The Ugly Truth About The Delaware Budget

Sometimes one person can put it all in perspective in such an easy and common sense way.  Today, that person is Steve Newton.  On Facebook, he posted the below in response to a post I put up.  Things are getting very heated on social media today and tonight it will only get worse.  Everyone is freaking out over this budget, especially state workers.  The article I put up yesterday about a 2% cut for state workers and increases in their insurance premiums is not a definite, but it has been brought up.  Some on social media are saying they never heard this but they also aren’t at Legislative Hall to know for sure.  I heard this from a few sources.  Before I get to the heart of Steve’s post, there was a brief discussion before that about prevailing wage.

Other person: We live in a global society. Monies are transferred all over the place all the time. We cannot expect that money spent by us here will remain here. What we need is for additional money to come back to us. We need to make Delaware some place people will come to spend THEIR money. Or, wait, is the actual problem we are all living in such austere times that no one has any money to spend at all? This nation needs to stop shrugging like Atlas and embrace the progressive core of Democratic Socialism.

Steve Newton: I appreciate that sentiment, but it doesn’t actually answer my question. Much of the work that is done here on school construction is done by companies that hale far from here. We spend a lot of time discussing returns on the investments, and I’ve personally spent time arguing that we shouldn’t be paying out corporate incentives to bring jobs to DE when, even when they employ people, those people often don’t live or work here. There’s an argument to be made on both sides here, but I have not seen it made with numbers. I’m also curious about the calculation of the prevailing wage–I know it’s based from a Federal number, but is it modified to reflect regional variations in cost of living, and–most importantly–is it recalculated on a regular basis according to some reliable metric? In other words, are we paying the same prevailing wage in Delaware that is paid in, say, San Francisco, where the cost of living is five times higher?

One possible answer is to require companies that accept prevailing wage contracts in Delaware to use a specified percentage of local hires for the work. This is (ironically) what rock and country bands do with musicians and road crews in the big concerts.

IF the point of the prevailing wage is to better the lives of the workers, and IF we are investing DE tax money to do that, it makes far more sense to me to have measures in place that insure that at least some of those DE tax dollars are in fact being used to better the lives of DE citizens. Again, there is an argument to be made on both sides, but I want to see the argument made with the numbers actually on the table, and so far I have seen no one–neither GOPers nor Dems–do this.

Other person: If the schools are using non-Delaware companies for construction, it stands to reason that it’s because the State requires it. I’ve not encountered too many times in my 16 years where the State didn’t restrict or flat-out dictate exactly what companies schools could use for what goods or services.

Steve Newton: OK but here’s the deal–you are advocating that as a point of principle towards solidarity with working people we keep the prevailing wage–even though that benefit may not be going to DE families. At the same time, “cost-cutting” measures in health care that the GA has already agreed upon with reduce our family’s salary by $5,000 next year, cause us as a married couple to pay MORE for health insurance than if we got a divorce and bought two separate policies, and they’re mooting a 2% pay cut on top of that. I do have a problem drawing a line in the sand over prevailing wage AFTER they’ve already thrown me and my family to the lions.

Where were the Democrats who are closing ranks over Prevailing Wage when it came to protecting State workers? Our pay and benefits were put on the table before there was even any discussion.

This caused Steve to write a very long reply on the thread:

Here’s the other elephant (pun intended) in the room: the GOP is right on some of this–for the wrong reasons. There remains massive structural fat in the State budget that could be eliminated with political will. Instead of massive increases in prison guards, we could legalize pot AND release all non-violent drug into prison AND eliminate prison sentences for non-violent possession in all drug crimes … thus reducing costs (incarceration 1 year=$37k; treatment 1 year=$9K) for more than 6-8,000 non-violent drug offenders in DE prisons. Reduce the prison population by 6-8,000 and there goes overcrowding and we can look at guard deployment again.

There are whole offices at DE DOE to be either eliminated or consolidated–I could cut 25% or more from that budget with a pen in an afternoon.

We have no compelling need for a Secretary of Homeland Security AND a commandant of the DSP–merge the offices, save millions. While we are at it, hand back coastal enforcement to the Coast Guard and get rid of the DSP Navy; then slash the “grey” budget for DIAC in Dover which has a greater record of violating civil rights than solving crimes.

