Homeowners Set To Get Screwed With Governor Carney’s “Shared Sacrifice”

Yesterday, the Delaware Economic Forecast Advisory Committee (DEFAC) projected Delaware’s budget deficit for Fiscal Year 2018 to be $395 million dollars.  This is up ten million from the last time the committee met.  Tonight, the Christina Board of Education will discuss the impact on taxpayers.  Governor Carney is suggesting school boards raise what is known as the match tax (the portion the state matches certain funding) by having the district school boards levy the tax without a referendum.

Christina’s Chief Financial Officer, Bob Silber, created an impact budget for how this increase would hit taxpayers.  In the below example, a home that just sold for $224,000 would see their property taxes raised $46.50 with the match tax scenario.  Keep in mind, this is based on the property assessment value of $63,700, which is almost a quarter of the home’s actual value based on the sale price.

This is not the only sting homeowners, as well as all Delaware citizens, will feel starting July 1st.  State taxes, collected from paychecks, will go up for most.  State employees will see higher insurance rates.  Salary raises for state employees will most likely disappear.  Services will be cut.  It is all rather bleak.  Our General Assembly has utilized every single benefit to state funding, such as the proceeds from the tobacco lawsuit, without realizing those perks were eventually going to disappear.  State revenue does not match state expenses.  Companies, such as DuPont and soon Barclays, left Delaware for the most part, causing a severe lack of revenue and jobs.  Delaware has, and will continue to, spend more than it makes.

With the Wilmington Education Improvement Commission, there was a request to raise property assessment values.  While Delaware’s assessment values are still far lower than most states, it also created an influx of senior citizens moving to The First State because of that.  But the ability of school boards to raise property taxes, already through the special education tuition tax and soon the match tax, could have a negative impact on the desire of the elderly to move to Delaware or even stay here.

Meanwhile, there has been no action on the Governor’s part to institute the basic special education funding for students in Kindergarten to 3rd Grade.  State Rep. Kim Williams introduced two bills in the last two General Assemblies to take care of this but neither bill has moved forward due to the state funding issues.  Oblivious to all the future costs by not having this essential funding in place, our state continues to bumble through special education with this very real omission to the foundation of special education students who are just beginning to manifest their disabilities.  The projected amount to fund what should have always been there is a little bit less than $13 million a year.  By not providing that funding, the state relies on the school districts or charter schools to pay for these services.  Either way, it has a negative effect.  If the school does provide those services, it results in more of a drain on local funding.  If the school doesn’t, they are not only breaking special education law if the child qualifies for an Individualized Education Program, but they are also looking at higher costs for that student in the future by not providing that foundation.  So that $13 million a year mushrooms to much higher costs for these students down the road.

Just this morning, State Rep. Earl Jaques announced a new bill on Facebook creating a fund in the Delaware Dept. of Education budget for an Educational Support Professional of the Year award.  Delaware has 16 school districts, 3 vocational districts, and over 20 charter schools.  This bill would allow each district (20, which includes one award for all the charters) to give their winner an extra $1000.00.  The overall winner would get $1,500.00.  While $21,500 in the DOE budget doesn’t amount to much, it is symptomatic of the mindset of far too many of our legislators.  Instead of finding solutions, too many of them find ways to spend even more money.  If our state was swimming in money, I would be okay with this bill.  But not now.

Delaware’s legislature is going to have their hands full when they return from Spring Break next Tuesday.  This budget deficit is not the result of a national recession like what we faced in 2009.  This is Delaware created.  We spent our way out of the recession and now we are paying the piper.  Governor Carney looks like a deer running towards headlights with his reactions to this ever-increasing budget deficit.  I predict he will have a very tough time getting re-elected in 2020 if this trend continues.

Carney’s Budget Reset Will Put The Hurt On School Districts, Charters And Citizens Of Delaware

Delaware Governor John Carney released his FY2018 Budget “Reset”.  He is calling for a ton of cuts across Delaware programs as well as increase revenue by increasing taxes.  The extremely wealthy won’t get the tax increases many have been calling for in this proposed budget.  But property owners will feel it.  Here comes the Delaware sink hole!

In education, the match tax will switch over to the local side, to be raised by school boards without a referendum.  Which is all well and good if you don’t own property.  But if you do, expect to pay more in school taxes.  As well, $15 million will be cut from district and charter operation budgets doled out by the state.  I don’t see the funding for basic special education for students in Kindergarten to 3rd grade but I see $4.7 million more for early childhood education.  We poured $18 million into that last year.  I don’t see any proposed cuts to the Department of Education even though Carney ran around during his campaign saying he was going to streamline the Department.  Carney is allowing for $25.1 million for new teachers and $1 million for his “opportunity grants”.  $22 million would be cut from the education sustainment fund (thus the district boards getting to get more school taxes without a referendum like they do with the tuition tax).

In the below document, we see absolutely nothing about marijuana revenue or an increase to the gax tax.  But smokers will be gouged another buck a pack.  The retirement age for additional personal credit will rise from 60 to 65 while all senior citizens will see their Senior Citizen Property Credit reduced by a hundred dollars.

