Tony Allen: Lawsuit Coming If We Don’t Fix Wilmington Schools

Tony Allen issued a stern warning about Wilmington schools.  He said a lawsuit is coming soon if we don’t fix it.

Last Wednesday evening, the Progressive Democrats of Delaware held a panel on Delaware education funding.  The panelists were myself, Tony Allen (the Chair of the Wilmington Education Improvement Commission), Brian Stephan (on the Christina Citizens Budget Oversight Committee), and State Rep. Paul Baumbach.

The main emphasis of the panel was to discuss the pros and cons of implementing a weighted funding system for Delaware schools.  In this type of system, students with higher needs would have more money allocated to them.  These would include low-income students, English Language Learners, and students with disabilities.  For the last, this already takes place with the exception of basic special education for students in Kindergarten to 3rd grade.

All the panelists were in agreement that the system we have is not working at all.  While I don’t necessarily have an issue with a weighted funding system, the devil is in the details.  But beneath the surface, as I stated towards the end of the panel, is the huge elephant in the room concerning accountability.  Not for standardized tests but where money is currently going.  There is no viable mechanism in Delaware to ensure the funds we are using in public education are truly going to the needs of students.  Our state auditor is supposed to audit every single traditional school district for all expenses, but when was the last time we saw one of those reports unless it was part of an official audit inspection?  There is no consistency with where funds are going.  There are so many sub-groups of payment allocations with many overlapping each other.  It is a beast to understand.  Coding expenses in definitive places is a must, but no one seems to want to address that at a state level.  It is my contention that throwing more money into the system is a recipe for disaster.

Say the advocates for better education in Wilmington schools do file a lawsuit.  What would the result be?  The feds have made important decisions in the past that put temporary band-aids on the issues but eventually the situation with “failing schools” comes up again and again.  The definition of a “failing school” is now tied to standardized tests.  It is the heart of all accountability in public education.  But it fails to address the issues facing students of poverty, spoken languages that are not English, and disabilities that are neurologically based.  The “one size fits all” mentality, which the Delaware Dept. of Education is still pushing in their first draft of the Every Student Succeeds Act state plan, doesn’t work.

Tony Allen told the group he was disappointed the WEIC Redistricting Plan didn’t pass in the General Assembly.  He said, without hesitation, that he fears a lawsuit will have to happen to truly address the issues facing Wilmington students.  He did concede that one of the biggest issues facing WEIC was not having representation from Kent and Sussex counties in the group.  This was something I advised WEIC about in public comment at their very first meeting in August of 2015.  It was also why I didn’t go to as many meetings as I could have.  But will a federal lawsuit fix Wilmington schools?

In my opinion, the biggest problem in Delaware education among high-needs students is a problem no judge, accountability system, General Assembly, or any advocate can fix: hopelessness.  In our biggest cities in the state, and reaching out into the suburbs and rural areas, is a drug problem of epic proportions.  And with African-American youth, that comes with a potential of joining a gang.  Until that problem is fixed, we will continue to spin our wheels trying to fix education.  We can have after-school programs and more guidance counselors in our schools.  That will help, but it will NOT solve the problem.  I don’t have the answer to that.  I don’t know who does.  But until we can fix that problem, making our schools the penicillin for the disease facing our state will not get to the heart of the issue.  With the drugs and gangs come extreme violence and people getting shot in the streets.  This “be tough or die” mentality is the deadliest issue facing Delaware.  And when those issues come into our schools, that is when education gets put in the bulls-eye of blame.

I have no doubt, at some point, Tony Allen, Jea Street and others will file some huge lawsuit against the State of Delaware.  And many will look towards a judge to solve all our problems.  It won’t.  Until we get really tough on hopelessness, we will fail.

The Unholy Matrimony Of Education And Corporation

Last night at the Delaware Every Student Succeeds Act Governor’s Advisory Committee meeting, audience members were given a chance to give public comment.  I gave the following public comment, with the exception of a couple of sentences because that was covered during the meeting.  I will put an asterisk between those sentences.

