Tony Allen: Lawsuit Coming If We Don’t Fix Wilmington Schools

Tony Allen issued a stern warning about Wilmington schools.  He said a lawsuit is coming soon if we don’t fix it.

Last Wednesday evening, the Progressive Democrats of Delaware held a panel on Delaware education funding.  The panelists were myself, Tony Allen (the Chair of the Wilmington Education Improvement Commission), Brian Stephan (on the Christina Citizens Budget Oversight Committee), and State Rep. Paul Baumbach.

The main emphasis of the panel was to discuss the pros and cons of implementing a weighted funding system for Delaware schools.  In this type of system, students with higher needs would have more money allocated to them.  These would include low-income students, English Language Learners, and students with disabilities.  For the last, this already takes place with the exception of basic special education for students in Kindergarten to 3rd grade.

All the panelists were in agreement that the system we have is not working at all.  While I don’t necessarily have an issue with a weighted funding system, the devil is in the details.  But beneath the surface, as I stated towards the end of the panel, is the huge elephant in the room concerning accountability.  Not for standardized tests but where money is currently going.  There is no viable mechanism in Delaware to ensure the funds we are using in public education are truly going to the needs of students.  Our state auditor is supposed to audit every single traditional school district for all expenses, but when was the last time we saw one of those reports unless it was part of an official audit inspection?  There is no consistency with where funds are going.  There are so many sub-groups of payment allocations with many overlapping each other.  It is a beast to understand.  Coding expenses in definitive places is a must, but no one seems to want to address that at a state level.  It is my contention that throwing more money into the system is a recipe for disaster.

Say the advocates for better education in Wilmington schools do file a lawsuit.  What would the result be?  The feds have made important decisions in the past that put temporary band-aids on the issues but eventually the situation with “failing schools” comes up again and again.  The definition of a “failing school” is now tied to standardized tests.  It is the heart of all accountability in public education.  But it fails to address the issues facing students of poverty, spoken languages that are not English, and disabilities that are neurologically based.  The “one size fits all” mentality, which the Delaware Dept. of Education is still pushing in their first draft of the Every Student Succeeds Act state plan, doesn’t work.

Tony Allen told the group he was disappointed the WEIC Redistricting Plan didn’t pass in the General Assembly.  He said, without hesitation, that he fears a lawsuit will have to happen to truly address the issues facing Wilmington students.  He did concede that one of the biggest issues facing WEIC was not having representation from Kent and Sussex counties in the group.  This was something I advised WEIC about in public comment at their very first meeting in August of 2015.  It was also why I didn’t go to as many meetings as I could have.  But will a federal lawsuit fix Wilmington schools?

In my opinion, the biggest problem in Delaware education among high-needs students is a problem no judge, accountability system, General Assembly, or any advocate can fix: hopelessness.  In our biggest cities in the state, and reaching out into the suburbs and rural areas, is a drug problem of epic proportions.  And with African-American youth, that comes with a potential of joining a gang.  Until that problem is fixed, we will continue to spin our wheels trying to fix education.  We can have after-school programs and more guidance counselors in our schools.  That will help, but it will NOT solve the problem.  I don’t have the answer to that.  I don’t know who does.  But until we can fix that problem, making our schools the penicillin for the disease facing our state will not get to the heart of the issue.  With the drugs and gangs come extreme violence and people getting shot in the streets.  This “be tough or die” mentality is the deadliest issue facing Delaware.  And when those issues come into our schools, that is when education gets put in the bulls-eye of blame.

I have no doubt, at some point, Tony Allen, Jea Street and others will file some huge lawsuit against the State of Delaware.  And many will look towards a judge to solve all our problems.  It won’t.  Until we get really tough on hopelessness, we will fail.

Education Funding A Hot Topic At The PDD Monthly Meeting Tonight

The Progressive Democrats of Delaware will have a panel tonight on the subject of education funding.  I was asked to be one of the panelists for this to which I happily accepted.  But I’m up against some heavy hitters!  One of the most knowledgeable experts on school district funding, Brian Stephan, will join myself, Tony Allen, and State Rep. Paul Baumbach on this important discussion.  As well, the Wilmington Education Improvement Commission will receive the 2016 Bob Stachnik Progressive Courage Award for their advocacy efforts on improving education in Wilmington.  Tony Allen is the Chair of WEIC.  Brian Stephan serves on the Christina Citizens Budget Oversight Committee and is a contributor for Delaware Liberal.  State Rep. Paul Baumbach is running unopposed for the 23rd State Rep. Seat which will give him his third consecutive term for the district.

