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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But there are other bills on the agenda as well:

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

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

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

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

Governor Markell Infects WEIC Sunshine With Secret Meeting & Steps Over Legislative Authority

As announced by Newsworks and the News Journal last week, Governor Markell stepped into the battle between the Wilmington Education Improvement Commission and the Delaware State Board of Education.  What he also did was change the context of the legislation as written in Senate Bill 122.  By “brokering a deal”, he has effectively eliminated the transparency part of the whole redistricting initiative.  From Senate Bill 122, signed by Governor Markell on 8/4/15:

(4) The State Board shall base its decision to change or alter school district boundaries on a record developed in compliance with state open meeting laws.

Governor Markell did not let the public attend this meeting.  Furthermore, by not allowing all 23 members of WEIC to attend this meeting, and only four members, three of which were the chair and two co-chairs, they did not have the authority without a vote to even attend meetings like this.  So much for the transparency promised by WEIC!  This isn’t the first time members have operated in secret meetings that weren’t announced until afterwards.  The first involved the Colonial School District when they announced they would not send their students to Red Clay Consolidated School District after their board voted not to.

Does the Governor have the authority to usurp a law he signed?  I looked in Delaware’s Constitution and state code and couldn’t find anything directly referencing this.  I sent an email to many of the individuals involved along with the attorney(s) for Governor Markell’s office, the Delaware State Board of Education, and the Wilmington Education Improvement Commission.  I received one response which I will talk about after I show the email I sent.

From: Kevin Ohlandt <kevino3670@yahoo.com>

To: “cbifferato@bifferato.com” <cbifferato@bifferato.com>; “tdriscoll@bifferato.com” <tdriscoll@bifferato.com>; Tony Allen <tonyallen@comcast.net>; jack.markell@state.de.us; “mike.barlow@state.de.us” <mike.barlow@state.de.us>; Gray Teri <teri.gray@sbe.k12.de.us>; Donna Johnson <donna.johnson@sbe.k12.de.us>; “meredith.tweedie@state.de.us” <meredith.tweedie@state.de.us>; Hickey Catherine T. (DOJ) <cathreine.hickey@state.de.us>; Denn Matthew (DOJ) <matthew.denn@state.de.us>

Sent: Thursday, March 10, 2016 3:26 PM

Subject: Governor’s Meeting With WEIC & State Board

Good afternoon all,

 

I’m working on an article about the WEIC/State Board/Governor’s Office meeting that took place on 3/3/16 for Exceptional Delaware.  I have several concerns regarding the transparency around this meeting and I was hoping some or all of you could clarify some of my concerns. 

1) House Bill 148 states (c)  Meetings of the WEIC and all WEIC committees shall be public, unless designated for executive session.  Voting membership in WEIC shall be limited to subsection (a) of this section.

Would the meeting that took place on 3/3/16 count as a WEIC meeting?  If they were able to discuss the WEIC plan in any way without public notice, could that not be considered a FOIA violation by not posting an agenda for this meeting?  If this was considered an executive meeting of the WEIC executive committee aren’t they still beholden to Delaware open meeting law?  Does WEIC even have an executive committee since it is not publicly listed on their website at http://solutionsfordelawareschools.com/?

2) Senate Bill 122 states (4)  The State Board shall base its decision to change or alter school district boundaries on a record developed in compliance with state open meetings laws. 

Since the language is now changing again in the final report, without the ability of the public to observe this process and allow for public comment based on the 3/3/16 meeting, and there was no public notification of this meeting seven days prior to the meeting, did this meeting legally happen?  Furthermore, are the State Board, WEIC, and the Governor’s office all in violation of FOIA by even having this meeting?

3) What legal authority does the Governor have for suggesting changes to a “final plan” based on the law in Senate Bill 122 which was signed by him on 8/4/15?

4) Does the Governor have the authority to step over legislative authority and intervene in a plan that does not include the Governor or any of his staff as part of the membership of WEIC and not have that meeting be open to the public?

5) HB148 limits WEIC to 21 members, yet there are 23 members on the commission which is in violation of the signed law.  Furthermore, each member shall have full voting rights but they were not given an option to take action on participating in, as a collective body or in part, the is meeting on 3/3/16, nor were they given an option to publicly vote on this action.

