well, not all of us, but those whose wealth keeps increasing while the little guy gets the shaft in numerous other ways.  Today I salute our state representatives who risked all to say no to a budget that was egregious in countless ways.  Paul Baumbach, Andria Viola Bennett, John Kowalko, Sean Lynn, Sean Matthews, and Kim Williams.  Thank you!

Our forefathers built the house that is America, but it needs constant maintenance and upgrades.  That doesn’t come free.  It has always been paid off the backs of our citizens.  Nobody loves it.  I’ve never heard anyone say “I love paying taxes”.  But it is our duty as Americans.  When there is no revenue coming in for one of the rooms in America, we need to take a look at it.  The paint is starting to chip, a screen needs replaced in a window, the floor is stained…but we want to keep the room like that.  The worst part: we know what’s coming next year.  The ceiling has a hole in it, the window is cracking, and the bed is falling apart.  Instead of fixing the smaller problems now, we are adding to them.  We could fix the things that are broken now, and do smaller maintenance to fix the things that will be broken.  Instead we not only move the room around and throw out some old paperwork, we pay for it with funds that were meant for the bathroom!  The bathroom had a leaky pipe years ago, and it was a big mess.  But it was decided to get the funds to fix it and allocate that money for the pipes.  We used some of that money for our room.  Not cool at all.

The pipes wound up being okay, but some of the rooms in the house were under attack from termites, so it was decided funds would go to that.  We knew this had to be done, after all, we were on the cover of a magazine with the title “Termitetown, America”.  We took the steps to help prevent further termite damage with some of the pipe funds, but at the last minute, the big dogs in our room made the moneygrab from the pipe funds, not to pay for the termite invasion, but to pay for posters on the wall in the room.

To add insult to injury, they kept buying nice things for the room, like letting some of the people that live there keep money even after they spent less.  One would think this is okay, they used the funds wisely, why shouldn’t they keep it?  It’s written in the rules of the house, and all of the other rooms have to abide by that rule.  And they got to spend it on whatever they wanted, as long as it was for “house expenses”, which really, can mean anything.  Instead of doing something meaningful with those funds, many of them paid for the problems they created with some neighbors when they wouldn’t treat them nice.

Out of the 41 people who help keep the room in order, nine of them voted no for the way they wanted to pay for it because they knew it was just making a bad situation exponentially worse.  All of them could have made new house rules to make sure the room was not only looking good now, but in the future as well.  But instead they put a little bit of spackle up and left a lot of holes.  The Superior Six represented the part of the left side of the room owners who have a majority over the right.  For them to go against their own side was considered a taboo thing.  But next year, a vote is made to decide who keeps making the rules on both sides, and as the room falls apart, a lot of the voters are going to say “How did this happen?”  And they will be reminded who made it so.

Independence made America what it is.  It made us our own country.  But it takes work, and money.  There shouldn’t be such a wide gap between the haves and have nots, but there is.  The problem in Delaware is we have a Governor who is more concerned with proficiency gaps than budget gaps.  But the steps he’s taken to close those proficiency gaps cost a lot of money, and it is feared those gaps will widen further instead of closing.  And I think that was intentional.  We have a Department of Education built up, with great amounts of money, to create that illusion and continue it.  All for the purpose of giving more funds to keep the charter schools going and create new ones.

As you celebrate your freedom today, and in the next year, remember the price for that.  Know that your security is in jeopardy because the bulk of our legislators didn’t want to act.  And when the wound gets infected, remember that on Election Day 2016 and fix it!

State Rep. Sean Lynn’s Heartfelt Message To The Citizens of Delaware Over The FY2016 Budget

The Delaware House of Representatives passed the budget bill, but nine state reps voted no.  This budget will cut funding for some of the most vulnerable in our society while also continuing funding from Race To The Top which is no longer around.  I take issue with anyone getting a cut in funding while the DOE is living high off the hog.  I salute the nine who voted no.  Whether the bill passes or not in the Senate, I wanted to share what Rep. Sean Lynn publicly wrote on his legislator Facebook page.  I have to admit, I had my doubts about Rep. Lynn when he was running, but he, as well as Rep. Sean Matthews, have proven to be the brightest stars in this year’s Freshman class of House Representatives.  Without further ado, here is Rep. Lynn’s message to Delaware:

Early this morning, I, together with several other Delaware Legislators, voted “No” on the State Budget. I write this in a moment of solitude, rare in Legislative Hall for the early morning hours of July 1st.

It is 2 a.m., and I am tired. More than anything I want to go home and kiss my sleeping children on the forehead. What should be the highlight of my day will be tinged with disappointment given that, in some ways, their future and that of your children and families here in Delaware has never been more precarious.

Together, we face an estimated $170M (yes MILLION) dollar deficit in FY2017. There is no hope on the horizon for a responsible approach to address this deficit. Tonight our Legislature voted to ignore this crisis, and pass a budget that addresses only the most short sighted of goals.

Our district charged me with the immense responsibility of preserving and ensuring the middle class economy upon which the City of Dover and the State so desperately depend.

I could not, in good conscience, vote for a state budget that so intrinsically failed the middle class constituency that I swore to protect.

The budget that was passed failed to promote a strong economy built from the “middle out”. It failed the most vulnerable Delawareans, and further cemented the income inequality that, historically, has been the bedrock of economic catastrophe. It will invariably lead to the sacrifice of our most precious goals: maintaining the social safety net upon which so many depend, encouraging strong labor unions, maintaining services for our seniors, the expenditure of one time settlement funds hard won on the backs of those who lost their homes as a result of the sale of mortgage backed securities, and other, no less palatable, inequities that your family and mine will suffer in the coming years.

