Delaware DOE Has 7 Charter School Renewals To Contend With This Fall!

When you have 24 charter schools in a state, 22 of which are authorized by the state Department of Education, there are going to be years where the amount of charter renewals are going to go up.  This fall, the Delaware DOE Charter School Office and the Charter School Accountability Committee are going to have their hands full as seven charter schools go through their renewal process. Continue reading

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Changes To Exceptional Delaware: Your One-Stop Delaware Search Engine!

I’ve been wanting to do this for years!  I’ve changed this blog to include links to every single Delaware school district and charter school.  As well, I’ve added all the Delaware media (newspaper and radio) websites.  I’ve included many State of Delaware websites: Delaware DOE, Governor Carney’s website, The General Assembly, Auditor of Accounts, Attorney General and more!  Various education support groups have been added: DSEA, Delaware Charter Schools Network, Delaware School Boards Association, Delaware Association of School Administrators and more!  You will still be able to find a list of current Delaware blogs as well as closed Delaware blogs.  I cleaned up those lists to take out ones that are not current anymore (nothing written in 2018) and those that are non-functional.  In addition, I’ve added some links to what I call “transparency” sites that folks ask me about all the time.  I’ve found a ton of information over the years at many of these links and so can you!

If you are not on these list of links and would like to be added, please let me know.  I try to get everything but I’m not perfect!

I hope these changes will allow Delaware citizens, parents, students, teachers and more be able to navigate through our state easier.  These are just the first of many changes coming to Exceptional Delaware!

Audit: All School Board Agendas, Minutes, & Audio Recordings; Caesar Rodney, Brandywine & Laurel Are Breaking The Law Big Time!

Transparency in public education is a must.  When more than a quarter of Delaware’s state budget goes to public education, the citizens expect, and rightfully so, transparency.  But some of our districts and charters struggle with transparency.

I haven’t done this since 2016, but I thought it was a good time to see how Delaware’s traditional school district and charter school boards were doing with transparency on their websites.  I checked for board minutes, board agendas, and board audio recordings. Continue reading

Delaware School District & Charter School Special Education Ratings Are The Biggest Joke In The State!

How were the Delaware school districts and charter schools rated this year for special education?  Every single one is in here and the joke isn’t even funny anymore! Continue reading

Delaware School Districts & Charter Schools That Are Serial Abusers Of Petty Cash Laws

**UPDATED BELOW WITH NEW INFORMATION ABOUT ONE DISTRICT**

Two years ago, letters went out to five charter schools from State Auditor Tom Wagner letting them know they were in violation of Delaware’s Budget and Accounting Manual (BAM).  For the purposes of this article, I looked to see how many districts and charters violated BAM in one area.  That was where they write checks from petty cash accounts for more than $500.00.  That is a big no-no according to BAM.  I looked in both FY2017 and FY2018 up until May 31st.  There were many offenders, including two who were included in the 2016 letters!  The reason I started with FY2017 was to give the benefit of the doubt just in case districts and charters were not clear of the rule before that fiscal year.  This isn’t just a few districts and charter schools. Continue reading

Exclusive: The Truth About Teachers At Charter School of Wilmington Joining DSEA & President Paoli

If you read the News Journal article on the Charter School of Wilmington teachers voting to unionize, it was filled with reasons why President Sam Paoli did not want the teachers to unionize. The article failed to capitalize on why the vote happened in the first place- CSW President Sam Paoli.

At this point it is unclear why the educators wanted to unionize or by how large a margin the vote was successful.

I have those answers. Continue reading

Proposed Legislation Would Give Delaware Secretary Of Education Authority To Suspend Teacher Licenses In Certain Felony Situations

A piece of Delaware legislation that is out for consideration would seek to have the Delaware Secretary of Education obtain the authority to suspend a teacher’s license under certain felony crimes or a clear and immediate danger to students prior to certain actions taken by a school district or charter school.  Similar to a bill Speaker of the House Pete Schwartzkopf put out a couple of years ago, this one defines the types of felonies that could warrant the Secretary exercising this type of authority.  The bill is sponsored by Senators Bryan Townsend and David Sokola and State Representatives Earl Jaques and Pete Schwartzkopf.

