Auditor Forum: Davies Shines, McGuiness Blunders, & Williams Rants

Last night, the Kent County Democratic Committee hosted a forum for the Democrat candidates for State Auditor at the Kent County Levy Court in Dover.  The well-attended debate was clearly won by candidate Kathleen Davies. Continue reading

Rape At Least Two Students & Get Probation? Something Is Wrong With Our Justice System!

Karen Brooks, a former Smyrna Middle School Special Education Diagnostician, pled guilty to raping two underage students.  Her sentence? Probation!  They could have set a crystal-clear example with her and given her jail time, but no, they give her probation.

According to Craig Anderson with Delaware State News (who has hit grand slam home runs lately by the way), reported the following: Continue reading

Colin Bonini Causes State Budget To Rise & An Update On That Whole Budget Thing

I hope the Delaware General Assembly doesn’t use prevailing wage for the folks that print legislation because Colin Bonini most likely caused them to get VERY busy.  Today, during an extension of their session which should have ended yesterday morning, Senator Colin Bonini added 20 amendments to a bill.  Not sure why he didn’t make it one huge amendment, but I digress.  For each amendment, the legislative aides have to print up each one and give it to each legislator.  Not just in the Senate, but also the House.  And then the archives as well.  That is a hell of a lot of paper!

To put this in perspective, there were so many amendments I couldn’t get them all in one screenshot.  So it is impacting my work as well.  Thanks for that Colin!

I have no doubt Colin knows this is in jest.  If not, Colin, this is in jest.  If you want to read about this bill, please go here.  But there is other news at below.

Meanwhile, the legislators have been at Legislative Hall since 1:oo.  Still no actual budget to vote on.  Seven hours later.  If anything changes, I will do my best to keep you updated.  I will most likely be sleeping.  I was interviewed on Friday by the Delaware State News.  The article showed up yesterday and it was awesome.  The title alone is worth the read!  A Sham-Wow Moment While You Were Sleeping

Updated 8:18pm: WDEL is reporting the Delaware Joint Finance Committee restored the Grant-In Aid funding at 80%.  I am not sure if this means some type of deal for the entire budget is happening.

Updated 8:34pm: Speaking of printers, I’m hearing a new budget is coming off them now and a possible deal was struck.

Updated 8:37pm: Apparently this session is called an “Extraordinary Session” based on the General Assembly website: An Extraordinary Session of the 149th General Assembly has been called by Governor John C. Carney, for Sunday afternoon, the 2nd of July, 2017 at one o’clock.

Updated 8:48pm: It takes hours for a budget to print.  By the Governor’s decress, this “Extraordinary Session” is only for budget purposes.  Which means non-budget legislation is NOT being worked on by the House or Senate.

Updated 9:11pm: It is still coming out of the printer…

Updated 9:16pm: My son is listening to a horrible remix of Twenty-One Pilots “Heavy Dirty Soul”.  I hope that isn’t an omen…

Updated 9:18pm: The budget bill is a House Bill this year.  It rotates every year.  Which means the House will vote on the budget first.  But the bond bill will come from the Senate.

 

As JFC Sacrifices The Sick, The Children, and The Poor, General Assembly Leadership Drops The Ball

I am getting very sick of the political games in Dover.  Very sick.  We have the Joint Finance Committee cutting programs left and right, with House and Senate leadership on both sides of the aisle continuing to bicker over raising taxes or having more cuts.  We elect these people to do what is right for Delaware, not to kick the can until the next election.  They continue to use the most vulnerable citizens of Delaware in their political football games: the students, those who are sick or rely on state assistance, and those who live in poverty.  Enough.

In a Delaware State news article, JFC Co-Chair Melanie Smith brags about needing only $60 million in “soft cuts” while Speaker of the House Pete Schwartzkopf says further cuts would be “drastic“.  Do these two even talk to each other?  They are in the same damn party.  Meanwhile, we have Senator Greg Lavelle preaching from his pulpit wanting the state to have even more cuts.  But both sides are not giving serious thought to State Rep. John Kowalko’s bills which would raise taxes on the wealthy of Delaware.  Hell, they spit in our faces in the House by passing the very ridiculous estate tax appeal last month.