We’ve had a massive influx from private schools to charters, so isn’t it time to stop paying transportation allowances, drivers’ ed money, and the salaries of school nurses for private schools while we are slowly eliminating funds to transport homeless kids to school? Extend school bus life to at least sixteen years or for as long as the bus meets safety and reliability standards and quit auctioning them off for pennies to private schools (this is how they get their bus fleets).

You want cheap in public education? Unfortunately, you can’t have “cheap,” “choice,” “charter,” and “effective” all at the same time. You want 3-5 school districts in Delaware? Fine–then require ALL charters to be approved by the geographical district, and require them to use consolidated transportation, food service, and data processing assets to qualify for any State money.

There is structural fat aplenty in the State budget, but precious little will to actually grapple with it. Everybody talks about health insurance costs, but take a look at the processing contracts we’ve handed out to Highmark for both Medicaid and Medicare–there are actually local Delaware companies that could do the same job for 30% less–and that money would stay in Delaware and pay wages to DE employees–which Highmark does not.

So everybody please do me a favor and quit pretending that only one side got us into this mess. “Delaware Way” politicians of both parties have been kicking this particular can as hard as they could. Both sides have signed off, again and again, on massive corporate giveaways that haven’t panned out (Fisker, Bloom Energy) or have been nothing more than embarrassing bribes to banks and financial companies.

I’ve already lost this argument. No matter what happens in the next few days or weeks, our politicians have already cut my salary, reduced my benefits, slashed my home mortgage deduction, put my grandson in larger classes, and guaranteed that my roads will continue to be full of potholes, while continuing to transfer huge amounts of public dollars into private hands via a whole variety of corporate dodges no matter who “wins.”

Shaking his head he leaves the room …

Welcome To The New Age Of Secrecy In Delaware’s Public/Private Partnership Marriage From Hell

Imagine a division of state government that no longer reports to the Governor.  It reports to the Secretary of State.  But this division will have a director from the private sector.  This director will not have to make their financial information public.  The activities of this division will be considered a non-profit agency deliberately removing itself from Freedom of Information Act requests.  Welcome to Governor John Carney’s non-transparent public/private partnership where anything can happen behind closed doors and the public will never know about it.

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We Need Teacher Blogs In Delaware!

As I look at my Delaware blogger list, I see fewer posts by many on the Delaware blogs.  I see very few from teachers in Delaware.  I keep wondering why this is.  My first assumption is they are afraid of retribution for what they write.  Which is why we need Delaware teachers to write anonymous blogs.  We need to hear things from their perspective, the good and the bad.  What is working?  What isn’t?  How are students REALLY doing in the classroom?  How do they do on actual classroom assignments?  What are the concerns and fears teachers have?  How do they feel about Common Core and Smarter Balanced now that we are waist-deep in it?  This voice is dwindling in Delaware and people need to hear it.

So I am calling out for any teachers in Delaware to start anonymous blogs.  I welcome all education blogs in this state.  Kilroy doesn’t post as much these days, but that is for a good reason.  Kavips will sometimes post 10 articles in 2 days, and then nothing.  Delaware Way used to write an awesome collection of education blog stories from the past week.  Transparent Christina rarely writes new material these days.  Where has Steve Newton’s voice been?  What happened to Minding My Matters, Fixdeldoe, and theseventhtype?  I understand many of these people have real lives with things going on, but an occasional post about different viewpoints and opinions is missed.  I saw many blogs start in the past year and then they disappeared.

Blogging is free and it takes time, but it is also an essential part of today’s media.  Bloggers are the Wild West, able to post stories along with their opinions.  The audience is there, but they need YOU!  State Rep. Kim Williams is one of the busiest persons I know, but she recently started an excellent blog called Delaware First State.  Christina CBOC member Brian Stephan of Those in Favor now writes for Delaware Liberal.  So what say you Delaware teachers?  Care to give it a whirl?  Please use WordPress so I can reblog your stuff!  And I would love to hear from Kent County and Sussex County teachers!

Wow! Exceptional Delaware Nominated For News Journal’s Reader’s Choice Awards! Thank You!

