Holy Crap! Paul Herdman and I Agree (Mostly) On Something Involving Delaware Education!

The end times are nigh.  I read an opinion piece by Paul Herdman on delawareonline and found myself agreeing with a lot of what the CEO of the Rodel Foundation of Delaware was saying.  No, I don’t have food poisoning.  I haven’t been drugged.  I didn’t slip on a banana peel and pass out.  But Dr. Paul Herdman and I both seem to agree on disagreeing with some of the cuts the Delaware Joint Finance Committee proposed a few weeks ago.  I know, I couldn’t believe it myself!

What Doc Herdman is lamenting are cuts to early childhood education and college access.  I believe every student, if they have the means and even if they can get help, should go to college.  I also think early childhood education is very important.  While the Doc and I disagree on the methods, I have to believe we both want kids to get the best education possible.  While he may think Common Core, Smarter Balanced, Personalized Learning and Competency-Based Education are the best ways, I think true instruction in the classroom with teacher-created tests and assessments are the way to go.  I don’t think kids need all this educational technology in the classroom.  I don’t think we need all these leadership training classes.  Leaders should come naturally, not some profit-induced seminar brought on by Education Inc.  The best education leaders are those with advanced knowledge of education through advanced masters degrees and come up through years of teaching.

But any cuts to education aren’t good.  I wish the Doc would go a step further and go after wasteful spending at the Delaware Dept. of Education and all that trickles down to our schools as a result of their continued corporate education reform shenanigans.  I wish he would urge our General Assembly to fully fund our state auditor’s office so they can, you know, actually follow Delaware law and properly audit our school districts each year.  I was really hoping he would recommend our General Assembly (finally) implements basic special education funding for students in Kindergarten to 3rd grade, especially with his background in special education.  But I’ll take what I can get.

The final week of the 149th Delaware General Assembly’s 2017 session is going to be absolutely crazy.  I’ve told others.  It won’t be over by July 1st.  The gap is just too big and I’ve heard several legislators say “I won’t vote for the budget if (insert this cut or this attempted revenue here).”  I don’t blame them.  But some pain will have to come in this budget.  It is my fervent hope students won’t lose out.  I do support district consolidation in Delaware and while there are those who think it won’t amount to much saving, we won’t know unless we really study it.  It is my contention there would be considerable savings.  I do support shared resources, like Herdman.  Whether it is a traditional, charter, or vo-tech, why wouldn’t we come together as a state to make sure students have all the resources they need?  I don’t think school boards should be given a one-time chance to raise the match tax without a referendum as I truly believe that will hurt school districts when they do need to go out for a referendum.  If districts and charters can actually share, all students would win.  It takes some pride swallowing on both ends.  Get rid of the charter school transportation slush fund or any perks for charters out of the budget.  It only aggravates the us vs. them mentality.  Truth is, there should be no us vs. them.  It should be education for all students.  Get rid of old, antiquated laws that create any type of de facto segregation.

The truth is, the Doc and I probably agree on a lot of things but our differences cast us as polar opposites.  I’m sure he is a good guy, and yes, I think he should be taxed at a higher tax bracket along with the rest of the $150,000 and over club.  This does not mean, by any stretch, I will attempt to get on the Rodel Advisory Council.

Colonial Under The Gun With 2nd Referendum Up For A Vote Today, Vote YES!!!!

The Colonial School District is in dire straits.  They MUST pass their referendum attempt today.  If not, expect a huge amount of cuts and layoffs.  Unfortunately for Colonial, this comes at a time when all eyes are on the state budget deficit.

I’ve learned there are three camps when it comes to referenda.

There are those who promote referenda because it is an essential must in Delaware for a school district to be fully funded.  I tend to live in this camp most of the time with very few exceptions.

There are those who believe a referendum exists to pillage taxes out of the wallets of citizens within the district.  They fight referenda tooth and nail and sometimes post “fake news” to make sure a referendum does not pass.

There are those who don’t even know what a referendum is.  They get their property tax bill and pay it, no questions asked.  These campers are by far the biggest of the three.  They don’t vote in referenda and have no knowledge whatsoever of what it even means.

Colonial’s referendum today is do or die for them.  Yes, I often state we need to see more transparency when it comes to education funding.  Our State Auditor does not conduct yearly audits of school districts even though it is required by state law.  But that doesn’t mean I oppose referenda in Delaware.  Until a new mechanism is created which changes this warped way Delaware has with funding schools, the referendum is the only way for school districts to survive.  There is a very good chance our legislators will approve Carney’s idiot idea of school boards being able to pass a one-time match tax without a referendum.  I oppose this for more reasons than I can count.  But Colonial had this referendum planned way before Carney even introduced this idiot idea.

To vote no is to vote no for students in many ways.  If you enjoy bloated classrooms with over 30 kids in the class, then you will vote no.  If you feel all administrators are an evil monopoly choking instruction in the classroom, you will vote no.  If you feel no taxpayer dollars have ever funded a school, you will vote no.  All three of the above are what the referenda naysayers like to promote.  There is a difference between wanting transparency (folks like me) and those who don’t want education funding at all (the referenda naysayers).

