Exclusive: Secretary Bunting And Brandywine Superintendent Holodick Break State Law In Profit Scheme For Buccini-Pollen

Last Spring, one of the most controversial pieces of legislation was House Bill #454.  This bill was a gift to Buccini-Pollen, a developer in New Castle County.  It waived the Voluntary School Assessment tax for a large portion of the Concord Plaza development project.  Not many were in favor of this present to the developer and eventually the bill was stricken.  They felt, and rightly so, it would cost regular taxpayers more and it was a gimme to the developers.  But behind the scenes, folks like Delaware Secretary of Education Dr. Susan Bunting were hard at work making sure Buccini-Pollen would get their waiver no matter what. Continue reading

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How The General Assembly Turned What Should Have Been A Fast June 30th Into An Endless Night

I don’t get it.  Every single year the Delaware General Assembly insists on having their late-night marathon with hundreds of bills on the agendas.  They had many opportunities to prevent that this year.  But instead, they had unending tributes to departing legislators, the Governor scheduled non-budget bill signings on June 30th, and they waited until the last minute to put up a minimum wage bill.

The tributes to the departing legislators had been going on for days.  And they never seemed to end.  I get that you want to honor those who wrote bills for decades.  But a time limit on the comments would have been really good.

The temperature in Legislative Hall went up as Governor Carney signed an Executive Order around 4:45pm to put the methodology of “budget smoothing” into his proposed budget each year.  Since the Democrats in the General Assembly balked on this idea that would change the Delaware Constitution, Carney felt he had to get something about it in writing, thus the Executive Order.

Around the same time, an unending line of pro-gun supporters flooded Legislative Hall.  It was already a hot day, and just having more bodies in the place physically rose the temperature in there!  All the suits began sweating and it became uncomfortable.  As the pro-gun folk realized there was NOT going to be any last-minute legislation (which was their reason for coming- a just in case), they began to leave and you could actually feel the air in there.

Many candidates who filed for the upcoming election were seen in the halls.  Even Kathy McGimmick was seen dashing in, heading towards Speaker of the House Pete Schwartkopf’s office, and leaving about 10-15 minutes later.  It was a good opportunity to meet some of the candidates I had not met yet and to chat with those I had.

Even a wine bill caused chaos!  When Rep. Dave Wilson changed what I assume was a yes vote to a no, Rep. Jeff Spiegelman did not mince his words with Wilson as he yelled “You stabbed me in the back!”

For education, the VERY controversial House Bill #454 was stricken.  This was the “show me the money” bill for developers and a decrease in their property assessments for redeveloped land.  Buh-bye bad bill!

But here is what gets me.  They talk about how much they respect their staff but treat them to intolerable working conditions.  Some of their staff came in at 11am yesterday.  They were still there at 7:30am this morning.  Some of their staff are senior citizens.  Hell, some of the legislators are senior citizens!  I don’t blame every legislator for this.  But the leadership is who determines these monstrous agendas.

It is not a party no matter what you hear.  Having legislators pass laws when they are beyond the point of exhaustion is the very definition of insanity.  Tempers flare and they grumble.  Visitors wait in the lobby and constantly ask what the heck is going on.  This morning, when I left around 2:45am, the Capitol Police were already indicating their workers were past the 16 hour shift mark.  Sure, the free ice cream for visitors helps.  But the cafeteria closes at 8pm.  You have to go to WaWa to get coffee!

This is what kills me about Legislative Hall- the lack of plugs!  We live in a cell phone society now.  The plug shortage (except for legislators and their staff) causes folks to huddle around the rare plug outlets.  Which brings me to my next point- why do they not have TVs in the lobbies showing live feeds of the House or Senate?  This isn’t 1950 anymore Delaware!  We can do this.  Hell, they could do live feeds on the internet as well!

There has to be a better way.  It wasn’t like there were a ton of new bills that were introduced on the last day.  It was the fact they left tons of bills languishing until the last minute.  Instead of having all these tributes and fluff stuff during their many other legislative days, maybe they could do what we elected them to do- vote on legislation!

I was one of the lucky ones.  The last education legislation passed at 2am.  Delaware Secretary of Education Dr. Susan Bunting left immediately after that vote.  I should have taken her queue but decided to stick around until I asked myself what was so important for me to stick around.  Sure, I could have seen the minimum wage bill debacle.  Which would have consisted of me rolling my eyes when they decided to stay open.