Delaware Republicans, let’s get one thing straight: prevailing wage will NEVER happen as long as the Democrats hold power in the House and Senate.  It is a pipe dream.  Delaware Democrats, the Republicans will NEVER allow you to raise taxes on the wealthy.  Delaware citizens, we are screwed.

I believe they are making these “drastic” cuts in the JFC to cut to the heart of Delaware.  By going after the most vulnerable of Delaware citizens, they are hoping the legislators will cave and come up with some sort of short-term compromise to fix the budget.  Governor Markell left the station, but not without spending our way to prosperity.  But guess what, the bill came in for that spending and we have treated the state wallet like an ATM without any limits.

In Delaware, we have this insane tendency to vote the SAME people into office every election.  While there are some very good State Reps and Senators filling the halls in Dover, I fear we have reached a stalemate in Dover.  For far too many of our legislators it is about one thing: holding on to power and the next election.  The Delaware Way has become a steaming pile of horse manure.

Governor Carney and his office have shown no sign of getting rid of this stink in Delaware.  My recent FOIA complaint against Carney’s office over the Family Services Cabinet Council generated a response from his office.  Because the Attorney General’s office is still working on the legal opinion for this, all I can say is the response is one of the most insulting things I’ve read in my entire life.  It reeks of corruption and deals made behind closed doors.  The solution, which is Carney’s way of saying “Don’t mess with me Ohlandt, cause I will do what I want no matter what” screams of the very thing I have grown to expect in Delaware.  It evaporates hope and replaces it with a bad taste that no mouthwash could replace.  I can’t wait until this legal opinion comes out to the public so they can see firsthand what I am talking about.

Our children, poor, and sick should not be held hostage because these lawmakers think they can do what they want.  In the State News article, Matt Bittle discussed the decision by the JFC to hold off on meeting until later in June.  Bittle writes:

The move, an atypical one, minimizes public backlash and concern in response to spending reductions and gives the caucuses more time to come to an agreement on tax increases.

I disagree with this.  The public backlash is just beginning.  I see more discussion about what is going on with the budget this year than I’ve seen in years.  The very ugly move by the JFC yesterday on not allowing the cut sheets from yesterday to be released to the media or the public is the shadiest thing I’ve seen in my entire time blogging.  In response to cuts already made, I’m sure their phones and emails were lighting up like a Christmas tree.  Get over it.  It is your job to listen to your constituents, not to stifle their voices.  When you play games with people, don’t get upset when they voice their concerns over it.  Last I heard, freedom of speech was still a real thing.  Last I heard, we elected you to balance the budget, not to keep it from us.

Because of loop holes in state code, there are no-brainer ways to raise revenue in this state that are impossible because of budget allocations.  We could raise the gas tax but that would only go towards the transportation fund.  How about shifting that in state code so it would go to the general fund?  I would support a ten cent raise in the gas tax if it would dig us out of this mess that the General Assembly created in the first place.  It is things like that which make it impossible for me to give the General Assembly more than a shrug when this time of year comes around.  They need to think outside of their very small boxes and get creative.  Because I am sure they will get the same salary, benefits, and pensions.  Meanwhile, I know I am going to have to pay more for getting less in Delaware as will every single citizen in this state.  Except some of those really rich people who will bully legislators into making sure their shared sacrifice is palatable to their over-stuffed bank accounts.

I believe in Delaware.  I believe in the people of Delaware.  I don’t believe in our very corrupt state government who throws away their conscience in favor of lobbyists and back-door deals.  I don’t care if you are Democrat or Republican.  The very second you replace a moral with some incentive, you have failed in your duty as an elected official.  That isn’t integrity.  It isn’t honesty.  It is the Delaware Way.

