Interview With Brandywine’s Kenny Rivera After His Trip To See Schools In India

Kenny Rivera, an Assistant Principal at Brandywine High School, recently embarked on an incredible journey to India to explore different schools and systems in education.  I interviewed Kenny this week.  While he was in India, I saw his Facebook posts filled with pictures of schools and students.  Kenny has graciously allowed me to use those pictures in this article. Continue reading

Kenny Rivera’s Farewell Speech To The Red Clay School Board

Last evening was Red Clay Consolidated School District Board of Education’s last meeting for long-time member Kenny Rivera.  A social studies teacher in the Brandywine School District, Rivera spent some crucial years on the board.  He served as President and later Vice-President during his last two years on the board.  He gave a farewell speech to the board and the attendees.  Rivera’s seat is going to the amazing Ashley Sabo.  Sabo won the seat last month in a three-way race, beating Henry Clampitt and Thomas Pappenhagen.  Here is Rivera’s speech:

I would like to take just one minute a bid you a farewell from this seat. Throughout our progress and turmoil, from the discussions to the battles, I have found great joy in this opportunity to serve the Red Clay community. I will miss serving, but I cannot be any more thrilled to have Ashley Sabo join our board.

I have seen, experience, and learned a lot over the past 5 years, and I think we should be proud. There is something unique about Red Clay, and I think it has a lot to do with the culture our staff sets. My daily interactions with educators, administrators, and parents in Red Clay revealed to me a group of people who are true professionals, go way beyond the call of duty, and look to do what is best for students. And yes there have been our share of debates, but the majority of the people come to the table open minded, willing to listen and share their perspective, seeking to do what is best for our kids. I think this culture starts at the top. Attitude reflects leadership. We always need to remember that our heart of service, our motives, and our discourse is being emulated by those around us. I see this in the zeal from each of our board members, in the compassionate heart for all children from Superintendent Mervin Daugherty, and in some of the most talented people I have ever met – our district Cabinet. I have worked closely with Jill Floore, Ted Ammann, Hugh Broomall, and Sam Golder over the years, and they are some of our real unsung heros.

I hope that you take encouragement from our progress, continue to build strong relationships, and choose your battles carefully to win the wars that really make a difference. We must stand firm, continue to advocate, and work to find common ground to ensure that we provide an equitable and personalized education to every child. I look to continue our fight together for some needed reforms in education, especially our funding system.

I cannot leave without saying a few thank yous. Thank you to the board members, district and building staff, and parents who have taken the time to work together to ensure a better education for our children. I want to thank Leah Davis for her mentorship over the past 5 years, and to Rep. Kim Williams and Mike Matthews for their passionate involvement and ability to sharpen me. Lastly and most importantly to my wife Kelley who has fully supported my passion and calling to serve and for stepping up at home without one complaint.

I pray that I served and provided you the support that you needed to do your job. May God Bless you, and have a good night. This meeting is now adjourned.

Kenny also shared this on his Facebook account with the following news about his immediate future plans with Delaware education:

Last night was the completion of my 5 year term serving on the Red Clay School Board. I promise to remain active, as today I will speak to a UD program about education advocacy, tomorrow morning I will meet with Gov. Carney over the planned education cuts, and at night I will be featured on WHYY’s Delaware First program for needed school funding reform.

I met Kenny two years ago when Red Clay was voting on their opt out resolution, and later, their opt out policy.  He is a good guy and I wish him luck in his future Delaware education activities.  I have no doubt Kenny and I will cross paths in the coming months or years.

The Kathleen Davies Mystery Deepens As Charter School Petty Cash Letters Come Out & Many Charters Get Sue-Happy

Delaware is missing one of the key players in transparency thanks to a deliberate campaign orchestrated by one or many.  Because of this, it may have cleared the way for many charter schools to launch a lawsuit in Delaware.

Delaware State Rep. Kim Williams exclusively released the letters sent to five Delaware charter schools about their petty cash practices last night.  They showed some very extreme violations of state code.  As well, letters were sent to four other state agencies.  These letters were sent by Tom Wagner, the publicly elected Delaware State Auditor, on June 21st to the following charter schools:  Odyssey Charter School, Delaware Military Academy, Charter School of Wilmington, Sussex Academy, and Delaware Academy of Public Safety & Security.  The state agencies Wagner sent letters to addressing the petty cash violations of state code were the following: Department of Education (Secretary Godowsky), Department of Finance (Secretary Tom Cook), Division of Accounting (Director Kristopher Knight), and the State Treasurer (Ken Simpler).  These letters were never publicly released from Tom Wagner or the Delaware Auditor of Accounts office.  Originally, this was an audit inspection and that report would have been released.  But before that happened, the Delaware Auditor of Accounts top official, Kathleen Davies, was put on leave last spring.  Now we can clearly see why.