While I support the WEIC plan after months of hemming and hawing over the whole thing, I just want to make sure someone couldn’t open the door to a legal challenge down the road.  I know a lot of things happen in Delaware behind closed doors, which is not something that matches with the Governor’s public statement that “Sunshine is the best disinfectant.  Transparency and accountability of government is essential.”  The law is the law.  We have them for a reason. 

I fully understand the very tight timetable involved with this action and I also agree with the WEIC vote to send the original plan back to the State Board of Education.  Furthermore, I don’t feel the State Board’s bungling of the final plan helped anything involved with this matter and got us to the point we are at now.  But we cannot, and should not, as a state, have any meetings in the dark without public knowledge.  This is one of the core reasons Delaware received a failing grade in a recent and national state transparency rating.

There is no reason the Governor couldn’t have made this letter public and WEIC could have then called for a meeting with a full agenda published prior.  Yes, they have done so to take action from this non-public meeting. Existing law does allow for an agenda to be published within hours of a meeting if an emergency exists, and this could very well be seen as an emergency, so WEIC is not in violation of their agenda for the 3/14/16 meeting.  But no agenda was given at all for a closed-door meeting which violates the letter of the law.

I did attempt to look for parts of this in Delaware State Code regarding the authority of the Governor with situations like this and I was unable to find them.  It doesn’t mean they don’t exist, but I couldn’t find it.  I would rather have the facts in a situation like this.

 

I await your response on these concerns.

Respectfully,

Kevin Ohlandt

 

The only person from this entire list who responded back was Tony Allen.  He indicated he would follow-up with me the next day (he didn’t).  That was last Thursday afternoon.  As well, he advised me this was not a commission meeting.  Whether he thinks that or not, Governor Markell referred to it as a meeting with WEIC on a video from the News Journal:

http://www.delawareonline.com/story/news/education/2016/03/10/markell-redistricting/81582788/

So if the Governor, who arranged the meeting, is calling it a meeting with WEIC, I would say that is most definitely a WEIC meeting.  Delaware… the home of people thinking one thing and a whole other thing going on behind closed doors…

To read the letter Tony Allen sent the WEIC members AFTER THE FACT, read below.  Meanwhile, WEIC will “officially” meet tonight to decide on the secret meeting resolution.  The State Board of Education has their third (fourth if you want to be technical) on the WEIC redistricting plan on Thursday.

WEIC: What Happens Next & Separating Truth And Rumors

Yesterday, the State Board approved the WEIC plan with certain conditions.  What is real and what isn’t from this whole process?  This article has the answers to questions on the minds of many this morning.  Earlier today, Wilmington Education Improvement Commission Chair Tony Allen sent a message to the members with their next step:

Yesterday, The Delaware State Board of Education voted to approve Wilmington Education Improvement Commission’s Redistricting Plan with two conditions, http://delawarepublic.org/…/state-board-ed-narrowly-approve…

• The Christina Priority Schools plan be approved the Delaware Department of Education

• The Commission change the word “shall” to “may” in item #2 of the Redistricting Resolution of our plan; this is the item that outlines a suspension of the timetable if the “necessary and sufficient resources” are not provided to move forward with implementing the plan.

While today’s approval comes with conditions, the Commission remains resolute in our commitment to our objectives and to our plan for meeting those objectives. In that spirit, I will be calling an emergency meeting of the Commission next week to discuss the conditional approval and determine our path forward. As is our normal practice, that meeting will be open to the pubic and include public comment.

On a parallel track, this morning, the University of Delaware announced the UD Partnership for Public Education and the Fund for Urban Education. These are two more examples of the catalytic nature of the Commission’s efforts and a great show of support from Delaware’s flagship institution, http://www.udel.edu/udaily/2016/feb/partnership021816.html

– Tony

This is where things are going to get very tricky.  It is now incumbent on the school districts, mainly Red Clay and Christina, to decide if they even want to move forward without the guaranteed funding.  While the funding could certainly be there if the Delaware General Assembly adds a few tweaks to the Governor’s budget, the simple changing of the word “shall” to “may” changes the whole ballgame.