Many of the folks who oppose referenda don’t even have kids in the school district.  They have kids in private schools or they are elderly citizens who feel they have been taxed too much.  The private school parents actually want a school voucher system to take place so their taxpayer dollars go towards me and not the community.

I support the Colonial referendum today and if I lived there, I would vote a resounding YES!

Delaware Chancery Court Judge Rules Red Clay Violated Election Clause But Will Not Have To Redo 2015 Referendum

Vice-Chancellor Laster, a Chancery Court for the State of Delaware judge, finally ruled on the Red Clay referendum lawsuit.  The very long ruling, clocking in at 186 pages, blasts Delaware’s antiquated method of property tax assessment and delves deep into education funding as a whole for the state of Delaware.

The final ruling, issued today, found fault with Red Clay for going over the line with their Parent Events at 23 Red Clay schools during their February 2015 referendum.  But he also stated that the entire referendum process is one of great pressure for school districts and individuals in those situations can dance around what is wrong or right.  He found they did not act with intended malice but for the public good since referendum results in the positive bring public schools money to fund them.  As a result, he ruled against Red Clay redoing the entire referendum and refunding taxes already paid from it.

The lawsuit was filed by an elderly couple and their daughter through the Delaware American Civil Liberties Union.  The plaintiffs claimed they were not able to vote because of inadequate parking due to the parent events staged to bring in positive votes for the referendum.

The ruling suggests no referenda in Delaware would ever have to take place if properties were assessed based on current home values.

This is an amazing read if you are at all interested in current education funding in Delaware.  With Colonial facing a must-pass referendum or several teachers and educators will be let go, this decision could have a major bearing on any events they might be planning for their 2nd referendum attempt this year in the beginning of June.

This will be a big question for future referenda in Delaware.  Does this ruling set a precedent for all referenda that no events can be held at schools during a referendum?

Guest Post From Eve Buckley On Budget Deficit And Education Cuts In Delaware Schools

Eve Buckley wrote a brilliant post on Facebook today.  With her permission, I wanted to get this out to a wider audience since she hit the nail on the head with what is going on in Delaware public education in the face of disastrous cuts school districts are facing.  Eve, like myself, is a parent in Delaware.  Her children go to Christina schools.  She was also in attendance at Paul Baumbach’s Education Forum at Newark High School last night.

Delaware friends, the take-away from last night’s education forum, for me, was that the state has–as we know–an enormous budgetary crisis and currently no political capacity to raise revenue, since GOP legislators have pledged not to raise taxes. Unless this changes, we will cut everywhere, deeply–and as far as I know, there is no reason to believe this will improve next year. Governor Carney does not have a viable plan to address this huge structural problem. Democratic legislators, many of whom are quite willing to approve property tax reassessment [for the first time in DECADES], need a 3/5 majority vote to pass that and cannot move forward without support from at least two Republican legislators. All of us can write to Gov. Carney about the need to responsibly address the state’s serious budgetary challenges. Everyone should contact their state legislators, but esp. if yours (in House or Senate) is Republican. Tell them how these cuts will impact your children’s educational opportunities; if your child attends Christina district, it is facing a $6 million shortfall for next year due to the reduction in state funds, which translates to a dozen or more staff/teacher cuts at each middle and high school, and presumably some staff cuts from every school. These individuals have already been notified, which is demoralizing for everyone in those communities–as Newark HS students made clear last night.

Note that state-authorized charters (the vast majority of DE’s charters, outside of Red Clay district) are not as severely affected by these cuts, the logic being that Carney proposes giving district boards one-time authorization to make up about two-thirds of his proposed cuts via a “match tax,” which would generate revenue only for district schools. This puts the elected district boards in a quandary: schools need those funds, but by replacing the state shortfall with a board-authorized increase in local taxes, the districts will probably lose any capacity to pass a referendum in the future, as many residents will be infuriated by this extraordinary maneuver. For the moment, this proposed mechanism for recouping district revenue via a one-time match tax (and subjecting ONLY district schools to the corresponding state cuts) means that charter school staff are not being notified of job losses, at least not on the scale that district schools are experiencing. Aside from the seeming unfairness of this, it also means that charter families, generally quite mobilizable to advance their children’s interests, are probably less aware of how severe the state’s education funding crisis is–and only 13 legislative days remain before the state’s budget will be finalized. For me, this is another example of the damage we do to the democratic process by “packaging” public services differently for different members of our communities; we are not all in this together. That is a serious loss, reducing the likelihood that schools and families will get what they need from the state. Democracy is a numbers game, and our numbers are significantly diminished by our fractured public ed. landscape.

As always, Exceptional Delaware wants and solicits for guest posts on education matters.  Thank you!

Who Is My Delaware State Rep & Senator? Which District Do I Live In? A Primer For Delaware Students! #swarmthehall

This article is for ALL Delaware public education students.  This is what you need to do NOW to make a difference for YOUR school.

Last night, I attended an Education Forum at Newark High School.  As members of the audience stated they didn’t know who their legislators even are, State Rep. Paul Baumbach asked me to put up a post on my blog about this in front of the whole audience.  It is my pleasure to do so Paul!

