Exclusive: Pending Legislation Would Give Delaware School Boards MORE Authority To Raise Taxes Without Referendum

A bill is circulating among Delaware legislators that would give school boards more power with raising taxes.  In my view, this is just another way to shift state funding to local school boards.  The bill hasn’t even been given a number yet and it is important to know it is only in circulation, which means State Rep Earl Jaques is looking for sponsors.  I heard, through that infamous Delaware grapevine, that Senator David Sokola is on board.  Funny how Sokola didn’t mention this at all at the Education Forum the other night.  The pending bill is dated 5/11/2017 and given that Sokola is the Chair of the Senate Education Committee, he would definitely know about this.

I said it yesterday, and I’ll say it again: watch out for stealth legislation coming out between now and June 30th that will most likely tick a lot of people off.  The Delaware Education Hunger Games just went up to a new unbelievable level!

Updated, 2:52pm: State Rep. John Kowalko just released the following statement about this bill in circulation:

In one of the most blatant attempts to shift the blame and the costs for the irresponsible and destructive $37 million cuts to public education, Senator Sokola and Representative Jaques, chairs of the Senate and House Education committees, are circulating legislation that purports to enable local school boards to fund rather than cut a number of necessary programs. The elimination of these programs, due to the proposed funding cuts, will spell disaster for the children, educators and public school districts. This bill is a blatant attempt to shirk the Legislature’s responsibility to adequately fund public education and seek the necessary revenue to do so. The taxpayers should not overlook the additional fact that the proposed $37 million in cuts will not include $6 million that is left to the charter schools to fund these same programs. The prime sponsors of this proposed legislation, who have been less than aggressive supporters of equal treatment and funding between charter schools and traditional schools, instead seem to feel that the public will find tax increases imposed by a volunteer (unpaid) board of elected citizens as palatable. I imagine that another benefit will be to disguise and hide the fact that the General Assembly is abdicating its responsibility and authority to raise revenue for public services not to mention that any school board choosing to use such authority would probably doom the chances of success for any future referendums, regardless of their legitimacy. 

Rep. John Kowalko

Red Clay’s Super Merv Writes Letter To Community About Budget Cuts & Deficits

In a week of somber news around Delaware in the wake of pending teacher and educator layoffs, districts are scrambling to figure out their budgets for next year.  Through this blog and other social media sources, citizens of the state are growing concerned about teachers losing their jobs and classrooms becoming more bloated than they already are.  In response to this public outcry, Red Clay Consolidated Superintendent Dr. Mervin Daugherty wrote a letter to the community about what this means for the district and the community.

I’ve seen many Delawareans giving Governor John Carney a pass on this since he inherited most of this mess from former Governor Jack Markell.  But his almost boneheaded solutions could make the situation much worse for citizens across the state.  In the coming weeks, I will be going through last year’s budget as well as the proposed budget for FY2018.  I will also recommend areas across districts and charter schools where funding should be cut or consolidated without losing teachers.  I will present these recommendations and findings to the General Assembly and Governor Carney.  I am sure it won’t be in any official capacity, but I will do so all the same.  Any input or recommendations from the general public will be most welcome!

Delaware School Boards Association Run Amok! Gives Indian River Free Membership! Doesn’t File Tax Returns! Division Of Corporations Okay With That!

Awesome.  Simply awesome.  A non-profit company incorporated in Delaware can get all their funding from tax-payer local school districts, have their 501c3 status as a non-profit revoked, not file tax returns, and the State of Delaware doesn’t care.  Earlier this afternoon, I wrote about how this exact scenario happened with the Delaware School Boards Association (DSBA).  Two hours later, I contacted the Delaware Division of Corporations.  Delaware doesn’t seem to care if a corporation files tax returns or not.  There is no oversight mechanism in the State of Delaware to enforce anything related to federal tax filings.  The Division of Corporations advised me that someone would have to get an attorney and go through the courts.  Excuse me?

So DSBA can gouge school districts out of tons of money, but they will go to bat for them on legislation and counsel school boards on how to make sure board members have the most up-to-date board training.  But they fail to show any transparency for how much money they receive, how they spend it, and what their losses are.  That is just wonderful.  What exactly does this organization do for school districts?  They are glorified lobbyists taking funds out of schools.

I attended my local school board meeting a couple of months ago.  One of the items on their agenda was “legislative priorities”.  One of those priorities concerned special education and due process hearings.  DSBA wanted my district to advocate for something that had never applied to their district.  Why does everything in Delaware have to have some type of “association” attached to it?  Once we centralize every group in the state, who watches that centralizing group?  I’m sure for the members of DSBA, and those who sit on DSBA’s board, it looks great on the resume.  “Look at me, I’m not only on a school board but also on the board of DSBA.”

