Governor Markell Infects WEIC Sunshine With Secret Meeting & Steps Over Legislative Authority

As announced by Newsworks and the News Journal last week, Governor Markell stepped into the battle between the Wilmington Education Improvement Commission and the Delaware State Board of Education.  What he also did was change the context of the legislation as written in Senate Bill 122.  By “brokering a deal”, he has effectively eliminated the transparency part of the whole redistricting initiative.  From Senate Bill 122, signed by Governor Markell on 8/4/15:

(4) The State Board shall base its decision to change or alter school district boundaries on a record developed in compliance with state open meeting laws.

Governor Markell did not let the public attend this meeting.  Furthermore, by not allowing all 23 members of WEIC to attend this meeting, and only four members, three of which were the chair and two co-chairs, they did not have the authority without a vote to even attend meetings like this.  So much for the transparency promised by WEIC!  This isn’t the first time members have operated in secret meetings that weren’t announced until afterwards.  The first involved the Colonial School District when they announced they would not send their students to Red Clay Consolidated School District after their board voted not to.

Does the Governor have the authority to usurp a law he signed?  I looked in Delaware’s Constitution and state code and couldn’t find anything directly referencing this.  I sent an email to many of the individuals involved along with the attorney(s) for Governor Markell’s office, the Delaware State Board of Education, and the Wilmington Education Improvement Commission.  I received one response which I will talk about after I show the email I sent.

From: Kevin Ohlandt <kevino3670@yahoo.com>

To: “cbifferato@bifferato.com” <cbifferato@bifferato.com>; “tdriscoll@bifferato.com” <tdriscoll@bifferato.com>; Tony Allen <tonyallen@comcast.net>; jack.markell@state.de.us; “mike.barlow@state.de.us” <mike.barlow@state.de.us>; Gray Teri <teri.gray@sbe.k12.de.us>; Donna Johnson <donna.johnson@sbe.k12.de.us>; “meredith.tweedie@state.de.us” <meredith.tweedie@state.de.us>; Hickey Catherine T. (DOJ) <cathreine.hickey@state.de.us>; Denn Matthew (DOJ) <matthew.denn@state.de.us>

Sent: Thursday, March 10, 2016 3:26 PM

Subject: Governor’s Meeting With WEIC & State Board

Good afternoon all,

 

I’m working on an article about the WEIC/State Board/Governor’s Office meeting that took place on 3/3/16 for Exceptional Delaware.  I have several concerns regarding the transparency around this meeting and I was hoping some or all of you could clarify some of my concerns. 

1) House Bill 148 states (c)  Meetings of the WEIC and all WEIC committees shall be public, unless designated for executive session.  Voting membership in WEIC shall be limited to subsection (a) of this section.

Would the meeting that took place on 3/3/16 count as a WEIC meeting?  If they were able to discuss the WEIC plan in any way without public notice, could that not be considered a FOIA violation by not posting an agenda for this meeting?  If this was considered an executive meeting of the WEIC executive committee aren’t they still beholden to Delaware open meeting law?  Does WEIC even have an executive committee since it is not publicly listed on their website at http://solutionsfordelawareschools.com/?

2) Senate Bill 122 states (4)  The State Board shall base its decision to change or alter school district boundaries on a record developed in compliance with state open meetings laws. 

Since the language is now changing again in the final report, without the ability of the public to observe this process and allow for public comment based on the 3/3/16 meeting, and there was no public notification of this meeting seven days prior to the meeting, did this meeting legally happen?  Furthermore, are the State Board, WEIC, and the Governor’s office all in violation of FOIA by even having this meeting?

3) What legal authority does the Governor have for suggesting changes to a “final plan” based on the law in Senate Bill 122 which was signed by him on 8/4/15?

4) Does the Governor have the authority to step over legislative authority and intervene in a plan that does not include the Governor or any of his staff as part of the membership of WEIC and not have that meeting be open to the public?

5) HB148 limits WEIC to 21 members, yet there are 23 members on the commission which is in violation of the signed law.  Furthermore, each member shall have full voting rights but they were not given an option to take action on participating in, as a collective body or in part, the is meeting on 3/3/16, nor were they given an option to publicly vote on this action.

While I support the WEIC plan after months of hemming and hawing over the whole thing, I just want to make sure someone couldn’t open the door to a legal challenge down the road.  I know a lot of things happen in Delaware behind closed doors, which is not something that matches with the Governor’s public statement that “Sunshine is the best disinfectant.  Transparency and accountability of government is essential.”  The law is the law.  We have them for a reason. 

I fully understand the very tight timetable involved with this action and I also agree with the WEIC vote to send the original plan back to the State Board of Education.  Furthermore, I don’t feel the State Board’s bungling of the final plan helped anything involved with this matter and got us to the point we are at now.  But we cannot, and should not, as a state, have any meetings in the dark without public knowledge.  This is one of the core reasons Delaware received a failing grade in a recent and national state transparency rating.

There is no reason the Governor couldn’t have made this letter public and WEIC could have then called for a meeting with a full agenda published prior.  Yes, they have done so to take action from this non-public meeting. Existing law does allow for an agenda to be published within hours of a meeting if an emergency exists, and this could very well be seen as an emergency, so WEIC is not in violation of their agenda for the 3/14/16 meeting.  But no agenda was given at all for a closed-door meeting which violates the letter of the law.

I did attempt to look for parts of this in Delaware State Code regarding the authority of the Governor with situations like this and I was unable to find them.  It doesn’t mean they don’t exist, but I couldn’t find it.  I would rather have the facts in a situation like this.

 

I await your response on these concerns.

