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

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

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

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

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

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

Guest Post From Eve Buckley On Budget Deficit And Education Cuts In Delaware Schools

Eve Buckley wrote a brilliant post on Facebook today.  With her permission, I wanted to get this out to a wider audience since she hit the nail on the head with what is going on in Delaware public education in the face of disastrous cuts school districts are facing.  Eve, like myself, is a parent in Delaware.  Her children go to Christina schools.  She was also in attendance at Paul Baumbach’s Education Forum at Newark High School last night.

Delaware friends, the take-away from last night’s education forum, for me, was that the state has–as we know–an enormous budgetary crisis and currently no political capacity to raise revenue, since GOP legislators have pledged not to raise taxes. Unless this changes, we will cut everywhere, deeply–and as far as I know, there is no reason to believe this will improve next year. Governor Carney does not have a viable plan to address this huge structural problem. Democratic legislators, many of whom are quite willing to approve property tax reassessment [for the first time in DECADES], need a 3/5 majority vote to pass that and cannot move forward without support from at least two Republican legislators. All of us can write to Gov. Carney about the need to responsibly address the state’s serious budgetary challenges. Everyone should contact their state legislators, but esp. if yours (in House or Senate) is Republican. Tell them how these cuts will impact your children’s educational opportunities; if your child attends Christina district, it is facing a $6 million shortfall for next year due to the reduction in state funds, which translates to a dozen or more staff/teacher cuts at each middle and high school, and presumably some staff cuts from every school. These individuals have already been notified, which is demoralizing for everyone in those communities–as Newark HS students made clear last night.

Note that state-authorized charters (the vast majority of DE’s charters, outside of Red Clay district) are not as severely affected by these cuts, the logic being that Carney proposes giving district boards one-time authorization to make up about two-thirds of his proposed cuts via a “match tax,” which would generate revenue only for district schools. This puts the elected district boards in a quandary: schools need those funds, but by replacing the state shortfall with a board-authorized increase in local taxes, the districts will probably lose any capacity to pass a referendum in the future, as many residents will be infuriated by this extraordinary maneuver. For the moment, this proposed mechanism for recouping district revenue via a one-time match tax (and subjecting ONLY district schools to the corresponding state cuts) means that charter school staff are not being notified of job losses, at least not on the scale that district schools are experiencing. Aside from the seeming unfairness of this, it also means that charter families, generally quite mobilizable to advance their children’s interests, are probably less aware of how severe the state’s education funding crisis is–and only 13 legislative days remain before the state’s budget will be finalized. For me, this is another example of the damage we do to the democratic process by “packaging” public services differently for different members of our communities; we are not all in this together. That is a serious loss, reducing the likelihood that schools and families will get what they need from the state. Democracy is a numbers game, and our numbers are significantly diminished by our fractured public ed. landscape.

As always, Exceptional Delaware wants and solicits for guest posts on education matters.  Thank you!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

No Shared Sacrifice For Delaware Charters! They Get To Keep Their Portion Of Educational Sustainment Fund!

The Delaware Education Hunger Games just went up a new level.  The shot heard round the Delaware Education world when Governor John Carney put out his FY2018 proposed budget shook up the school districts.  But the part no one is talking about is the Delaware charter schools get to keep their educational sustainment funds.

The total for the educational sustainment fund is $28.15 million dollars.  Carney wants to cut $21,974.40 of that fund.  That amount is what goes to the local school districts.  The rest goes to the charters and there is NO recommendation in Carney’s budget to cut those funds for the blessed ones.  The rationale is the charters aren’t covered by the Match Tax.  But I will get to that part later.  Governor Markell actually wanted to keep the fund in his proposed budget for FY2018.  This means the charters would get to keep over $6 million dollars.

Meanwhile, Carney suggested the school boards could raise those funds via a match tax without referendum.  For arguments sake, let’s say school boards decide to go that route.  That would mean the charters could get not only the educational sustainment fund but also their local share of those match tax funds.  Since no local school board seems to relish the idea of taking up Carney on his idea, they are forced to get the funds elsewhere.  In many districts, teachers and staff are getting reduction in force notices.

