Is The DOE About To Dump 7 Christina Schools On Red Clay? Does WEIC Know About This?

Red Clay taxpayers beware: You might get a sticker shock on a future tax bill!  The Delaware Department of Education issued a Request For Proposal on November 28th for a “time sensitive” Facilities Condition Evaluation of all the Christina schools based in Wilmington.  While I initially thought this could have been related to Christina’s recent mold issues, I found this went much deeper than that.  Is this some type of surprise announcement that will come in John Carney’s State of the State address?

The schools that will be evaluated are Bancroft Elementary School, Bayard Middle School, Elbert Palmer Elementary School, Pulaski Elementary School, Stubbs Elementary School, Douglass School, and the Sarah Pyle Academy.  Even the district office at the Drew Education Support Center is on the list!  The smoking gun is this part:

Develop cost estimates to bring each of the above listed facilities to a similar state and with the same control systems such as building controls, camera systems, keysets, alarm, access control, phones, tech. infrastructure (switches), and wifi as Highlands Elementary School, 2100 Gilpin Avenue; Shortledge Elementary School, 100 West 18th Street; Lewis Dual Language Elementary School, 920 North Van Buren Street; Baltz Elementary School, 1500 Spruce Avenue; and DuPont Middle School, 3130 Kennett Pike.

Those are all Red Clay schools.  If this were just some random facilities evaluation, there is no way there would be something to bring Christina schools up to Red Clay specifications.  There is going to be a big move coming soon!

Identical to the process and methodology followed for typical school facilities assessment work, the assessment will identify any potential issues related to major building systems and building components such as the building envelope/structure, roofing, HVAC/mechanical, electrical, plumbing, fire protection, telecommunications, and security systems as well as any site improvements required to the immediate surrounding area for building access. Data generated from this effort will:

• Evaluate the above listed schools in 1. facility condition indices as compared to RCCSD facilities as listed in 2.

• Identify and prioritize required short and long term improvements

• Identify code compliance, accessibility and system coordination issues requiring immediate attention

• Identify potential energy conservation opportunities

But does the Wilmington Education Improvement Commission know about this?  They are having a regular commission meeting next Wednesday at Warner Elementary School.  If they don’t, boy are they in for a surprise!

As well, it looks like the Delaware Autism Program could be shifted to Red Clay as well:

Prepare a design analysis for the Christina Administrative space, Douglas Alternative School, Sarah Pyle Program and Delaware Autism Program as currently located in one of the buildings listed above.

Who is the driving force behind this?  If it is John Carney, he may want to open with a huge splash by finally giving the civil rights advocates in Wilmington their hearts desire.  But if this is his move, it would also be a huge smack in the face to the Red Clay taxpayers.  Carney was very wishey-washey during his campaign about what he would do with the WEIC redistricting plan.  He hinted at liking some of it but not all of it.  But WEIC Chair Tony Allen is on his transition team.  If Carney pulls this off without the General Assembly he risks alienating many of State Reps and Senators.  Which may not work out in his favor with the special election for Bethany Hall-Long’s seat.  That race will determine whether the Democrats or Republicans control the Delaware Senate.

Another option is Governor Jack Markell.  With the time sensitive status around this and a due date for bids of December 13th, could he have the gumption to stick it to Christina one last time before he leaves office?  While ticking off the taxpayers at the same time?

The RFP was authored by a Renee Harris.  The only thing I found on her while doing a Google search and a State of Delaware search was related to the Tobacco Settlement from the Delaware Attorney General’s office.

No matter what this is, it is going to be something that will change the Wilmington education landscape.  There is absolutely no way the DOE would issue an RFP like this without something waiting in the wings.  The WEIC redistricting plan was put on hold for a year.  The state isn’t overflowing in cash right now either.

**UPDATED** 12:35pm, 12/2/16: Senate Bill 300 with House Amendment 1 was what allowed the WEIC Redistricting Plan to survive.  But there is key language in the amendment put forth by State Rep. Kim Williams:

The amendment removes language obligating the Wilmington Education Improvement Commission and affected school districts to develop, before February 2017, a detailed assessment of the impact of transitioning City of Wilmington Students from the Christina School District to the Red Clay Consolidated School District. Such detailed assessment would require development of school- and student-level changes that require public input and facility analysis that cannot be completed in the timeframes in the original bill. Instead, they should be undertaken as part of the planning phase for redistricting upon commitment of necessary and sufficient funding. The amendment preserves appropriation of $200,000 to continue the work related to the Wilmington Education Improvement Commission, including analysis of fiscal impacts, and language clarifying and ensuring that any additional state funding requires further action of the General Assembly.

That date of February 2017 flies in the face of this RFP.  I would strongly consider a “Facilities Evaluation” part of a “detailed assessment of the impact…” for the WEIC plan.  The amendment does not include the Delaware DOE though.  But the original WEIC bills from 2015 do not give the Delaware DOE to have this much involvement.  Something is happening…

**UPDATED** 2:04pm, 12/2/16: If you read the fiscal note for Senate Bill 200, it states the following:

  1. This Act is effective upon signature of the Governor.
  2. This Act provides a supplemental appropriation of $200,000 to establish the Wilmington Redistricting Transition Fund to assess the fiscal impact of transitioning City of Wilmington students from the Christina School District to the Red Clay Consolidated School District. The funding is to be used by the Red Clay Consolidated School District, in consultation with the Wilmington Education Improvement Commission and the Christina School District, for the assessment in which said assessment is to be substantially completed on or before January 31, 2017.
  3. This Act also establishes a working group to review the fiscal impact assessment that is prepared by the Red Clay Consolidated School District in consultation with the Wilmington Education Improvement Commission and the Christina School District. The Department of Education is to provide staff support to the working group, upon request, and it is assumed that the Department will provide this support within existing resources. The working group shall submit its review by March 31, 2017 to the Governor, Speaker of the House of Representatives and President Pro Tempore of the Senate.
  4. Funding is set aside in the Fiscal Year 2017 budget process in the amount of $200,000.

But once again, that due date was changed based on House Amendment #1 to the bill.  So, once again, why is the DOE issuing an RFP with a submission due date for bids of 12/13/16 and labeling this as “time sensitive”?  The key words in the amendment are this- “commitment of necessary and sufficient” funding.  The amendment states this work should not take place until a time when that commitment is assured.  No budget proposal will come out until towards the end of January.  And a budget proposal does nothing until the General Assembly approves it.  So even if folks are saying this is part of the $200,000 allocated to WEIC as a result of SB300, it appears the amendment is being completely ignored.  The bill was dead before the amendment.  The amendment saved WEIC.  I am not convinced of anything I am hearing at this point.  Whomever is directing these actions is breaking the law.

**UPDATED** 2:16pm, 12/2/16: Upon further analysis of the above amendment, it states the type of work included in this RFP should be done during the “planning phase” of the redistricting plan.  As per the plan approved by the State Board of Education, the timeline consists of the following:

December 17, 2015 to June 30, 2016 Approval Stage

July 1, 2016 to June 30, 2017 Planning Stage

July 1, 2017 to June 30, 2018 Transition Stage

July 1, 2018 to June 30, 2019 Implementation Stage

But because the General Assembly did not pass the legislation that would make the redistricting plan happen, they instead bumped it up a year.  So the Planning Stage of July 1, 2016 to June 30, 2017 is no longer in place.  The amendment is very clear about what should happen during this stage.  That planning stage can’t begin again until July 1, 2017 if the General Assembly allows for that to happen based on signed legislation.  I’m just a blogger without the legal expertise the WEIC and DOE attorneys would have.  But if I can clearly see that the law is not being followed, they would assuredly know.

To read the RFP, please read below:

 

 

17 Who Will Make An Impact In 2017: State Rep Paul Baumbach

paulbaumbach

A month ago, I participated in a forum on Delaware education funding at the monthly Progressive Democrats for Delaware meeting.  State Representative Paul Baumbach from the 23rd Rep District also discussed the issue.  Baumbach is very supportive of implementing a weighted education funding formula in Delaware.  Last Winter, Baumbach and then Deputy Secretary of Education David Blowman presented a report on a weighted funding system to the Education Funding Improvement Commission.  That commission was unable to get a consensus on any particular funding apparatus and ended the 148th General Assembly with no final report.  The WEIC redistricting plan also called for implementation of a weighted funding system.

Education funding, with implementation of the Every Student Succeeds Act, will take center stage in 2017.  As more and more citizens realize the system we have now is not working for all students, attempts at fixing the problems will appear.  The Wilmington Education Improvement Commission and their redistricting plan for Wilmington Christina School District students is still bubbling under the surface.  Last night, Christina’s board voted 4-3 to settle on a lawsuit filed against them and the Delaware Dept. of Education by 15 charter schools that receive students from Christina.  The charters claim Christina was filing exclusions that were “improper” to the Delaware DOE and the DOE signed off on them.  While the settlement has not been made public, it will assuredly have an impact on local funding formulas going forward.

Baumbach’s plan is to have more money go to students with higher needs, such as low-income or poverty, English Language Learners, and students with disabilities.  Currently, students with disabilities do receive additional funding based on a unit-count system (with the exception of basic special education for students in Kindergarten to 3rd grade).  This system determines how much staff each district or charter school receive based on their September 30th count of students.  With the funding system Baumbach is pushing for, the money would follow the student based on their needs.  Another question involving this funding system is if Talented and Gifted students would be considered high need as well.

