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.

 

Education Funding Mismanagement In Delaware

The below picture portrays exactly what is wrong with education funding in Delaware.  There is no consistency or oversight with where existing funds are going.  As a result, we have a boiling cauldron of fraud, waste, and abuse.  It seems like anyone can get paid in education and it can be catalogued however a school wants.

In this picture, we see the former Head of School from Family Foundations Academy and East Side Academy doing what appears to be consulting work for three Delaware charter schools.  Given that the amounts are very similar, I can assume it was the same type of work.  All three schools put the payments under different categories: Educational Benefits-Chld, Consultants, and Other Professional Service.  All three schools used different funds for what I assume to be similar work: Special, General, and Federal.  All three schools belong to the same Wilmington Charter School Collaborative, which is an alternate teacher evaluation system.  This initiative came about through Lamont Browne.

Lamont Browne left Delaware last summer and moved to Colorado to work his “magic” in another corporate education reform state.  So how is it he is able to do all this work in Colorado and still get paid by the State of Delaware through various charter schools?  Does he have a finders fee for this teacher evaluation system?

Governor Carney wants to talk about all these education funding decisions but has completely ignored the elephant in the room: we don’t know where existing funding is going to, especially in our charter schools.  School districts pull the same kind of shenanigans (wait until you see the next major audit investigation report coming out of Tom Wagner’s office!) but they can be harder to find.

I did go ahead and submit this as a tip to Delaware State Auditor Tom Wagner’s office as I wrote this article.  In the vein of full transparency, I am including screen shots of my tip:

When I write about this kind of stuff, all too often charter school supporters start defending the schools and say I am picking on charter schools.  While this most likely isn’t a Sean Moore kind of deal, it is symptomatic of what is wrong with our education funding oversight in Delaware.  I’m not looking for the causes as much as I truly want a solution to these kind of problems.  I would love to stop writing about these matters.  So Governor Carney, I am throwing you the gauntlet one more time: are you ready to talk about this or do I need to keep writing?

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!

Delaware DOE Keeps 8 Race To The Top Positions From General Fund “Vacancies” With Salaries Over $800,000

The below emails say it all.  The DOE was supposed to cut 10 positions funded from Race To The Top when it expired on June 30th, 2015.  The DOE is allowed to use any remaining funds until the end of this calendar year.  But those are federal funds, not state funds.  When the Delaware Joint Finance Committee cut the budgeted $7.5 million down to $3.75 million, the remaining funds were only supposed to be used for initiatives, not positions.  But instead, the DOE is using state taxpayer funds from the state’s General Fund to pay for positions earmarked by a federal initiative.  State Rep. John Kowalko advised DOE and the State Board of Education he wasn’t going to stand for this.  Thank you to Rep. Kowalko for getting these answers as it is something that has crossed my mind lately.  Race To The Top is over, but it seems the Delaware DOE didn’t get the memo on this…


From: Kowalko, John (LegHall)
Sent: Sunday, October 4, 2015 7:09 PM
To: Morton, Michael (LegHall); Jackson, Michael A. (DSCYF)
Cc: Bennett, Andria (LegHall); Baumbach, Paul (LegHall); Lynn, Sean M (LegHall); Matthews, Sean (LegHall); Williams, Kimberly (LegHall); Kowalko, John (LegHall); Osienski, Edward (LegHall); Potter, Jr, Charles (LegHall)
Subject: information urgently needed

Gentlemen,

I need an explicit breakdown of the use, actual or intended, for the remaining $3.75 million (of the original $7.5 million Governor requested) RTTT money that was authorized with the budget passage. Most importantly, I am requesting a specific listing of all paid positions that were created, extended, filled or funded by the $3.75 million. Originally it was presented that approval of the full $7.5 million would allow for ten positions to be either funded or made permanent and they were specifically listed in our briefing papers and synopsis. I am requesting the specific titles and names of the employees that were funded due to the passage of the $3.75 million budget item listed under RTTT. I hope you will send me this information forthwith.

Respectfully,

Representative John Kowalko (25th District)


From: Jackson, Michael S (LegHall)
Sent: Monday, October 5, 2015 1:54 PM
To: Kowalko, John (LegHall)
Cc: Bennett, Andria (LegHall); Baumbach, Paul (LegHall); Lynn, Sean M (LegHall); Matthews, Sean (LegHall); Williams, Kimberly (LegHall); Osienski, Edward (LegHall); Potter, Jr, Charles (LegHall); Morton, Michael (LegHall); Jackson, Michael S (LegHall)
Subject: RE: information urgently needed

Rep. Kowalko – –

Here is the breakdown of the $3,750.0 included in the FY 2016 Budget for Race to the Top Initiatives:

1.       $2,550.0 was allocated to the Professional Accountability and Instructional Advancement Fund for educator preparation and development such as pre-service training for future teachers and leaders; educator recruitment platforms and tools for school districts and charters; evaluating teacher effectiveness; and supporting teacher-leadership opportunities and professional learning networks.