I highly recommend coming out for this.  The event begins at 7pm and runs until 8:30am.  This will take place at the New Castle Democrat HQ at 19 East Commons Blvd., 2nd floor, in New Castle.  I will gladly answer any question presented to the best of my ability but I do not consider myself an expert on this stuff.  I know many facets but it is a very broad topic with many moving parts.  But I do plan on talking about a few things I’m pretty sure none of the other panelists would mention as I have just discovered them myself.  I have to imagine the very controversial charter school lawsuit against Christina and the Delaware Dept. of Education will come up.  As well, funding for WEIC will surely be a topic as well.  Many of the panelists want to revamp funding to include a weighted funding formula so children with higher needs are given a greater weight of money.

Ask Teachers One Question And…

Alright, I admit it.  Asking Delaware teachers if they would consider taking a cut in their benefits and pensions probably wasn’t the smartest move in the book, but many of you came out in droves to respond.  Granted, no administrators, principals, or superintendents replied.  The article went over like a resounding thud.  But I challenge every single teacher in the state: if not benefits or pension, what do you view as wasted money in our schools?  And please don’t say “nothing”.  We spend a billion dollars on education in Delaware and that’s just from the state.  We also get federal money and local funds from school taxes.  While other states may laugh and say “that’s it?”, we are a small state with less than a million people and about 133,000 kids in public education.  Since this could be a hot topic with certain folks, feel free to post anonymously on this!

Since I just got home from work and grocery shopping and I’m dead to the world now, just a few updates on recent stuff.  They must have a huge cricket crisis going on in the Appoquinimink School District, because that’s all I’ve heard from them since I dropped the special education funding bomb on them last week.  I did have an interesting comment on the “Unsustainable” article that had me wracking my brain all day.  Delaware school districts and charters might be thinking I’ve slowed down on them and my target of the month is Appo.  Wrong!  I have a ton of articles that will be coming out in the next couple of weeks.  One is about an interesting superintendent situation going on in one of our school districts.  That one led to a VERY interesting board meeting last month.  Dr. Mark Holodick is winning the “who will be the next Secretary of Education in Delaware poll”, followed by Susan Bunting.  Every one seems to be playing pin the tail on the auditor in the past week and everyone wants to know when Tom Wagner is actually going to, you know, do some audits.  Kenny Rivera is now the Vice-President of the Red Clay Board of Education and Michael Piccio was voted in as the President.  The State Board is having their monthly snooze fest on Thursday.  Expect to hear some type of hip-hop hooray about the latest Smarter Balanced Assessment results but not the actual final scores cause they aren’t done yet.  Both the Christina and Red Clay Boards of Education passed resolutions to suspend the WEIC timeline which will be echoed by WEIC at a meeting on July 26th.  On Wednesday, WEIC will be honored by the Progressive Democrats of Delaware as their Education Heroes of the Year.  So Elizabeth Lockman gets a two-peat!  Jack Markell hasn’t signed the teacher evaluation bill yet, House Bill 399.  I guess he was too busy not filing to run for Congress (okay, I never said I bat home runs every time)!  Delaware Military Academy wants to build a sports dome, but not with any funding from the state.  They said it will all be from private donations.  Apparently Chief of Instruction Michael Watson at the Delaware DOE has been “chosen” to be on John Carney’s “transition team”.  How very presumptuous of you Mr. Carney.  Today is State Rep. Trey Paradee’s birthday so wish him a Happy Birthday on Facebook.  I did hear back from EFIC about their epic fail, which is the Education Funding Improvement Committee’s final report.  Apparently “their work isn’t done yet” after having a due date of March 31st which was extended until June 30th.  Publius disappeared from Kilroy’s Delaware about a month ago and hasn’t been seen since.  He said something about the sign is in the yard.  It makes me very curious why he would feel he shouldn’t comment “anonymously” on a blog anymore.  Especially in light of a recent vacancy in Dover (totally speculating on this one folks).  Unless…

PDD Education Heroes Forum Tonight In New Castle, Delaware

There’s going to be a forum tonight if you are interested in attending.  This is from Nancy Willing’s excellent blog, The Delaware Way:

Join Progressive Democrats for Delaware

7PM Wednesday, October 7th
19 E. Commons Blvd. 2nd Fl., New Castle
Education Panel Discussion

Our four Education Heroes, Mike Matthews, Kevin Ohlandt, Elizabeth “Tizzy” Lockman, and  John M. Young, will be joined by Vicki Bloss Seifred and Brian Stephan for a panel review of the impact of state education policy: what’s being done with it and what should we do about it.