This is not equality funding but equity funding.  Schools who have less sub-groups of students with higher needs would receive less money.  Final accountability regulations for ESSA will require each public school in America to show the amount of funding per student based on local, state, and federal funding.  The biggest problem with education funding in Delaware is property assessments.  No county in Delaware has increased their property assessments in decades resulting in severe imbalances to what the current assessed values would be.  As well, referenda held by school districts have had mixed results.  Adding to this mix is the potential of school vouchers coming to Delaware if President Donald Trump and his pick for U.S. Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos, get their way.  Baumbach argued against a bill that would allow vouchers for special education students last Spring and stated it would be a violation of Delaware’s Constitution to send state funds to a religious private school.  Trump also announced he wants to incentivize new charter schools across America.  Capital costs for school buildings is also a major issue.  Delaware has many outdated schools that have serious structural issues with the recent Christina mold problem as a glaring example.

Baumbach will most likely bring forth legislation in 2017 to change how we fund our schools.  As well, there is increasing talk in Delaware about re-examining property assessments.  Some state officials have even suggested consolidating school districts to save money, possibly to a county school district system with New Castle County having two districts based on the population.

For my part, I can’t support ANY changes to our education funding system until we can get more assurances the money we are already spending is used with fidelity and honesty.  The recent audit investigation into Indian River showed very clearly that this district was not being honest.  We’ve had far too many Delaware charter school leaders and employees committing major fraud with funds that are not getting to students.  Our state auditor is supposed to audit each school district every year and publish the results.  This is not happening.  Charter school annual audits, usually, do not have the ability to catch financial fraud.  The State Auditor of Accounts Office, run by Tom Wagner, is massively understaffed.  Why in the world would we dump more  money into education when we can’t accurately keep track of the money already there?  This is the viewpoint of many conservatives in Delaware, but more on the left are also waking up to a reality that can no longer be ignored.

As the chief legislative advocate for a weighted funding system, Baumbach will have his hands full in the first six months of 2017.  If the Republicans manage to take control of the Delaware Senate after the special election for Bethany Hall-Long’s Senate seat, the voucher conversation will become very loud at Legislative Hall.  Tony Allen also warned that time is running out to fix education for Wilmington students and advocates may file a federal lawsuit against Delaware which could leave education funding and districting in the hands of a federal judge.  The icing on this education funding cake is the very flawed measurement of success for Delaware schools- the standardized test.  If we use them as a barometer of success or need, the system will continue to be a confusing mess with no end in sight.

No matter how you slice and dice money for education, no system will please everyone.  This has become painfully obvious.  We need to look at what is best for Delaware students and not those of corporations who seek to profit from education.  As corporate education reform is more embedded in our schools, more administrators are implementing the very bad policies from those reformers thus turning them into profiteers of education.  Yeah, Baumbach is going to have a big fight on his hands with any legislation involving this system!

To read the final report conducted by Hanover Research for the Delaware DOE on a weighted funding system, please read below:

Who Will Pay The Price For The Godowsky Move That Will Cause The Can To Explode?

We have all heard the term “kicking the can”.  In Delaware, this is often referred to when it comes to education funding.  For example, when the Wilmington Education Improvement Commission redistricting plan was postponed for a year because the funding wasn’t available, many felt this was “kicking the can”.  Very soon, word is going to get out about an action created by Secretary of Education Dr. Steven Godowsky that will cause that can to explode.  It won’t be a question of later, it will be a question of now.

I know what the action Godowsky takes will be.  I know why he will do it.  I know who put him up to it.  I also know why they did it.  I know what they are hiding.  I know when they did it and why it hasn’t been announced yet.  The actions that took place the last week of June will take on new meaning.  It explains so many things that left so many of us scratching our heads.  This is the line in the sand that will change Delaware education forever.  No one is going to be able to sit on the fence with this one.  You will be on one side or the other.  It will change the upcoming elections in ways you can not imagine.  John Carney will have to deal with the mess Governor Markell will leave him.  While it won’t affect everyone, the reverberations of this action will leave seismic impressions throughout the state.

Other things this will explain will also cause massive change in how something else is viewed.  While it has been on the back burner for the past month, many will speculate if this had something to do with that.  This isn’t something that is speculation on my part.  This will happen.  When it does, allies will become enemies.  When it does, I will tell the entire story behind the story.  Because I have it down to the penny.   And while a certain someone thinks he is going to get away with this, your hubris will be your downfall.  This will make the announcement made on the steps of Warner Elementary School two years ago look like pudding.  I know how guiding hands have been building towards this for quite some time.

You have been warned Delaware.  A very dark wind is coming your way in the next 132 hours.  There is no escape.  For those who think we all need to get along and hash it out, even you will need to take a side and stick with it.  September 1st.  Wait for it.  Watch for it.  Fasten your seatbelt, because it’s going to be a very bumpy ride.  The civil war started and the first shots were already fired.  I already know which side I’m on.  And I hope to see you there as well my readers.  If you aren’t on our side, understand that no stone will be left unturned.  Think very wisely about how strong your trenches are.  I saw your Achilles heel months ago.

 

Attorney General Legal Opinion On FOIA Complaint Against State Board of Education Needs Some Serious Fact Checks!

Delaware State Representative Kim Williams filed a FOIA complaint against the Delaware State Board of Education last February in regards to their board meeting on February 18th.  This was the infamous and controversial Wilmington Education Improvement Commission redistricting plan vote!  Regarding public seating at State Board meetings, the Attorney General is going by how many people sign in for these meetings.  Frequently, Delaware Department of Education Employees attend these meetings (that are not directors which are assigned their own seats on the sides of the room) and do not sign in.  This can take up a lot of seats.  Not everyone signs in.  I have attended many of these meetings to see several people in the hallway.  It has been addressed in public comment to the State Board of Education on more than one occasion.

 

July 28, 2016

VIA EMAIL AND STATE MAIL

Representative Kim Williams
Legislative Hall
411 Legislative Avenue
Dover, DE 19903
kimberly.williams@state.de.us

 

            Re:    FOIA Complaint Concerning the State Board of Education

 

Dear Representative Williams:

 

The Delaware Department of Justice (“DOJ”) received your letter dated February 25, 2016 requesting our determination, pursuant to the Freedom of Information Act, 29 Del. C. Ch. 100 (“FOIA”), of whether the State Board of Education violated the FOIA open meeting requirements.  We treat your email as a petition for a determination of whether a violation of FOIA has occurred or is about to occur.  29 Del. C. §10005(e).  Our determination is set forth herein.

 

I. FACTUAL BACKGROUND[1]

On February 18, 2016, a State Board of Education (“Board”) meeting was held in the second floor Cabinet Room of the Townsend Building located at 401 Federal Street in Dover. Representative Williams attended the meeting along with other members of the public. During the meeting, the Board entertained a motion to approve the Wilmington Education Improvement Commission (“WEIC”) Plan with an amendment.

 

II. POSITIONS OF THE PARTIES

The Petition alleges that the Board “was aware that many people would be attending th[e] meeting and did not change their meeting location to accommodate all the people.”  As a result, Representative Williams alleges “many people had to stand out in the hallway.”  The Petition also alleges that the Board violated FOIA’s open meeting requirements by conducting conversations off the record and out of the presence of the members of the public who were in attendance:

The State Board during their public discussion on the original motion stopped the discussion and went off the record and out of the room to speak with their attorneys and board members – it was done when they were getting ready to vote.  The State Board of Education, Donna Johnson, Secretary Godowsky, attorneys and others were going into the back room – obviously they were in discussions about the motion …

 

Finally, the Petition alleges that the Board acted improperly by considering the WEIC recommendations with conditions after the motion on the WEIC Plan had been voted down by a vote of 4 to 3.  Specifically, pursuant to Senate Bill 122, the Petition alleges that the Board was required to vote yes or no, and if they voted no, “they [we]re to send the recommendations back to the WEIC Commission with an explanation as to why they voted no.”

 

The Board submitted its response to the Petition on March 9, 2016.  Regarding the allegation that the Board should have moved the meeting location in advance of the meeting, the Board argues that the Board was unaware that the meeting would be as heavily attended as it was.  In fact, the Board noted that WEIC representatives had reached out to the Board and requested that six chairs be reserved in the audience for the meeting. The Board also responded that it has held its meetings in the Cabinet Room for more than forty years. With respect to the allegation that the Board improperly engaged in conversations off record, the Board responded that the President of the Board discussed a procedural question for the Board’s counsel during a break, but that “at no time was a quorum of the board involved in any private or ‘back room’ meeting,” and there was thus no violation of FOIA as a result of conversations among Board members that may have taken place during the break.

 

On March 10, 2016 and March 20, 2016, Representative Williams supplemented her Petition. In the March 10 correspondence, Representative Williams asserted that members of the public have repeatedly complained about the size of the meeting location and the fact that the Board has always met in the Cabinet Room is not a sufficient basis for the meetings to remain in that room.  Additionally, she alleged that any questions that were discussed during the break should have been discussed in public.  In the March 20 correspondence, Representative Williams asserted that “[t]he discussion should have never occurred in the back room, with or without a quorum, behind closed doors.”  She also provided an email from Michael Matthews, who asserted that “[a]ll Board members, Sec. Godowsky and State Board Executive Director Donna Johnson left the room together…”

 

 

III. REQUEST FOR ADDITIONAL INFORMATION

On June 9, 2016, we requested additional information from the Board regarding the size of the Cabinet Room. The same day, the Board responded that, when the room is set up for State Board of Education meetings, there are 57 chairs.  However, for the February meeting, there were about 64 chairs. The Board noted that, for each meeting, there are about 20 reserved chairs.  Based upon this information, including the six chairs specifically reserved for the WEIC at the February 18 meeting, there were about 38 chairs open at the February meeting.

