Will Delaware Republicans Try To Paint The Wall Red In 10th Senate District Special Election?

The upcoming special election for the 10th Senate District just got very interesting.  As we all know, Bethany Hall-Long will vacate her Senate seat when she is appointed Lieutenant Governor of Delaware.  In February or March, a special election will take place for her seat.  I put up some possible contenders for the seat in an article last Friday.  I assumed the Delaware GOP party would pick John Marino as the Republican frontrunner for Hall-Long’s seat.  But from what I’m hearing today, a new name is being given serious thought on the Republican side… Continue reading “Will Delaware Republicans Try To Paint The Wall Red In 10th Senate District Special Election?”

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Live From Legislative Hall: The Delaware ESSA Advisory Committee Meeting

The meeting is about to start.  A facilitator introduced himself.  Didn’t hear his name.  Secretary Godowsky is talking about how the ESSA Adv. Comm. came about (Executive Order #62).  Stakeholder input is important.  Goal is to submit plan by March, 2017.  Thanking everyone for being on the committee.  Secretary Godowsky just told the group Delaware schools grew by 1,100 students this year.  Appo Super Matt Burrows (the chair) is talking now.  Some late members of the committee are forced to sit against the walls cause they don’t have enough chairs to go around the table.

Rollcall: Tony Allen, Atnre Alleyne, Alex Palaono, Matt Burrows, Catherine Hnt, Nancy Labanda, Madeleine Bayard, LaShanda Wooten, Laurissa Schutt, Kim Williams, Nelia Dolan, Stephanie De Witt, David Sokola, Rodman Ward, Eileen DeGregoriis, Wendee Bull, Barbara Rutt, Leolga Wright, Cheryl Carey, Susan Bunting, Deb Stevens, Tammi Croce, Patrick Callahan, Janine Clark, and Genesis Johnson.  Other people in attendance are as follows.  DOE: Michael Watson, Karen Field-Rogers, Secretary Godowsky, Angeline Rivello, DSEA: Kirsten Dwyer.  Caesar Rodney teachers Laurie Howard and Natalie Ganc.

Delaware State Rep. Kim Williams reacted to a statement from the facilitator.  She wanted clarification on who is writing the ESSA state plan.  The Delaware DOE is.  The Adv. Comm. will give recommendations.  Tony Allen asked about the due dates for the plan.  The facilitator told him there are two due dates, March 31st and July 31st.  Delaware chose March 31st because it takes the US DOE 120 days to approve it and they want to get it going by the start of the 2017-2018 school year.

Alex Nook with the Penn Hill Group is giving a presentation on ESSA.  He is familiar with federal education law.  ESSA gives states more leeway but still has accountability and so forth.  Now he is talking about Title I.  He asked if anyone in the room doesn’t know what Title I is.  No one raised their hand (thank God).  States are still required to set long-term goals for academic achievement.  Unlike No Child Left Behind, 100% of kids don’t have to be proficient.  ESSA gives states flexibility.  What kind of accountability system should we have.  What works for some schools and what do we need to do for struggling schools.  The requirement for turnaround schools but if they want mo money they have to do something for those schools.  English Language learners have more focus in ESSA.  English proficiency for these students is now a requirement in federal education law.  But states determine the timeline for this.  Kim Williams asked if this means we won’t fire principals and teachers in turnaround schools.  Nook said not federally required.  Atnre Alleyne asked what the percentage of Title I funds have to go to struggling schools.  Nook said 7%.  Alleyne asked how much fed money Delaware is getting.  Karen Field-Rogers said she would find out.

Nook said Title II funds are for teachers and professional development.  $2 billion nationally, every school district gets a portion of them.  Congress felt school leaders weren’t getting enough federal dollars so they allowed states to set aside 3% of funds to ensure leaders get prof. development as well.  The rest of the fed money goes to schools and districts for teachers and prof. development.

Another pot of money is Title IV funds.  This is a new program.  They are consolidating this into a Student Supports and Academic Enrichment Grant.  The former funds didn’t work well so this is a larger flexible program.  Money is more for what a school district or charter school needs.  This is figured out at the local level and not through Congress.  Congress hasn’t approved a final amount for this.  Obama Administration, Congress, and the Senate are all floating different numbers.  There is no existing funding mechanism for this.  21st Century Learning Program will continue.  Charter School program will continue: $ for start-ups, help, resources for charters.

Nook is answering questions.  DeGregoriis asked for more info on the charter school funding.  Alleyne asked about highly qualified teachers and state equity plans.  Congress wrote definition, according to Nook, of what a highly qualified teacher was under NCLB.  Congress decided that should not be a requirement of the law.  Now all teachers must meet state certification plans, so whatever Delaware says, that is it.  With the equity plan, a carryover from NCLB, disadvantaged kids can’t be taught by ineffective and inexperienced teachers.  That was the plan for why Obama and Congress created the equity plan.  These plans weren’t in statute before and the next administration will have more say on what happens with that.  Class-size waivers will still be allowed.  That can be done through Title II.  Kim Williams asked about requirements for a teacher to teach in a classroom.  Nook said highly qualified teachers are done but the states handle requirements for this.  LaShonda Wooten said highly qualified teachers have to take a test to be highly qualified.  So before the feds mandated this, now the states do.

Now Nook is talking about the dreaded R word… regulations.  Regulations make sure rules don’t go against the will of Congress for the intent of the law.  US DOE put out regulations for accountability and assessments  (even though many members of Congress are against John King’s massive overreach on this).  These are proposed regulations and the public comment period closed.  The accountability regulations had over 21,000 public comments (one was mine, LOL).  Regulations say states must have tests available in second most commonly spoken language in the state.  Delaware’s plans will hinge on the final form of these regulations so our plans could change.  This is one of the reasons why Delaware wants to submit their plans in March.  Nook is anticipating the final regulatory package in late November/early December.  There will also be an application package put out by US DOE.  Deb Stevens asked if the regulations will be ironed out for the states that submit their plans in early March.  Nook said it will be very difficult for US DOE to adhere to those due dates if the regulations aren’t set in stone.  Nook said he has faith in US Secretary of Education John King to make sure this is done.  Stevens asked about giving states more time for the 17-18 school year if things aren’t set in stone.  Would Delaware get that flexibility?  Nook believes US DOE would be open to that but nothing is written on paper.  He understands you don’t want to risk Title I dollars over this kind of stuff.

Nook said the accountability system has to have five different standards, including English Language learner proficiency.  The fifth category is picked by the states.  Nook said Delaware has an advantage because we already have a multi-level accountability system.  Seven states are “competency-based” pilot states.  Delaware will have to decide what they want to do (hell to the no on Delaware going competency-based- editor’s note).  Nook said the Presidential election will have a huge impact on everything.  Whether it is Trump or Clinton there might be change.  A new Secretary could change due dates from March to April or change regulatory matters.  They may advocate for different funding for programs.

DeGregoriis asked what the benefit is for Delaware submitting their plan early with all these what ifs… Nook said the benefit is being in better shape for budgetary decisions.  It sounds like Delaware wants input.  Secretary Godowsky said the March due date is a goal.  But it could change given all the moving targets.  Godowsky said we are making a good effort.  Kim Williams asked how we are going to get the new Delaware administration’s input as well.  That is her concern with a March due date.  She said we could have a new Secretary of Education.  Godowsky said they WILL have a new Secretary of Education.  He feels if there is a lot of change with the plan, there could be due date changes.

Stevens asked Nook to explain supplement vs. supplant.  He defines it as federal dollars are supposed to supplement and not replace systems.  Federal dollars need to be on top of a state or local set of resources.  There is contention in Congress over this, and a new regulation is out there and public comment is still open until early November.  Congress feels Title I should be a more equalized state and local amount of funding.  The US DOE is moving forward on the regulations to give districts options on how to even out funding.  Stevens explained she understands it could affect local staffing in Title I schools.  Tony Allen asked if this is dollar for dollar or equitable funding.  Nook said the US DOE is giving districts four options to choose from.  (Note to self: look into this one a lot more).

Alleyne asked if this will kick the can down the road more for struggling schools.  Nook said Delaware chose to freeze schools for this year that would have gone under the SIG program like previous years.  Nook is done.  Five minute break.

Break is over.  Karen Field-Rogers is talking about what the DOE has done already.  She is explaining how they had stakeholder consultation groups they meet with on an already continual basis throughout the year.  They have held four community conversations in Dover, Georgetown, Middletown, and Wilmington.  There are two discussion groups: School Success and Reporting AND Student and School Supports.  They have also had a survey open on their website and they have had over 400 submissions already.  The DOE wants a first draft of the plan by the end of this month.  They just announced the new Community Conversations.  There will be gaps in the first draft.  The DOE wants comments.  It is not a complete plan at all.  They also want to have the first draft so the new Governor-elect will be able to provide input.  DOE wants to submit second draft of the plan by the end of the year.  Susan Bunting asked if the public will be able to comment online for the drafts.  DOE is talking to their lawyers about that.  (What? Why?).  There were over 100 nominations for the discussion groups.  They worked w/organizations like DSEA to pick those members.  Only 54 were chosen (27 for each group).  Alleyne asked if the representation on the different groups represented the diversity of the state.  Field-Rogers believes they have.  She said they were very careful about this.  She said in Wilmington they partnered with the Christina Cultural Arts Center and there was a block party afterwards.  Williams asked what the purpose of the Community Conversations were?  Field-Rogers said it is to help guide the DOE with their plan.  All the discussion group minutes are on the DOE website (or on Exceptional Delaware- editor’s note).  The DOE is in the process of “synthesizing” all the responses to the surveys and will be releasing that information soon.

Facilitator is going over piece of paper handed out to everyone.  Asking questions: what is the most important thing that Delaware should accomplish for its schools through its ESSA Plan?  What three areas are you most interested in reviewing?  The five groups are Supporting Excellent Educations for All Students, Challenging Academic Standards and Assessments, Measures of School Success and Public Reporting, School Support and Improvement, and Supporting All Students.  He is giving the group five minutes to fill out the sheet.  Then the group will caucus in four to five groups.  One person in the group will be a facilitator for each group and will report out to the whole group.