So I’m reading Nancy Willing’s excellent Delaware Way this evening, and I see a post where she is nominated for the News Journal Reader’s Choice award, under local blogger.  I wrongly assumed this was a Wilmington thing, but much to my surprise, I saw Exceptional Delaware nominated under the blogs.  So a big thank you to anyone who nominated this little blog for the awards.  It is an honor beyond belief, and there is some great competition in there!

If you want to vote, please go to News Journal Reader’s Choice and it’s not just blogs, it’s pretty much everything!

The Key Moments For House Bill 50 Opt-Out Victory In The Delaware House

There were many seminal moments on the road to this important victory for parents in Delaware.  I’ll start at the beginning:

1) Delaware bloggers Kavips and Transparent Christina begin talking about opt-out in the Spring of 2014.  It’s who got me to start thinking about it for Delaware.

2) Matt Lindell and the Capital School Board: a year ago, the Capital school board started the discussion on this, but it was tabled.  Then it came roaring back last fall for a unanimous vote by the Capital Board.

3) The Delaware DOE letters: In early December of 2014, the Delaware DOE began sending school districts a “suggested” letter to give to parents about opt-out should they ask or opt-out.  The confusing Delaware state code regarding this was exposed immediately by yours truly.  It took a while for this to be clarified by the DOE, but once the genie was out of the bottle, it made the DOE look ineffective

4) Delaware State Rep. Kowalko and Senator Lawson introduce House Bill 50 in early February. WDEL radio show host Rick Jensen starts having opt-out advocates on his show.

5) The Delaware PTA holds the first Delaware Parent Opt-Out Town Hall in mid-February.  Wide discussion about bullying tactics by school districts really ticks parents off.  What was meant to be a scare tactic fast turns into a rallying point for Delaware parents. President Terri Hodges announces publicly she is opting her own child out.

6) Delaware State Rep. Earl Jaques tells a group of Christina Educator Association teachers House Bill 50 will never pass as Brandywine Superintendent Dr. Mark Holodick attempts to dictate terms about opt-out to parents in that district which does not work out as planned.

7) Delaware PTA holds Kent County Parent Opt-Out Town Hall in early March.  DOE is forced to admit parent opt-out can’t be stopped and the state law only applies to teachers and school staff, not parents.

8) Christina board of Education passes parent opt-out resolution in large measure due to the hard work in preparing the resolution by board member Elizabeth Paige and a fiery speech supporting parent opt-out by board member John Young.

9) Governor Markell announces initiative to reduce assessments for Delaware students while conveniently ignoring the elephant in the room, the Smarter Balanced Assessment.  This leads to Jaques referring to Smarter Balanced as a “little test”.

10) Governor Jack Markell is forced to talk about opt-out at Howard High School, which leads to remarks by Jaques which fans the opt-out flames even more, especially for special needs parents.  Jaques quickly apologizes.

11) The Delaware News Journal publishes a front-page cover story on opt-out from both sides of the fence.  A cover photo of parent Jackie Kook with her daughter brings it home for many parents.  Parent who never heard the words opt-out start looking into it.

12) In front of an audience of over 1,000 people at the Imagine Delaware forum, teacher and President of the Red Clay Educator Association Mike Matthews announces he supports the opt-out movement.

13) As the Smarter Balanced Assessment begins, parents start opting out by the hundreds in Delaware.  Many schools give parents a rough time, which causes parents to talk to each other and spread the news about opt-out.

14) Delaware State Rep. Sean Matthews and Jaques go head to head in a News Journal dual opinion piece on opt-out.  Matthews clearly wins the contest and shows why opt-out is important in regards to Delaware education.

15) Both Red Clay and Christina Educators Association hold joint press conference announcing no confidence vote in Delaware DOE, the State Board of Education, and Secretary of Education Mark Murphy.

16) Delaware PTA passes resolution officially supporting opt-out and House Bill 50.

17) DSEA (Delaware Educators Association) passes resolution supporting opt-out and House Bill 50, as well as a vote of no confidence in Mark Murphy.

18) Parent Press Conference/Rally at Legislative Hall in early April, though small, draws most Delaware media to it and more media coverage of opt-out.