Before I get into the results of the letters to the five charter schools, we need to look at motive.  The key to any mystery is “Who benefits”?  That benefit could be the ability to keep something hidden or being able to reap some type of positive outcome from the situation.

We have so many who could have done it: Ann Visalli, Secretary of Education Dr. Steven Godowsky, Kendall Massett, Senator David Sokola, Charlie Copeland, Nick Manolakos, and others as well.  We can’t forget the potential role Greg Meece may have contributed either.  State Board of Education Executive Director Donna Johnson and Kendall Massett are very tight and the DOE is in the same building as the Auditor of Accounts Office.  It could be a combination of any of these people.  It could have even come down from the very top, Governor Markell himself.

Out of all these entities, one of them leads the pack in Delaware when it comes to offering charter schools advice and protection.  That would be the Delaware Charter Schools Network, led by Executive Director Kendall Massett.  When it comes to charter schools, I have no doubt Kendall is in a key position to communicate issues to charter school leaders.  Some charter schools are run by ex-legislators in some sort of capacity.  Former State Rep. Nick Manolakos is the Head of School for Odyssey Charter School.  Delaware GOP Chair Charlie Copeland is the President of the Board of Directors for Delaware Academy of Public Safety and Security.  Both are prominent Republicans in Delaware.  Many on the Sussex Academy Board of Directors are also Republican.  Odyssey Charter School and Delaware Military Academy clearly had the most egregious of petty cash violations out of the five charters.  I can imagine the pressure on Tom Wagner from all sides could easily have prompted his decision to make Kathleen Davies go away.

 

Odyssey Charter School:

  1. petty cash fund not approved by State Treasurer and checking account used for petty cash not approved by State Treasurer
  2. 53 petty cash checks over state limit of $500.00, totaled $303,451.65
  3. 57 debit transactions from petty cash account over state limit of $500.00, totaled $326,574.05
  4. maintained petty cash account over $5,000 limit, average monthly balance was $88,979.83

Delaware Military Academy:

  1. had no written policies and procedures for petty cash
  2. never had account reconciliations done by Account Custodian
  3. checks signed with two signatures but each check signed by Account Custodian who can’t sign checks
  4. 30 petty cash checks over state limit of $500, totaled $114,111.08
  5. maintained petty cash account over $5,000 limit, average monthly balance was $20,589.31
  6. failed to provide receipts or invoices for check of $1000.00 for “lunch start-up costs”

Charter School of Wilmington:

  1. had no written polices and procedures for petty cash
  2. never had account reconciliations done by Account Custodian, was performed by Chief Financial Officer who was not the Account Custodian
  3. no checks signed with two signatures, only signed by CFO who was not the Account Custodian
  4. 13 petty cash checks over state limit of $500, totaled $11,228.90
  5. had debit transaction from petty cash account for $4,000, well over the $500 limit, which was transferred to another CSW account
  6. maintained petty cash account over $5,000 limit, average monthly balance was $6,174.10

Delaware Academy of Public Safety & Security:

  1. had no written policies and procedures for petty cash
  2. never had account reconciliation done by anyone, including the Account Custodian
  3. no checks signed with two signatures, only signed by CFO who was not the Account Custodian
  4. 8 petty cash checks over state limit of $500, totaled $6,440.11

Sussex Academy:

  1. 5 petty cash checks over state limit of $500, totaled $16,377.05
  2. maintained petty cash account over $5,000 limit, average monthly balance was $26,689.95

 

So let me get this straight.  Kathleen Davies was working on finalizing this report, showing five Delaware charter schools breaking the law, but she got put out to pasture?  And all the charters got was these “don’t do it again” letters?  That were NEVER released to the public, until now?  And look at the cc: on the letter to Godowsky.  All charter school leaders and board presidents.  My theory that Kathleen Davies was put on leave for bogus purposes is actually proven in the letters to the charter schools.  As the News Journal wrote, Ann Visalli with the Office of Management and Budget followed up on a complaint by unnamed individuals at the Auditor of Accounts Office.  As a result, Davies was placed on leave (six months after the tip was submitted to OMB) because she failed to use a procurement card for travel purposes and went through the also-existing state reimbursement program.  But in the letters to the charters, that standard doesn’t seem to exist because Wagner writes:

We also recommend using a State-issued procurement card (PCard) or direct claim through First State Financials when possible.  Regardless of the method of payment, supporting documentation must be maintained for all transactions.