I lost big time.  I called a departure time of 12:38am.  They left hours after the sun came up this morning.  On the plus side, they get to rest for the next six months!  But like the myth of teachers doing nothing during the summer, many of our legislators plan for the next session and do a ton of research on bills they would like to introduce.  Many of them will spend the next few months campaigning as all 41 of the State Reps and 10 of the State Senators are up for re-election.  For some of them, they will sail off into the retirement sunset and, no doubt, thank the lucky stars they will never have to pull the June 30th/July 1st all-nighter.

The sad part?  I’ll probably do this again next year.  I’m a glutton for punishment!  But I have to admit, I do enjoy Delaware politics for a few reasons.  We are a small state.  You can drive an hour or so from any direction and wind up at Legislative Hall.  It can take time, but you can get to know pretty much every single legislator in the state.  You can hang out at Legislative Hall and say hi to the Governor when he emerges from the bat cave.  You can joke around with his staff as they walk around looking like the weight of the world rests on their shoulders and manage to get them to crack a smile.  You can attend a rally against separating families one minute and chat with folks who wear “live free or die” t-shirts the next.  You can chat with the Delaware Secretary of Education and not worry about detention.  If you go to Leg. Hall often enough, the Capitol Police call you by your name when you walk in the door.  For me, it is my home away from home in a weird way.

FINAL ** All Delaware 149th General Assembly Education Legislation Passed, Defeated, Pending, Tabled & Vetoed

The 149th Delaware General Assembly is finished!  All bills either passed or didn’t.  If it is in black, it passed.  If it is in red, it didn’t.

Legislators: If you find any errors, omissions, or want to provide clarification on the status of a bill, please let me know.

Continue reading

17 Who Made An Impact In 2017: State Rep. Andria Bennett

One Democrat State Representative in Delaware turned the cart upside down in the late days of June when she voted no on tax hike legislation.  She also put forth legislation that mandates cursive be taught to Delaware students in their early elementary years.  Andria Bennett definitely had an impact in 2017. Continue reading

Happy Fiscal Year 2018 In Delaware… Or Are We Still FY2017?

Can anyone tell me what fiscal year it is?  Are we still FY2017 here in Delaware?  Because our legislators got a 72 hour extension to pass a budget.  Having seen the action last night/this morning, it seems like insurmountable odds.  But compromise they must.  Or they ALL face the wrath of Delaware citizens.  Especially if the state winds up closing like New Jersey did today.

The mood was VERY somber over there yesterday.  I spent more time in the House than the Senate, but even that was minimal.  Most of the evening both parties were in Caucus chewing the fat about the budget.  Governor Carney stayed in his office for the most part.  I did see him grabbing a smoothie in front of Legislative Hall.  But if we want to talk about waste, how about not leaving about 30 boxes of uneaten pizza in the meeting room next to the House chamber!  I did snag a couple of pieces.  I didn’t wait in the HUGE line for ice cream though.  What else do lobbyists and legislators have to do while their leaders are

So the legislators have to come in tomorrow, on a Sunday.  And I will predict Monday as well.  On social media, the blame game is getting tossed around on both sides.  Lots of folks want to throw darts at Andria Bennett for voting no on the personal income tax bill but everyone knows it doesn’t matter because it was NEVER going to pass in the Senate.  I understand her intent and respect her for that.  But with ten Republicans in the Senate that baby wasn’t going anywhere!

Saw tons of people there.  Had lots of good conversations.  Lots of laughs and joking around.  But for the most part, it was an endless night of waiting.  And hearing the bell to get the legislators back in their chambers.  An endless ring.  It almost drove one of my friends insane.  She wasn’t used to it.  You become numb to it after a while.  Ding.  Ding.  Ding.  Anyone who has spent even a bit of time there knows exactly what I’m talking about.

I won’t be heading over there while they hash all this out.  It is anyone’s guess what happens next.  I heard many times, from many people “I think they got a deal”, but until it is written down and voted on it means squat.  So while the rest of the state waits in breathless anticipation of when we are going to get a budget, I’m going to kick back and relax.  Watch the sunset, take walks, have some fun, and just breathe.  I’m still blogging, just not spending more time than I have to watching elected officials figure it out.

Delaware Republicans Release Anti-Prevailing Wage Legislation, Let The Labor Wars Begin!

Senate Bill 116, introduced today, would require a three-year exemption on prevailing wages for school construction.  It would also require public schools to give a cost study to the Controller General’s Office.