Even though students (unless you are 18 or over) are not registered voters, your voice is important.  I will go so far as to say it is the most important voice in the state.  You can get involved, and I would ask your parents, grandparents, brothers and sisters, friends, and neighbors to get involved in this year’s budget, especially when it comes to public education.  But first, you have to know who to contact!

The first thing to do is go to the General Assembly website, found here: http://legis.delaware.gov/

The easiest way to find out “Who is My Legislator” is to go that section of their website and put in your address or go on the “Find by Map” option.  I did that using my address, and it came up with this:

Another way to find out what Senator or State Rep covers your district, go to the tabs that say “Senate” or “House”.

I will use the House as an example.  Go to the tab that says “Members & Districts” and click that.  Now I have to sacrifice one of our State Reps as an example, so I chose my own State Rep, Trey Paradee of the 29th Rep. District.

What a big smile for your constituents Trey!  It has other information on the page, but if you want to contact them, it provides their phone number at Legislative Hall or their email address.  You will get a legislative aide or an answering machine when you call them.  An email might shoot you an automatic reply if they aren’t there that day.  Some legislators are brave enough to put their home or cell phone numbers on their contact information.  I would ALWAYS call that phone number first since the likelihood of them getting back to you SHOULD improve.  Another way is to look for them on social media.  Send them a friend request if they offer that option.  I would shoot them a message stating who you are and possibly an issue or topic you would like to discuss with them.

Once you know what they look like, and if you have the time, go down to Legislative Hall and introduce yourself.  Don’t do it while they are in session in their respective chamber though because they can’t really stop that time to talk to you.  Be respectful and courteous.  Ask for THEIR cell number if you don’t have it already.

If you find your legislator isn’t getting back to you, keep at it!  I’m not saying to stalk them, but keep calling, emailing, or texting.  As a professional courtesy, I would give them at least three days to get back to you.

As the General Assembly prepares their version of the Fiscal Year 2018 budget, they need to hear from their constituents NOW.  Not later.  Not on June 30th.  NOW!!!!

Here is how it goes for the next five weeks down in Dover.  The General Assembly is on a two-week recess right now and will return on June 6th.  In the meantime, the Joint Finance Committee, which is a group of legislators, are doing what is known as the “budget mark-up”.  They go through Governor Carney’s proposed budget and make changes.  This group needs to hear from you NOW!

I would email ALL of them in one email and tell them what you are looking for.  For those who are against all these cuts in education, some suggested wording could consist of this:

Please remove the cuts to education from the state budget.  It is unfair to balance the state’s budget on the backs of our students.  Schools are already under-resourced and our children need our commitment to their future.  Thank you.

The public can attend the Joint Finance Committee meetings, but seating is limited.  And considering most of you students will be in school, DON’T CUT SCHOOL to come to Dover to go to a JFC meeting.  There will be plenty of time for that when school gets out because the General Assembly continues to meet until June 30th.  If you want to see some real craziness going on, come down (or up) to Dover on June 30th.  The fun usually starts around 6 or 7pm in the evening.  Bills pass on the fly, left and right and they suspend a ton of rules to get bills passed.  You see bodies passing by you like the Flash.  I’ve gone the past two years and didn’t get home until the sun was coming up.  That’s right.  They MUST pass the budget or they don’t get to go home until they do.  They can go home, but their legislative session isn’t over until the State Budget passes.  By State Law, the Governor must either sign or veto (not sign it) the budget once the General Assembly passes it.  If the Governor passes it, the General Assembly has to keep meeting until it passes or they can attempt to override the Governor’s veto.  This year, June 30th falls on a Friday so I have no doubt they will want to get in and get out so they can have their 4th of July weekend last as long as possible.

If students truly want to make a huge difference with this budget, if you don’t want teachers cut and you don’t want your school board to be put in a position where they are forced to raise more taxes without a referendum, your State Rep, Senator and the Joint Finance Committee need to hear from you TODAY!  They may give you a reason why they support this or don’t support that, but make sure YOUR feelings are heard.

If you want to make a HUGE impact, organize a group of your friends and classmates and come down to Legislative Hall in Dover (but don’t cut school to do it).  You are NOT allowed to carry signs into the building, but you can wear t-shirts as long as they don’t have curse words or are inappropriate.  It could say something as simple as “No Education Cuts” or have fun with it and write “Forced Match Tax Without A Referendum Is Horrible” .  I would NOT recommend t-shirts like “John Carney is bad” or “Mike Ramone loves Donald Trump….Eeeew!” (neither of them do, just making a point here).  You can even write legislator letters but make sure you go to their office in Legislative Hall and give it to the receptionist or legislative aide to give to the legislator.  Don’t try to put letters or correspondence on their desk in the House or Senate chamber.  I did that once and it is NOT allowed.  Don’t yell at anyone or interrupt anyone either.  And whatever you do, when the House or Senate is in session, just sit and listen.  You do NOT want that gavel coming down on you by Lt. Governor Bethany Hall-Long or Speaker of the House Pete Schwartzkopf!

You CAN make a difference this year.  If you want to preserve what you have and not lose out next year, there is nothing wrong with a peaceful protest.  Make sure you get Mom, Dad, or your Guardian’s permission first, but make it something you can tell your grandchildren about one day.  How you told our legislators what your schools need and you helped to make a difference.  Let’s call it “Swarm The Hall”.  Share hashtag #swarmthehall on Twitter and Facebook and let’s make it a thing Delaware students!

