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Delaware Governor John Carney is throwing Delaware’s public school system under the bus and he will begin this transition with the Christina School District. Yesterday, he sent an unannounced delegation to Springfield, Massachusetts that included far more than those on his public schedule. This group included Assistant Superintendent Noreen LaSorsa, Wilmington Education Improvement Commission Chair Tony Allen (who received his invite on September 23rd), Christina Education Association President Darren Tyson, and an unnamed member of the Delaware State Education Association (which was their legislative liason, Kristin Dwyer). I’m sure Carney’s Education Policy Advisor Jon Sheehan attended as well.
The News Journal covered the trip in an article by Jessica Bies:
Despite school board members asking to be equal partners in the effort, there were no members of that group on the trip.
Carney apparently seems to think Tony Allen is a better choice to bring on trips about Christina than the actual board members:
Tony Allen, chair of the Wilmington Education Improvement Commission, on the other hand, has known about the trip since at least Sept. 23, he confirmed Friday. He said he was invited sometime before that.
In the article, it said Board President George Evans received an invite “very recently” but was unable to attend. Board Vice President Fred Polaski said he didn’t even know about it until a reporter called him.
Christina Board member John Young had plenty to say about this trip on his Facebook account this evening:
Delaware officials touring a Massachusetts effort run by an unelected governing board under a 501(c)-3, just like DE charters for possible use in Christina. On its face it certainly appears that Governor John Carney does not intend to partner with Christina, but deploy untested, unproven ideas on us. I honestly took him at his word Tuesday, now it seems like I may have been wrong to do so. Google Springfield Empowerment Zone if you want the 411 on this ed reform trainwreck that’s seemingly on the way. I am disappointed that mere days after agreeing to engage us within the rules that govern public meetings and board actions, a delegation was sent out of state to “research” a model to insert into CSD and usurp local control, possibly placing millions and millions of dollars into the hands of an appointed board without any elected representation from Christina.
Carney is playing the exact same kind of education games Jack Markell played. I’m not sure which is worse at this point, but at the rate Carney is going I have to go with our latest corporate education reform Governor. What makes Carney so dangerous is his throw it in your face backdoor dealings. He doesn’t care who he pisses off. As long as he has his select cabal to go along with his plans. Transparency is a thing of the past with this Governor. He is initiating very scumbag moves.
There can never be public trust with John Carney. Never. He has proven that multiple times. He is getting our legislators to think his hocus-pocus public-private partnership scams are perfectly okay. There is no collaboration with Carney. If you don’t go along with his vision, he will go ahead and do it anyway. The very fact that Carney wants to emulate a flash-in-the-pan scam like this where the “partnership” creates a board to oversee these schools separate from the local education agency board of education where the state picks the four board members and the district the other three shows an immediate state control of Christina’s Wilmington schools. But his contempt for local authority was not missed by Young in the News Journal article:
It has become clear the trip was planned in advance of that meeting, school board member John Young said, which concerns him because if the Springfield model ends up being the basis for the Christina partnership, it would suggest the outcome was predetermined and the school board didn’t actually have any say in the matter.
That’s right Mr. Young. Carney doesn’t want the Christina board to have any say because he knows they would say no. This is priority schools all over again except this time Carney is very upfront about selling these schools off to a corporate entity. Call it a non-profit all you want. I’m sure the overlords of this non-profit would exact their pound of flesh from the district in the form of certain salaries and operating expenses.
Where is DSEA President Mike Matthew on this? He has been very quiet about all this since it came out in the past week. I would think, given his resistance to the priority schools fiasco, he would oppose this. But he has been silent and I would like to know why. Especially given what Bies said in the article:
Legislators in Massachusetts say the program is “compelling” and has made it possible for the state to effect educational change without seizing local control from school districts. Yet, teachers unions have complained that it removes control of schools from local officials and puts it more in the hands of the state.