So by Wagner’s own advice to the charters, what Kathleen Davies did is perfectly acceptable.  She followed the procedure.  Maybe not a preferred procedure, but a procedure nonetheless.  Which makes Ann Visali’s actions a complete and utter crock.  A complete and utter lie meant to disgrace the one person at the Auditor of Accounts office who was doing their job, and doing it well.  But no, instead we get these non-transparent letters from Tom Wagner.  And he has the gall to ask Godowsky to collaborate with him on “an event” to make sure all the charter schools know this, even though their leaders and board presidents were included in the letter to Godowsky?  How much more special treatment and hand-holding do the charters need to understand the law?  Do they need circle time to get this right State Auditor Wagner?  This obvious fraud going on in our State Auditor’s office is completely out of control, matched only by that of the Department of Education.

This whole debacle comes down to this: someone or maybe even a group of individuals is protecting charter schools in Delaware.  They have enough power and clout to make things disappear or just focus on other aspects surrounding it to cloud the issues.  We are seeing this with the charter school lawsuit and I have to wonder if the petty cash information was not made public because of that looming timebomb.  One can only assume the charters were given some type of direction in their process for having the DOE review exclusions districts submit for their local funding formulas.  They clearly knew the results before the districts did as evidenced by the emails between the finance office of the DOE and charter school leaders.  They also had to have known there would be some major blowback from the districts and advocates for the districts based on that.  If not, they are complete and utter idiots who truly underestimate the will and resolve of people in Delaware traditional school districts.

This is my new working theory: the charters knew they would wind up filing suit on the local funding formula.  I think they knew Godowsky was intentionally kept out of the loop on this and when the public found out about the new charter bills going out to the districts with very elevated amounts, Secretary Godowsky would be forced by public pressure to reverse course.  As a result, they would be free to sue the Christina School District and the Delaware Dept. of Education for something they wanted to happen in the first place- a big, fat, and juicy lawsuit.  They knew the only thing that could happen for them to get more money would be to create the conditions for a lawsuit to happen.  Which they did.  Delaware is a very corrupt state.  If people don’t see that in this day and age with everything I’ve written, along with many others, they need to get their eyes checked.  There are good people, fighting the good fight, but they are overpowered and outnumbered by those who are either corrupt or lend their ears to those who are corrupt.  If some cities get a moniker of “Sin City”, then Delaware clearly qualifies for the “Sin State”.

But the charters and their friends had to clear a very real obstacle in their road to the lawsuit.  One Kathleen Davies.  The same person who was doing the petty cash audit along with other charter school audit inspections.  One of those inspections was a tip I sent to the auditor’s office on Newark Charter School and their failure to submit non-profit 990 tax forms to the IRS.  While they met the criteria once upon a time for being exempt from filing their 990 tax returns, they knew the conditions which allowed for those exemptions no longer existed.  Something the IRS issued very strongly worded guidance to all American charter schools that participate in these exemptions.  NCS knew they could not look like a victim in a lawsuit against their feeder pattern district if that audit inspection came out.  It had to disappear.  We all know true compliance with properly making sure all our schools in Delaware are truly funding student needs is an exercise in futility, despite what the law already requires.  But an audit inspection into NCS’ finances would be a much deeper probe.  It could have offered a great deal of transparency with their money and what they are doing with it, far past the scope of their annual audit or what appears in their financial statements.  But given the pull they seem to have, with the Delaware Charter Schools Network, the Chair of the Senate Education Committee (Delaware Senator David Sokola), to some extent the Chair of the House Education Committee (State Rep. Earl Jaques), other members of the Delaware General Asssembly, select members of the Delaware Dept. of Education, lobbyists, and companies within the Newark area, I could easily picture Greg Meece being able to rally enough force to make things happen in regards to Kathleen Davies.  Once again, I stress, with utmost importance, this is only a working theory of mine and is not grounded in documented fact.  I imagine a paper trail that could conceivably supporting this working theory would not materialize no matter how many FOIA requests I might ask for.

Lest we forget, as clearly documented in the above-linked News Journal article, Senator Sokola was the prime sponsor on a bill meant to give charter schools more authority over the choosing of their annual auditors as opposed to the State Auditor of Accounts office.  This was in complete contrast with Rep. William’s original bill which would have had the auditor’s office doing the job.

She publicly supported Williams’s bill over an alternative proposal from Sen. Dave Sokola, D-Newark, which would strengthen the rules charters have to follow in picking auditors but leave them with the authority to do so.

Eventually, Rep. Williams and Senator Sokola compromised on a charter school audit bill but the charters still get to pick their own auditor.  What the new bill also accomplished was any charter school under investigation by the State Auditor of Accounts office would also be audited for that fiscal year by the Auditor of Accounts.  By making the petty cash audit turn into letters instead of a full-blown inspection report, those five charter schools will not get a full financial audit by the Auditor of Accounts office this year.  There are also other stipulations in which that office can do a full financial audit on a charter, including the following, based on the text from the signed House Bill 435.

