All relationships have their ups and downs. Such is the case between former Kilroy’s Delaware commenter Publius e decere and former Pencader board member and current Christina board member Harrie Ellen Minnehan. Throw in a wild card like Henry Clampitt, former board member of Charter School of Wilmington, current board member at Gateway Lab School, and also a candidate for the Red Clay Consolidated Board of Education, and you have what I like to call a bizarre love triangle (which just so happens to be an awesome tune by New Order). But what I found this morning… that brings this triangle to a whole new level… Continue reading “The Bizarre Love Triangle Between Publius, Minnehan, and Clampitt **UPDATED**”
At the Christina School District Board of Education meeting last night, the board voted on the very controversial safety zone policy. This policy would not allow ICE officials to just enter a school to question or detain a student who is here illegally. They would first have to go through the Superintendent of the district. But board member Harrie Ellen Minnehan introduced a whopper of an amendment to the policy!
It seemed like a very Sokola moment. Her amendment was to have the Delaware Secretary of Education sign off on the safety zone policy in the event it should pass last night. Since when does ANY school district need the Secretary of Education to sign off on local policy? Yes, let’s completely evaporate local control and cede all district policy to the state! Thank God the amendment failed. The two supporters of the amendment were the same two board members that voted no on the policy: Minnehan and George Evans.
Evans and Minnehan’s line of thought was that the buildings are owned by the state. Okay. And do the schools not rent them out essentially? It would be like a landlord telling a convenience store they can’t sell soda or candy. Not to mention the fact that I don’t think a local school board can force the head of a Delaware state agency to do anything without state legislative changes. I have no doubt that when Dr. Susan Bunting sees this she is going to have a chuckle. For years, this district has desperately tried to hold onto local control and Minnehan was ready to give it away over a policy she didn’t seem to like.
Meanwhile, Republicans, Democrats, Greens, and Libertarians alike are battling it out over the approved policy over on my Facebook page. As I told one commenter, it’s like throwing a donut across a room, yelling “Food Fight!” and just standing back as chaos reigns. I love Delaware!
A Christina School District Board of Education member unexpectedly resigned from the board. Which one? Continue reading “Breaking News Shocker: Board Member Resigns From Christina Board of Education”
Yes, the words “chicken-fried awesome” were used by a Christina board member last night. But first they had to get through 45 excruciating minutes of approving their agenda. Board member Harrie-Ellen Minnehan introduced motions to remove three action items from the agenda and to table another item. That was just the beginning of a meeting that had topics as varied as car shopping to a very strong use of the word culpability. A member of the audience drew a great rendering of the meeting and asked me to put it in this article.
The four motions Minnehan put forth failed to move forward. Board member Shirley Saffer kept alleging Minnehan had a personal agenda going on. There was a ton of discussion about the motions and how it was unprecedented for one board member to attempt to remove action items like that. As a result of the motions, what should have been a 1-2 minutes process turned into a 45 minute ordeal for the audience. A lot of the audience had come for the presenting of the Honor Roll which is done right after the approval of the agenda and board minutes.
The charter settlement with Christina fell after a 3-4 vote by the board, exactly how the vote went when they voted for the settlement two weeks ago. Board member Fred Polaski tried to convince everyone that he believed the district would lose if it went to court with the charters. He offered no viable reason for why he felt they would lose. But it didn’t seem to matter because the board was clearly divided on many of the same action items with Polaski, Minnehan, George Evans and Meg Mason on one side. On the other were members John Young, Saffer, and President Elizabeth Paige. Young stated the minutes of the executive meeting would now become public since the need for the meeting was no longer valid and the settlement is public. He said he will be submitting updated minutes on that meeting. He also stated he had concerns about the culpability of the district in the matter. He also had grave concerns about the back and forth between the district and attorneys over Thanksgiving weekend and what amounted to a short time period of 90 minutes for the board to review the settlement. Young said that would make for a very interesting FOIA request. He had many concerns about the authority of charter leaders in signing the document, such as an Interim Principal, a Head of School, or a Board President. He reviewed many charter school bylaws and did not see that authority granted to those parties without permission from the entire board. He also did not special board meetings for the charter boards to vote on the settlement.
One of the shockers of the evening (and there were many), was the situation with the Montessori program in Christina. There was an action item to end the program. This became the controversy of the evening as parents and staff members gave public comment in support of the program. When it came time for the board to discuss the matter, Paige asked a question that solidified a crucial problem with the district, that of transparency. Delaware schools receive academic excellence units which they are free to cash in and do as they please. The Montessori program had three of those units. Paige asked about them and it was revealed by the district the Honors Academy would use three academic excellence units. While the district hemmed and hawed about the “coincidence”, Paige said the “optics” look very bad. In a rare moment of unity, the board voted 6-1 in favor of keeping the program with Polaski as the lone no vote. This prompted Young’s quote of the evening. He said the district believes competition is so “chicken-fried awesome” that they should be doing everything they can to get students who are a wait list at First Sstate Montessori Academy into Christina’s Montessori program. Board member Polaski suggested partnering up with the Wilmington charter school to have them open a satellite school in the Christina school district. No one even responded to this rather absurd notion. But it did point to what I see as a very charter friendly Polaski.
Once again, with a 3-4 vote, the board voted against annulling the Honors Academy vote from November with the same 3-4 blocks. Young pointed out that many of Christina’s existing Cambridge programs are disproportionate with the amount of minorities represented in them. The irony of the district wanting to close a program where there is equity (the Montessori program) in favor of moving forward with a program which has a strong potential of inequity (The Honors Academy) did not escape members of the audience. Concerns around placement tests, a parent letter, and standardized test scores were the chief reasons three of the board members wanted to annul the prior vote. There were also concerns around opt out and how the application for the academy could penalize those students who were opted out despite a board policy that explicitly forbids that.
The point of exhaustion for members of the audience surrounded the district’s Superintendent interviews. Yesterday, the Delaware Attorney General answered a FOIA complaint surrounding the board’s November executive meeting to formulate questions for the Superintendent candidate. Some board members refused to participate in the meeting since they had already figured out it would be a FOIA violation. This prompted the board to make public the questions for candidates. There was also a matter about interviewing the candidates the week before Christmas and a mad rush to get it done. As a result, the board voted in favor of naming an Interim Superintendent with Noreen LaSorsa taking on the role. It was agreed the board would conduct Superintendent interviews the first week of January. Saffer argued the board needed the public to see the candidates in the schools and interacting with students and staff as they had done in the past. Board member Evans said he would not participate in any of that. Young’s action item to begin the Superintendent search again to get a more diverse pool of candidates fell with a 2-5 vote with Saffer and Young as the two no votes.
This board is a house divided. Mostly between common sense and… I don’t know what. On the one side we have Young, Paige, and Saffer who seem to know the law and sees how decisions made today could cause problems in the future. On the other is the not-so Fantastic Four who always seem to be in this frantic hurry to get things done now without looking at all of the angles. They also seem to be easily intimidated by the district and outside forces. This shapes their votes. Minnehan took a pointed jab at Young as she said she would never want to go car-shopping with him because he takes too long to make a decision. I would rather have that than winding up with a lemon Mrs. Minnehan! As I drove down to Dover after this very long meeting which entered an actual new day, I saw a warrior district succumbing to the privatization movement that is paralyzing public education. I believed for a long time Christina was the last hold-out in Delaware, but after some of the votes last night, it was painfully obvious the last blockade fell. At this point, Delaware needs a hero. We need an Obi-Wan moment where someone answers the call of “you’re my only hope“. Will that person come from Christina or somewhere else?
I gave the following public comment to the board last night but despite my six minutes thanks to borrowed time, I was not able to get to the end of it which I will notate in the below comment.
Good evening ladies and gentlemen of the Christina School District Board of Education. It has been a long time since I came up to this podium to speak before this board. The last time I did so was seventeen months ago. I believe Ms. Minnehan was the Board President at that time. A lot happened at that meeting. I did want to offer an apology in regards to that. I’m sorry it has taken me so long to give public comment here.