Two panelists, Tizzy and Vicki, are members of the Wilmington Education Improvement Commission (WEIC). Two panelists, John as Board member and Brian as Citizen Budget Oversight Committee member, represent Christina School District. Two panelists, Mike as education union president and Vicki as teacher, represent Red Clay School District. And four panelists, John with Transparent Christina, Kevin with Exceptional Delaware and Brian with Those In Favor and Delaware Liberal, are education bloggers with Mike formerly blogging at Down With Absolutes.
What a line up! Also, we’ll be presenting Kevin and Tizzy with their Hero certificates!

The PDD October Panel On Education Will Have Many Spill-over Issues From Our September State Budget Panel

And we are thrilled to announce that joining PDD on November 4th for a presentation on Citizens United led by Judith A. Butler will be Democratic candidates for Congress, Rep. Bryon Short and Sen. Bryan Townsend, both prime sponsors of SCR 6, calling for an Article V Convention and an Amendment to the US Constitution.

Nancy Willing
President, Progressive Democrats for Delaware

A Night Of Celebration, Reflection, Laughter, & Recognition

Firestone2

Last night the Progressive Democrats of Delaware held their annual Firestone Restaurant celebration, and this year myself, as well as John Young, Mike Matthews and Tizzy Lockman were recognized as education heroes of Delaware.  This is an award I’m fairly certain I will never get from Governor Markell or the State Board of Education!

Firestone1

It was great to see so many friends, advocates and legislators in a non-formal location.  John Young talked about how we all owe Kilroy a debt of gratitude as he is the godfather of Delaware education blogging.  I spoke about my outstanding FOIA request with the DOE and how much help I need to raise the funds to cover the rest of it.  Tizzy Lockman thanked everyone for their support with the Wilmington Education Advisory Committee and the upcoming Wilmington Education Improvement Commission and how much work they have before them.  Mike Matthews spoke about the dangerous influences outside forces, like Rodel and Delaware Charter Schools Network, can have on candidates and asked that the party not support candidates who are aligned with theses types of corporate education reform companies.

Delaware State Reps. John Kowalko, Kim Williams, Paul Baumbach & Sean Lynn

Delaware State Reps. John Kowalko, Kim Williams, Paul Baumbach & Sean Lynn

The six Progressive State Representatives who voted no on the state budget on July 1st were honored as well with the PDD Bob Stachnik award.  State Rep. Sean Lynn explained why they voted no as they couldn’t sit by and watch funding be cut for those who need it the most without having any revenue coming in.  He also talked about the extreme difficulty the state will face next year with predicted budget deficits between $160-$180 million.  Reps. Paul Baumbach, John Kowalko and Kim Williams also spoke about the budget.  Kowalko said it was his proudest moment in his many years of serving the people of Delaware.

It was a great evening with perfect weather on the riverfront in Wilmington.  The food was excellent, and the atmosphere was festive.  It was great to talk with others about our kids, hysterical moments in the past year (Schwartzkopf’s Gavel, Christina Board meetings, Burger Girl, a certain video released last week by one of the education heroes) while new memories were created (“Vera”, the armpit –don’t ask–, the coffee mug).

Mike O from the seventh type was there, and we spoke for quite a while about blogging, House Bill 165, and charter schools.  I had never officially met him, so it was great to get a different perspective on blogging and whatnot.  I was given an excellent source for my charter school series of articles which I plan on using immediately!

There is a lot of interesting stuff coming up in the next few months with education in Delaware, and you can read all about it on the Delaware blogs!  I would like to thank President of the PDD, Nancy Willing, and all the members of the party for their recognition of myself and the three others.  It was quite an honor!