 

The Board also provided a count of attendees at previous meetings based solely upon the individuals who chose to sign in at each meeting, which the Board indicated was its only mechanism for counting attendance.[2] The September 2015 meeting during which WEIC was discussed, had 37 guests sign in. WEIC was also discussed at the October meeting, which had 22 guests. The next time WEIC was discussed during a Board meeting was December, when there were 47 guests. At the January 2016 meeting the WEIC proposal was presented for action and there were 31 guests. Finally, at the February 2016 meeting at issue here, there were 58 individuals who signed in. There were 35 guests who signed in for the final WEIC meeting in March 2016.

 

IV. APPLICABLE LAW

FOIA’s “Declaration of Policy” provides that “citizens shall have the opportunity to observe the performance of public officials and to monitor the decisions that are made ….”[3]

 

“Every meeting of all public bodies shall be open to the public except those closed [for a permitted reason].”[4]  “Public body” includes any subcommittee of a public body that is supported by public funds, spends public funds or is charged with making “reports, investigations or recommendations” to a public body.[5]

 

A public body must vote at a public meeting to move into executive session, and “all voting on public business must take place at a public meeting and the results of the vote made public.”[6]

 

V. DISCUSSION

The Board Violated FOIA by Not Moving or Considering Whether to Move the February 18, 2016 Meeting From the Cabinet Room. 

 

Representative Williams alleges that the Townsend Building Cabinet Room was too small to hold the public interested in the WEIC matter. The Board responded that it could not have anticipated the number of people who attended the meeting, especially because WEIC only requested that six chairs be reserved.

 

When considering whether a public body has violated the open meeting requirement based upon the alleged inadequate size of the venue, we have looked both at what the public body knew at the time of scheduling and how it responded to an unexpected overflow.[7] “‘[T]he governmental unit must balance the public right of access against the burdens that providing additional public access would impose on the governmental unit.’”[8] The standard for any individual meeting is reasonableness under the circumstances.[9]

 

FOIA does not require the public body to predict the exact number of citizens who may attend a public meeting.[10] But, we have stated that “if a public body has reason to know that a large number of citizens is likely to attend a meeting, then FOIA requires the public body to find another, larger place for the meeting.”[11]  A venue that may be reasonable at the time a meeting is noticed may become unreasonable due to an unanticipated overflow at the meeting.[12]  Thus, we have also stated:  “[I]n the event of an overflow, a public body should consider adjourning the meeting to another time at a facility that can accommodate all of the interested citizens.”[13]

 

Viewed from the perspective of what the DOE knew before the meeting, we find this to be a close call.  The WEIC matter was highly-publicized and politically charged.  The Board has been using the Cabinet Room for its meetings for more than 40 years,[14] including for the four previous meetings of the WEIC.  Representative Williams contends that the public has “repeatedly complained” about the inadequate size of the room, but she does not identify to whom such complaints were directed, and there is no evidence that anyone contacted the DOE before the meeting to request that the meeting be moved to a larger venue.  Also, the sign-in sheets reveal that 23% more people signed in at the February 18 meeting than the highest number DOE had seen from the previous meetings.  Perhaps attendance at this meeting was anomalously high.  Unfortunately, the number of people who sign the sign-in sheets reveals little about the actual attendance at any of the prior meetings.

 

But, we must also consider what information DOE had at the beginning of the meeting, when it could have made some reasonable accommodation for an unanticipated overflow.  The exact size of the overflow is not clear.  Representative Williams says that “many” people were made to stand in the hallway.  We have no information from DOE respecting the size of the overflow at the meeting, except for the information we can glean from the sign-in sheet, which, again, reveals little about actual attendance.  What is clear, however, is the absence in the record of any facts suggesting that the DOE considered or attempted to respond to the overflow or to make reasonable accommodations to facilitate citizens’ attendance at the meeting.[15]

 

On the whole, we must conclude that the DOE has not met its burden to prove that it satisfied its obligations under FOIA in connection with the February 18 meeting.

 

The Board Did Not Violate FOIA When the President of the Board Consulted With the Board’s Counsel. 

 

Representative Williams states that the Board took a break during the February meeting in the middle of discussing the WEIC motion. This exchange was not recorded, but counsel for the Board confirms that the Board President and counsel for the Board engaged in a discussion about the vote. Counsel also states that three other Board members approached counsel with questions, each separately. Counsel for the Board states that at no time was there a quorum of Board members discussing public business during a break.

 

A public meeting is defined as “the formal or informal gathering of a quorum of the members of any public body for the purpose of discussing or taking action on public business….”[16] Moreover, “conversations with each other or with staff do not need to be public unless they include a quorum of the members.”[17] Indeed, “absent some evidence that the members knowingly avoid public monitoring of the deliberations of the quorum, there is no basis on which to find that FOIA has been violated.”[18]

 

Here, there is no evidence that a quorum of members discussed the vote with the Board’s counsel.  As such, we find no FOIA violation in connection with Board members’ individual discussions with the Board’s counsel.

 

The Substantive Validity of the Board’s WEIC Vote is Outside the Scope of FOIA.

 

Representative Williams raises concerns regarding the substantive validity of the Board’s vote on the WEIC matter.  The substantive validity of the Board’s vote is a matter outside the scope of FOIA and, as a result, is not addressed here.[19]

 

VI. CONCLUSION

We conclude that the Board violated FOIA when it failed to consider the adequacy of the venue upon learning of an overflow of attendees.  However, we decline to find that the Board’s actions at the February 2016 meeting should be invalidated. To invalidate the numerous actions taken at the February meeting would have “draconian consequences.”[20] Additionally, invalidation of the SBE’s approval of the WEIC plan is moot given that the General Assembly sent the redistricting plan back to the WEIC for further consideration and development. We suggest that the Board consider the adequacy of the Cabinet Room as a venue when scheduling future meetings or when thereafter confronted with unanticipated interest.

 

This decision is directed solely to the parties identified herein.  It is based on the facts relevant to this matter.  It does not constitute precedent and should not be cited as such by future parties.

 

Very truly yours,

/s/ Danielle Gibbs

Danielle Gibbs
Chief Deputy Attorney General
cc:       Patricia A. Davis, Deputy Attorney General (via email)

 

[1]           The Factual Background Section of this Opinion refers to your communications as made by “Representative Williams” for ease of future reference by third parties.

[2]              There is no evidence in the record that the DOE asks all attendees to sign-in at meetings.

[3]           29 Del. C. § 10001.

[4]           29 Del. C. § 10004(a).

[5]           29 Del. C. § 10002(c).

[6]           29 Del. C. § 10004(c).

[7]           Del. Op. Att’y Gen. 98-IB12 (Nov. 10, 1998).

[8]           Del. Op. Att’y Gen. 02-IB09 (Apr. 4, 2002) (quoting Del. Op. Att’y Gen. 96-IB23 (June 20, 1996)).

[9]           Del. Op. Att’y Gen. 98-IB12 (Nov. 10, 1998).

[10]         Id.

[11]         Del. Op. Att’y Gen. 02-IB09 (Apr. 4, 2002).

[12]            Del. Op. Att’y Gen. 98-IB12 (Nov. 10, 1998).

[13]         Del. Op. Att’y Gen. 02-IB09 (Apr. 4, 2002).

[14]            This historical fact is not relevant to whether the venue for any particular meeting is reasonable under the circumstances.  But, it suggests that if someone was aware that a large number of people would attend the meeting, that person might have informed the DOE in advance.  Cf. id.

[15]         Indeed, the DOE’s response that the Cabinet Room has been used for forty years suggests that it has not adopted a practice of considering the adequacy of its standard venue in connection with each public meeting.  Cf. Del. Op. Att’y Gen. 96-IB23 (June 20, 1996) (noting public body’s history of selecting meeting space based upon anticipated or actual attendance); Del. Op. Att’y Gen. 14-IB03 (June 16, 2014) (public body did not violate FOIA, despite turning attendees away from meeting, where it had forgone its regular meeting venue and noticed meeting for a significantly larger venue); Del. Op. Att’y Gen. 98-IB12 (Nov. 10, 1998) (public body responded reasonably to unanticipated attendance by moving to larger space to discuss one issue that generated great interest).

[16]         29 Del. C. § 10002(g).

[17]         Del. Op. Att’y Gen. 10-IB12 (2010).  See also Del. Op. Att’y Gen. 16-IB05 (2016).

[18]         Del. Op. Att’y Gen. 10-IB12 (2010).

[19]         See Del. Op. Att’y Gen. 16-IB05 (2016); Del. Op. Att’y Gen. 15-IB06 (2015).

 

[20]         See Levy v. Bd. of Educ. of Cape Henlopen Sch. Dist., 1990 WL 154147, at *8 (Del. Ch. Oct. 1, 1990).