Groups are done meeting.  I was chatting with the Laverne and Shirley of Delaware education most of the time.  Atnre Alleyne is talking for his group.  A big focus of his group was educator equity and accountability.  Who is accountable when gaps in the system happen?  What happens when people leave the state and more gaps continue?  Next group, Laurissa Schutt said their group talked about the timing of the group.  As well, they talked about academic supports and how much local discretion there will be.  Wendee Bull is talking for the third group: how to still have the rigor we have now, to make sure districts still have accountability to uphold that rigor.  The facilitator said ESSA doesn’t totally give up federal oversight of accountability but gives more leeway.  It will be determined how much of that flexibility will occur and it will be a balancing act.  Patrick Callihan represented the last group.  He agreed with Atnre.  In order to get there we need a fair and balanced system.  Start to change the stigma of how schools are being guided.  The feds don’t know a lot about what is going on in Delaware.

 

 

 

 

Don’t Forget: Governor’s ESSA Advisory Committee Meeting Tonight

The Delaware Governor’s ESSA Advisory Committee will meet tonight at Legislative Hall in the House Majority Hearing Room.  The fun starts at 6pm.  Will Jack Markell show up?  It would be very tight.  At 5pm he will be in Wilmington for the Delaware Open Data Launch, and then he has to be at Dover Downs for the 2016 Volunteer Awards ceremony.

I can’t believe there has been no announcement concerning who is actually on this committee.  I know State Rep. Kim Williams, Deb Stevens from DSEA, and Appo Superintendent Matt Burrows are on it.  If I were a betting man, I’m sure Kendall Massett from the Delaware Charter Schools Network is on it.  She rarely gives up a spot on any committee for a designee.  Someone from Rodel.  Perhaps Kevin Carson from the Delaware Association of School Administrators.  John Marinucci from the Delaware School Boards Association.  I have a feeling I will know most of this crowd.  See you tonight!

Don’t Be Fooled By The Delaware DOE… Our State Plan For ESSA Was Pre-Determined By Rodel A Long Time Ago

Rodel runs the show in Delaware education.  I now have very positive proof this is the case. Continue reading “Don’t Be Fooled By The Delaware DOE… Our State Plan For ESSA Was Pre-Determined By Rodel A Long Time Ago”

Delaware Competency-Based Education, Part 1: Rodel, DOE & Achieve Inc. Team-Up

Personalized Learning, as a concept, has been around since the 1960’s.  In its original form, it was an effort to personalize learning between a teacher and a student.  Students don’t always learn at the same pace.  The term has been bastardized by corporate education reformers over the past five years.  Their idea is to launch a technology boom in the classroom where investors and ed-tech companies will get tons of money.  To do this, they had to use education “think-tanks” and foundations to sway the conversation towards this lucrative gold-mine.  No one has been a bigger supporter of personalized learning in Delaware than the Rodel Foundation.  They began talking about this new and exciting education reform movement as early as November, 2011.  A company called Digital Learning Now! released their 2011 report card on different states ability to transform into a digital learning environment and Delaware scored poorly on their report.  According to this Rodel article on the report written by Brett Turner (the link to the report card doesn’t exist anymore), Turner wrote:

…the initial results are not promising, demonstrating that we have significant work ahead of us before the necessary policies are in place to ensure our students benefit from high-quality next generation learning opportunities.

Digital Learning Now! was an initiative of the Foundation for Excellence in Education.  Other digital “experts” the company thanks in their 2012 report include the Alliance for Excellent Education, the Data Quality Campaign, iNACOL, SETDA, Chiefs for Change, Getting Smart, and the Innosight Institute.  The Foundation for Excellence in Education was founded by Jeb Bush in 2008, just as Common Core was in its formation stages.  In the Rodel article, Turner talks about how Delaware needs to adapt to this environment so our students can succeed.

Over the next two and a half years, as Race to the Top became more of a nightmare than a promise of better education, Rodel began to take steps to have Delaware become a part of this next big thing.  They formed the Rodel Teacher Council to recruit well-intentioned teachers to join their personalized learning dream team.  I don’t see these teachers as evil but rather teachers who are easily manipulated and coerced into being connected with the “next big thing”.  I see them as unwitting pawns of Rodel.

Rodel didn’t write much about personalized learning too much during this time, but they did release a Personalized Learning 101 flyer in 2013.  At the same time, four Delaware districts formed BRINC: Brandywine, Indian River, New Castle County Vo-Tech, and Colonial.  Using funds from Race To the Top and a Delaware DOE “innovation grant”, the districts used Schoology and Modern Teacher to usher Delaware into the digital learning age.  Rodel’s blog posts about personalized learning didn’t touch on the concept again until February, 2014 when a Rodel employee by the name of Matthew Korobkin began writing posts about digital learning.  More followed by other Rodel employees in the coming months.  At this time, Dr. Paul Herdman of Rodel was palling around with an ed-tech company called 2Revolutions and went around Delaware talking to groups about the glory of personalized learning.

In the beginning of June in 2014, Rachel Chan with the Rodel Foundation attended a seminar in Washington D.C. on personalized learning sponsored by iNACOL.  She wrote about this extensively on the Rodel website.

Later that month, the United States Department of Education released their state reports on special education in America.  Delaware received a rating of “needs intervention”, prompting Governor Jack Markell to set aside funding in the state budget for a special education “Strategic Plan”.  What no one knew until recently was this plan consisted of hiring Korobkin away from Rodel and into Secretary of Education Mark Murphy’s office to put this plan together.

Later in the summer of 2014, the Delaware Department of Education, with the Rodel Foundation of Delaware, banded together to form a clandestine group of “stakeholders” to look at competency-based education in a personalized learning environment in Delaware.  The biggest hurdle in getting this going in Delaware was the barriers in the state code.  Their were many players in this non-public group, including members of the Rodel Teacher Council who were also working on a “Personalized Learning Blueprint” at the same time.  This group shaped the future of education in Delaware.  But they used people to do so, including some of the members of this group.

The timing for this group couldn’t have come at a better time.  There were many distractions happening that allowed them to fly under the radar with no one the wiser.  Invitations were sent out to select participants from Theresa Bennett at the Delaware DOE.  She was an Education Specialist for English/Language Arts in the Curriculum, Instruction and Professional Development area of the DOE.  She was the person who scheduled all the meetings.  An introductory webinar, sponsored by Achieve Inc., was held on August 14th, 2014.

After an explanation of competency-based education and personalized learning from some folks at Achieve Inc., they opened the webinar up for questions.  At the 30:07 mark on the video, Appoquinimink Superintendent Matt Burrows explained his district already began the process for personalized learning.  He mentioned several hurdles, especially the teachers’ union.  Next came Judi Coffield, the former Head of School at Early College High School, a charter school run through Delaware State University.  Coffield asked how Carniege units and high school grades would come into play with this.  Bennett explained what role the DOE played in this and how she and Rachel Chan from the Rodel Foundation were going to run the group.  Bennett went on to explain that select allies were invited to participate in this group.  She also talked about a meeting with Achieve Inc. in Washington D.C. in May of 2014 to pave a path forward.

Bennett did a roll call of who was participating in the webinar.  Jose Aviles, the director of admissions at the University of Delaware, was not on the call.  Bennett explains how Aviles accompanied her to the Achieve Inc. meeting.  “Is there a representative from Delaware PTA on the call?”  No response.  “Is Donna Johnson on the call?”  Silence.  “Kim Joyce from Del-Tech?”  Nothing.  “Pat Michle from Developmental Disabilities Council?”  Empty air.  She added Laurie Rowe and Stanley Spoor with Howard High School of Technology would be joining them.  Susan Haberstroh with the Delaware DOE joined later in the Webinar.

Rodel and Markell knew they needed to stage a distraction to further this personalized learning agenda away from prying eyes while at the same time steering the conversation towards their end goals by using the distraction.  They knew one of these distractions would automatically happen based on federal mandates from the US DOE, but the other would need careful planning and coördination.  The first drove the need for the second.

A few weeks later, Governor Markell and then Secretary of Education Mark Murphy announced the six priority schools in Wilmington.  The DOE picked the six “lowest-performing” schools in Wilmington, DE and announced the two school districts involved, Red Clay and Christina, would have to sign a “memorandum of understanding” and submit to the demands of the Delaware DOE.  This put the entire city into an educational tailspin.  Teachers in the affected schools felt outrage at the Governor and the DOE.  Parents didn’t know what this meant.  Politicians scrambled to make sense of it all as primaries and general elections faced them while constituents furiously called them.  Teachers in Delaware were still reeling from the upcoming Smarter Balanced Assessment and the scores tied into their evaluations.  Meanwhile, the secret meetings of the Delaware Department of Education Competency-Based Learning Guiding Coalition began without any public notice as an email went out from Bennett…

Thank you for your interest in the Competency-Based Learning Guiding Coalition.  If you were unable to attend the informational webinar, please use this link to access the recording:   http://www.achieve.org/DelawareCBLwebinar  

The Guiding Coalition will be charged with laying the foundation for competency-based learning in Delaware. This will include creating a working definition of competency-based learning and what it could look like in Delaware, understanding current barriers to implementing CBL in Delaware, and establishing support for CBL initiatives to take root in the state. Once we have a common understanding of CBL, we will surface key ideas and develop recommended strategies for helping CBL take shape in the state.

The time commitment for the Advisory Group of the Guiding Coalition will be attending approximately two or three 2-hour meetings during the coming school year, with 30-60 minutes of pre-work for each meeting. There will also be opportunities to engage further through optional readings, school visits, webinars, and other convenings if your schedule/level of interest allows.

We are excited to share that an expert facilitator will be guiding each of our meetings; we would like to collect information to inform our meeting agendas.  Please complete the following survey by September 10th:  https://www.surveymonkey.com/s/DECompetency-BasedLearning.  