 

Exceptional Delaware Endorses Trey Paradee For 29th State Rep. District

I’ve known Trey Paradee for a few years now.  He was the first State Representative I ever met.  It is fitting, because he is my State Rep in the 29th District.  I have approached him about many issues, mostly dealing with education.  Trey comes from a long lineage of Paradees who have served Delaware.  I proudly endorse him for another term in the 29th Rep. District.

I witnessed Paradee getting more involved with education during the course of the 148th General Assembly.  During the infamous House Bill 50 opt out saga, Paradee made it a point to attend the House Education Committee meeting to hear what parents and teachers were saying.  He stayed for the entire meeting (and it was a long one).  He voted in favor of House Bill 50 twice and also voted in favor of suspending the rules to allow for a vote on an override of Governor Markell’s veto of said bill.  While that attempt failed, Trey was one of only 13 House Reps who voted yes on this measure out of 40.  It showed his commitment to parents and their inalienable rights.

I haven’t made it easy on Paradee.  As my district rep, Trey is in the sometimes uncomfortable position of being in “that blogger’s” district.  Let’s face it, I’m not always easy on those I disagree with.  To me, it is always about the kids.  But Trey gets that.  I believe he gets that sometimes a legislator needs to cut across the grain in order to do what is right.  But at the same time, he has talked with me about my approach.  And while I haven’t always heeded those words, I very much appreciate his insight.

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This morning, I read the Delaware State News and there was an entire page devoted to Paradee’s views.  His opponents, Republican Jean Gallagher and Green Party candidate Ruth Ann James did not even bother to return the survey.  While it is certainly their right not to participate in a survey, it also speaks volumes to their commitment to informing the citizens of the district about their views on issues.  Given that this article came out a week and a half before the election, I find it odd they would not want to participate in something that would get their positions out there.  Neither of Paradee’s opponents participated in a questionnaire from the Dover Post as well.

I was pleasantly surprised to see Paradee devoted portions of his survey to education.  He cited education funding as a top priority the state needs to change.

However, we have created a system of haves and have-nots, and the referendum process has devolved into a political endeavor with yard signs, call centers and mailers.  Meanwhile, some school districts that deal with a higher number of English second language students and children who face challenges brought upon by poverty do not have adequate resources.  This problem needs to be addressed by the next administration, with the help of parents, educators, and administrators, to find a way to provide adequate resources to our most challenged students while maintaining some of the local control that we have grown to enjoy through the referendum process.

When asked what changes he would like to see in the Delaware Department of Education, he responded with the following:

We need to clean house.  We need to reduce the number of positions and return more control to the local school boards.

Amen Trey!

In looking at Janice Gallagher’s survey responses to the Delaware Voter’s Guide, she fully supports school vouchers which would further cripple an already financially strapped public education system and has proved ineffective in many states.  On her website, Gallagher’s only mention of education is a very broad “create common sense education for your children and grandchildren” which tells me absolutely nothing about what she stands for.  I can easily go back to the past four years and see how Trey Paradee stands on education through his voting record in the House of Representatives.  While I don’t agree with every single vote he has cast, I see a continual increase in his involvement with education issues.

On a personal level, Trey is very approachable and he will look into issues if you go to him.  I have sent a few parents his way over the past couple of years.  During the last legislative session, he made it a point to make sure Delawareans were not unfairly raked over the coals with a proposed Artificial Island project that would have increased energy costs but given the bulk of the benefit of the station to New Jersey residents.  And he succeeded!

Please vote for Trey Paradee if you live in the 29th Rep. District on November 29th.  I know I will!  Besides, who wouldn’t vote for a guy that brings his dogs everywhere!  This is also a state representative who has never missed a vote in the House.  In four years!  Not everyone can say that.  But one thing people can say is that Paradee was a spitting image of Rush singer Geddy Lee in his younger days!

geddytrey

Special Education Front & Center In Budget Talks With DOE

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The Delaware Joint Finance Committee grilled Secretary Godowsky yesterday about the dramatic rise in special education numbers this year.  The News Journal, Delaware Public Media and Delaware State News covered the hearing with very different takes on the events of the day.  All of them cited the increase this year of 848 students classified as special education.