Please… spare me the righteous indignation.  How ironic that in this National School Boards Association guidance to state associations they offer the following advice:

State school boards associations have been established to provide a state-level network for members of local school boards to achieve common goals, support shared improvement efforts, and explore such widespread issues as board member training, policies, statewide needs, state and federal initiatives, and state and federal funding. Improving student achievement also must be a goal since it is the top priority of the state association’s members.

I am pretty ticked off about this as you can tell.  Is it any wonder our state is corrupt as hell?  What does our state offer oversight on when it comes to financial matters and transparency?  It’s not like DSBA’s Facebook page tells us a lot.

dsbacorporatestatusindelaware

Apparently, it is a-ok for DSBA to instill certain codes of ethics on local school boards, but when it comes to that ethical thing like FILING TAX RETURNS FOR YOUR NON-PROFIT ORGANIZATION WITH THE IRS, those ethics aren’t important.

…the Code of Ethics is recommended by the Delaware School Boards Association as a guide to its members as they strive to render effective and efficient service to their respective communities.

But according to DSBA’s website, this is their role in Delaware:

DSBA offers their members:

  • Developing statewide legislative and funding priorities for public education in conjunction with the Legislative Committee and member boards;
  • Monitoring the impact and progress of legislation introduced in the General Assembly which may affect the programs, operation, funding or administration of school districts;
  • Planning and presenting orientation and training programs designed to enhance the effectiveness of school board members;
  • Providing local school boards with information concerning those issues and activities which affect school districts;
  • Coordinating legal services or local board efforts in those instances where boards share common concerns and goals; and
  • Serving as liaison between school boards and other educational organizations or State agencies.

Can I add one?

  • Show no transparency for how we spend taxpayer funneled money but thanks for your contributions chumps!

From their “membership” list of Delaware school boards, not every district board is a member of DSBA.  Only 13 out of 19 are currently members: Brandywine, Cape Henlopen, Capital, Colonial, Lake Forest, Laurel, New Castle Co. Vo-Tech, Poly-tech, Red Clay, Seaford, Smyrna, Sussex Tech and Woodbridge.  As well, the Delaware State Board of Education is also a member.  So it looks like Appoquinimink, Caesar Rodney, Christina, Delmar, Indian River, and Milford have very wise boards who decided not to join this non-transparent organization.

DSBA is led by Executive Director John Marinucci and an Administrative Assistant named Linda Murphy.  That’s it.  That is their entire staff.  They have an office in Dover.  But of course many Delaware school board members govern the whole thing and decide what legislative priorities are best for school boards, even if those legislative priorities don’t even affect a member school district.  So who are these elected officials and Governor-appointed Delaware board members, running 13 out of 19 Delaware school districts, who serve in another capacity for an organization that doesn’t file IRS 990 Non-Profit tax returns?  Thanks for asking!

Officers- President: Joseph Brumskill (Brandywine), 1st Vice-President: Jennifer Burton (Cape Henlopen), 2nd Vice-President: Matthew Lindell (Capital), Treasurer: Cynthia Brown (Poly-tech), Director of Special Affairs: John Skrobot (Brandywine)

Other members of the Board of Directors: Ralph Ackerman (Brandywine), Bobby Benjamin (Colonial), Nina Lou Bunting (Delaware State Board of Education), John Schulties (Lake Forest), Brent Nichols (Laurel), John Lynch (New Castle Co. Vo-Tech), Martin Wilson (Red Clay), David Tull (Seaford), Chris Malec (Smyrna), George Torbert (Sussex Tech), and Walter Gilefski (Woodbridge)

Legislative Committee: Ralph Ackerman (Brandywine), Dr. Roni Posner (Cape Henlopen), John Martin, Jr. (Capital), Leo Magee (Colonial), Barbara Rutt (Delaware State Board of Education), Ronda Swenson (Lake Forest), Brent Nichols (Laurel), Mark Stellini (New Castle Co. Vo-Tech), Nancy Cook (Poly-tech), Kenneth Woods (Red Clay), Jeffrey Benson, Jr. (Seaford), Ron Eby (Smyrna), John Oliver (Sussex Tech), and Walter Rudy (Woodbridge)

They also have corporate members!  Those are Stecher Financial Group, Johnson Controls, and Adelphia Furniture Inc.  Two of those companies aren’t even out of Delaware!