Good evening members of the ESSA Advisory Committee. My name is Kevin Ohlandt.  Congratulations on your selection for this very important group.  This is a mammoth undertaking, this new federal law.  I will be completely frank: I do not trust this law.  I do not trust our Delaware Dept. of Education.  I believe ESSA is an unholy matrimony between education and corporations.  You can consider me the friend of the bride, education, warning about the potential husband who will not be good for her.  I have seen and heard far too much to suggest otherwise.  I believe this matrimony will eventually result in a messy divorce.  The custody battle for the students will be huge, and I fear the groom, the companies, will eventually win custody of the kids. 

I urge this committee to give an immediate recommendation of postponing Delaware’s submission of their state plan to the US DOE. There are far too many moving parts.  *States were given two dates to submit their final plan: March 31st or July 31st.  Our Dept. of Education chose March 31st without any true consultation with the citizens of our state.*  We were not given a choice as a state or allowed to be part of that decision-making process.  Certain parties were given a much greater weight in consultation with the DOE before any public gathering took place.

As a member of the Student and School Supports discussion group, I see far too many members of that group who would financially benefit from the Every Student Succeeds Act. When that happens, I don’t see them as a stakeholder, but a benefactor.  That is not what the term stakeholder means.  I believe some good can come out of this law.   I have seen many great ideas come forth in the meetings.  But until we can weed out what is good or bad for students, we need to “slow our roll”.  There are far too many conflicts of interest involved with this plan.

With that being said, the issues facing education in Delaware are at a crisis point. Whether it is mold in schools that is making people sick, or drugs and gangs reaching into elementary schools, or a teenager murdered in a bathroom stall, or the very fast implementation of educational technology in our classrooms with no research on the long-term psychological effects on children, or student’s personal data being given to parties that truly do not need that information, or lawsuits concerning school funding or segregation of minority students, or FOIA complaints against the DOE for continually failing to make certain public body meetings transparent and available to the public, we need to slow down. 

Education should always be about the kids. Some in this world have already determined what their future should be and I find that to be an immoral and grave injustice. 

Delaware School Safety Report Shows Severe Limitations In Our Schools For Controlling Violence

If we are to have a chance to reduce and reverse this type of behavior, it is necessary to begin early and to start in the home. Efforts must be made to reach out students and to provide them with positive new directions in elementary school. Several committee members pointed out that “middle school is too late.”

“If joining a gang is the only way to survive, the kids will join gangs,” one committee member said, adding, “A lot of teachers don’t know who gang members are. You, as a teacher, should know how to interact with kids and parents because kids and parents may not have the ability to interact with us.”

The committee discussed the possibility of cell phone bans in schools, but public schools in Delaware have not done so because parents want to be able to reach their children by phone.

These were just a few of the topics discussed in the Special Committee on Public Safety.

School safety.  Two words that mean so many things to so many people.  To some, it means making sure every single student and staff member is protected from violence.  To some it means reporting requirements.  Many think of Sandy Hook or Columbine.  Others think of a mounting problem that can never be corrected.

Earlier this year, in the wake of two very violent deaths in Wilmington, a group was formed by Senator Robert Marshall.  Marshall is the Chair of the Senate Public Safety Committee.  He formed a group that met twice to discuss school safety issues with various topics introduced.  Out of these meetings, Senate Concurrent Resolution #83 formed a Special Committee on School Safety.  The final report was given to the President Pro Tempore of the Delaware Senate and Governor Markell yesterday.

The below report has a great deal of information.  It is very long but it is worth the read.  Take the time to read it.  Every single word.  Whether you are for or against School Resource Officers or Constables in Delaware schools, it is important to know what is happening out there.  It affects every single citizen of this state.  Issues in schools can explode outside of schools often, but issues outside of schools are brought into schools all the time.

