State Steals Autism Program From Christina, Students Future In Jeopardy

The State of Delaware stole the Delaware Autism Program from the Christina School District when no one was looking.  With an almost imaginary and very vague loophole in recent legislation, the Delaware Department of Education is now in charge of DAP.  But not so fast… Continue reading

Finance Sub-Committee For District Consolidation Task Force Shuts Out The Public

I received an email yesterday for the meeting schedule for the District Consolidation Task Force Finance Sub-Committee.  ALL the meetings are in the morning, split between Dover and Wilmington.  I get that legislative staffers and the Delaware Department of Education sets all this stuff up, but they are doing a huge disservice to the public by holding these meetings in the mornings.  The number one item on the public’s radar is if district consolidation is worth it financially.  These are taxpayer dollars at stake here.  I volunteered for this committee and while I don’t mind morning meetings, I would rather it was scheduled at a time when the majority of the public can attend.

Here is the schedule.  All meetings are on Thursday mornings.

September 7th, 9am to 11am, Government Center, 87 Reads Way, New Castle, DE

October 5th, 9am to 11am, Office of Management and Budget, Hazlet Armory, 3rd Floor, 122 Martin Luther King Blvd., Dover

November 2nd, 9am to 11am, Government Center, 87 Reads Way, New Castle, DE

December 7th, 9am to 11am, Office of Management and Budget, Hazlet Armory, 3rd Floor, 122 Martin Luther King Blvd., Dover

Once again, I have to ask why the person running this sub-committee is NOT an actual member of the task force.  I understand Fred Sears has been very active with the Delaware Community Foundation and the Rodel Foundation of Delaware, but why isn’t Mike Jackson with the Office of Management and Budget running this sub-committee?  Why are none of these meetings happening in Sussex County?  We need the public’s input on this task force.  This is a very ominous start for what should be the most transparent of all the sub-committees.

Chaos At Legislative Hall In Dover

Legislative Hall was a very odd place this afternoon around 4pm.  Usually the place is bustling on a Wednesday afternoon, but since yesterday’s announcement by party leadership that no “controversial” bills would be heard until the budget is passed, it was eerily quiet.  Of course the lobbyists were milling around, but the tone was very subdued.

The Delaware Joint Finance Committee met today and added $51 million in cuts to education and healthcare for a total of $88 million cuts.  Rumors were swirling that Democrats in the House were turning on their own because they won’t vote for the budget if it includes House Bill 240, State Rep. Val Longhurst’s very weak revenue bill.  Turns out the Democrat leadership sent those legislators to the Principal’s office (aka Governor Carney) over the past couple of days.  Way to turn on your own!  And they even got a few of the Delaware labor organizations (including DSEA) to rattle those legislators cages.

The Republicans introduced a resolution to extend state services for 30 days during July if the budget doesn’t pass.  I saw Mike Jackson who runs the Office of Management and Budget briefly and asked if we had a budget.  His response…  “For now.”  Which doesn’t mean much given no one has voted on it yet.  But the epilogue language is being written.  Grant-in-aid got slashed from $51 million to $8 million so good luck to those non-profits!

Meanwhile, the House voted on House Joint Resolution #6, directing the DOE to come up with regulations surrounding gender identity issues in Delaware schools.  Reps. Dukes and Smyk asked questions about it which basically meant they were opposed to the bills.  As one observer put it, there was definitely some “transhomophobia” in the House chamber.  The bill passed the House.  Expect similar resistance in the Senate.

Two Senators were there today who hadn’t been in the latter part of last week.  Senator Bryan Townsend’s wife had a baby boy last week.  Meanwhile Senator Brian Pettyjohn had some other stuff to straighten out.

I had some good chats with some folks.  Asked some pointed questions to a few so I am hoping to find out some answers on those in the next few days.  One of them has to do with the series of articles I’ve been writing about Smyrna.  It’s kind of putting a delay on Part 6.  I am hoping the answer is positive.

Some of us talking were in agreement the State Board of Education isn’t going anywhere.  The Delaware Dept. of Education will pick up the $213,000 tab for them.  Today the Senate confirmed former Delaware Senator Liane Sorenson as an at-large member of the State Board of Education.  I met her briefly and enjoyed our conversation.  She did confirm she reads Exceptional Delaware so that is always a plus in my book!

The next two days are going to be absolutely crazy down there.  If I’m not there tomorrow, I definitely will be on Friday.  That is an education blogger MUST!  I am hoping to get more of the Smyrna series up tomorrow.  But it depends on that one answer on how I move forward with this.

Oh yeah, the Blockchain legislation, House Bill #226, passed the Delaware Senate.  I anticipate Governor Carney will sign that faster than the Flash.  And so it begins…

I can’t for the life of me figure out why they aren’t moving forward with State Rep. John Kowalko’s franchise tax for companies incorporated in Delaware.  It would raise the fee from $300 to $325.00 and would raise $43 million in revenue.  Sounds like a no-brainer, right?  The last time that happened, there were 500,000 companies incorporated in Delaware when they raised it from $275 to $300.  Opponents feared it would cause companies to leave Delaware.  Now we have around 800,000 companies incorporated in Delaware.  Bills that make common sense should sail through, but we aren’t dealing with common sense in leadership at Legislative Hall these days, so once again, I digress…

It is late June in Dover, Delaware.  62 elected officials will attempt to decide how our state is run.  I trust a handful of them.  Pray for us, rest of the United States of America.  We need your prayers more than ever!