 

If an entire board leaves a room after casting a vote, says they need to convene with council, come back and change their vote, against the spirit of the legislation that charged them with taking a very particular vote, what more evidence do you need?  They all left the room together!  Come on Delaware Attorney General Office!  Would it kill you to actually side with right on this one?  It may be out of your scope to decide if the board acted appropriately in regards to Senate Bill 122, but isn’t that your purpose?  To look at former Attorney General opinions, that did not have the scope of this decision, is not sufficient in my opinion.  And the whole part about “draconian consequences” is bogus, once again, in my opinion.  The State Board and DOE will always say and do anything to cover their ass.  They are masters at this practice.  And they get away with a lot because of it.  The premise of FOIA is good, but what comes out of it, more often than not, takes the side of the state entity that has the complaint lodged against them.  The main thrust of Rep. Williams complaint was the State Board of Education violated FOIA by meeting as a quorum outside of the public setting.  Instead we get this long litany of how many chairs were in the room and who signed up as an attendee!

Yes, we are all in agreement: this State Board of Education needs to change the location of their meetings!  At the Collette Center up Route 8, the DOE has two huge conference rooms with a partition that can be taken out to make it an even bigger conference room.  This location can fit hundreds of people.  Make it happen State Board!  And I’m pretty sure that the air conditioning unit in this newer building is better (after last week’s sticky, sweaty, humid board meeting at the Townsend Building).  Tradition should not get in the way of public access.  We all know there are some State Board meetings where attendance is slim, but that is not the norm.  Especially with all the crazy decisions regarding charters, accountability, teachers, and schools at these meetings.  Here is another novel idea: Live Stream your meetings!  The General Assembly does it when the full House and Senate are voting on bills.  Why can’t you?

I do know one thing.  I have a couple FOIA complaints out there myself.  This explains why I haven’t heard anything on them yet!

Can-Kicker Jack Letter Is NOT A Guarantee Of Funding

On June 29th, Delaware Governor Jack Markell wrote a letter to State Representatives Charles Potter and Stephanie Bolden and State Senator Margaret-Rose Henry.  In the letter he expressed his regret at not being able to “fully support” the funding for the Wilmington Education Improvement Commission’s redistricting plan and how he expects to appropriate $7.5 million in his recommended FY2018 budget in January, 2017.  Later in the letter he states he will appropriate the funding in his recommended budget.  Back in September of 2014, Markell issued an Executive Order which created the Wilmington Education Advisory Committee which issued recommendations that became WEIC.  By doing so, through Executive Order, that should have been his FULL support.  Instead, he kicked the can down the road because he wasn’t able to give this his “full support”.

I’ve always wondered what the deal was with this.  It happened as Christina and Red Clay were calling for the DOE’s throat over the priority schools.  Constituents were pissed and the above-mentioned legislators, along with others, pleaded with Governor Markell to do something.  I firmly believe the entire WEIC redistricting plan was the official reaction to the priority schools.  But did Jack bite off more than he could chew with this?  By essentially creating all of this, it brought city advocates for under-served, under-funded, and high-needs city children to the forefront of Delaware education conversation.  It quickly became clear that much more was needed than the state would be able to deliver.  In hindsight though, it did force us as a state to renew conversations about race, education, funding, economic class, discrimination, and so much more.  Before the budget vote, State Rep. Stephanie Bolden explained how we are all neighbors in Delaware and what happens in Wilmington has a trickle-down effect to the rest of the state.  The opposite could be said though.  What doesn’t happen downstate affects the entire state.  It is my hope that as WEIC uses their extra year of planning that they add Kent and Sussex County voices to these essential conversations.

I don’t trust Markell to keep his word.  By the time he submits this budget, his time as Governor is done.  He will be sailing off to his next destination (for which I will be happy unless it lands him at the US DOE).  But even if he does, that is no guarantee that 1) the money will be there in a year, 2) the Joint Finance Committee will appropriate it, or 3) The General Assembly will approve it in the budget bill for FY2018.  This is not, by far, a done deal.

markell7.5millionpromise

Teacher Evaluation, Charter School Audits, & WEIC Extension Pass The General Assembly

It was a wild and crazy night-morning at Legislative Hall in Dover.  I can honestly say I have never bounced back between the Senate and the House as much as I did in the past six hours.  But some of my “must list” legislation passed.  Some with changes and some intact.

House Bill 399 passed but not without some amendments and an odd conversation about teachers and a comment Jack Markell made years ago in the Senate.  Senator Colin Bonini talked about how Governor Markell gave a speech on the Senate floor many years ago and told everyone only 19% of students in Delaware were college and career ready.  But yet our teachers were rated 99% effective.  He couldn’t grasp these facts.  He said he would support the bill.  But then Senator Dave Lawson spoke against the bill and said the system isn’t working.  The bill passed with 19 yes and 2 no votes.  The no votes were from Senators Lawson and Henry.  The amendments added on can be seen here and here.  Apparently, this was the only way it was going to pass.  In looking at the first amendment, they changed a lot and many teachers won’t be happy about those changes.  But this was the compromise reached.  Will Governor Markell sign the bill?  We shall see.  I did speak briefly with Secretary of Education Godowsky and asked him if he thought they were good amendments and he said yes.

After four previous bills, the Kumbaya compromise charter school audit bill, House Bill 435, passed the Senate in the wee hours of the morning.  It hadn’t been on the agenda for the Senate.  I emailed Senator Sokola, and it appeared on there a few minutes later.  It passed soon after.

And the WEIC redistricting plan.  I thought rigor mortis was setting in on this plan, but it rose from the ashes.  A crucial amendment by State Rep. Kim Williams which deleted some of the unnecessary language in Senate Bill #300 seemed to be what is going to keep that train chugging.  This is what happened: WEIC is still alive, and they will plan for another year.  The $7.5 million initially requested in the final recommendations has been appropriated for FY2018.  But I will get to more of that after a message from Tony Allen, the Chair of WEIC:

Delaware General Assembly Affirms the Commission’s Plan
Governor commits the “necessary and sufficient funds” for next year
Commission suspends timeline

Tonight, an older African American woman stopped me on the Senate Floor and said “if you believe in this, you keep fighting on.” We did!

As the 148th Delaware General Assembly legislative session ended, the House and Senate passed Senate Joint Resolution 17, an interim affirmation of the Delaware State Board of Education’s approval of the Wilmington Education Improvement Commission’s redistricting plan and Senate Bill 300, which clarifies the funding implications and supports further analysis by the Commission.

In a related action, Governor Markell committed to put no less than $7.5 million in his FY 2018 plan to support the Commission’s plan, specifically to begin to change the 70-year old student funding formula. In a letter to the Wilmington delegation, Markell said, “I am proud to have worked alongside you in these efforts and pleased to commit that I will recommend an appropriation of the funds necessary and sufficient to fund the first year of implementation of the proposals of the Wilmington Education Improvement Commission, specifically an amendment to the unit count that would carry additional support for low-income students, English Language Learners and students with special needs statewide.”

Earlier this morning, I noted that because the “necessary and sufficient” funding has not yet been provided that we will immediately call on the Commission to suspend the timetable for implementing its plan.

While I am disappointed with several aspects of this legislative season, SJR17 allows the Commission to fight another day. After 62 years of waiting, fight on we will. The Commission is wholly committed to reducing the fragmentation and dysfunction caused by 23 different school systems currently serving Wilmington children, less than 10% of Delaware’s student population. In addition, the Commission will continue to focus attention on the needs of low-income students, English language learners, and other students with special needs in Wilmington and throughout Delaware. That includes meeting the non-instructional needs of these students, engaging empowered parents in school reform, and changing the antiquated funding system for students and schools that has for many years created sustained inequities dating back to well before Brown v Board of Education (1954). I am grateful to the 22 other commissioners, the previous members of the Wilmington Education Advisory Committee, and the more than 10,000 community members who have been participating in this process.

I urge your continued resolve.

There are some key words in this, especially Markell saying “to commit that I will recommend an appropriation of funds…  That isn’t a guarantee that the next Governor will do the same or that the 149th General Assembly will either.  We don’t know what the state’s financial picture will be a year from now.  But for now, WEIC lives after most thought it was dead and buried.  I find it odd that Allen talks about how 23 different school systems serve Wilmington students but the WEIC plan would only reduce that to 22.  Granted, Christina has a lot of Wilmington students, but that is still a lot students going to other districts or charters.  I will see what this additional year of planning will produce.  But it looks like I am not done writing about WEIC despite what I wrote earlier today.   I talked to Rep. Charles Potter after the vote and he said this isn’t what he wanted, but it keeps WEIC alive and it is about the students.

Senate Bill 93 passed, one of two Autism bills introduced last year.  Senate Bill 92, however, was another victim of funding issues in the state.  An amendment was added to Senate Bill 93 in the House which got rid of the Senate Amendment that had the DOE getting involved.  The Autism community in Delaware felt that was an unwelcome presence.  Good for them!

It was a long second half of the 148th General Assembly.  House Bill 50 had two shots to override the Governor’s veto in the House of Representatives and it failed both times.  But I want to thank Rep. John Kowalko for trying and standing up for parents.  I respect and admire him for doing that.  Had the House ever been able to actually vote on the override, I believe it would have passed.  The fact that they were never able to get to that point shows the will of the Governor influencing certain members of the House in very inappropriate ways.  My other “dream legislation”, House Bill 30, which would have finally given students in Kindergarten to 3rd grade considered to be “basic special education” students, never received a full House vote despite coming out of the House Appropriations Committee weeks ago.  I know Rep. Kim Williams fought hard for that bill.  I still remember when she first told me about it a year and a half ago and I truly felt it was a no-brainer.  For both of those bills, the 149th General Assembly will tell the tale on opt out and special education funding.