Please complete a Doodle to help us best schedule the meetings for this group.  We hope to begin late September/early October, with meetings held in Dover. Responses to the Doodle poll will help us find the best day/time for the first meeting. Please use this link: http://doodle.com/mts6ncf74v77mnf

Best,

Theresa

Theresa Bennett

Education Associate, ELA

Curriculum, Instruction, and Professional Development

Delaware Department of Education

401 Federal Street, Suite #2

Dover, DE 19901-3639

Coming up in Part 2: Delaware gets Marzanoed

Jaques And Sokola Emails Actually Reveal Levels Of Collusion & Deception At High Levels…But From Who?

An email from Delaware State Rep. Earl Jaques and State Senator David Sokola sheds new light on the district-charter funding debacle that has taken over Delaware education talk in the past week.  Meanwhile, the News Journal came out with another article on the issue that is sure to confuse everyone.

In the below email sent from Jaques to the House Education Committee, he gives a timeline of the events from the point in time he got involved in the issue and clarifies when Secretary of Education Dr. Stephen Godowsky found out about this.  He also put in a reply Sokola sent to a constituent regarding the issue which has some very accusatory statements toward Christina School District.

From: Jaques, Jr, Earl (LegHall) Sent: Thursday, September 1, 2016 2:41 PM To: Bentz, David (LegHall); Bolden, StephanieT (LegHall); Dukes, Timothy (LegHall); Heffernan, Debra (LegHall); Hensley, Kevin S (LegHall); Williams, Kimberly (LegHall); Kenton, Harvey (LegHall); Lynn, Sean M (LegHall); Matthews, Sean (LegHall); Miro,   Joseph (LegHall); Osienski, Edward (LegHall); Potter, Jr, Charles (LegHall); Ramone, Michael (LegHall) Cc: Schwartzkopf, Peter (LegHall); Sokola, David (LegHall)

Subject: School Funding Formula  

House Education Committee Members,   Late last week I received notice about  a formula change between Charter Schools and our traditional Public Schools. I immediately called and talked with Secretary Godowsky to see if what I heard was correct and if so why was this change being made.  I was told by him that yes a change was proposed and he wasn’t aware of this change until just the day before.  On a side note, I wasn’t very happy to hear about this – since I and Dr. Godowsky just had breakfast only a couple of days before this news broke and no mention of this was discussed by him to me!  I was told by Dr. Godowsky that he has put a hold on any possible changes to the funding formula until there are complete discussionswith all stakeholders.  I then called Governor Markell to voice both my concern and outrage   at how this proposed change was brought forward with no regards to public input, transparency or discussion with either myself or Senator Sokola. I then called Superintendent Burrows, this year’s head of the chiefs, and was assured by him that no discussions between the “chiefs” and DOE regarding this change had occurred.  Their only acknowledgement came when they starting receiving bills from the charter schools and subsequently called DOE to find out what was going on.  On the very next day I was at a public event with Governor Markell.  He reinstated to me that no actions regarding the funding formula will occur this year and any discussions on this subject will be transparent and inclusive. Again, I followed up with Secretary Godowsky, requesting  that any changes to the   formula would require an open, transparent and inclusive process involving all stakeholders and plenty of public input. Today, there was a story in the News Journal that you might want to read to gain more insight.   

In addition, I have attached below part of an email that Senator Sokola sent to one of his constituents which gives very good details and background on the formula mechanism.  Although, his email talks about the Christina School District, I want to remind   you that this formula applies to all public schools across our state.

“It turns out that the funding formula has not changed, and the Secretary does not have the authority to change the formula that is in the code. There have been times over the years when there have been disputes about how the formula works, and apparently   we have one now. The dispute relates to the part of the code that allows for certain exemptions from the money that “follows the child” to a Choice or Charter alternative. The code allows for 4 specific areas and then has some general language that allows   a district to petition the Secretary of Education to allow for additional exemptions of local operating funds, and to sign off on those itemized expenses. The Christina District increased that line from under $700 thousand to about $9.2 million since 2011,   and has not asked the Secretary for approval of the increased exemptions. No other district in NCC has had anything but nominal changes in that time frame. The money in question also has nothing to do with the Autism Program or the Program for the Hearing   Impaired that are managed by Christina. It is my understanding that any action from the Secretary at this time is on hold, however Christina still has a legal obligation to specify those expenses beyond the 4 that are in the code that should be exempt, and   to have a formal sign off by the Secretary. I have supported for quite some time a weighted student funding policy, and would hope that we could make more progress on such a funding system. The money needs to specifically follow a student to a school, which   is not done well in Delaware including in Christina. Dispute resolution should be done by some mutually agreed upon mechanism, or one established in the code. If there still is not agreement, we have constitutionally protected separation of powers, and the legal system would be the mechanism of last resort. That is generally not a win-win result for the parties who are in disagreement.

The specific funding issues you mentioned can certainly be submitted to the Secretary and the district needs to be open, transparent and detailed with the financial records to make their case. The Secretary will be willing to consider the specific lines   of exemption that CSD has the legal obligation to propose. He would be negligent if he did not follow his statutory authority to review any specific exemptions proposed by CSD, and CSD would be negligent by not specifically submitting line items of proposed   exemptions to the formula that is in the code. If CSD does not make specific proposals, the district is at risk of legal action that the legislature and the Secretary are constitutionally barred from intervening in. My hope and advice to the Secretary has   been to give broad discretion to the specifics identified by Christina, and that we could have that open, transparent and inclusive process involving all stakeholders to clarify the financial obligations of a sending district to the various choice options   made by students and families.”  

As I receive additional information regarding this subject I will keep you informed…  

Earl Jaques

Chair, House Education Committee

So how is that Sokola tells a constituent that Christina performed this horrible deed but the News Journal doesn’t mention it once?  Sokola is saying Christina purposely withheld submitting their exclusions from the Delaware DOE.  Jaques states Appoquinimink Superintendent Matt Burrows didn’t know about this situation unfolding since last April until recently.  So how is it that the DOE asked the districts for this information in April as suggested by Saranac Spencer, the author of the News Journal article?  Actually, it was in May based on the below timeline.

In order to try to unify the system, the department began considering adjustments to the formula in April, when it asked districts across the state for an inventory of the exclusions they claim.

The actual timeline of events is as follows:

March 11th: Newark Charter School Head of School Greg Meece meets with Acting Christina Superintendent Bob Andrzjewski to discuss the upcoming Christina referendum and payments from Christina to NCS. (source: Newark Charter School March 2016 Board Minutes)

Early April 2016: NCS representatives Greg Meece, Joanne Schlossberg, and Stephen Dressel meet with Associate Deputy Secretary of Education David Blowman to discuss exclusions in the funds Christina sends to NCS.  The DOE indicates all exclusions will require approval from the Secretary of Education. (Source NCS April and May Board minutes)

April 8th: DOE holds District Business Manager’s meeting where the subject of district exclusions is brought up with District Chief Financial Officers.

May 2016: DOE sends out notices to District CFOs to send lists of their exclusion items in their local school budgets.

Mid-May: Kathleen Davies put on leave as Auditor of Accounts at Delaware State Auditor’s office.

August 8th: DOE sends out letters to District CFOs stating what exclusions are allowable and which aren’t.

Week of August 16th: Districts start receiving bills from charter schools for projected students choicing to charters from their districts.

August 19th: Secretary Godowsky finds out about situation going on with charter school payments from districts.

Week of Augusts 23rd: Word on situation slowly trickles out to school administration and some boards.

August 27th: Exceptional Delaware breaks news of a coming change in the way districts pay charters based on an approval from Secretary Godowsky, blogger was given information from various sources about changes regarding restricted funds being moved to non-restricted funds, no information given to blogger about specific exclusions.

August 28th: Legislators pound Godowsky who informs them there will be no change in the funding structure this year.

August 31st: News Journal covers story and states districts may have to adhere to the exemption list from the August 8th letter.

September 1st: NCS Board President Stephen Dressel writes letter to NCS parents alleging wrongdoing from Christina and a “few other districts”, states this isn’t a change in the formula for local cost per student but a correction, commenter on Facebook alleges parents from Las Americas ASPIRA also received a similar letter.

September 1st: Another News Journal article quotes DOE Spokeswoman Alison May as stating they may not be able to change this because bills already went out from charters to districts.

September 1st: Email from Earl Jaques to House Education Committee references a change in the formula, not a correction, email also has Sokola accusing Christina of not sending approval for exclusions to Secretary since 2011 for what was a $700,000 amount then which is now $9.2 million.

Here is the question no one seems to be addressing though.  What is the amount in that discretionary budget was approved once and didn’t have to be again?  When a district goes out for a referendum, it asks taxpayers to help the district pay for certain things.  What if Christina had a referendum at one point in time, designated a specific amount for what would become an exclusion in their local budget, and the DOE approved it.  Say that was 10 cents for every $100 of assessed property value.  As Sokola alleges, Christina kept shoving money into this fund causing it to rise over $8 million dollars.  But that 10 cents from a referendum, which becomes a part of the district’s local funds would certainly grow over time.  In 2010, Christina narrowly won a referendum.  But it stands to reason some of those designated funds could go into this “discretionary” bucket in their budget.  Which would certainly build up over time.  If the DOE approved this in July 2010, which would have been Secretary of Education Lillian Lowery, then that exclusion would not have to be approved every year.  That portion of the tax payments sent in from residents would just keep building in that bucket.  So Sokola’s allegation that Christina was willfully withholding payments from the charters by shoving money in this hidden bucket is blatantly false.

Now the big question is what started this runaway train.  Yes, charters have lobbied for more money from districts for years.  No one is arguing that.  But they were not going after these discretionary amounts approved by the Secretary of Education.  They wanted a share of the food services revenue the districts received, which is explicitly exempt from being a part of the payments made to charter schools since they have their own food programs which they get funds from at a federal, state, and local level.  So how would Greg Meece know to look for this one specific thing and start a chain of events that led up to now?  I’m working on that answer as we speak and I expect I will know the answer to that one in the next couple of weeks.