Respectfully,

Kevin Ohlandt

 

The only person from this entire list who responded back was Tony Allen.  He indicated he would follow-up with me the next day (he didn’t).  That was last Thursday afternoon.  As well, he advised me this was not a commission meeting.  Whether he thinks that or not, Governor Markell referred to it as a meeting with WEIC on a video from the News Journal:

http://www.delawareonline.com/story/news/education/2016/03/10/markell-redistricting/81582788/

So if the Governor, who arranged the meeting, is calling it a meeting with WEIC, I would say that is most definitely a WEIC meeting.  Delaware… the home of people thinking one thing and a whole other thing going on behind closed doors…

To read the letter Tony Allen sent the WEIC members AFTER THE FACT, read below.  Meanwhile, WEIC will “officially” meet tonight to decide on the secret meeting resolution.  The State Board of Education has their third (fourth if you want to be technical) on the WEIC redistricting plan on Thursday.

16 To Watch In 2016: Tony Allen

Wilmington_Delaware_skyline

Tony Allen wears a lot of hats these days.  First and foremost, he leads the Corporate Communications for Bank of America’s Consumer Banking.  He sits on the Board of Directors at the Rodel Foundation.  But his biggest role in 2015 was the Chairman of both the Wilmington Education Advisory Committee and the Wilmington Education Commission (WEIC).

Unless you’ve been living in a hole, the WEIC’s job is to formulate a redistricting plan to get the Wilmington schools in the Christina School District shifted to Red Clay Consolidated School District.  Originally, the Wilmington schools in the Colonial School District were to be a part of this initiative, but their board said no.  They are still a part of the commission, but the most recent draft isn’t calling for their less than 300 students to move over.

WEIC has been controversial since day one.  Their biggest hurdle will be how to fund this long-term plan.  Ideas have surfaced over the past few months regarding raising property assessments to current day levels over time.  Many in Delaware oppose this, especially those in Sussex County around the beach towns.  Property values have increased dramatically in this area, and any change in property assessments will hit those homeowners very hard.  Recently, WEIC called for $6 million from Delaware’s General Fund in the budget for Fiscal Year 2017.  Delaware Governor Jack Markell promised members of WEIC at their most recent full commission meeting that Red Clay citizens will not have to pay for this.  So who will?  This is the question on everybody’s mind.

WEIC will present their draft to the Delaware State Board of Education on 12/17, next Thursday.  At that point, it is expected the State Board will vote yes on it in January and it will go the Delaware General Assembly for a vote.  This is where WEIC will face its greatest challenge.  With Delaware projected to have anywhere from a $150-$200 million dollar deficit for FY2017, many are guessing WEIC and the redistricting will be dead in the water once it hits the House and Senate floors.

For Tony Allen, he sees this as a “once in a generation” action.  Others feel this is being rushed through for various reasons.  I have always been suspicious of the overall motivations of the redistricting.  Kilroy’s Delaware thinks it is revenge against the Christina School District.  But there is one thing Red Clay has which none of the other districts do: they are a charter school authorizer, the only one of its kind in the state aside from the Delaware Department of Education.

As recently as last summer, Governor Markell was overheard, when asked about where the Wilmington students would go to high school, as saying “The Community Education Building”.  If WEIC is not all it claims to be from its leaders, expect a lot of heat put on Tony Allen and Dan Rich.  There are many who would benefit from Wilmington eventually becoming an all-charter district.  I pray this isn’t the end result.  I sincerely hope this is not the intentions of Tony Allen.  But I often ask if he has been used in this initiative, if he is one of the chief architects, or if the fears of many are just that.

At the end of the day, it should always be about the students.  Will the students of Wilmington truly be better off under one banner so to speak?  This is the question that all decision-makers will face in the coming months.  These children are the most vulnerable of all Delaware’s children.  The bulk of them come from poverty and low-income, are minorities, and many students with disabilities.  They are the ones that matter.  They are trusting the adults are doing the right thing.  If that trust is broken, how many generations will it take for that trust to be restored?

The Draft Plan For Wilmington Redistricting Presented To State Board Of Education Yesterday

As this document put on a public website clearly says,

DRAFT: November 3, 2015, not reviewed in full or approved by Redistricting Committee or the Commission, not for dissemination or distribution

I will note, one more time, this is a draft, not approved yet.  I always have to crack up when I see things put on public websites that say “embargoed” or “not for distribution”.  The very act of putting it on a public website means it is now “out there” on the internet for anyone to see.  Granted, I don’t know how many dive into the agenda for a State Board of Education retreat, but I digress…

Here it is, but don’t stop reading after you finish that one, cause there is more

And once again, we have the same disclaimer on the appendices, which includes Red Clay and Christina’s plans with all of this and tons of funding resources.  The last few sections are blank because they have not happened yet.  Consider this a peak into the future taking place now sort of thing.  A paradox or will we see the same thing brought forward before the State Board of Education on 11/19?

So what is your take?  Will the State Board approve this as it is written now?  Would the General Assembly approve this?  If you had a vote, would you?

Colonial To WEIC: We Don’t Want Our Wilmington Students Going To Red Clay Schools

Our only role at this point is to save those babies from having to attend Red Clay because we’re already doing a great job…we need to prevent these children from going to this district. -Mel Spotts, Colonial Board of Education

I always knew some twist was going to come along in the whole Wilmington redistricting initiative.  Something would happen during the process that would cause people to say “Where the hell did that come from?”  That happened last night at the Colonial School District Board of Education meeting.  To end the suspense, the Colonial board voted 7-0 to keep their Wilmington students.  Let me repeat this, they do not want their Wilmington students leaving their school district and going to the Red Clay Consolidated School District.  Approximately 350 students.  You can listen to the audio recording here.

Unlike Christina and Red Clay, the Colonial board never passed a resolution in favor of the recommendations or findings from the Wilmington Education Advisory Committee.  Existing Delaware law, in addition to the legislation from Senate Bill 122, allows for the bypass of a referendum if the school district boards involved in the redistricting effort passed a resolution in favor of it.  Colonial, in researching their board minutes, never did.  The only involvement with WEAC was a presentation to the school district on 2/23/15, but this was a workshop and just a presentation.