I am very interested in this new initiative of the University of Delaware.  Tony Allen, along with another alumnus, donated $100,000 to create this entity.

In terms of violations by the State Board of Education yesterday, many are assuming they had to pass the WEIC redistricting plan in its entirety.  This is not true.  The key to this is in the language of Senate Bill 122:

…the State Board of Education may change or alter the boundaries of school districts in New Castle County in a manner consistent with some or all of the redistricting recommendations made by the Wilmington Education Advisory Committee in the report issued March 31, 2015, provided that the General Assembly passes, and the Governor signs, a Joint Resolution supporting the proposed changes.

I can’t remember who first said it had to be approved as a whole, but everyone seems to have run with that ever since.  Based on the legislation, this is not true.  The addendums added by the State Board are completely within their scope to legally do so.  The key words are some or all which I bolded for emphasis.  However, that does not excuse the obvious other FOIA violations that happened yesterday or the intentional conflict the State Board created yesterday.

By going out of public session with their legal counsel without declaring an Executive Session (which they did in their January board meeting as well), the State Board violated FOIA and public meeting law.  Even worse, they may have further violated the law by allowing someone not on the State Board access to this meeting.  To complicate matters more, any citizen could have followed them into that meeting because it was still in public session.  However, the State Board denied a citizen’s right to do this by barring entrance with a locked door into the area they met.  You need a key card to go from the Cabinet room to the State Board offices.  So they intentionally blocked a citizen from being able to do this.  When the State Board came out of this illegal closed-door session, Tony Allen came out with them along with Secretary Godowsky.  I think Tony Allen, at the least, needs to publicly say, to the best of his recollection, exactly what transpired in this meeting.

What does Delaware state code say about this?

(a) Every meeting of all public bodies shall be open to the public except those closed pursuant to subsections (b), (c), (d) and (h) of this section.

(b) A public body may call for an executive session closed to the public pursuant to subsections (c) and (e) of this section, but only for the following purposes:

(1) Discussion of an individual citizen’s qualifications to hold a job or pursue training unless the citizen requests that such a meeting be open. This provision shall not apply to the discussion by a licensing board or commission which is subject to the provisions of § 8735 of this title, of an individual citizen’s qualifications to pursue any profession or occupation for which a license must be issued by the public body in accordance with Delaware law;

(2) Preliminary discussions on site acquisitions for any publicly funded capital improvements, or sales or leases of real property;

(3) Activities of any law-enforcement agency in its efforts to collect information leading to criminal apprehension;

(4) Strategy sessions, including those involving legal advice or opinion from an attorney-at-law, with respect to collective bargaining or pending or potential litigation, but only when an open meeting would have an adverse effect on the bargaining or litigation position of the public body;

(5) Discussions which would disclose the identity of the contributor of a bona fide and lawful charitable contribution to the public body whenever public anonymity has been requested of the public body with respect to said contribution by the contributor;

(6) Discussion of the content of documents, excluded from the definition of “public record” in § 10002 of this title where such discussion may disclose the contents of such documents;

(7) The hearing of student disciplinary cases unless the student requests a public hearing;

(8) The hearing of employee disciplinary or dismissal cases unless the employee requests a public hearing;

(9) Personnel matters in which the names, competency and abilities of individual employees or students are discussed, unless the employee or student requests that such a meeting be open.

(c) A public body may hold an executive session closed to the public upon affirmative vote of a majority of members present at a meeting of the public body. The vote on the question of holding an executive session shall take place at a meeting of the public body which shall be open to the public, and the results of the vote shall be made public and shall be recorded in the minutes. The purpose of such executive sessions shall be set forth in the agenda and shall be limited to the purposes listed in subsection (b) of this section. Executive sessions may be held only for the discussion of public business, and all voting on public business must take place at a public meeting and the results of the vote made public.

(d) This section shall not prohibit the removal of any person from a public meeting who is willfully and seriously disruptive of the conduct of such meeting.

(e)(1) This subsection concerning notice of meetings shall not apply to any emergency meeting which is necessary for the immediate preservation of the public peace, health or safety, or to the General Assembly.