It is absolutely disgusting and abhorrent the charters are able to keep this money.  I thought the charter school transportation slush fund was disgusting enough, but this is obscene.  All the angst and distress in the districts while the charters merrily set their budgets without a care in the world.  Sure, they might have to make some sacrifices, but I’m sure they can make up for it with the above-mentioned slush fund.  Why do the charters get every perk in the world while districts are made to suffer?

So where did this educational sustainment fund even come from?  To find out the answer to that, you have to go way back to the Governor Mike Castle days.  This was during a time when Delaware didn’t have the budget problems we are plagued with today.  There was actually an idea thrown into the air to cut property taxes entirely.  As Delaware does so wonderfully, they put together a group to see if this was possible.  John Carney was actually on this working group and was one of the chief voices against cutting property taxes altogether.  And that is where the fund came into being, through this group.  And now Carney wants to get rid of it, but only for the districts, not the charters.  Originally, the amount was over $50 million dollars.  But it shrunk down over the years.  There used to be a list for its intended use, but now it states these funds can be used locally for whatever they want.  Which means Carney’s statement about how it shouldn’t have been used as a permanent fixture to support teacher salaries is hogwash.

If you aren’t pissed off enough about the shenanigans going on with this budget, this should set you into a tailspin.  Unless you are actually a parent of a student who would benefit from this perk for your child’s school (aka, a charter school).  All the business officers in the school districts know this, and Mike Jackson, the Director of the Office of Management and Budget definitely knows this.  But this has remained under the radar for months now.  Until I found out today.

Do charter schools have a right to the match tax proceeds collected from Delaware school districts?  This is where it becomes a somewhat thorny issue.  Technically, no.  But the Christina School District settlement with the 15 charter schools set up a potential upcoming conflict where they could argue the merit of getting those funds.  From the settlement:

In particular, Plaintiffs are free to contend for fiscal 2018 and thereafter that Match Tax Revenues should be included in the calculation of Local Cost Per Student pursuant to Section 509. CSD is free to condent for fiscal 2018 and thereafter that Match Tax Revenues should not be included in the calculation of Local Cost Per Student pursuant to Section 509.

Why would any discussion of match tax funds appear in this settlement?  Unless they KNEW Carney would be putting this in his proposed budget.  And we all know it isn’t actually Carney creating this.  Most likely Mike Jackson.  More boon for charters.  And I just heard the charter school transportation slush fund WILL stay in the budget.  Time to get your voices heard Delaware and call out the State of Delaware for succumbing to the incessant lobbying of the Delaware Charter School Network.  It is time to get people like Greg Meece from Newark Charter School to shut up about his school’s great test scores and how they are recipients of the Blue Ribbon Award twice.  It is all based on superficial bullshit.  Anyone can rig the game and charters have been very proficient at that.  It is time to stop the Delaware charters from deciding education funding and policy in Delaware.  It is time for our legislators to stop voting on the basis of less than 20% of Delaware’s public education population and look at the needs of ALL our students.  Enough.  Our children are more important than these showmanship games.  I am not directing this at every single charter school.  I am directing this towards the lobbyists for the charters and the charter school leaders who have been doing this for decades.  They weaseled their way into Carney’s office and I see no signs of them leaving.  Time to make that happen!

Editor’s note: I don’t swear on here that much.  When I do, that means I am pretty ticked off!

Updated, 8:41am: In paragraph 3, sentence 3, I changed the word “would” to “could”.  At present, the charters have no claim to the match tax in Delaware.  It is my contention they are gunning for it very soon.