What this means for the whole Wilmington Education Improvement Commission is not known.  This is the monkey wrench thrown into the gears of the entire plan.  In my opinion, Colonial was underestimated and not given the proper attention they should have received.  All of the focus seems to be on Red Clay and Christina.  Colonial seems to be very concerned about the approximate 350 students that would be affected by the redistricting to Red Clay schools.  In their audio recording from their board meeting last night, board member Mel Spotts stated:

I would like to make a motion, based on the data provided, that our students in the Colonial School District stay within our borderlines and are not a part of Wilmington reconfiguration.

The board then passed the motion on a unanimous 7-0 vote to let the Wilmington Education Improvement Commission know they are out of the redistricting process.  What this will do the future of the WEIC/redistricting initiative is going to be a big question in the coming weeks.  But I am fairly certain WEIC Chair Tony Allen and Governor Markell will not be happy about this.  I’m sure the phone calls will be coming fast and furious to Colonial Superintendent Dusty Blakey very soon, if not already.

I’m also hearing implementation of the redistricting, if it even goes through at this point in time, won’t be until 2018.

*To clarify, if the Wilmington redistricting does go through it is understood that Brandywine School District would receive these students which Ms. Spotts understood later on in the WEIC portion of the board meeting.  But the motion still passed.

*As well I reworded the portion with Senate Bill 122 to clarify what is in existing Delaware code prior to SB122 and what came as a result of it.

Delaware Joint Finance Committee To Hold Special Sessions To Discuss Education Funding

The Joint Finance Committee of the Delaware 148th General Assembly will be meeting in special session to discuss education funding in Delaware.  The meetings will occur on November 30th and December 2nd from 10am to 4:30pm in the JFC Hearing Room at Legislative Hall in Dover, DE.

As the Wilmington Education Improvement Commission moves ever closer to final plans for the redistricting of Wilmington public schools, funding is coming up as the number one priority in this initiative.  The legislators on this committee will assuredly discuss this crucial component of the legislative approved measure.  House Bill 148 created WEIC and Senate Bill 122 gives the State Board of Education the authority to change the boundaries after WEIC gives a concrete plan to do so.  Following any decision the State Board makes, the 148th General Assembly must approve the redistricting by a joint resolution.

As Delaware media and the blogosphere ignites over this issue, many questions raised about funding are valid.  This will impact everything concerning education in Delaware at a time when projected deficits will blow up next year.  I find it ironic the JFC can meet in special session to discuss education funding, but not take measures against the DOE over their test, label and punish tactics which could easily be prevented by overriding Governor Markell’s veto of House Bill 50.

The members of the Joint Finance Committee consist of the following:

Rep. Melanie Smith (Chair)

Senator Harris McDowell (Co-Chair)

Rep. William Carson

*Rep. Debra Heffernan

Rep. JJ Johnson

*Rep. Harvey Kenton

*Rep. Joseph Miro

Senator Brian Bushweller

Senator Bruce Ennis

Senator Karen Peterson

Senator Katherine Cloutier

Senator Dave Lawson

*means these members serve on the House Education committee, JFC has NO members from the Senate Education Committee within its membership.

Wilmington Education Improvement Commission First Meeting Notes

I attended the first meeting of the Wilmington Education Improvement Commission this evening.  It was held at the Red Clay Consolidated School District office in Wilmington.  The meeting was very informal, and non-commission members of the audience were able to ask questions outside of the “formal” public comment period.  It was more of a Town Hall atmosphere.

As Kilroy’s Delaware pointed out earlier this evening, this is in sharp contrast to the town hall meeting WEIC had in Red Clay last night, where the comments from the audience were not as reserved at the main meeting tonight.  I strongly encourage all the parents who are attending these town halls to go to the regular meetings.  First off, most of the WEIC members will be there, and two, this is where questions may have answers.  Not that the town halls aren’t important.

Tonight’s meeting did answer some questions of my own.  During my public comment, I asked the members of WEIC why this was going on, the DOE’s Statewide Review of Educational Opportunities (SREO) and the Rodel/Vision Coalition’s Student Success 2025.  I advised they could all start bumping into each other.  Dan Rich, the WEIC Policy Advisor, advised the SREO sprung out of the charter school moratorium legislation, House Bill 56.  He said Governor Markell saw it and ran with it.  For the Rodel thing, he stated there group is more for actual education in the classroom as opposed to redistricting and funding our schools.  I then asked why, if there is a charter school moratorium, why are schools like Family Foundations Academy allowed to submit a major modification request to increase enrollment.  He said that was done prior to the law being enacted.  WEIC member Chandra Pitts made a point to reinforce WEIC is not against charter schools, and neither was WEAC.  So yes, this was intentional in some respects, but not overtly planned.

WEIC member Vicki Seifred said she is hearing all the right things, but there is skepticism that this will be the group to fix everything.  She also pointed out that even though WEIC wants more district and charter collaboration, there is a lot of animosity, especially between some of the Wilmington districts and the more “high-performing” charters and this needs to be addressed.  (Editor’s note: I think the upcoming final report coming from the Enrollment Preference Task Force will provide some type of resolution to these types of situations.)

Yvonne Johnson brought up the million-dollar question about funding, and she stated even though she has chaired a referendum and been very involved in education matters for 20+ years, the whole funding issues facing WEIC and the redistricting are new to her.  She asked if members can be brought up to speed on how to explain this at the Town Hall meetings at the four Wilmington school districts going forward.  Red Clay Chief Financial Officer Jill Flores advised she may be able to come up with some type of presentation for this as questions come up.

Basically, the first meeting was introductions, even with members of the public (which I thought gave it a very personal touch: kudos to Tony Allen for this), and going over the basic layout of the whole thing.  The committee chairs will be able to pick their own members on those groups, but of course the WEIC leaders do have some “suggested” members on these groups.  Tony Allen did say he expects every WEIC member to be on one of the committees.