The synopsis of the bill is as follows: Continue reading

Big Vote In The House Today On School Suspension Bill

SS1 for Senate Bill #85 should get a final vote in the Delaware House of Representatives today.  If it passes and Governor Carney signs the legislation, it should mean Delaware students won’t receive out of school suspensions for ridiculous offenses.  The bill would make schools report the offenses they suspend students for and, data shows, schools don’t like being called out for zero tolerance policies!

The bill came out two years ago as part of the 148th General Assembly but it didn’t make it out of that session.  Senator Margaret Rose Henry tweaked the bill and after more than two months, the bill comes down to the House vote today.  If this is Senator Henry’s education bill swan song, it will be a good one!  Senator Henry is retiring after the end of this session.

This Act draws attention to the types of discipline used in schools by capturing data about out-of-school suspensions and publishing that data, in an effort to help schools identify areas where the data regarding out-of-school suspensions indicates there is room to reduce such suspensions. This Act is meant to increase transparency, improve overall school climate, resulting in improved student outcomes. The collection and publication of this data will also help the Department of Education and community partners identify opportunities to provide greater supports to schools, students, and their families. According to data provided by the Delaware Department of Education (“DOE”), thousands of Delaware students receive out-of-school suspensions each year for minor infractions, such as being unprepared or late for class, dress code violations, and disrespectful behavior. In 2013, only 2% of out-of-school suspensions were for serious offenses such as weapons, drugs, or serious violence. Out-of-school suspensions do not address the root causes for the misbehavior, and only serve to put the students further behind in class. Furthermore, DOE data shows that, in 2013, African-American students made up only 32% of the student body, but accounted for 62% of out-of-school suspension, and students with disabilities made up 13% of the student body, but accounted for 24% of out-of-school suspensions. Federal discipline guidance, developed jointly by the U.S. Departments of Education and Justice, instructs schools to commit to regular evaluation of school discipline policies and practices, and monitor progress toward the schools’ climate and discipline goals. The federal process requires schools to collect and publicly report disaggregated student discipline data and solicit feedback from students, staff, families, and community representatives. This Act also makes technical corrections to conform existing law to the guidelines of the Delaware Legislative Drafting Manual. This Substitute Bill makes the following changes to Senate Bill No. 85: 1. References the existing definition of “disruptive behavior” in Title 14. 2. Includes “disability” as a category for data collection. 3. Extends by 1 year the years stated in the requirements to retain the same time frames. This is necessary because this Act will be enacted in 2018, not 2017 when it was drafted. 4. Clarifies what information is required for reports and provides deadlines for the required plans and reports. 5. Clarifies that schools must develop plans and strategies with stakeholder input. 6. Clarifies content for professional development.                    

Charter School of Wilmington Teachers Vote To Unionize And Join DSEA

Last night, Charter School of Wilmington teachers made a huge vote.  They became the only current charter school in Delaware to join the Delaware State Education Association.  As such, they will be a part of the National Education Association as well.  This opens the door for other charter schools to unionize in the future.  Often, when one domino falls…

The vote was not won by an overwhelming majority but enough for it to pass.  I’ve been hard on DSEA and NEA recently but that was because of very unique and limited circumstances.  That was a case of bad apples in the bunch and perception.  Even with that, I do support the unions and see them as a last defense against education reform that is bad for schools.  This CSW vote changes the landscape in Delaware.

I’ve heard rumblings about severe dissatisfaction with CSW leader Sam Paoli for months now.  Nobody wanted to go on the record though.  A teacher was terminated in the Winter over a minor disagreement with Paoli.  Many claim he rules the school with an iron fist and teachers, parents, and students are against this dictatorship.  By unionizing, these teachers regain some sense of control over their job security.  The CSW board is not elected so it allowed Paoli to run around unchecked.

There have been other charter schools in Delaware that have looked into unionizing but this is the first to actually do it.  Last summer, teachers at Providence Creek Academy wanted to but you must have at least 50% of the vote in favor of it.

More information as it becomes available.

Updated, 10:50am: This is not the first time a Delaware charter school joined DSEA.  Positive Outcomes did many years ago but it only lasted a year.

Seven Delaware Charter Schools Up For Renewal Next Fall!!!!