2.       $600.0 for common core resources for school districts and charter schools and funding of professional development and instructional materials for the transition to the Next Generation Science Standards; and

3.       $600.0 for the maintenance of the Educator Insight Portal  that provides a dashboard of data, pulling from several technology systems, for student, class, school, district and state performance statistics. All districts use portal for various information, such as a teacher reviewing performance data for incoming students to his/her classroom.

Regarding the positions, there was no new funding or positions included in the budget for any of the 10.0 positions and budget epilogue prevents the allocation of any of the $3,750.0 in funding to be used towards positions. Below is the language:

Section 301.  Section 1 of this Act appropriates $3,750.0 for the following school based initiatives: Next Generation Science Standards/College Readiness/Common Ground, teacher preparation initiatives and technology support for the Educator Insight Portal. These funds shall not be used to hire or retain positions in the Department of Education.

The Department of Education used existing General Fund vacancies to retain 8 of the 10 people who were in Race to the Top positions. Below are the salaries, names and titles of the 8 people:

Assessment, Accountability, Performance and Evaluation Branch

Chief Officer for the Branch (Penny Schwinn) $134,337

Director, Office of Assessment (Ryan Reyna) $110,551

Chief Performance Officer, Office of Performance Management (Katherine Villari) $116,419

Deputy Officer, Office of Performance Management (Elizabeth Jetter) $85,020)

Teacher and Leader Effectiveness Branch

Chief Officer for the Branch (Christopher Ruszkowski) $134,337

Director, Educator Effectiveness and Talent Management (Atnreakn Alleyne) $110,551

Deputy Officer, Talent Recruitment and Acquisition (Tasha Cannon) $99,750 (this position has become vacant)

Chief of Staff for the Branch (Shana Young) $116,000

The remaining 2 positions that were not retained were vacant positions in the Assessment, Accountability, Performance and Evaluation Branch. 

Mike Jackson

Delaware MET Needs To Return Their $175,000 Charter School Performance Fund

First off, I don’t think any charter school that has not even opened should be getting a “performance award”.  They haven’t done anything yet.  Second of all, it is obvious their “long-term” strategy for this school didn’t work as they are closing a little over a month after they opened.  Third, if they don’t, I know at least two legislators who will be screaming foul on this.  And rightly so.  Finally, they should openly, honestly, and with great transparency return ALL unused funds immediately.

The Delaware
Met
$250,000 $175,000 High-quality plans for start-up or expansion; AND Serve high-need students Start-Up Costs Funds may not be used for marketing materials or mentor appreciation/exhibition events No

In the above chart, it was taken straight from the 2015-2016 list of Charter School Performance Award winners.  They requested $250,000 for “start-up” costs, even though they already received $250,000 from the Longwood Foundation in 2014.  They won the $175,000 out of the $250k requested.  In their application for the performance fund the school stated they needed a special education coordinator in the amount of $46,000.00 to “ensure we can meet the needs of our high IEP student population“.  Don’t federal funds coming under the IDEA-B allocation already cover that need based on how many special education students they already have?  This means the school already knew they would be having a lot of students with disabilities and they had not even hired a coordinator as of July 7th of this year, a month and a half before they opened.

The big question is where these funds even come from.  Do they come from the DOE, or somewhere else in the Delaware Government?  If you look at Delaware Online Checkbook, it shows them receiving $39.83 in revenue this year. These are funds that have already been sent to these schools. So where is the money and where did it go to? Why isn’t it being reported by the state?

To be on the safe side, I checked Kuumba Academy who received $425,000 last year as their charter school performance fund. This was announced after Fiscal Year 2015 started.  Even though the budget states the charter school performance fund comes from the General Fund, since the funds are allocated to a specific purpose (i.e. a special education coordinator), it would then go the Special Fund once the General Fund sends funds to that allocation. In the bill for Fiscal Year 2015, on page 59 of this pdf: Senate Bill 225 Final FY2015 Budget it shows $1.5 million allocated to the charter school performance fund, coming out of the General Fund.  But Kuumba shows no revenue in their General Fund for FY2015 on Delaware Online Checkbook.  So it had to come out of what is called the special fund. But the only special fund items listed with an amount higher than $425,000 are “Donation Contributions” of which Kuumba received $1,671,735.39. $500,000 of that was a donation from the Longwood Foundation at the beginning of Fiscal Year 2015. And in their May 2015 board meeting minutes, Kuumba’s board announced they were getting another $1 Million from them as well. So that is $1.5 million alone in their “Donation Contributions” section which is the only place $425,000 could have possibly gone. But it doesn’t fit with $1.5 million being donated by Longwood, so where is it?

Even though the Delaware MET is showing less than $40.00 in revenue, that doesn’t mean the $175,000 wasn’t sent to them. It’s just a question of where, in the maze that is Delaware funding, the hell it is.  This charter school performance fund is one of the abominations that sprang out of House Bill 165 during the first half of the 147th General Assembly back in 2013.  Maybe the 2nd half of the 148th General Assembly can get rid of this monstrous waste in taxpayer funds by next June, and save the state some semblance of money.