I have a lot to talk about tonight, mostly in regards to the charter school shakedown, er, uhm, lawsuit.
First, can you please, for the love of all we hold sacred, fix the sound for the audio recordings on your website? It is a recurring issue and I’m certain it wouldn’t cost that much money to correct this.
Second, I am very curious why a FOIA request I sent to the district was never followed up on. I sent a FOIA request to the district asking for the past three years of all air quality inspections for every single one of the Christina schools. I received an email back that a cost estimate would be forthcoming. That was almost two months ago. I received nothing. As Delaware state code gives any public agency a period of 15 business days to respond to a FOIA request, the district has violated FOIA. Please remedy this by tomorrow so I do not have to file another FOIA complaint with the Delaware Attorney General’s office. Which I’m sure this district has had enough of. But I digress.
I do not believe the board should even entertain not voting on the rescission of the settlement. I am glad that motion failed. (I adlibbed the last sentence because of the board not passing Minnehan’s motion but I am not entirely sure on the wording). I believe it is very important you vote in the majority to vote yes on rescinding the settlement. As we all know, this was brought forth by Greg Meece over at Newark Charter School. What has never been answered is HOW Greg Meece suddenly, last winter, decided to get a meeting with the fine people at the Delaware DOE. How, all of a sudden, Meece knew EXACTLY what to look for. According to a letter Meece wrote last week to the parents of NCS students, Secretary Godowsky never knew about the change to the local funding formula. So Godowsky reversing a decision he never made, which was cited in the lawsuit and settlement, is frivolous at best. This entire shenanigan was meant to intimidate Christina, and sadly, the district took the bait. They didn’t just take the bait, they swallowed it and regurgitated it to four board members who voted out of fear rather than common sense. That is something that needs to be reversed tonight. I would rather see this district take this ALL THE WAY than see one more penny going out of this district to certain charters who want for nothing. If anything, the DOE should be the entity paying for this year’s charter share of the 2003 referendum and all future costs due to their colossal screw-up, not just getting off the hook by paying for half the attorney fees. But more than that, what may not have come out of all this, is the role the Office of Management and Budget played. As Brian Stephan wrote in a recent article on Delaware Liberal, something happened in 2014 that changed everything with the local funding formula. What he didn’t write, which he may not have been aware of, was why everything changed that year. The Office of Management and Budget, a section of Governor Jack Markell’s office, took over the responsibility from Mark Murphy to oversee this aspect of Delaware education financing. Oh so coincidentally, that was the same year the Delaware DOE launched the priority schools debacle and launched a coordinated attack against Christina when this board would not cower and buckle to Governor Markell’s shameful education agendas. While I am not an attorney or an accountant, I am just a blogger. According to Newark Charter School parents, I’m a sneaky snake blogger. But it is my belief this omission of paying the charter schools their portion of the 2003 referendum was, at best, an egregious error that the State of Delaware should pay moving forward. If that were not enough, the fact that tuition and match taxes were brought up in the settlement is very troubling. The charters have no right to those funds so why it was brought up in a settlement is beyond me. I certainly hope none of that nonsense was the district’s idea. That just opens the door for future siphoning of district funds the local taxpayers entrusted to the district, not to fifteen charter schools. If I’m not mistaken, Christina does not get large donations from the Longwood Foundation, they don’t get a larger proportion of minor capital funds based on their student populations like the charters do, and they certainly don’t get to keep excess transportation funds under their “budgeted” amount.
While we can sit here and pretend the charter cabal, led by Saul Ewing LLC, is a force to be reckoned with, the simple fact is they made unprecedented money grab. This could have been done a dozen different ways, but they chose threats and intimidation, with support from certain legislators in both the House and the Senate, to get what they wanted. As a result, if this board does NOT rescind the settlement, it will continue to give away funds this district desperately needs to 15 charter schools who have more than enough money already. And if you are going to put your trust in the Delaware Dept. of Education to do the right thing, you have already put one more nail in the coffin of this district.
At this point my time ran out, but this is how I planned to finish my public comment:
I strongly urge this board to continue to keep CSD moving forward. That does not mean responding to bullying threats by what amounts to non-profit corporations in Delaware. That means fighting for what is yours. As your CFO, Bob Silber, rightly argued, this district did what they were supposed to do. It was the State that screwed up. If this board is truly supposed to represent this district, and not Saul Ewing, Greg Meece, and the charters that have taken more funding from this district than any other force in this state, they will need to do the right thing and rescind this farce of a settlement that will allow charter schools to plunder funds not just from Christina, but would set a precedent for every district in this state.
I love the fact that the anonymous donation to Stubbs was highlighted by so much media in this state. But those students deserve more than having additional funds taken from them that would put the lunch balance to shame.
Thank you, and I do want to wish all of you a great holiday. Bob A, thank you for the Frozen memory. Good luck in your future endeavors.
To read the response to the FOIA complaint from the Delaware Attorney General’s office, please read below:
Holy stacked agenda! Could they squeeze anything else into this agenda? Some more hot-button district issues? I doubt it!
On Tuesday night, the Christina Board of Education will hold their board meeting at Gauger-Cobbs Middle School. The fun starts at 7pm. Bring food, and, just in case, you may want to bring a sleeping bag. This is going to be a late meeting!
So what’s on tap? The question is more like what isn’t on this agenda! This is NOT the order for the meeting, but it IS the controversy order!
Now the cat is out of the bag. In the absolute shocker of the year, board member John Young was the one to submit the action item to rescind the vote on the charter settlement. John is always so quiet and compliant. This is NOT like him at all to do something like this. Okay, sorry, got hit in the head for a second there. But seriously, I give John major props for having the guts to get this out there. I truly hope one of the four board members who voted yes can see this settlement sham for what it really is. If not, I hope many public comments can nudge them along.
Board member Shirley Saffer introduced this action item. After last month’s vote to create the “Honors Academy” at Christiana High School, there is an action item to annul that vote. Saffer voted yes for the program last month, but it appears she had a change of heart. The board voted 5-1 the first time. Will the districts new
charter magnet NCS wannabe Honors Academy survive this time? Expect a lot of pissed off parents for this one!
While I haven’t written too much about Christina’s Superintendent search, there has been a ton of drama surrounding it. Which will apparently culminate in many action items surrounding this. First item on the agenda is to approve an interim Superintendent. Which is basically what Dr. Robert Andrzejewski has been for the past 15 months. I really don’t know the difference between Interim and Acting, nor do I truly care. But “Bob A” is leaving on December 31st, come hell or high water. Even if the board does approve a new Superintendent by the end of the year, that person will most likely have to give notice at their current job. Unless it is Jack Markell. I heard he is going to be VERY available pretty soon. Just kidding on that one. I do NOT want to be responsible for that rumor starting.
Action Item #8 is the Superintendent Interview Questions. Which the board is making public. Because they HAVE TO. After that there will be discussion on the final interviews for the candidates. After the board gets through that, there is another John Young submitted action item to start the Superintendent search over. Like I said, this meeting is going to be crazy!
We will also get a discussion on
mold air quality at Christina schools. This should be the lighter side of the evening! Add in all the other normal stuff school boards do: honor roll, budget stuff, contracts, and so on and so forth. For those keeping track, the rescind the settlement vote and annul the Honors Academy are the last two items on the action item agenda.
If you want to sign up for public comment, I would get there early. You have to sign up to talk. I plan on being there. I plan on talking. It will be marvelous, just wait! I wonder if any legislators will show up at this meeting. I wonder if they will attempt to talk to board out of NOT rescinding the vote on the settlement. I dare Senator Sokola to try this! Triple dog dare!