Sponsored by Senator Gary Simpson along with Senator Greg Lavelle and State Reps Danny Short and Deb Hudson.  Co-sponsors include six GOP Senators and six GOP State Reps.

I find it very interesting they chose school construction for this given the audit that came out last week against Sussex Technical School District.  If there is some secret deal or compromise to pass the state budget, this would be the key legislation the Delaware Republicans have been looking for.  Don’t count it out until everyone goes home on July 1st.  Strange things happen the night of June 30th and the early hours of July 1st.  A bill could be dead, and presto, it has a suspension of rules.

I would have to image the unions are already opposing this bill.  Call me crazy, but I would guess they aren’t strong supporters.

As Deep Budget Cuts Loom, Will New Tax Bills Save The Day In Delaware?

Fiscal Year 2018 will involve a lot of pain if the Joint Finance Committee’s marked-up state budget continues down the same dark path it is on now.  While some cuts seem like a good idea, others will make children go without desperately needed services.  The State Board of Education is kaput if everything stays the same.  But could new tax bills, which would bring in more revenue to the state, cause some of those cuts to disappear?

In Delaware, the General Assembly needs a 3/5 vote to pass any revenue bills.  In the House, that requires 25 yes votes and in the Senate, 13.  This is where it gets very tricky.  The House has 25 Democrats and 16 Republicans.  The Senate has 11 Democrats and 10 Republicans.  The House could conceivably pass the budget just on their Democrat base, but complications could easily arise.  Some Dems in the House will not favor certain perks in the epilogue language, such as the Charter School Transportation Slush Fund.  There is at least one Democrat, State Rep. John Kowalko, who will not say yes to the budget if that is in there.  The Republicans in both houses want something: prevailing wage.  They have wanted this for years, but this could be the year where they get what they want, or at least make some inroads towards it.

The Joint Finance Committee has to make the cuts until they see more revenue.  Are they going after some of the programs that help people the most?  Not yet.  But today is another day and is expected to be uglier than yesterday.  The JFC does not meet again until Tuesday, June 6th.  I expect a whirlwind of activity at Legislative Hall every single day someone is there between now and July 1st.

In Governor Carney’s proposed budget, the local share of student transportation costs went from 10% to 15%.  Yesterday, the Joint Finance Committee raised that to 20% with the expectation the school districts can recoup those costs from this mythological one-time Match Tax.  Carney proposed the district school boards utilize this option without a referendum.  Let’s be very clear on this: if this happens, do not expect taxpayers to pass referenda any time soon.

No matter how this plays out, John Carney’s vision of shared sacrifice will have winners and losers.  If the uber-wealthy get more perks like the estate tax repeal, it will become very obvious who is pulling the strings behind the curtain at Legislative Hall in Dover.

Who Is My Delaware State Rep & Senator? Which District Do I Live In? A Primer For Delaware Students! #swarmthehall

This article is for ALL Delaware public education students.  This is what you need to do NOW to make a difference for YOUR school.

Last night, I attended an Education Forum at Newark High School.  As members of the audience stated they didn’t know who their legislators even are, State Rep. Paul Baumbach asked me to put up a post on my blog about this in front of the whole audience.  It is my pleasure to do so Paul!

Even though students (unless you are 18 or over) are not registered voters, your voice is important.  I will go so far as to say it is the most important voice in the state.  You can get involved, and I would ask your parents, grandparents, brothers and sisters, friends, and neighbors to get involved in this year’s budget, especially when it comes to public education.  But first, you have to know who to contact!

The first thing to do is go to the General Assembly website, found here: http://legis.delaware.gov/

The easiest way to find out “Who is My Legislator” is to go that section of their website and put in your address or go on the “Find by Map” option.  I did that using my address, and it came up with this:

Another way to find out what Senator or State Rep covers your district, go to the tabs that say “Senate” or “House”.

I will use the House as an example.  Go to the tab that says “Members & Districts” and click that.  Now I have to sacrifice one of our State Reps as an example, so I chose my own State Rep, Trey Paradee of the 29th Rep. District.

What a big smile for your constituents Trey!  It has other information on the page, but if you want to contact them, it provides their phone number at Legislative Hall or their email address.  You will get a legislative aide or an answering machine when you call them.  An email might shoot you an automatic reply if they aren’t there that day.  Some legislators are brave enough to put their home or cell phone numbers on their contact information.  I would ALWAYS call that phone number first since the likelihood of them getting back to you SHOULD improve.  Another way is to look for them on social media.  Send them a friend request if they offer that option.  I would shoot them a message stating who you are and possibly an issue or topic you would like to discuss with them.