Every year, the Delaware State Board of Education gets to vote on charter school renewals.  This year, there are seven charter schools up for renewal.  I believe this is a record and will keep the Charter School Office busy from now until then.  But this year could be different for these renewals because of events going on the Delaware Department of Education and the State Board of Education that are beyond their control. Continue reading

Senator Sokola Makes My Day With Proposed Education Funding Transparency Bill

As part of the Every Student Succeeds Act, all schools are required to provide more transparency with how they spend money.  Delaware Senator Sokola seeks to codify this with legislation currently in circulation for sponsorship.

I like this bill.  I believe an amendment should make sure every expense down to the school level is given a specific category.  Trying to read Delaware’s online checkbook is a lesson in futility at times and does not give an accurate picture to make sure funds are spent the way they are supposed to.  Excluding certain items, like under (2) (b) of the proposed legislation should not happen.  Yes, these funds can be tracked in a confusing way through state reporting procedures but putting the whole puzzle together can be very difficult.

What do you think?  Will this bill provide the information we need?

The Dream Becomes A Reality: Exceptional Advocacy for Delaware Students

It all starts with an idea.  But ideas that roll around in your mind will always be just that.  It is now time for action!  Therefore, this is the birth of Exceptional Advocacy for Delaware Students.

For almost four years I’ve been writing about education in good old Delaware.  It’s taken me from the bottom of Sussex all the way to the tip-top parts of the state.  I’ve been to Legislative Hall and the Delaware DOE building more times than I can count.  And nothing has changed.  In fact, I’m going to say it is getting worse.  Especially with special education.  But it isn’t just that.  It is also issues dealing with school discipline, race, gender, bullying, classroom management, class sizes, safety, and trauma coming into our schools in ways our educators are just now starting to fathom and understand.

To that end, I am taking my email/Facebook/social media/cell phone advocacy out of the digital world and into the schools.  This will be a huge task and I need your help!

These are the issues I am willing to advocate for students:

Special Education: whether it is IEPs or 504 plans, it is important to know your child’s rights, the parental rights, and the rights of the school.  Many parents feel overwhelmed in IEP meetings.  Trying to learn about federal IDEA law, Delaware State Code, and all the pending special education legislation is a task in itself.  Do you have a child with a unique disability that may warrant very specific goals or accommodations in their IEP?

School Discipline: does the punishment fit the crime?  Does the punishment meet the criteria of the school student code of conduct?  Does it follow state law?  If a student has an IEP or 504 plan was it a manifestation of their disability or just poor choices?  What are the rights of students when there are School Resource Officers, constables, or armed security?  When is physical restraint warranted?  How does it work with transportation and busing when a discipline issue comes up?

Trauma: Is your child going through a Post Traumatic Stress Disorder based on violence in their neighborhood?  Or in their own home?  Are their grades falling behind as a result of this?  Are they acting out?  These are students that may not be special education but need an advocate to help schools and teachers sift through these issues so they can give your child the best education possible.

Bullying: Is your child being bullied?  Are you finding the school isn’t doing everything they can to put a stop to it?  What steps can you take to make sure they do?

These are my goals:

To serve any of the above needs or potential conflict a parent may have with a school.

To guide parents on the appropriate ways to deal with the folks in the schools.  This isn’t as simple as it looks, and when things escalate, there is a proper chain of steps to go through.

To work with every school district and charter school in the state to make sure Parent Council Groups for special education are up and running.

To advocate meaningful dialogue between parents and schools.  This is crucial.  But it is also important to make sure there is one adult in the room who can be unbiased and impartial.  Screaming heads don’t get you far.  It might feel good in the short-term, but it is not conducive to the best interests of the one person who matters the most- your child!

To inform parents of their child’s rights and how that applies to the school setting.  To inform parents of the differences between legislation and regulation and what is enforceable and what is not.

To make sure due process rights are followed to the letter of the law in discipline situations.

I am not an attorney nor do I pretend to be.  I am just a parent with my own special needs child who has run the gauntlet with Delaware schools.  If your child’s school building doesn’t know me directly, they know of me.  All the district and charter leaders know me as well as the legislators.  I have contacts all over the place and know exactly who to go to when things need to happen.  I’ve helped parents out for years but it is time to take it to the next level.

I will be doing this work at no cost.  But any organization or business (whatever this turns out to be based on demand) needs funding.  Pure and simple.  So I am asking for donations from folks in Delaware who see this growing need in our state.  Whether it is a dollar or more, every bit counts.  I am willing to go up and down our state to help our kids.  I am centrally located in Dover so my door is open for all!