As an education blogger, I’ve met most of our State Reps and State Senators.  I want to believe they want to do the right thing for everyone in the state, but sometimes political issues happen.  If you are a dye-in-the-wool Democrat and your State Rep or Senator is a Republican, or vice-versa, don’t get into the whole “us vs. them” mentality.  They will listen to you, but it could cause them to tune out whatever you are saying.  Make it about the issues, not about the politics.  No one wants to hear about the whole Trump/Hillary thing or “Dems Stink” or “Republicans Lie” kind of stuff.  This is about YOU, and YOUR education.  And this isn’t just about school districts, it’s also about charters.  Because if districts have to make cuts and force a match tax on their residents, they will have a hard time getting referenda passed in the future.  Which means less money for charter schools as well.

Below is a list of ALL the Delaware State Reps and Senators.  The Senate has 21 members and the House has 41 members.  Don’t get confused by the district numbers.  I live in State Rep District 29 but State Senate District 15.

If you are a Delaware public school teacher, please share this article with your students and their parents.  It can also be a valuable lesson for current events or helping children become more aware of how the political process in Delaware works.

Updated: Some libraries are holding events called “Postcard Party for Education Funding”.  Details can be found here.  This is a brilliant idea!  Reach out to the sponsors and see if you can get these events in your local libraries if they aren’t in your area!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Christina Board of Education Unanimously Passes Resolution Condemning Governor Carney’s Proposed Education Cuts

Last night, the Christina Board of Education unanimously passed a resolution concerning Governor John Carney’s proposed FY2018 budget for Delaware.  The resolution encourages all Delaware legislators in New Castle County to reject Carney’s proposed education cuts.  The FY2018 budget has to get through the Joint Finance Committee and will then go to the149th Delaware General Assembly in the final days of legislative session in late June.

Expect more of this in the days and weeks to come.  The reaction from Delaware teachers, educators, parents, citizens, schools, districts, and school boards is getting louder by the day.  Especially when teachers are getting pink slips.  Last night at a forum about the budget at the Delmar Fire Station, even Carney acknowledged these are bad choices.  I have to think, with all the perks inserted into the epilogue language of the state budget every year, there is room for unnecessary programs in our state to get the chopping block.  If Carney wants our state to be competitive, forcing schools into no-win situations involving less money is not the way to go.  This wasn’t a bad choice, it was a horrible choice.

Red Clay’s Super Merv Writes Letter To Community About Budget Cuts & Deficits

In a week of somber news around Delaware in the wake of pending teacher and educator layoffs, districts are scrambling to figure out their budgets for next year.  Through this blog and other social media sources, citizens of the state are growing concerned about teachers losing their jobs and classrooms becoming more bloated than they already are.  In response to this public outcry, Red Clay Consolidated Superintendent Dr. Mervin Daugherty wrote a letter to the community about what this means for the district and the community.

I’ve seen many Delawareans giving Governor John Carney a pass on this since he inherited most of this mess from former Governor Jack Markell.  But his almost boneheaded solutions could make the situation much worse for citizens across the state.  In the coming weeks, I will be going through last year’s budget as well as the proposed budget for FY2018.  I will also recommend areas across districts and charter schools where funding should be cut or consolidated without losing teachers.  I will present these recommendations and findings to the General Assembly and Governor Carney.  I am sure it won’t be in any official capacity, but I will do so all the same.  Any input or recommendations from the general public will be most welcome!

Christina Board Votes No On Many District Recommended Budget Cuts

Tonight at the Christina Board of Education meeting, the board voted in favor of NOT eliminating the following in their schools and the district based on recommendations from their Chief Financial Officer, Bob Silber and Superintendent Richard Gregg. This was under the direction of “Minimize the number of students impacted by cuts.”

Elementary & Secondary Strings

Elementary Instrumental Music

A motion to reduce elementary specialists (such as music, library, etc.)

A motion to decrease technology investment

Academic Deans

Montessori Program

Reduce Department Budgets

Reduce School Budgets (based on need)

Change Credit Recovery Delivery Model-Integrate SPA with High Schools

The following DID pass the board:

Reduce EPER (Extra Pay for Extra Responsibilities)

Do not fill Vacant Non-Academic positions

Decrease in Professional Development

While these are good for the positions and programs not eliminated, those holes in the budget will have to be filled somewhere with other cuts, which could mean up to 100 teachers being cut from the district as well as higher classroom sizes.  This isn’t a good situation no matter how you slice it.  I don’t envy any school board faced with these decisions largely set in motion by Governor Carney’s proposed budget for FY2018.  He is recommending districts be able to raise match taxes without a referendum.  Many districts are balking at this scenario presented by Carney.  However, they have to give notice to teachers about returning this month, well before the Delaware General Assembly gives their final vote on the budget which will occur on either June 30th, or more likely, the wee hours of the morning on July 1st.