These are some fun predictions. People from the audience will yell at least eight times to speak up because they can’t hear them. President Paige will bring the gavel down at least 13 times. George Evans will ridicule John Young at least four times. The audience will laugh at least four times. Someone will leave their lights on in the parking lot. Someone in the audience will have a very brilliant idea of ordering pizza (bring cash in case this does happen and you plan to stick around for the whole shebang). At least five people will wear ugly Christmas shirts and/or sweaters. And last, but certainly not least, I predict at least three things will come out that the general public has no clue about.
In December of 2015, I posted 16 articles about who would make an impact on 2016. Did they truly have an impact and did they fizzle out? Many of them did have a huge impact, some fizzled out, and some didn’t do as much as I thought they might. You be the judge!
State Rep. David Bentz: Bentz had a relatively low-key rookie year in the Delaware House. He did get a bill passed and signed that bans the sale of Dextromethorphan to those under the age of 18. He did sit on many committees including Health & Human Services and Education. I expect Bentz will begin to rise in 2017 after running unopposed for his seat earlier this month. He did vote in support of the suspension of rules on the override of the House Bill 50 veto which won him some fast points in my book.
Henry Clampitt: Clampitt became very quiet about halfway through the year. He did help out the Delaware Charter Schools Network with some key legislation surrounding charter school audits. Over the summer he joined the board of Gateway Lab School. I am still predicting he will make a run for Red Clay’s board next year! Clampitt curtailed some of his online activity as well this year. Clampitt can usually be found at the occasional Red Clay board meeting cavorting with some of his friends.
Dr. Robert Andrzejewski: The Acting Superintendent of Christina had a huge year! And not all of it was good. He did help the cash-poor district in winning their referendum but that only introduced other problems. The fifteen charter schools that feed off of Christina students complained they weren’t getting enough money from Christina. After it became public and legislators were swarmed with complaints from parents and citizens, Secretary of Education Dr. Steven Godowsky backed off the changes that would have given more to the charters. In October, the charters filed a lawsuit against Christina and the Delaware DOE. Now news comes of a possible settlement. Bob A also had to contend with mold issues at Pulaski Elementary School and soon reports came in of other schools having mold issues as well. He set up an “Academy” at Christiana High School with very poor communication and transparency which led to all sorts of controversy. Bob A also introduced many “cash in the trash” contracts for vendors which the Christina board approved nearly every single time. Rumors continue to swirl about the potential of Bob A getting the Secretary of Education role under John Carney. It could happen which would make a lot of Bob A’s activities make an odd sort of sense. Fattening up his resume or being Bob A? Time will tell.
Delaware Governor Jack Markell: Jack always makes an impact. Whenever I see that smiling face, I know he is up to something. He successfully influenced enough Delaware House reps to vote no on a suspension of rules to override his veto of House Bill 50. But then many of those same legislators voted yes on a suspension of rules for a corporate tax bill. This rightfully earned Markell the wrath of many parents in Delaware. In fact, many of us beat the hell out of him over opt out on his own Facebook page before the vote. Instead of going up to Howard High School and dealing with the death of Amy Joyner Francis, Markell issued a brief statement and merrily went on his Common Core tour at Delaware schools. He pimped the Delaware Pathways to Prosperity program every single chance he could. He spoke at a conference on Blockchain technology and announced Delaware would get legislation going so Blockchain firms could incorporate in Delaware. He created the Governor’s ESSA Advisory Committee while issuing another executive order to create a Pathways Steering Committee that had its first meeting with no public notice. The “Education” Governor won some fancy-schmancy award from the National Association of State Boards of Education. Despite rumors, Markell firmly stated he was never a consideration for a Cabinet post in a Hillary Clinton administration (easy to say after the shocking upset when Donald Trump won the presidency). He continued to appear at press conferences and letters to the editor promoting corporate education reform which pretty much landed with a resounding thud in the minds of Delawareans. As Jack enters his final days as Delaware Governor, I don’t think history will be very kind to his legacy of putting corporations over people. But I will ask one boon of Jack Markell before he leaves his post: a chance to meet with him, do an interview, and get his side of the story on Delaware education. What do you say Jack? One for the road?
Delaware Governor John Carney: Unless you’ve been living in a hole the past few weeks, John Carney won the Governor’s seat by a landslide. Everyone is waiting with bated breath to see who Carney picks for his administration. He has been very quiet (as he was during the election) about what he is going to do. He came out with platforms on various subjects, but they were somewhat vague. As of today, he has only announced two members of his administration. This blogger has reached out to Carney many times with zero success, as recently as yesterday. I don’t want Carney and I to be at odds with each other. We will assuredly disagree on many things, but if he isn’t willing to sit down with me then I fear this will be the case. In education, Carney will have his hands full between whomever he picks for his next Secretary, education funding, ESSA implementation, and a budget deficit which will force the state to begin cutting items from the state budget. I expect Carney will be more low-key on many issues facing Delaware, but he should not be underestimated at all.
Delaware Senator David McBride: McBride was relatively low-key this year, but he did become the President Pro Tempore of the Delaware Senate when Senator Patti Blevins suffered a shocking loss earlier this month to Anthony Delcollo. But this title will not have as much importance since Delaware has a Lieutenant Governor again in the form of Bethany Hall-Long who will preside over the Delaware Senate.
Tony Allen: Allen was all over the place in 2016. State Board of Education meetings, ESSA Advisory Committees, Legislative Hall, and forums kept the Bank of America executive very busy. Allen stood his ground with the Delaware State Board of Education when they kept trying to change the redistricting language. When the Wilmington Education Improvement Commission’s redistricting bill failed to pass the Delaware General Assembly, Allen did save the plan by extending the timeline. It remains to be seen what Carney will do with the plan, especially given that deficit I told you about. Allen is serving on the transition team for Governor Carney. Earlier this month, Allen predicted another segregation lawsuit against the state based on Delaware schools, especially those in Wilmington. Allen did admit one of WEIC’s weaknesses was not including Kent and Sussex County representatives on the plan.
Ashley Sabo: The Red Clay mom of a special needs child had a very busy year. While she continued to fight for inclusion in Red Clay, she also held the district accountable for the lack of communication surrounding the plan. Sabo also adopted a foster child and became a Court Appointed Special Advocate as well as becoming the Executive Director of the Mid-Atlantic Orphan Care Coalition. I am very optimistic about Sabo’s future in Delaware and I see her as a rising young star who will become a very important voice for not only students with disabilities and foster children, but all citizens of The First State.
The Delaware Bloggers: It was an interesting year. Three longtime Delaware bloggers closed up shop this year: Transparent Christina, Kavips, and the Delaware Grapevine. The first two dealt with many education issues. For Transparent Christina, the beginning of the end came when the author of that blog discovered Facebook and all the fun he could have on there. Kavips ended his blog earlier this month capping off a ten-year run of what he viewed as “The Progressive Era” of Delaware politics. I suspect we haven’t heard the last of the enigmatic one and he will pop up somewhere once he/she gets his/her groove back once Donald Trump is inaugurated. Kilroy’s Delaware slowed down this year but that had more to do with fixing up his house at the beach than a lack of interest. Delaware Liberal provided a healthy dose of election news and dealt with the epic defeat of Hillary Clinton and bemoaned to rise of Donald Trump. A new blog by ex-Delaware DOE employee Atnre Alleyne called The Urgency of Now stirred up tons of controversy this year as teachers were blasted constantly on his blog. Another longtime blog, The Colossus of Rhodey, also ended. As for this blogger, now almost halfway through his third year, who knows what the future will bring. One sure thing is that change is inevitable but things stay the same in too many of the wrong places.