19) Delaware State Rep. Kim Williams publicly announces she is opting out her own son, a high school junior who, like many Delaware juniors, are forced to take weeks and weeks of testing.

20) Mark Murphy appears on The Delaware Way with Larry Mendte and states “parents aren’t allowed to opt-out students”.

21) Red Clay Consolidated School Board passes parent opt-out resolution with excellent writing by board member Adrianna Bohm.

22) The day before the House Education Committee vote, Governor Markell announces initiative to have Smarter Balanced Scores tie into elimination of remedial classes for four Delaware universities and colleges.  The announcement is critically slammed by legislators, parents and teachers.

23) At the House Education Committee meeting on April 22nd, Kowalko and Jaques battle each other as Kowalko is forced to answer a barrage of questions by Jaques.  Kowalko successfully fends him off.  After discussion from other legislators, public comment from parents shows near overwhelming support for the release of the bill.  Opposition includes organizations well-known to support Governor Markell’s corporate education agendas.  After a vote to have the bill tabled falls apart, the bill is released from the committee in an 8-4 vote ending the over two hour debate.

24) Mark Murphy’s claim of federal funding cuts of $40-$90 million over potential opt-outs and the passage of House Bill 50 is debunked the next day with the release of the US DOE letter which clearly states schools cannot opt students out, and the letter never mentions the words parent opt-out.

25) Last week, organizations such as GACEC and Council for Persons with Disabilities release near identical letter in opposition to House Bill 50 with claims that are quickly debunked.

26) In a hasty and damaging example of executive overreach, Governor Markell announces to radio host Rick Jensen on WDEL he will veto House Bill 50 if it reaches his desk.

27) Parents begin emailing all the legislators of the Delaware House and public support for the bill is clearly seen by the legislators.

28) State Rep. Sean Matthews introduces an amendment to House Bill 50 the day of the House vote which changes the language of the legislation from “the state assessment” to the “Smarter Balanced Assessment”.

All leading to today’s enormous victory in the Delaware House of Representatives, with a 36-3 victory with two reps absent.  At the end of the day, this is about parents using their voice to initiate change.  This could not have been done by one individual at all.  It took a great deal of advocacy, hard work, sweat, social media, and legislators, parents, organizations and ordinary citizens spreading the word and supporting the cause.

What also helped were some obvious tactical blunders by the Delaware DOE, Secretary Murphy, and Governor Markell.  And God bless him, we cannot forget Earl Jaques.  He revealed today House Bill 50 got in the way of his planned legislation to reduce the Smarter Balanced Assessment to only three grades of testing.  Which is a noble gesture, but legislation getting rid of the “little” test would be a much grander statement.

While getting the bill through the House was an undertaking, it remains to be seen how the Delaware Senate will receive the legislation.  Folks are already guessing which Senate members will support the bill.  Delaware Senator Brian Pettyjohn already announced on Facebook tonight he will vote yes.  Senator Lawson, a co-sponsor of the bill, is a lock.  But the others are a mystery for now.  I can guess and predict, but until they publicly announce their intentions or a vote, we must email them and call them as much as we can.

Delaware PTA’s Yvonne Johnson Will Be On WDEL w/Rick Jensen Tomorrow at 2:30 AND On Delaware Way w/Larry Mendte May 9th on Me-TV

The Delaware PTA has been a HUGE advocate for parent opt-out in 2015.  They hosted Parent Opt-Out Town Halls in Newcastle County and Kent County.  They have gone to many meetings at Legislative Hall.  They passed a resolution supporting parent opt-out.  Now Delaware PTA’s own Yvonne Johnson is on the media circuit.

Tomorrow, May 5th, she will be on WDEL with Rick Jensen at 2:30pm.  This should be a very interesting interview based on Governor Markell’s potential veto of House Bill 50.  When I say potential, that’s if it passes the Delaware House and Senate.

Then, in a pre-recorded segment, she will appear on Larry Mendte’s Delaware Way on Me-TV on Saturday May 9th (time to be announced).  If you don’t live in Wilmington, Mendte puts all his Delaware Way videos up on Youtube a few days later.

Is Yvonne running for Governor?  Just kidding on that one.  I’m glad to see the PTA being so active in this movement.  It’s all about parent choice and their rights!