Live: Dr. Susan Bunting Confirmation Hearing For Delaware Secretary Of Education

Today, right now, the Delaware Senate is holding confirmation hearings for various nominations from Governor Carney for Delaware Cabinet positions.  Dr. Susan Bunting, the Superintendent of Indian River School  District, has her hearing today.  I will be following her hearing live down here at Legislative Hall in the Senate Chamber.  Dr. Bunting, if selected, would replace Secretary Dr. Steven Godowsky to lead education in Delaware.

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While I have been waiting for Bunting’s hearing, I’ve been listening in on other confirmation hearings.  No major drama going on.  Bunting is waiting patiently for her hearing and seems very calm and collected.  Bunting is now up.

Said she is honored and humbled to be nominated.  Has a long history of teaching Delaware.  Taught talented and gifted for many years.  Went to help all gifted students.  Became Director of Special Curriculum for Indian River School District.  Said she is on Governor’s ESSA Advisory Committee, STEM Council, SAIL After School Committee, is with Mid-Atlantic Advisory Committee, DPAS-II Committee, American Association of School Personnel, and so forth.  Advocates on Capital Hill for educational bills.  Is grateful after being in district with many ELL students and economically deprived students, she is looking forward to helping these students at a state level.  Is enthusiastic, should she be selected, to serve the students of this great state.

Senator Nicole Poore is asking about special education and the challenges as the population is growing.  Bunting responded by saying we need to zero in on the priorities of our students.  All students have the opportunity to be successful.  We have fiscal issues which could make the matter more challenging.

Senator Margaret Rose Henry is asking about funding for students with special needs and poverty students.  Bunting said we are going to have to do more with less.  She has that experience in her own district.

Senator Gary Simpson said he is a strong supporter of her nomination.  She has proven over the years that Indian River has a strong academic program.  However, he needs to ask two questions.  He has confidence she will explain him.  Based on issues of financial malfeasance in Indian River, what can she do to make sure ALL districts operate with financial transparency?  She thinks this is a major issue and will work with all districts on these matters.  Simpson asked about the ACLU lawsuit concerning special education students in her district.  She feels the Delaware DOE needs to collaborate with districts better to improve educational opportunities for these students and all students.

Senator David Sokola said, as head of the Senate Education Committee, he has worked with Dr. Bunting for years and looks forward to seeing her as the Secretary of Education.

Senator Colin Bonini said he is concerned about Delaware’s education system as a whole.  Said he was going to ask her to grade Delaware’s education as a whole but he won’t ask her to do that.  He is concerned about Delaware’s SAT scores, but he understands all Delaware students take it as opposed to other states.  He doesn’t feel our system is underfunded.  Said he is torn because everyone speaks highly of her and respects her, but he thinks our education system is failing our students.  He said there is too much talk about closing charter schools when one in five Delaware students aren’t ready to graduate high school.  He is confident in the Every Student Succeeds Act.  He wants a high standard and accountability system.  He said the other 18 Delaware superintendents are her friends and colleagues.  Wants to know what our strengths and weaknesses are how we can improve the system.  As well the relationships with her colleagues.  Bunting said she does have those relationships and feels they are a collective group.  They believe strongly in accountability.  Believes ESSA provides the opportunity to ratchet up our system.  Collaboratively, Bunting said, we are going to have to do more with less.  This gives us an opportunity to brainstorm and come up with new ways.  For early childhood, she said, we need to reach for higher goals.  We need to set high marks, reach those high marks, and get there for the sake of our students.  Bonini asked what her impression is of charter schools.  Said he is a huge fan but others in this building are not.  Bunting said we have the opportunity at the DOE to look at the charter and make sure all charters are equitable and make sure the boards of charter schools are true to that charter.  Feels the money should follow the students so all students have equal education access.