The Parents of Delaware Students: The parents of Delaware received a fatal blow when the Delaware House refused to suspend the rules to allow for an override of Markell’s House Bill 50 veto. The Delaware PTA received a hush order on opt-out from their National headquarters. Parents still opted their kids out, but it was comparable to 2015. The Delaware DOE has attempted to corral parents into their Every Student Succeeds Act Community Conversations, but I really hoped more parents would attend to lend their voices in opposition to the DOE’s crazy plans. Many parents attended referenda this year as Christina, Brandywine, and Cape Henlopen referendums passed. Not enough Indian River parents supported their referendum when it failed to pass last week. By and large, Delaware parents continue to get the shaft in education policy. I predict the voice of parents will rise in 2017 to unheard of levels. With national and state politics the way they are now, many parents will be pitched against each other with various events. One appointment of U.S. Secretary of Education for Betsy DeVos has already renewed a lot of debate about school choice, charter schools, and school vouchers. These arguments will heat up in 2017. Many parents of students with disabilities (as well as advocates) successfully thwarted an attempt at a very bad special education strategic plan at the Delaware DOE. Parents of special needs children are quickly learning that banding together in unison across various groups is more important than debating their differences. So much so that a two-day planning session for a new special education strategic plan will take place on December 8th and 9th.
Karen Field Rogers: While the first half of the year started very slow for the promotion of Field Rogers as the new Delaware Deputy Secretary of Education, she certainly made her mark in the second half as the Delaware DOE spokesperson at many ESSA meetings. The jury is still out on what Delaware’s ESSA plan will be. I can picture her still working at the Townsend Building under Governor John Carney. She is not really a subject of controversy down there.
Delaware Senator Colin Bonini: Bonini lost his bid for Delaware Governor as many predicted. But he did not do himself any favors by publicly announcing he would lose and continuing to call Carney his friend. Even if you think you are going to lose, you don’t make a spectacle of it. But he did answer a very long survey I gave all the candidates for Governor. Only Carney failed to respond to the survey, and I unintentionally left out Green Party candidate Andrew Groff. Bonini will still be in the Delaware Senate doing his thing, unless he gets a new job in the Carney administration. Whatever happened with Bonini’s recommendation for a Civil Rights Committee in the Delaware Senate?
Harrie Ellen Minnehan: She started the year as the Christina Board of Education President, but lost her gavel over the summer to the re-elected Elizabeth Paige. Minnehan overtly supported Paige’s opponent in the spring school board election. When board member David Resler announced he would not run again, Meg Mason won the election. Mason voted for Paige’s appointment as board president. The Christina board seems to still be at odds over many things but they will have to get it together soon for the sake of the district. I miss the fiery board that stood in unison against the Priority Schools debacle in the fall of 2015. Nothing against Minnehan, but the board lost a bit of that during her Presidency. Paige brings that temperament back to the board and they (along with every other board in the state) need to start speaking up now to fight for what is theirs. I must say, my favorite “HEM” moment in 2016 was when Minnehan blasted State Board of Education President Dr. Teri Quinn Gray during a WEIC meeting in Wilmington. I have no doubt her words were bubbling under the surface for a long time, going back to her days as the President of the Pencader charter school board.
The Delaware Met Kids: After causing a lot of concern in the fall of 2015, the students at Delaware Met said goodbye to the not even five-month old charter school in mid-January. The students went to various school districts and charter schools. But not until they caused enough chaos at the school to get an extra couple of days off.
The Seans: Sean Lynn gave a very stirring speech when the death penalty repeal bill hit the floor of the Delaware House. Ultimately, the House voted against the repeal, but federal rulings rendered the point moot for Delaware executions. Lynn was instrumental in crafting legislation for the WEIC redistricting bills, but the controversial redistricting effort did not pass the General Assembly. He did get several bills through dealing with courts and animal fighting. After a landmark first year in the House where six bills became law, Sean Matthews did not have any legislation signed by Governor Markell this year. But this didn’t stop Matthews from using his voice in support or opposition to many bills. Both Sean Lynn and Sean Matthews won their seats back for a 2nd term in the General Election after facing opposition. This will give them more of an entrenched status in the House. Both had a relatively quiet year, but I expect they will be re-energized and ready to go in January!
Braeden Mannering: The kid who melted Delaware hearts the past few years continued his 3B: Brae’s Brown Bags movement with growing success. In January, Braeden was invited to and attended President Obama’s State of the Union address. Later in the year, he was one of the speakers at a TedX conference in Wilmington. Braeden’s future is bright!
I will be doing this for 2017 beginning in December with those I think will make an impact in 2017. Some will be names seen on this list but others will be new faces.
Christina School District Board of Education member John Young posted this publicly on Facebook about the Christina Superintendent search. I am posting it on here to get this to a wider audience. For clarification purposes, SME stands for “Subject Matter Expert” and James Flynn is running the Superintendent search for Christina through the University of Delaware’s Institute for Public Administration (IPA). I don’t know how many districts have used IPA in the past. I do know Capital used them last year for their new Superintendent which led to Dan Shelton getting the post. And I want to say Colonial did as well which led to Dusty Blakey, but don’t quote me on that. I’ll let Mr. Young’s Facebook post take it from here.
Some public information on the CSD Super search. Started with a few questions and since I will not be able to attend the 11.9.16 meeting as I will be out of town, and because Mr. Polaski raised the concern below I wanted to get this out there as I would have discussed all of this in person anyway, as those that know me know I would. Also, Note Dr. Flynn’s comments regarding direction given on 10.24 does not comport with the timing of the contract which Mr. Polaski references in points 1 indirectly and 2 directly…meaning I remain confused on the issue.
Today, 8:08 AM
YOUNG JOHN;PAIGE ELIZABETH;EVANS GEORGE;Meg Mason; MINNEHAN HARRIE E; SAFFER SHIRLEY
Subject: Re: Task Force Update
Two reactions to Mr. Young’s requests:
1. The process being implemented by Dr. Flynn and IPA at the U of D was approved by the CSD Board at a BOE public meeting. Any changes to the process or contract MUST be approved by the Board after discussion at a public meeting, not by any one or more Board members by email.
2. The Board approved use of IPA to facilitate the process to select a new superintendent and directed the CSD Administration to negotiate the contract with IPA, which Mr. Silber did as the CFO of CSD.
Any further discussion of this topic, or any proposals for changes, must only be done at CSD board meetings in public, the next one being Nov. 9. I would hope to not see any more emails between 7 board members on this subject as that could be determined to constitute a Board meeting, subject to FOIA.
From: YOUNG JOHN
Sent: Monday, October 31, 2016 10:28:23 PM
To: PAIGE ELIZABETH; EVANS GEORGE; Meg Mason; MINNEHAN HARRIE E; POLASKI FRED; SAFFER SHIRLEY
Subject: Re: Task Force Update
Obviously I speak only for myself on this: without the names of the SMEs, I am unable to support any recommendation whatsoever.
As for the one candidate: the advantage is CLEARLY the ability to prepare answers with additional time not supplied to other candidates. I am disappointed Dr. Flynn cannot see this plainly. Another reason to be very suspect of the process thus far. Is Mr Silber in charge of the board process? This confuses me.
From: PAIGE ELIZABETH
Sent: Monday, October 31, 2016 10:19:33 PM
To: EVANS GEORGE; Meg Mason; MINNEHAN HARRIE E; POLASKI FRED; SAFFER SHIRLEY; YOUNG JOHN
Subject: Fwd: Task Force Update
Sent from my iPhone
Begin forwarded message:
From: James Flynn <firstname.lastname@example.org<mailto:email@example.com>>
Date: October 31, 2016 at 4:52:23 PM EDT
To: PAIGE ELIZABETH <firstname.lastname@example.org<mailto:email@example.com>>
Cc: ROBERT.SILBER@christina.k12.de.us<mailto:ROBERT.SILBER@christina.k12.de.us>, LAPHAM WENDY WENDY.LAPHAM@christina.k12.de.us<mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org>>
Subject: Re: Fw: Task Force Update
Ms. Paige: Hi. I’ll try to respond to Mr. Young’s questions in the order posed.