What is to stop this from spreading out from Christina? I have no doubt Carney will push this on other districts as well. Especially when their Smarter Balanced Assessment scores don’t meet his fake standards. Once again, the Christina Board of Education will have to stand up against the evil empire (the state) to prevent further erosion in local control even though Carney’s crappy vision ridiculously suggests it would give more local control.
I have no doubt Carney will sell more of his public-private partnership encyclopedia salesman malarkey throughout his term as Governor (a one-term Governor I hope and pray). But what he is really doing is selling his state away. He is evaporating transparency with his Family Services Cabinet Council and the non-public board meetings of his public-private partnership board at a state level. The Delaware Department of Education seems to be okay with this and I have never been more annoyed with Secretary of Education Dr. Susan Bunting for going along with this dog and pony show. But I suppose that’s why Carney picked her for this post. She has become Carney’s yes woman. But what should I expect from the Rodel-Vision circle of followers? This is not the change promised by Carney in terms of the Delaware DOE. They aren’t a support network for schools. He has found a way for them to micro-manage our schools more than ever with this nonsense. But he wraps it in his public-private partnership bow.
As for Tony Allen, he is being used in a big way for the second time by a Delaware Governor. Markell used him and threw him out with the whole WEIC plan. Now Carney is sucking him in with his big vision for Christina. I would think Allen would be too busy with his new Del State job, but I guess not. Not listed in the article is another attendee, Nnamdi Chukwuocha. This Wilmington City Councilman actually thought it was a good idea for corporations to take over public schools in the infamous Christina priority schools board meeting when he gave his public comment back in September, 2014. More of Carney surrounding himself with those who will suck up to him, allow themselves to be used, or whatever empty promise or vapor he whispered in their ears.
The Delaware DOE, State Board of Education, and our past two Governors have had a consistent hard-on for the Christina School District. Once they get their hooks into them it is only a matter of time until the infection spreads. Delaware is a small state so it would not come as a shock to me that we are a model state to completely destroy the word public in public education.
This whole thing stinks like hell and I hope Delawareans who do care about public education wise up and stand up fast to this fake Governor and his shallow followers. If Mike Matthews is the man I believe him to be, he will fight this tooth and nail. If he even entertains this notion, I will publicly shame him and my support for DSEA will be done. If he does not publicly go against this, it will prove he ran for President of DSEA for the power.
The Springfield model is a fake. It is just another way for Carney and other corporate education reform politicians to erode local control away and give power to states who in turn give out taxpayer money to idiotic companies who have taken more money away from the classroom than anything else since public education was first invented.
I am beginning to doubt any sincerity from John Carney. This whole district consolidation task force seems to be the big distraction. “Look here and pay attention to that while I spin my web of lies somewhere else in places you would never think to look.” The problem with Carney is his ego. He really is as transparent as Saran Wrap. I don’t look at him and think, “what a great politician I can trust”. I think, “That guy can’t be trusted at all. He’s up to something.” We all know the type. But that seems to be okay for over half of Delaware who put the guy in power with an empty campaign that essentially had no platform we hadn’t heard before. This is what happens when you reward a false sense of entitlement Delaware voters.
In a letter dated to parents on June 2nd, 2017, Christina School District Assistant Superintendent Noreen LaSorsa sent a letter to parents advising that Kirk Middle School Principal Brian Curtis was placed on leave. The letter did not indicate if the leave is a paid leave or not. In conducting a search for more information, I found a post on Facebook to the Christina School District Facebook page where a parent asked the district if he was fired for embezzlement.
When you go to Christina’s Facebook page, all visitor posts are now gone. I tried to submit a post asking where they all went and received a message that it would be reviewed. But the post still shows up on Facebook’s search engine. I edited the picture just for basic privacy rights of the person who submitted the question although it is public information on Facebook. The response to the parent post by the administrator of their Facebook page was 10:55am on June 2nd. The timestamp of the PDF letter sent to parents was 11:53am on June 2nd.