I remain resolute in my dedication to the people of my District and my State, and I remain hopeful that sufficient time exists to repair this failed economic policy.

– Sean

And here was the vote on House Substitute #1 for House Bill #225, which did pass the Senate already.

HS 1 for HB 225 M. Smith Passed

AN ACT MAKING APPROPRIATIONS FOR THE EXPENSE OF THE STATE GOVERNMENT FOR THE FISCAL YEAR ENDING JUNE 30, 2016; SPECIFYING CERTAIN PROCEDURES, CONDITIONS AND LIMITATIONS FOR THE EXPENDITURE OF SUCH FUNDS; AND AMENDING CERTAIN PERTINENT STATUTORY PROVISIONS.

Date: 07/01/2015 01:18 AM Passed

Vote Type:SM Yes: 30 No: 9 Not Voting: 0 Absent: 2

Barbieri Y J. Johnson Y Peterman A
Baumbach N Q. Johnson Y Potter Y
Bennett N Keeley Y Ramone Y
Bolden A Kenton Y B. Short Y
Brady Y Kowalko N D. Short Y
Briggs King N Longhurst Y M. Smith Y
Carson Y Lynn N Smyk Y
Collins N Matthews N Spiegelman Y
Dukes Y Miro Y Viola Y
Gray Y Mitchell Y K. Williams N
Heffernan Y Mulrooney Y Wilson Y
Hensley Y Osienski Y Yearick N
Hudson Y Outten Y Schwartzkopf Y
Jaques Y Paradee Y

And here is the Senate vote on the budget bill:

Vote Type:SM Yes: 18 No: 3 Not Voting: 0 Absent: 0

Blevins Y Hocker N Peterson Y
Bonini N Lavelle Y Pettyjohn N
Bushweller Y Lawson Y Poore Y
Cloutier Y Lopez Y Richardson Y
Ennis Y Marshall Y Simpson Y
Hall-Long Y McBride Y Sokola Y
Henry Y McDowell Y Townsend Y

Delaware IEP Task Force Bill Unanimously Released From House Education Committee

The mood in the Delaware House Education Committee meeting this week was a great deal lighter than last week.  Delaware Senator Nicole Poore’s Senate Bill 33, otherwise known as the IEP Task Force bill, cleared through the House Education Committee with no “nay” votes.

The biggest topic of conversation surrounded teachers or contractors in IEP meetings.  Several individuals commented at the IEP Task Force meetings held last fall that they felt intimidated or in some cases, threatened, about advocating for a student during an IEP meeting.  Part of the legislation of Senate Bill 33 would put into state law that this practice would not be legal.  Opponents of this one section were worried about teachers or contractors speaking out without enough knowledge to help the student, which could lead to many complications according to these individuals.  Members of the task force gave public comment explaining why this was included, and that while some districts may not have these issues, others have.  Although a representative from the Delaware State Educators Association was present, they had no public comment on this matter.

Delaware State Rep. Sean Lynn was concerned about the exact wording for parent or guardian as some people may legally be assigned those rules from the court.  He suggested a potential amendment, but Attorney General Matt Denn, who also chaired the IEP Task Force, explained this definition of “parent” is already written into State and Federal law.  No amendment was introduced by Lynn upon hearing this.

State Rep. Kim Williams asked when the Procedural Safeguards parents receive when they ask for an IEP or 504 plan was last updated.  Maryann Mieczkowski, Director of the Exceptional Childrens Resources group with the Delaware DOE  and an IEP Task Force member answered 2009 when the law was last changed, but it would be updated to reflect the new law if Senate Bill 33 becomes law.

A few individuals, including myself, expressed a desire to see the IEP Task Force continue, which Denn hinted may happen during the task force meetings last fall.  State Rep. Deb Heffernan wanted this, but she wanted the group to focus more on student outcome going forward.  She didn’t clarify what this meant, if it was about standards-based IEPs, or transition issues for students who become adults with disabilities.  Many Delaware agencies gave full support of the bill in public comment.

Mark Murphy’s Authority, Charter Schools, Immunizations, and Suicide Prevention Legislation Introduced in Delaware House of Representatives

When the Delaware 148th General Assembly returns from recess on April 21st, five new education legislation submissions will be on their plate.  These bills cover the authority of the Delaware Secretary of Education (currently Mark Murphy) and Labor Relations, the charter school enrollment radius, charter school applications being approved by the local school board before the Delaware State Board of Education, suicide prevention training for Delaware teachers, and immunization requirements in the event of an epidemic and how this would impact students who do not get immunized based on religious beliefs.  All the legislation introduced can be seen below.  The Mark Murphy Authority bill is sponsored by State Rep. Sean Lynn, the charter bills by State Rep. John Kowalko, the Suicide Prevention bill by State Rep. Valerie Longhurst and Senator Nicole Poore, and the immunizations bill by State Rep. Sean Matthews and Senator Bethany Hall-Long.

Rookie State Rep. Lynn’s House Bill 55 Will Please Teachers in Delaware!

Delaware State Rep. Sean Lynn introduced legislation today to have another year added before Delaware teachers would have the Smarter Balanced Assessment scores be a part of their rated teacher effectiveness.  This current year was already part of last year’s waiver since Smarter Balanced was just rolled out, but this would stop the madness for another year.  I am sure everyone would be happy if it was gone altogether, but this is a good step!