Has failed to maintain a current status with the Internal Revenue Service Form 990 filings, if said filings are required of that charter school.

All of this legislative language serves to expose charters who do not comply with the law.  But discovery of something like an exemption of an IRS 990 filing not being practical based on the current conditions of the only Delaware charter school in the state to not file said return, would come from something like an audit inspection of the school.  Something that is not happening from the Auditor’s office because they got rid of Kathleen Davies and my request to them seems to have vanished into the ether.  Even though I provided clear documentation to John Fluharty about this.  Granted, the Office of Management and Budget received a “tip” from other officials in the Auditor of Accounts office with the allegations of Davies “not following procedure” with travel expenses in November of 2015, the OMB did not act on this until the petty cash audit neared completion and the NCS 990 audit would have been under way.  As well, there was the pulling of Davies’ September 30th Enrollment inspection which was reworked by Wagner and released in September.  That report was released two weeks before Davies was put on leave.

At a bare minimum, the Auditor of Accounts office and the Office of Management and Budget must be made accountable for their actions regarding Davies.  If she was put on leave for something as trivial as not following suggested procedure while charter schools run amok with their petty cash accounts and the results of which were not made public, even if it was switched from an inspection to non-transparent letters, we have a major conflict of interest going on here.  This conflict of interest reaches to the Delaware Dept. of Education and the Red Clay Consolidated School District.  As the charter authorizers of these five charter schools, they failed to even publicly broach the subject going on four months since the letters went to them, much less put the charter schools on formal review to address the financial violations of their charters, as they have the ability to do so under Title 14:

  • 515 Oversight and revocation process.

(a) The approving authority shall be responsible for oversight of the charter schools it approves.

(b) In addition to the review required by § 514A(a) of this title, the approving authority may notify a charter school of potential violations of its charter and submit the charter to formal review to determine whether the charter school is violating the terms of its charter and whether to order remedial measures pursuant to subsection (f) of this section.

Both the Delaware Department of Education and the Red Clay Board President, Kenneth Rivera, were well aware of the situation because they were included in the letters sent from Tom Wagner.  Bloggers like myself exist because of what amounts to severe issues with education in Delaware.  Our state has, is, and will continue to fail the most important stakeholders in education, the students themselves, because they fail to adequately provide oversight to make sure our schools do the right thing.  Instead, Delaware does its level best to cover up issues with no transparency and institutes polices and measures that have no basis in reality.  They are what outside interests want.  These “poverty pimps”, corporate education reformers, ed tech charlatans, and those hiding behind the cover of “non-profits” and “community organizations” should not be involved in education at all.

This is what I want to see: Kathleen Davies immediately reinstated, the original charter school petty cash audit inspection completed, and any other pending charter or district audits done with fidelity.  As well, anyone else who played a role in this absolute cover-up and smear campaign against Davies needs to be named and held accountable for their parts in this.  As State Rep. Kim Williams asked, who audits the auditors?  I believe it is time to find out.  It is past time the feds got involved in Delaware’s finances.  Corruption, fraud, waste, and abuse are rampant in Delaware.  If left unchecked, as it has been for some time now, the situation will only wind up costing the taxpayers of the state even more money than they have already doled out without even realizing it.

In the above picture, the people in the “Brady Bunch” format are as follows:

Top- Kendall Massett, David Sokola, Governor Markell

Middle- Tom Wagner, Kathleen Davies, Nick Manolakos

Bottom- Charlie Copeland, Secretary Godowsky, Ann Visalli

Ask Teachers One Question And…

Alright, I admit it.  Asking Delaware teachers if they would consider taking a cut in their benefits and pensions probably wasn’t the smartest move in the book, but many of you came out in droves to respond.  Granted, no administrators, principals, or superintendents replied.  The article went over like a resounding thud.  But I challenge every single teacher in the state: if not benefits or pension, what do you view as wasted money in our schools?  And please don’t say “nothing”.  We spend a billion dollars on education in Delaware and that’s just from the state.  We also get federal money and local funds from school taxes.  While other states may laugh and say “that’s it?”, we are a small state with less than a million people and about 133,000 kids in public education.  Since this could be a hot topic with certain folks, feel free to post anonymously on this!