Delaware State News provided the quote of the year from Senator Harris McDowell:

A large portion of the dialogue centered on enrollment figures, with committee members questioning the discrepancy between predicted and actual growth and the JFC chairman referring to the funding formula as “‘Harry Potter’ calculus.”

Both legislators and DOE officials seem to be perplexed at the rapid rise in special education students and don’t know how to figure this out.

“We’ve really been in the position of, is this a bubble, is this a one-time or two-time increase in special education enrollment that’s driving that growth?” said department finance director Kim Wheatley.

The News Journal had a different take on the matter:

Department officials and several lawmakers said much of that increase was likely due to the state’s recent efforts to better screen students to catch disabilities and learning differences. Godowsky said the department was working with the University of Delaware to study the state’s population and see if the increase could be a long-term trend.

But Delaware Public Media offered more insight into Godowsky’s thoughts on the issue:

“It’s the unknown factor of students identified as ‘exceptional’ and are eligible for special education services. So that’s the variable that we haven’t really been able to tap exactly,” Godowsky said.

But the shell shock award of the day definitely goes to Delaware Public Media:

Many parents of kids with learning differences choose to move to Delaware because of the state’s quality special education, Dr. Godowsky said.

Are you kidding me?  Really?  Quality special education.  That is a complete lie.  When I talk about special education with people from different states they laugh and tell me how horrible Delaware is in comparison to other states.  For a state listed as needing intervention three out of the past five years this is a complete joke.  This is not a knock against our teachers, but a complete slam on the DOE who seems to think special education’s sole purpose is to bring up test scores.  Meanwhile, our bloated classrooms, some with well over 30 students and one teacher in some districts are suffering immensely.  If Delaware had quality special education this blog would not exist.

I’ve told people for going on two years now that special education numbers are too low in Delaware.  Many of the increases this year are coming from the charter sector of Delaware public education.  Now that accountability is really kicking in I’m not surprised the charters are waking up to this fact.  Now that their schools are on the line just as much as traditional school districts are, their excuses with low special education numbers just don’t cut it any more.  While this is not all charters, there are certain ones who have insanely small special education populations that do not match any realistic demographics in the state.  The vo-techs aren’t much better in some respects.  There could be other factors at play here as well.

We all know Delaware has some major pollution issues.  There have been concerns about chemical waste and toxins for years.  Delaware Senator Greg Lavelle wants Delaware’s water tested to make sure we aren’t having issues like the crisis in Flint, Michigan.  My son has Tourette Syndrome and it is a mystery about how children develop the disability.  The disability is not present in any of his relatives on both sides, nor was it in past generations.  I have questioned the origin of my son’s disability.

In 2006, a company called Reichhold in Cheswold had a chemical leak.  A railroad car released a chemical called styrene which is used in plastics.  The smell of the chemical was felt up to five miles away from the now closed plant.  My house is a little over a mile away from the now closed chemical plant.  My wife and son were home on that summer day, with all the windows open.  He was two when this happened.  Twenty people went to the hospital.  Route 1 closed down in that area for most of the day.  Everyone within the five-mile radius of the plant was told to stay indoors.  In my neighborhood, every single child I knew that was home that day has some type of disability that was not present before the leak.  I actually contacted Erin Brokovich about this a few years ago but I never received a response from her.  I don’t think it is a coincidence events like this occur and we see a rise in children with disabilities.  While Delaware didn’t see an immediate health danger to citizens in the area, we don’t know what long-term effects these unstable chemicals can do to developing minds in children.