(2) All public bodies shall give public notice of their regular meetings and of their intent to hold an executive session closed to the public, at least 7 days in advance thereof. The notice shall include the agenda, if such has been determined at the time, and the dates, times and places of such meetings, including whether such meeting will be conducted by video-conferencing; however, the agenda shall be subject to change to include additional items including executive sessions or the deletion of items including executive sessions which arise at the time of the public body’s meeting.

(3) All public bodies shall give public notice of the type set forth in paragraph (e)(2) of this section of any special or rescheduled meeting as soon as reasonably possible, but in any event no later than 24 hours before such meeting. A special or rescheduled meeting shall be defined as one to be held less than 7 days after the scheduling decision is made. The public notice of a special or rescheduled meeting shall include an explanation as to why the notice required by paragraph (e)(2) of this section could not be given.

(4) Public notice required by this subsection shall include, but not be limited to, conspicuous posting of said notice at the principal office of the public body holding the meeting, or if no such office exists at the place where meetings of the public body are regularly held, and making a reasonable number of such notices available. In addition, for all noncounty and nonmunicipal public bodies, public notice required by this subsection shall include, but not be limited to, electronic posting on a designated State of Delaware website, approved by the Registrar of Regulations by May 1, 2013, which shall be accessible to the public. In addition, all public bodies in the executive branch of state government that are subject to the provisions of this chapter shall electronically post said notice to the designated State of Delaware website approved by the Secretary of State.

(5) When the agenda is not available as of the time of the initial posting of the public notice it shall be added to the notice at least 6 hours in advance of said meeting, and the reasons for the delay in posting shall be briefly set forth on the agenda.

(f) Each public body shall maintain minutes of all meetings, including executive sessions, conducted pursuant to this section, and shall make such minutes available for public inspection and copying as a public record. Such minutes shall include a record of those members present and a record, by individual members (except where the public body is a town assembly where all citizens are entitled to vote), of each vote taken and action agreed upon. Such minutes or portions thereof, and any public records pertaining to executive sessions conducted pursuant to this section, may be withheld from public disclosure so long as public disclosure would defeat the lawful purpose for the executive session, but no longer. All public bodies in the executive branch of state government that are subject to the provisions of this chapter and meet 4 or fewer times per year shall electronically post draft minutes of open public meetings, identified as “draft minutes,” to the designated State website approved by the Secretary of State within 20 working days after the conclusion of the meeting. Prior to being posted, draft minutes may be distributed to members of the public body who were present at the open public meeting. Draft minutes may continue to be revised and corrected up until final minutes are approved by the public body at an open meeting. All public bodies in the executive branch of state government that are subject to the provisions of this chapter shall electronically post final approved minutes of open public meetings to the designated State of Delaware website approved by the Secretary of State within 5 working days of final approval of said minutes.

(g) Every regularly scheduled meeting of a public body shall be held within the geographic jurisdiction of that public body. All such other meetings shall be held as follows:

(1) A public body serving any political subdivision of the State, including, but not limited to, any city, town or school district, shall hold all such other meetings within its jurisdiction or the county in which its principal office is located, unless it is school board training that has been approved by the Secretary of Education as beneficial to school board development activities.

(2) For the purposes of this subsection, a “regularly scheduled meeting” shall mean any meeting of a public body held on a periodic basis.

(3) The provisions of this subsection, insofar as they are not practicable, shall not apply to any emergency meeting which is necessary for the immediate preservation of the public peace, health or safety, or to a meeting held by a public body outside of its jurisdiction which is necessary for the immediate preservation of the public financial welfare.