I get that you have to make up for a $385 million dollar deficit by making cuts but it is important to know how we got there.  Former Governor Jack Markell came on board as the Great Recession of 2008 spread its wings.  After that, Markell just spent and spent and spent without really getting enough revenue to stick around in the state.  Our population grew as special education services grew at a much higher rate.  Something disability communities have been saying will happen for years.   I am not a big fan of this budget proposal.  Carney, like his predecessor, refuses to make the rich pay more.  I don’t see a lot of “shared sacrifice” going on here.  If it was truly shared, it would hurt everyone.  To someone making a million bucks a year, a nominal increase in taxes isn’t going to hurt them as much as it will to a family living off $30,000 a year.  Granted, this is assuming the General Assembly approves this and the budget deficit stays the same.  It could (and I predict it will) increase between now and June 30th.

I don’t envy Carney.  He inherited most of this from Markell.  But with all his “coffee klatches” as the folks over at Delaware Liberal call them, I would have expected something a lot more different than what Markell gave us back in January.  I’ve told Carney’s people exactly what he needs to do in terms of education funding.  The response from them?  Crickets.  They hear me out and then nothing.  Just because I haven’t written as much about district and charter funding shenanigans doesn’t mean it hasn’t been foremost in my mind.  I was counting on the new administration to do the right thing here.  Looks like I’m going to have to do this the hard way and start REALLY ticking people off.

The Christina-Charter School Lawsuit Is Now Public!

That didn’t take long.  Three days ago, the Christina board agreed to the settlement.  Last night it went public.  Delaware Liberal has the whole thing in all its glory.  From what I’ve read, the district is off the hook for any back exclusions.  There will be a one-time payout for this year of $150,000 plus the per student allocation from a 2003 referendum that amounts to 10 cents for every $100 worth of assessed property value.  Christina will pay out the charter school payment part of the $5.5 million they received from the last fiscal year.   But going forward…

DOE will have to determine the exclusions and let the charters review them before the annual determination is made.  Tuition tax will now be a part of the local district payments to charter schools if the charter has comparable special education services to Christina.  Which explains why Newark Charter School took in a special needs child over the summer.  As the parent wrote in comments on this blog, this student was 17th on the wait list at NCS.  One day the parent got a call from the school and her child was in.  That would mean a student left and sixteen parents said no or left the school.  The parent did reach out to me to let me know NCS does not have a football team and that with students who may have moved played a factor.  As well, the parent states the school was not aware her daughter had special needs and had to scramble a week before school to make sure she got a one-on-one para.  They also said there are quite a few students at NCS with either Downs Syndrome or autism that have one-on-one paras.

The settlement also allows for both parties to claim or not claim exclusions from the Match tax.  Which means more headaches in the future.  I have to wonder how all the other school districts feel about part of their tuition tax now going to charter schools if the charters meet that “need”.  Is this why Appoquinimink hiked up their tuition tax last summer?  Did they know what the charters were planning back then?

This settlement releases the charter schools claims against Christina and their CFO, Robert Silber.  But they also filed against the Delaware Dept. of Education.  I don’t see language releasing the DOE.  Is their suit against the DOE still alive?

I would attach the Scribd document from Delaware Liberal, but the ink isn’t dry on the settlement yet.  Thirteen charters, the Christina board President, and Silber all signed.  That leaves two more charters.  Not a (legal) done deal yet.  But why aren’t all the signatures by the President of each charter board?   Some are.  Some are signed by the Head of School or a title similar to that.  But the board is the legal entity behind a charter school, not the Head of School.  I suppose it would depend on the ability of a Head of School to legally bind the corporation to this settlement.  I don’t have time right now to look through the bylaws of fifteen charter schools.  I would think an interim principal, like the one at Great Oaks, does not have that kind of authority.

Out of everything I’ve written about this whole Christina/charter school funding war, beginning at the end of August, as well as the countless other articles in Delaware media, one question still hasn’t been answered.  What made Greg Meece, Steve Dressel, and Joanne Schlossberg from NCS request a meeting with the Delaware DOE and Christina to discuss the local funding formula?  In other words, for 13 years, this 2003 referendum and the 10 cent thing was in play.  DOE signed off in it each year.  But Greg Meece found out about this earlier this year which prompted this whole thing.  Who told Meece about it?  Meece would have gone after this a long time ago had he known about it.  So who betrayed Christina?  It had to be someone with inside knowledge of the district’s finances.  Someone who knew a 13 year history of the finances.  Someone with a deep understanding of school finances.  Someone who had the motive and means and willingness to go after Christina.  Someone who didn’t care that this would affect tens of thousands of kids across the state.  Someone who didn’t care that telling Meece this would instantly cause him to bite the apple and unleash a lot of crap on the Delaware education world.  That is cold and unfeeling.  I am about 99.9% sure of who you are.  I’ve known for a long time.  I know how you like to play the long con.  I also know how you play people.  I know who your allies are and who your enemies are.  One day, your actions will come out.  And your justification for this does nothing.  Not when your sins will cause thousands of students who already had less to lose out even more.  You sold out the kids you claim to stand for.  It doesn’t balance any scales and it doesn’t even begin to absolve you.  You aren’t that crafty.  I saw you coming a mile away.