Homeowners Set To Get Screwed With Governor Carney’s “Shared Sacrifice”

Yesterday, the Delaware Economic Forecast Advisory Committee (DEFAC) projected Delaware’s budget deficit for Fiscal Year 2018 to be $395 million dollars.  This is up ten million from the last time the committee met.  Tonight, the Christina Board of Education will discuss the impact on taxpayers.  Governor Carney is suggesting school boards raise what is known as the match tax (the portion the state matches certain funding) by having the district school boards levy the tax without a referendum.

Christina’s Chief Financial Officer, Bob Silber, created an impact budget for how this increase would hit taxpayers.  In the below example, a home that just sold for $224,000 would see their property taxes raised $46.50 with the match tax scenario.  Keep in mind, this is based on the property assessment value of $63,700, which is almost a quarter of the home’s actual value based on the sale price.

This is not the only sting homeowners, as well as all Delaware citizens, will feel starting July 1st.  State taxes, collected from paychecks, will go up for most.  State employees will see higher insurance rates.  Salary raises for state employees will most likely disappear.  Services will be cut.  It is all rather bleak.  Our General Assembly has utilized every single benefit to state funding, such as the proceeds from the tobacco lawsuit, without realizing those perks were eventually going to disappear.  State revenue does not match state expenses.  Companies, such as DuPont and soon Barclays, left Delaware for the most part, causing a severe lack of revenue and jobs.  Delaware has, and will continue to, spend more than it makes.

With the Wilmington Education Improvement Commission, there was a request to raise property assessment values.  While Delaware’s assessment values are still far lower than most states, it also created an influx of senior citizens moving to The First State because of that.  But the ability of school boards to raise property taxes, already through the special education tuition tax and soon the match tax, could have a negative impact on the desire of the elderly to move to Delaware or even stay here.

Meanwhile, there has been no action on the Governor’s part to institute the basic special education funding for students in Kindergarten to 3rd Grade.  State Rep. Kim Williams introduced two bills in the last two General Assemblies to take care of this but neither bill has moved forward due to the state funding issues.  Oblivious to all the future costs by not having this essential funding in place, our state continues to bumble through special education with this very real omission to the foundation of special education students who are just beginning to manifest their disabilities.  The projected amount to fund what should have always been there is a little bit less than $13 million a year.  By not providing that funding, the state relies on the school districts or charter schools to pay for these services.  Either way, it has a negative effect.  If the school does provide those services, it results in more of a drain on local funding.  If the school doesn’t, they are not only breaking special education law if the child qualifies for an Individualized Education Program, but they are also looking at higher costs for that student in the future by not providing that foundation.  So that $13 million a year mushrooms to much higher costs for these students down the road.

Just this morning, State Rep. Earl Jaques announced a new bill on Facebook creating a fund in the Delaware Dept. of Education budget for an Educational Support Professional of the Year award.  Delaware has 16 school districts, 3 vocational districts, and over 20 charter schools.  This bill would allow each district (20, which includes one award for all the charters) to give their winner an extra $1000.00.  The overall winner would get $1,500.00.  While $21,500 in the DOE budget doesn’t amount to much, it is symptomatic of the mindset of far too many of our legislators.  Instead of finding solutions, too many of them find ways to spend even more money.  If our state was swimming in money, I would be okay with this bill.  But not now.

Delaware’s legislature is going to have their hands full when they return from Spring Break next Tuesday.  This budget deficit is not the result of a national recession like what we faced in 2009.  This is Delaware created.  We spent our way out of the recession and now we are paying the piper.  Governor Carney looks like a deer running towards headlights with his reactions to this ever-increasing budget deficit.  I predict he will have a very tough time getting re-elected in 2020 if this trend continues.

The Bizarre Love Triangle Between Publius, Minnehan, and Clampitt **UPDATED**

All relationships have their ups and downs.  Such is the case between former Kilroy’s Delaware commenter Publius e decere and former Pencader board member and current Christina board member Harrie Ellen Minnehan.  Throw in a wild card like Henry Clampitt, former board member of Charter School of Wilmington, current board member at Gateway Lab School, and also a candidate for the Red Clay Consolidated Board of Education, and you have what I like to call a bizarre love triangle (which just so happens to be an awesome tune by New Order).  But what I found this morning… that brings this triangle to a whole new level… Continue reading “The Bizarre Love Triangle Between Publius, Minnehan, and Clampitt **UPDATED**”

Colonial School District To Hold 2nd Referendum Of The Year On June 6th

A few weeks ago, the Colonial School District referendum failed to gain enough yes votes for it to pass.  So the district is holding another referendum on Tuesday, June 6th.  The district issued a press release today.

Colonial Schedules Second Referendum

New Castle, DE- The Colonial School Board of Education voted in favor of holding a second referendum on Tuesday, June 6, 2017. The Board agreed to the same operating amount sought in the February 28 referendum of 38 cents per $100 of assessed home value. With impending cuts to the state budget announced recently, the 38 cents will now meet operating and growth needs only, and not the expansion of other district initiatives.

The Board of Education agreed to remove the capital improvement request of 1.4 cents, the second part of the February referendum, which was also rejected by voters.

Due to the failed referendum, the Colonial School District has implemented an immediate hiring, spending, and travel freeze to preserve funds through the remainder of this fiscal year.