Jackie Kook, a teacher in Christina as well as the Vice-President of the Christina Educators Association, said she is really hoping all this works out for the best of Wilmington students.  A sentiment echoed by State Rep. Kim Williams.

The incoming Secretary of Education, Dr. Steven Sodowsky, was in attendance.  He seemed more personable in two hours than Mark Murphy did in three years!  Tony Allen did mention several times that WEIC does not answer to the DOE or Governor Markell.  While I want to believe this, I don’t trust the DOE or Markell, and for good reason.  We really have no clue about Sodowsky yet, but I’m glad he felt it was necessary to show up here.  He did say he would have probably been involved with this Commission through his work at University of Delaware, but something else came up…

At first I didn’t get why this group has to act so fast with their implementation plan to the State Board of Education.  WEIC has until 12/31/15 to get the State Board their plans, the State Board has until 3/31/16, and then the General Assembly takes the ball with it from there and if they pass a joint resolution, it goes to Governor Markell.  I think this last part is the reason for the tight time-frame.  This will essentially be the last General Assembly Governor Markell deals with.  After 6/30/16, they will be gone until the same time Governor Markell leaves office.  And with upcoming elections, the next General Assembly could look radically different than the one we have now.  Plus, I’m sure Jack Markell will be using this on his resume for the next fifty years…if it works.

Aside from State Rep. Kim Williams, the only other legislators in attendance were the two on WEIC, State Rep. Charles Potter and Senator David Sokola.  Allen wanted to give a shout-out to Williams who attended every single meeting of the Wilmington Education Advisory Committee last fall and winter.

No questions were asked about a Wilmington all-charter school district, and even if Governor Markell may want that, I don’t think it would fly with this group’s make-up.  Yes, there are some very pro-charter folks on it, but there is also a balance with many representing traditional school districts.  Very smart move for whoever came up with this!

Is It A Coincidence WEIC, Rodel’s Student Success 2025 & DOE’s SREO Initiative Are All Taking Place At The SAME Time?

There are three major education groups going on right now.  We have the Wilmington Education Improvement Commission (WEIC) led by Bank of America executive Tony Allen, the Rodel sponsored Student Success 2025 brought to us by the Vision Coalition, and the Delaware Department of Education’s Statewide Review of Educational Opportunities (SREO).  These are all going on at the same time, and it makes me wonder…

The biggest thing I noticed on WEIC was the glaring fact there was NO representation from DOE or Rodel on the leadership team.  At first glance, I didn’t notice a lot of the major charter players at all.  But they are well-represented on the Vision Student success 2025 gig:  Rodel’s Dr. Paul Herdman, Eastside Charter’s Dr. Lamont Browne, Teach For America’s Laurissa Schutt, H. Raye Jones Avery, well-known charter supporters and business leaders Gary Stockbridge and Ernie Diastasis, Longwood Foundation President There DuPont, Saul-Ewing Charter School Attorney Jim Taylor, Maria Matos, Freire’s Assistant Head of Academics Paul Ramirez, and Rodman Ward III. And from the DOE there is Mark Murphy (not sure on his status now that he “resigned”), Vice-President of the State Board of Education Jorge Melendez, Chief of the Teacher & Leader Effectiveness Unit Chris Ruszkowski, Chief Academic Officer Michael Watson, and State Board of Education Director Donna Johnson.

As for the Statewide Review of Educational Opportunities, their membership consists of, well, not too many people.  The only folks I’ve seen on paper is Executive Director of the State Board of Education Donna Johnson and DOE Chief Policy and External Communications Officer Susan Haberstroh.  The Legislative Hall duo.  These are the only names on this group at this point and we have no idea who the stakeholders are aside from local education agencies and their data that will be collected.  On it’s face, the SREO is merely a data collection initiative, to be collected, collated, and dissected to find “best practices” in our schools.  My issues with this are 1) the vendor is Public Consulting Group, 2) there are always mitigating factors why some schools are “better” than others and trying to copy certain models in other areas of the state may not work, 3) it was a rush announcement by Governor Markell who actually came to a State Board of Education meeting to announce it in March.

All three of these groups have some similar goals for Delaware education.  If you look at the three documents below, it is easy to see the similarities but all the differences:

While certain goals in these three groups are similar, such as funding and best interests for students, some are very different.  But if you add up all the pieces, it equals a combined picture that includes nearly aspect of Delaware education.  I do not believe this is a coincidence.  A year ago, all roads let to the Wilmington Education Advisory Committee.  Now, all roads lead to Governor Markell and Rodel.

I have hypothesized for a year now that Wilmington will become an all-charter school district eventually.  I still believe this is the Governor’s goal.  Last night, at the Red Clay board meeting, serious questions were asked by the board to Dan Rich and Tizzy Lockman with WEIC.  The board questioned where their authority in all of this is.  In the wording of Senate Bill 122, it states the State Board of Education can act without a referendum if the local school board approves a resolution supporting the WEAC recommendations.  Red Clay did this in April.  The law does not specifically name the school districts that can be redrawn.  So who is to say charter schools can’t be considered a school district?  They can, and they could have say in all of this before all is said and done.

The alignment for a total takeover is present, right now.  But there is one huge glitch in the whole plan…funding.  Who pays for any of this?  Red Clay? Christina? The taxpayers (invariably, they always do), the State of Delaware? Corporations?  And there may be one other snafu in this whole process… but I’m not going to let that cat out of the bag!

Sneak Peak: WEIC Presentation At Red Clay Board Tonight & The Devil Inside

You find all sorts of things looking at a school district’s board meeting agenda. Tonight, Chair of the Wilmington Education Improvement Commission and Dan Rich from the Public Policy Institute at the University of Delaware will give a presentation to the Red Clay Consolidated School Board on Red Clay’s role in WEIC. This is the presentation they are giving tonight, and it includes a very key section! See if you can figure out before I write it after the obligatory Scribd document…

Okay, if you read through the whole thing and didn’t just scroll down real quick, you know exactly what section I’m talking about, with nine words bolded for emphasis:

Will the implementation plan recommended by WEIC be limited to redrawing boundaries?
•No. Simply redistricting is of no value without a comprehensive plan for school reform.
•The WEIC plan must include funding, parent and community engagement, and wraparound services.
•The WEIC plan will present a comprehensive package and ask the State Board to approve the entire package.