Since I just got home from work and grocery shopping and I’m dead to the world now, just a few updates on recent stuff.  They must have a huge cricket crisis going on in the Appoquinimink School District, because that’s all I’ve heard from them since I dropped the special education funding bomb on them last week.  I did have an interesting comment on the “Unsustainable” article that had me wracking my brain all day.  Delaware school districts and charters might be thinking I’ve slowed down on them and my target of the month is Appo.  Wrong!  I have a ton of articles that will be coming out in the next couple of weeks.  One is about an interesting superintendent situation going on in one of our school districts.  That one led to a VERY interesting board meeting last month.  Dr. Mark Holodick is winning the “who will be the next Secretary of Education in Delaware poll”, followed by Susan Bunting.  Every one seems to be playing pin the tail on the auditor in the past week and everyone wants to know when Tom Wagner is actually going to, you know, do some audits.  Kenny Rivera is now the Vice-President of the Red Clay Board of Education and Michael Piccio was voted in as the President.  The State Board is having their monthly snooze fest on Thursday.  Expect to hear some type of hip-hop hooray about the latest Smarter Balanced Assessment results but not the actual final scores cause they aren’t done yet.  Both the Christina and Red Clay Boards of Education passed resolutions to suspend the WEIC timeline which will be echoed by WEIC at a meeting on July 26th.  On Wednesday, WEIC will be honored by the Progressive Democrats of Delaware as their Education Heroes of the Year.  So Elizabeth Lockman gets a two-peat!  Jack Markell hasn’t signed the teacher evaluation bill yet, House Bill 399.  I guess he was too busy not filing to run for Congress (okay, I never said I bat home runs every time)!  Delaware Military Academy wants to build a sports dome, but not with any funding from the state.  They said it will all be from private donations.  Apparently Chief of Instruction Michael Watson at the Delaware DOE has been “chosen” to be on John Carney’s “transition team”.  How very presumptuous of you Mr. Carney.  Today is State Rep. Trey Paradee’s birthday so wish him a Happy Birthday on Facebook.  I did hear back from EFIC about their epic fail, which is the Education Funding Improvement Committee’s final report.  Apparently “their work isn’t done yet” after having a due date of March 31st which was extended until June 30th.  Publius disappeared from Kilroy’s Delaware about a month ago and hasn’t been seen since.  He said something about the sign is in the yard.  It makes me very curious why he would feel he shouldn’t comment “anonymously” on a blog anymore.  Especially in light of a recent vacancy in Dover (totally speculating on this one folks).  Unless…

State Board & WEIC Transcription: FOIA Violation, Priority Schools, And Funding

The State Board of Education audio recordings from their very long meeting yesterday are now up on the State Board website.  The Wilmington Education Improvement Commission portions of the meeting take up a collective two hours and twenty minutes of the meeting.  Not included are the breaks, legal or illegal, during the meeting with respect to the WEIC discussion.

As I insanely do once in a while, during contentious board meetings, I transcribed part of the WEIC conversations.  The three areas I focused on were the FOIA violation I believe the State Board committed by pausing the meeting to convene with legal counsel without calling for an executive session, the Christina priority school plans, and the funding/pause conversation surrounding the words “shall” and “may”.  The key players in most of this are State Board President Dr. Teri Quinn Gray and WEIC Chair Tony Allen.  Others are State Board members Pat Heffernan, Barbara Rutt, and Executive Director of the State Board of Education Donna Johnson.  While I would have loved to get the whole thing transcribed, there isn’t enough time in the day.  And as I’ve said before, you can only replay some of these voices so many times without wanting to jump off a bridge.  Key parts or words are bolded for emphasis.

 

The FOIA Violation

There has been well over an hour of conversation at this point about the plan and a lot of back and forth between the State Board and Tony Allen.  This occurs at the end of Part 5 in the audio recordings from the meeting yesterday.

Dr. Teri Quinn Gray: So, I just gotta check out the procedural piece of that with the attorney…do you mind? Cause I’m not sure about, uhm, the timing…

Tony Allen: Could I add, offer something, Could you make a motion to approve it with the new caveats, approval contingent upon…

Gray: Yeah, that’s why I need to make sure we get all the right pieces around that. I think I heard a little bit of that. So, let me ask for, uhm, a 15 minute break to consult with counsel and get the options around that.  Do you mind?

Allen: No

Gray: Miss Rutt, can she come with me, with you, the attorney? It’s 3:46.  We’ll be back at 4.