This is a shakedown no matter how you slice it.  The Delaware DOE, who approved the exclusions for all these years, gets the stiff penalty of having to do some more paperwork, something they thrive at already.  In the settlement, Secretary Godowsky escapes any blame by simply stating he wasn’t aware of the exclusions.  Which could very well be true since he wasn’t confirmed by the Delaware Senate until October, 2015.  But all the former Secretaries of Education would have known: Mark Murphy, Lillian Lowery, and Valarie Woodruff.  Why weren’t they named in the lawsuit if the charter schools had allegations going back to 2003?

I see this as just one more nail in the coffin of public education.  Now this opens the door for charter schools to get more funds from a referendum.  Funds earmarked for a district are now questionable.  Unless some shady deal went down at some point between 2003 and 2015, Christina is not to blame.  So why on earth would they settle?  I highly doubt their attorney fees would have climbed higher than the results of this settlement.  There is no possible way ninety minutes was enough time for their board to digest this settlement.  I read it last night and I still have many doubts.

The whole part about Christina paying $150,000 as a “one-time payment”?  That reeks of the amount Saul Ewing will charge the charter schools for their legal fees.  Wasn’t the Longwood Foundation going to pay for them?

This will be seen as a victory by many charter school parents, especially the ones at Newark Charter School.  They will point fingers at Christina and say “See, you settled, it was your fault.”  This is not a win for kids.

Christina School District Letter To Parents About Charter Funding Issues

The Christina School District just issued a letter to parents and citizens in the district to address the recent funding issues surrounding charter school payments and exclusions in their budget:

A Letter to Christina School District Parents and Residents
about Charter School Funding:

There have been recent reports in local media and on social media about possible changes to the funding formula used to determine the Local Cost per Student that determines payments to charter and choice students who attend schools other than traditional Christina public schools.

At a meeting on September 1 with the Superintendents of public school districts throughout the state, Delaware Secretary of Education Steven Godowsky stated that there would be no changes to the Local Cost per Student formula for the 2016-2017 school year. The district has not yet received a formal statement in writing from the Department of Education to this effect.

Unfortunately, statements have been made by a number of individuals that the Christina School District is excluding funds that should be included in the calculations of the Local Cost per Student.

We feel these are very serious statements that need to be addressed. We also feel that the Christina community deserves to know what these restricted funds are and how they support families who choose to send their children to traditional public schools in Christina.

FACT:
The Christina School District does not decide what appropriations are included or excluded from the Local Cost of Funds. That determination rests with the Secretary of Education, as stated by Delaware Code.

FACT:
The Department of Education informed District Business Managers, in August, that certain expenditures which have historically been deemed by the Secretary of Education to be inappropriate for inclusion in the Local Cost per Student Calculation may now be included. No explanations or justifications were provided other than citing that the decision is at the discretion of the Secretary of Education. This decision is contrary to the decisions made by previous Secretaries ranging as recently as last year and as far back as 17 years.

FACT:
In 2003, Christina voters approved a referendum by a vote of 5,334 to 2,431 to restrict 10 cents per $100 of assessed property value to support four specific programs for Christina School District students. These programs were 1) phase-in of Full-Day Kindergarten, 2) expansion of services for Gifted and Talented program, 3) expansion of services for Alternative Programs, and 4) technology replacement schedule. These funds, authorized by taxpayers, are restricted, and are considered District Specific Exclusions.

FACT:
Beginning in 2014, the Department of Education agreed that these funds were restricted and approved their exclusion from the calculation of Local Cost per Student.

FACT:
Another example of funds considered a District Specific Exclusion are those funds generated through the Match Tax. State Legislators often create unique programs designed to help students, such as Reading Resource Teachers, Math Resource Teachers, Extra Time Funding, and Education Technology. These are taxes that impact all traditional school districts. For example, the State recognized the need to assist elementary students in reading. The State provided funding for Reading Resource Teacher positions in Traditional Public Schools and in Charter Schools. State legislation empowered the School Boards of the Traditional Public School Districts to raise taxes to “Match” state funds on a 70/30 state/local basis. School Boards were authorized to match the amount provided to the District only. These Match programs have been excluded from the Local Cost per Student calculation for the past 14-17 years.

The Christina School district welcomes open and public conversation around appropriate public funding for all public school students. As a district that serves a high proportion of low-income, English Language Learners, and special needs students, the Christina School District is invested in ensuring equity, and meeting the educational needs of our diverse population.

The District will hold a Legislative Briefing on Wednesday, September 7 at 7:30 a.m. at the Eden Support Services Center.

Sincerely,
Robert Andrzejewski, Ed.D., Acting Superintendent
Christina School District

Robert Silber, Chief Financial Officer
Christina School District