What leads me to believe Christina wasn’t “stuffing” money away into this secret account is also the reaction of one man to all of this.  If the DOE sent out these notices about the exclusion items last May, Christina CFO Bob Silber would have been freaking out back then about it.  If he knew the direction this was heading, he would have planned for it in their FY2017 budget, which he clearly did not.  From many people I’ve talked to in the district, Silber didn’t start freaking out until the district received the DOE letter stating what the new exclusions were and when the charter bills started rolling in.  Which leads me to think he wouldn’t have had to keep getting approval for the exclusions he put in this bucket based on a referendum allocation, approved by then Secretary Lowery, which would, over the years, increase this bucket.

In the meantime, I have to wonder why Sokola would specifically mention the year 2011 to this constituent he replied to.  That is crucial to all of this under my theory.  It makes Christina look really guilty.  Why would Sokola make Christina appear to be guilty?  I think we all know the answer to that one.  Which confirms my suspicion about his involvement in all of this.  His incessant talk in this email about legal action if Christina doesn’t comply and who can do what and when and where shows he is been looking into this for much longer than anyone else has.  Sokola is not an attorney.  He worked at DuPont for many years.  Is he smart though?  Yes.  Devious?  Hell yes.  Would he be able to paint a picture showing Christina as a district that was denying money to charter schools, especially Newark Charter School, who was “denied” one million dollars this year if this “finding” doesn’t work out in their favor?  He did in his email to the constituent.

I would go so far as to say there is an integrity issue with Sokola at this point.  The ethics involved with this whole mess certainly lend a certain weight to Sokola and Meece being the brains behind all of this.  Jaques wasn’t involved in this based on what he wrote in his email.  But he made it a point to include what Sokola wrote as part of his email which lended considerable weight to perception of this issue.  For that, I have to wonder what Jaques knew and when he knew it.

Is this the end of this?  Probably not.  Someone will come on here and say I have it backwards and I’m theorizing all of  this.  That’s certainly an option.  But at the very least, this opens the door to careful inspection about what the Secretary of Education approves and if it is for exclusions in the local restricted budgets for districts based on referendum amounts, does that item need continuous approval from the Secretary.  I don’t believe it does.

 

 

Did Appo Shoot Itself In The Foot Tuesday Night?

Lastly, to the charge that money was transferred out of the tuition fund, Longfellow said that was true, but said that happens nearly every year and is a legal maneuver.

Additionally, Forsten explained that the money went to funds that help settle costs that aren’t part of the tuition tax budget itself.

Mr. Forsten, could you please tell me what the legal maneuver is that allows Appoquinimink School District to transfer funds out of the tuition fund and how it is legal?

I saw an item on Appoquinimink’s board agenda for last night that said “Tuition Tax Clarification”.  Assuming this was in response to my articles about their tuition tax warrant last month, I figured I would wait until their board audio recording to address this.  But as luck would have it, I didn’t have to wait very long because Kilroy just wrote an article based off WDEL’s article on the subject at their board meeting Tuesday night.  The above quote, taken from the WDEL article, clearly shows that Appoquinimink Superintendent Matt Burrows, Chief Financial Officer Dr. Charles Longfellow, and the Appo Board President Richard Forsten aren’t too familiar with Delaware accounting procedures and policies.

You can’t just take money from revenue collected through a tuition tax warrant and apply it anywhere you want.  That isn’t how it goes.  The law in Delaware is VERY clear about this:

(a) If any pupil is counted in the preschool, intensive or complex unit and attends school in a program operated by a district other than that in which the pupil resides, by an agency of the Department of Education or is in an approved private placement pursuant to § 3124 of this title, the receiving district or the Department of Education shall collect a tuition charge for the nonresident pupil, provided approval for attendance has been granted by the sending district. Such tuition charge shall be paid by the school board of the reorganized school district in which the pupil is a resident from the proceeds of a local tax levied for this specific purpose, except that in the case of a district assigned by the Department with the approval of the State Board of Education to administer a school or program for children with disabilities, or special programs approved by the Department of Education for persons without disabilities such as programs for bilingual students or programs for pregnant students, the district so assigned shall be both the sending and receiving district in regard to that school or program and is authorized to collect tuition charges accordingly.

(b) In determining the tuition to be charged for a pupil counted in the preschool, intensive or complex units or for a person without disabilities attending approved special programs, such as bilingual programs or programs for pregnant students operated by a district other than that in which the student resides or by an agency of the State Department of Education, the receiving district or the State Department of Education shall compute the tuition by adding such receiving district’s share of educational related expenses as allowed by the Department of Education regulations. The sum so obtained shall be divided by the total number of pupils in the special program as of September 30 of the current school year. The resulting figure shall represent the amount of the “tuition charge” per pupil.

(c) In determining the tuition charged to the sending district in the case of private placement for children with disabilities, tuition will be defined as in § 3124 of this title and the sending district will be charged 30 percent of the total tuition cost. The remaining 70 percent will be covered through funding provided by the State Department of Education from the annual appropriation for this purpose.

(d) Section 602(c)-(e) of this title shall apply to this section.

And let’s see what Section 602(c)-(e) states:

(c) The bill for tuition charges shall be verified by the Secretary of Education within 20 days after receipt of such bill. No bill for tuition charges shall be paid until such time as it has been certified by the Secretary of Education as being true and correct.

(d) For each pupil attending a public school of another district as of September 30, the receiving district shall bill the sending district and the sending district shall pay the tuition charges per pupil on or before January 1 of the fiscal year in which the bill is submitted to the sending district for payment. In the case of pupils attending the public schools of the receiving district for less than a full term, the tuition charge shall be prorated by reference to the period of time during which such pupils actually attended the receiving district’s schools, provided that attendance for part of any month shall be counted as a full month of attendance.

(e) Any reorganized school district sending pupils to the schools of another district shall levy and collect a tax to pay any tuition charges to the receiving district, and such tuition shall be collected by local taxation within the sending district according to the provisions of taxation as set forth in Chapter 19 of this title, except that no referendum shall be required. The sending district shall estimate the amount of, determine the rate for and levy the tax upon the estimate at the time that regular tax levies are announced to the appropriate taxing authorities, and the levy shall be adjusted annually to correct errors in the estimate as provided for in subsection (b) of this section.

So the tuition tax that caused the Appo board to issue a tax warrant last month is based on Section 604, and only Section 604.  There are additional areas where these funds can be used though, as per House Bill 1 from the Delaware 146th General Assembly:

House Bill 1, 146th General Assembly:

b. The following provisions shall apply to the Preschool unit:

v. Districts may use tuition to pay for the local share and excess costs of special education and related services.

b. The following provisions shall apply to the Pre-K – 12 Intensive Special Education (“Intensive”) unit:

ix. Districts may use tuition to pay for the local share and excess costs of the program.

b. The following provisions shall apply for the Pre-K-12 Complex Special Education (“Complex”) unit:

ix. Districts may use tuition to pay for the local share and excess costs of the program.

So districts can use tuition tax to pay  for their local share of special education and excess costs for each specific program.  But not for Basic Special Education students, just Preschool Special Education students, Pre-K-12th grade Intensive Special Education students and Pre-K-12th grade Complex Special Education students.

In Appo’s FY2017 preliminary budget, they state exactly what the Tuition Tax increase of $818,000 will be going towards:

FY2017AppoPrelimBudget

I submitted a Freedom of Information Act request to the Appoquinimink School District last month which I promptly received.  I had not gone through it extensively until now.

I can see the out-of-district placements for students with disabilities going to Special Schools or day or residential treatment centers going up by $100,000.  For FY2016, they spent $2,441,295 for these students.  In FY2017, they are projecting it will go up to $2,570,633.  That seems like a modest projection based on the history with these payments.  I have no qualms with those figures whatsoever.  What I do take issue with though is the appropriation section #99970020/99999999 Needs-Based going up from $7,148,711 to $7,863,582 without any justification for that increase.  As well, we can see their projected amounts for FY2018 which will generate another tax warrant next year but maybe 10% less than this year’s based on their projected numbers.  But Appo did supply two other documents in my FOIA request…

In this document, we see a seven year history with students in the category of Pre-K, Intensive, and Complex.  Also included are the teacher units generated from these increases.  Note the Pre-K units are going down each year.  On the flip side, Intensive and Complex special education students are going up which generates more teaching units as well as services related to those students, such as occupational therapists, speech therapists, and so on.

Now the district was kind enough to give a breakdown of how much went to each category for FY2016.  I do appreciate that.  It does give quite a bit of insight into where they think the funds should go.  Now keep in mind Appo dated this document 7/20/16.

In their projections for FY2017, they based the FY2016 final figure at $9,590,006.  But in this document, it is $9,424,524.26.  That is a difference of $165,481.54.  So they are already way off on their FY2017 budget by having this amount wrong.  This is what they based their tax warrant on, the figure of $9,590,006 for FY2016, and they are basing their FY2017 budgeted projection off that number.  They are already off.  Even in their board meeting Tuesday night, they gave an amount spent as of 6/30/16 on Local Tuition Tax of $9,508,447.03.  This was the part of their board meeting where they approved the monthly budget as of 6/30/16 based on their Citizen Budget Oversight Committee recommendation.  Even they weren’t given the correct amount.  Do I go by a FOIA request, which has to be legal, or their preliminary budget, or the amount their CBOC provided to the board which comes from their CFO?  I’m sticking with the FOIA figure because that has the latest figures, as of 7/20/16.

Now look at the document and where it says “Indirect Cost” for an amount of $276,709.36.  These are funds they transferred out of their tuition tax revenue bucket into another bucket with no explanation of where it went or why.  So adding what they were already off and the “Indirect Cost”, we are up to $442,190.90, which is over half of their tuition tax increase of $818,000 going towards mathematical errors or shifting the money out of the revenue bucket it was supposed to stay in.  You can’t just transfer funds out and call that a legitimate expense.