Curtis worked at the Delaware Department of Education for four and a half years in the school turnaround unit (i.e. priority schools) before he was hired to become Principal at Kirk Middle School in 2015. He replaced outgoing Principal Dan Shelton who became the Superintendent of the Capital School District. Curtis never updated his LinkedIn page with his new position. I searched for any recent news or events with Brian Curtis in Delaware and found nothing. While I am sure the district will not release any information pertaining to a pending investigation, this could not come at a worse time in Delaware as the General Assembly is in the final stages of preparing their FY2018 budget which has a current deficit of nearly $400 million dollars. Many school districts and state agencies are feeling the pinch as budget cuts are expected throughout the state.
In recent years, Delaware school district and charter schools have gone through many audit investigations due to financial abuse of some sort at their schools. Charter schools Providence Creek Academy, Academy of Dover, Family Foundations Academy, Delaware Military Academy and the closed Pencader Business School as well as the Indian River School District and Sussex Technical School District have all had reports from that office since 2013.
While working on another article about a situation not related to this one at all, I stumbled across the Facebook post which led me to the announcement about Curtis being placed on leave. While a question posed by a parent does not give any clear picture of wrongdoing, the fact the school district deleted the ability for anyone to see it on their main district page along with all other visitor posts IS cause for concern.
Yes, the words “chicken-fried awesome” were used by a Christina board member last night. But first they had to get through 45 excruciating minutes of approving their agenda. Board member Harrie-Ellen Minnehan introduced motions to remove three action items from the agenda and to table another item. That was just the beginning of a meeting that had topics as varied as car shopping to a very strong use of the word culpability. A member of the audience drew a great rendering of the meeting and asked me to put it in this article.
The four motions Minnehan put forth failed to move forward. Board member Shirley Saffer kept alleging Minnehan had a personal agenda going on. There was a ton of discussion about the motions and how it was unprecedented for one board member to attempt to remove action items like that. As a result of the motions, what should have been a 1-2 minutes process turned into a 45 minute ordeal for the audience. A lot of the audience had come for the presenting of the Honor Roll which is done right after the approval of the agenda and board minutes.
The charter settlement with Christina fell after a 3-4 vote by the board, exactly how the vote went when they voted for the settlement two weeks ago. Board member Fred Polaski tried to convince everyone that he believed the district would lose if it went to court with the charters. He offered no viable reason for why he felt they would lose. But it didn’t seem to matter because the board was clearly divided on many of the same action items with Polaski, Minnehan, George Evans and Meg Mason on one side. On the other were members John Young, Saffer, and President Elizabeth Paige. Young stated the minutes of the executive meeting would now become public since the need for the meeting was no longer valid and the settlement is public. He said he will be submitting updated minutes on that meeting. He also stated he had concerns about the culpability of the district in the matter. He also had grave concerns about the back and forth between the district and attorneys over Thanksgiving weekend and what amounted to a short time period of 90 minutes for the board to review the settlement. Young said that would make for a very interesting FOIA request. He had many concerns about the authority of charter leaders in signing the document, such as an Interim Principal, a Head of School, or a Board President. He reviewed many charter school bylaws and did not see that authority granted to those parties without permission from the entire board. He also did not special board meetings for the charter boards to vote on the settlement.
One of the shockers of the evening (and there were many), was the situation with the Montessori program in Christina. There was an action item to end the program. This became the controversy of the evening as parents and staff members gave public comment in support of the program. When it came time for the board to discuss the matter, Paige asked a question that solidified a crucial problem with the district, that of transparency. Delaware schools receive academic excellence units which they are free to cash in and do as they please. The Montessori program had three of those units. Paige asked about them and it was revealed by the district the Honors Academy would use three academic excellence units. While the district hemmed and hawed about the “coincidence”, Paige said the “optics” look very bad. In a rare moment of unity, the board voted 6-1 in favor of keeping the program with Polaski as the lone no vote. This prompted Young’s quote of the evening. He said the district believes competition is so “chicken-fried awesome” that they should be doing everything they can to get students who are a wait list at First Sstate Montessori Academy into Christina’s Montessori program. Board member Polaski suggested partnering up with the Wilmington charter school to have them open a satellite school in the Christina school district. No one even responded to this rather absurd notion. But it did point to what I see as a very charter friendly Polaski.
