When You Can’t Give Public Comment About A Change In Public Comment

The Delaware State Board of Education has always been ridiculous with their public comment policy.  You cannot give public comment on any action item on their agenda.  Further complicating this absolutely ludicrous scenario is a proposed change which will be up for action at their next meeting, on Thursday March 23rd.  The State Board of Education will take action on moving public comment from the beginning of the meeting until towards the end.  Thereby ensuring that the public is put on the bottom of the list.  There are certain groups that put public comment at the end of meetings, but the State Board of Education needs to hear from the public prior to voting or discussing items.  The very nature of attempting to contact a member of the State Board of Education is futile.  Everything goes through the Executive Director, Donna Johnson.  The State Board of Education will be having a meeting tomorrow at 12 noon to discuss the policy recommendations from the Joint Sunset Committee, a group of legislators who are taking a hard look at the State Board of Education.

As far as this latest action item, I am vehemently against this.  The State Board meetings are very long at times and to make members of the public sit through the whole thing just to give public comment is absurd.  I hope the State Board votes no on this insane idea.

Big Events Tonight In Delaware! Marino vs Hansen, State Board Of Ed Sunset Review and More!

This is one of the things I can’t stand about Delaware.  Weeks will go by without anything momentous going on and then BOOM! Everything all at once on the same night.  Tonight is no exception!

The biggest, which will likely draw a great deal of media attention, is the debate between Republican John Marino and Democrat Stephanie Hansen for the 10th Senate District seat.  The winner of this special election will dictate who holds the power in the Delaware Senate.  There is a lot of heat on this election already and it will only ramp up until the February 25th voting day.  Hosted by Allan Loudell with WDEL, this debate at Middletown High School begins at 7pm.  As well, Libertarian candidate Joseph Lanzendorfer will be a part of the debate.

The State Board of Education has their first Joint Sunset Committee review tonight in the Joint Finance Committee room at Legislative Hall, 7pm.  The State Board of Education was put on review last Spring by this committee.  There could be big changes coming out of this review and this will be one to watch.

Capital School District is holding a forum on “potential building configurations” at the William Henry Middle School Auditorium, 6pm.  Many in the district have felt their current grade configuration doesn’t work.  Coming out of their ongoing Strategic Plan, this could draw a lot of attention for Senator Citizens in Dover.  This part of their strategic plan is under the long-range master facilities plan.  I say make it K-5, 6-8, and 9-12.  But there is also a potential of pre-school and Kindergartners getting their own building.

The Progressive Democrats for Delaware are holding a pot-luck dinner tonight at the New Castle Democrat Headquarters over on 19 Commons Blvd. in New Castle from 7pm to 9pm.

The Down Syndrome Association of Delaware is holding a forum with state legislators covering topics such as education, Medicaid, and employment.  This event, sponsored by Eventbrite, will be held from 7pm to 9pm at State Troop 2 in Newark, DE.

The Wilmington Education Improvement Commission is holding a meeting for the Meeting the Needs of Students in Poverty at United Way of Delaware, 625 Orange St. at the Linden Building, 3rd Floor, in Wilmington from 4pm to 6pm.

Earlier today, the Joint Finance Committee heard opening remarks for Public Education as well as the Chief School Officers down in Dover.  After that, the JFC got to hear the Delaware Department of Education’s FY2018 budget request which is still going on until 4pm.

Busy day with no ability for everyone to get to all these things.  I will be attending the debate tonight.  Let’s see who wins this one!

 

Is Godowsky Trying To Protect Himself From The District-Charter Funding Fiasco aka Blowmangate 2016?

doetownsendbldg

In reading Delaware Secretary of Education Dr. Steven Godowsky’s letter to the General Assembly about what I am now calling Blowmangate 2016, it appears Godowsky is shielding himself from potential accountability for this gigantic mess.  I believe he should.

In the letter, the word “I” doesn’t appear until the 5th paragraph.  Every mention in the timeline provided in the paragraphs before that uses the words “The Department”.  I firmly believe Godowsky did this to not only provide the entire state a definitive answer on this funding issue, but also to cover himself should any investigation or accountability rise from this.