As Tony Allen is fond of saying, the devil is in the details, and that is one hell of a detail.  I wasn’t aware the State Board had the authority to approve the entire package.  I thought they only had authority for the actual redistricting.  Where is the General Assembly’s role in this?  And this commission will go on for six years?  Does this mean they can go to the State Board whenever they want to implement changes without legislative approval?  That is a HUGE mistake.  ENORMOUS! GIGANTIC!  The State Board should not have that much authority.  They are unelected and appointed by the Governor.  They never vote against his wishes.  This is the devil in all of this.  Here is the exact wording from the Governor Markell signed House Bill 148:

(g) The WEIC shall work with and across all governmental agencies, educational entities, and private and nonprofit institutions to promote and support the implementation of all recommended changes from the Wilmington Education Advisory Committee (WEAC). The WEIC will oversee the redistricting of school districts as set forth in this Chapter.   The WEIC also will also monitor the progress of implementation and recommend policies and actions to the Governor and General Assembly to facilitate progress and to promote the continuous improvement of public education on dimensions addressed by the WEAC recommendations. In addition, the WEIC will develop a transition plan, including a timeline, for the provision of necessary services to schools and students affected by the implementation of the changes recommended by WEAC. WEIC shall also develop a resource plan regarding transitional resources to effectively implement school district realignment. Both the transition plan and resource plan must be submitted first to the State Board of Education and then to the General Assembly and the Governor for final approval.   Both are due for submission and related action by December 31, 2015.

This is a very slippery slope to start off on.  If I were the Red Clay board I would clarify this very important omission in their presentation TONIGHT!

Red Clay Interpreter’s Very Bigoted & Racist Comments Shock Delaware

varley

After Governor Markell signed Senate Bill 122 and House Bill 148 at the Hockessin Colored School last Tuesday, the Delaware News Journal quickly got a story up on Delawareonline.  On their Facebook page, comments started pouring in, including the above discriminatory and racist comment.  Word has it she is an interpreter for the Red Clay Consolidated School District.  I believe there is a petition going for her to be fired immediately.

This kind of talk should become illegal in our country.  What is wrong with people?  The comment disappeared, but luckily a source got a picture of the very controversial comments….

A Day Like No Other And Why Governor Markell Should Not Be Trusted

Seven weeks ago, the Democrats in the Delaware House of Representatives were in caucus discussing the Wilmington education bill which would allow the Wilmington Education Improvement Commission to draft up plans which would in turn authorize the State Board of Education to redraw district lines.  After that, as the plan goes, the schools in the city of Wilmington that belong to the Christina School District would convert over to Red Clay Consolidated School District.  But something went awry.

I have heard this story, from both sides, and the truth is most likely somewhere in the middle.  I will not name legislators in this story, but Senate Bill 122 almost died that day.  Two problems arose during their caucus.  One was the issue with Brandywine.  Did they not want to be a part of the redistricting or were they not included in it on purpose.  Of note is the fact that Brandywine School District has no charter schools in their district.  The second, and even bigger problem, was something Governor Markell may or may not have said.  I am inclined to believe he did say it based on history surrounding what was said.

A discussion came up with the Governor surrounding a traditional high school in Wilmington, which there is none of right now belonging to any district within the city limits.  When asked where high school students will go after the redistricting, Markell was overheard to say they would go to the Community Education Building.  This is the property donated by Bank of America and the Longwood Foundation to run charter schools.  There are currently two charters in the building with another set to open later this month, Great Oaks.

When this came up in caucus, the whole group of representatives charged into Governor Markell’s office in Legislative Hall to demand the truth.  Imagine, if you will, multiple elected officials bursting into a Governor’s office to find out if a rumor was true.  This would never happen on a Federal level, but this is Delaware.  Tony Allen, the Bank of America executive, chair of the Wilmington Education Advisory Committee and the just announced chair of the Wilmington Education Improvement Commission, who was with Markell in his office, said if this was true he would pull out of the whole initiative.  Markell denied ever saying anything of the sort and after the legislators calmed down and came out of caucus, they assembled in their legislative session and passed Senate Bill 122 with a vote of 36 Yes, 3 Not Voting, and 2 Absent.  The bill had already passed the Senate on 6/11/15.

Yesterday, Governor Jack Markell signed Senate Bill 122 into law, along with House Bill 148, which creates WEIC.  The glaring elephant in the room with all of this comes down to funding.  I would find it very hard to believe a Governor as on top of things as Jack Markell would not see the funding just plain doesn’t exist for this redistricting of Wilmington schools.  The projected deficit of $160-170 million next year will not allow for this to happen.  If it did, funds would need to be taken from many other demanded services in our state.  The DOE can’t even afford to keep to their promised allocated amount with Red Clay’s three priority schools.  Which is seriously ticking off Red Clay.  Their board president, Kenny Rivera, will be one of the vice-chairs on WEIC, so he will be very close to any discussion at the planning and meetings for all of this.

So if the funding doesn’t exist for this on a state level, where would the millions upon millions of dollars to make this happen come from?  It would be quite logical for corporations to “donate” funds for this.  It would also be logical for them to want their own stipulations for this as well, such as making the schools in Wilmington a charter district.