I will write more over the next few days about all the bills that passed and those that are now dead.  In the meantime, Happy Fiscal New Year 2017!

Red Clay & Christina Respond To General Assembly With Opposition To New Stall Tactic Legislation

The Red Clay and Christina School Districts responded quickly and definitively to the new legislation kicking the can down the road for the redistricting plan with no guarantees of funding and asking for more planning.

WEIC Dies As Delaware Senators Try To Appease WEIC Advocates With Meaningless Legislation

The Wilmington Education Improvement Commission’s redistricting plan is dead.  Not officially, but close enough.  Two bills introduced by the Delaware Senate basically say “We aren’t going to approve the plan but we are going to kick the can down the road.”

The two new bills, Senate Joint Resolution #17 and Senate Bill #300 hold about as much clout as a snowflake in July.  If I were the advocates for WEIC, I would feel very insulted.  These legislators need to get some gumption and either vote yes or no.  Jea Street is going to sue you.  He has been adamant about that.  Tony Allen is going to be very angry about this.  And Governor Markell?  What’s his stance?  Does it matter at this point?  Not really.  Quack-quack.

SB300

SJR17

And so WEIC ends, not with a bang, but with legislative whimpers.Del

The Next 55 Hours Will Determine WEIC, HB399, HB30, The Budget, The Bond Bill, & Possibly The Election Season

We are down to the homestretch on the 148th General Assembly.  It is the bottom of the ninth with two outs.  The next batter is up.  This will be Delaware Governor Jack Markell’s last sphere of influence with Delaware legislation as Governor of the First State.  For that, we should all have reason to celebrate.  As of July 1st, all eyes will turn towards elections in Delaware and the USA.  But there is a bit of unfinished business in Legislative Hall.  We will know by about 4am on Friday, July 1st what happened.

The Wilmington Education Improvement Commission’s redistricting resolution is ready for a Senate vote.  The Executive Committee will clear it for a full vote.  But then, it gets very interesting.  I reported a few days ago that one Senate Democrat was a no and another was on the fence.  Now we can make that three Senate Dems as a no.  And the Senate Republicans which gives Senate Joint Resolution #12 a vote of 9 yes and 12 no.  But, I’m also hearing from the cracked walls of the basement of Legislative Hall that there might be new legislation kicking the can on this down the road into the 149th General Assembly.  Will Red Clay and Christina say “Enough” and get out of the whole thing?  Or will we have another year of “will they or won’t they” speculation?  In the chance SJR #12 does pass, the question then becomes “what happened to $6 million dollars”?  The Senate passed the budget today and WEIC was not in it.  I did find out the answer to this.  The funds are in reserve but they don’t want to put it in the budget without an affirmative vote on SJR #12.  What happens to the $6 million if SJR #12 doesn’t pass?  It goes to the Bond Bill.  For those who don’t know what the heck a bond bill is, in a nutshell it is a capital improvements bill.  Here is an example from FY2013.  We should see the FY2017 bond bill in the next 24 hours.

The Basic Special Education Funding for K-3 students, House Bill 30, has not received the full House vote yet.  I hope we will see it, and then a rush to the Senate, but I am not optimistic.  I did hear today that the Education Funding Improvement Committee may ask for an extension, but then that they may not.  We will know if a final report is issued to the General Assembly in the next 27 hours.

House Bill 399, the teacher evaluation bill, has become a very odd bill with a great deal of power.  As the story goes, State Rep. Earl Jaques and Senator David Sokola’s tiff is still going on.  Today in the House Education Committee, Jaques pulled Sokola’s teacher certification legislation, Senate Bill 199, from the agenda.  House Bill 399 is on the Senate Education Committee agenda for tomorrow.  Apparently a deal was reached whereby House Bill 399 will get to be heard in the Senate Education Committee and will most likely be released for a full Senate vote.  In exchange, Jaques will “walk” Senate Bill 199 for signatures from the House Education Committee members.  But then House Bill 399 has to go before the full Senate.  Which is a toss-up for how it could go there.  I’m hearing different things from different people.  Honestly, if anyone is still concerned about defying the will of Governor Markell, I would think twice before using that empty-handed justification.  Did you hear that quacking sound?  It is the sound of a lame-duck desperately grasping for power in a vacuum.

There is more at stake here than current bills.  Election season is coming fast and broken alliances and grudge matches could make things real ugly for the Delaware Democrats.  I’m pretty sure if WEIC fails in the Senate, Senator Margaret Rose-Henry and State Reps. Charles Potter, Stephanie Bolden, and Helene Keeley will have a lot to say about that!  They say Wilmington wins elections for state-wide positions in Delaware, but the reality is that Jack Markell would not have become Governor if he didn’t win crucial votes in Kent and Sussex County when he beat John Carney in the primary in 2008.

Speaking of Carney, it looks like he is finally getting around to reaching out to different groups and state agencies in Delaware to firm up support for the Gubernatorial election in November.  He still hasn’t officially filed for the 2016 election yet, but he has until July 12 to do so.  We also have filings from Republican Lacey Lafferty and Libertarian Sean Goward.  Nothing from Republican and current State Senator Colin Bonini.  Goward and Lafferty have been the most visible on Facebook.  In my mind, you have to work for my vote and get your name out there.  I want to know your original ideas, not more of the same-old I hear now.  Many Delawareans are in this mindset.  If I had to vote today, Carney would not get my vote.  The only candidate who has reached out to me and presented many ideas I agree with is Sean Goward.  And not just about education either.  I would reach out to him and hear what he has to say!

The Congressional race in Delaware is going to amp up big time as well.  The News Journal declared Townsend as the “front-runner” a couple of weeks ago, but it is still a long ways off.  Townsend has massive support over at Delaware Liberal with some calling him one of Delaware’s best legislators.  He does certainly get a plethora of bills passed.  But Lisa Blunt-Rochester also has a great deal of support from the African-American community which could change this tale.  In terms of signage, I can’t speak for what is popping up in New Castle or Sussex County, but I can say Hans Reigle signs are all over the place in Kent County.  And not just roadside ones, but also property signs as well.  I have seen Mike Miller and Sean Barney popping up a bit more on the Democrat side.  While Townsend may have amassed the biggest war chest thus far, how much of that will be spent on the primary between five candidates?  I’m sure some will drop out between now and then.  This will be a contest between Townsend and Blunt-Rochester when it comes down to it.  Assuming no one else files on the Republican side, Hans Reigle will have an all-clear until the General Election.  After the primary, we will see massive competition between Reigle and the Democrat candidate.  With a growing feeling of disillusionment with the Democrat party in Delaware, especially in an environment with more in-fighting among themselves, I wouldn’t count Reigle out.  Delaware might be a “blue state”, but this year could change things.  Look at how much traction Trump has gotten in the past year.  I would like to hear more from Scott Gesty as I think he has some very interesting ideas as a Libertarian candidate.

In terms of the State Rep and State Senate races, we may see a mad rush of filings in the next couple weeks.  While some are already saying the Republicans don’t have a chance of changing the power structure in Dover, I wouldn’t be too sure.  At least in one House of the Delaware General Assembly.  People don’t like what is going on.  They see a lot of the egregious glad-handling and deals being made in Dover and they don’t like it one bit.  This is becoming a more vocal community, especially on social media.  I’m going to go ahead and predict many new faces in Dover come January.  I think the citizens of Delaware deserve a more balanced legislature.  Too much on one side has not been a good thing for the middle-class and lower-income families of the state.  I don’t like the assumption that certain people should win office because they are Democrat, or that certain bills will pass because they have Democrat support.  I like to hear both sides of the issues, but all too often some voices are drowned out by the high-fives and fist-bumping going on.  By the same token, there are some Republicans who need to realize they could be on the cutting line as well come November, or even September.  They should stop thinking of this as a frat club.  If you want respect, you have to show respect.  Especially as an elected official.  For those who are about to call me a hypocrite, bloggers don’t count!

Things are going to get very interesting over the next 55 hours and in the next four months.  This is Delaware.  Anything can happen!  The crazy action will take place on Thursday night in the General Assembly.  I’m not sure about the Senate yet, but the House begins their legislative session at 7pm.

Oh yeah, what about House Bill 50?  And the Autism bills, Senate Bills 92 and 93 with their assorted amendments?  To be continued…

Some Are Pushing For The WEIC Redistricting For The WRONG Reasons

I’ve gone back and forth with the WEIC redistricting plan for a while now.  Some days I like it, others I don’t.  I tend to think of it from more of a statewide level because I live down in Dover.  But there are those who are in full support of the plan.  But some aren’t in it for the right reasons.  I recently heard a reference to “those kids”…those being the Wilmington Christina students.  While many of the main advocates want a better outcome for these students and think a population of city kids split up between four districts is bad, there are those who don’t want those kids in Christina anymore.  For the simple reason that they are a perceived burden and a problem that needs to go away.  I like to call this racism.  There are also some in Red Clay who don’t want more of “those kids”.  That is also racism when said in the same context.