Should the June referendum also be defeated, Colonial is preparing to implement over $4 million in cuts for the 2017-2018 school year. Immediate implications include:
• Over 170 positions will be eliminated. All departments will be impacted.
• Class sizes will increase due to the reduction in staff.
• Middle school and freshman sports will be cancelled.
• Parents will be required to provide basic school supplies.
• Student travel and field trips will be cancelled or costs will be incurred by parents.
• Art Show, Band and Choral Festivals and STEAM Showcase will be cancelled.
• The annual Teacher of the Year and retirement dinners will be cancelled.
• Summer enrichment programs will be cancelled, including Middle School Institute and STEM, impacting over 700 students.
• Summer Credit Recovery Program for high school students will be cancelled.

“We realized that we didn’t communicate the impact that a failed referendum will have on our schools,” said Superintendent Dr. Dusty Blakey. While vowing to remain committed to providing students with a quality education Blakey said, “If we aren’t successful in June, we are preparing to make some very difficult choices that will impact our valued staff, and as a result, our students. When we are forced to make drastic cuts like this, we look to preserve our classrooms. However, staff cuts will mean larger class sizes and possibly the end of some popular academic programs. In addition, some sports and extracurricular activities will also be casualties.”

Gary Phillips, President of the Friends of Colonial, is meeting with parents and community members who want to see the referendum pass in June saying, “The Colonial School District has made tremendous strides over the last few years. We want to see that momentum continue for the sake our students, so we will work very hard to convince voters to support the district by voting for the June 6th referendum,” Phillips said.

Yes Majority In Indian River’s 2nd Referendum Attempt

The Indian River School District passed their referendum today.  According to The News Journal, voters passed the expense measure with 7,095 yes votes.  5,394 voted no.

The vote comes exactly 100 days after the district’s first attempt to pass a current expense referendum failed by a mere 30 votes back on Nov. 22, 2016.

The referendum came as a result of unprecedented growth within the district, interim superintendent Mark Steele said.

Earlier this week, voters in the Colonial School District did not pass their referendum measures.  Like Christina, Brandywine, and Indian River in the past couple of years, Colonial will assuredly take another stab at it.  For the Indian River, the district is no doubt breathing a sigh of relief after a contentious year which saw their Chief Financial Officer resign in controversy and a painful audit investigation which showed a great deal of financial issues in the district.

Colonial School District Referendum Measures Fail

The Colonial School District held a referendum today for voters of the district to vote on two measures.  Both failed to garner a majority of the vote according to the New Castle County Department of Elections:

For additional tax Against additional tax
Total 2,193 2,733

For authority to issue bonds
Building For the bond issue Against the bond issue
Total 2,067 2,961

Back to the drawing board for the district.  This happened with Brandywine last year.  Their first referendum failed but the second attempt passed.  Indian River will hold their second referendum in so many months on Thursday.  Last year, Christina passed a referendum on their 3rd attempt after two others failed the previous year.  And so it goes…

Delaware Auditor’s Office Issues Follow-Up Report To Indian River School District Audit Investigation

The Delaware State Auditor, Tom Wagner, released a follow-up today to the Indian River School District audit investigation.  The original report, released days before the district’s December referendum, showed very damning allegations against the district’s former Chief Financial Officer Patrick Miller.  Today’s memorandum from Wagner came out before another referendum the district will be holding on March 2nd.  While the follow-up shows significant improvement there are still some areas of concern as shown in the below report.

Capital School District’s VERY BOLD Long-Term Plans

The Capital School District has mighty plans for the district!  As part of their ongoing strategic plan, the district will discuss potential building and grade configurations at their board meeting this evening, beginning at 7pm.

While these plans are not set in stone, there is serious discussion about what the district will physically look like in the long run.  Referendum haters may want to relax because the plans I am about to discuss are long-term and could take twenty years to reach the finale.  But current plans call for sweeping building changes, grade configurations, and a new way of looking at middle school.  The district began earnestly looking at these changes last fall and held staff and community forums earlier this month after a facility master plan was presented to the board.

With the proposed changes, two current elementary schools would disappear and another would be renovated. Fairview and Town Pointe Elementary Schools would be demolished and Dover East would get a new building.  Both plans call for a potential expansion at Dover North.  Where things get very interesting are the plans for the existing middle schools, William Henry and Central Middle.  Central Middle would become an elementary school.  Since William Henry is connected to Kent County Community School, the plan is to use room in William Henry to house a growing high-needs special needs population.  This does not mean all special education students in the district would be going to this potential facility!

For the middle schools, they would be two separate schools but joined by a common area.  Potential plans would called for shared resources between the two such as a cafeteria and large gym.  But it would also allow the district to have Career-Technical education programs in one school and arts programs in another.  But since the schools would be in the same location, it would be difficult for diversity issues to come up since they are both there.  The district is looking at potential magnet programs in the future.  The proposed site for the new middle schools would be on the property of the old Dover High School.

Those are the major changes.  Other options call for an early childhood center attached to Dover East and potentially one next to Booker T. Washington Elementary School.  Both of the potential options would call for what is known as a “Main Campus” which would house the expanded Kent County Community School, Booker T. Washington (which holds the district Delaware Autism Program inclusion program) and the proposed early childhood center.  As well, other space in William Henry could house the Transition program for students with high needs between the ages of 18-21.  The district now leases space in a building across from the Department of Education in Dover.