None of this exists in Senate Bill 122.  To prevent a referendum, the affected school districts would have to agree to the transfer of property to the receiving district and their boards would have to pass a resolution in support of this.  The trick will be in the timing.  Say WEIC makes their plans, and all the schools in Christina go to Red Clay.  The State Board does the redistricting, and it happens as written.  This is the crucial moment: funding.  WEIC is required to determine this in their report.  The State Board has until March 31st next year to complete this or their authority goes away.  Shortly after the General Assembly returns in January, Governor Markell will release the FY2017 proposed budget.  If WEIC completes their report prior to this, Markell will have to plan the budget around that.  Otherwise the legislators will have to see where these puzzle pieces would fit into a picture that may not allow this to happen.

Why would Tony Allen, a very high-functioning and brilliant executive at Bank of America, one of the largest financial institutions in the world, agree to chair not one but two committees when issues of funding would be paramount to the whole thing?  I can’t help but remember the Christina Board of Education meeting at the Sarah Pyle Academy last September.  Nnamdi Chukwuocha, the 1st District Council Member for the Wilmington City Council and also the chair of their Education Committee, spoke during public comment about funding for Wilmington Schools.

We talk so much about the quality and what is happening at some of our charter schools.  We often mention East Side Charter School, but one thing that’s not ever mentioned about East Side Charter School is the relationship that they have with Barclay’s Bank, and Barclay’s Bank supporting that initiative.  You want to do something for me, do something for my children in the City of Wilmington, I want all these institutions, let’s take JP Morgan Chase, let’s take DuPont, take Bank One, all of these banks, and let each one of them adopt one of these six schools and then let’s talk about this initiative. To me that’s what we need, we need these priority schools to be supported.

If I were a betting man, I would guess this is already in play and has been for years.

And So It Begins…Markell Signs Bills To Allow For Redistricting Of Wilmington Schools & Creation of WEIC

Let the games begin!  Delaware Governor Jack Markell signed Senate Bill 122 and House Bill 148 into law today at the Hockessin Colored School.  Joined by city and state leaders, these articles of legislation will allow for the creation of the Wilmington Education Improvement Commission (WEIC) and the redistricting of Wilmington district lines by the State Board of Education.  Any plans the State Board comes up with will be subject to approval by the 148th General Assembly.

Delawareonline, in an article written by their education reporter Matthew Albright, published the news and a video earlier today.  Albright said WEIC will be chaired by Tony Allen, the Bank of America executive who also chaired the Wilmington Education Advisory Committee (WEAC), and will have assistant chairs consisting of Kenny Rivera, the President of the Red Clay Consolidated School District Board of Education and Elizabeth Lockman, a parent advocate who also served on WEAC.

The plan will move the City of Wilmington schools out of the Christina School District into the hands of Red Clay Consolidated School District.  Some, including myself, have wondered if there are ulterior motives at play from Governor Markell, city leaders, some state legislators, the Delaware Department of Education, and the State Board of Education.  I’ve always hypothesized there is a secret plan to increase the number of charters in Wilmington or make it an all-charter district.

The bottom line is it will come down to funding.  The state of Delaware is already projected to have a $160-$170 million dollar deficit in next year’s budget.  So where will the money come from for this redistricting?  I can picture corporations wanting to donate funds, or non-profits like Rodel or the Longwood Foundation.  They will have stipulations for these funds, which could change the overall plan for the redistricting.  Yes, it needs legislative approval, but what if there is already a consensus among our state legislators?  This is conspiracy theory at it’s maximum for a state like Delaware, and I pray I’m wrong.  But if the DOE is already reneging on the promised priority school amount for Red Clay, how can the state assure adequate and proper funding for this endeavor?

“As I have said many times, the only way this all works is if Red Clay has a seat at the table as decisions are being made, is properly funded for taking on greater responsibility and is given a reasonable timetable that we all agree to,” Allen said.

What will be important for Red Clay is to make sure they have a seat at the table and they are not what’s on the table!

Governor Markell has less than a year and a half left in his term as Delaware Governor, and he will want to leave his “legacy” on Delaware.  The question looms over what that legacy will be, and if it will be for the people of Delaware or corporate interests and the privatization of our schools.  I like Tony Allen, and I want to think he is being true to his word on all of this, but there is just way too much that hasn’t been planned or answered in regards to this.  The Wilmington Education Improvement Commission will hopefully provide many of those answers.

Based on the video Delawareonline provided, in attendance were the following: Governor Markell, Tony Allen, WEAC Vice Chair Dan Rich, State Rep. Charles Potter, State Rep. Earl Jaques, State Senator Margaret Rose Henry, Kenny Rivera, Elizabeth Lockman, Kendall Massett (Executive Director of the Delaware Charter Schools Network), Karen Eller (Christina School District teacher and WEAC member), Delaware PTA Vice-President for Advocacy Yvonne Johnson, State Board of Education member Gregory Coverdale, Red Clay Consolidated Superintendent Merv Daugherty, WEAC member and legislative aide Meghan Wallace, legislative aide Mark Rucci, and many others.  If anyone wants to add names that I missed or don’t know, feel free to comment or email me.

Governor Markell To Sign House Bill 148 And Senate Bill 122 On August 4th, Let The Redistricting Begin…

On August 4th, Delaware Governor Jack Markell will sign two bills to improve education in the City of Wilmington.  House Bill 148 creates the Wilmington Education Improvement Commission while Senate Bill 122 allows the State Board of Education to redraw district lines to allow for City of Wilmington schools to shift to Red Clay Consolidated School District away from the Christina School District.

The signing will occur at Hockessin Colored School #107C, 4266 Millcreek Rd. in Hockessin, DE.  I will fully admit when I heard the name of this location my eyes bulged open while my brain was feverishly wondering why they wouldn’t do the signing in the city proper.  On the Facebook page, Solutions for Wilmington Schools, Wilmington Education Advisory Committee chair Tony Allen provided a link to a USA Today article on the historic location.

The “colored” schools in Delaware, as they were called, were created by Pierre DuPont in the 1920s.  The Hockessin Color School #107C became the heart of a pitched legal battle regarding integration into the much better School #29, which only white people were allowed at.  The legal cases involved with this situation became a part of the landmark Brown v. Board of Education in 1954, and is considered an historic landmark in Delaware.