On their calendar they have ZERO events on it, so we don’t even know when this organization and their various officers and legislative committees even meet.  This is like the evil twin of the Delaware Charter Schools Network.  For all the bitching I do about them, at least DCSN files their IRS 990 501c3 tax returns.  Oh yeah, that’s because they didn’t get their status revoked for failing to file NINE YEARS.  28 school board members throughout the state.  Do they get paid for their service to DSBA?  We don’t know cause the non-profit doesn’t file a tax return!

My bad, the Delaware Online Checkbook changed over to the new Delaware Open Data Portal thing Governor Markell officially launched yesterday.  So I can see that Delaware School Boards Association received $210,177 in FY2016.  Here is the breakdown by district:

Brandywine: $13,907.50

Cape Henlopen: $32,600.00

Capital: $18,938.00

Colonial: $21,488.66

Delaware Department of Education: $13,930.50

Lake Forest: $10,300.00

Laurel: $6,244.00

New Castle Co. Vo-Tech: $8,784.50

Poly-Tech: $8.676.00

Red Clay: $26,322.00

Seaford: $16,021.50

Smyrna: $8,676.00

Sussex Tech: $4,862.00

Woodbridge: $15,275.50

And the following two school districts, who aren’t even members, didn’t seem to mind paying DSBA in FY2016:

Appoquinimink: $5,400 (cost per student: $1.92)

Indian River (dropped DSBA in fall of 2016): $3,000.00

But the fun doesn’t stop there.  Because not only does DSBA bill school boards for dues, but also food, instructional supplies, and computer supplies.  And it doesn’t matter if it is paid out of the Delaware Special Fund or the Delaware General Fund.  Keep in mind all the below amounts are out of the overall totals listed above, but some of these categories are outlandish given the scope of what DSBA does.  Ones I colored in red are potential audit red flags (I know, stop laughing)!

Appoquinimink: Computer Supplies– $2,700.00

Cape Henlopen: Computer Supplies– $9,100.00

Colonial: Instructional Supplies– $8,100.00

Colonial: Meals w/in State (Breakfast/Dinner)- $349.66

Lake Forest: Computer Supplies– $34.00

Lake Forest: Equipment Rental-$2,700.00

Lake Forest: Food- $173.00

Red Clay: Other Professional Service- $8,100.00

Seaford: Instructional Supplies– $8,100.00

Woodbridge: Other Professional Service- $421.50

Delaware Department of Education: Training- $208.50

I’m sorry, but in what kind of world does DSBA, which amounts to a lobbyist organization, provide computer and instructional supplies?  Did Lake Forest rent a crane or something from DSBA?  I didn’t see a school supply or rental tab on their website.  And why do districts code these expenses all over the map?  The food amounts would have been higher if other districts didn’t code it as association dues.  So we elect school board members who go to meetings at DSBA, which gets over $200,000 of taxpayer money with a staff of two, and those school board members charge their districts for food?  Are you frigging kidding me?  And why is Cape Henlopen, who has half the amount of students in their district as Appoquinimink or Cape Henlopen, paying DSBA the most out of all the districts?  And Woodbridge only has 2,466 students but DSBA gets over $18,000 from them?  There is something seriously funky going on with this.  Some of these districts are paying obscene amounts to this non-profit (who doesn’t file tax returns as a non-profit).

And don’t think for one minute it didn’t dawn on me that the Delaware Dept. of Education, who pretty much decides who sits on task forces and committees, and always seems to find room for someone from DSBA on them, pays a lobbyist organization who helps LOCAL SCHOOL BOARDS over $13,000.00.  I see Mr. Marinucci at most of the meetings I attend these days when the DOE is involved, especially ones around the Every Student Succeeds Act.  I know, that is what lobbyists do!  But when I see school boards wasting time with legislative priorities that don’t even concern their school district, an obscene amount of taxpayer money going to a non-profit that doesn’t bother to file tax returns, school districts coding expenses for this non-profit under whatever category they want (probably to get funds from the state and not out of their local funds), and the same organization not filing tax returns as a non-profit for almost a decade, I have some pretty major beefs with this organization.

The Cape Gazette did an article on DSBA on July 31st, 2015, a month after Indian River voted not to rejoin.  They spoke with the First Vice-President, Jennifer Burton:

Cape Henlopen school board member Jen Burton serves as first vice chairman for the DSBA. She said membership is worth the $9,000 a year Cape pays, even though the association is going through some changes.