31 minutes later, beginning of Part 6 of the audio recording…

Gray: It’s 4:17 and we’re back in session. So why we left and the whole purpose of stepping away is we had , uhm,  a proposal to table the current motion to approve the plan as presented.  But, ugh, we brought forth an amendment motion that actually puts forth a conditional approval based on the conditions of changing the “shall” to “may” in the proposed resolution.  And also having a wait for the Christina School District to act on the action item on February 23rd which involves submission of grant applications to the Department of Education for priority schools.  And also contingent upon approval of the Department of Education of that plan, of that grant application.  Right, so that’s the discussion that has been happening for the past thirty minutes or so and the expectation around that, uhm, if the board accepts that amended motion and vote accordingly, or affirmative in that, that we would ask that we take those two conditions and act accordingly however we see fit, we would be able to close that item before us.  There is no need to bring this back to the table or as an agenda item for the board.  We would be able to settle that based on those conditions being met.

Pat Heffernan: And if they’re not met?

Gray: And if they’re not met then the approval is, there is no conditional approval and we do not approve it.

Allen: Can I add two things?

Gray: Sure

Allen: I’ve consulted with many of the commissioners here on both the conditions. On condition one, back to Christina and the priority school plans, I think that, I appreciate, making sure that the condition is with respect to the Department of Education approving the plan as opposed to the Christina School Board being made, maybe that’s how I was interpreting it, made to approve their priority schools plan is a better way to get that.  I think the Christina School District has every intention to approve the plan but I don’t think they take kindly to the State Board as making them so that’s…

Barbara Rutt: Sure

Allen: The second issue, with respect to “shall” and “may” is, I just want to reiterate, and you will act I know, I want to reiterate that on the board level, the commission level, the word “shall” was about making sure this wasn’t becoming an unfunded mandate. We talked about that at length during our discussion.  I think that would be a significant hurdle for us.  The district leaders have continued to express that if the resources aren’t provided they could not go forward.  And it’s my suspicion is that they will see that change from “shall” to “may” as a potential for an unfunded mandate with a cause of concern for their districts.  I will take that back to the commission, but I wanted you to know that as you make your decision, that could be a deal-breaker.  While I would not speak for the commission at this moment, I can guarantee you that if it does not happen, you will not see the commission resubmit a plan. 

 

Christina Priority Schools

Heffernan: I just want to add that, you know, the approval of the priority schools plan by Christina is, is it months or years late? So I have very little patience for Christina for semantics on that.  They literally refused to approve plans to help the kids and honestly, I think got us to this table where we are today.

Secretary of Education Dr. Steve Godowsky: I just want to make this clear. On January 22nd of 2016, I sent Christina’s Acting Superintendent a letter indicating that either the board or the Acting Superintendent can submit and activate the, uhm, the original application for the priority, or the MOU that they submitted a year ago.  Uhm, so that is what you are suggesting.  It may not require a vote from the Board but we wanted to make sure which plan they want to move forward and if it was the MOU plan, and I have talked to the Board President.   Then that will be acceptable to us going forward.

Heffernan: One thing that really troubles me about this is if the Christina Board doesn’t fully support these plans then, you know, we’re back to where we always were. And this is, so I, I, we can’t make, we have no authority to make any local boards approve anything, I totally get that, but I’m just very disappointed that this continues to be hard to get them to agree to help the priority schools.  That’s all I’m saying.

Godowsky: And the Christina Board did sign off on their plan about a year ago with one day difference so I think they did support that plan. And now that we know that’s the plan on the table then we can move forward, I believe we can do our due diligence and be in a position to review that plan and make modifications.

Heffernan: So they approved this a year ago?

Godowsky: As part of, uhm, the Memorandum of Understanding, between the district and others that negotiated that alternative to the original plan, as I understand it. I was…

Allen: As I understand that, the impasse was between Christina and their approved plans and the former Secretary (Mark Murphy), not that they didn’t approve the priority school plans. That is my understanding.

Heffernan: But the Department didn’t approve the plans?

Allen: Correct

Heffernan: So we’re going to take the same plans that the Department didn’t approve…

Godowsky: No, no. I don’t know the history of why it wasn’t signed off.  There were a number of contingencies on that which required the principal, replacing the principal, interviewing, or reapplying teachers for their positions, and management company that, ugh, that, those requirements have changed and we’re not in a position to impose those regulations.  So I think that was the stumbling block.  I don’t want to speak for Christina, and I don’t have all the history that they were the stumbling block, but later on there was an MOU submitted that never got signed off on at the Department level.  I don’t know the reasons in detail.  But I just know what I’ve looked at, in terms of the MOU, it’s consistent with much of what we want to do with those three schools, instructionally, which we’ve talked about since October, that I’ve been here.  And, given some modifications, I’m ready to move forward.

Gray reiterates much of the conversation of what just went on…

Godowsky: I’m in receipt of those plans. I just needed, in a sense I have those plans.