Yesterday, State Rep. Kim Williams attended the JFC hearing with the DOE and after hearing the special education numbers, she tweeted an astonishing figure that none of the major media covered:

That is a lot of unfunded special education!  3rd grade is also the first year students take the Smarter Balanced Assessment folks.  I wrote in great detail about the 2015-2016 September 30th enrollment numbers back in November.  Delaware charter schools special education numbers rose nearly 15% on average while traditional school districts rose 4.4%.  At that time, 2,467 students in Delaware who have IEPs received no additional funding for the simple fact they are considered basic special education in Kindergarten to 3rd grade.  This is a travesty.  William’s House Bill 30 would take care of this issue but nobody seems eager to make sure it passes aside from a handful of legislators.  Meanwhile, Governor Markell wants to boost early education by over $11 million dollars.  While funds would go to daycare centers, the discussion at the JFC hearing also talked about funds going to “coaches” to train the daycare center providers.  How much of that money will go towards these “coaches” and who are they?  The DOE and Governor Markell stress the need for this and the General Assembly seems to be accepting everything involved with it at face value.  I fear this is just another money grab by companies wanting to profit off children and an all-too-willing DOE and Governor who put money before children in their priorities.

When is our General Assembly going to stop blindly believing all the DOE and Markell have to say about how to “fix” education?  While Godowsky has certainly made some good staff changes at the DOE, it is merely window dressing to the true problems with the DOE and State Board of Education.  Those who suffer the most are the nearly 20,000 special education students in Delaware who do not have the funding, resources, and support they so desperately need.  But we have no problem sending millions upon millions of dollars to outside companies who come up with their mythical reports and their ridiculous high-stakes tests which tell us nothing we don’t already know.

Secretary Godowsky Wants To Add $87 Million To Delaware Education Budget & His Stance On House Bill 50

I support the Governor’s position.

Thank you Matt Bittle with the Delaware State News for covering the budget talks in Dover yesterday.  Delaware Secretary of Education Dr. Steven Godowsky wants to increase the education budget by $87 million for more funds to go towards the general operating budget and an additional $5 million for the capital portion of the education budget.  The article explained how the education portion of the state budget is currently $1.3 billion and the proposed increase would bring it to $1.39 billion.  Of the requested increases, $44.7 would go to salaries, $15.8 towards “projected growth”, and $9.5 to “technology initiatives”, “safety measures”, and funding for “ELL students”.

The article also reported Godowsky does not stand with parents and educators on the controversial opt-out legislation, House Bill 50.  The bill passed the House and Senate earlier in the year, but Governor Jack Markell vetoed the popular legislation.  As predicted, he talked about the whole assessment inventory and how there are too many tests.  But no one with the ability to change things is talking about getting rid of the Smarter Balanced Assessment.  That will be number one with a bullet for me in 2016!  Godowsky’s whole claim about communicating and sharing information better is a crock!

That’s our big priority, that we communicate better, share information and get a good sense of where we’re going,” he said.  He described himself as “optimistic” that cooperation would be improved.

I have yet to see this renewed sense of transparency Secretary Godowsky…

Two Delaware Newspapers Show The Rift In Education And In The House Democrat Caucus

Holy smokes!  Not sure which one I was more surprised to see, the one about Valerie Longhurst or the one about the General Fund Race To The Top 8!

Starting with Longhurst, The News Journal covered a “scathing email” situation Longhurst sent out to a University of Delaware Professor when the U of D employee questioned the General Assembly about raises given to certain employees at Legislative Hall.  The employee, Ms. Fran Fletcher, is well-known in Delaware as a mediator.  I have seen her at the HB90 Enrollment Preference Task Force and found her to be a very reasonable woman.  She is frequently called on by the Delaware Department of Education to mediate IEP meetings when parents and schools cannot agree on IEP issues.  If the allegations surrounding Longhurst’s response to Ms. Fletcher are true, that goes way beyond a constructive response to a constituent.  I would say it was filled with veiled threats to someone who dared question a legislator over a controversial issue.