SMEs – As I’ve said at our public presentations, selection of the number and designation of SMEs is determined by the IPA as one of the steps to insure impartiality and confidentiality. Our goal is to select highly qualified individuals for the applicant screening process who are familiar with Delaware districts and Delaware education issues. For the Christina search, we identified three SMEs – two retired Delaware superintendents and a senior administrator with more than 30 years experience serving several Wilmington area districts (the contract obligates us to two SMEs). Our usual practice is not to share the names of the SMEs to further fortify confidentiality in future searches with other districts. If the CSD Board feels strongly that knowing the names of the SMEs is a critical point, I’d be willing to contact them (the SMEs) for their approval. Please remember, the SMEs review all of the applications independently first and the applicant names have been redacted. When the SMEs come together to discuss the applicants, their references are to ‘Applicant A’ and ‘Applicant B’, etc.
Impact of Extra Time for one Candidate – This applicant e-mailed me just before the midnight deadline on Friday, Sept 23. I replied to her on the morning of Monday, Sept 26 and had all her materials e-mailed to me by early that afternoon. Remember, she claimed she had everything ready for submission on 9/23, but the site was closed before midnight. I’m not sure how this may have created an ‘advantage’ since we didn’t start processing any of the applications until after 9/26.
Task Force Reporting – The instructions from Mr. Silber on 10/24 said to prepare a report of the Task Force proceedings on 11/1 directly to the Board. Changing those instructions by having the Task Force report back to the full Search Committee in a confidential setting (i.e. Task Force and Board) is your choice.
Sub-Par Candidates – I would do all in my power to dissuade the Task Force from recommending a sub-par candidate(s) to the Board. In my opinion, this Task Force has worked too long and too diligently to submit the names of candidates who wouldn’t meet the needs of the CSD.
Board Members and Applicants – I’m not sure what this statement refers to, and don’t feel competent to respond.
Please let me know if I can provide any further information or if wish to alter the Task Force reporting process going forward.
On Mon, Oct 31, 2016 at 1:20 PM, PAIGE ELIZABETH
See below for questions that I told Mr. Young I do not have answers to and provide a response that I can share with the Board.
From: YOUNG JOHN
Sent: Monday, October 31, 2016 12:48 PM
To: PAIGE ELIZABETH; EVANS GEORGE; Meg Mason; MINNEHAN HARRIE E; POLASKI FRED; SAFFER SHIRLEY
Subject: Re: Task Force Update
I am still unsure of process. Jim has not revealed the names of the SMEs used to go through the applications.
What impact did the extra time given one candidate have on creating an advantage?
Aren’t the task force members reporting back to the committee as a whole rather than putting name(s) directly to the board?
Also, if no one stands out, does the task force know to recommend going back out rather than sending us a subpar candidate (if applicable)?
Lastly, I have a deep concern that individual board members are creating an advantage or perception of one by being seen in public with certain applicants, but not others
Hmm… sounds like something is going on up there… and in Christina… they are usually so quiet…
Last night, Christina Board of Education member Elizabeth Paige was elected by her peers to be the next President of the board. With a 4-3 vote, she took the post over from Harrie Ellen Minnehan. What happened next was very surreal. Acting Superintendent Bob Andrzejewski was going through different contract amounts which the board had to take action on. When one of them came up, I was absolutely shocked and horrified. It wasn’t even on the agenda. Their Chief Financial Officer, Bob Silber, disappeared shortly before this. I think he knew what was coming. Everyone was there: Acting Superintendent Robert “Bob A” Andrzejewski, Board members John Young, Fred Polaski, George Evans, Harrie Ellen Minnehan, Shirley Saffer, Elizabeth Paige, and newly elected board member Meg Mason. There were some people I knew in the audience as well. I don’t know if I’m supposed to be writing about this, so I will show you…
With a 4-3 vote, Elizabeth Paige is the new President of the Christina School District Board of Education. The prior President, Harrie-Ellen Minnehan, received three votes. Minnehan only held the post for a year. This is definitely Paving The Way to a New Christina! Congrats Liz!
With all respect to Ms. Minnehan, I believe Paige will bring a transparency to this board that has never been seen before. She is a strong voice for this board, and I can’t wait to see what happens next!
Over the past year, there have been several attempts to get Christina Board of Education member Shirley Saffer to resign from the school board. Back in 2014, Saffer was arrested for harassment following a purported argument with a bus driver. Last summer, Saffer pled guilty to the misdemeanor charge of harassment, paid a fine, and was ordered to stay away from the bus driver. What hasn’t been reported was what led to the argument or any physical proof that Saffer used a racial slur in the argument. Despite this lack of essential forensic evidence, members of the Christina Board of Education have made a few attempts to get Saffer to resign. With a push from the Friends of Christina group as early as last November, the Board President Harrie Ellen Minnehan appears to be making it her mission in life to make Saffer resign. The latest attempt, shown below, stems from a civil suit against Saffer and the district.
Earlier this year, the board put forth a resolution asking Saffer to resign. A lengthy conversation happened at that board meeting in which Saffer’s alleged us of “the n word” was taken out of the resolution as there was no proof it was actually said. No recordings of the argument showed whether it was said one way or the other. Let me be very clear: I do not condone the use of that word, ever, and under any circumstances. I don’t think anyone should use that word in any situation. Even African-Americans. It is symbolic of a time in our country’s history when the word was used to denigrate and humiliate African-Americans. I think ANY use of the word continues to remind us of that history. I actually saw a fake email, constructed to make it look like I used that word recently. Anyone who knows me knows I hate that word. But what was very interesting was who showed me that email and that person’s defense of myself in stating they absolutely knew I didn’t say it. How would that person know, with 100% certainty, that I didn’t? Something to ponder readers…but I digress…
If Saffer did or didn’t use the word is now immaterial. She was accused, pled guilty, and paid her debt to society. So why is Minnehan continuing the witch hunt? There is nothing in Delaware law that can make a school board member resign. If Saffer didn’t resign immediately after the incident, last summer when she went to trial, after the Friends of Christina made a concerted effort to get her to resign, and after the board’s prior resolution a few months ago, why would she do so now? Her term expires in a little over a year.
Based on the civil suit filed, my guess is Minnehan doesn’t want the district or any board members dragged into it. Should Saffer resign, I would guess the board and district wouldn’t have to pay any legal costs based on the suit. Which is certainly Minnehan’s desire. But by continuing this witch hunt against Saffer, she is stoking the flames. She wants a confrontation, in my opinion. But it hasn’t happened. For a Board President who seems to bash others and their actions, she sure has a way of poking the bear any chance she gets. What if the board issued resolutions asking for Minnehan to resign based on her time as the Pencader Business School Board President? I’m guessing she wouldn’t like that one bit. Saffer is not going to resign no matter how many petitions or board resolutions surface in the future. Minnehan needs to get over it and pay more attention to her district and stop wasting the board and the district’s time on this. Just because someone holds a gavel doesn’t make them lord of the universe. With great power must also come great responsibility. I’m trying to see some good in Minnehan’s multiple resolutions here, but I just can’t.
Did Saffer make a mistake? No one knows what was really said that day. At least with empirical evidence. No one knows publicly what prompted the exchange of words in the first place. Yes, she pled guilty, but the charge was harassment. Without knowing, and this is just a picture I am painting here, Saffer may have seen the bus driver do something. Nobody just goes up to a bus driver to start something for no reason unless they are clinically insane. Shirley Saffer is not insane. At heart, Saffer cares about kids. She went to the bus, exchanged words with the bus driver, and something was said. It was in the heat of the moment that Saffer may have said something which could be construed as harassment. It is something many of us have done at one point in time, including Minnehan. No one is an angel, no one is perfect. Saffer, whatever happened that day, regrets what happened. Of that I can be sure. But to continue to be held under the microscope constantly by someone who should be viewing her as a part of a seven member team and not this horrible person Minnehan projects… I view what Minnehan is doing as harassment. I view Minnehan’s attempts to have Saffer resign as petty and vindictive. I don’t think it is about the money issue. I think it is about power. Minnehan wants to solidify support on any future votes for whatever agenda items she wants action on, in my opinion. In looking at how the board votes on controversial items have gone down, there are three votes that tend to vote one way, and three that vote the other. Saffer and Minnehan are not on the same team.