If you are of mind to help get this going and help sustain this, any contributions are certainly welcome!  Please go to the Exceptional Advocacy for Delaware Students page here: https://www.gofundme.com/exceptional-advocacy-for-delaware

If you are a parent who needs help in dealing with a situation involving your child at a Delaware school, please contact me as soon as possible.  My email is kjohlandt70@gmail.com and we can exchange phone numbers from there.

Delaware Public Education Salaries Over $100,000: Rankings, Student Cost, Ratios, $$$ Totals, & Synopsis

After weeks of work, all of the Delaware Public Education salaries over $100,000 have been posted with a few exceptions.  Those are four charter schools who either did not respond or will in the next couple of days.  But there is more than enough data to make some sense out of all this.  Many asked why I was posting these.  There were several reasons: requests, comparisons, money tracking, and general curiosity.  But the main reason was to see if I could answer the age-old question- “Are there too many administrators?”  Finally, I am prepared to answer that. Continue reading

Prologue: The Big FOIA About Salaries

On February 28th, I sent a Freedom of Information Act request to every single Delaware school district and charter school.  The ask?  Every single employee with an annual salary over $100,000.   I based it on that specific number because I know pretty much every single assistant principal and up (with a few exceptions) makes over $100,000.  One of the key questions in Delaware education is “Do we have too many administrators?”.  This comes up every single time the state budget conversation heats up or a district goes out for a referendum. Continue reading

Only District Superintendents Or Highest Authority In Charter Schools Can Change A Student’s Grade In Delaware

As I was combing through Title 14 this evening, I found something astonishing.  I know of a Principal that changed a grade for a student.  It looks like that Principal broke the law.  I believe that Principal is retired now and who knows what the enforceability of this law is.  What this means is only the very highest level in a district or charter school can change a teacher’s grade.  Even on something as small as homework.  The law is below.  I have to wonder how much the Delaware Secretary of Education actually gets on this! Continue reading

Ex Delaware Military Academy Leader’s Letter To Gateway Lab School Gives Stunning Insight On Charter Schools

Recently, a Gateway Lab School board member reached out to the former leader of the Delaware Military Academy, Chuck Baldwin, for potential recommendations for Gateway.  This was presented at one of their recent board meetings in public session, therefore, this is a public document.  The letter gives certain… well, I’ll let you read it and tell me what you think!  I’m pretty sure those with their Delaware military charter history can guess his date error at first glance but I wanted to present the document as is! Continue reading

Delaware DOE FINALLY Releases 2016-2017 Annual Bullying Report

After months of waiting, I received an email from the Delaware Department of Education that their 2016-2017 Annual Bullying Report was completed and up on their website.  While I am unable to take a deep dive into this and compare it to previous years, I did want to get it out there for folks to view.  When I asked the DOE last week about the status of the report, they did explain the area that handles the report went through a leadership turnover in the past few months which is understandable for the delay.

Hey Delaware DOE, You May Want To Make Sure Mitch & Our Schools Know This Stuff!

It would be my hope that all Delaware schools, be they district or charter, have seen this.  I would also hope the Exceptional Children Resources Group, the special education area of the Delaware Department of Education, led by Mary Ann Mieczkowski, circulated this to all our schools.  If not, I’ll make sure they get this.  And I won’t even charge them!  But just in case they haven’t seen this, they may want to read this from top to bottom.  Special education is NOT a choice.  And you are expected to implement it with fidelity and as per federal law under IDEA.  The below document, released by the Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services at the United States Department of Education issued guidance about the landmark U.S. Supreme Court decision on Endrew F v. Douglas County School District.

Carney Raises Local Payments To Charters 2% In Budget Request Based On “Inflation”

Delaware Governor John Carney delivered his FY2019 Proposed Budget and it looks like Delaware charter schools will get some extra cash out of the deal if the General Assembly includes this in their final budget they must vote on by June 30th!

Is this even legal?  Does the Governor have the legal authority to arbitrarily raise a percentage amount for local payments from districts to charters based on “inflation”?  Sadly, he does.  It is written in Title 14.

So what do sections 408 and 509 of Title 14 say?

408:

(e) The district of residence shall, except as provided for in subsection (h) of this section, pay to the receiving district the lower local

cost per pupil expenditure of the 2 districts, adjusted by an inflation factor specified annually in the annual appropriations act, such

payment to be made by November 30 of each year.