Meanwhile, The Delaware State News jumped on the eight Race To The Top positions that I wrote about on Monday but they even had a quote from one of the employees who should have been cut but now seems to be working in the Executive Branch.  Shana Young said:

“While it does not have the authority to create new positions, the Department of Education, like all state agencies, has the authority to reclassify vacant positions,” Ms. Young said. “So, in the case of these eight positions, they were reclassified into existing vacancies in the department.”

It seems members of the Delaware Joint Finance Committee were not too happy about this news either based on the article.  I really thought the DOE would be raked over the coals by the General Assembly during their last legislative session.  Perhaps we should gear up for an even bigger fight this year!  But the bigger fight may go down with the House Dems!

Del. State News Article: Academy of Dover’s Noel Rodriguez Going To Attorney General’s Office

“The Auditor’s office was concerned by the length of time the alleged financial mismanagement continued while under the oversight of the Board of Directors, Department of Education, independent auditors, Innovative Schools, the Charter School Accountability Committee, and Division of Accounting.”

According to an article by Craig Anderson with the Delaware State News, the State Auditor’s office in Delaware sent their audit report on Academy of Dover to Delaware Attorney General Matt Denn’s office.  What the article had, which I haven’t seen before, is this:

Also, the Auditor’s office alleged, “Given the magnitude of the problem at (Academy of Dover), there may well have been additional exceptions prior to July 2011.”

Once again, this article states the State Auditor’s office receive an anonymous tip on their fraud hotline regarding ex-principal Noel Rodriguez’ rampant and unauthorized spending.  Rodriguez is trying to find a seat on a non-profit board, according to Anderson.  A few sources have told me Rodriguez was working at the Amazon Fulfillment Center in Middletown, DE until he was let go once the news came out about the allegations leveled against him in the Auditor’s report.

Many have wondered why Rodriguez is being made an example of while they dynamic duo from Family Foundations Academy, Sean Moore and Dr. Tennell Brewington, got a get out of jail free card.  According to a letter to the DOE, Moore and Brewington settled with the school and hints the attorney general’s office was involved in this financial settlement after they pilfered over $90,000 from that charter school.  But one thing to consider is the State Auditor has not officially released a report on Family Foundations Academy yet.  They started an investigation into Academy of Dover in August, 2014, and their report came out last month.  So if it takes roughly ten months, we might see a report on Family Foundations Academy by September.  The $90,000 figure was based on a forensic audit done by Auphsite Consulting, but I have a suspicion the State Auditor will discover a much higher amount of fraud by Moore and Brewington.

As for Rodriguez, it will be interesting to see what his next move will be.  Will he attempt to offer a plea bargain?  If there were others involved in criminal financial mischief at the school, I could see Rodriguez pointing the finger.  The next few months should be interesting for all seven of the charter schools under some type of investigation or review with the State Auditor’s office.  I am very curious what kind of financial issues are under investigation with Providence Creek Academy…

In Taylor vs. Paylor for Capital School Board, You Have To Vote For Taylor On May 12th!!!!

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The Capital School District Board of Education election is just three days from now, on May 12th.  For the three candidates running for the Capital School Board, I am officially endorsing Ralph Taylor.  The other two candidates, Sharese Paylor and Peter Servon, don’t hold a candle to Taylor.

There was a candidate forum a couple weeks ago in Dover, and for the Capital candidates, Taylor and Servon showed up.  Paylor didn’t attend this forum.  In an article by David Paulk with The Dover Post, Taylor said the following about Common Core:

No, I’m not in favor of Common Core. I believe that the standard itself, nobody’s really able to understand it, nobody’s able to articulate it to families. It was put in place so quickly. If you got something that so many people have so many questions about why don’t we review it a little bit more, why don’t we slow our roll a little bit. We have kids in classrooms that are week after week preparing for the standardized tests so we can show the world that we have standards. If we’re showing the world that we have standards, if we’re teaching the tests, are we educating? And I think that’s where the flaw is with this standard.