Once again, with a 3-4 vote, the board voted against annulling the Honors Academy vote from November with the same 3-4 blocks. Young pointed out that many of Christina’s existing Cambridge programs are disproportionate with the amount of minorities represented in them. The irony of the district wanting to close a program where there is equity (the Montessori program) in favor of moving forward with a program which has a strong potential of inequity (The Honors Academy) did not escape members of the audience. Concerns around placement tests, a parent letter, and standardized test scores were the chief reasons three of the board members wanted to annul the prior vote. There were also concerns around opt out and how the application for the academy could penalize those students who were opted out despite a board policy that explicitly forbids that.
The point of exhaustion for members of the audience surrounded the district’s Superintendent interviews. Yesterday, the Delaware Attorney General answered a FOIA complaint surrounding the board’s November executive meeting to formulate questions for the Superintendent candidate. Some board members refused to participate in the meeting since they had already figured out it would be a FOIA violation. This prompted the board to make public the questions for candidates. There was also a matter about interviewing the candidates the week before Christmas and a mad rush to get it done. As a result, the board voted in favor of naming an Interim Superintendent with Noreen LaSorsa taking on the role. It was agreed the board would conduct Superintendent interviews the first week of January. Saffer argued the board needed the public to see the candidates in the schools and interacting with students and staff as they had done in the past. Board member Evans said he would not participate in any of that. Young’s action item to begin the Superintendent search again to get a more diverse pool of candidates fell with a 2-5 vote with Saffer and Young as the two no votes.
This board is a house divided. Mostly between common sense and… I don’t know what. On the one side we have Young, Paige, and Saffer who seem to know the law and sees how decisions made today could cause problems in the future. On the other is the not-so Fantastic Four who always seem to be in this frantic hurry to get things done now without looking at all of the angles. They also seem to be easily intimidated by the district and outside forces. This shapes their votes. Minnehan took a pointed jab at Young as she said she would never want to go car-shopping with him because he takes too long to make a decision. I would rather have that than winding up with a lemon Mrs. Minnehan! As I drove down to Dover after this very long meeting which entered an actual new day, I saw a warrior district succumbing to the privatization movement that is paralyzing public education. I believed for a long time Christina was the last hold-out in Delaware, but after some of the votes last night, it was painfully obvious the last blockade fell. At this point, Delaware needs a hero. We need an Obi-Wan moment where someone answers the call of “you’re my only hope“. Will that person come from Christina or somewhere else?
I gave the following public comment to the board last night but despite my six minutes thanks to borrowed time, I was not able to get to the end of it which I will notate in the below comment.
Good evening ladies and gentlemen of the Christina School District Board of Education. It has been a long time since I came up to this podium to speak before this board. The last time I did so was seventeen months ago. I believe Ms. Minnehan was the Board President at that time. A lot happened at that meeting. I did want to offer an apology in regards to that. I’m sorry it has taken me so long to give public comment here.
I have a lot to talk about tonight, mostly in regards to the charter school shakedown, er, uhm, lawsuit.
First, can you please, for the love of all we hold sacred, fix the sound for the audio recordings on your website? It is a recurring issue and I’m certain it wouldn’t cost that much money to correct this.
Second, I am very curious why a FOIA request I sent to the district was never followed up on. I sent a FOIA request to the district asking for the past three years of all air quality inspections for every single one of the Christina schools. I received an email back that a cost estimate would be forthcoming. That was almost two months ago. I received nothing. As Delaware state code gives any public agency a period of 15 business days to respond to a FOIA request, the district has violated FOIA. Please remedy this by tomorrow so I do not have to file another FOIA complaint with the Delaware Attorney General’s office. Which I’m sure this district has had enough of. But I digress.