Which brings us to legal costs.  In FY2017, Appoquinimink spent a total of $171,783.75 in legal costs for the entire district.  But we are expected to believe they spent $124,279.20 out of that figure just for special education legal costs?  Furthermore, should funds spent on legal costs in a special education dispute where a parent is suing the district be counted as legitimate funds to come out of a tax warrant?  Because I can see at least $28,500 going towards that purpose right off the bat.  That means the parents feel the school did not provide a Free Appropriate Public Education for their disabled child.  And if the school is paying those attorneys, that means at the very least there was some type of settlement involved whereby the district paid the opposing attorney as well as their own attorney costs.  As well, we see a payment made to another school covered under legal fees.  This could be a case where a parent sued the district and the district agreed to pay the tuition costs for another school.  That was for $25,575.  So with these VERY questionable legal items Appo feels they can cover under funds generated from a tax warrant, we are looking at another $54,075 in questionable charges in their FY2016 tuition tax expenditures, which brings us up to $496,265.90.    We are now up to over 60% of their $818,000 tax warrant increase.  I won’t even get into the fact they are paying a school nurse under legal fees.  Shall I keep going?

There are legitimate expenses they put on this document.  Teacher salaries and their benefits are okay to have in there.  Related services, which means “Specialists”, according to House Bill 1, does have some caveats:

“(12) Specialists. All related services units are earned at the district or charter school level. Preschool, Basic, Intensive and Complex related services units earned shall be used to support related services needs of students in those units. Districts may use earned units to hire any related services staff necessary or alternatively choose to provide all or part of those services through a contractual arrangement with a public or private agency. When providing services by contract, the dollar value of the contract shall not exceed the authorized salary for a teacher at the Master’s level plus 10 years and employed for a period of 12 months per year as provided for in 14 Del. C. § 1305 of this title, divided by the number of months in the terms of the contract. Partial unit funding is provided based on the dollar value of the unit. Any school district wishing to use funds under the contractual option set forth in this section shall make application to the Department of Education for that use, provided that the State Board may review any objection to the Department decision;”

So, as an example to this, Appo currently has two contracts with Therapy Services of Delaware for three occupational therapists and two physical therapists.  This contract is for FY2017, and I could not find one for FY2016.  But given that they keep projecting up with students who would need these services, it would stand to reason the contract for FY2016 was either similar or less.  But I will operate on the assumption it is similar.  That means, based on the above law, the district can’t pay out more than $60,558.00 for a full-time “specialist” based on the Appo Salary Schedule for a Teacher at the Master’s level plus 10 years.  In the case of Therapy Services, the contracts call for three full-time occupational therapists and two full-time physical therapists.  So they can’t pay more than $302,790.  In FY2016, according to Delaware Online Checkbook, Appo paid Therapy Services $302,442.63.  So it appears they are acutely aware of the laws surrounding these special education services given how very close to the maximum number they could go up to in the contracts.

The reason I brought up a situation where they are doing everything by the book was to illustrate they do know what they are doing.  But for some reason, maybe because of how they are audited by the DOE for certain special education costs, they are able to curtail other things that have a dramatic effect on what they are including in the tuition tax part of their budget.

I could go through more of these, but I believe you get my point.  Appo’s $818,000 tuition tax increase is based on very faulty math, bad accounting procedures, and violations of Delaware state code from their previous fiscal year.  The expenses they are covering under tuition tax don’t hold water with my tests in some areas but in others they do.  Yes, I do own the fact that when I originally wrote about this issues, I seriously questioned where $5 million disappeared to.  But I quickly corrected that a few days later when I found the missing $5 million in related services.  I just didn’t account for the related services amounts in my initial article.  But when I’ve already killed over 60% of your increase of $818,000, and I have barely scratched the surface of your entire tuition tax expenditures for FY2016, I have no doubt that percentage would increase.  So you are NOT justified Appoquinimink School Board of Education, to approve a tuition tax increase costing the Appoquinimink property owners an additional $7.76 per $100 of assessed property values based on this.  As a board, and some have done this in Delaware so they don’t raise the ire of local taxpayers, they can forego or decrease a tuition tax increase based on the projected increase.  But what you can’t do is charge more than what should be the budgeted amount.  Something Longfellow seems to think is the opposite case according to WDEL:

He said, not only is the district justified to increase the tuition tax based on enrollment, Appoquinimink isn’t even increasing the tax to the fullest extent permitted.

Would I expect the Appoquinimink School Board to know these facts?  Not really.  Unless you really do some digging like I have, you won’t just find these things on a piece of paper looking at it.  But should Longfellow and Burrows know these things?  Absolutely.  Let’s not forget, their board approved their FY2017 Preliminary Budget and the tax warrant before they approved a $500 increase for administrators in the district at their July board meeting.  I called that a sleight of hand on Longfellow’s part.  I believe he knew exactly what he was doing.  But the board just skimmed right past that part.

“It was just a case of someone not understanding everything,” Board President Richard Forsten said to WDEL after the meeting.

I will give Forsten that.  I knew something was wrong and I made some incorrect assumptions.  But my gut instinct still told me something was wrong even after I found my error.  And then I found Appoquinimink’s errors.  To be fair, I received the FOIA request two days after I requested it.  But did I get everything I asked for in the FOIA request?

719AppoFOIARequest

For the most part, I did.  But what the FOIA did not cover, and no one has been able to answer, is the breakdown of funds allocated in the categories of related services for intense and basic, as well as allocations for occupational therapists, physical therapists, speech therapists and so on.  By lumping so much of their special education costs into very broad categories of “consultants”, “other professional service” or “medical services” would not give any member of the public the ability to see exactly what is going towards tuition costs.

Furthermore, neither Burrows or Longfellow ever replied to my email requests to discuss these matters after my original article on July 14th.  Not one single email, phone call, or response.  Until their board meeting last night.

Part of the blame for this lies with the state.  We have a Division of Accounting within the Department of Finance.  We have a State Auditor.  We have an Office of Management and Budget.  We have a General Assembly.  They should all be keeping track of these things and providing oversight into not only what our schools are spending money on, but how they are spending money.  When I hear a Board President state transferring over a quarter of a million dollars out of an account earmarked for only certain things related to special education as a “legal maneuver”, that concerns me.

“All the numbers are there and they’re all justified, its just that you have to know what you’re looking for,” said Forsten.

Are they Mr. Forsten?  I beg to differ…

But the biggest concern I have is the extreme lack of oversight from the Delaware Department of Education in these matters.  When it comes to special education funding, especially tuition tax expenditures, they should be looking into these matters.  It isn’t a question of “may”, it is a question of “shall” according to Section 352 of HS1 for House Bill 225, the budget bill for FY2016.  While this mostly concerns out-of-district placements, the last line says it all…

HS1ForHB225Sect352

I’m fairly certain that special education lawsuits should NOT be covered in tuition tax payments.  Nor should Indirect Costs going out of this fund.  And tax warrants should be based on a specific amount based on the prior year spending, not the highest of three amounts (and most likely the most inaccurate amount).  I look forward to their response to this article.  Will I get an email, a phone call, or another special section of their board meeting?  Or none of the above?

Appoquinimink & The Sleight Of Hand Board Meeting Shows No Transparency Or Explanations

Appoquinimink finally released the documents from their board meeting on July 12th yesterday… six days later.  This morning they also put up the board audio recording from the same board meeting.  We got a bit of insight into their “special education costs” tax warrant “increase”.  And they clearly spell out how much of the money is going towards out-of-district placements and what is staying in-district.  We also find out something the money is going towards for those in-district costs.  Once again, the district is as quiet as a church mouse in a response to me.  I guess they don’t feel answering questions in the state where “sunshine is the best policy” is important.

AppoFY2017PrelimBudget&Tuition

Now we know the Middletown/Odessa area is growing.  I don’t think anyone is questioning that.  But they aren’t using this tax warrant increase of 7.76 cents per resident for increased special education costs.  They are using it to increase salaries as part of the FY2017 Delaware budget.  Which is provided by the state and local funds.  As well, they are also using it to increase benefits and pensions.  Keep in mind that in FY2016, their amount for needs-based instruction was $6,500,000.  Now we are expected to believe it has jumped to $7,860,000?  Without a final student enrollment count which won’t come until after September 30th?  I know, budgeting is predictive in nature.  But in my mind, they still haven’t justified the original $6,500,000 number.  They can say what it is for, but until I see a breakdown of exactly what these collected tax dollars in the form of tuition tax is going towards, I’m not satisfied.  Of particular interest is the fact that their out-of-district placement costs actually went down between FY2016 and FY2017, even though this was a major thorn in the side for the Appo board just five months ago.  I have to wonder who is calling the shots here and who knows about what.  I want to believe the board isn’t aware of what is going on.  Which is an issue in itself.  But clearly Dr. Charles Longfellow would have some insight into this but thus far has not provided ANY information.  Nothing.  I suppose we are just supposed to take this at face value without any logical explanation whatsoever.  How much does Superintendent Matt Burrows know about this?

AppoFY2017PrelimBudget&Tuition2

The entire operating budget is going up over $11 million dollars.  That is a lot of coin.  That is also a 10% increase over last year.  Did the district receive an additional 10% amount of students?  They had 10, 378 in FY2016, 9,877 in FY2015, and 9,750 in FY2014 based on their September 30th enrollment counts for the past three years.  But we are expected to believe this is about the students…

AppoFY2017PrelimBudget&Tuition3

Now things like a carryover budget don’t really concern me.  It is normal to have that.  If everything wound up exact I would be very alarmed.  That is to be expected.

To see the full presentation, budget, and the budget amendment to increase the FY2016 budget (done based on May 2016 numbers in the budget…very troubling in my opinion), see the below documents.  Of particular concern to me is the budget amendment request.  This is where it all gets very shady.  On the original pdf, if you do the right-click thing for this document and go to properties, it shows the document was created on 6/29/16.  But if the Appo Board of Education didn’t approve it until 7/12/16 how can their CFO write a letter like this before the board even voted on it?