Many fear the redistricting of Wilmington schools under two school districts, Red Clay Consolidated and Brandywine is a smokescreen to create an all-charter Wilmington school district.  At this time, Delaware is projected to have a $160 million deficit for FY2017 and the Delaware Department of Education is going back on the original promised amount for Red Clay’s three priority schools.  The legislation, which looks great on the surface, could face numerous obstacles in the implementation.

Citizens of Wilmington have desired a reduction in school districts for decades, ever since the Secretary of State created the current four district control of Wilmington schools.  While I can easily see the need for this reduction, the thorn in the foot is the charter schools in Wilmington.  Not that all of them are bad, but they have taken away so much local and state funding away from the cash-poor school districts and created even more segregation in the city.

I will be writing a considerable amount about the history of segregation in Delaware education history in an upcoming article and how this led to the creation of Delaware charter schools.

Exclusive: Red Clay & Delaware DOE Letters You Have To See To Believe! Must Read!!!!!

Red Clay Consolidated School District sent a letter to Governor Markell on 5/14/15 concerning the lack of funding provided to the district from the Delaware Department of Education for the priority schools.  The DOE responded on 5/25/15.  There is obviously a severe lack of communication on the DOE’s end.  They have violated the MOU and school plans they publicly agreed to on February 4th.  I think the mention of the Wilmington Education Advisory Committee in Red Clay’s letter was a stroke of genius, and also sheds some light on why Senator Sokola and Rep. Jaques put such a rush on House Bill 148 and Senate Bill 122.  The funding issues in the next year are going to be a very hot issue, and Red Clay is absolutely right!  Read the letters and judge for yourself!

And the DOE’s response, received 5/25/15 by Red Clay.  I can only imagine the call between either the Governor or his office to Secretary Mark Murphy after he received Red Clay’s letter!

It sounds like the DOE bit off way more than they can chew with the priority schools.  The Priority School FOIAs I posted on here show the very clear lack of understanding on the newly hired  Penny Schwinn’s part, and it is obvious she hasn’t learned much since then.  Unless this is all part of a bigger plan, which I have strongly suggested before.

The DOE’s process with the priority schools has clearly been to create chaos and stir up anger.  This has been proven time and time again.  They would only do this unless they know what the result will be.  And it isn’t progress.  It is their insane attempt to stir the flames so they get their desired outcome: all Wilmington city schools becoming charter schools!

The following press release from 2/4/15 from Alison May with the DOE shows a very positive vibe on the priority schools in Red Clay moving forward:

Red Clay Priority Schools to move forward with school plans

Red Clay Consolidated School District’s three Priority Schools will provide new student supports, add Saturday and afterschool enrichment activities for students and families, and ensure greater parental involvement under plans that are moving forward after the Delaware Department of Education today approved the district to move onto the next steps in transforming these schools. In September, Gov. Jack Markell and Secretary of Education Mark Murphy announced significant resources and support for the state’s six lowest-performing district schools, providing the opportunity for substantial changes in their approach to improve their students’ academic performance. These Priority Schools, all located within the City of Wilmington and split evenly between the Christina and Red Clay school districts, are eligible to share about $6 million to implement locally-developed, state-approved plans. The funding comes from several sources including federal School Improvement Grant and remaining Race to the Top resources. Over the following four months, Red Clay leaders worked with educators, families and community members to develop school plans tailored to meet the unique needs of the students in Highlands Elementary, Shortlidge Academy, and Warner Elementary. The plans are in line with a Memorandum of Understanding agreed to by the district and DDOE. Red Clay’s school board approved individual school plans on January 27, and after review by Delaware Department of Education staff and national experts, the schools will continue to work with the community, district, and state to finalize plans for the 2015-16 school year. In the coming days, the department will provide feedback to Red Clay about ways to continue to strengthen all three plans during that process so that final plans can be approved in the spring. “We know that many of the children in these communities face unique challenges that require more support and resources. Thanks to Red Clay’s leadership and collaboration with its school communities, Highlands, Shortlidge, and Warner now will have the plans and resources to better meet students’ needs,” Murphy said.  Red Clay Deputy Superintendent Hugh Broomall said his district is ready to move forward. “We’re excited about the opportunity,” he said. “The work is hard, but we’re ready to engage in the process.” Highlights of the School Plans All Schools: Parents will notice better coordinated referrals to community services for families and supports for teachers to improve behavior management in the classroom.Schools will implement the use of iPads and laptops for students and teachers to improve technology literacy for students, with support to help teachers integrate this technology into their lessons.Each school will host a leadership team, which will include a parent and community member, to help inform the decision-making of the school leader. The team’s responsibilities will include: organizing correspondence to the school community on developments in academic and social-emotional programming, improving academic growth and reviewing academic goals, monitoring progress on the implementation of the school’s plan toward its goals, reviewing achievements of teachers, and revisiting ongoing supports to ensure their success.The district is implementing a new math curriculum in all three schools.Shortlidge and Warner Elementary Schools The district will reconfigure grades at two of the schools, with Shortlidge becoming a PK-3 grade campus and Warner becoming 4-5 grade campus.Schools will offer Saturday Library as a time set aside for students and families to study a particular topic and for families to read with their children.Schools will offer increased after school enrichment activities that are academic in focus but have character-building components that teach students skills such as sportsmanship and self-esteem. For example, Reading Basketball would offer students reading remediation with basketball games as a reward for participating.Highlands Elementary School Highlands will foster opportunities for parent-led activities for families at the school, such as family fitness night and a science expo.Reading and math activities at Highlands will ensure parents have the tools needed to support their students to be successful in core content areas.And Saturday activities at Highlands for students and families will increase tech literacy of students and provide parents with life skills workshops.   