In terms of grade configurations, the plan is to have the following: early childhood centers would hold Pre-K to Kindergarten, elementary schools would hold 1st-5th grade, middle schools would have 6th-8th, and high school would be 9th-12th grades.

So how much is all of this going to cost?  Probably millions and millions of dollars.  But not all at once.  The goal is to look at the projected growth of the district based on a capacity of 600 students in each elementary school, 750 in the middle schools, and 1,800 for the high school.  Keep in mind, this is a twenty year plan.  Things could very well change during the next two decades.  Projections are good but you never know when a huge business could come to Dover or Kent County which could change all the numbers.  But I like this plan.  I like the idea of sharing resources at the middle school level.  Having the “Main Campus” could also allow for that which could save the district tons of money.  Of course, any new construction or renovation costs tons of money but everything old must one day become new!

OPTION A

option-a

OPTION B

option-b

As the above diagrams show, Hartly Elementary School, Dover South Elementary School and Dover North Elementary School would have the least amount of changes.  The revamped district would actually have one less elementary school than present, but the populations in each school would change based on removing Kindergarten and adding 5th grade.  As a citizen of Dover, this will definitely be one to watch!  When the strategic plan process began last year I strongly advocated for changing the middle school grade configuration to what they are now proposing.  To hear the plans in more detail, come on out to the board meeting at the district office!

The Christina-Charter School Lawsuit Is Now Public!

That didn’t take long.  Three days ago, the Christina board agreed to the settlement.  Last night it went public.  Delaware Liberal has the whole thing in all its glory.  From what I’ve read, the district is off the hook for any back exclusions.  There will be a one-time payout for this year of $150,000 plus the per student allocation from a 2003 referendum that amounts to 10 cents for every $100 worth of assessed property value.  Christina will pay out the charter school payment part of the $5.5 million they received from the last fiscal year.   But going forward…

DOE will have to determine the exclusions and let the charters review them before the annual determination is made.  Tuition tax will now be a part of the local district payments to charter schools if the charter has comparable special education services to Christina.  Which explains why Newark Charter School took in a special needs child over the summer.  As the parent wrote in comments on this blog, this student was 17th on the wait list at NCS.  One day the parent got a call from the school and her child was in.  That would mean a student left and sixteen parents said no or left the school.  The parent did reach out to me to let me know NCS does not have a football team and that with students who may have moved played a factor.  As well, the parent states the school was not aware her daughter had special needs and had to scramble a week before school to make sure she got a one-on-one para.  They also said there are quite a few students at NCS with either Downs Syndrome or autism that have one-on-one paras.

The settlement also allows for both parties to claim or not claim exclusions from the Match tax.  Which means more headaches in the future.  I have to wonder how all the other school districts feel about part of their tuition tax now going to charter schools if the charters meet that “need”.  Is this why Appoquinimink hiked up their tuition tax last summer?  Did they know what the charters were planning back then?

This settlement releases the charter schools claims against Christina and their CFO, Robert Silber.  But they also filed against the Delaware Dept. of Education.  I don’t see language releasing the DOE.  Is their suit against the DOE still alive?

I would attach the Scribd document from Delaware Liberal, but the ink isn’t dry on the settlement yet.  Thirteen charters, the Christina board President, and Silber all signed.  That leaves two more charters.  Not a (legal) done deal yet.  But why aren’t all the signatures by the President of each charter board?   Some are.  Some are signed by the Head of School or a title similar to that.  But the board is the legal entity behind a charter school, not the Head of School.  I suppose it would depend on the ability of a Head of School to legally bind the corporation to this settlement.  I don’t have time right now to look through the bylaws of fifteen charter schools.  I would think an interim principal, like the one at Great Oaks, does not have that kind of authority.

Out of everything I’ve written about this whole Christina/charter school funding war, beginning at the end of August, as well as the countless other articles in Delaware media, one question still hasn’t been answered.  What made Greg Meece, Steve Dressel, and Joanne Schlossberg from NCS request a meeting with the Delaware DOE and Christina to discuss the local funding formula?  In other words, for 13 years, this 2003 referendum and the 10 cent thing was in play.  DOE signed off in it each year.  But Greg Meece found out about this earlier this year which prompted this whole thing.  Who told Meece about it?  Meece would have gone after this a long time ago had he known about it.  So who betrayed Christina?  It had to be someone with inside knowledge of the district’s finances.  Someone who knew a 13 year history of the finances.  Someone with a deep understanding of school finances.  Someone who had the motive and means and willingness to go after Christina.  Someone who didn’t care that this would affect tens of thousands of kids across the state.  Someone who didn’t care that telling Meece this would instantly cause him to bite the apple and unleash a lot of crap on the Delaware education world.  That is cold and unfeeling.  I am about 99.9% sure of who you are.  I’ve known for a long time.  I know how you like to play the long con.  I also know how you play people.  I know who your allies are and who your enemies are.  One day, your actions will come out.  And your justification for this does nothing.  Not when your sins will cause thousands of students who already had less to lose out even more.  You sold out the kids you claim to stand for.  It doesn’t balance any scales and it doesn’t even begin to absolve you.  You aren’t that crafty.  I saw you coming a mile away.