I get the folks who are afraid of their taxes going up.  I understand that.  Especially older citizens on a fixed income.  But those who don’t want them because of their environment, or the color of their skin, or the issues they bring into schools… you need to get over it.  We live in the 21st Century.  The Jim Crow laws are gone.  Gay people can marry.  It’s a new way of looking at things.  I tend to believe, and this is only my opinion, most issues of racism are inherited.  Racism exists on both sides.  There are white people who hate black people and black people who hate white people.  I think it comes down to a matter of trust and dealing with fear.

Way back in the halcyon days of the mid 1990s, I worked in a comic book store in Trenton, NJ for a little while.  I was driving home from work one night, and I took a wrong turn.  I wound up in a bad neighborhood.  I was approaching a stop sign when a group of African-American men started walking towards my car with baseball bats.  It terrified me.  I ignored the stop sign and gunned it until I was in a safer area.  I didn’t report it.  I just made sure I was never in that area again.  Did I let that one bad situation define my views of African-Americans?  No.  I recognized there are good and bad people everywhere.  Is there really much difference between those men who were defending their turf and a fight at a school?  Probably not.  Was their intention to harm me or just scare me?  I may never know.  Perhaps they viewed me as a threat.

Back to WEIC, I just feel like the Christina Wilmington children could possibly be a political football.  I’ve discussed this with many people over the past year and a half or so.  I just don’t see how transferring them from Christina to Red Clay is really going to make such a huge difference for them.  They will still be in a school district.  Maybe they won’t be bused as far, but I remember it taking my bus an hour on some days to get to school.  If it was snowing, forget about it!  As an adult, I would kill for an hour in a vehicle I don’t have to drive!  To be alone with my thoughts, possibly someone to talk to.  Read, listen to music, stare at the scenery, I wouldn’t mind it at all.

I get that things need to change.  Personally, I think making Wilmington its own district isn’t such a bad idea.  I think a lot of the other districts should combine.  We really don’t need nineteen school districts in Delaware.  If those in power pushed this, it would happen.  But they are stuck in their ways and the way it is.  Change is very hard for Delaware.  I’ve realized that a lot lately.  But this whole “it has to happen now” thing is beginning to irritate me.  A lot.  If it has to happen now, why are there so many demanding conditions on the whole thing and timetables set up that almost seem to be a detriment rather than a help?

When I hear about Red Clay’s nightmare of an inclusion plan, I worry about the Christina Wilmington special needs kids who may be headed into a district that, on the surface, claims they are a success.  When I hear from parents that the flaws and issues facing that inclusion plan haven’t been solved and that the administration keeps canceling the Red Clay Inclusion Committee meetings for no reason at all, I worry we are sending them to a district that just doesn’t get it.  But once you start digging a bit, you find out Red Clay really isn’t that different from Christina in a lot of respects.  But what they do have is power.  They have very affluent suburbs.  Red Clay and Colonial own the Data Service Center.  They have the ability to authorize their own charter schools.  While it hasn’t been done in a long time, the option is there.  Christina has this option as well, but no one has utilized it.  Christina doesn’t have a Charter School of Wilmington or a Conrad to brighten their reputation (and test scores).  One of them is the most discriminatory institutes of learning I have ever seen in my life while calling themselves a public school.  But no one acts on this.  I have to wonder why that is?  We talk all the time about how we need to make life better for kids.  But we allow discrimination factories in our state that the citizens of the state pay taxes to fund.  What does that say about who we are as Delaware?  We can say we hate it, but when the time comes to push on these issues, and I mean really push, it gets very quiet.

If WEIC truly wants to make things equitable for the children of Wilmington, they need to stop doing it under this illusion of instant change or it is gone forever.  I would love instant change as well, but that doesn’t mean it is always good.  The redistricting plan, if it becomes law, is going to pump tons of money into Red Clay.  But it won’t last forever.  What happens when that money is gone four, five years down the road?  All these programs will happen based on that money.  When it disappears, what happens then?  Is Red Clay going to ask their citizens to pay for it?  Do we truly think the state will keep paying?  And why aren’t Brandywine and Colonial participating in this?  That was the original plan.  Do they not want “those kids” as well?  I know Colonial want to keep the ones they already have, but why did they never offer to take more?

If you are robbing Peter to pay Paul, you better be damn sure you are doing it for the best of all possible reasons.  If you are sending kids into a transition just for the sake of getting rid of them, you might want to take a good look in the mirror and think how it would feel if you were being tossed around like that.  If you’re doing this to gain power, or an illusion power, remember this is not a game.  These are children.  If you truly believe their lives will be better, than go with that feeling.  If you want a legacy, make sure it is a legacy for kids and not your name.  Names are only as important as how things are perceived in the long run.  If this ends bad, your name will be attached to it.

I know there are legislators who have or will vote yes for this because it is the political thing to do.  I know some of them really haven’t researched it enough to know what they are actually voting on.  I have to say, I respect the hell out of State Rep. Kim Williams.  Out of all the House Democrats, she was the only one to vote no.  Not because she doesn’t want a better life for these kids.  Not because she thinks Red Clay isn’t as good as Christina.  She voted no because she is deeply concerned about the funding for all this and what it will eventually mean for the constituents in her district.  To vote against party lines like that, especially when you are the last Democrat on the roll call and you know every single other Democrat in that room already voted yes, that takes courage and strength.

I know some Senators will fight this.  Even a Democrat or two.  I recently heard something about a tooth and a nail.  I heard about another one who is opposed to it but the power players feel they can handle this Senator.  Excuse me?  Handle?  Is this the FBI?  I didn’t know Delaware Senators had handlers.  I spent a lot of time in Legislative Hall this week.  I saw and heard a lot.  More this week alone than I think I have the entire time I’ve gone there during the 148th General Assembly.  While I’m not naming names here, I think some of the Delaware “elite” may want to put themselves in check.  You only have as much power as you think you have.  It can be taken away in an instant.  For those who think they are above the will of the people and all that, think twice.  I’m not the only one who talks, and I don’t talk as much as I could.  The “elite” would most likely have something to really fear if others did.  I would worry more about the things people say about you that you can’t hear.  That puts a chink in your armor and you don’t even know it’s happening.

I fear this will all end badly for these kids.  I agree with what some of the legislators said the other day.  This is a hope bill.  A hope bill with a hell of a lot of money, but even more important, children’s lives on the line.  We still have the Smarter Balanced Assessment which will be the measurement of how successful this thing is.  Success based on a failure of a test.  I have to ask… what the hell are we really thinking this will accomplish if it based on the very flawed measurement that will define this?  The same test that is making a complete mockery out of special education in our state?  If this thing is so important, so “has to happen now”, I would encourage all those who have children or grandchildren that could attend Red Clay district schools send their children there.  Choice them into Warner, or Bancroft, or Stubbs.  Only then will the words I hear so many of you saying actually mean you truly believe this.

Do Or Die Time For WEIC As House Votes On Redistricting Resolution Tomorrow

The Wilmington Education Improvement Commission faces a full House vote tomorrow to determine if their redistricting plan survives or dies on the vine.  Both House Joint Resolution #12 and House Bill #424 are on the House agenda tomorrow.  Expect the full WEIC contingent to attend the vote.  My advice: arrive early and count on sitting in the balcony.  Bring a seat cushion.

I have a feeling how the vote will go down tomorrow, but I’m going to hold off on my prediction until after.  Let’s just say this will be a very lively discussion on the floor.  Funding is going to be the number one argument.  Speaking of funding, I found out tonight that the Education Funding Improvement Committee (EFIC) had their final meeting yesterday and their report is due to the General Assembly by June 30th.  There will be zero recommendations from the committee on unit-based or weighted funding formulas for Delaware education.  None of the members of the committee could get a consensus on any one recommendation.

There was a considerable amount of House members going in and out of the House floor during their regular session.  More than usual.  I expect there to be a flurry of activity tomorrow before the vote.  Any legislator that is on the fence is going to get pounded all day tomorrow prior to the vote.  I imagine the House Republicans are going to all vote no, but I’ve been wrong on these things before.

The very frightening scenario coming out of this legislative session is based on three things not happening: the WEIC redistricting plan, no legislation determining an equitable education funding formula, and House Bill 30 not passing (or even getting a vote).  That will mean for all the work and time people on these committees are have advocated for a change in education funding will have been in vain.  It will be for nothing.  I actually warned WEIC at their very first meeting that having too many groups discussing education funding was going to be an issue.  I also warned them not having representation from Kent and Sussex County would be a problem as well.  No one ever listens to the blogger!

I think this is what Jack wanted all along.  A way for him to skate out of Delaware and be seen as an education hero, but none of the parties could come to a consensus.  Never mind that a lot of the issues are based on policies he brought forth as Governor in failed education reform.  He will say he tried his best, but it was a rigged game from the start and he knows it.  After the General Assembly leaves in the wee hours of July 1st, Jack will already have vetoed House Bill 399 in his mind.  He will become the lamest of ducks and he will begin counting the days until he moves on to bigger and things.  And he won’t go alone.  I’m already hearing very strange rumors to that effect, but for now they are just rumor.  All I can say is watch for Jack and friends to keep playing the art of misdirection and don’t believe everything you hear coming out of Jack’s mouth.  What may appear to be devastating for some will just be a part of the game.   John Carney doesn’t have a playbook so he is just going to copy Jack’s.  He is already beginning to round up different groups based on Jack’s agendas to begin his campaign, or lack thereof.