Updated with essential article from Delaware Public Media: http://delawarepublic.org/post/jfc-eliminates-grants-nonprofits-fire-companies-senior-centers-balance-budget

Updated again, 3:29pm, 6/29/2017: This article has been corrected to reflect that there were zero no votes for Liane Sorenson’s confirmation on the State Board of Education.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Delaware DOE Keeps 8 Race To The Top Positions From General Fund “Vacancies” With Salaries Over $800,000

The below emails say it all.  The DOE was supposed to cut 10 positions funded from Race To The Top when it expired on June 30th, 2015.  The DOE is allowed to use any remaining funds until the end of this calendar year.  But those are federal funds, not state funds.  When the Delaware Joint Finance Committee cut the budgeted $7.5 million down to $3.75 million, the remaining funds were only supposed to be used for initiatives, not positions.  But instead, the DOE is using state taxpayer funds from the state’s General Fund to pay for positions earmarked by a federal initiative.  State Rep. John Kowalko advised DOE and the State Board of Education he wasn’t going to stand for this.  Thank you to Rep. Kowalko for getting these answers as it is something that has crossed my mind lately.  Race To The Top is over, but it seems the Delaware DOE didn’t get the memo on this…


From: Kowalko, John (LegHall)
Sent: Sunday, October 4, 2015 7:09 PM
To: Morton, Michael (LegHall); Jackson, Michael A. (DSCYF)
Cc: Bennett, Andria (LegHall); Baumbach, Paul (LegHall); Lynn, Sean M (LegHall); Matthews, Sean (LegHall); Williams, Kimberly (LegHall); Kowalko, John (LegHall); Osienski, Edward (LegHall); Potter, Jr, Charles (LegHall)
Subject: information urgently needed

Gentlemen,

I need an explicit breakdown of the use, actual or intended, for the remaining $3.75 million (of the original $7.5 million Governor requested) RTTT money that was authorized with the budget passage. Most importantly, I am requesting a specific listing of all paid positions that were created, extended, filled or funded by the $3.75 million. Originally it was presented that approval of the full $7.5 million would allow for ten positions to be either funded or made permanent and they were specifically listed in our briefing papers and synopsis. I am requesting the specific titles and names of the employees that were funded due to the passage of the $3.75 million budget item listed under RTTT. I hope you will send me this information forthwith.

Respectfully,

Representative John Kowalko (25th District)


From: Jackson, Michael S (LegHall)
Sent: Monday, October 5, 2015 1:54 PM
To: Kowalko, John (LegHall)
Cc: Bennett, Andria (LegHall); Baumbach, Paul (LegHall); Lynn, Sean M (LegHall); Matthews, Sean (LegHall); Williams, Kimberly (LegHall); Osienski, Edward (LegHall); Potter, Jr, Charles (LegHall); Morton, Michael (LegHall); Jackson, Michael S (LegHall)
Subject: RE: information urgently needed

Rep. Kowalko – –

Here is the breakdown of the $3,750.0 included in the FY 2016 Budget for Race to the Top Initiatives:

1.       $2,550.0 was allocated to the Professional Accountability and Instructional Advancement Fund for educator preparation and development such as pre-service training for future teachers and leaders; educator recruitment platforms and tools for school districts and charters; evaluating teacher effectiveness; and supporting teacher-leadership opportunities and professional learning networks.

2.       $600.0 for common core resources for school districts and charter schools and funding of professional development and instructional materials for the transition to the Next Generation Science Standards; and

3.       $600.0 for the maintenance of the Educator Insight Portal  that provides a dashboard of data, pulling from several technology systems, for student, class, school, district and state performance statistics. All districts use portal for various information, such as a teacher reviewing performance data for incoming students to his/her classroom.

Regarding the positions, there was no new funding or positions included in the budget for any of the 10.0 positions and budget epilogue prevents the allocation of any of the $3,750.0 in funding to be used towards positions. Below is the language:

Section 301.  Section 1 of this Act appropriates $3,750.0 for the following school based initiatives: Next Generation Science Standards/College Readiness/Common Ground, teacher preparation initiatives and technology support for the Educator Insight Portal. These funds shall not be used to hire or retain positions in the Department of Education.

The Department of Education used existing General Fund vacancies to retain 8 of the 10 people who were in Race to the Top positions. Below are the salaries, names and titles of the 8 people:

Assessment, Accountability, Performance and Evaluation Branch

Chief Officer for the Branch (Penny Schwinn) $134,337

Director, Office of Assessment (Ryan Reyna) $110,551

Chief Performance Officer, Office of Performance Management (Katherine Villari) $116,419

Deputy Officer, Office of Performance Management (Elizabeth Jetter) $85,020)

Teacher and Leader Effectiveness Branch

Chief Officer for the Branch (Christopher Ruszkowski) $134,337

Director, Educator Effectiveness and Talent Management (Atnreakn Alleyne) $110,551

Deputy Officer, Talent Recruitment and Acquisition (Tasha Cannon) $99,750 (this position has become vacant)

Chief of Staff for the Branch (Shana Young) $116,000

The remaining 2 positions that were not retained were vacant positions in the Assessment, Accountability, Performance and Evaluation Branch. 

Mike Jackson