This is a shakedown no matter how you slice it.  The Delaware DOE, who approved the exclusions for all these years, gets the stiff penalty of having to do some more paperwork, something they thrive at already.  In the settlement, Secretary Godowsky escapes any blame by simply stating he wasn’t aware of the exclusions.  Which could very well be true since he wasn’t confirmed by the Delaware Senate until October, 2015.  But all the former Secretaries of Education would have known: Mark Murphy, Lillian Lowery, and Valarie Woodruff.  Why weren’t they named in the lawsuit if the charter schools had allegations going back to 2003?

I see this as just one more nail in the coffin of public education.  Now this opens the door for charter schools to get more funds from a referendum.  Funds earmarked for a district are now questionable.  Unless some shady deal went down at some point between 2003 and 2015, Christina is not to blame.  So why on earth would they settle?  I highly doubt their attorney fees would have climbed higher than the results of this settlement.  There is no possible way ninety minutes was enough time for their board to digest this settlement.  I read it last night and I still have many doubts.

The whole part about Christina paying $150,000 as a “one-time payment”?  That reeks of the amount Saul Ewing will charge the charter schools for their legal fees.  Wasn’t the Longwood Foundation going to pay for them?

This will be seen as a victory by many charter school parents, especially the ones at Newark Charter School.  They will point fingers at Christina and say “See, you settled, it was your fault.”  This is not a win for kids.

Indian River Loses Referendum, Many Voters Lack Confidence In Leadership

The News Journal is reporting Indian River lost their referendum by a mere 30 votes, with 3,321 for and 3,351 against.  It reminds me of a recent election in our country.  I have no doubt the district will roll the dice with a 2nd attempt in the next couple of months.  But the district has to own up to the audit investigation last week.  By stating the referendum has nothing to do with that report, they are shooting themselves in the foot.  I have a very hard time with Susan Bunting and her credibility at this point.  If Patrick Miller, the former CFO, was controlling everything with finances in the district then she let him do that.  She turned a blind eye to what was going on and that shows a clear lack of leadership.  As well, the Board has the capability of determining the district’s finances.

Bunting said issues need to be addressed across the board to ensure the referendum passes if it is held again. Although an audit was released late last week detailing financial issues over the past five years, Bunting said she won’t blame the audit for the failure for the referendum to pass.

If it was one year or possibly two that Miller played with school finances, that would be one thing.  But this went on a long time.  Even more frightening that it took tips to the Auditor’s office to get to the bottom of it.  Not only was Bunting and the Board asleep at the wheel, so was our state.  What happened in Indian River should give our legislators a wake-up call as well.  They should somehow get funding from somewhere and beef up the State Auditor of Accounts Office.  Every school district and charter school in this state needs a thorough audit.  We cannot continue like this.  Our children lose every single time.  All this talk of extra funding for schools… the funds are already there.  We just need to redefine the existing funding and find a system where those funds are used equitably for all students.  We can’t afford to stick with the status quo and then act shocked when we see reports like the Indian River one last week.

Delaware Audit Investigation Slams Indian River School District For Nepotism, Fraud, Conflict Of Interest, And Personal Spending

Delaware State Auditor Tom Wagner released the Indian River School District Audit Investigation at 2pm today.  The numerous allegations in the report include using facsimile signatures for purchases, the Superintendent receiving gifts in the form of jewelry, the former CFO donating over $50,000 to non-profits where he served as the President of the boards, the business office lying to the auditor about a discrimination lawsuit against the former CFO, incorrect paychecks and salaries for teachers, not following the state rules for accounting, the CFO’s sister-in-law working in the business office, almost $160,000 in payment vouchers that had half for invalid purchases and the other half breaking rules all over the place, possible allegations of the district paying for a board member’s tuition at a Maryland school, many reimbursements to the CFO’s personal American Express Card, over $20,000 on in-state food purchases, the Superintendent buying White House Christmas ornaments, over 20% of certain scholarships given to relatives of board members, and much more.

Indian River has a referendum in five days, on November 22nd.  Do you support this referendum after reading this report?

Updated: 3:02pm, 11/17/16: The Dover Post is reporting the district will hold a press event tomorrow at 10am to discuss the Auditor’s report.  Newsflash, Bunting was mentioned in this report a lot.  She doesn’t get to just walk away and blame everything on Patrick Miller, the former CFO…

Indian River Has A Referendum In One Week. Where Is The Audit Investigation?

Delaware State Auditor Tom Wagner promised the citizens of Indian River School District the audit investigation his office is working on would be released before their referendum.  I assumed it would be released at least a week before the referendum to give the citizens in the district enough time to digest it.  I pray to God his office does not release it the day before to soften the blow.  We all know there will be some very serious stuff in there.  We know something happened in this district.  A chief financial officer with a checkered past in another district doesn’t get put on leave and then “resign” a month later unless something very serious went on.  When is Delaware going to stop playing this game?  When will full transparency actually happen in this state?  I feel citizens should have at least a week for this so perhaps the district should put in a request with the Delaware Dept. of Elections to postpone the referendum.