Alison May
alison.may@doe.k12.de.us
(302) 735-4000

They sure did sell the Red Clay plans for the priority schools as awesome!  So what happened between then and now?  Only the DOE can adequately answer that.  In the meantime, Red Clay and their students will suffer due to the mind games the DOE and Governor Markell’s office continue to play with the students of Delaware…

Senate Bill 122 Passes, Allows State Board of Education To Redraw District Lines For Wilmington, House Bill 148 Should Pass Next Week, Creating Wilmington Education Improvement Commission

For legislation introduced last week, these two sure flew through the Delaware House and Senate. I know this is a dream of many in Wilmington, and most especially Tony Allen. So congrats Tony!  Senate Bill 122 passed with a 36 Yes, 3 Not Voting and 2 Absent.  House Bill 148 passed the Senate today but an amendment was added which will kick it back to the House.  Tonight, Allen issued a statement on the passage of Senate Bill 122 and the eventual passage of House Bill 148:

The Wilmington Education Advisory Committee was created last fall out of an executive order issued by Governor Jack Markell. At the same time, the priority schools announcement was just made weeks before, and Wilmington education was a very hot topic. The Committee met for a few months and issued their report in March which gave recommendations to have all Wilmington schools convert to Red Clay Consolidated and Brandywine School Districts. This meant Christina would hand over their schools which they agreed to as a sort of impasse on the priority schools in their district. The WEAC recommendations prevented the priority school deadlines from falling into the DOE and Markell’s hands. It was a moment of conversation that is continuing to this day. I eagerly await what happens next with these two bills. I have no doubt Markell will sign both of them as soon as possible.

Numerous Parents, Delaware PTA, and DSEA Support Parent Opt-Out…Will The Senate?

Opt-Out.  It’s here, it’s real, and it may soon become law in Delaware.  What started out as a resolution in DSEA last year has morphed into one of the hottest topics during this legislative session.  We all know the House of Representatives voted 36-3 to pass a bill designed to codify parental rights to opt out.  Will the Delaware Senate show similar gusto in the face of harsh opposition?

We will find out, but not the full effect, on Wednesday at the Senate Education Committee meeting.  Sources are telling me House Bill 50 will be heard first in the committee.  With numerous schools already done for the summer around the state, I expect a hearty crowd.

Meanwhile, the House will be voting in full for quite a few education bills on Tuesday.  House Bill 82 w/Amendment #1 is about the Secretary of Education and his ability to rule on collective bargaining while giving authority to the Public Employment Relations Board.  House Bill 146 is in regards to teacher educator license fees.  And House Bill 148 would create the Wilmington Education Improvement Commission.  Across the hall in the Senate, they will vote for SS1 for Senate Bill 79, which would create a task force to go over education data and privacy around it.

Meanwhile, House Bill 61 sits on the ready list, as it has the past three years.  Speaker of the House Pete Schwartzkopf needs to get this bill to a full vote.  Maybe he isn’t aware how much the people do want a bill like this.  Perhaps it’s time to make him aware of that…

This Week At Legislative Hall: IEP Task Force Bill, Parent Opt-Out, Assessment Inventory & More!!!!

This will be one busy education week at Legislative Hall in Dover, DE.  Many education bills are moving to their next phase in the legislative process.  Here is what’s on the docket:

Senate Bill 33 w/Senate Amendment #3: This is the legislation that came out of the IEP Task Force.  It is up for a House vote, and if it passes, it goes to Governor Markell’s desk.  I like this bill with one exception: they took out a part about parent groups at schools.  Originally, it was supposed to be parents who first ask for an IEP will have an opportunity to meet with newly constructed parent groups at each charter school or district.  Now it is only for “existing” groups.  Even if Jack signs it, it won’t go into effect right away, so I would suggest parents get these “existing” groups going now.  No one knows what to look for in IEPs more than parents who have been through the process.

At the House Education Committee meeting on Wednesday, June 3rd, at 2:30, the following bills will be discussed: Senate Bill 62: regarding transportation of students, House Bill 144: another transportation bill dealing with appropriations, House Bill 146: Kim Williams bill dealing w/waiving of teacher licensure fees, and House Bill 148: Helene Keeley’s bill creating the Wilmington Education Improvement Commission.

And last, but certainly not least, we have the Senate Education Committee meeting at Wednesday at 3pm.  House Bill 50!!! Parent Opt-Out!  Also Senate Joint Resolution #2: the evil assessment inventory resolution the DOE thinks will stop House Bill 50.  Also Senate Bills #92 and 93, dealing with Autism, and Senate Bill #94, dealing with military identification for students w/military ties in their family.

If you plan on coming Wednesday, GET THERE EARLY and wait for the doors to open up if you want a halfway decent seat!

House Bill 148 Creates Wilmington Education Improvement Commission

That certainly didn’t take long.  Tony Allen, the Chair of the Wilmington Education Advisory Committee, hand delivered a letter to both the Delaware House of Representatives and Senate to create a Wilmington Education Improvement Commission.  The very next day, yesterday, State Rep. Helene Keeley sponsored House Bill 148, which would create this entity.

This is a very interesting bill.  It would allow a group not associated with the State government to implement changes through legislation.  I am very reluctant to any legislation that gives any type of authority to the unelected State Board of Education, especially for a redistricting plan.  I completely agree that many Wilmington schools desperately need help, along with many other Delaware schools.  But having a Wilmington-based group like this advising strategy for the rest of the state is a slippery slope.  I am intensely curious how this will all come out in the wash, over the long-term.  I agree with Tony Allen, the time to act is now, but it should not be designed to give short-term fixes to long-term problems.

I’m going to go on record here and say that 50% of the problems in Wilmington can be traced back to special education.  If this group does not tackle this issue, it will be destined for failure.  I don’t know who would be on this group, but it would have to be many people with a true understanding of children with disabilities.

This bill’s next destination will be the House Education Committee, which will not meet again until June 3rd after the General Assembly has a two week recess.  No agenda for that meeting has come out yet.