Once you know what they look like, and if you have the time, go down to Legislative Hall and introduce yourself.  Don’t do it while they are in session in their respective chamber though because they can’t really stop that time to talk to you.  Be respectful and courteous.  Ask for THEIR cell number if you don’t have it already.

If you find your legislator isn’t getting back to you, keep at it!  I’m not saying to stalk them, but keep calling, emailing, or texting.  As a professional courtesy, I would give them at least three days to get back to you.

As the General Assembly prepares their version of the Fiscal Year 2018 budget, they need to hear from their constituents NOW.  Not later.  Not on June 30th.  NOW!!!!

Here is how it goes for the next five weeks down in Dover.  The General Assembly is on a two-week recess right now and will return on June 6th.  In the meantime, the Joint Finance Committee, which is a group of legislators, are doing what is known as the “budget mark-up”.  They go through Governor Carney’s proposed budget and make changes.  This group needs to hear from you NOW!

I would email ALL of them in one email and tell them what you are looking for.  For those who are against all these cuts in education, some suggested wording could consist of this:

Please remove the cuts to education from the state budget.  It is unfair to balance the state’s budget on the backs of our students.  Schools are already under-resourced and our children need our commitment to their future.  Thank you.

The public can attend the Joint Finance Committee meetings, but seating is limited.  And considering most of you students will be in school, DON’T CUT SCHOOL to come to Dover to go to a JFC meeting.  There will be plenty of time for that when school gets out because the General Assembly continues to meet until June 30th.  If you want to see some real craziness going on, come down (or up) to Dover on June 30th.  The fun usually starts around 6 or 7pm in the evening.  Bills pass on the fly, left and right and they suspend a ton of rules to get bills passed.  You see bodies passing by you like the Flash.  I’ve gone the past two years and didn’t get home until the sun was coming up.  That’s right.  They MUST pass the budget or they don’t get to go home until they do.  They can go home, but their legislative session isn’t over until the State Budget passes.  By State Law, the Governor must either sign or veto (not sign it) the budget once the General Assembly passes it.  If the Governor passes it, the General Assembly has to keep meeting until it passes or they can attempt to override the Governor’s veto.  This year, June 30th falls on a Friday so I have no doubt they will want to get in and get out so they can have their 4th of July weekend last as long as possible.

If students truly want to make a huge difference with this budget, if you don’t want teachers cut and you don’t want your school board to be put in a position where they are forced to raise more taxes without a referendum, your State Rep, Senator and the Joint Finance Committee need to hear from you TODAY!  They may give you a reason why they support this or don’t support that, but make sure YOUR feelings are heard.

If you want to make a HUGE impact, organize a group of your friends and classmates and come down to Legislative Hall in Dover (but don’t cut school to do it).  You are NOT allowed to carry signs into the building, but you can wear t-shirts as long as they don’t have curse words or are inappropriate.  It could say something as simple as “No Education Cuts” or have fun with it and write “Forced Match Tax Without A Referendum Is Horrible” .  I would NOT recommend t-shirts like “John Carney is bad” or “Mike Ramone loves Donald Trump….Eeeew!” (neither of them do, just making a point here).  You can even write legislator letters but make sure you go to their office in Legislative Hall and give it to the receptionist or legislative aide to give to the legislator.  Don’t try to put letters or correspondence on their desk in the House or Senate chamber.  I did that once and it is NOT allowed.  Don’t yell at anyone or interrupt anyone either.  And whatever you do, when the House or Senate is in session, just sit and listen.  You do NOT want that gavel coming down on you by Lt. Governor Bethany Hall-Long or Speaker of the House Pete Schwartzkopf!

You CAN make a difference this year.  If you want to preserve what you have and not lose out next year, there is nothing wrong with a peaceful protest.  Make sure you get Mom, Dad, or your Guardian’s permission first, but make it something you can tell your grandchildren about one day.  How you told our legislators what your schools need and you helped to make a difference.  Let’s call it “Swarm The Hall”.  Share hashtag #swarmthehall on Twitter and Facebook and let’s make it a thing Delaware students!