After you read those, come back to see what the district wants to get in one of their schools.  Keep in mind, they seem to want this more than adding programs to take care of the complex special needs students that live in the district but have to go out-of-district to get the special education services they are rightfully and legally entitled to.

FY2017 Preliminary Budget Presentation

Actual FY2017 Preliminary Budget

FY2016 Budget Amendment Request

While all this is going on, the district really wants a pool.  Not just any pool, but a “shark tank”.  An actual, indoor pool.  While I don’t have an issue with any school having an indoor pool, I would think it wouldn’t be a priority until ALL students living in the district get what they need to succeed.  Especially the very students the district doesn’t serve: complex special education students.  Granted, this is just in the, pardon the pun, ground stages.  But how about an RFP for something similar to the Delaware Autism Program or something like that?  Nope, they really want a pool!

RFP for Nanotorium

In listening to the board audio recording from the July 12th board meeting, we once again hear there was not a quorum of their Financial Advisory Committee present at their last meeting, but the board once again approves their monthly financial report.  Who is on this committee?  Even more concerning is this comment from CFO Dr. Charles Longfellow:

I never budget for assessment growth.

So if we know the entire region of Delaware is growing rapidly, and their CFO doesn’t take this into account in any way, and the board is approving tax warrants based on this, what happens when the district experiences a surplus every year based on this growing population?  If the CFO is going to set firm guidelines with his budget like that, why does he overestimate on charter school payouts?  (This is the amount the district has to send to charter schools when a local student choices out to a charter school).  We did find out that in this district, for every $1.00 they spend in salaries, spends an addition 31 cents to cover Other Employment Costs which covers benefits and pensions.  The trailers the school is putting at select schools due to running out of room are all coming out of local funds.  This was correctly referred to as “portable classrooms” by a board member and Longfellow.  I found it very interesting that Longfellow stated the board couldn’t approve the budget if they didn’t approve the tax warrant for the tuition costs.  He did state that was later on in the board agenda, but the two went together.  The board is going out for a referendum in December.  There was obvious concern from one board member about pushing these tax warrants now prior to a referendum.  When asked what each revenue base goes towards, Longfellow said Tuition Tax pays for out-of-district placements and programs for students with disabilities.  When asked by a board member if it was accurate to say the increase in tuition tax was based on the district receiving more students with intensive and complex special needs, Longfellow said that was accurate.  Giving kudos where they are due, one board member did explain that assessed value and real value of homes are two different animals.  He explained the assessed value formula hasn’t changed since 1983.  Longfellow explained that the state gives local boards the “right” to increase tuition taxes to make sure students get what they need but it isn’t a “fun right to have”.  At no point did the board ask for a breakdown of how this amount increased at such a dramatic rate.  There was absolutely nothing put forth in the preliminary budget or the tax warrant request to the board.  Just numbers without any justification whatsoever.  The board voted unanimously on the tax warrant first and then the preliminary budget.

Later on in the meeting, the board approved an increase for all administrators and specialists of an additional $500 above the state increase of 1.5% or $750, whichever is greater.  So at a minimum, specialists will be getting a $1,250 raise for the year.  Note the board approved this increase after the preliminary budget was approved, not before.  A very careful sleight of hand on Longfellow’s part…

AppoAdminSpecPayScaleFY2017

Once again, I implore the New Castle County Council to ask for a full breakdown of these costs before deciding on the tax warrant.  If the district fails to give that requested information, I would highly recommend not approving their tax warrant.

In adhering to the district’s policy on Fair Use:

Fair Use
Unless otherwise noted, users who wish to download and/or reproduce text and image files from this website for non-commercial educational purposes may do so without the Appoquinimink School District’s express permission, provided that they comply with the following conditions:
  1. The content may only be used for noncommercial educational purposes;
  2. Users must cite the district, school, author and source of the content as they would material from any printed work;
  3. The citation must include all copyright information and other information associated with the content and the URL for the ASD website;
  4. None of the content may be altered or modified; and
  5. Users must comply with all other terms or restrictions which may be applicable to the individual file, image, or text.

All graphics, links, and pdfs in this article, as well as the ones about the Appoquinimink School District I posted on 7/14/16 and 7/17/16 are used for noncommercial educational purposes.  I hereby cite the district for ownership of all applicable material in all three articles.  No document was modified or altered.  The district did not notify me of anything associated with this but I felt it was prudent to inform my readers of this. All material can be found at http://apposchooldistrict.com/

This district and board can keep ignoring me but I will not cease publishing my findings and their extreme lack of transparency in regards to this and any other issues I find with them.  As such, I submitted a Freedom of Information Act request to Superintendent Matt Burrows and his office to obtain a full breakdown for each dollar spent on their tuition costs and where and to whom those costs are associated.  I also included, in the request, any documents presented to the Appoquinimink Board of Education for their July 12th board meeting in regards to the tuition tax increase of $815,000 and their approval of a tax warrant.

Appo Update On Tax Warrant/Special Education/$5 Million Article

On Thursday, I published a very controversial article surrounding the Appoquinimink School District.  To say I got some heat for it would be putting it mildly.  After I wrote the article, I did reach out to the district for comment.  I emailed Superintendent Matt Burrows, CFO Dr. Charles Longfellow, and their public information officer, Lillian Miles.  The only response I received from the trio was an out-of-office reply from Burrows:

BurrowsReply

What I found ironic about this was the part which states “suspected spam”.  Many wondered why I didn’t contact the district first with my findings and ask them about it.  Last year, after the opt out bill (House Bill 50) first came out, I emailed all the superintendents and charter chiefs in the state.  I had valid concerns about schools refusing parent opt out requests or bullying parents about it.  Some parents received veiled threats concerning their child’s ability to attend school during testing, while others received letters from a school district stating they had to acknowledge they were violating the law, sign it, and send it back.  That came from Appoquinimink.  When the Delaware PTA revealed this at the first opt out town hall last year, I immediately jumped on it and contacted the district.  I spoke with Lillian Miles.  I advised her the letter was potentially illegal based on the law it cited which did not apply to parents in any way whatsoever.  She advised me she would look into it and I never received a response back from her.  A few Superintendents responded to my email about the opt out situation.  Matt Burrows was not one of them.

Flash forward a year to the 2016 Smarter Balanced Assessment season.  Many parents reported getting a very similar letter this year.  I once again contact Lillian Miles who informed me if any parent comes to me to direct them to speak to the school principal.  I advised her I would not do this and I was advocating for their rights.  She seemed to take offense to this and the matter didn’t come up again.

Towards the end of May, I received information concerning “data walls” at various Delaware schools where student test scores were displayed in classrooms or hallways, with the good students on top and the low-scoring students on the bottom.  I knew Appoquinimink, based on multiple (double digit) reports I received from sources was one of the biggest abusers of this practice.  Data Walls are a part of the “Leader In Me” program which Appo is a huge proponent of.  I know one very large district who had some minor issues with it directed all teachers to take down their walls as a result of my article.  I did advise, in an email to all the superintendents and charter chiefs, I would file FERPA complaints if I found out they didn’t take down their invasive data walls.  Unfortunately, that was by the end of the school year when teachers would be taking down anything on the walls in their classrooms anyways so I wasn’t able to move forward on my promise.  Once again, Burrows never responded.

I’m not sure why my email to him yesterday was “suspected spam” as I never received that reply from him in the past (or any reply for that matter).  I linked articles in emails to superintendents in the past, so that would not have triggered a potential spam.  Perhaps he marked the last email I sent him about the data walls as spam.  I have no way of verifying that unless he tells me.

In the meantime, several people informed me of things going on in the district.  Many teachers, within the district and around the state, advised me Appo is well-known for an almost “poaching” of the best teachers in the state.  The district only seems to want seasoned teachers and doesn’t hire too many novice teachers.  While this might be good for students, it is also a huge financial drain on the district.  With tenured teachers and those with years, sometimes decades, under their belt, this costs more money in salaries.  And with those high salaries, comes the very big costs of benefits and pensions.  In FY2016, Appoquinimink spent $37.38 million dollars on teacher salaries alone.  While I am not able to verify this because all it says are “salaries”, that number could go up to $39.23 million because under their related services buckets for “regular/basic”, “intensive”, and “complex”, there is an additional $17 million under “salaries”.  But this section of their expenditures could also cover occupational therapists, psychologists, speech and hearing, specialists & coordinators, physical therapy and speech therapists.  Only Appo and a couple of other districts do not code those correctly in the state accounting system.  But Appo also paid $750,000 in “other professional service”, so some of those could fall under that bucket.  We simply don’t know.

What I do know, and can now confirm, is where the alleged $5 million went to.  In their FY2016 Preliminary Budget, the district gave a presentation to their board which showcases exactly what the tuition funds go towards:

AppoFY2016PrelimBudgetTuitionCosts

AppoFY2016PrelimBudgetTuitionBalances

So I was able to solve that mystery with some help digging around for information.  And we also know how much they came into the year carrying over from the prior year.  But this the confusing part.  It shows a projected shortfall of $660,603.00 over the year.  Now what we do know,  based on Thursday’s article comparing the district’s tuition costs for in-state and out-of-state were over $2.9 million for FY2015 and a bit over $3 million for FY2016, with a difference of over $48,000.00.  So this $660,603 shortfall they were expecting was, most likely, not coming from their out-of-district costs.  Which leaves the section called “Needs-Based”.  This covers their district costs for special education over what the state pays them.  In Delaware, this is all based on the student enrollment as of September 30th.  I’m not going to sit here and say this is a fair system at all.  This is very early on in the school year, and even if a parent requests special education services through an IEP on the first day of school, chances are very good that child, if they qualify, won’t have a signed IEP by September 30th.  This means the district has to cover those costs.  For every special education student a school has, they earn extra teaching units for these students based on the severity of their disability.  These three sections are basic, intensive, and complex.  I wrote about this system two years ago:

Basic Special Education units are determined by eligibility of special education for students in grades 4-12 and they must not be considered intensive or complex. Students in this group receive one unit for every 8.4 students.