I will be blogging live from the House tomorrow and the second the vote goes down, you will know.  You can also listen by clicking on the audio for the House on the General Assembly website, just below the bill search section.  They will be convening on the House floor for their voting session at 3pm.  Before that, the House Education Committee will meet at 1:30 to discuss legislation pertaining to charter school audits, school bullying reporting, and school board terms.

If you don’t care about the WEIC redistricting vote, you should.  This is not just a Wilmington bill, but a Delaware one.  What happens in Wilmington impacts the entire state, good or bad.  I’ve gone back and forth on the redistricting more times than I can count.  I changed my mind again as recently as today.  The plan is epic in scope but the key will be implementation.  Everything rides on that.  But even if it passes and the Governor signs it, there are still ways for not only WEIC to stop the plan, but also the boards of Red Clay and Christina.  One thing to remember is that if the House and Senate passes the redistricting plan, it will be an unfunded mandate.  It will then be up to the Joint Finance Committee to allocate the “necessary and sufficient funding” of $7.5 million over the next two fiscal years for a total of $15 million.  As well as the transition costs.  The kill switch is there if that funding is not put into the budget.  Plain and simple.  As Tony Allen said today at the House Education Committee meeting, if the funding isn’t there, the commission voted unanimously to stop everything.

Every single Delaware State Representative needs to keep their own constituencies in mind when casting their vote tomorrow.  Will this be good for all of Delaware and their own district?  We will know the answer to this one in less than 24 hours…

To see the Executive Summary of WEIC, read below:

Even If WEIC Passes The General Assembly, It Could Still Fall Apart Over Funding Issues

Remember when the Delaware State Board of Education wanted to change a key word from “shall” to “may”?  That created a resolution unanimously passed by the Wilmington Education Improvement Commission that if the “necessary and sufficient funding” is not available at two milestones of the redistricting plan, it will collapse.  End.  Finish.  Kaput.

Today, the House Education Committee did two things: they lifted House Bill #424 from a tabled status and released it from the education committee with eight votes in the positive.  But the discussion before the vote was somewhat tense.  As the meeting started, no House Republicans were present.  Slowly but surely, two of them came in: State Reps. Joe Miro and Tim Dukes.  State Rep. Deb Heffernan started the questioning about the Red Clay Board of Education’s role if the funding is not there.  After a considerable amount of confusion, WEIC Chair Tony Allen and Dan Rich clarified that the amount for the first two years just for the funding changes is $7.5 million each year for a total of $15 million.  In the Governor’s proposed budget, he allocated $6 million: $4 million for the funding changes and $2 million for WEIC transitional costs.

Based on Tony Allen’s statement about the resolution, the necessary and sufficient funding of $7.5 million for FY2017 will not be available even if the General Assembly passes House Joint Resolution #12.  Yesterday, DEFAC determined Delaware’s revenues are lower than projected a month ago so now there is less money in the state budget for next year.  Will the WEIC redistricting plan get out of the General Assembly alive?  Or will the Joint Finance Committee give the money to the redistricting plan if it passes both the House and the Senate?

State Reps Sean Matthews & Deb Heffernan Will Allow WEIC To Get Full House Vote

Yesterday, the News Journal posted an article about one of the Wilmington Education Improvement Commission redistricting bill that was tabled in the House Education Committee.  In the original article, it talked about how the House Republicans and two Democrat State Representatives prevented the bill from moving forward.  In the update to the article, it appears State Reps. Sean Matthews and Deb Heffernan are ready to give the bill a full House vote.

“All along, my concerns have been related to funding – and there are still many hurdles to overcome. However, after conversations with my peers and leadership, I am now confident that they are committed to addressing those concerns. For this reason, I will sign the bill out of committee so that it may receive full consideration on the House floor,” Matthews said.

“I agree that this legislation deserves a full hearing in the House,” Heffernan said, while noting she wants more than “structural changes” in the education system.

In the House Education Committee, a majority vote is required for legislation to be released.  The committee has 14 members, so 8 votes are needed.  Only one of the votes from Heffernan or Matthews would allow the bill to move forward.

The committee will be having a special meeting next Tuesday, June 21st, solely designated towards House Bill 424 at 2:30pm in the House Majority Caucus room, located next to the House chamber.  Before the committee can release the bill, a majority vote is required to lift the bill from its tabled status.  My hunch is it will be on the House agenda for a full vote on Thursday, June 23rd.

While this is not the legislation that approves the redistricting, it is meant to assure legislators and Delaware citizens that if House Joint Resolution #12, which would approve the redistricting plan, that school boards across the state will not be able to raise school taxes without a referendum.

Jea Street Threatens To Sue Delaware If WEIC Bills Don’t Pass

“When it comes to justice for children of color in the city, it has never been the General Assembly, it has always been the courts or the federal government that acts,” Street said.  “I don’t think this is going to be any different.”

Civil rights advocate Jea Street told the News Journal he will sue the state of Delaware if the Wilmington Education Improvement Commission’s redistricting plan doesn’t pass.  The Delaware General Assembly has a limited amount of time to act on the plan.  There are six more voting days in the House of Representatives and nine in the Senate.  One of the bills was released from the House Education Committee but two others haven’t been heard yet.  If the bills pass the House, they must go to the Senate Education Committee.  Time is running out but so is the patience of advocates like Street.

Most other states have created systems that give extra funds to high-poverty schools, but Delaware’s system, he says, assumes a school in a violence- and poverty-wracked neighborhood can operate with the same resources as a school in a quiet, wealthy suburb.  “You talk to any expert, they’ll tell you that’s not how it works,” Street said.

Street was front and center during the press conference announcing the American Civil Liberties Union lawsuit against the state and Red Clay Consolidated.  I haven’t heard Street talk about that lawsuit since it was announced.  That lawsuit alleged Delaware and Red Clay allowed charter schools to use discriminatory practices for enrollment purposes citing schools such as Charter School of Wilmington, Newark Charter School and Sussex Academy.  I don’t see him beating on that drum anymore.  That lawsuit has been lingering for over a year and a half while the Office of Civil Rights stalls on the investigation.  I have to wonder why the News Journal doesn’t talk about that when they are writing an article about discrimination in Wilmington.

On the other hand, I agree with Street.  Delaware passes the baton to the courts or the feds when things don’t change in the General Assembly.  But when the article talks about the schools in Wilmington being operated by districts in the suburbs, the Wilmington schools will still be handled by a district from the suburbs.  The inequities he is talking about will still be there, but they will be more concentrated in one district.  From what I’m hearing, the Education Funding Improvement Commission report is delayed and may not be out by June 30th.  Having gone to one of the meetings, no one could seem to agree on any one viable strategy.  I’ve found Delaware likes to talk about education… a lot!  But when it comes time to make the crucial decisions, everyone sits like a deer in the headlights.  In the meantime, children suffer.  We spend tons of money on research and reports but we don’t do anything with it.  We had that huge Statewide Review of Educational Opportunities.  The DOE paid Public Consulting Group somewhere around $50,000 to do that report.  And what do we  have to show for it?  Absolutely nothing.  It is money that could have been used on something viable, like an extra teacher in one of these schools.  Instead we piss away money on absolute nonsense!

Another WEIC Bill Filed Today, “Encouraged, But Not Required” Clause Is Hysterical!

We haven’t seen a new Wilmington Education Improvement Commission redistricting bill in a few weeks.  This one actually made me laugh.  Not only does it re-summarize the last bill but it also guarantees funding (for future General Assemblies to make sure the funding is there) for what WEIC will give Red Clay if the House Joint Resolution passes.  How much more legislation does this thing need?  And people said opt out took up a lot of time last year!  But the key part of this is the clause at the end which talks about “encouraged, but not required”.

HB425

Don’t get me wrong.  I love that this would eventually give basic special education funding throughout the state to all kids in Kindergarten to 3rd grade.  But here is the big question: will the rest of the districts and charters get a curve on the 3rd grade Smarter Balanced Assessment because they don’t have this funding yet?  This whole WEIC thing is supposed to about righting wrongs and equity, right?  So here we go, once more, setting up inequity to address equity.

What is this whole part about “school districts are encouraged, but not required, to match up to 30 percent of said funding.”  Right there you are saying the state will only give about 77% of the funding for these high-needs kids.  What if the districts don’t feel so encouraged to provide that funding?  Will the state pony up the rest or is it just a “too bad, so sad” kind of situation?  And that is in the synopsis.  In the actual House Bill 425 legalese part all it says is “recommendations on resources”.  There is nothing in the actual law that states this 30% language.  And doesn’t this bill ignore the part in the WEIC redistricting plan that states all New Castle County schools would have all this funding in the next few years?  That doesn’t sound like one a year.  And how do charter schools fit into this funding mechanism?  When do they get these extra funds?  I like State Rep. Stephanie Bolden, and I think she has a very big heart.  But everyone is bending over backwards to get the redistricting plan passed, we now have three pending bills our General Assembly will have to pass in their next six legislative sessions in order for this thing to move forward.  This monster keeps growing more limbs!  This “once in a lifetime chance” has more stakes in it than a beer tent at Firefly…

At least now we know what this three county thing is that Larry Nagengast mentioned a few weeks ago.  But what the hell?  You can’t write laws with words like “encouraged but not required”.  It gives all of them an in or an out.  How can we talk about equity when there is a choice for some to take part and some not to?  They are either ALL IN or ALL OUT, no squeezing through the cracks here.  And, oh yeah, where is this NEW money coming from?  You know, the funding that would go to Indian River and Capital.  I didn’t see that in the budget.  We have 21 days left until June 30th.  Expect fireworks!