 

“Shall” and “May”

Heffernan: I guess I’m trying to understand where the unfunded mandate is coming from. The redistricting portion of the plan is going to be unfunded or…

Allen: Remember, we arranged this for resources for English Language Learners, special education, and high concentrations of poverty. Every outline of current funding, none of that has been allocated yet, say, for the Governor’s commitment for the four to six million, right, so what we’re suggesting is each year, going through these two budget cycles, everything has to show up and if it that money doesn’t show up all the districts have particular issues with having Red Clay taking on these kids, and by the way this is not just a Red Clay issue, all the districts talk about this, taking on these kids with no changes in the funding formula for how they are going to help those kids.

Gray: And we’re committed to that same delivery around, particularly to support low-income and English Language Learners so we are… (note: Gray did not say special education)

Allen: And I agree. The question is about you all interpreting, and again, this might be an (inaudible) on our part, you all interpreting “shall” as required without deliberation.

Gray: That’s right.

Allen: We don’t interpret it that way. It was meant to be deliberation in consultation with the effected districts…

Gray: Right, so let’s just make it the “may”, and if we need to, we’ll do it, right? Because without this level of conversation and intimacy that we have now, whenever this may come forward a few years from now that “shall” is a… (very, very hard to understand what she said here but I did hear the word legal.  Whether that was “legal” or “illegal” I was unable to tell)

Allen: I agree, and I do not give this short shrift, if you in fact approve it this way, it will require, I believe, a full-throated (inaudible) analysis that you will give in writing and in person to the commission, so…

Gray: Absolutely. We’re committed to that.  The Board is committed to that for sure.

At this point, Dan Rich (another WEIC commissioner) says something to Tony Allen. Tony asks for five minutes, and then Kenny Rivera (President of the Red Clay Consolidated Board of Education and a commissioner on WEIC) says something.  I think I heard the word “non-negotiable” but it is very hard to hear.  The State Board grants the WEIC folks a five minute break.  This is the end of Part 6 of the audio recordings.

The break ends, and the State Board is back in session in Part 7 of the audio recordings.

Gray: So Dr. Allen, did you want to add something before we go forward?

Allen: I consulted with many of the Commissioners here and I think there is general agreement that we could, and we would like you to consider, taking out all the provisions outlined in the resolution that we take back to the commission so that it does not come back to the State Board. But in general, but moving forward, it will be contingent upon sufficient funding.  Effectively, that takes you out of the process at the final implementation stage.

Gray: So you’re saying?

Allen: What we’re saying disregard all the remaining “shalls”, make it all contingent upon the necessary and sufficient funding and resources and take it off of the State Board with respect to their responsibility for this board and to future State Boards.

Gray: So is that effectively removing the resolution?

Allen: It’s more changing the resolution but excluding State Board having ongoing responsibility for suspension of the timetable.

Gray: Could I ask the process specialist?

Donna Johnson: With process of approval of the redistricting process in and of itself, and there is the caveat there that the plan would become essentially non-void if necessary and sufficient funding were not available, what safeguards would be in place if those necessary sufficient funding and supports were not at each of the milestones? Where would there be a pause that takes place at that point?

Allen: Do you mean who would authorize that pause?

Johnson: Yes.

Allen: The authorization would come from the commission and the effected districts. So we’d take it out of the State Board’s hands.  There is nothing in Senate Bill 122 that prohibits this.

After much back and forth, the State Board voted on the redistricting plan and the addendums as of 2/11/16 with no amendments which failed 3-4.  The State Board then voted on the plan with the amendments about the Christina priority schools plan approval and the changing of “shall” to “may” on page 10 of the official plan.  The motion passed with a 4-3 vote.

 

Conflict Of Interest At Charter School Of Wilmington?

The Charter School of Wilmington.  The holy grail of all Delaware charter schools.  I bow to your excellence.

Okay, with that out of the way, I just have one question. Continue reading

Red Clay Audio Of Board Meeting Raises Lots Of Questions About Wilmington Education Improvement Commission…

Who is funding the Wilmington Education Improvement Commission?  Who provided funding for the paperbook book for the Wilmington Education Advisory Committee?  What role will all four school districts in Wilmington play?  Will more committees be added to WEIC?

These are just some of the questions that were asked by the Red Clay Consolidated Board of Education to WEIC Vice-Chair Tizzy Lockman and Policy Advisor Dan Rich.  The 2nd part is where the real debate kicks in between Dan Rich and board member Catherine Thompson.  She raises some very valid points about the potential of Red Clay getting clobbered in all of this.  Dan Rich, at another point, raises the whole point about WEIC not just being about the redistricting, but also education reform for the whole state.  Which raises my question the other day: why should the Wilmington Education Improvement Commission, filled with representation from only one of the three countries in the state, not have many representatives from Kent or Sussex County?