509:

(d) The Department of Education shall annually calculate the local cost per student expended by each school district for each type of

student for the year immediately preceding based on the formula set forth in subsection (e) of this section, adjusted by a factor necessary

to fund the charter school on a basis reasonably equivalent to the current year local cost per student, which factor shall be established in

the annual Appropriations Act. The Department shall annually certify each local district’s local cost per student expenditure by September

1 of each year.

So does that mean Delaware school districts are getting 2% more based on “inflation”?  Absolutely not.  Everything goes up in price.  So saying “inflation” without any meaning behind it is just another way to give charter schools more money.  I do not blame the charters for this, I blame the power brokers that snuck this in there.  Of course it is absolutely legal because it is in state code.  But that certainly doesn’t make it right or moral.  Add the extra match tax funds charters will get this year and it is obvious charter lobbyists will squeeze as much juice out of the district fruit as they can!  Lest we forget, charters do get state funding.  They don’t live and die based on local student payments.  They get as much state funding (except for capital costs) that traditional school districts do.  They also have the charter school transportation slush fund

Field Trip Funding Bill Would Give Relief To Low-Income Schools

Delaware State Representative Sean Matthews submitted House Bill #282 for pre-filing yesterday which would give $25 to each student for field trips in designated low-income schools across the state.

In order to support enrichment activities such as field trips for students at high-poverty schools, this bill would require the State to provide $25 per student to high poverty schools for the purpose of educational and enrichment field trips.
The bill is co-sponsored by State Senator Harris McDowell with additional sponsorship provided by Senators Brian Bushweller and David Sokola and State Reps. Paul Baumbach, Stephanie Bolden, Helene Keeley, and Trey Paradee.
Matthews sent a note to his colleagues in the General Assembly in asking for sponsorship:

Much of what makes a student successful in school is the background knowledge and outside experiences that a student gets from going on trips. Students that go on trips to museums, historical sites and parks are able to acquire knowledge and life experiences that help them do better in school. Field trips are predominately paid for by parents, so students from families of more financial means are typically able to go on more and better field trips. 

This bill will allow schools with a 50% or greater low-income student population to receive financial support to plan and run educational field trips. The identified schools (see list below…schools are in all 3 counties) would get $25/student and could use that money to plan field trip/s. The money could be combined with private funding (parents, PTA, grants, etc.) in any manner the school sees fit to maximize its use.  Please note that most schools already have policies and procedures to ensure that field trips are educational in nature. 

We’ve spent years trying to “fix” struggling schools with programs and money solely within the four walls of a school. Let’s try something new and get students from schools with large low-income populations out of the building on high quality field trips. I believe we will see real and lasting results. Note: The approximate cost to fund this bill Statewide based on the most recent data on low-income students, is $500,000.

Since this bill comes with a fiscal note, I would expect some resistance to it, especially coming from the Republican side.  As I see no sponsorship from either the Senate or House Republicans, it is hard to tell what will happen with this.  With that being said, I strongly support this bill.  It is a definitive and urgent need for high-need students.  And yes, low-income and poverty is very much a high need.  We have a large amount of students this would benefit which could give tangible and immediate results in their education.  Frankly, I’m disappointed no Republicans signed on as some of them represent districts where some of the below schools reside in.  I can think of a lot of wasteful spending in this state and this would NOT be one of them!

This is not limited to traditional school districts but also charter schools that qualify.  Please support this legislation!

The list of schools:

Elementary Schools: East Dover, South Dover, Booker T. Washington, Fairview, Towne Point, Lake Forest, North Laurel, Dunbar, Banneker, Mispillion, Blades, Frederick Douglas, Harlan, Highlands, Lewis Dual Language, Shortlidge, Baltz, Richardson Park, Mote, Warner, Brookside, Oberle, Bancroft, Elbert-Palmer, Pulaski, Stubbs, Eisenberg, Academy of Dover, East Side Charter, Thomas Edison Charter, Charter School of New Castle, Kuumba Academy, and Academia Antonia Alonso.

Middle Schools: Central Middle, Skyline, Stanton, Bayard, and McCullough

High Schools: Pyle Academy & Great Oaks

ILC Schools: Kent Elementary ILC & Kent County Alternative

Special Schools: First State School, Douglass School, & Carver Center

To read the full bill, please see below: