Delaware Senate Passes The Budget Bill 10 Days Before Legislative Session Ends & Paid Parental Leave Up For A Vote

The Delaware Senate just passed the FY2019 budget bill.  With a vote of 19 yes, 1 no, and 1 absent, Senate Bill #235 will go to the Delaware House of Representatives.  This is a far cry from a year ago when the General Assembly didn’t pass the budget until after June 30th.  They wound up passing the budget in a rare continued session which lasted until July 2nd.

The sole no vote belonged to the perennial budget naysayer, State Senator Colin Bonini.  Senator Catherine Cloutier, who has been ill of late, was absent.  I fully anticipate State Rep. John Kowalko attempting to put the charter school transportation slush fund amendment on the bill to end that practice.  This could be the year!  But it would have to go back to the Delaware Senate at that point.

What this also means is no more money is going into the budget unless an amendment specifically says so.  This point actually caused a ruckus last week between Senator Dave Lawson and Senator David Sokola.  The Senate Education Committee did not release the bill.  The main reason was the budget bill was already decided upon but Senator Lawson’s bill would have added $65 million to the FY2019 budget.  It caused both the Senators to put Facebook videos up defending their points of view.

A slew of school safety bills are pending in the General Assembly right now.  Only one, HS1 for House Bill #49, has been sent to Governor Carney.  A House Bill was supposed to be heard in the House Education Committee today with an ask of $10 million for a school safety fund but it was removed due to a Senate bill asking for $15 million.

At this moment, the paid parental leave for state employees legislation, House Bill #3, is about to get a vote in the Delaware Senate.  The Director of the Delaware Association of School Administrators, Tammi Croce, is testifying about teacher shortages in our schools.  Paying for substitutes, she said, would cost more on the local side of education funding on top of paying more on the local share for a teacher’s potential 12 week leave.  She said her organization is opposed to the legislation. Senator Nicole Poore said teachers already take leave to which Croce responded most mothers take about 6-8 weeks while fathers take 1-2 weeks.  Poore said New Jersey offers a paid parental leave similar to this legislation and they don’t suffer the retention issues Delaware faces.  I will update this discussion.  It is rather fascinating.

Senator Sokola supports the bill.  He said this bill could be seen as a recruiting tool to get more teachers in Delaware.  As well, it could inspire more retired teachers to come back to long-term substitute because they would be in the same classroom as opposed to getting shuffled around different classrooms.  Croce invited Sokola to do some long-term subbing to which he said he might since DuPont dropped him three years ago.  Lieutenant Governor Bethany Hall-Long said if they have a spinning wheel in there Sokola would jump at it!

Senator Greg Lavelle, who is a sponsor of the bill, said Croce makes some good points.  He said the bill was introduced on April 5th so why are the school districts just bringing this up in the last 4-5 days?  He said it was an abdication of duty for the school Superintendents to wait this long to oppose the bill.  He said he supports what they are saying but seems offended they waited until now.  In other words, Lavelle is being Lavelle.

Kristen Dwyer with the Delaware State Education Association is testifying right now.  Senator Poore said she understands male teachers are unable to take paternity leave unless they use sick time to which Dwyer said yes.  Dwyer said 76% of their membership are women but most of them are of child-bearing age.  She said many teachers take the 6-8 weeks of paid leave now but many of them have to take more time as unpaid leave.  She expressed how many women many have complicated labors which cause that additional time.  She said new teachers in the first five years of the profession are leaving at a rate of 39%.  She said teachers are looking for benefits just as much as salaries.

Senator Simpson asked if she is concerned about the ability of school districts to hire more substitutes if this legislation passes.  She said the incident of substitute shortages is not because of this bill.  She said she has been in discussion with others to get more pay for long-term subs.  Simpson keeps trying to press the substitute teacher issue.  Dwyer said this bill does not change what has been an ongoing issue with finding substitutes due to the pay involved.

Poore asked Dwyer if her members want this bill.  She said yes.  DSEA represents 13,000 educators and this bill represents a class of that total.  Poore said 446 births a year are attributed to teachers.  Senator Hocker said this would be about 110-120 births each quarter of the year.  Simpson said he has gotten letters from teachers in DSEA who do not support the bill.  She said she has not but she has heard of teachers who would have not received this benefit since they are past child-bearing age.

Senator Simpson said he can’t support the bill.  Senators Marshall and Sokola asked to be co-sponsors on the bill.  Simpson asked what effect this could have on private employers.  He said it might impact families who decide not to come to Delaware.  Editor’s note: this guy will find any reason not to support this bill!  Now he is bringing up how the Department of Corrections has been experiencing shortages for years.  He feels as though this will add to that shortage.

Senator Poore is giving statistics about how Chase gives 16 weeks of paid parental leave and Bank Of America gives 18 weeks.  She said this is one way to invest in the next generation.  She feels this is to incentivize teachers to stay in the profession.  Senator Simpson asked what non-banks are giving?  Poore didn’t know.

Simpson introduced an amendment to reduce the time from 12 weeks to 6 weeks.  He said it is a “reasonable compromise”.  Roll call on the amendment: 5 yes, 15 no, 1 absent.  Amendment failed the Senate.

Now he is introducing Senate Amendment #2 which adds a three-year sunset to the bill.  He feels the bill is a “grave” mistake.  Roll call- 7 yes, 13 no, 1 absent.  Amendment failed the Senate.

Roll call on the bill.  Wait, Lavelle wants to talk again.  Said he supports the bill.  He said paraprofessionals are a part of the IEP, which his son has.  He said his wife as well as Senator Poore are fighters for IEPs.  Senator DelCollo supports the bill as well.  Senator Walsh said companies don’t have 39% attrition.  Said he supports the bill to support his union brothers and sisters in Delaware.  Wants to be added as a co-sponsor.  Hansen, co-sponsor as well.  Rose Henry, wants to be co-sponsor.

Everyone is calling for the roll on the bill- 16 yes, 4 no, 1 absent.  Bill passes!

Newark Charter School’s Greg Meece On What NCS Is Doing For School Safety

A few days ago I put up a post about an alleged lack of intruder drills at Newark Charter School.  A few parents approached me and were very concerned.  Many denied the school never conducted these drills.  As such, I will be checking with schools in the future when parents come to me about these type of things.

Greg Meece from NCS issued a letter to parents about what both locations of Newark Charter have done to promote school safety:

Dear NCS Community:
Like all of you, I was deeply saddened to watch the news last week and see another tragic school shooting.  Our hearts go out to the community of that Florida high school for such a senseless and devastating loss of life.  As we grieve for the families of the students and teachers who lost their lives, we begin to think about the safety of our own school community.  I thought it would be comforting to share with you some of the things we at Newark Charter School have done, and will continue to do, to provide the best safety and security we can.
Our school has been fully compliant with the Comprehensive School Safety Omnibus Safety Act since its inception.  We are proud that we recently received a special award from the Department of Homeland Security to recognize our school being in 100% compliance with Delaware’s Omnibus School Safety Act. To be compliant, schools are required to:
  • Have a Comprehensive School Safety Plan (CCSP) that aligns with the Delaware Department of Homeland Security requirements;
  • The school’s CCSP, including rally points, building plans and other campus-specific information  is maintained on a secured server (Emergency Response Information Portal) that can be accessed by first responders;
  • We conduct monthly drills including but not limited to: fire dills/heightened security drills/bus evacuation drills, etc.;
  • We conduct at least two intruder/lockdown drills each school year;
  • We conduct at least two table top exercises (walk-through of Emergency Action Plans) each School Year).
We have upgraded our facilities and resources to protect our students.  For example, we reinforced key windows and doors, making them more resilient to forced entry and, in some cases, making them shatter-proof if hit by bullets.
We established a single point of entry in each of our three buildings, including lock-out systems that require either a school security badge (which all staff members are required to display at all times) or having an office staff member permit entrance to the school hallways by activating the door lock buzzer system.  This, of course, is only after proper identification is given or when we know the visitor and their purpose.  Visitors, then, receive badges as well.
We installed cameras in main entrances to monitor those entering and leaving.  We are currently adding approximately a dozen internal cameras as well.
This year, we marked all the outside classroom and office windows of our schools with numbers corresponding to the room numbers.  This is designed to aid first responders when they arrive on campus.
There has been an effort to pass legislation in Delaware that would require classroom door locks at the state’s public schools to be lockable from both inside and outside the room.  All Newark Charter School classroom already meet this goal.
All administrators, custodians, secretaries, counselors and other key staff members carry two-way radios.
We have a great partnership with the local police force.  For example, we allow the Newark Police Department SWAT team as well as State of Delaware law enforcement to use our buildings and grounds for their drills and trainings.  For many years, Newark Charter School has been used for police K-9 trainings at night.  Recently, we contracted with the City of Newark Police Department to provide ALICE training.
ALICE training has been used locally, including in Cecil County School District, with great results. The ALICE instructors provide interested businesses, schools, churches, etc., with active shooter/threat response training. Newark Charter School was able to help underwrite the costs associated with training the Newark Police Department officers so that they, in turn, can provide ALICE training to our school and to others as often as necessary.
We meet with our staff at the beginning of each year to go over our safety plans and to make sure everyone knows what to do.  Our students are amazing about knowing and practicing what to do.  I can’t rave enough about how smoothly they make our drills work.
Recently, we had a representative from Sandy Hook Promise present the “Start with Hello” and “Say Something” programs to our students. Both of these age-appropriate programs provide strategies for students to recognize and assist students who may be struggling as another strategy for preventing school violence. This compliments our long-standing anti-bullying efforts.
I wish I could push a magic button to make school violence no more, but the reality is that we have to work together and to be open to change when it is necessary.  I hope our nation’s leaders listen to our families and to the students.  The recent Florida incident requires that we continue to evaluate and update our plans and practices.  It requires time and resources, but I know you agree with me when I say that the safety and security of our students and staff is priority number one.

Sincerely,

Greg Meece
School Director

Thank you Greg Meece for getting this information out.  When it comes to school safety, there should be NO restrictions on keeping children safe.  I’m glad your schools are doing all they can.

16 Who Defined 2016: Amy Joyner-Francis

amy-joyner-francis

April 21st was a very dark day for Delaware.  Amy Joyner-Francis was beaten in a bathroom at Howard Technical High School in Wilmington leading to her death shortly after.  Delaware didn’t have a death like this in one of our schools since 1973.  For weeks, Delaware citizens felt the impact of Amy’s death.

What happened to Amy that day led to much-needed discussion about school safety and climate in The First State.  The perpetrators of the incident, Trinity Carr, Zion Snow, and Chakeira Wright faced criminal charges.  Snow and Wright were charged as conspirators while primary charges were filed against Carr but a judge ruled she would be tried as a juvenile.  The trial will take place in April 2017.  Many Delaware citizens felt the charges against Carr should have been bigger.  At a maximum, if found guilty of criminally negligent homicide, Carr, 16, would face community service and therapy until the age of 19.

The cause of death ruled by the medical examiner kicked off controversy.  The examiner ruled that Amy had a pre-existing heart condition which led to her death, not the severe beating she received from Carr.  Many in the field disputed these findings.

The most disturbing part about Amy’s death was the fact that many students watched this go down in a high school bathroom and did nothing.  By the time a teacher got there, it was too late for Amy.  Not touched on by major media was the fact that school monitors did not respond to the situation fast enough (if at all) and that most teachers were involved in a training class at the time of the incident.  Governor Markell issued a brief response to the murder as he went on his “Common Core Tour” at a Delaware school far away from the crime.  The New Castle County Vo-Tech School District held a press conference hours after the death proclaiming that their schools were safe.

In the first week of the incident, conflicting reports about what happened flooded online media, including this blog.  Debates over what happened, and some tried to profit off Amy’s death.  As her family and friends struggled to deal with her death, the media onslaught continued.  News quickly came out that the beating was filmed by students along with pictures taken on cell phones.  An entire state grieved for Amy.  For Amy, her life was tragically cut short in an environment where this should have never happened.  Over seven months later, her death still makes no sense…

I ask that all continue to pray for Amy’s family and friends as they face the holidays, especially her parents.  No parent should outlive their child and it is a weight that will never leave them.