Part 1: WEIC Presentation Begins around 27:00 mark

Part 2: WEIC Presentation continues about 3/5ths into the audio

The Wilmington Education Improvement Commission Membership & Committees Announcement, Two Major Things Missing

I know a lot of these people, but some I don’t.  All have an enormous task in front of them.  Without further ado, this is the Wilmington Education Improvement Commission:

Tony Allen, Chairperson, Bank of America Senior Executive

Kenny Rivera, Vice Chairperson, President of Red Clay Consolidated School District Board of Education and teacher in Brandywine School District

Elizabeth “Tizzy” Lockman, Education Advocate, Wilmington Parents, and Public Allies alumna

Eve Buckley, Parent and Education Advocate, Christina S.D.

Nnamdi Chukwuocha, Chair of Education Youth & Families Committee for Wilmington City Council

Rosa Colon-Kolacko, Chief of Diversity Officer, Christiana Care

Karen Eller, Teacher in Christina S.D.

Reverend Meredith Griffin, Chairperson of the Education Committee for Interdenominational Ministers Action Council

Frederika Jenner, President of Delaware State Education Association

Yvonne Johnson, Delaware PTA Parent & Education Advocate, Red Clay S.D.

Joseph Laws, President of Colonial School District Board of Education

Margie Lopez Waite, Head of School for L’Aspira Academy Charter School

Aretha Miller, Executive Director of the Community Education Building

Harrie Ellen Minnehan, President of the Christina School District Board of Education

Joe Pika, PhD., former President of the State Board of Education

Chandra Pitts, Executive Director of One Village Alliance

Delaware State Rep. Charles Potter

Vicki Seifried, Teacher in Red Clay Consolidated S.D.

John Skrobot, President of the Brandywine School District Board of Education

Delaware Senator David Sokola

Michelle Taylor, President of the United Way of Delaware

A High School student from Red Clay Consolidated S.D.

A High School student from Colonial S.D.

As well, support is being given by the University of Delaware’s Institute for Public Administration and the following employees:

Dan Rich, PhD., Policy Director

Kelly Sherretz, Project Manager

Elizabeth Burland, Administrative Coordinator

Jerome Lewis, PhD., IPA Director and Senior Policy Advisor

Ed Freel, Senior Policy Advisor

Liz Farley-Ripple, Policy Advisor

Neil Kirschling, Policy Advisor

Sarah Pragg, Communications Advisor

The following committees have been announced with the following as Committee Chairs:

Redistricting Committee: Joe Pika, Henry Harper, PhD. (former Superintendent of Appoquinimink S.D.)

Charter & District Collaboration Committee: Eve Buckley, Aretha Miller

Meeting the Needs of Students In Poverty Committee: Chandlee Kuhn (former Family Court Chief Judge), Michelle Taylor, Jackie Jenkins Ed.D. (Education Advisor for Office of the Mayor of the City of Wilmington)

Funding Student Success Committee: Jill Floore (Chief Financial Officer for Red Clay Consolidated S.D.), Mike Jackson (Deputy Comptroller for the State of Delaware)

Parent, Educator, and Community Engagement Committee: Yvonne Johnson, Chandra Pitts

At first glance, this is a very diverse group in this.  But I have a major new concern, as the below document will clearly show, the website for this, still under construction but will be available on September 1st, is http://solutionsfordelawareschools.com.  I thought this was a Wilmington thing.  I know, some of the recommendations from the Wilmington Education Advisory Committee can help all of Delaware, but if they are doing this, why is there NO representation from anyone in Kent or Sussex Counties?  I think excluding representation from the whole state is very dangerous in this political climate, especially for a commission that will be meeting for the next 5-6 years.

As well, they need to make an entirely separate committee to cover special education.  If special education is not improved, nothing they do will make any difference for students with disabilities who represent anywhere from 16-20% of the student population affected.  I actually advised Tony Allen of this twice.  Once at the House Education Committee in February, and last March in private.  I know there will be sub-committees, but this needs to be its own committee.  I have to say I’m very disappointed, but then again, special education doesn’t seem to be a priority anywhere these days in Delaware.  We keep making the same mistakes over and over again and then we are left scratching our heads wondering why these children don’t have better outcomes.  Meanwhile, disabilities are on the rise and funding is going to become a huge issue, especially with Autism.

I don’t like the idea of Senator Sokola being in WEIC at all.  This is a man who has done more harm than good for all the students of Delaware, specifically in Wilmington.  Most don’t see it that way, but he was the spearhead behind a lot of legislation that has further segregated Wilmington schools.  I know, I’m biased cause we went head-to-toe on House Bill 50, the parent opt-out bill, but I wasn’t a big fan of his before that.

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.

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…