I do not believe the board should even entertain not voting on the rescission of the settlement. I am glad that motion failed. (I adlibbed the last sentence because of the board not passing Minnehan’s motion but I am not entirely sure on the wording). I believe it is very important you vote in the majority to vote yes on rescinding the settlement. As we all know, this was brought forth by Greg Meece over at Newark Charter School. What has never been answered is HOW Greg Meece suddenly, last winter, decided to get a meeting with the fine people at the Delaware DOE. How, all of a sudden, Meece knew EXACTLY what to look for. According to a letter Meece wrote last week to the parents of NCS students, Secretary Godowsky never knew about the change to the local funding formula. So Godowsky reversing a decision he never made, which was cited in the lawsuit and settlement, is frivolous at best. This entire shenanigan was meant to intimidate Christina, and sadly, the district took the bait. They didn’t just take the bait, they swallowed it and regurgitated it to four board members who voted out of fear rather than common sense. That is something that needs to be reversed tonight. I would rather see this district take this ALL THE WAY than see one more penny going out of this district to certain charters who want for nothing. If anything, the DOE should be the entity paying for this year’s charter share of the 2003 referendum and all future costs due to their colossal screw-up, not just getting off the hook by paying for half the attorney fees. But more than that, what may not have come out of all this, is the role the Office of Management and Budget played. As Brian Stephan wrote in a recent article on Delaware Liberal, something happened in 2014 that changed everything with the local funding formula. What he didn’t write, which he may not have been aware of, was why everything changed that year. The Office of Management and Budget, a section of Governor Jack Markell’s office, took over the responsibility from Mark Murphy to oversee this aspect of Delaware education financing. Oh so coincidentally, that was the same year the Delaware DOE launched the priority schools debacle and launched a coordinated attack against Christina when this board would not cower and buckle to Governor Markell’s shameful education agendas. While I am not an attorney or an accountant, I am just a blogger. According to Newark Charter School parents, I’m a sneaky snake blogger. But it is my belief this omission of paying the charter schools their portion of the 2003 referendum was, at best, an egregious error that the State of Delaware should pay moving forward. If that were not enough, the fact that tuition and match taxes were brought up in the settlement is very troubling. The charters have no right to those funds so why it was brought up in a settlement is beyond me. I certainly hope none of that nonsense was the district’s idea. That just opens the door for future siphoning of district funds the local taxpayers entrusted to the district, not to fifteen charter schools. If I’m not mistaken, Christina does not get large donations from the Longwood Foundation, they don’t get a larger proportion of minor capital funds based on their student populations like the charters do, and they certainly don’t get to keep excess transportation funds under their “budgeted” amount.
While we can sit here and pretend the charter cabal, led by Saul Ewing LLC, is a force to be reckoned with, the simple fact is they made unprecedented money grab. This could have been done a dozen different ways, but they chose threats and intimidation, with support from certain legislators in both the House and the Senate, to get what they wanted. As a result, if this board does NOT rescind the settlement, it will continue to give away funds this district desperately needs to 15 charter schools who have more than enough money already. And if you are going to put your trust in the Delaware Dept. of Education to do the right thing, you have already put one more nail in the coffin of this district.
At this point my time ran out, but this is how I planned to finish my public comment:
I strongly urge this board to continue to keep CSD moving forward. That does not mean responding to bullying threats by what amounts to non-profit corporations in Delaware. That means fighting for what is yours. As your CFO, Bob Silber, rightly argued, this district did what they were supposed to do. It was the State that screwed up. If this board is truly supposed to represent this district, and not Saul Ewing, Greg Meece, and the charters that have taken more funding from this district than any other force in this state, they will need to do the right thing and rescind this farce of a settlement that will allow charter schools to plunder funds not just from Christina, but would set a precedent for every district in this state.
I love the fact that the anonymous donation to Stubbs was highlighted by so much media in this state. But those students deserve more than having additional funds taken from them that would put the lunch balance to shame.
Thank you, and I do want to wish all of you a great holiday. Bob A, thank you for the Frozen memory. Good luck in your future endeavors.
To read the response to the FOIA complaint from the Delaware Attorney General’s office, please read below: