Christina School District’s Very Dangerous Game With Equity Could Backfire On Them

One of the reasons I have always admired the Christina School District is because they don’t have magnet schools or choice schools within their district.  That could change tomorrow night when the Christina Board of Education will vote on a proposal to expand the Honors program at Christiana High School from a 9th-12th grade program to a 6th-12th grade program.  I understand the why behind it as the district has empty seats in some of their buildings and they will be forced to consolidate at some point.  But this… I can’t get behind it.

Before I get into why I can’t support this, let me explain why they are doing it.  Christina, over the past fifteen years, has lost a ton of students to charter schools.  I truly believe the district wants to let go of the past and start offering richer programs to keep students in the district and to hopefully lure students back from the charters.  As well, they are losing honors students to Dickinson High School in Red Clay who offers an International Baccalaureate program.  Eventually, the Christina students in Wilmington issue will be resolved one way or another and Christina will lose those students.  The district has to make some major changes if they want to survive in the next decade.

But this idea is not good.  First off, I don’t think it is a wise idea to place middle school students in a high school setting.  Developmentally, they are not on the same level playing field.  By osmosis, these students will be exposed to things they are not ready for.  There is a reason students in public education are at elementary schools, middle schools, and high schools.  To make matters worse, the plan would call for this to start with 6th graders only for the next school year and by 2019 all 6th-8th grade students participating in this program would be integrated as students at a high school.  This cohort of 6th graders are going to have a very difficult time at a building with peers who are far older than them.

Furthermore, what happens when all the honors students leave the existing middle schools in the district?  That will leave a higher concentration of students who have larger needs.  Our current state accountability system for schools will place those schools with a bulls-eye on them when test scores come out.  If anyone thinks the Every Student Succeeds Act is going to take care of that they are deluding themselves.  It will set up an irreversible system of discrimination and segregation all over again, within their own district.  That is something all schools in Delaware should be steering away from, not towards.

This program would have smaller “cohorts” which would mean smaller class sizes.  I am all for that but it has to be done across the board.  There are existing classrooms in elementary and middle schools that do not have enough support in this district but teachers are forced to handle large classrooms with no support whatsoever.  But giving this preference to students who would most likely be considered talented and gifted while not giving those same choices to other students with just as much need if not more is just reinventing the discrimination wheel.  I’m not saying talented and gifted students shouldn’t be given those benefits, but I am saying if that benefit exists it needs to happen for all students.  No one wins in the large classroom scenario with one teacher.

The State of Delaware, and more specifically, the General Assembly, needs to look at the state school choice law.  While the intent may have been honorable in the beginning, it has morphed into pockets of segregation across the state.  Some are big and some are small, but they exist.  While charter schools take the brunt of the shots fired at these practices, many districts are setting up programs within their own districts that are dividing students.  Take the World Language Immersion program as an example.  In my day, you took a language.  They didn’t put a fancy name on it and start teaching Kindergartners Chinese or Spanish.  While I do think it is good for students to learn a second language, and possibly a third depending on their abilities, we are already seeing school districts around the state dealing with issues of segregation between the smarter kids and those with higher needs based on this program.  This isn’t even inequity, it is also inequality.  When you have both, it is a recipe for disaster for the overall educational health of a state.  This example is not just affecting New Castle County schools.  Districts in Kent and Sussex County are having these issues as well.  But their boards and administration don’t seem to be addressing what is happening within their own schools.

I don’t know what the solution is, but this isn’t it.  I don’t understand why they wouldn’t attempt to instill those honors programs in the schools they have now.  If they need to combine some schools and possibly sell old property that isn’t being used, that is one thing.  But dividing students like this is a lesson Delaware doesn’t want to learn.  This is a recommendation from the Superintendent (even though it is an Acting Superintendent).  When Christina passed their referendum earlier this year one of their promises was to create programs like this.  I am all for better programs in schools.  But school choice has led to such severe competition among Delaware schools that future generations of adults are going to be more divided than ever between the haves and the have-nots.  We have traditional school districts, charter schools, vo-techs, magnet schools, honors programs, World Immersion programs, and so forth.  And I’m not even getting into the Pathways to Prosperity program and how that is setting up particular societal roles in the future.

How can we talk about equity in schools with a weighted funding system when we are forcing schools into that position?  We are killing education in this state, one choice program at a time.  I believe Christina is trying to rush a program like this into place.  Let it marinate a bit.  Look at other options.  Slow your roll!  I’m not convinced this isn’t a case where the Acting Superintendent who will be gone in a few months at most just wants a notch like this on his résumé.  I think something this big would need to still be in the discussion stage with a new Superintendent who would be tasked to carry it out.

And in the name of all that is holy can we please get the words rigor or rigorous legally banned from discussion about education?  As well, the word “Academy” in traditional school districts signifies something elite that only select students can get into.  Not a smart idea to put an “Academy” into a school district.

To read the action item, which will be read for a second time, please go below.

 

Christina Legislative Briefing Q&A Transcription: Part 1

Yes, there will be two parts to this.  Part 1 represents about 60% of the question and answer session from the Christina School District Legislative Briefing on the charter school funding issue.  If you haven’t read it yet, you may want to read this post first as it has the presentation Christina Chief Financial Officer Bob Silber gave to legislators and members of the public at the meeting this morning.  It could be difficult to understand everything in these questions until you read that first.

Welcome back to those who left.  Without further ado, here it is:

Monica Moriak (member of Christina’s Citizens Budget Oversight Committee): The district did not mean to exclude something specific? They noticed that in 2014 you were not including the 10 cent Referendum in the financial position report because you did not see that as something you could use for anything and that’s when they noticed that and so that’s when they decided, “Ooo, we need a different number” so Dr. Meece walked away from the charter bill?  Is that when that got separated because you used a different number?

Robert Silber (Christina’s Chief Financial Officer): Yes, for those of you who didn’t ask the question, I’ll repeat. In 2014, the Department of Education recognized that there are, at least for the Christina School District, there are three series of numbers that are used or assigned to our district: 9100 series, 9800 series, and 9900 series. The 9100 series and the 9900 series are dollars that are excluded, the 9800 series are dollars that are included. If I take a look at… well, why don’t I do it this way… our Citizen’s Budget Oversight Committee, about a year or two ago, as the district started having its financial challenges, started asking the district to provide information on a monthly basis, focused on what our local unrestricted expenditures are. So every month, we prepare financial statements that are unique within the state, that also include a breakdown of what we know to be excluded, and what we know to be included. It’s a very simple issue- 9800, included, and everything else, excluded. And last year, as an example, when you look at FY2015’s financial results, not (FY)16’s, but 15’s financial report, and we take a look at what was our total spend of what we consider to be unrestricted local dollars, that number matched to the penny to what the Department of Education calculated on their form what the local cost per student should be. So that was validation, if you will, of the process over the years. The components, as to what goes where, again, I can’t answer. But specifically, there was a question raised, I believe, because one of the goals of the Department of Education is to take the process that they use today and automate it. But if you’re gonna automate something to say I want to include certain numbers and exclude certain numbers, you’re going to want to make sure that everything that is in that included bucket all have a common number that you can pull from. So any appropriation beginning with 98, which is included, anything that begins with something other than 98, would be excluded. That’s what their goal is.

State Rep. John Kowalko: Yes, a couple questions. I appreciate the effort you put into this the effort to explain this. My concern is this- as we’re dealing with a very complex issue, which has a parameter of a coding issue put in place. You have to have an understand the finances of a public schools in Delaware, and it’s very complex, very complicated, with coding issues that are not always as capturing of the actual expenditure as we would like to see happen. But with that being said, in 2014 the DOE asked you to, more or less, justify some things and if it wasn’t justified, they were going to ask you to put a separate code for that mechanism in place. Do I have that right?

Silber: I would probably express it another way. In 2014, every district, three times a year, is required to do a financial position report. I don’t know what triggered their follow-up questions. In 2014, when Christina School District submitted theirs, we showed, without any question, that we had sufficient resources to pass the test. So the question the Dept. of Education had on a response may have been directed towards, or may have been triggered, by the district that may not have been able to reflect that they are in good standing, that I don’t know. All I know is that the question was raised. The question was raised by the Department, “Why are you not listing all of these appropriations? You’re giving me a short list.” And the answer came back, for any reason, from different individuals, ours was “We’re restricted on certain funds.”

Kowalko: I’m going to pass forward now to recent events and the new determinations, that apparently a decision was made August 24th, this stands out, the districts were informed of a meeting with select Superintendents, the key word is select Superintendents, and business managers would not be included. It’s mind-boggling to me that your office, Christina and the other districts I’m sure, would be offering a path forward, they would have done it in a collaborative process. But it seems to me that DOE has no intention of collaborating. When they asked you for a report, a spreadsheet of how you do it, then they make a final determination at the end of that tunnel without having said to you, “We question this or we think this or can you justify that”, to me, that’s almost a ruling, a one-sided rule that is not going to benefit the districts and/or public school systems. I know you don’t have the answer to that. I’ve asked Secretary Godowsky for a timeline and dates of who was at these meetings. I will follow-up, because his answer to me yesterday was very, very shallow. It was “I’m going to send out the report to everybody to explain the process.” This doesn’t ask for an explanation of the process. I know the process. I talked to Bob (Silber) for an hour yesterday. This asks for a timeline of who was involved when the decision-making, from May on to this point in time, and why were they excluding people that have knowledge, that actually put their pencils on paper. I find this to be an almost disgraceful performance by the DOE and I’m not here to pontificate, but I am angry that they tarnished the reputation of a district that has more challenges than any district in this state probably, cause of the special needs, the impoverished of the community. But that’s not to give an excuse here, but you have made remarkable strides and I really, really challenge any Department within this state that would unilaterally decide that they’re going to impose or question something without asking you for an answer. This is a ridiculous way for us to operate on behalf of our children. And I’m tired of it and I intend to follow-up with Secretary Godowsky. If I don’t get an answer for this, and his answer isn’t going to be responsive, I do have another letter prepared that I will release to the press and I’m telling you, it does not look good. I would ask the Chair of the Education Committee, and to think over it, the fact that we don’t get an appropriate answer to where we are today and how this embellishment of no facts or answers has caused a situation of turmoil, an anxiety, that has pitted charter schools against traditional schools for dollars. I’ve asked the Chair to consider that if we don’t get a response to hold hearings on this charge. Between now and then there should be a corrective course by DOE. This is not a one-sided issue. This is not something that you’re on the defense about. This is about due process. There has been no due process in the immediate discussion of this from May till now. No due process.

Kevin Ohlandt (“The Blogger” or “Sneaky Snake Blogger” as one person called me last week): I have two questions. Newark Charter School referenced a meeting with Dr. Andrzejewski that would be taking place in regards to this subject, the local cost per pupil. This is more for Dr. Andrzejewski. Were you aware that this would be coming up, I guess, last March or April?

Dr. Robert Andrzejewski (Acting Superintendent of Christina): I never met with the board of Newark Charter. I met with Greg Meece on the referendum. This issue we talked about has an ongoing history. And that was it. At some point, I offered to meet before the Board President to go through a similar thing.

Ohlandt: Senator Sokola had mentioned, in an email, something about funds going from $700,000 in 2011 to $9.2 million last year or the year before. Do you know what that was about and why he would choose that flashpoint in time to use in this issue?

Silber: I’ll go back to a couple of comments. If you take a look at the composition of the students within the Christina School District, and almost any other district in the state and certainly with charter schools, you’ll see that Christina School District has a significant higher population of students with special needs, not just within special programs but within our district. I can take a look at what has transpired over the five to seven years. There has been a very steady increase in our tuition tax rate as a result of needing to generate those dollars. Some of those programs, as I said, are unique to Christina. But where the Dept. of Education chooses to put those dollars… if it were my call, it would in that tuition fund. But if their putting it into the district specific program bucket, you’re going to see those dollars increase dramatically. I have no knowledge as to what causes them (the DOE) to put something in bucket A versus bucket B. All I can do is suggest that during one of those years, as I took a quick look over the past five years, we had a drop in dollars over on the tuition side. I can tell you, or our board can tell you, I don’t think I’ve ever generated a financial statement for the district that has shown our tuition related expenses were for students with special needs has gone down. If anything, it has consistently gone up. That’s a triggering question of… I don’t know who does the reports. I can’t direct you to go see Bob Silber at the Dept. of Education. That is their report. They should be held accountable and transparent for what’s behind those dollars. I would love to be able to see it to argue it, to challenge what should go to any one bucket if you will, but that’s obviously not a part of the process with the Department.

Bill Doolittle (Special Education Advocate): Did the Department ever provide a full list of the accounting codes they intend to move to 9800 or 98 class and the amounts for each district in those classes?

Silber: For this year?

Doolittle: For their initial intent.

Silber: No. The only thing that has transpired was, as I said at the beginning, there was a request from the Department, “Every business manager go through this list.” And they generated, when they sent that list out, probably, if I had to guess, the top 15 rows were items that they specifically said, “Yup, these are items we already know the answers to. So for Christina, the other 254, you have to tell us one way or the other.” I think one of the important things to recognize is that every organization, it doesn’t matter if it’s a charter school, a traditional public school, or a business entity, or any organization. You have to make decisions around budgets and you have to be able to depend upon systems associated with that. So if there are variations, something that’s going to happen that creates a wild swing, you can’t afford those things to occur. In the public education arena, one of the issues that we tried to bring to the Secretary’s attention, it was the longer you delay the communication around this process or the challenges to the charter schools, the less informed they’re going to be. Every charter school should have been told, by the Department of Education, that for FY2017, this current school year, every one should have been informed that expect your local cost per students for the Christina School District to go down this year. Because the Christina School District had reduced our local unrestricted expenditures by about $9 million dollars last year. The department was aware of it. Did the Department inform the charter community, “Brace yourself, this is coming”? At our board meetings, we clearly articulated our charter bills for last year were predicated upon the prior year. They will not feel the pain we are feeling this year until the following year. Just as when we are successful in an operating referendum, the monies don’t hit until the following year and then the following year after that from a sequencing perspective route how the law recognizes what local costs per student are. I don’t know if that answered your question.

Doolittle: I think the answer is DOE still hasn’t told everybody what they’re doing.

Silber: No, no. They’re given a list and some of the response around some of the detail had to be pulled. So, as an example, in this list that they provided to us initially, they said MCI, minor capital improvements, would be included. Well the language associated with match taxes forever has been bundled with MCI. They were called MCI/Match. And our tax warrants, all districts, up and down the state, are predicated on its match dollars. It includes funds that are match for minor capital, and match for these unique legislative driven programs. It wasn’t until we asked a question that they said, “No, all of those programs that legislators approved and have been included for the past 14-17 years, they’re no longer going to excluded, they’re going to be included.”

(Editor’s note: I know for a fact that any charter school that went through a charter renewal or modification process with the Charter School Accountability Committee at the Delaware DOE in FY2016 was told to expect this.)

Kowalko: A follow-up, on that very statement you just made. They said that, without you having any ability to or chance to retort? They assumed that, presumed that, decided that? Did they say why it shouldn’t be done that way?

Silber: Their answer, not to me but to another business manager, was that they believe they are interpreting the code correctly.

Kowalko: I just want to clarify one thing for Mr. Ohlandt. Correct me if I’m right here, or wrong here. There is not a 98110 that had several hundred thousand dollars in it that now has $9 million in it?

Silber: It’s not that simple. No.

Kowalko: Cause that seemed to be the message…

Silber: Yes.

Kowalko: …that was put out there and resonated. I just wanted you to confirm it. Thank you.

State Rep. Michael Ramone: First off, thank you. This is very helpful. It definitely solidifies and clarifies the perception, at least for us, to be able to speak intelligently to people and say what the heck is going on. You just said the interpretation, interpreting the code correctly, and to me, it seems the biggest issue is not only communication, which I agree with Representative Kowalko, this should have been handled differently with different people at the table. Whatever. It is what it is. I think communication could have been better. I think clarity is an issue, and the word that you use- interpretation- it sounds to me that the interpretation that used to be the interpretation is a different interpretation today. I’m not looking for a comment. It’s my perception of what I’m hearing. So, I guess, to me, a big question, and maybe the dialogue should go to the Chair and the Co-Chair of the Education (Committee), do we need to do anything, in your opinion, as the guy doing the work, as the manager’s opinion to clarify the current law so their isn’t, quote, an “interpretation” maybe one year that would be a different interpretation next year. Or even have new laws added. And I’m not asking you to answer that today, I’m saying that’s a discussion we need to have. But a point of clarity I do need to hear, because I don’t know if I’m interpreting what you wrote or what you said here, but right or wrong, is there an issue or was there an issue with the referendums that were passed in the specific designation of how much tax money, or the referendum was going to be added? Are you suggesting that there is a question of how we’re passing or wording the referendums we are passing or not? Because the way I’m reading that it seems like some of the lack of clarity, or quote “interpretation”, that they have seems to stem from the verbiage as its written in the referendum that was passed or am I interpreting that wrong?

Silber: I would argue that, again I would preface that by saying I didn’t author the document, the document that was put before the community was specific. It said “You will use the money for the following programs. Let me give you a shift for a moment. It didn’t come to pass but you can use this to crystalize the thought. This last year, Brandywine School District, as some of you may know, ran a referendum that failed. That referendum had multiple parts to it. One of the parts of that referendum was, “Will you guys give us additional money so that we can build turf fields?” A very specific request. And if the answer to that question had been yes, that money coming into the Brandywine School District, for the years that they were asking those dollars to follow, could not have been used to pay for teacher salaries or higher administrators. It would have been used for the purpose intended by that referendum, similar to the referendum that we had in 2003. The interpretation that I would get from the actions of the Department of Education, as I’m trying to do today, would suggest that once those dollars came in, that were a very specific purpose for Brandywine, to be used to build a turf field, would then the following year have to come out of their discretionary funds to help support their charters.   And I don’t believe the intent, it is very clear, we’re giving you money to build this, or we’re giving Christina School District opportunities for these programs. There are a number of ways, a number of questions, in our perspective that go around the Christina School District and programs that are unique to the Christina School District. A question could be asked when a parent chooses not to go to the Christina School District and chooses to go to the Red Clay School District through the choice process, are they leaving the programs of the Christina School District they took advantage of, if they leave the Christina School District to go to Kuumba Academy, then yes, they are leaving the programs of the Christina School District. So in one respect, to look at those unique programs and say “they’re unique to the Christina School District,” and the taxpayers agree to that. That’s why it’s restricted to you for these particular purposes. What the Secretary and the Dept. of Education are suggesting is that those dollars that are restricted over here move over here as an unrestricted basis. And what I’m suggesting is that in 2014, when the Department said, “No, they’re restricted,” they made a decision that it couldn’t move over here to unrestricted. I’m not necessarily sure that it’s about wording or it’s about interpretation. I think it’s more around intent. Is the intent to find ways to increase the amount of money flowing to a charter school as opposed to what should? That’s an intent question that my personal perception may not necessarily… Everything I’ve tried to share with you today is a statement of fact.

Ramone: Let me just follow-up, because what I think, I understand what you’re saying. My question is, the monies, the referendum…First of all, referendums are, we have to find a different way to… they’re not working. I think everyone in this room agrees on that. But that’s the beast we’re dealing with. In order to make them more plausible, more acceptable, more digestible, for people to have more clarity on the taxes you’re raising that might pass in the referendum, you started become very creative in the referendum requests, which I actually thought was a good thing. All I’m asking, is in that creativity of making very specific… letting people have a better idea of where the money was going and how it was going… was there a lapse in our legislative body in not clarifying the laws or doing something that makes something more specific, and I don’t mean to say it this way, but then yes, it would take discretion away from the Secretary of Education and whether it’s Joe Schmo today or Peter John tomorrow, but they would have less discretion, it’s clear, it’s a law, we should, is there something that we should be considering or would you all review whether there is something we should be considering to give clarity so you don’t have any subjectivity to these decisions that could be a little chaotic when you tell everybody that one year it’s one way, the next month (meant year) it should be…

Silber: The best way that I can answer your question Representative, is to state the following- The Dept. of Education this year has taken actions that are substantially different than the actions that they’ve taken for any number of years. The laws that are on the books for the past 14-17 years didn’t seem to have that same degree of challenge. Something triggered this year that all of a sudden those individuals that are currently at the Dept. of Education are now saying that something’s wrong. So if there is a question associated with that, again, what was the impetus behind making the change? Is there someone saying, “Okay, here’s a flaw, I’m going to take advantage of it?” Again, I come back to the initial statement. The district does not make these decisions. The district does not define, the State has to define process to prevent me from doing just that.

Part 2 will be up later tonight or tomorrow morning!  Stay tuned!

 

Jaques And Sokola Emails Actually Reveal Levels Of Collusion & Deception At High Levels…But From Who?

An email from Delaware State Rep. Earl Jaques and State Senator David Sokola sheds new light on the district-charter funding debacle that has taken over Delaware education talk in the past week.  Meanwhile, the News Journal came out with another article on the issue that is sure to confuse everyone.

In the below email sent from Jaques to the House Education Committee, he gives a timeline of the events from the point in time he got involved in the issue and clarifies when Secretary of Education Dr. Stephen Godowsky found out about this.  He also put in a reply Sokola sent to a constituent regarding the issue which has some very accusatory statements toward Christina School District.

From: Jaques, Jr, Earl (LegHall) Sent: Thursday, September 1, 2016 2:41 PM To: Bentz, David (LegHall); Bolden, StephanieT (LegHall); Dukes, Timothy (LegHall); Heffernan, Debra (LegHall); Hensley, Kevin S (LegHall); Williams, Kimberly (LegHall); Kenton, Harvey (LegHall); Lynn, Sean M (LegHall); Matthews, Sean (LegHall); Miro,   Joseph (LegHall); Osienski, Edward (LegHall); Potter, Jr, Charles (LegHall); Ramone, Michael (LegHall) Cc: Schwartzkopf, Peter (LegHall); Sokola, David (LegHall)

Subject: School Funding Formula  

House Education Committee Members,   Late last week I received notice about  a formula change between Charter Schools and our traditional Public Schools. I immediately called and talked with Secretary Godowsky to see if what I heard was correct and if so why was this change being made.  I was told by him that yes a change was proposed and he wasn’t aware of this change until just the day before.  On a side note, I wasn’t very happy to hear about this – since I and Dr. Godowsky just had breakfast only a couple of days before this news broke and no mention of this was discussed by him to me!  I was told by Dr. Godowsky that he has put a hold on any possible changes to the funding formula until there are complete discussionswith all stakeholders.  I then called Governor Markell to voice both my concern and outrage   at how this proposed change was brought forward with no regards to public input, transparency or discussion with either myself or Senator Sokola. I then called Superintendent Burrows, this year’s head of the chiefs, and was assured by him that no discussions between the “chiefs” and DOE regarding this change had occurred.  Their only acknowledgement came when they starting receiving bills from the charter schools and subsequently called DOE to find out what was going on.  On the very next day I was at a public event with Governor Markell.  He reinstated to me that no actions regarding the funding formula will occur this year and any discussions on this subject will be transparent and inclusive. Again, I followed up with Secretary Godowsky, requesting  that any changes to the   formula would require an open, transparent and inclusive process involving all stakeholders and plenty of public input. Today, there was a story in the News Journal that you might want to read to gain more insight.   

In addition, I have attached below part of an email that Senator Sokola sent to one of his constituents which gives very good details and background on the formula mechanism.  Although, his email talks about the Christina School District, I want to remind   you that this formula applies to all public schools across our state.

“It turns out that the funding formula has not changed, and the Secretary does not have the authority to change the formula that is in the code. There have been times over the years when there have been disputes about how the formula works, and apparently   we have one now. The dispute relates to the part of the code that allows for certain exemptions from the money that “follows the child” to a Choice or Charter alternative. The code allows for 4 specific areas and then has some general language that allows   a district to petition the Secretary of Education to allow for additional exemptions of local operating funds, and to sign off on those itemized expenses. The Christina District increased that line from under $700 thousand to about $9.2 million since 2011,   and has not asked the Secretary for approval of the increased exemptions. No other district in NCC has had anything but nominal changes in that time frame. The money in question also has nothing to do with the Autism Program or the Program for the Hearing   Impaired that are managed by Christina. It is my understanding that any action from the Secretary at this time is on hold, however Christina still has a legal obligation to specify those expenses beyond the 4 that are in the code that should be exempt, and   to have a formal sign off by the Secretary. I have supported for quite some time a weighted student funding policy, and would hope that we could make more progress on such a funding system. The money needs to specifically follow a student to a school, which   is not done well in Delaware including in Christina. Dispute resolution should be done by some mutually agreed upon mechanism, or one established in the code. If there still is not agreement, we have constitutionally protected separation of powers, and the legal system would be the mechanism of last resort. That is generally not a win-win result for the parties who are in disagreement.

The specific funding issues you mentioned can certainly be submitted to the Secretary and the district needs to be open, transparent and detailed with the financial records to make their case. The Secretary will be willing to consider the specific lines   of exemption that CSD has the legal obligation to propose. He would be negligent if he did not follow his statutory authority to review any specific exemptions proposed by CSD, and CSD would be negligent by not specifically submitting line items of proposed   exemptions to the formula that is in the code. If CSD does not make specific proposals, the district is at risk of legal action that the legislature and the Secretary are constitutionally barred from intervening in. My hope and advice to the Secretary has   been to give broad discretion to the specifics identified by Christina, and that we could have that open, transparent and inclusive process involving all stakeholders to clarify the financial obligations of a sending district to the various choice options   made by students and families.”  

As I receive additional information regarding this subject I will keep you informed…  

Earl Jaques

Chair, House Education Committee

So how is that Sokola tells a constituent that Christina performed this horrible deed but the News Journal doesn’t mention it once?  Sokola is saying Christina purposely withheld submitting their exclusions from the Delaware DOE.  Jaques states Appoquinimink Superintendent Matt Burrows didn’t know about this situation unfolding since last April until recently.  So how is it that the DOE asked the districts for this information in April as suggested by Saranac Spencer, the author of the News Journal article?  Actually, it was in May based on the below timeline.

In order to try to unify the system, the department began considering adjustments to the formula in April, when it asked districts across the state for an inventory of the exclusions they claim.

The actual timeline of events is as follows:

March 11th: Newark Charter School Head of School Greg Meece meets with Acting Christina Superintendent Bob Andrzjewski to discuss the upcoming Christina referendum and payments from Christina to NCS. (source: Newark Charter School March 2016 Board Minutes)

Early April 2016: NCS representatives Greg Meece, Joanne Schlossberg, and Stephen Dressel meet with Associate Deputy Secretary of Education David Blowman to discuss exclusions in the funds Christina sends to NCS.  The DOE indicates all exclusions will require approval from the Secretary of Education. (Source NCS April and May Board minutes)

April 8th: DOE holds District Business Manager’s meeting where the subject of district exclusions is brought up with District Chief Financial Officers.

May 2016: DOE sends out notices to District CFOs to send lists of their exclusion items in their local school budgets.

Mid-May: Kathleen Davies put on leave as Auditor of Accounts at Delaware State Auditor’s office.

August 8th: DOE sends out letters to District CFOs stating what exclusions are allowable and which aren’t.

Week of August 16th: Districts start receiving bills from charter schools for projected students choicing to charters from their districts.

August 19th: Secretary Godowsky finds out about situation going on with charter school payments from districts.

Week of Augusts 23rd: Word on situation slowly trickles out to school administration and some boards.

August 27th: Exceptional Delaware breaks news of a coming change in the way districts pay charters based on an approval from Secretary Godowsky, blogger was given information from various sources about changes regarding restricted funds being moved to non-restricted funds, no information given to blogger about specific exclusions.

August 28th: Legislators pound Godowsky who informs them there will be no change in the funding structure this year.

August 31st: News Journal covers story and states districts may have to adhere to the exemption list from the August 8th letter.

September 1st: NCS Board President Stephen Dressel writes letter to NCS parents alleging wrongdoing from Christina and a “few other districts”, states this isn’t a change in the formula for local cost per student but a correction, commenter on Facebook alleges parents from Las Americas ASPIRA also received a similar letter.

September 1st: Another News Journal article quotes DOE Spokeswoman Alison May as stating they may not be able to change this because bills already went out from charters to districts.

September 1st: Email from Earl Jaques to House Education Committee references a change in the formula, not a correction, email also has Sokola accusing Christina of not sending approval for exclusions to Secretary since 2011 for what was a $700,000 amount then which is now $9.2 million.

Here is the question no one seems to be addressing though.  What is the amount in that discretionary budget was approved once and didn’t have to be again?  When a district goes out for a referendum, it asks taxpayers to help the district pay for certain things.  What if Christina had a referendum at one point in time, designated a specific amount for what would become an exclusion in their local budget, and the DOE approved it.  Say that was 10 cents for every $100 of assessed property value.  As Sokola alleges, Christina kept shoving money into this fund causing it to rise over $8 million dollars.  But that 10 cents from a referendum, which becomes a part of the district’s local funds would certainly grow over time.  In 2010, Christina narrowly won a referendum.  But it stands to reason some of those designated funds could go into this “discretionary” bucket in their budget.  Which would certainly build up over time.  If the DOE approved this in July 2010, which would have been Secretary of Education Lillian Lowery, then that exclusion would not have to be approved every year.  That portion of the tax payments sent in from residents would just keep building in that bucket.  So Sokola’s allegation that Christina was willfully withholding payments from the charters by shoving money in this hidden bucket is blatantly false.

Now the big question is what started this runaway train.  Yes, charters have lobbied for more money from districts for years.  No one is arguing that.  But they were not going after these discretionary amounts approved by the Secretary of Education.  They wanted a share of the food services revenue the districts received, which is explicitly exempt from being a part of the payments made to charter schools since they have their own food programs which they get funds from at a federal, state, and local level.  So how would Greg Meece know to look for this one specific thing and start a chain of events that led up to now?  I’m working on that answer as we speak and I expect I will know the answer to that one in the next couple of weeks.

What leads me to believe Christina wasn’t “stuffing” money away into this secret account is also the reaction of one man to all of this.  If the DOE sent out these notices about the exclusion items last May, Christina CFO Bob Silber would have been freaking out back then about it.  If he knew the direction this was heading, he would have planned for it in their FY2017 budget, which he clearly did not.  From many people I’ve talked to in the district, Silber didn’t start freaking out until the district received the DOE letter stating what the new exclusions were and when the charter bills started rolling in.  Which leads me to think he wouldn’t have had to keep getting approval for the exclusions he put in this bucket based on a referendum allocation, approved by then Secretary Lowery, which would, over the years, increase this bucket.

In the meantime, I have to wonder why Sokola would specifically mention the year 2011 to this constituent he replied to.  That is crucial to all of this under my theory.  It makes Christina look really guilty.  Why would Sokola make Christina appear to be guilty?  I think we all know the answer to that one.  Which confirms my suspicion about his involvement in all of this.  His incessant talk in this email about legal action if Christina doesn’t comply and who can do what and when and where shows he is been looking into this for much longer than anyone else has.  Sokola is not an attorney.  He worked at DuPont for many years.  Is he smart though?  Yes.  Devious?  Hell yes.  Would he be able to paint a picture showing Christina as a district that was denying money to charter schools, especially Newark Charter School, who was “denied” one million dollars this year if this “finding” doesn’t work out in their favor?  He did in his email to the constituent.

I would go so far as to say there is an integrity issue with Sokola at this point.  The ethics involved with this whole mess certainly lend a certain weight to Sokola and Meece being the brains behind all of this.  Jaques wasn’t involved in this based on what he wrote in his email.  But he made it a point to include what Sokola wrote as part of his email which lended considerable weight to perception of this issue.  For that, I have to wonder what Jaques knew and when he knew it.

Is this the end of this?  Probably not.  Someone will come on here and say I have it backwards and I’m theorizing all of  this.  That’s certainly an option.  But at the very least, this opens the door to careful inspection about what the Secretary of Education approves and if it is for exclusions in the local restricted budgets for districts based on referendum amounts, does that item need continuous approval from the Secretary.  I don’t believe it does.

 

 

So Christina Can’t Afford Librarians, But A New Supervisor Of Professional Development Is Okay????

Okay, I got all sorts of crap from those who support the “New Christina”.  What exactly are they paving the way for?  Not librarians!  That’s for sure.  But I guess the newly created job of Supervisor of Professional Development is okay?  For those who complain about high administrative costs in districts, I’m beginning to see the point.  Such was the case today when Newark High School Principal Curtis Bedford announced he would be taking this brand-new position (not mentioned in the referendum I will point out).  He had a whole article on the Newark High School website about it.  And they already have a temporary replacement until the new Principal is found.

Sorry, I know “Bob A” has his supporters, but I’m not getting it.  Robert Andrzejewski seems to like rising costs.  Most Delaware Principals make about $100,000.  I imagine this new district role is at least $100k, if not more.  So not only does the district have to create the funds to pay for this new position but also backfill a Principal.  Keep paving Bob A, keep paving… I hope you pave the way out of your contract!  A lot of people stood up for you.  Now I am wondering why.  More shenanigans and unfulfilled promises.  Can’t wait to see the excuses for this one!  Here they come… one… two… three…

Librarian-Gate In Christina Heats Up: Sophie’s Choice or Misinformation? You Decide!

I wrote a post yesterday about the Christina School District choosing not to rehire librarians that were cut as a result of their 2nd failed referendum last year.  Many have gone on the attack against the district and many have jumped to their defense.  One clear and obvious thing is Delaware needs to change their antiquated unit-based funding system to some extent.  I don’t think anyone is arguing that point.  But a lot of accusations were thrown out as a result of my article and I wanted to point out some of them.

During Christina’s 3rd referendum attempt, the situation was dire.  As a result of the last two failed referenda, they had to make some major cuts.  Teachers, para-professionals, specialists, and yes, including librarians.  In several places, whether in writing or spoken word, the district mentioned they wanted to hire back the positions they cut and reduce classroom sizes.  This year, there were anywhere between 35-45 kids in some classrooms.  That isn’t good for any student, much less some of the high-need populations in the district.  One of the members of Christina’s Citizen Budget Oversight Committee, Brian Stephan, also writes for Delaware Liberal.

Let me point out this simple fact: I like Brian.  I think he is a good guy and a very involved parent.  I wish more parents were as involved as Brian and his wife in public education (and on a volunteer basis at that).  I have no doubt in the world he is very well-versed in school financing.  But just as I get my readers stuck in the weeds on issues such as special education or regulations for example, I think that may happen to Brian when he is explaining district financing.  Like any television show, there is frequently a “previously on…” before the show starts.  The brains of everyday citizens don’t remember everything, so they need a constant refresh.  I have to reiterate things on this blog constantly, not only to refresh existing readers, but also for my new readers.  I don’t always succeed with this.  But I would never complain to my readers that I have to explain it again.  That would be an insult to my readers.  I believe this happens in education a lot.  I see it all the time in parent complaints about educators and administrators.  They perceive them as being arrogant, but the reality is they may know more about situations and assume you do to.  When they realize you aren’t aware, the communication style is perceived as condescending or arrogant.  It may be, or it may not be.  There isn’t always an easy answer.  But when both parties are equally aware of a situation, and they dance around it with bad communication, that can be very dangerous.  But I digress…

I like to refer to education funding as a Rubik’s Cube with 64 sides.  It is a beast!  God bless any average parent who has a firm grasp on it, because I know I don’t.  Charters I’m pretty good at breaking down, but that is not the case with school districts.  But I do look at what people write and things they say.  That is the anecdotal evidence I look for in most situations.

Back in March, a week before the referendum, Brian wrote:

What’s the District asking for? An additional $0.30 per $100 of assessed property value that would generate an additional $16.2 million per year. What would that do? $4 million would go toward bringing back the teachers and staff we had to cut (yes, including librarians), and reduce our class sizes. $4 million would go toward the operating fund to keep the district functioning at pre-budget cut staffing levels for the next 2 years.

Note the word “and” when talking about restoring the positions cut AND reducing the classroom size in the above statement.  On Facebook yesterday, Brian was telling folks the current situation with librarians was spelled out succinctly and clearly, but I could not find anything in writing stating that it was an “or” situation.  Currently, defenders of the district are stating it is a building leader’s (principal) choice to either fund a librarian with an earned teaching unit or hire a regular classroom teacher.  In the event that a board doesn’t like that decision, they could force a principal to hire the librarian.  In effect, this comes down to a gut-wrenching choice of either keeping classroom sizes bigger or having a librarian.  Brian alleges this situation plays out in many of our school districts.  I have no doubt he is correct about this, but does the average taxpayer know this?  I doubt it.  This situation wouldn’t have become as intense as it has had this been spelled out during the weeks before the referendum.  Had something been put in writing to the effect of “It is our desire to hire back what we lost but we may not be able to get back every single position”, I would have no issue with any of this.

In response to the firestorm that went down on social media yesterday, Brian wrote a response on Delaware Liberal last night.  In the comments for this, he writes:

I can say that we described the referendum as restoring what was lost. And there’s a reason I didn’t say “Restoring ALL that was lost” because if I could have said *that*, I would have without a doubt.

This is the heart of the matter, in my opinion.  As I wrote in my response to his comment, there isn’t any transparent difference between “restoring what was lost” and “restoring ALL that was lost”.  I completely believe that Brian understands the current situation, but it was not clearly pointed out to taxpayers that their vote would mean one or the other.  That is why I was upset about what is happening with the district not restoring the librarians.  I backed this referendum 100% and fought for the district.  Now I feel like I’m eating crow.  It’s very easy to come back afterwards and explain this in writing.  I called that Monday morning quarterbacking yesterday.  I became very confused when things were written on social media and Delaware Liberal yesterday where defenders of the district wrote the funding is there to restore librarians.  Many commenters were.  But to write things to the effect of “let me explain this again” is not in the best interest of trying to win a point.  Most people feel like they are being talked down to.  But if that is the flavor of Brian’s writing style, that is his choice.

But here is the million dollar question.  If the assumption is that building principals in schools that had librarians cut are not restoring those positions in favor of keeping classroom sizes smaller, will the district take the classroom size waivers next fiscal year?  These are waivers the districts request that actually keep classrooms bigger.  They are usually granted.  Most districts do this, including Christina.  But in doing so, should Christina choose to go that route in December, they are actually breaking another referendum campaign promise, that of reducing classroom size.  Technically, one could say all districts do it and if they are out of compliance in one school they have to do it based on the populations in the school.  But it has also kept classroom sizes at increased levels in many districts and has not made the problem any better.  I could not tell you, based on my limited knowledge of this aspect, how to fix that or who exactly controls that aspect.

But back to Christina.  To make matters even worse, several sources have informed me that Acting Superintendent Robert Andrzejewski told many students the librarian positions would be restored.  These were children who were upset their librarians were no longer there.  Perhaps he spoke out of turn in saying this, but the students are probably the most important stakeholders in any education decision.  Imagine if a librarian was a student’s favorite teacher.  That librarian got cut.  The student was very upset.  They go home after the Acting Superintendent says the librarians will be back.  The student is happy, the parents are hopeful, and the district can count on a yes vote from those parents.  Those kind of events can seriously impact referendum results.  That is a huge issue and could easily be seen, and justifiably so, as a broken promise.

To truly understand what happened here, we do have to look at Delaware’s unit-based funding system.  This is based on the September 30th count for each school in a district or a charter school.  The number of students in the school determines how much state funding the district or charter school gets from the state.  Schools also get funds from federal dollars and local dollars.  What a school can’t pay for from state or federal money, comes out of local dollars which is where taxpayers come in.  A district receives x amount of units based on the population of the district.  With this, there are all sorts of conditions, especially with special education.  Based on a student’s disabilities, the formula changes.

Looking at Christina’s 2015-2016 unit allotment based on their September 30th count, they received the following: based on 15,553 students, they received 1,236.40 units.  This does not mean every unit goes towards one teaching position.  For example, a CTE teacher counts as half a unit, or .5.  Based on the amount of units a district receives, the district determines how many units each building gets based on their student count.  Certain units, such as special education, have to go towards those services (or they are supposed to).  But a building leader, or principal, does have some discretion for how the funds generated from that unit-count are allocated.  They can’t make wild decisions.  If a school’s Smarter Balanced scores are low, they can’t hire 50 math teachers and only 3 English/Language Arts teachers.  But out of that pool of funds is how decisions are made.  The district’s Chief Financial Officer guides the schools with those decisions.  If enrollment is down, based on school choice or students moving from the district, a principal may face some difficult decisions.  I don’t envy a principal making decisions like this, but I also believe they should look at things like what was told to taxpayers in the latest referendum campaign.  Such as the case with Christina now.  Unfortunately, Christina loses a lot of students to charters and this has been going on for the past ten plus years.

So then a district is faced with difficult decisions.  They could either stay on the road they are on, or make changes.  In Christina’s case, they are wisely looking at school climate and discipline as one of the key issues which results in students leaving the district.  I have no issue with this as it is the number one complaint I see for Christina.  Part of their referendum promises was to take a “deep dive” at the situation, come up with a plan, and make changes.  That is completely acceptable in my opinion.  But what Christina also didn’t point out was the fact they would hire an outside vendor to help form this “strategic plan” who also happened to also work for the district in the past.  To the tune of almost $50,000 without a formal bid process.  These are the types of things that need to be spelled out to taxpayers during a referendum attempt.

One of the questions posed on the CSD Paving the Way referendum website concerned school resource officers and if the $1 million the district would use out of the funds generated out of the referendum would go towards bringing those positions back which were cut.  It was clearly spelled out that this decision was not going to be immediately made and that an action committee would form to determine how to handle this issue.  While it doesn’t look like anyone directly asked if all cut positions, such as librarians, would be restored, that would have been the place it would have most likely appeared.  In the absence of that question, many assumed all cut positions would come back.  Not to put the entire blame for this on a referendum website or a well-read blog in Delaware, but it is part of the issues.  As well, Andrzejewski’s comments to students played a factor.  As well, I had grave issues with the district spending $181,200 on what I initially viewed as more assessments for students when a state focus has been to reduce the amount of assessments.  I have since been informed this contract would replace two assessments at less of the cost of the other two assessments, which seems to be a prudent move on the district’s part.  Furthermore, you can’t just rob Peter to pay Paul.  Just because that $181,200 was available for assessments does not necessarily mean you can pay $181,200 in librarians in lieu of those funds.  There are different buckets for different aspects of education, as Brian has explained many times to people.

I received this information from an anonymous commenter named “John Doe”, seen below, but I felt the need to put it in the heart of the article:

Sir, I would please ask that you correct some misinformation included in this blog. It was made clear at the Christina SD Board of Ed. meeting that the district was consolidating, not simply adding, assessments. Yes, a new assessment will be purchased, but it is replacing two existing assessments which together cost the district more money than will be spent on the new assessment next school year. The district is indeed cutting assessments back in a number of sensible ways, and the district will benefit from cost savings as well as savings in instructional time because of these decisions. Teachers and administrators, like carpenters, need good tools to help them do high quality work. For a district the size of Christina SD, the assessment costs the author quoted are very reasonable.

In the past, districts and charters lave gotten themselves in trouble with misappropriated funds in the wrong bucket.  For example, last year Capital School District was warned by the State Auditor’s office they can’t use a Superintendent’s discretionary fund to help pay for band field trips.  That is just one of countless examples where districts did the wrong thing.  Intent plays a big part in that.  Was it an honest mistake or done on purpose?  In the case of some charter schools in Delaware in the past few years, taking school funds and using them for personal use is a big no-no.  But this hasn’t just happened in charters, but also public school districts as well.  But charters are held under more scrutiny than traditional school districts so it could be easier to find.  But by the same token, some of the charter employees who did abuse these funds had not been involved in public education to the extent others in traditional school districts have and were not as well-versed with the law.  This does not excuse their actions.  In fact, it makes the problem more acute and laws should reflect this troubling aspect.

As I learn more about district and charter funding, I am also looking towards the future in regards to corporate interference in education.  Out of the funds schools do receive, what funds are being wasted on assessment and useless programs?  How much is going towards outside vendors who have limited experience in an actual classroom but come out with reports that are utilized by those who support these agendas?  Are districts and charters riding the latest wave that has no factual research to back up the effectiveness of these programs, such as personalized learning in a digital environment?  Are funds being allocated based on the Smarter Balanced Assessment and how to increase scores while keeping bloated classroom sizes and not addressing the true needs of students?  These are the things that matter to me.  So when I see librarian positions not being restored (as of now), I have a major beef with that.  That is happening right now, in Christina.  If I am made aware of similar situations playing out in other districts, I will call them out on it.  Which is something, based on this current situation, I am going to be looking for.

Christina has a pocket of folks who do not enjoy any controversy based on decisions made coming out of that pocket, in my opinion.  And when they are called out on it, the fingers point to those casting the blame and not addressing the real issue.  This has landed me in a tough spot with the district in the past and in the present.  If information is not readily transparent, I go by what I do know.  And yes, I am opinionated and I am quick to reach judgment based on what I know, or believe I know.  I’m not denying this.  There are also other factors that play into how I write articles, such as sidebar conversations or issues I am unable to write about to protect others.  But those aspects definitely influence my opinion.  Do I get everything right?  Nope.  I’ll be the first to admit that, and when I don’t, I’ll fix it or write a follow-article.  But if you come on here and comment that I am wrong without explaining how I’m wrong, that I can’t do anything about.  I was accused of starting fires and then saying “I didn’t know” and trying to back out of my original post under that excuse.  Sure, that happens.  I write based on what information I do know and go from there.  Do I always seek clarification from other parties?  I don’t.  Here’s why: I am not a mainstream journalist.  I am a blogger.  The journalistic etiquette for mainstream journalism does not apply to bloggers.  Do I go for the “shock and awe” at times?  Absolutely.  And sometimes I just don’t feel like reaching out will serve a purpose.  All too often, I get no response, I’m attacked, or I get bad information.  That happens more often than not.  As well, the person who accused me of this, I have reached out to in the past over certain things but lately I had not been getting much response.  Until I posted about this latest librarian thing.

This is one of the reasons I admire and respect Christina board member John Young so much.  He is constantly attacked for attacking, or the perception of attacking.  John and I are very much alike in that aspect.  But it gets people talking and I would say it brings more transparency to issues facing public education.  The more people talk about education, the better.  We live in a state where a certain group of people tend to make ALL the decisions and that isn’t good for kids.  Period.  End of story.  If I can shock people out of an education awareness slumber, I certainly will.  This is how John operates, it is how Kilroy operates, and it is how Kavips operates.  It is the heart of Delaware education bloggers mindset, especially those who fight against the insane practices of the Delaware DOE and Governor Markell.  Most of the information we post (or used to in John’s case) is not information that is picked up on by the News Journal or other media outlets.  I don’t believe John’s goal, or my goal, is to intentionally divide, but to bring light to situations people may not be aware of.  But we are attacked for attacking.  If we don’t do these things, how the hell are people going to know these things?  Could we be more temperate in how we do this?  Sure, but would folks listen?  I can say I have defended Christina much more than I have “attacked” them, as some have said.

My intention is not to make things up in order to start a fire.  Unless it is one of my “fan fiction” posts, which are easily recognizable (such as Markell, Herdman, Godowsky, Jaques and Sokola going on a midnight horse ride in Dover), I am basing my information on something real.  If there is more information along the way, it’s going to come out.  If not from me, than in the comments or somewhere else.  Without going into a lot of details, there are some VERY strange things that go on behind the scenes with blogging.  Eventually, all truths are known or they are buried forever.

Updated, 9:32pm: This article has been updated to reflect the discussion about the assessments the district purchased.  I previously wrote these were more assessments, when the reality is they were to replace two other assessments to save instructional time and the district money.  While this is certainly a good thing, it does not change my issues with the librarian issue.

 

Robo-Call This First State Liberty: Christina School District Wins Referendum!

As I watched the vote tallies coming in for the past hour, it looked like the “against” side was going to win the day. But as more schools reported numbers, the gap narrowed until the “for” side jumped ahead. And it kept staying that way. With over 13,000 voters, this referendum certainly came down to the finish line. It would be very hard to say what factored into the votes. Governor Markell’s video support or First State Liberty’s shady antics most likely swayed some voters either way. But at the end of the day, I would like to think it was concerned citizens voting for students that caused the victory. With an unofficial 6,770 for and 6,625 against, it came down to about 150 votes.

I would like to thank all those who voted yes. For those who voted no… I understand some of your motivations. But others, I will never be able to fathom. I’m talking to you FIRST STATE LIBERTY. Yeah, we know, you guys were just the front people for someone, but some of your tactics were a bit underhanded and we both know it. Don’t try denying it.

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Flip This Bob A! Joining BRINC & Spending Tons Of Money While Laying Off Teachers Sends The Wrong Message

For a school district that laid off 99 teachers over the summer to enter into the BRINC Consortium and sign contracts with companies like Modern Teacher prior to going to a referendum is not the smartest of ideas.  With that being said, this is exactly what Acting Superintendent Bob Andrzejewski is looking to do.  The Christina School District Board of Education released the agenda for their meeting a week from today.  On the Consent Agenda is this:

Contract Services: BRINC Consortium/Modern Teacher

When a district signs a contract, it isn’t free.  It costs money.  Christina lost their last two referendum attempts earlier this year.  They will assuredly attempt a third one at some point in 2016.  This is not the time for Christina to start signing personalized learning or professional development contracts based on that personalized learning with outside companies.  The last time I went to a Christina board meeting in August, there was talk concerning how the district might look in a year.  It wasn’t a pretty picture.  So why on earth would the district even attempt to sign onto this?

Two words: Bob Andrzejewski.  The former Red Clay Superintendent was voted in by the board as the Acting Superintendent after the soon to be resigning Superintendent Freeman Williams went on leave.  The vote was 4-3.  Since he was appointed, “Bob A” (his blog nickname, established long before I joined the scene) has told Christina parents and teachers in town halls he wants the district to join the BRINC consortium.  The original BRINC districts were Brandywine, Indian River, New Castle County Vo-Tech and Colonial.  Last year, Appoquinimink, Caesar Rodney and Red Clay joined the “blended learning” initiative.  The only difference between personalized learning and blended learning is in the details.  They are both based on personalized learning.  Students still get that “personalized” touch, but with blended learning it is like a flipped classroom.

Last month, the United States Department of Education spotlighted the BRINC Consortium in an article.

Blended learning is an approach in which teachers deliver some instruction in traditional ways but also expect students to learn via digital and online media in and outside of class. Students are encouraged to follow a path of their choosing at a pace that is comfortable to them, as long as they meet expectations.

While BRINC is mostly a high school program, it will filter into the lower grades as well.  While I am all for innovation and technology, I don’t think students being guided to do their own thing as long as it fits “expectations” is appropriate.  There is a crystal clear reason why teachers and even college professors teach specific subjects.  They have been trained to do so (in most cases) and feel they can deliver that knowledge to the classroom.  I don’t think a “flipped classroom” is going to be effective in the long-term.  I definitely don’t think a “flipped classroom” with Common Core standardized assessment material embedded into a personalized learning environment to create a competency-based education experience is going to advance the proficiency on the Smarter Balanced Assessment either.

As a result of this partnership, the Delaware Department of Education recently selected Schoology’s learning management system to replace its existing system to power online and blended learning for the entire state to shift education from being teacher-driven to student-centered, making active, engaged learners with access to the best, most effective technology.

That is a lot of power in an outside company’s hands.  Where does all that data go?  Schoology offers a cloud system where teachers submit ideas and lesson plans and other teachers pull it out of the cloud and use it.  But what this does is it takes away from that teacher-class relationship.  It turns it into a peer relationship opposed to a teacher-student mentality.  I just don’t agree with that.  Teachers are the adults.  They are not facilitators.  This is just the next education craze, but here is the issue with that.  Nobody is talking about Common Core anymore.  They have grown to accept it.  They are still complaining about the Smarter Balanced Assessment, which is based on the Common Core.  Add personalized learning and competency-based education to the mix, and it is the future version of “Iceberg dead ahead”.  Many see Common Core and competency-based education as mirror opposites.  But Common Core has become embedded into all of it.  And the standardized tests will be as well.  Instead of once a year, they will be cut up into smaller pieces, all brought to Delaware by Schoology.  And since teachers have to keep up with all these changes, in comes Modern Teacher to save the day.  More professional development brought to us by Education Inc.

Back to “Bob A”.  I believe he is part of the Rodel/Vision/University of Delaware crowd.  The ones who are pushing all of this personalized learning and have been for a couple years now.  Even some of the BRINC Superintendents are a part of this crowd as well: Mark Holodick (Brandywine) and Susan Bunting (Indian River) are both part of the Rodel crowd now, and they are on the inner circle of the Vision Coalition.  But guess what, no matter what trends or crazes come in education, Common Core is here.  It is a part of all the personalized learning.  The standardized assessments are still here.  It is difficult to move on to the next thing if its foundation is based on a corporate education reform movement that turned Common Core into dirty words. but allow it to not only exist but thrive like never before.  But “Bob A” seems to want Christina to join this next big thing when the district clearly cannot afford it.  I would be hard pressed to meet any of the 99 laid off teachers from Christina who would be happy their jobs were replaced with vendor contracts and education technology to teach the other teachers who weren’t laid off how to sit back and watch students do most of the work.

Modern Teacher is just another in a long, long list of companies that will “transform” education and bring it to the next level.  Yawn…  From their website:

 “We are building a bold, ambitious solution to transform our current model of education by changing the end-user experience for teachers and students. A re-imagined instructional core binds today’s teachers, 21st century students, and digital content options into a personalized learning solution that truly transforms the K-12 classroom experience.”

Some think Andrzejewski will be the force that parts the Red Sea and allows Christina to win their next referendum.  I don’t see that.  I see someone who inserted himself into the district.  Whether that was him individually or if there were unseen hands pushing him there I can’t say.  But if I were the Christina board, I would be very wary of signing contracts with companies while the district could potentially go into receivership in nine months if their referendum doesn’t pass.  I just say more Rodelian and Markellian antics at play here.  Board members for all the districts need to become more involved in the negotiation phases of these contracts.  For far too long, the Superintendents have been the ones calling the shots in many districts.  They get the business and present it to the board.  The board is relying on the word of the Superintendent and their support staff.  The assumption is that the information conveyed to boards is open and honest.  But unless they are getting involved and doing the research into these contracts, I don’t think any board member can safely say they are voting on something that is the best for the students they are elected to oversee.  A Superintendent is appointed by a school board and they become the face of the district.  But a board is the law of the district.

As I read more and more of the Every Student Succeeds Act, I don’t like where all of this is going.  But there are clearly forces out there pushing this on all the schools and districts.  They contact the state non-profits (in Delaware’s case that would be Rodel) who then push it on the state Department of Education, and next thing you know, things like BRINC happen and spread.  There is a ton of money in education technology.  BRINC is not free, because students and teachers will pay the price.  You can attempt to have the board vote for a contract they most likely can’t afford with another education reform company, or you can flip this Bob A!

World War III Erupts In Christina With Hiring Of Andrzejewski As Interim Superintendent

Last night, the Christina School District Board of Education voted 4-3 to hire former Red Clay Superintendent Robert Andrzejewski become the Interim Superintendent.  Last month, Superintendent Freeman Williams left on a leave of absence.  Apparently, allegations are already making the rounds on social media that this was just one board member’s pick.  No interview was held by anyone in the district and a motion was made to vote on Andrzejewski.  Another board member introduced an amendment to this and was pushed to the side.

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