If you would like to donate for the Smarter Balanced FOIA request, please go to this link and help us find out what is really going on with these high-stakes tests and their vendors! http://www.gofundme.com/x6mb3j8

Standing On The Shoulders Of Giants

I have been chosen.  Along with Mike Matthews, President of the Red Clay Educators Association, John Young, Christina School District Board Member, and Tizzy Lockman, Wilmington Education Advisory Committee member and fierce advocate for civil rights in Wilmington schools.  I just see myself as a blogger on education matters in Delaware.  Those other three, they have a lot of skin in the game and have been around a lot longer than myself.  But I am honored to be listed among these giants in the below announcement.  I didn’t think Exceptional Delaware would reach as many as it has, but if I am the proudest of anything it’s that more parents are finding this blog and finding out what is really going on out there.  At the end of the day, I’m still just a Dad to an awesome kid who happens to have disabilities and my fight has always been so he can have a better future.

July 14, 2015

Kevin Ohlandt

Exceptional Delaware Blog

Dear Kevin,

I am proud to announce today, as President of the Progressive Democrats for Delaware, that you are a 2015 PDD Education Hero Award winner!

PDD voted to recognize four Education Heroes for your work in bringing education reform issues to the public’s attention this year: Mike Matthews, Kevin Ohlandt, John Young and Elizabeth Lockman.

We’re also recognizing the House Democratic Caucus Six (Paul Baumbach, Kim Williams, Sean Lynn, Andria Bennett, Sean Matthews and John Kowalko) with this group award for standing up to their caucus with the courage of their convictions and voting against the budget this year [Why we voted against the state budget].

The formal announcement of our PDD honorees will take place at our July 22nd Progressive Democrats for Delaware Summer Social!, 7-9 at the FireStone Roasting House on the Riverfront.

This event serves as a fundraiser for our PAC for progressive candidates but you’ll be our guest for the evening – no charge – and we would love it if you can join us in celebration. We’ll be soliciting additional nominations  for Progressive Community Heroes at the event so come prepared to offer an outstanding individual of your choice for recognition at the PDD Awards Ceremony in September.

The award ceremony itself will be at our September 2nd General Meeting (7PM DEM HQ in New Castle) where we’ve invited the DEM Caucus Six to speak as panelists. Save the date!

PDD will be coordinating with the Delaware Americans for Democratic Action to rally the public over the next year with informational events through the fall and implementation events through the next session of the Assembly. PDD hopes to excite Delaware’s progressive voters and get them to the polls in 2016!

I hope to see you Wednesday night!

Nancy Willing, President

Progressive Democrats for Delaware

PDD Summer Social

7-9 Wednesday July 22nd

FireStone Roasting House 

110 S West St 

Wilmington, DE 19801

For the six Democrat State Reps that voted against the budget, I was there during their moment of courage.  If I were in their shoes, I would have done the exact same thing.  Now before everyone starts saying I am a Progressive Democrat, I can be.  I can also be a moderate Republican depending on the issue.  I don’t talk about my own personal politics too often.  I don’t think it matters as long as I fight the good fight out there.  But having worked with several of these legislators on education issues, I’ve found they are the most informed about the realities and not the smoke and mirrors we hear about from so many others at Legislative Hall.  There are some great legislators there, but they aren’t all education legislators, so our paths don’t tend to cross.

As for the other three Education Heroes, I’ve known John Young the longest.  As the Transparent Christina blogger and a board member at Christina, he has always inspired me to get the truth out there.  Along with Kilroy and Kavips, John Young showed me the news the mainstream media doesn’t cover.  As a board member, my admiration for John grew immensely during the Priority Schools showdown at their board meeting in September.  He stood up to the DOE, and two State Board members angrily walked out.

I met Mike Matthews at a State Board of Education meeting a year ago.  We had commented on stuff over on Facebook, but when I met him he was cutting out material for his classroom.  Someone that bold is someone to watch.  I’ve seen Mike speak out several times in support of many of the same beliefs I have.  His most memorable speaking moment came at the Imagine Delaware forum last March.  This one has no fear and we need more of that!

Tizzy Lockman.  I never really heard of her until the whole ACLU lawsuit announcement last December.  But she is everywhere, on WEAC, the Enrollment Preference Task Force, and she is always advocating for students with the greatest needs.  I don’t know her as well as John and Mike, but I can say the Delaware education landscape is better with her being in it!

Any award for me is dedicated to all the parents of special needs kids and the parent supporters of opt-out.  Hopefully we changed the conversation, and I know we can’t stop now!