Intensive units are based on a need of a moderate level of instruction. This can be for any student with an IEP from Pre-Kindergarten to 12th grade. As well, there must be supports for health, behavior or personal issues. The student must have an adult facilitating these supports with a ratio of 1:3 to 1:8 for most of their education. The student must be in the mid-range for use of assistive technology and also need support in the areas of a school nurse, an interpreter, an occupational therapist, or other health services. These students would also qualify for extended year services (ESY), and may have to utilize services outside of the school such as homebound instruction or hospital services. On their IEP, these students may have accommodations outside the norm, which should include adaptations to curriculum to best support their needs. Students here get one unit for every 6 students.

Complex Special Education units are determined by severe situations that require a student to adult ratio of 1:1 or 1:2. Most autistic children should fall into this category. They must receive a high level of instructional, behavioral, personal and health supports. Assistive technology needs to be utilized at an increased level for these students. ESY is a must, as well as a high level of homebound instruction or hospital services, interpreters, occupational therapists, or services from the school nurse. Unit funding is provided as one unit for every 2.6 students.

If you notice, there are NO additional units for basic special education students in Kindergarten to 3rd grade.  This is something that would have changed had our General Assembly passed State Rep. Kim William’s House Bill 30 which she fought for during most of the 14

8th General Assembly.  So who covers those costs?  The district or charter school.  But since IEPs continue from year to year, any district or charter knows this and should budget for it.  One thing to keep in mind.  These special education units are not added on to existing units.  They are separate from regular education students.  What this does not mean though is that every special education student receives a special education teacher in every class in a full inclusion environment.  Some schools do this differently and there is little to no consistency with this.

Where this gets interesting is the article I put up about Red Clay’s tuition tax increase.  Their 2 cent increase.  Keep in mind, compared to Appoquinimink, Red Clay has, as of last September 30th, 2,169 special education students.  They have 156 Pre-K, 302 in K-3 Basic, 1,104 in 4-12 Basic, 343 in Intensive, and 264 in Complex.  Their complex number is three times that of Appo’s.  They have more in every single category.  And yet, their needs based funding increase for their tuition tax was part of the $815,000 they talked about at their board meeting last week.  Red Clay publicly announced that portion of their tuition tax increase was $250,000.00.  That is a $565,000 difference.  Since we know Appo didn’t spend a huge amount more for out of school placements between FY2015 and FY2016, are we really supposed to believe they need all those extra funds to cover this gigantic increase for special education students?  This is why I was angry the other day.  I knew something didn’t smell right the second I saw the WDEL article.

A commenter from the Appo article stated the board discussed how the board was shocked when they got the numbers in from other districts.  I listened to all their board recordings for this year, and I only found one where they specifically talked about this issue, from their February 23rd board meeting.  I painstakingly transcribed that part of the board meeting.  And I do mean painstakingly.  Appoquinimink’s board voted last year to record their meetings and put them up on their website.  Which I am grateful for, but for the love of all that is holy, please talk into the microphone.  Presenters do great with this, but the actual board members are very difficult to hear many times.  Governor Markell signed House Bill 61 last month, so all public school boards (including charters) will have to start doing this when school starts.  That doesn’t mean you don’t talk into the device that, you know, actually records the meeting.

Here is the conversation.  And I do apologize in advance.  I don’t know which name belongs to the male and female board members that discussed this with the district’s CFO, Dr. Longfellow.

Female Board Member: I have another question about the tuition.  So, for tuition to outside districts, how comfortable are you with the way that they are going to charge us every year?  Cause we’ve had issues with Christina.  Is it something that seems like when the bills finally come in they make sense, or?

Dr. Charles Longfellow: I don’t see the details, even if I ask for the details.  I’m given numbers, I’m trying to say this the right way.  I don’t know if they’re the right numbers or not.  They seem reasonable, but by law we have to pay what… when they send a bill to the Department of Ed and the Secretary of Education,  we asked for detail, we were given detail.  That’s as far as we could go with it, so, uhm, that’s the process.  Through legislation it could change but that’s where we are.

Female: I know I ask this question every year…

Longfellow: And that’s fine

Female: Are we allowed to request that the DOE audit those kinds of things?

Longfellow: Well they do get audited but not to the detail of what expenses go into what we are billed. They have to track their expenses separately.  What they do is take everything they’ve spent on the program, locally, cause the state contributes money too.  They can’t charge us what the state pays them.  But for all the local dollars that are paid for the programs, they take the number of students that go there, divide it by the number of students we send there, and that’s what they bill us.  That’s also been something we’ve said before, that, autism is, you know, a spectrum.  So there are some students that need a lot of resources, there are some students that don’t need as many resources.  Yet the bill that we get is the same for every kid.  So what we have been doing is, there was a time, when we thought about, what can we do to serve students in district that don’t have a larger amount of needs.  There were some parents saying, “It’s the Delaware Autism Program.  I want my kid going there.”  So we would talk to them and find out if that was truly the best thing for them.  Is Dr. McAuley here? (No).  She could probably give a little more background on that.  We did that but that was a couple years back.

Female: It’s always been on my radar since that giant adjustment a couple years ago.

Longfellow: Yeah, I have the fuzzy, but not the warm and fuzzy. Let’s just put it that way.

Male Board Member: Our projected shortfall is $702,000, but how much is the difference of what we thought the shortfall was going to be and what it actually is? Is it a case that the tuition costs are $702,000 more than we thought?

Longfellow: We’re not there yet. We’re still working on projections on all this.  Cause we don’t have our bills from those other districts.  We don’t have our, uhm, final count from some of the other outside placements. 

Male: Cause I’m looking at the numbers you sent us. The tuition tax revenue is estimated in the final budget at $8.5 million. 

CFO: Right.

Male: But then I look to the final budget for expenses, and it has tuition of $9.1 million.  But in the original budget, it shows $9.01 million so It looks like it’s $90,000 more.  Either way, whether it’s $9.1 million or $9 million is more of a tuition tax we’re paying. 

Longfellow: Yeah, yeah, we had a starting balance here, so that’s where that comes in.

Male: So one of the reasons (inaudible)

Longfellow: Let me take a look, because… We might have had to raise it.  I’ll have to take a look at the history here. 

Female: I think we did.

Longfellow: Yeah, we did raise it. 3.6 cents this year. 

Female: That’s in July. We voted on it in July.

Longfellow: Well the bills are due to the Department of Ed in January, so they should be down there. So soon as I get them back from DOE the districts will bill me and that’s when I’ll know.  So we have some preliminaries.  But there is always a process where they send us a bill and I say give me a list of students behind the bill.  They send the list.  Our special education department takes a look and says this kid doesn’t belong to us.  You never told us about this one, this one’s a ward of the state so the state has to pay 100%.  It’s just some back and forth.  So typically, we’ll know for most of them by April, but that’s hopeful.

Male: It’s an 80/20 split, right, or 75/25 split, the state pays their share and we pay our share…

Longfellow: Well they earn units, the programs earn state units for the students that are in their programs.  So it’s not really an 80/30 split.  It could be they’re earning units from the state but they’re charging us for, say, the local side of the salaries for the staff they have in place and the students have some severe needs for related services or additionals resources or something too, so it’s not really a straight rate… that goes back to what Ms. Wright saying “How do we know what we’re actually being billed for?”

Male: So then what happens. I know we talked about how 167 kids we got on September 30th started with us, those special needs kids, so are we stuck with being the state side of their special ed classes?

Longfellow: Yes. And we have to pay the local side of their special ed costs out of what resources we have.  That’s part of, when it went up $90,000, that’s part of what’s here. 

Notice how they don’t really discuss why they are sending complex special education kids to other districts, but more of the money aspect of it?  I know, a board needs to know what is going on financially.  Which is my whole point.  I’ve seen way to many boards that just take the word of everything told to them.  They see a paper with numbers on it, might question a little bit, and leave it at that.  There was no discussion around what the nature of the shortfall was.  Instead, they blamed it on Christina instead of questioning the actual shortfall.  It’s a nice way to dance around the true subject.  Where is their special education money going?

The Delaware Illuminati, Part 1: Jeb Bush Inspires Rodel

Personalized Learning, as a concept, has been around since the 1960’s.  It is an effort to personalize learning so a student doesn’t always learn at the same pace as other students.  The term has been bastardized by corporate education reformers over the past five years.  Their idea is to launch a technology boom in the classroom where investors and ed-tech companies will get tons of money.  To do this, they had to use education “think-tanks” and foundations to sway the conversation towards this lucrative gold-mine.  No one has been a bigger supporter of personalized learning in Delaware than the Rodel Foundation.  They began talking about this new and exciting education reform movement as early as November, 2011.  A company called Digital Learning Now! released their 2011 report card on different states ability to transform into a digital learning environment and Delaware scored poorly on their report.  According to this Rodel article on the report written by Brett Turner (the link to the report card doesn’t exist anymore), Turner wrote:

…the initial results are not promising, demonstrating that we have significant work ahead of us before the necessary policies are in place to ensure our students benefit from high-quality next generation learning opportunities.

Digital Learning Now! was an initiative of the Foundation for Excellence in Education.  Other digital “experts” the company thanks in their 2012 report include the Alliance for Excellent Education, the Data Quality Campaign, iNACOL, SETDA, Chiefs for Change, Getting Smart, and the Innosight Institute.  The Foundation for Excellence in Education was founded by Jeb Bush in 2008, just as Common Core was in its formation stages.  In the Rodel article, Turner talks about how Delaware needs to adapt to this environment so our students can succeed.