(h) This section shall not apply to the proceedings of:

(1) Grand juries;

(2) Petit juries;

(3) Special juries;

(4) The deliberations of any court;

(5) The Board of Pardons and Parole;

(6) Public bodies having only 1 member;

(7) Public bodies within the legislative branch of the state government other than the House of Representatives, the Senate, the Joint Finance Committee, the Joint Committee on Capital Improvement, the Joint Sunset Committee, Legislative Council, committees, excluding ethics committees, specifically enumerated and created by Resolution of the House of Representatives and/or Senate or task forces specifically enumerated and created by Resolution of the House of Representatives and/or Senate;

The question here becomes if the State Board of Education is considered part of the legislative branch of the state government.  They do vote on regulations but I do not believe they are considered a legislative body.  The State Board did not call for an executive session yesterday and even if they didn’t, the board did not vote to convene with counsel.  This was not a collective bargaining situation nor was it pending litigation.  I’m sure the State Board will come up with some lame excuse for why they did this but I would strongly urge the Delaware Attorney General’s office to do more than a “don’t do it again” slap on the wrist.  This is two months in a row they have done this.

Many have asked where the “shall” that was changed by the State Board to “may” actually happens.  This can be found in the WEIC Addendum dated 2/11/16.

Shall

Basically, the State Board doesn’t want to stop the whole redistricting process if the funds aren’t available.  They obviously want improved educational outcomes (based on standardized high-stakes testing scores).  In essence, they don’t want to be the bad guy if funding snafus comes up and have the finger pointed at them if it all went down in flames based on funding or lack thereof.  The question now becomes if the State Board actually found a way to dance around the funding issue.  WEIC will assuredly consult with the affected districts and may very well come back and say “It’s over.”  The State Board could say “Well, we changed the word to ‘may’ so we aren’t bound by that so we are going to move forward.”  But now it is an unfunded mandate.  If the plan does pass the General Assembly and is signed by Governor Markell and funding stops from the state budget, the local districts would be on the hook to fund this initiative.  Christina and Red Clay can not afford that.  The State Board found a way to further weaken traditional school districts and further evaporate their finances.  They set themselves up in their own trap.  Granted, they could not do this until June 30th of this year, because that would be the completion of the approval stage and they can’t suspend the timetable until it reaches the conclusion of that stage.  From page 10 of the official redistricting plan.

shall2

As for the Christina priority school plans, their board did submit these to Secretary Godowsky a few months ago.  These are the same plans the district drew up last year as part of the brokered agreement between the Governor’s office and Christina based on the WEAC recommendations.  But in an article with the News Journal, Godowsky did not gave a 100% guarantee these plans would be approved:

The first condition attached is that the Department of Education approve a plan to provide extra resources to Christina School District.  That plan came out of the clash over priority schools in early 2015, and Secretary of Education Stephen Godowsky said he was optimistic it would be approved.

Godowsky was also optimistic the harsh participation rate penalties would not be included in the Delaware School Success Framework and two weeks later they were after he did a complete turnaround on his earlier announcement to the press.  It is my opinion Godowsky likes to soothe the moment and say what he thinks people want to hear but when the directive comes down from his boss, he is forced to change his stance.

While the whole redistricting plan has many moving parts, the State Board complicated matters even more yesterday.  Whether you agree or not with the plan, the onus was on the State Board to do the right thing.  They clearly did not and instead played political games and toyed with wording in a way that gives them a quick exit without looking like the bad guys.  However, there was a lot of media there and they came across looking like complete and utter idiots in my opinion.  With the exception of board members Dr. Terri Whittaker and Jorge Melendez, I have to wonder why we even need this State Board of Education in its current line-up.  They are not publicly elected and they cause more harm than good.

 

 

 

State Board Of Education’s Statement On Action For WEIC Plan Ignores The Fact They Took No Action

Animals___Monkeys____Monkey_sitting_on_a_fence_059395_

Gotta love the Delaware State Board of Education.  Only they are arrogant enough to consider their “not an approval or a denial” of the Wilmington Education Improvement Commission redistricting plan an action.  Don’t believe me?  It’s on their own website: Statement from the State Board of Education with regard to action taken on the WEIC plan – January, 21, 2016.  And yes, they did put a comma after January.  For a group that takes action all the time (usually to the detriment of public education), why are they now sitting on the fence?

The State Board is now in violation of the law as dictated by Senate Bill 122.  I wrote about how they were in danger of breaking the law last Friday.  As of today, there is no notice of a public meeting by January 31st on the Delaware Public Meeting Calendar.  The State Board, by not taking action on the WEIC plan, has failed to give WEIC the sixty day window to make improvements in the plan.  What happens if they vote no at their March board meeting?  They have to vote by this coming Sunday, but without putting an agenda up for a meeting a week prior, they can’t have a meeting without violating Delaware State Code in regards to public meetings.  Meanwhile, State Rep. Kim Williams found some other potential violations that went on at last week’s State Board meeting.