Christina Board of Education Unanimously Passes Resolution Condemning Governor Carney’s Proposed Education Cuts

Last night, the Christina Board of Education unanimously passed a resolution concerning Governor John Carney’s proposed FY2018 budget for Delaware.  The resolution encourages all Delaware legislators in New Castle County to reject Carney’s proposed education cuts.  The FY2018 budget has to get through the Joint Finance Committee and will then go to the149th Delaware General Assembly in the final days of legislative session in late June.

Expect more of this in the days and weeks to come.  The reaction from Delaware teachers, educators, parents, citizens, schools, districts, and school boards is getting louder by the day.  Especially when teachers are getting pink slips.  Last night at a forum about the budget at the Delmar Fire Station, even Carney acknowledged these are bad choices.  I have to think, with all the perks inserted into the epilogue language of the state budget every year, there is room for unnecessary programs in our state to get the chopping block.  If Carney wants our state to be competitive, forcing schools into no-win situations involving less money is not the way to go.  This wasn’t a bad choice, it was a horrible choice.

My No Holds Barred Response To Governor Carney’s Letter To Delaware Teachers As Districts Prepare Layoffs

Governor Carney sent a letter to all Delaware public school teachers this morning for Teacher Appreciation Week.  The irony of this letter, as several Delaware school districts are getting ready to layoff teachers, is astounding.  Because of Carney’s proposed budget for FY2018, Delaware school districts are put in a no-win situation.  School boards can either raise property taxes with the match tax or reduce their own budgets (of which they have to do anyways).  Carney shifted the onus of the budget deficit away from his office with his “shared sacrifice” language.  What he did was attempt to make damn sure the taxpayers of the state shift their anger at Delaware school boards when their taxes go up or see their children suffocate in huge classrooms with less teachers and programs.

I have this to say to Governor Carney: what you have done is shady and despicable.  It is the ultimate in political posturing, but your muscle flex is going to backfire on you.  You won’t get away with playing the budgetary Darth Vader where others do the dirty work for you if you want to survive past 2020.  Your opponents are most likely salivating over all this because you exposed a major Achilles heel very early in the game.  And you better believe if charters somehow benefit over all this, I won’t be the only one protesting.  Many will join me.  As an example, will the General Assembly get rid of the very useless charter school transportation slush fund?  Will charter schools also have teacher layoffs?  Will they actually lose some of their transportation budget like all the local school districts will?  If the answer to any of these is a no, I don’t see much “shared” sacrifice.

If any members of our General Assembly think they can sneak in the usual perks into the epilogue language of the budget in the final hours of this legislative session (I’m talking to you most of all Mrs. Death Penalty flipper), it will cause a ruckus unseen in Legislative Hall for some time.

It is past time Delaware stopped using students and teachers as sacrificial lambs.  It isn’t just Carney and the General Assembly who are doing this, it is also the school districts.  I have yet to see any school district cutting administrative positions.  So far, I am fairly sure Indian River, Christina, Caesar Rodney, and Colonial will be cutting teachers.  That list will grow.

Below is Carney’s letter to teachers.  Like I said, this is almost insulting.  I have no doubt students said many things about their teachers, but Carney (or whichever staff member wrote this letter) seems to cherry-pick certain things to further his Rodel’s own agenda.  Can we just stop pretending John Carney?  Just come out and rename the state Rodelaware.  You aren’t fooling anyone.  This letter demands the famous “John Young redline edition”…

From: Carney, Governor (Governor) <Governor.Carney@state.de.us>
Sent: Wednesday, May 10, 2017 8:34:32 AM
To: K12 Employees
Subject: Thank you

 

As the nation recognizes National Teacher Appreciation Week, we in Delaware have a lot to celebrate. Secretary of Education Susan Bunting joins me in thanking all of you for helping our students succeed in school and in life.

When you say “celebrate”, who is celebrating?  Of course Bunting is going to join you.  She will do whatever you want!  Nothing against Dr. Bunting, but if I have learned one thing about a Governor’s Cabinet, they follow whatever the Governor says, which usually translates to what Rodel wants.  Please don’t use words like celebrate at the same time teachers are facing unemployment.  It is the ultimate insult.