Based on comments made by Minnehan on social media during the recent board election race between incumbent Elizabeth Paige and Desiree Brady, Minnehan was very passive-aggressive in her comments about the board and certain members on the board. While others do this as well, I find it very hypocritical for Minnehan to accuse others of causing controversy when she publicly does it herself. Because I called her out on this, she unfriended me on Facebook. I have spent the time since in intense therapy trying to get over it. It was quite a blow! But seriously, it was just very odd for her to go on one of her fellow board members campaign page and write disparaging things about the board she is supposed to run as the president.
I’ve known Minnehan for a couple of years now. I first met her at the epic priority schools Christina board meeting in September, 2014. I liked how she defended the district and railed against the DOE in the months after. But by the time the priority showdown reached it’s zenith, I couldn’t tell which side Minnehan was on anymore. She was in agreement with the majority of the board members in going forth with the MOU with the DOE, but ultimately it was her opposition to one of the key parts of it that led to the MOU not going forth until a revised one went out months later based on the WEAC recommendations.
Minnehan and myself have a history, and it is not a great one. Last summer we clashed over a crazy innuendo against, ironically, herself and Saffer. I apologized immediately once I realized how I had been fooled by the person granting the innuendo, in email and on my blog. But Minnehan kept insisting I come to the next Christina Board meeting and apologize publicly. I advised her many times it wasn’t going to happen, and even if I could, I had a hernia surgery coming up that would prevent me from attending anyways. Despite that, she felt the need to apologize for me (for a third time) at that board meeting. And I won’t even get into the Bizarro world of what happened last month because I still can’t wrap my head around it all. Based on that, I said I would never write about Christina again. Obviously, I changed my mind. I won’t let veiled threats stifle me from expressing my opinion or writing about the district. And the biggest problem I see is the board president. I have no doubt she will be offended, but I truly don’t care. When I see crap like this on their agenda, it makes me want to throw up. As Bob A said a few months back, “Let it go!”
While this is a federal case, it is not at the federal level. Saffer lives in Delaware and the bus driver lives in another state. Based on legal guidelines for lawsuits, the feds take over when the parties live in different states.
Updated, 10:45pm: Apparently this resolution was pulled from Christina’s board meeting agenda tonight. I wonder why…
When it comes to education, brokering deals isn’t Delaware Governor Jack Markell’s strong suit. His fumbling could have given the Christina priority schools major headaches larger than the ones they had.
In September, 2014, Governor Markell announced six priority schools in Wilmington, DE. Three in the Red Clay Consolidated School District and three in the Christina School District. Each school board had to sign a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) for each school. Red Clay signed their MOU a few months later while Christina fought the Delaware Department of Education every step of the way. By the end of February of 2015, the Christina School Board refused to sign the MOU and didn’t approve plans for the schools. When it looked like the Delaware DOE and then Secretary of Education Mark Murphy were going to take the schools from the district, Governor Markell brokered a plan between the district and the Delaware DOE.
As a result of the Wilmington Education Advisory Committee (WEAC) and their recommendation to turn the Christina schools in Wilmington to Red Clay, the priority school saga was on hold. The Christina Board voted in favor of the WEAC idea and Governor Markell brought both sides to the table. A new MOU detailed the WEAC recommendation and the Christina Board signed it. The MOU went to Secretary Murphy for signature. The tension ended. Or so we thought.
For seven months, the subject of the Christina priority schools was very quiet. WEAC became the Wilmington Education Improvement Commission through legislation. The commission started meeting in September of 2015 to craft the plans to eventually fold the Wilmington Christina schools into Red Clay. At the October meeting of the Delaware Education Support System (DESS), a representative asked about the Christina priority schools and what would happen to them if the redistricting plan fell apart. Delaware DOE Chief of Accountability and Assessment Penny Schwinn said that was a very good question and one they were hoping to get answers for soon.
The DOE was in transition. Secretary Murphy announced his resignation at the end of July. Acting Secretary of Education Dr. Steven Godowsky inherited the Christina priority schools. The DESS meeting was on October 5th. A month earlier, I wondered what would happen if the WEIC plan didn’t pass the State Board of Education or the Delaware General Assembly. Everyone assumed the deal Governor Markell brokered in March covered the Christina priority schools up until that point. But in FOIA’d emails never revealed to the public until now, the Delaware DOE truly didn’t know what Markell’s deal even meant. Behind the scenes, Schwinn emailed the United States Department of Education to get clarification on what the options were for the three schools seven months after “the deal”.
I find it astonishing Governor Markell never had the Delaware DOE check with the US DOE before the March deal. This is a man who prides himself on all things education. Instead, he made an executive decision without checking to see if it was even okay.
Nearly two weeks after Schwinn first posed the question to Julie Glasier, an Education Specialist at the US DOE, she received an answer:
As per the US DOE, the deal brokered by Markell wasn’t good enough. All of this led to what is known as “The Hissy Fit” at the December meeting of the Delaware State Board of Education meeting. The board minutes for this meeting tell one story, but reality was far different.
It was pointed out that the Christina School District schools are in the second year of planning as the Department has not received a plan. Dr. Gray voiced her dismay and concern that the district has failed to respond to the Department’s requests. Dr. Godowsky stated that it is the Department’s expectation that the district will submit their plan. It was also noted that the educators in that district are to be commended for helping their students achieve without the additional funding they could be receiving.
State Board President Dr. Teri Quinn Gray was visibly upset about the Christina School District priority schools. She acted as if the district made the deal back in March and just forgot about the schools. She was so angry she had to excuse herself from the State Board meeting to regain her composure. The very next day an astonishing revelation came out about what happened, or to be more concise, didn’t happen after the brokered meeting nine months earlier. Secretary Murphy never signed the MOU between the Christina priority schools and the Delaware DOE. Christina board members stated they were never told anything more had to be done with the schools during the pending WEIC redistricting proposal. Now the Delaware DOE wanted the district’s priority school plans.
While never officially confirmed, Murphy’s resignation was rumored to be a “resign now” due to issues with the funding for the three Red Clay priority schools. Emails released by this blog weeks before the Murphy announcement seemed to be the final straw for his Cabinet position in Delaware. Was Markell aware of Murphy’s other colossal error concerning the Christina priority schools?
This led to another explosion of sorts at the February State Board of Education meeting. The State Board voted no on the WEIC redistricting plan due to wording around funding and Christina having no priority school plans turned into the DOE. State Board member Pat Heffernan went on a tirade of his own about the three schools and how Christina failed them. At an emergency meeting of WEIC the next week, Christina Board President Harrie Ellen Minnehan told State Board President Dr. Gray she should apologize to Christina for the underhanded treatment they received from her. To date, Dr. Gray has not apologized to Christina.
Christina submitted the priority school plans to Secretary Godowsky and the State Board passed the WEIC redistricting plan last month. Godowsky notified the State Board the plans were enough for the DOE.
Several questions emerge from this year and a half story though. During the time of the priority schools announcement and the months following, many assumed the DOE wanted to take the schools. Myself included. But the stark reality is the DOE really didn’t have a clue what they were doing. Neither Governor Markell or the DOE bothered to check to see if the brokered deal was acceptable to the federal agency that mandated the priority schools in the first place. Granted, Delaware made up their own plans to decide which schools were “priority”, which wasn’t exactly without it’s own controversy.
I don’t believe ANY school should get a label based on standardized test scores. Period. Teachers should not fear for their jobs because of bogus tests. The way the Delaware DOE, the State Board of Education, and Governor Markell treated Christina during the five months after the announcement was shameful. Even worse was the false treatment from the State Board of Education last fall and this winter. Executive Director of the State Board of Education Donna Johnson serves as a liaison of sorts between the State Board of Education and the Delaware Department of Education. While not knowing for certain, I would have a very hard time believing Johnson was not aware of Schwinn’s emails to the US DOE and the fact that Secretary Murphy never signed the MOU. She could have cleared that up at the December State Board meeting, but she didn’t. If she did know of these events, she allowed Dr. Gray to behave the way she did. Even Godowsky seemed shocked at the appalling actions on Gray’s part.