Senator Bryan Townsend asked about district consolidation.  Bunting said is looking at collaborative efforts to look at that.  Townsend asked about very different funding structure for vo-techs and wants to know her thoughts about the merits of the current vo-tech funding system when so many districts are now offering CTE programs.  Bunting said that system has merits.  She wants all students to have the opportunity to have post-high school success.  Townsend asked about the trend towards vo-tech and CTE programs.  He senses there is a lot of duplicity going on right now.  She said they can take a look at that.  She thinks many students are improving because of a strong vo-tech experience.  Townsend asked about changes at the DOE to help the state budget gap and what her thoughts are on that.  She suspects there is a need for reorganization and a look at duplicated positions.  If there are programs they no longer need and they need to examine everything very carefully.  Townsend asked for the timeframe for that examination.  Bunting said if she is selected it would start tomorrow morning.

Senator Greg Lavelle said based on her application she is glad Bunting is registered as a Republican.  Lavelle asked about her stance on testing.  Bunting feels it is necessary and said it helps students and we need it.  It helps with Response to Intervention.  Brought up the Assessment Inventory Task Force and wants to continue to look at cutting back on testing if necessary.  Lavelle asked about opt out.  She said federal law states 95% and we have to follow federal law to get funding.  She said there are situations where students need to opt out.

Senator Poore is asking about after-school enrichment programs.  Bunting said there are opportunities to blend this with different activities like art and music and looks forward to partnering with 21st Century Grants to redirect funding and provide those opportunities.  We have to regain lost learning (during summer) and get that back before they come back to school.

Senator Townsend asked about start times for schools.  Said research shows starting earlier helps students with performance and growth.  Bunting said it is an issue but we have to look at research but agrees that research does show these things.

Senator David McBride said the committee has several bills under consideration.  He said they are going to have a semi-school recess.  They should be back around 4:30pm but warned they could be late.  He recommended the public keep their seats but did say Delaware is one of the only state legislatures that allows the public to sit on the floor.

We are back in session.  Bethany Hall-Long, the new Delaware Lieutenant Governor, is presiding over the full Delaware Senate.  They are reading in new bills and results of committee meetings.  They are reading the nomination results from the Senate Executive Committee.  Bunting was referred to move forward for a full Senate vote with six on its merits.  Now we wait for the full vote.  Brief pause due to a guest on the floor from the Delaware Retired Educators Association giving a speech asking the Delaware Senate to carefully look at how budget cuts could affect retired educators.  Just had roll call.  Senate is back in session.

The nominations are up.  First up, James Collins for Chief Information Office for DTI.  We could have a little bit more of a wait for Bunting.

Roll call for Dr. Susan Bunting’s nomination as Delaware Secretary of Education.  Bonini: No, Rest are all yes with one absent (Lawson) and one vacant seat.  Dr. Susan Bunting is the new Delaware Secretary of Education with 18 yes, 1 no, 1 absent, and 1 seat vacant.

 

 

 

Susan Bunting’s Senate Nomination Will Not Happen Today

Delaware Governor John Carney named Dr. Susan Bunting, the Superintendent of the Indian River School District, as his Secretary of Education for the First State. In a discussion with current Delaware Secretary of Education Dr. Steven Godowsky a week ago, he informed me Bunting’s nomination would take place today. There are Senate Confirmation Hearings on the agenda, but Bunting is not one of them. Godowsky told me she wanted to be confirmed by the time of the State Board of Education meeting tomorrow. It does not look like that will happen as a hearing date has not been set at this point.

Bunting’s nomination was read in for the Delaware Senate yesterday along with all of Carney’s selections. Those could not be formally recognized by the General Assembly until Carney was sworn in which happened yesterday. I don’t believe this means anything as the docket is very full today for nominations. I just talked to a source at Legislative Hall who informed me that if it is not on there it won’t happen today. But I have no doubt it will. It could happen tomorrow or next week knowing how things worked around these chambers.

Many in Delaware education have saluted the possibility of Bunting as the Secretary of Education. Many in lower Delaware were pleased this position went to someone from Sussex County which has not been a practice in many years. Many feel that the Indian River audit investigation seemed to place the blame on Patrick Miller, the former Chief Financial Officer who allegedly abused finances in the district for well over a decade. The scope of the audit investigation was limited to the past few years but many feel Miller’s transgressions occurred years before that. The Delaware Attorney General’s office did announce they would be looking into the matter with Miller shortly after the audit investigation came out.