Who watches the Watchmen?  In Delaware, in terms of the State Board of Education acting (or not acting in this case) without impunity, it seems nobody does…

To read their official statement on their action inaction taken at last week’s State Board meeting with WEIC, read below:

Did The State Board Of Education Break The Law By Not Voting On The WEIC Redistricting Plan?

Hourglass

If the State Board does not approve the plan as submitted by the Wilmington Education Improvement Commission, it shall notify the chairperson of the Commission in writing, give reasons why the plan was not approved, and allow the Commission to resubmit the plan within 60 days of the chairperson receiving the notice of denial. -Senate Bill 122, 148th General Assembly

Yesterday, the Delaware State Board of Education declined to even vote on the Wilmington Education Improvement Commission redistricting final plan.  By doing so, they may have violated the letter of the law determined by Senate Bill 122.  They voted unanimously to amend their motion to vote on the plan and kicked the plan back to WEIC.  They are going to draft their questions and concerns and will present this to WEIC prior to the end of January.  The problem with the law comes when they DO vote on the plan.  If it is after January 31st, they have violated the sixty day window for a response from WEIC if they deny the plan because they have to act on it by March 31st, 2016.  The Delaware State Board of Education clearly doesn’t understand the legal process for this plan, even though the Delaware Department of Education has three Deputy Attorney Generals from the Delaware Department of Justice.

They are not sending a letter of denial, they are sending a letter addressing concerns and questions about the plan.  They should have actually voted on the plan as is, and then the sixty day window would have kicked in.  Unless the State Board of Education puts an agenda on the Delaware Public Meeting Calendar seven days prior to a meeting where they will vote on the plan, which would have to be by January 24th, this Sunday, they have violated the law twice: first by not taking action on the plan prior to the sixty-day window, and then by not putting up an agenda for a public meeting seven days prior to the meeting.  WEIC is not obligated in any way whatsoever to honor the State Board of Education’s request for information.  In fact, by allowing the State Board to perform in this illegal fashion, it could land them in violation as well.  The clock is ticking…tick-tock, tick-tock…

16 To Watch In 2016: Tony Allen

Wilmington_Delaware_skyline

Tony Allen wears a lot of hats these days.  First and foremost, he leads the Corporate Communications for Bank of America’s Consumer Banking.  He sits on the Board of Directors at the Rodel Foundation.  But his biggest role in 2015 was the Chairman of both the Wilmington Education Advisory Committee and the Wilmington Education Commission (WEIC).

Unless you’ve been living in a hole, the WEIC’s job is to formulate a redistricting plan to get the Wilmington schools in the Christina School District shifted to Red Clay Consolidated School District.  Originally, the Wilmington schools in the Colonial School District were to be a part of this initiative, but their board said no.  They are still a part of the commission, but the most recent draft isn’t calling for their less than 300 students to move over.

WEIC has been controversial since day one.  Their biggest hurdle will be how to fund this long-term plan.  Ideas have surfaced over the past few months regarding raising property assessments to current day levels over time.  Many in Delaware oppose this, especially those in Sussex County around the beach towns.  Property values have increased dramatically in this area, and any change in property assessments will hit those homeowners very hard.  Recently, WEIC called for $6 million from Delaware’s General Fund in the budget for Fiscal Year 2017.  Delaware Governor Jack Markell promised members of WEIC at their most recent full commission meeting that Red Clay citizens will not have to pay for this.  So who will?  This is the question on everybody’s mind.

WEIC will present their draft to the Delaware State Board of Education on 12/17, next Thursday.  At that point, it is expected the State Board will vote yes on it in January and it will go the Delaware General Assembly for a vote.  This is where WEIC will face its greatest challenge.  With Delaware projected to have anywhere from a $150-$200 million dollar deficit for FY2017, many are guessing WEIC and the redistricting will be dead in the water once it hits the House and Senate floors.