If I needed any help remembering how lucky we are in Delaware to have such great educators, I got it Monday morning. Secretary Bunting and I visited Capital School District’s Hartly Elementary School and I asked the students why their teachers are special. Their rapid-fire answers were right on point:

What were the other answers provided by students?  I have a very hard time believing that the majority of answers given by students in an elementary school were geared towards post-secondary education plans.  But I’m sure the Rodel and Delaware Business Roundtable business types love these answers.  Feed the beast!

“They make sure we’re ready for college.”

See above.

“Without them we wouldn’t know how to use decimal points.”

Okay, that’s a good answer.

“They’re helping us get good jobs some day.”

By standardize testing the hell out of these kids and forcing them to learn in digital technology classrooms, the state is robbing children of a true educational experience.  This data collecting of children, geared towards shifting the workforce to select jobs for the future, is social engineering at its absolute worst Governor Carney.  Please stop with the Markellian way of thinking and be your own man.

And my favorite:

“They teach us to care about each other.”

Awwww, that is so cute.  Reminding teachers, as many prepare to get pink slips, that it is about the students and they should just shut up and share the sacrifice for the good of the state.  And just so you know, many Delaware parents teach their children to care about each other.  That isn’t solely owned by teachers.  For many students, it is.  But parents across the state play the main part in raising their children.  So let’s not even get into the plans to transform education into a “public-private partnership”.  Kids need to be in brick and mortar schools, not the local non-profits at younger ages. 

Our kids get it. They know just how much you do and how invested you are in them.

Yeah, too bad our state isn’t invested in them.  Too bad they aren’t invested in our students either.  Unless you like having over 35 kids in a classroom.  Tell me Governor Carney, how many kids were in YOUR classrooms when you went to school back in the day?  But let’s keep paying for Smarter Balanced and all the Common Core bullshit.  Let’s keep our classrooms wired at all times so corporations get those nice bottom line numbers at the expense of students.  Let’s let the data whores continue to collect private information on our students through their iPhones and Google Chrome.  Schools, teachers, and students are not “investments”.  Those are corporate education reform words.  Yes, the children are the future, but by putting them in terms of financial gain, you insult every single child in this state.

I hope you were able to join us on April 27, when we hosted a Telephone Town Hall with Delaware educators to discuss issues around public education in Delaware. Specifically, we discussed education and our state budget.

I was on that call.  Most town halls end when the questions run out.  But not on your schedule Governor Carney. 

This is an important discussion, and I will continue to listen to educators during school visits across Delaware. We face a $400 million budget shortfall, but I remain dedicated to each of you and your students.

Dedication is more than “listening”.  It means making damn sure any sacrifice stays the hell out of the classroom.  But you can’t do that, can you?  Let’s pray our General Assembly finally and collectively says NO to your horrible budget proposal.

Our plan is to fix our structural deficit, and get to a place where we can again invest in areas that will move our state forward: early childhood education, arts, additional supports for at-risk students, health and wellness, and after-school programing, to name a few.

The key wording is “get to a place”.  That means you want to kick the can down the road, which Delaware is fantastic at doing.  Your predecessor was excellent in that regard.  “Invest now” all too often means “pay the price later”.  No child should pay the price for adult decisions.  If you want to fix the structural deficit, how about you actually go after delinquent property taxes?  Sign an Executive Order demanding the counties exert pressure on those who feel they don’t have to pay at all!  Like the Chinese company that owes Red Clay over a million bucks in back property taxes.  Or the golf club in Middletown that likes to play games with Appoquinimink.  Make sure our State Auditor has the ability to properly audit our schools and see where every single penny in Delaware education funding is REALLY going.  Cause we both know there is foul play going on in some circumstances.  But turning a blind eye to that has helped to lead us to where we are at now.

All Delaware students deserve a quality education, and an equal opportunity to succeed. And I know you work hard every day to deliver on that promise. Thank you for all you do.