At no point in the letter does Secretary Godowsky show he ever approved the changes to the charter and choice bills sent out from the Delaware Department of Education.  That is very important.  As many have surmised based on articles about this as well as an email from State Rep. Earl Jaques, Godowsky was in the dark on this until after the charter bills went out.  But he was the epicenter of the firestorm, as the News Journal called it, when I published the first article on this topic and legislators pounced on Godowsky like a mama bear would protecting their cubs.

At no time has the true mastermind at the DOE behind this ever provided any public comment about this: Associate Deputy Secretary of Education David Blowman.  In the Delaware DOE, it is very rare when someone is terminated.  On paper and in the public, it is usually a resignation.  Former Secretary of Education Mark Murphy “resigned” shortly after the priority schools funding issues with Red Clay were made public.  Former Accountability & Assessment Chief Penny Schwinn and her right-hand man Ryan Reyna “resigned” after the school report card saga called the Delaware School Success Framework showed many issues surrounding transparency and a lack of true collaboration with stakeholders.  Former Teacher/Leader Effectiveness Unit Chief Christopher Ruszkowski “resigned” after complaints about his comments at the DPAS-II Advisory Group Sub-Committee.  We see this phenomenon often in school districts and charters.  It happens in the business world as well.  It allows for a graceful exit without controversy and saves both parties bad press and potential legal action (unless some “Sneaky Snake Blogger” writes about it).  Will David Blowman “resign” over his self-created Blowmangate 2016?  I believe he should “resign”.

For Secretary Godowsky, this has to be embarrassing for him.  He promised the citizens of Delaware there would be better communication and partnership coming from the Delaware DOE.  At his Senate Confirmation Hearing last October, State Senator Nicole Poore said Dr. Godowsky is “a breath of fresh air” after three years of Mark Murphy.  After the opt out penalty in the Delaware School Success Framework last year, where Godowsky changed course on the matter in two weeks, he had to deal with the closure of a brand-new charter school.  Key personnel at the DOE “resigned” as the better communication coming from the Department never seemed to materialize.  While Godowsky serves at the pleasure of the Governor, he does have his own opinions.  I have to think the decisions he makes based on his commitment to the Governor has to conflict with issues he wrestles with in his own mind.  Now the Delaware DOE has a babysitter over the district-charter funding issues in the form of the House and Senate Education Committee.  I don’t recall that happening at any time on any DOE issue.  This is a clear sign the General Assembly is at their wits end with the Delaware DOE.  In addition to that, the State Board of Education is under Sunset Review by the Joint Sunset Committee next year.  This is not something that is done at random.  It has to be put forth by a member of the Sunset Committee.  Eight members of that committee voted yes with one abstention (Senator David Sokola) and one absent (Senator Bryan Townsend).

Many people in Delaware, including parents, citizens, legislators, and educators are calling for an elected State Board of Education and more recently, an elected Secretary of Education.  Some seem to want the position of Secretary of Education eliminated altogether.  Many want radical change in the Delaware DOE.  With the Every Student Succeeds Act about to become the biggest topic in Delaware education, in addition to the upcoming primary and General Election, the DOE has to be very careful about how they conduct themselves.  They are being closely watched, and not just by me.  To give this a matter of perspective, they are standing on a frozen lake in early March and the weather forecasts are calling for warm days ahead.  Will the DOE be able to get off the frozen lake before they plunge into the depths?  Time will tell.  They need to change course immediately and realize that defiance of the will of the people and the General Assembly will not be tolerated.

As for Secretary Godowsky, he will retire next year.  He has the endpoint on his resume of being the guy that transitioned between Mark Murphy and whoever our next Governor picks as the Secretary of Education.  Time will tell how he will be viewed through the lens of history.  He could convince Governor Markell that what the DOE is doing is wrong and they need to abandon his plans for Delaware education.  I strongly urge Dr. Godowsky to consider that option in his remaining months.  He knows exactly what is at stake.

*The above picture of the Townsend Building, home of Delaware DOE leadership, in Dover, DE is from firststatepics.com

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.