For Tony Allen, he sees this as a “once in a generation” action.  Others feel this is being rushed through for various reasons.  I have always been suspicious of the overall motivations of the redistricting.  Kilroy’s Delaware thinks it is revenge against the Christina School District.  But there is one thing Red Clay has which none of the other districts do: they are a charter school authorizer, the only one of its kind in the state aside from the Delaware Department of Education.

As recently as last summer, Governor Markell was overheard, when asked about where the Wilmington students would go to high school, as saying “The Community Education Building”.  If WEIC is not all it claims to be from its leaders, expect a lot of heat put on Tony Allen and Dan Rich.  There are many who would benefit from Wilmington eventually becoming an all-charter district.  I pray this isn’t the end result.  I sincerely hope this is not the intentions of Tony Allen.  But I often ask if he has been used in this initiative, if he is one of the chief architects, or if the fears of many are just that.

At the end of the day, it should always be about the students.  Will the students of Wilmington truly be better off under one banner so to speak?  This is the question that all decision-makers will face in the coming months.  These children are the most vulnerable of all Delaware’s children.  The bulk of them come from poverty and low-income, are minorities, and many students with disabilities.  They are the ones that matter.  They are trusting the adults are doing the right thing.  If that trust is broken, how many generations will it take for that trust to be restored?

Breaking Exclusive Mammoth News! Newark Charter School Network! Or The Attempt!

My street-level sources found out some huge news today.  Turns out Newark Charter is looking to become a charter dynasty here in little old Delaware.  But one of their attempts didn’t work out quite the way they planned.  Instead of going to a charter leader at another Delaware charter with their recruitment into the Newark Charter Network, they went to one of their assistants instead.  When the charter leader found out, they fired the assistant immediately.  Continue reading

The Draft Plan For Wilmington Redistricting Presented To State Board Of Education Yesterday

As this document put on a public website clearly says,

DRAFT: November 3, 2015, not reviewed in full or approved by Redistricting Committee or the Commission, not for dissemination or distribution

I will note, one more time, this is a draft, not approved yet.  I always have to crack up when I see things put on public websites that say “embargoed” or “not for distribution”.  The very act of putting it on a public website means it is now “out there” on the internet for anyone to see.  Granted, I don’t know how many dive into the agenda for a State Board of Education retreat, but I digress…

Here it is, but don’t stop reading after you finish that one, cause there is more

And once again, we have the same disclaimer on the appendices, which includes Red Clay and Christina’s plans with all of this and tons of funding resources.  The last few sections are blank because they have not happened yet.  Consider this a peak into the future taking place now sort of thing.  A paradox or will we see the same thing brought forward before the State Board of Education on 11/19?

So what is your take?  Will the State Board approve this as it is written now?  Would the General Assembly approve this?  If you had a vote, would you?

Colonial To WEIC: We Don’t Want Our Wilmington Students Going To Red Clay Schools

Our only role at this point is to save those babies from having to attend Red Clay because we’re already doing a great job…we need to prevent these children from going to this district. -Mel Spotts, Colonial Board of Education

I always knew some twist was going to come along in the whole Wilmington redistricting initiative.  Something would happen during the process that would cause people to say “Where the hell did that come from?”  That happened last night at the Colonial School District Board of Education meeting.  To end the suspense, the Colonial board voted 7-0 to keep their Wilmington students.  Let me repeat this, they do not want their Wilmington students leaving their school district and going to the Red Clay Consolidated School District.  Approximately 350 students.  You can listen to the audio recording here.

Unlike Christina and Red Clay, the Colonial board never passed a resolution in favor of the recommendations or findings from the Wilmington Education Advisory Committee.  Existing Delaware law, in addition to the legislation from Senate Bill 122, allows for the bypass of a referendum if the school district boards involved in the redistricting effort passed a resolution in favor of it.  Colonial, in researching their board minutes, never did.  The only involvement with WEAC was a presentation to the school district on 2/23/15, but this was a workshop and just a presentation.