All Delaware students do deserve a quality education.  But not your definition of it.  And let’s not even get into this “weighted funding” nonsense.  We both know what that is really about Governor Carney, don’t we.  If I were you, I would give considerable thought in the next week to revising your proposed budget.  Because if you truly care about students, this is not the way to go.  I tried to give you a chance and have faith in you.  I have yet to see you live up to that promise.  Tax the rich more.  Seriously.  That is the best way to start. 

Sincerely,

Governor John Carney

John Carney

Sincerely,

Kevin Ohlandt, the blogger who is getting sick of public education being a sacrificial lamb to the likes of Rodel and the Delaware Business Roundtable in the name of corporate profit and social engineering.

Christina Board Votes No On Many District Recommended Budget Cuts

Tonight at the Christina Board of Education meeting, the board voted in favor of NOT eliminating the following in their schools and the district based on recommendations from their Chief Financial Officer, Bob Silber and Superintendent Richard Gregg. This was under the direction of “Minimize the number of students impacted by cuts.”

Elementary & Secondary Strings

Elementary Instrumental Music

A motion to reduce elementary specialists (such as music, library, etc.)

A motion to decrease technology investment

Academic Deans

Montessori Program

Reduce Department Budgets

Reduce School Budgets (based on need)

Change Credit Recovery Delivery Model-Integrate SPA with High Schools

The following DID pass the board:

Reduce EPER (Extra Pay for Extra Responsibilities)

Do not fill Vacant Non-Academic positions

Decrease in Professional Development

While these are good for the positions and programs not eliminated, those holes in the budget will have to be filled somewhere with other cuts, which could mean up to 100 teachers being cut from the district as well as higher classroom sizes.  This isn’t a good situation no matter how you slice it.  I don’t envy any school board faced with these decisions largely set in motion by Governor Carney’s proposed budget for FY2018.  He is recommending districts be able to raise match taxes without a referendum.  Many districts are balking at this scenario presented by Carney.  However, they have to give notice to teachers about returning this month, well before the Delaware General Assembly gives their final vote on the budget which will occur on either June 30th, or more likely, the wee hours of the morning on July 1st.

Delaware Auditor Report For Certain Eyes Only On School District Tax Rates For FY 2015 & 2016 Raises Questions

The Delaware Auditor of Accounts office released a report today on School District Tax Rates for the past two school years, Fiscal Years 2015 and 2016.  It shows many school districts receiving more in taxes than they were allowed based on the tax warrants.  While these were not huge amounts in many cases, a few districts raised red flags in my book.

But why is the tuition tax not included in this report?  Why is their no inspection by the Auditor’s office to make sure those funds are allocated where they are supposed to and not elsewhere?  This report is lacking in many details.  While it caught a few things, it is not enough.  Under Delaware state code, the Auditor’s office is failing in their fiduciary duty to perform what is required by the law.  You can blame that on funding and staffing issues for the Auditor of Accounts office but if Delaware State Code indicates a state office must perform a duty necessary to adhere to state law, the General Assembly MUST fund that office so they are able to carry out those duties.  Since they haven’t been, the General Assembly has been derelict in their duty.

What kills me is the end of the report:

This information is intended solely for the information and use of DOE and the management of the school districts.  It is not intended to be, and should not be, used by anyone other than these specified parties.  However, under 29 Del. C. 10002(1), this report is a public record and its distribution is not limited.  This report, as required by statute, was provided to the Office of the Governor, the Office of the Controller General, the Office of the Attorney General, and the Office of Management and Budget.

So how many reports are out there that the public has not seen?  I have a feeling it is quite a lot.  I smell a FOIA coming because I want to see ALL the reports that are considered public but are not listed on the Delaware Auditor of Accounts website…

Updated, 3:13pm: This is listed on the auditor’s website, but after State Rep. Earl Jaques admission that he has seen annual audits performed by the Auditor’s office for each district, I have to believe there are a ton of reports the public never sees.  Why all the secrecy?

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