Over the next two and a half years, as Race to the Top became more of a nightmare than a promise of better education, Rodel began to take steps to have Delaware become a part of this next big thing.  They formed the Rodel Teacher Council to recruit well-intentioned teachers to join their personalized learning team.  I don’t see these teachers as evil.  I see them as unwitting pawns of Rodel.  Rodel didn’t write much about personalized learning too much during this time, but they did release a Personalized Learning 101 flyer in 2013.  At the same time, four Delaware districts formed BRINC: Brandywine, Indian River, New Castle County Vo-Tech, and Colonial.  Using funds from Race To the Top and a Delaware DOE “innovation grant”, the districts used Schoology and Modern Teacher to usher Delaware into the digital learning age.  Rodel’s blog posts about personalized learning didn’t touch on the concept again until February, 2014 when a Rodel employee by the name of Matthew Korobkin began writing posts about digital learning.  More followed by other Rodel employees in the coming months.  At this time, Dr. Paul Herdman of Rodel was palling around with an ed-tech company called 2Revolutions and went around Delaware talking to groups about the glory of personalized learning.

In the beginning of June in 2014, Rachel Chan with the Rodel Foundation attended a seminar in Washington D.C. on personalized learning sponsored by iNACOL.  She wrote about this extensively on the Rodel website.

Later that month, the United States Department of Education released their state reports on special education in America.  Delaware received a rating of “needs intervention”, prompting Governor Jack Markell to set aside funding in the state budget for a special education “Strategic Plan”.  What no one knew until recently was this plan consisted of hiring Korobkin away from Rodel and into Secretary of Education Mark Murphy’s office to put this plan together.

Later in the summer of 2014, the Delaware Department of Education, with the Rodel Foundation of Delaware, banded together to form a clandestine group of “stakeholders” to look at competency-based education in a personalized learning environment in Delaware.  The biggest hurdle in getting this going in Delaware was the barriers in the state code.  Their were many players in this non-public group, including members of the Rodel Teacher Council who were also working on a “Personalized Learning Blueprint” at the same time.  This group shaped the future of education in Delaware.  But they used people to do so, including some of the members of this group.

The timing for this group couldn’t have come at a better time.  There were many distractions happening that allowed them to fly under the radar with no one the wiser.  Invitations were sent out to select participants from Theresa Bennett at the Delaware DOE.  She was an Education Specialist for English/Language Arts in the Curriculum, Instruction and Professional Development area of the DOE.  She was the person who scheduled all the meetings.  An introductory webinar, sponsored by Achieve Inc., was held on August 14th, 2014.

 

After an explanation of competency-based education and personalized learning from some folks at Achieve Inc., they opened the webinar up for questions.  At the 30:07 mark on the video, Appoquinimink Superintendent Matt Burrows explained his district already began the process for personalized learning.  He mentioned several hurdles, especially the teachers’ union.  Next came Judi Coffield, the former Head of School at Early College High School, a charter school run through Delaware State University.  Coffield asked how Carniege units and high school grades would come into play with this.  Bennett explained what role the DOE played in this and how she and Rachel Chan from the Rodel Foundation were going to run the group.  Bennett went on to explain that select allies were invited to participate in this group.  She also talked about a meeting with Achieve Inc. in Washington D.C. in May of 2014 to pave a path forward.

Bennett did a roll call of who was participating in the webinar.  Jose Aviles, the director of admissions at the University of Delaware, was not on the call.  Bennett explains how Aviles accompanied her to the Achieve Inc. meeting.  “Is there a representative from Delaware PTA on the call?”  No response.  “Is Donna Johnson on the call?”  Silence.  “Kim Joyce from Del-Tech?”  Nothing.  “Pat Michle from Developmental Disabilities Council?”  Empty air.  She added Laurie Rowe and Stanley Spoor with Howard High School of Technology would be joining them.  Susan Haberstroh with the Delaware DOE joined later in the Webinar.

Rodel and Markell knew they needed to stage a distraction to further this personalized learning agenda away from prying eyes while at the same time steering the conversation towards their end goals by using the distraction.  They knew one of these distractions would automatically happen based on federal mandates from the US DOE, but the other would need careful planning and coordination.  The first drove the need for the second.

A few weeks later, Governor Markell and then Secretary of Education Mark Murphy announced the six priority schools in Wilmington.  The DOE picked the six “lowest-performing” schools in Wilmington, DE and announced the two school districts involved, Red Clay and Christina, would have to sign a “memorandum of understanding” and submit to the demands of the Delaware DOE.  This put the entire city into an educational tailspin.  Teachers in the affected schools felt outrage at the Governor and the DOE.  Parents didn’t know what this meant.  Politicians scrambled to make sense of it all as primaries and general elections faced them while constituents furiously called them.  Teachers in Delaware were still reeling from the upcoming Smarter Balanced Assessment and the scores tied into their evaluations.  Meanwhile, the secret meetings of the Delaware Department of Education Competency-Based Learning Guiding Coalition began without any public notice as an email went out from Bennett…

Thank you for your interest in the Competency-Based Learning Guiding Coalition.  If you were unable to attend the informational webinar, please use this link to access the recording:   http://www.achieve.org/DelawareCBLwebinar  

The Guiding Coalition will be charged with laying the foundation for competency-based learning in Delaware. This will include creating a working definition of competency-based learning and what it could look like in Delaware, understanding current barriers to implementing CBL in Delaware, and establishing support for CBL initiatives to take root in the state. Once we have a common understanding of CBL, we will surface key ideas and develop recommended strategies for helping CBL take shape in the state.

The time commitment for the Advisory Group of the Guiding Coalition will be attending approximately two or three 2-hour meetings during the coming school year, with 30-60 minutes of pre-work for each meeting. There will also be opportunities to engage further through optional readings, school visits, webinars, and other convenings if your schedule/level of interest allows.

We are excited to share that an expert facilitator will be guiding each of our meetings; we would like to collect information to inform our meeting agendas.  Please complete the following survey by September 10th:  https://www.surveymonkey.com/s/DECompetency-BasedLearning.  

Please complete a Doodle to help us best schedule the meetings for this group.  We hope to begin late September/early October, with meetings held in Dover. Responses to the Doodle poll will help us find the best day/time for the first meeting. Please use this link: http://doodle.com/mts6ncf74v77mnf

Best,

Theresa

Theresa Bennett

Education Associate, ELA

Curriculum, Instruction, and Professional Development

Delaware Department of Education

401 Federal Street, Suite #2

Dover, DE 19901-3639

To be continued…in part 2…coming soon…

To read the prologue to this series, link to The Delaware Illuminati, Prologue

Appoquinimink Up To Their Dirty Tricks Again With Opt-Out/Legal Letters…Just Refuse The Test!

The Appoquinimink School District in Delaware is continuing their intimidation of parents when they opt their child out of the Smarter Balanced Assessment.  It looks like they added some wording to the 2015-2016 edition about the testing windows.  Once again, with gusto, the ESEA doesn’t even address parents opting their children out of the state assessment.  The laws in ESEA deal with schools not testing students,  not parents.  Once upon a time, schools would discourage students from taking the test to improve their scores.  That was why that law was written.  Why is Appo continuing this false impression after I posted their 2014-2015 letter 8 months ago?  Say, didn’t the Delaware PTA ask Delaware Attorney General Matt Denn for a legal opinion of this letter?  Whatever happened to that?  Paging Yvonne Johnson…

I love how this letter states it was sent via regular mail AND certified.  From what I’m hearing, a child under the age of eighteen signed for it.  So does that make the certified mail drop-off even legal?  Delaware parents, you may get letters like this from other school districts or charters.  I would be creative with it.  Teach a younger child how to make paper airplanes.  Teach them how to do origami.  Or that thing where it becomes eight sides with all the questions on it.  Don’t sign it, and don’t send it back.  They want you to acknowledge a law that doesn’t even apply to you.  Continue opting your child out, and when the district comes back and asks why you didn’t respond, let them know you already gave them your letter, conversation over.  The override of Governor Markell’s parent disrespecting House Bill 50 veto by the 148th General Assembly can’t come soon enough.

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Hey Appo Board: How about getting off your weak knees and actually pass an opt-out policy like Red Clay and Christina did this fall.  Or even a resolution like Capital did.  Stop kissing DOE’s  you-know-what and show some spine!

Delaware Atty General Office Invalidated Appoquinimink Superintendent Contract Due To FOIA Violations

Thanks to “Armpit” for sending this one to me!  Apparently, Delaware Attorney General Matt Denn’s office received a petition from a concerned citizen in the Appoquinimink School District due to an open meeting violation concerning their school board.  Superintendent Matthew Burrows contract was invalidated due to the FOIA violations!  You can read the legal opinion here but I will give the highlights:

We find that Executive Session and Public Meeting Agendas for the June 2014 Board Meeting violated FOIA and affected substantial public rights.  In a similar case, we determined that the school board violated substantial public rights “by deciding who to hire as the new [District] superintendent outside of public view.”  Del. Op. Att’y Gen. 02-IB17, 2002 WL 31031224, at *8 (Aug. 6, 2002).  In that case, the “specific rights at issue . . . were the rights of students, parents, teachers, and other concerned citizens in the District to be involved in the selection of a new superintendent.”  Id.  However, we declined to invalidate the school board’s approval of the new superintendent for equitable reasons.   See id., at *10.

Similarly, although we find that the Board’s June 2014 Meeting and related agendas violated FOIA, we decline to determine that the approval of the Contract is invalid for violation of the open meeting law.7  The record indicates that after Mr. Weller raised his concerns about the adequacy of the Board’s June 2014 meeting agendas, the Board placed the matter on its November agenda, engaged in a public discussion about the Contract at the November meeting, and voted on the Contract at the November meeting. The Board also completed FOIA training in a public session in November 2014 in order to gain additional understanding of FOIA’s public meetings laws.  Therefore, we find that the Board has already taken action to cure the June 2014 violations of the open meetings laws.  Under the circumstances, no additional remediation is required.

Even though the matter was fixed by the board, it still happened.  What would have happened if Mr. Weller never brought it to the Attorney General’s attention?  If I ever meet Mr. Weller I would like to shake his hand for his bravery and determination in this matter.  School boards are elected officials, and they need to follow the letter of the law!