It remains to be seen if the audit investigation will affect Bunting’s confirmation hearing. I would have to assume someone will bring it up and potentially ask her how she could have not seen what was going on. As Secretary of Education for Delaware, Bunting would be responsible to oversee roughly a third of Delaware’s state budget. I will let readers know when Bunting’s confirmation hearing is scheduled.

At a national level, Betsy DeVos had her own U.S. Senate Confirmation Hearing yesterday but the U.S. Senate has not taken a vote on her nomination by President-Elect Donald Trump as of this writing. Her hearing was somewhat controversial as some Democrat Senators grilled DeVos on her motivations with public education. At one point, Senator Al Franken asked DeVos a question about proficiency and growth and she did not appear to know they are two different things.

John Carney Q&A Reveals Thoughts On Education In Delaware: Susan Bunting, Labor Day, and Test Scores

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Delaware Governor-Elect John Carney and State Senator Brian Pettyjohn held a question and answer session at J.D. Shuckers in Georgetown this morning.  The packed restaurant submitted many questions.  A few of them dealt with Delaware education.  Carney’s answers provided some insight to one of his recent decisions. Continue reading

Delaware House Education Committee Gives Fond Farewell To Secretary Godowsky

As Delaware Secretary of Education Dr. Steven Godowsky spends his last two weeks in the role, the House Education Committee gave Godowsky a fond farewell at the end of their committee meeting today.  Together with Speaker of the House Pete Schwartzkopf and House Majority Leader Val Longhurst, the committee brought Godowsky up to the podium and a few members gave eloquent praise to the Secretary of Education who could only be seen as an improvement over his predecessor, Mark Murphy.

State Rep. and House Education Committee Chair Earl Jaques stated Godowsky became a dear friend which was echoed by State Rep. Kim Williams.  Williams thanked Godowsky for always being there to answer her many questions and said she would miss him.  Godowsky informed me his last day will be January 24th.  Governor-elect John Carney named Indian River Superintendent Dr. Susan Bunting as his choice for Delaware Secretary of Education.  Bunting will appear before the Delaware Senate on January 18th for her confirmation hearing.

I asked Godowsky if he was counting the days.  He stated he has mixed feelings about leaving.  He said he is sure on his last day he will be ready but he will miss working with the people.  But he is not done with education in Delaware.  While no formal announcement has been made about his post-Secretary plans, I have no doubt Godowsky will still be in the education arena.  He even joked at the tribute today that he will be “babysitting” education in the First State.

Despite my many articles about education policy and procedures, Godowsky was very much a sea change from Mark Murphy.  On a personal level, Godowsky was always approachable when I saw him and he would always say hello to me.  I can’t imagine leading the entire Delaware Dept. of Education.  The honest truth is I have no idea how Dr. Bunting will be as Secretary of Education.  So much of that will be based on the environment around her and what John Carney plans to do with that environment.  One issue she will face right off the bat is the education funding issue, especially in relation to Delaware’s projected $350 million dollar deficit heading into the FY2018 state budget talks.  I’ve been a bit rough on her on the Indian River audit investigation and the fallout from that scenario.  Time will tell.  In the meantime, best of luck to Secretary Godowsky and may good health and luck find you in your next plans.

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Indian River Loses Referendum, Many Voters Lack Confidence In Leadership

The News Journal is reporting Indian River lost their referendum by a mere 30 votes, with 3,321 for and 3,351 against.  It reminds me of a recent election in our country.  I have no doubt the district will roll the dice with a 2nd attempt in the next couple of months.  But the district has to own up to the audit investigation last week.  By stating the referendum has nothing to do with that report, they are shooting themselves in the foot.  I have a very hard time with Susan Bunting and her credibility at this point.  If Patrick Miller, the former CFO, was controlling everything with finances in the district then she let him do that.  She turned a blind eye to what was going on and that shows a clear lack of leadership.  As well, the Board has the capability of determining the district’s finances.