Servon, on the other hand, took a very casual stance with Common Core, as if everyone was okay with it and parents are just overreacting:

As I understand Common Core it’s a national level decision on what should be taught in the subject matter. In my belief it should be general topics, general ideas. The decision on how to teach those ideas and topics is made by the states and by the districts. It’s a minimal requirement that every kid should know in the country. I don’t see anything wrong with having those types of standards. As far as educating the parents I think it needs to be stated simply—it’s just a minimal standard parents need to understand what the school is requiring to implement those Common Core standards.

In another forum at Central Middle School last Tuesday, all three candidates showed up.  We were able to see a little more insight into Paylor.  At the January Capital board meeting, many citizens in the area demanded a reason for why Dover High School’s Principal Evelyn Edney did not have her contract renewed.  Many stated they were going to complain to Governor Markell and said the board had to reveal the reason.  The board has not given a reason since that meeting, nor should they in my opinion.  This is an employment decision, and the Board is not obligated to give reasons for not renewing a contract.  Some individuals, including Paylor, hinted at racial reasons for Edney’s departure.  I don’t buy this considering two other Capital principals I have met are African -American.  Shortly after this meeting, Paylor announced her intention to run for the board.

In an article in the The Delaware State News, reporter Eleanor LaPrade quoted Paylor from the Capital forum as saying “the board shouldn’t override Dr. Thomas, since he was the one who evaluated Dr. Edney’s performance.”  But there could be other factors nobody knows about except the board.  Employment decisions are done during a board’s executive session in Delaware, and are not subject to FOIA law.

I’ve met Taylor a couple times.  Once last summer at the 4th of July when he was running for State Representative.  He lost in a primary to Sean Lynn.  I saw him a couple months ago at a deli and congratulated him on running for the Capital board.  What I like about Taylor is his views on the Smarter Balanced Assessment, opt-out, Common Core and local control.  He told me last summer he is against the Federal intrusion in local education and supports opt-out.  He also doesn’t believe teacher evaluations should be done with standardized test scores.  Taylor believes in the community playing a larger part in Capital’s future.  Servon seems to be a Brandywine guy (where he teaches) based on his comments in both the articles, and Capital certainly doesn’t need that!  Paylor, in my opinion, has an agenda based on one board decision, and that should not be a determining factor is running for a school board.  Taylor would be a good fit with the board, and his many years in law enforcement could definitely give a unique perspective to the board.

With this election, the winner will replace outgoing President Kay Dietz-Sass.  The highlight of her tenure was the opening of the new Dover High School last year.  Another board member, Brian Lewis, resigned due to winning a councilman seat for the City of Dover in the May election where he ran unopposed.  There will be a special election, most likely in July, to fill Lewis’ seat.

Capital School District residents can vote at any of the three polling places from 10am to 8pm on Tuesday, May 12th: William Henry Middle School, East Dover Elementary and Hartly Elementary School.  Please remember, it’s Taylor, not Paylor, who should join Matthew Lindell, Sean Christiansen, and John Martin Jr. on the board!

“Our children are more than test scores”, my letter to the editor printed in Delaware State News today

Our Children are more than test scores - 10-7-14

On October 2nd, I sent a letter to the editor to Delaware State News, Dover Post and The News Journal.  Today, Delaware State News printed the letter in it’s almost near entirety, and the Dover Post will post a shortened version tomorrow.  I am waiting on word back from The News Journal.  This is the letter that appeared in Delaware State News today:

To The Parents of Students in Delaware,

Recently, I had the extreme pleasure of attending the Christina Board of Education meeting. There were over 200 people in the crowd, including parents, teachers, and legislators. Sept. 30th was the deadline for the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) the Delaware Department of Education and Gov. Jack Markell forced upon the Christina School District and the Red Clay Consolidated School District. At issue was six schools in the city of Wilmington that were deemed “failing” by the DOE based on proficiency scores with the DCAS standardized testing.

To judge any school, much less Title 1 low-income schools with high populations of minorities and special education students, based on standardized testing is a major fault with the DOE. But what made it even worse was the caveat of hiring new school leaders for each school at a salary of $160,000 a year.