The Delaware State Board of Education is appointed by the Delaware Governor. There are no public elections for the seven State Board of Education seats. Donna Gray sits on the DESS Advisory Committee. The WEIC redistricting plan awaits action from the Delaware 148th General Assembly. The three Christina priority schools are still in the district and they began the Smarter Balanced Assessment last month. The scores on these tests, like so many other Title I schools in Delaware, determine their fates to this day. Governor Markell believes the Smarter Balanced Assessment is the best test Delaware ever made.
This was originally on the Delaware blog Children & Educators First yesterday:
Earlier this week, C&E 1st posed the question: What’s Lindsey O’Mara got to do with it? Regarding the WEIC Commission, the State Board of Education, Priority Plans, and the Christina School District.
To get to the answer, I’ve scribed together several posts from Exceptional Delaware by Kevin Ohlandt. I give full credit to Kevin for ferreting out and documenting meeting after meeting related to the Gov and all his pawns. What I have tried to do is give the reader a sense that not one event is singular to the WEIC drama, not one event is special, and not one is organic. These meetings, who had what info, who stumbled, this was all pre-ordained by our self-aggrandizing Gov. Markell and his entitled political hacks.
Here’s your answer:
The Deal – https://exceptionaldelaware.wordpress.com/tag/the-deal/
According to Fred Polaski, the Christina Board of Education President, he and Superintendent Freeman Williams met with Lindsey O’Mara, the education advisor for Governor Markell, in hashing out an agreement over the three priority schools in their district. The Delaware Department of Education was there at the beginning of the meeting, and left soon after. More details as they emerge…
I’m not sure if this was at this meeting, before, or after, but apparently DOE Officer of Accountability Penny Schwinn told Christina she already has three assistant principals already in mind for the three priority schools during the “transition”.
The Christina Board is getting ready to vote on the decision to follow this plan, developed not by Christina and the DOE, but Christina and Governor Markell’s office.
The Christina Board passed the Markell/DOE plan (still waiting to find out whose plan it was), by a 4-1-2 vote. For those keeping track, the yes votes belonged to John Young, Elizabeth Paige, David Ressler and Fred Polaski. Harrie Minnehan voted no, and George Evans and Shirley Saffer abstained. The board also voted unanimously for a second referendum on May 27th.
This was buried in a blogpost last March on ExceptionalDelaware – a post that garnered no comments (rare!) However, this meeting has a far reaching impact. Let’s start with the attendees – O’Mara, representing the Governor, Penny Schwinn, on behalf of DOE, Superintendent Williams and Board Member Fred Polaski, for the Christina School District. Notably, Coach Murphy was absent. It’s been rumored that the Gov. ordered Murphy to stand down and lay low. You can find the plans that this covert team hammered out here:
To read the rest of this very interesting article, go here: http://elizabethscheinberg.blogspot.com/2016/02/omara-markell-coach-quinngrey-godowski.html
The Wilmington Education Improvement Commission had two meetings tonight. At 5pm, they had their Redistricting Committee meeting and at 6:30 they had a regular commission meeting. During the public comment part of the redistricting meeting, State Rep. Kim Williams advised the audience State Board of Education Executive Director Donna Johnson was telling State Board members how to vote on the WEIC plan at last week’s controversial State Board of Education meeting. This was overheard by a few people in the audience at the State Board of Education meeting. The best part… Donna Johnson was sitting in the row behind her. As reported to me by several people, Johnson immediately began shaking her head no. She did not look happy at all by the time I got there.
I was not there for that stunning announcement, but I did arrive late to the commission meeting. As Milli Vanilli would say, blame it on the rain. But the meeting was in full swing by the time I got there. Commission member Yvonne Johnson introduced a motion to send the WEIC plan back to the State Board without their amendments concerning “shall” and “may” and the Christina priority school plans. The motion passed, after a lot of heated discussion on both sides of the argument, with 15 yes, 6 no, and 2 absent.
Prior to that, State Board President Dr. Teri Quinn Gray and Secretary of Education Dr. Steven Godowsky were there to answer questions. The best moment of the evening, which drew a huge round of applause, was when Christina Board President Harrie Ellen Minnehan informed Dr. Gray about how former Secretary of Education Mark Murphy never signed their memorandum of understanding developed with their board, the DOE, and representatives from Governor Markell’s office. Dr. Gray actually said she wasn’t aware of that even though she was told this at the December State Board meeting. She told Minnehan she misread the addendum to the WEIC plan, even though it was very clearly spelled out. I have to wonder if these State Board members read anything or if Donna Johnson is calling the shots 100% of the time. Minnehan told Dr. Gray she wanted an apology from the State Board for their misleading labeling of the Christina School District. Many members of the commission and nearly all of the audience clapped at this. Of course, Dr. Gray did not apologize. I guess they need a board vote to determine if they “may” or “shall” do that.
Commission member Chandra Pitts asked Gray if she understood the intent of Senate Bill 122, which was that the WEIC plan either got a yes or a no vote from the State Board. Gray responded by saying she did understand the legislation. Pitts asked Secretary Godowsky what his plans are for Wilmington students after he openly said he wanted to make sure the Christina priority schools clause was put into the State Board’s consideration for the WEIC plan.
Gray said the State Board will advocate for Wilmington students just as much as they do for all of Delaware’s students. This didn’t soothe any of the emotions in the crowd. As I wrote on Facebook tonight, their idea of advocacy is ruling as tyrants in the Cabinet Room at the DOE Building once a month. They are the most disconnected education group in the state, yet they have this power to make or break education. All I see is a lot of breaking at the expense of Delaware’s students. When the majority of the voices out there are telling you “this is wrong” or “don’t do this”, the State Board usually takes it upon themselves to ignore those voices and essentially do whatever Governor Markell tells Donna Johnson who then tells them what to do. One member of the commission asked why the State Board brought up this whole “shall” and “may” stuff in Mid-February when they had the plan since December. No response…
The districts were united in their response to the State Board’s change of the “shall” and “may” with no way! They will have no part of an unfunded mandate that could eventually leave the citizens in their districts on the hook to pay for all of this. Colonial Board Member Joseph Laws told Gray he thought it was ridiculous that the State Board would change those words based on the possibility of “tying the hands of the future State Board”. He said the General Assembly and school board members pass laws, resolutions, and policies all the time. Basically, and these are my words, it was lame of the State Board to change a whole plan based on future boards.
During the deliberation of the motion to send the original plan back to the State Board, WEIC member Rev. Meredith Griffiths told the group it should be about the students. He felt if they send the plan back to the State Board where they will vote no on it again, it won’t help the students because the adults self-posture. I see it as defending their local turf. Had they done this during the Race To The Top days, things could be very different now. Perhaps they have learned their lesson and we are seeing this now with the WEIC vs. State Board fight.
Bottom line: you can’t trust the State Board. They are not publicly elected officials. They are appointed by the Governor. Granted, not all of the State Board members were appointed by Markell, but they have let him run the show since he became Governor. And by using his puppet Donna Johnson to give the marching orders to the State Board, we get events like tonight.
Gray was not in her turf, so she couldn’t do her grand posturing and her bouts of Christina Derangement Syndrome the way she does in State Board meetings. But make no mistake, beneath her calm demeanor, her arrogance could still be seen by all. For the most part, Godowsky sat there stone-faced without much comment at all. Our State Board of Education needs some major changes. The trust in them is gone. And I am still not convinced Godowsky’s changes in the DOE are enough to restore any semblance of faith in them as well. At the end of the day, it is still Governor Markell’s commands being followed. He may tweak those plans here and there in a vain attempt to restore public faith in his failed agendas, but the results are still the same.