As an education blogger, I’ve met most of our State Reps and State Senators.  I want to believe they want to do the right thing for everyone in the state, but sometimes political issues happen.  If you are a dye-in-the-wool Democrat and your State Rep or Senator is a Republican, or vice-versa, don’t get into the whole “us vs. them” mentality.  They will listen to you, but it could cause them to tune out whatever you are saying.  Make it about the issues, not about the politics.  No one wants to hear about the whole Trump/Hillary thing or “Dems Stink” or “Republicans Lie” kind of stuff.  This is about YOU, and YOUR education.  And this isn’t just about school districts, it’s also about charters.  Because if districts have to make cuts and force a match tax on their residents, they will have a hard time getting referenda passed in the future.  Which means less money for charter schools as well.

Below is a list of ALL the Delaware State Reps and Senators.  The Senate has 21 members and the House has 41 members.  Don’t get confused by the district numbers.  I live in State Rep District 29 but State Senate District 15.

If you are a Delaware public school teacher, please share this article with your students and their parents.  It can also be a valuable lesson for current events or helping children become more aware of how the political process in Delaware works.

Updated: Some libraries are holding events called “Postcard Party for Education Funding”.  Details can be found here.  This is a brilliant idea!  Reach out to the sponsors and see if you can get these events in your local libraries if they aren’t in your area!

Save The Date: November 16th

Eight days after the 2016 elections are over (Thank God!) the Delaware Department of Education will discuss their FY2018 budget with the Office of Management and Budget.  This is open to the public, but I recommend getting there early so you can get a seat.  The budget for the next fiscal year is going to get crazy.  First off, we have the Every Student Succeeds Act.  In Delaware’s first draft plan, you can see that a lot of areas in the law will be depending on state funding.  Which means the feds will have to decide on our state plan assuming these items would pass in our budget.  Delaware is submitting their final plan to the U.S. Dept. of Education on March 6th.  That is 116 days before the Delaware General Assembly would even pass the FY2018 budget.  So what happens if the feds approve our plan but we don’t have the necessary funding allocations for our plan?  The feds would presumably pass (or reject) our plan within 120 days of submission.  That puts Delaware in the position of getting the approval after the end of legislative session.  Not to mention the fact we will have a new Governor (presumably John Carney) with his own ideas on education.  By the time this hearing comes, the next Governor will have been elected.  But further complicating matters is the exiting Governor, Jack Markell.  His administration will work up the proposed budget which won’t be released until January 2017.  And if I know Jack Jack, he will attempt to get all his friends some last-minute goodies!  Add in the fact that pretty much everyone in the state wants to trim down the Delaware Dept. of Education and make it less of a bureaucratic nightmare.  This will be a must-attend meeting if you can make it.  But, of course, it is at 10am in the morning when the true stakeholders in education… students, parents and teachers… are busy doing what they do best.

educbudgetpublichearing111616

 

Look For Late Night Deals On Education Legislation At Legislative Hall On June 30th

As predicted, the final hours of the Delaware 148th General Assembly are going to be a hotbed of activity.  It will be Governor Markell’s last chance to get the legislation HE wants passed while he is still Governor.  For the Senate Joint Resolution #2 Assessment Inventory Committee, no date has been scheduled for their next meeting.  The final report is due 6/30/16.  And just now, the Delaware Senate passed Senate Concurrent Resolution #56.  This concurrent resolution which will most likely get passed by the Delaware House of Representatives today, extends the due date for the final report of the Education Funding Task Force.  This group was formed from Senate Joint Resolution #4 last year.

SCR56

These are the kinds of shenanigans where transparency goes out the window.  Rules are suspended so bills aren’t heard in committee and bills fly in and out of Legislative Hall on the last day of session.  The Governor will sign them because he is the one calling all the shots.  And on so many of these kinds of bills, we see the same names: Sokola and Jaques.  The education bullies of the state.  The ones who treat the Delaware DOE and State Board of Education like they are the royalty of Delaware.  The ones who treat parents and their rights as if they are a fly to swat away.  The ones who take good education bills and make mincemeat of them (or try).  Enough.  Someone run against these two education thugs.  Please!  If I were a betting man, I would say the results of these two committees are a foregone conclusion and the legislation that will come out of them was written a long time ago.  They just want to ram it through in the wee hours of June 30th, possibly into July 1st.  When everyone will be going nuts over the budget, Markell will take advantage of this and get his usual legislative accomplices to do his work.  WAKE UP DELAWARE!