But when that membership becomes 3 1/2 times more than that $9,000 a year, what is the worth then Ms. Burton?  Apparently Indian River didn’t feel the same way:

Indian River School District Board of Education withdrew July 13 from the Delaware School Board Association, saying $13,000 the district would have paid in dues could be better spent elsewhere.

“The Board came to the conclusion that its DSBA membership was no longer productive and that continuing to pay thousands of dollars in dues to the organization was not a responsible use of taxpayers’ money,” Hudson said.

But I guess it is okay for Indian River to use this organization for FREE at the expense of other district’s taxpayer money, right?  Which means part of my school taxes, along with every other Capital School District resident, are going to pay for Indian River to rejoin something they felt wasn’t a responsible use of money?  I guess when it is free, that’s okay.  I don’t think so!  I don’t pay local school taxes for Indian River.  I pay them for Capital.  And if I were citizens in the other DSBA districts, I would be upset too.  I don’t elect school board members so they can help bail out other districts who don’t know how to spend their own money.  If they want a bail-out on their DSBA dues, go to the state.  That’s why I pay state taxes, not local taxes.  DSBA has a lot of nerve asking other districts to do this.  And yes, if you are not an employee of DSBA but serve as an elected official for your school district but serve on one of their boards or committees, you are acting as DSBA.  Don’t believe me?  Listen to Colonial’s Board of Education discuss this during their October 11th board meeting.  Go towards the bottom of the page on this link to hear it.

In a presentation on DSBA, it was announced that the board of DSBA voted to allow Indian River to rejoin DSBA with full voting rights for free because of their “financial distress”.  Yeah, distress caused by themselves.  Just wait until that audit comes out!  But let’s give them DSBA services for free!  Colonial board member Melodie Spotts, upon hearing that DSBA hasn’t filed their tax return for nine years, put forth a motion to remove their membership in DSBA.  The motion was defeated 4-3.  Spotts was concerned how it would look after their board just voted to go out for a referendum.  There was a lot of talk about promoting transparency around their refernedum and the appearance of paying membership fees to an organization that doesn’t appear to have financial transparency.

So DSBA, care to cough up nine years worth of tax returns and show the citizens of the state who elect school board members if they truly are getting their money’s worth?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Delaware DOE Has Meetings About ESSA With Rodel Before DSEA And Legislators

I wish I could say I was shocked, but I really can’t.  In just another incident showing where the Delaware Department of Education’s priorities are, we see they invited Rodel, a non-profit corporation, to meetings about the Every Student Succeeds Act.  On the right side of the picture are the “scheduled” meetings.  Who isn’t on the list?  The Delaware General Assembly.  They can’t give the excuse about the legislators not being in session.  They met with a lot of them one-on-one a year ago to discuss the Smarter Balanced results weeks before they were released to parents.

That has to be a great feeling for elected legislators in Delaware, knowing that a State Department would rather talk with the Rodel Foundation before them.  Especially since they will be the ones getting the most complaints calls when this whole process goes haywire.  At the State Board of Education meeting today, when asked by State President Dr. Teri Quinn Gray, Delaware Deputy Secretary of Education Karen Field Rogers did indicate they will be reaching out to the legislators.  Note that she was specifically asked this question and didn’t bring it up herself.  This is not a good start to what should be all parties at the table.  This does not count the State Board Workshop last week.  These are private meetings with these groups of stakeholders.

I would love to know which local boards had these meetings.  For all the board members out there, feel free to message me privately if you have had these consultation meetings.  Or send me a message on Facebook.

DOEESSAStakeholder Consultation

 

Mark Murphy’s Authority, Charter Schools, Immunizations, and Suicide Prevention Legislation Introduced in Delaware House of Representatives

When the Delaware 148th General Assembly returns from recess on April 21st, five new education legislation submissions will be on their plate.  These bills cover the authority of the Delaware Secretary of Education (currently Mark Murphy) and Labor Relations, the charter school enrollment radius, charter school applications being approved by the local school board before the Delaware State Board of Education, suicide prevention training for Delaware teachers, and immunization requirements in the event of an epidemic and how this would impact students who do not get immunized based on religious beliefs.  All the legislation introduced can be seen below.  The Mark Murphy Authority bill is sponsored by State Rep. Sean Lynn, the charter bills by State Rep. John Kowalko, the Suicide Prevention bill by State Rep. Valerie Longhurst and Senator Nicole Poore, and the immunizations bill by State Rep. Sean Matthews and Senator Bethany Hall-Long.