The worst part is every single teacher in these schools would have to reapply for their positions. If the school districts did not sign the MOUs then they would have 120 days to comply or risk a state takeover of the schools. Most feel they would become charter schools. Wilmington already has a great deal of designated space in the Bank of America building at Rodney Square within a mile of each of these schools. If they can try to pull this in Wilmington, they can do this anywhere in the state.

The Christina School District voted to ignore the MOU, and to come up with their own with all involved stakeholders: parents, teachers, and the community- Which is something Markell and the DOE should have done to begin with. Instead, they made a big press announcement at one of the schools and announced they would give the six schools $5.8 million dollars over four years. After the costs of the new school “planner” for each school ($50,000 a year), and the new “school leader” ($160,000 a year), this would amount to the schools receiving $31,666 a year. This would not solve the problems these schools are facing. They have bloated classroom sizes, with many having up to 30 students in each classroom. There are also issues of crime, drugs, parental neglect and abuse that many of these children face.

Secretary of Education Mark Murphy said he is willing to negotiate with both districts, and I pray he lives up to his word. But this whole education reform with Common Core and high-stakes standardized testing has been controversial at best. There was no input from the school districts when it was implemented in 2009. The United States Department of Education, under the rule of US Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and with President Obama’s blessing, offered hundreds of millions of dollars in extra funding called Race To The Top. The only catch was the governors of each state had to accept the new Common Core standards as the new curriculum for the states. The Common Core State Standards were written by non-educators, and the only educators involved in the process quit because they thought the standards were horrible.

Next Spring, the Smarter Balanced Assessment is coming out. This replaces DCAS as Delaware’s standardized test for all public schools. Murphy has already stated he believes 70% of students in Delaware will fail the test for the first couple of years because of the “new” curriculum. These students will not fail the test because it’s a hard test. They will fail because it’s a bad test.

Many parents don’t realize the impact this once a year test will have on our public school teachers in Delaware. Their annual reviews will be based on the student scores of the Smarter Balanced Assessment. This is completely unfair to educators, and as seen with the priority schools agenda, can have major ramifications for teachers and schools.

Questions have arisen in Delaware and many other states about the legality of parents having their child (ren) opt out of taking the tests. The DOE and the districts will say there is no policy, but here is the bottom line: If more than 5 percent of the students in any district do not take the test, then, they risk losing funding. But what happens if every school district in the state makes this benchmark? Would Markell allow every single school district in the state to lose funding? There were cuts in 2008 and 2009 during the recession that were never fully, or even remotely, restored. To have more cuts would be a disaster for the entire education system in the state- Which is the one part Markell and the DOE won’t tell you. It’s a game they cannot win.

Delaware parents, opt your child out of the Smarter Balanced Assessment. All you have to do is write a letter to the school, and let them know you do not want your child taking any high-stakes standardized testing, and when other children are taking the test, you expect your child to be educated as is his or her right under Free Appropriate Public Education. Don’t let the state take away the local control that is any school district’s right. It will only take 6% of us in each district to make this happen, but let’s show the DOE and Jack Markell a much bigger percentage.

Have I opted my child out? I am doing it right now. My son, who attends William Henry Middle School in the Capital School District, will not take the Smarter Balanced Assessment. Our children are more than test scores. Don’t let the state define what our children are. Let children define what they are based on their individualized and unique talents.

Kevin Ohlandt, Dover

Updated 5:51pm, October 7th: Based on a conversation with Senator Bryan Townsend on Twitter, he did not say the Smarter Balanced Assessment was “horrible and bad for students” so I am taking that part out of my article and have requested the Delaware State News to correct this as well.  I based this off of things I have heard from multiple sources but since Senator Townsend never went on record with these thoughts, I apologize.  Senator Townsend DID say “I think it’s appalling to change tests/curriculum so quickly & to bases teachers’ evals on tests.”  He also clarified he did not take the full Smarter Balanced Assessment.