The one thing I took out of this report is there are no easy answers.  Issues around funding and legality are some of the biggest obstacles to making schools safer.  Trauma plays a huge role in our high-needs schools.  Family issues outside of school are one of the biggest obstacles to safe schools.

There was one recommendation coming out of the final report that I didn’t see discussed anywhere in the meeting minutes.

Provide funding for the Delaware Department of Education to conduct a voluntary, statewide survey among students, parents, and teachers to get their thoughts on improving the learning environment and ways to make our schools safer.

It can’t be a report on education in Delaware without the Delaware Dept. of Education inserting something they want, which usually involves them getting more money.  One important thing to take note of in this report is that Delaware Senator David Sokola and State Rep. Earl Jaques were both listed as members of this committee but neither went to any of the meetings on it or bothered to assign a designee to attend in their absence.

The parts about Senate Bill 207, which I also issued severe problems with, were echoed by many in regards to future under-reporting of incidents in schools.  I thank God the House added an amendment to the bill that still requires mandatory reporting to the Delaware DOE.  But there is one line about Senate Bill 207 in the final report which will give any Delaware citizen severe anxiety.

Red Clay Board Votes To Keep The WEIC Train Moving, But With A Caveat

The Red Clay Consolidated Board of Education had a special meeting tonight to discuss the Wilmington Education Improvement Commission and the redistricting of all Christina School District students into Red Clay.  The biggest issue at this point is funding.  The Board passed a resolution with a 4-1 vote to keep it going, but it was explicitly understood that if the funding is not available, it is dead.   Superintendent Merv Daugherty said if the funding isn’t there by July 1st, 2016, Red Clay will not move forward.

I know many are cheering for this, but I say pull the plug now.  With the budget and elections being the biggest issues in Delaware come January, the General Assembly will have a very hard time justifying the costs for this while making crucial cuts elsewhere.  And there will be cuts without more revenue.  And just wait until it becomes mainstream that the WEIC plan will most likely hinge on an increase in property assessments for the entire state.  I don’t mind paying my fair share for schools, but when the anti-referendum crowd finds out, they will be incensed.  If you thought the right and the left were at odds on some issues now, just wait until that topic becomes a part of social media.  It will get ugly real fast!

I like Tony Allen and many folks on WEIC.  I think their plans are based out of a concerted effort to do what they feel is the right thing for the students of Wilmington.  But this is not the time, not with the monetary issues facing this state.  For all the money all these education foundations and think tanks donate, have we heard any of them offering to pony up some cash?  Hell no.  Because it is a traditional school district thing.  Bank of America is incorporated in Delaware.  You would think they would have pride for not just charter schools but also our traditional schools.  Where is their huge donation to all of this?  They have a crucial player spearheading all this.  Meanwhile, I am hearing more and more people accepting the Common Core but they still hate the Smarter Balanced Assessment.  What many don’t realize is the two go hand in hand.  The reason the test is so jacked up is because it is based on Common Core.  But people are actually calling them “the standards” now.  You can wrap a ribbon around crap, but it is still crap.  Do not be lulled into acceptance folks.

Colonial backed out, and it looks like Brandywine may as well.  Christina’s teachers have no assurances they will be able to keep their jobs if the redistricting goes through.  Christina is going to be facing their own hefty financial issues by the end of this school year.  Murders continue in Wilmington, and Dover is having its fair share of homicides as well.  Drugs are rampant in this state.  We have adults acting out against students, albeit rare, but it is happening.  There is the elephant in the room called racism, and it exists in this state.  It is real, and it is happening right now.  By the time Delaware becomes a powder keg, Governor Jack Markell will exit stage left, leaving a legacy that future generations will come to hate him for.  What will Rodel, the Delaware Department of Education, and the State Board of Education do without their leader once he is gone?  The General Assembly is going to have their hands full, and I can guarantee you if they push the property assessment thing, the landscape of Legislative Hall will look very different come January 2017.