Bunting said issues need to be addressed across the board to ensure the referendum passes if it is held again. Although an audit was released late last week detailing financial issues over the past five years, Bunting said she won’t blame the audit for the failure for the referendum to pass.

If it was one year or possibly two that Miller played with school finances, that would be one thing.  But this went on a long time.  Even more frightening that it took tips to the Auditor’s office to get to the bottom of it.  Not only was Bunting and the Board asleep at the wheel, so was our state.  What happened in Indian River should give our legislators a wake-up call as well.  They should somehow get funding from somewhere and beef up the State Auditor of Accounts Office.  Every school district and charter school in this state needs a thorough audit.  We cannot continue like this.  Our children lose every single time.  All this talk of extra funding for schools… the funds are already there.  We just need to redefine the existing funding and find a system where those funds are used equitably for all students.  We can’t afford to stick with the status quo and then act shocked when we see reports like the Indian River one last week.

Delaware Audit Investigation Slams Indian River School District For Nepotism, Fraud, Conflict Of Interest, And Personal Spending

Delaware State Auditor Tom Wagner released the Indian River School District Audit Investigation at 2pm today.  The numerous allegations in the report include using facsimile signatures for purchases, the Superintendent receiving gifts in the form of jewelry, the former CFO donating over $50,000 to non-profits where he served as the President of the boards, the business office lying to the auditor about a discrimination lawsuit against the former CFO, incorrect paychecks and salaries for teachers, not following the state rules for accounting, the CFO’s sister-in-law working in the business office, almost $160,000 in payment vouchers that had half for invalid purchases and the other half breaking rules all over the place, possible allegations of the district paying for a board member’s tuition at a Maryland school, many reimbursements to the CFO’s personal American Express Card, over $20,000 on in-state food purchases, the Superintendent buying White House Christmas ornaments, over 20% of certain scholarships given to relatives of board members, and much more.

Indian River has a referendum in five days, on November 22nd.  Do you support this referendum after reading this report?

Updated: 3:02pm, 11/17/16: The Dover Post is reporting the district will hold a press event tomorrow at 10am to discuss the Auditor’s report.  Newsflash, Bunting was mentioned in this report a lot.  She doesn’t get to just walk away and blame everything on Patrick Miller, the former CFO…

Ominous Media Advisory From State Auditor Does Not Bode Well For Indian River

This can’t be good at all!  Not sure how I missed this one.  But it is out there.  Delaware State Auditor Tom Wagner publicly announced the Indian River audit inspection will be released before their referendum.  The November 22nd referendum could definitely swing one way or another based on this audit.  From what I’m hearing, it is NOT going to be pretty.  It could be a game-changer for the district with very bad things coming out.  Remember the whole Joey Wise thing up in Christina ten years ago?  Think along those lines.  Christina still gets bashed for that one even though it happened a decade ago.  This one will stick with Indian River for a long time.  And while everyone is playing the “Who will be the next Delaware Secretary of Education” game, I think Indian River Superintendent Susan Bunting will be off that list the second this audit comes out.  The last thing citizens of this district would want to happen is a referendum victory and then an audit inspection coming out that would have caused votes to shift to a no.

MEDIA ADVISORY

State Auditor’s Investigation into the Indian River School District

Posted On: Thursday, October 20, 2016

Dover, Del. – In response to media inquiries regarding the Auditor of Accounts’ (AOA) investigation into the Indian River School District, members of the media are advised that AOA intends to release its report in advance of the District’s referendum vote scheduled for Tuesday, November 22, 2016.

State Auditor R. Thomas Wagner, Jr. has authorized compensatory time for individuals working on this investigation in an effort to expedite the release of the report.

For more information, please contact John Fluharty at 302-857-3937. 

Presentation from Penny Schwinn To The State Board of Education, Also Common Core & Great Leaders Presentations

The following were put as attachments on the State Board of Education website for the agenda on yesterday’s meeting.  Schwinn’s presentation says nothing about the bomb she dropped yesterday concerning the DOE considering replacing the SAT with Smarter Balanced, but the audio released Monday or Tuesday will confirm that one!