In the meantime, I want to put up “encouraged, but not required” in the 2016 Hall of Fame along with “shall vs. may”…

Is Senate Bill 193 An Antidote To Priority Schools, A Social Impact Bond, or a WEIC Alternative?

This is a very interesting piece of legislation introduced today.  This is almost like an anti-priority schools bill.  Take the schools with the most economically disadvantaged students and offer grants to those schools at up to $1 million a year for three years.  It looks great, but I don’t recall seeing these funds in the budget.  So where are the funds coming from?  The bill only says the funds would be appropriated from the state.  It doesn’t specify if these funds would come from the general funds or what the source of revenue is for this.  If this is a social impact bond deal, I can’t support that.  I have many questions with this one.  The Joint Finance Committee slashed education proposals in the budget mark-up last week so why would legislators introduce a new bill that guarantees grant funding of $3 million by the Delaware DOE for the next three years beginning in August 15th of this year?  Unless…

Could this be a way of getting funding through in the event the Wilmington Education Improvement Commission redistricting plan doesn’t pass?  The devil is in the details on this one…

Delaware JFC Cuts Charter School Performance Fund, SAIL, Career Pathways, Teacher Pay Raises, & More From Budget

BudgetCutsRodel

While this isn’t my dream list of cuts, and some things are still in there, the Delaware Joint Finance Committee sure did swing the axe on tons of programs from Governor Markell’s budget!  Gone is the after-school SAIL funding ($1 million), the always controversial charter school performance fund ($500,000), career pathways programs ($250,000), more internet bandwidth for schools ($3 million), a technology block grant ($1 million), and SEED scholarship expansion ($500,000).

The VERY controversial early learning budget of $11 million got cut to $9 million.  Teachers will not be happy about this: they lost their raises which had $3 million allocated.  Even the big three: University of Delaware, Delaware State University and Delaware Technical Community College got a 1% slash in their operating budgets.

Governor Markell is on the way out and the Joint Finance Committee sent a strong message to Delawareans today: we are not going to allow all this rampant spending in education to continue for programs that have no intrinsic value to the true success of students.  It’s almost like they read all the crap in the Every Student Succeeds Act and said “Not for Delaware”!   I’m sure Rodel is pissed about a lot of these cuts, but it’s about time we got their stink out of Legislative Hall.  Eight years is enough!

They can cut some more stuff: the charter school transportation slush fund (which can add up to about $2 million a year), all these insane contracts the DOE has with the take the money and run education companies (they could probably save the deficit by taking an axe to that stuff), and perhaps some more to the early learning program (or hell, give it all to the basic special education funding for Kindergarten to 3rd grade students with disabilities).  Not mentioned in today’s round of budget cuts are any funds associated with the Wilmington Education Improvement Commission’s redistricting plan.  But the General Assembly has to pass the legislation first!

The JFC meets tomorrow, so there could be more.  I’m sure the lobbyists are chomping at the bit to meet with every single legislator they can between now and June 30th, the last day of the 148th General Assembly.

 

House Bill 390 Would Allow General Assembly To Approve WEIC Plan Without Funding Guarantees

Faced with some difficult decisions regarding the Wilmington Education Improvement Commission’s redistricting plan, the Delaware General Assembly gave a response to the very critical funding issue: skirt around that minor detail and just approve it.  That is essentially what House Bill 390 does.  This isn’t a train wreck.  The train crashed a long time ago.  Now it’s a matter of surveying the damage done to the building it crashed into.  That building just so happens to be called Wilmington Education.  Nobody wants this plan to stick to them.  Not during an election year.  So everyone is backing away from it while saying “Great plan, we need to do this now.”  But no one wants to own it.  I imagine the House Education Committee meeting today which does NOT have this bill on the agenda, just House Joint Resolution #12 which would allow the General Assembly to approve the redistricting plan, will be mighty interesting.  But does House Bill 390 have to be approved before HJR #12?  And what happened to just sticking an amendment on HJR #12?  They have to do a whole other bill?  While the intent behind this whole thing was pure, it has turned into such a political landmine.  Who does take responsibility for how much this costs and who approves the funding?

HB390

WEIC Redistricting Bill Tabled in House Education Committee To Add Proposed Amendments

At the House Education Committee meeting today in Delaware, House Joint Resolution #12 which would have allowed the Wilmington Education Improvement Commission redistricting plan to move forward, was tabled.  State Rep. Charles Potter, in his introductory statements, recommended the bill be tabled to add amendments which would otherwise have caused the plan to die in the House Education Committee.  While no amendments have been added to the legislation as of yet, it is most likely in regards to the issue of property assessments.  One of the recommendations of the redistricting plan is to allow the Red Clay Consolidated School District Board of Education to incrementally raise property taxes without a referendum.  Many House Republicans oppose this.  Once the amendment is added I will certainly put it up.

Several supporters of the bill gave public comment to urge the General Assembly to move forward.  A few opposed the legislation based on inequality for students throughout the state.  Many members of the House Education Committee were either not present or skipped the meeting entirely.

While some spoke about how this will provide extra funding for students with disabilities, there is no mention of this in Governor Markell’s proposed budget.  I advised I support the bill if that funding is restored AND State Rep. Kim Williams’ House Bill 30 is approved to provide this essential funding for ALL students with disabilities in basic special education in grades Kindergarten to 3rd grade.

State Rep. Helene Keeley gave a very powerful speech before the committee voted about the situation with students in Wilmington and how the drug epidemic has ravaged the city.  The committee will meet next week to discuss HJR #12 with the soon to be added amendment.

Will The WEIC Redistricting Plan Die In The House Education Committee Next Week?

That was quick!  In the same day the WEIC redistricting plan turns into pending legislation, the bill is also placed on the House Education Committee agenda for next week!  I’m not sure what this fast-track means.  But we are well into May and the General Assembly finishes up on June 30th.  But there are some other potentially controversial bills on the agenda as well!

House Joint Resolution #12, the now famous Wilmington Education Improvement Commission redistricting bill introduced today, turns all the WEAC and WEIC recommendations into a bill.  The WEIC did what they had to do, the State Board of Education finally passed it in March, now it is the General Assembly’s turn.  This is where this bill could either move forward or actually die in committee.  While you can’t go by who the sponsors are on a bill, it is a good sign of who will definitely say yes when it comes up for a vote.  But with this bill being so Wilmington and New Castle County specific, it would stand to assume that those who are legislators up there and support the redistricting would sponsor the bill.  The House Education Committee has 14 members.  The following members are sponsors on the bill: Jaques, Bentz, Bolden, Lynn, Osienski, and Potter.  Red Clay legislators Kim Williams (Democrat), Joseph Miro (Republican) and Michael Ramone (Republican), who also serve on the committee, are not sponsors on the bill.  There are no House Republican sponsors whatsoever on the bill.  Which leads me to believe (and this is only speculation on my part) none of them will support this.  Which also takes Dukes, Hensley, and Kenton off the yes list.  That leaves two other Democrats on the House Education Committee who aren’t sponsors on the bill but also come from the Wilmington area: Sean Matthews and Deb Heffernan.  Both of them did not vote on Senate Bill 122 when it had the full House vote last June, along with Mike Ramone.  So this bill could die in committee with 6 yes and 8 no. Specifically, the bill would be tabled.

Once again, this is merely speculation on my part and I have not heard anything from anyone on this.  I imagine Kim Williams could be swayed if House Bill 30 were also given equal merit and taken out of the appropriations committee.  But it would still face a full House vote.  If it passed then, it would go to the Senate Education Committee, and if released from there it would be up for a full Senate vote.  That is a lot of variables.  If I that were my bargaining chip, I wouldn’t cash it in until House Bill 30 is signed by the Governor!  But it still needs a majority vote.

To get out of the House Education Committee, House rules state:

Bills and resolutions shall be reported out of committee by a majority of the committee or subcommittee by signing the backer. A bill or resolution may be tabled in any committee or subcommittee by a majority vote of the full committee or subcommittee.

This is assuming everyone attends the committee meeting as well.  I could picture some members who don’t want to be put in a position of killing the WEIC bill to just not show up!  It wouldn’t be the first time.  But this is also an election year.  If the majority of the constituents in your district don’t support WEIC and the bill winds up passing, an absent from committee could potentially change an election if it ticks off enough voters.  This chess game could get a checkmate next week!

But there are other bills on the agenda as well:

A somewhat odd school choice bill would give priority to students who have certain medical conditions.  House Bill 229 states “if a parent, relative, guardian or caregiver can demonstrate that they would be able to respond quicker to an emergency at the selected school, the student will receive a priority consideration.”  This one could open a big old can of worms!

The Restorative Justice Senate Bill 207 which seeks to reduce suspensions unless it is for fighting, drug offenses are other such serious infractions has a lot of support.  The bill would also put restorative justice techniques in Delaware schools.  But with the recent Howard High School tragedy, I wouldn’t be surprised to see an amendment or two tacked on this one!

House Bill 355, which was just filed on Tuesday, would make computer science a mandatory course in high school and the credit would go towards the math or science graduation requirements.  When I put this up the other day, many folks on Facebook were shocked this wasn’t already a requirement.  I expect this will get a quick release without a lot of discussion.

If I know the WEIC crowd, this will be a packed House (literally) next week.  Especially after this article comes out!  As I said yesterday, get there early!