If someone could please answer how the hell Donna Johnson still has her job I would greatly appreciate it. How does someone advance from being on the Common Core math implementation team to the Executive Director of the State Board of Education in just a couple years? It is my opinion, shared by many, that Donna Johnson abuses her power time and time again and no one at a state level who has the power to do anything about it does. Like I said, we need drastic change in Dover. The State Board’s incompetence at either passing or denying a redistricting plan is clear evidence of this, but this is just the culmination of years of their Markell-driven need for control.
As President of the Christina School District Board of Education, Minnehan is the voice of the board at their meetings. She holds the gavel! With recent events concerning priority schools and the Wilmington Education Improvement Commission, the Christina Board will be in the spotlight quite a bit in the coming months. The biggest matter facing Christina right now is what happens if the Wilmington Education Improvement Commission does not pass. The State Board of Education votes on the redistricting plan on January 21st, and if it passes it goes on to the General Assembly.
If, at any point, the plan fails to move forward, the DOE will pounce on Christina’s priority schools. They are already gearing up for it. But Christina has dire matters on its plate. The first is their precarious financial situation. They could be in serious financial trouble if they don’t pass their next referendum attempt, the third in the past two school years. As well, there is the issue with what appears to be an acting Superintendent stepping a bit outside of his comfort zone on district matters. Bob Andrzejewski already made this list, and not for good reasons. Since then, the Christina board voted down his request to join the BRINC Consortium in a 4-2 vote. But as of last week, it appears Andrzejewski is submitting grant applications to the Delaware DOE without the knowledge of his board.
As the face of the Christina Board of Education, Minnehan will be the voice behind how to reign in Bob A, as he is often referred to in Delaware education circles. It is essential that the board make Bob A understand they are the deciding authority in the district. Minnehan will play a large part in how that is done. The last thing the district needs is an acting superintendent going rogue. The board will begin a search for a permanent superintendent in February.
On September 8th, the Christina School District Board of Education has their next regular public meeting and the agenda released looks mighty interesting. There are two policy statement proposals up for first reading that look to address issues on the actual Board.
5. Board Policy Manual: Proposed Revision Policy Section #01.07–Policy Statement on Board Meetings–First Read
6. Board Policy Manual: Proposed New Policy Section #01.18–Policy Statement on the Responsibilities of Members of the Board–First Read
To say there have been issues on this board would be an understatement. But are these potential policies designed to correct those issues or to single out members individually through policy? As Christina struggles to meet a budget deficit, other items include potential actions to mitigate those losses. As well, the board could vote on a new opt-out policy for the district which had a first reading at the regular August board meeting. Also on the agenda is an item about an acting superintendent…
UPDATED, 10:50am, 9/1/15: I have heard the two policies concerning the board are by two different members: President Harrie Ellen Minnehan and Board Member John Young (also the Transparent Christina blogger). This will be very interesting indeed!
I sent the below email earlier today to an employee of the State of Delaware. They are a source, and I am outing them as that source, as well as multiple pseudonyms used on my blog, and possibly others. Sometimes there is a higher call of duty than blogger honor, and this gross negligence of right and wrong called for this. This is an extreme situation, affecting multiple people, but most of all, the students of Delaware. Especially in the Christina School District. Below is the full email I sent to Donna Johnson, Executive Director of the Delaware State Board of Education. As well, I blind cc:ed several persons on this email, so no one will be able to say “I didn’t know about this.”
From: Donna Johnson <email@example.com>
To: Kevin Ohlandt <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Sent: Thursday, August 13, 2015 9:56 AM
Subject: Re: State Board Meeting The Other Day
Could you call my cell please?
The true financial impact at Christina School District was revealed for all last night, and the most troublesome of these numbers was the bleeding out of students from Christina to charters. It is a requirement that any district in Delaware be able to meet the first month’s payroll prior to the school year starting, and CFO Bob Silba announced this may not be a possibility in a year’s time. Board member John Young commented that the district needs to face the reality they could be down from three high schools to two in a couple years. Projected numbers show over 900 students leaving Christina but their Title I funding basically remains the same and their IDEA funding which comes from students with disabilities will actually go up.
This shows the students leaving the district are not necessarily those in most need: low-income and special needs. As Christina hemorrhages students, they are left with financial numbers that are in dire straits. School resource officers are being spread out among schools instead of one located at each, extra pay for extra responsibilities (EPER) has been drastically reduced, and classroom materials has been reduced by over 50%.
Discussion surrounding an interim superintenedent was chaotic at best, with Board President Harrie Ellen Minnehan starting the meeting with a very long monologue about how the board was unified, but the meeting showed they are anything but. Minnehan referred to herself as “I” several times, much to the chagrin of other board members who felt out of the loop. As the meeting stretched into the wee hours of the morning today, several board members actually left the board table for long stretches. Minnehan, unsure of what the board had just voted for, actually said at one point “I guess we just passed a motion.”
Apparently, even public comment was in disarray with Minnehan cutting off a speaker and having the microphone turned off after the 3:00 minute mark for another. Challenges of board policy went back and forth between Minnehan, Young and George Evans. This board needs to unify once and for all before it is too late. This district will be gone in two years time unless they are able to retain students and increase enrollment.
There was much discussion about the district’s agreement with the Office of Civil Rights over discipline of minorities, which is now two years running. From the agreement, the district has to have a vendor to oversee it, but the board was very concerned about the costs associated with this and the revelation that the main staff member who was overseeing much of this was placed in a different school.
Current Superintendent Dr. Freeman Williams, who announced he was going on personal leave last week, will be out at least another 11 weeks. Prior to the meeting, rumors circulated that former Red Clay Consolidated School District Bob Andrzejewski would be appointed interim Superintendent, but members of the board felt they should not rush into a rash decision. Discussion around qualifications of principals within the district and timing of the temporary hire took center stage. The board will meet in a special meeting on August 20th to go over the qualifications and will plan from there.
A proposed board policy on parent opt-out passed it’s first read with six “yeas” and one abstention (George Evans, who was the sole no vote on the board’s opt-out resolution earlier in the year).
Within the past ten minutes I also received the below email from Christina Board of Education President Harrie Ellen Minnehan regarding the suspicion of an audit with the Delaware State Auditor’s office. Once again, there is NO audit taking place based on the article I put up a few minutes ago, but there was DEFINITELY a phone call made to the State Auditor’s office by two board members. This gets more interesting by the minute!
- MINNEHAN HARRIE E
- Today at 5:50 PM
- Kevin Ohlandt
UPDATED, 3:21pm, 7/30/15: Based on an email by Christina Superintendent Freeman Williams, Christina School District is not part of any open or official audit at this time. Questions are being asked about how this whole information came about to begin with.
While this has not been officially released to the public, I have heard from very reliable sources that the Christina School District is under investigation by Delaware State Auditor Tom Wagner’s office. This is what I was talking about yesterday with the two board members, because they handed the district in. These two board members did NOT inform anyone else on the board of this decision.
I contacted Kathleen Davies with the State Auditor’s office yesterday, and she would neither confirm or deny the question. She did state IF they were under investigation a report would be released to the public. As well, I sent an email to Christina Superintendent Freeman Williams and Board President Harrie Ellen Minnehan, but I have yet to receive a response as of earlier today, but I did inform them both I would be going public with this information as of 1:30pm today.
The exact nature of the investigation is not yet known, but rumors of rampant spending involving car allowances, cell phones and other similar types of spending have been circulating ever since the 2nd referendum in Christina was announced earlier this year.
One source stated this information was provided by the board members to the State Auditor’s office in mid June, prior to the House Education Committee meeting on June 17th. But at the House Education Committee meeting on June 17th, Kathleen Davies with the State Auditor’s office publicly stated there were no investigations going on with traditional school districts. This was during the discussion of State Rep. Kim Williams charter school audit bill, House Bill 186. However, if the call to the State Auditor’s office from the board members took place 2-3 days prior, the investigation may not have been officially opened.