What this means for the whole Wilmington Education Improvement Commission is not known.  This is the monkey wrench thrown into the gears of the entire plan.  In my opinion, Colonial was underestimated and not given the proper attention they should have received.  All of the focus seems to be on Red Clay and Christina.  Colonial seems to be very concerned about the approximate 350 students that would be affected by the redistricting to Red Clay schools.  In their audio recording from their board meeting last night, board member Mel Spotts stated:

I would like to make a motion, based on the data provided, that our students in the Colonial School District stay within our borderlines and are not a part of Wilmington reconfiguration.

The board then passed the motion on a unanimous 7-0 vote to let the Wilmington Education Improvement Commission know they are out of the redistricting process.  What this will do the future of the WEIC/redistricting initiative is going to be a big question in the coming weeks.  But I am fairly certain WEIC Chair Tony Allen and Governor Markell will not be happy about this.  I’m sure the phone calls will be coming fast and furious to Colonial Superintendent Dusty Blakey very soon, if not already.

I’m also hearing implementation of the redistricting, if it even goes through at this point in time, won’t be until 2018.

*To clarify, if the Wilmington redistricting does go through it is understood that Brandywine School District would receive these students which Ms. Spotts understood later on in the WEIC portion of the board meeting.  But the motion still passed.

*As well I reworded the portion with Senate Bill 122 to clarify what is in existing Delaware code prior to SB122 and what came as a result of it.

Delaware Joint Finance Committee To Hold Special Sessions To Discuss Education Funding

The Joint Finance Committee of the Delaware 148th General Assembly will be meeting in special session to discuss education funding in Delaware.  The meetings will occur on November 30th and December 2nd from 10am to 4:30pm in the JFC Hearing Room at Legislative Hall in Dover, DE.

As the Wilmington Education Improvement Commission moves ever closer to final plans for the redistricting of Wilmington public schools, funding is coming up as the number one priority in this initiative.  The legislators on this committee will assuredly discuss this crucial component of the legislative approved measure.  House Bill 148 created WEIC and Senate Bill 122 gives the State Board of Education the authority to change the boundaries after WEIC gives a concrete plan to do so.  Following any decision the State Board makes, the 148th General Assembly must approve the redistricting by a joint resolution.

As Delaware media and the blogosphere ignites over this issue, many questions raised about funding are valid.  This will impact everything concerning education in Delaware at a time when projected deficits will blow up next year.  I find it ironic the JFC can meet in special session to discuss education funding, but not take measures against the DOE over their test, label and punish tactics which could easily be prevented by overriding Governor Markell’s veto of House Bill 50.

The members of the Joint Finance Committee consist of the following:

Rep. Melanie Smith (Chair)

Senator Harris McDowell (Co-Chair)

Rep. William Carson

*Rep. Debra Heffernan

Rep. JJ Johnson

*Rep. Harvey Kenton

*Rep. Joseph Miro

Senator Brian Bushweller

Senator Bruce Ennis

Senator Karen Peterson

Senator Katherine Cloutier

Senator Dave Lawson

*means these members serve on the House Education committee, JFC has NO members from the Senate Education Committee within its membership.

Wilmington Education Improvement Commission First Meeting Notes

I attended the first meeting of the Wilmington Education Improvement Commission this evening.  It was held at the Red Clay Consolidated School District office in Wilmington.  The meeting was very informal, and non-commission members of the audience were able to ask questions outside of the “formal” public comment period.  It was more of a Town Hall atmosphere.

As Kilroy’s Delaware pointed out earlier this evening, this is in sharp contrast to the town hall meeting WEIC had in Red Clay last night, where the comments from the audience were not as reserved at the main meeting tonight.  I strongly encourage all the parents who are attending these town halls to go to the regular meetings.  First off, most of the WEIC members will be there, and two, this is where questions may have answers.  Not that the town halls aren’t important.

Tonight’s meeting did answer some questions of my own.  During my public comment, I asked the members of WEIC why this was going on, the DOE’s Statewide Review of Educational Opportunities (SREO) and the Rodel/Vision Coalition’s Student Success 2025.  I advised they could all start bumping into each other.  Dan Rich, the WEIC Policy Advisor, advised the SREO sprung out of the charter school moratorium legislation, House Bill 56.  He said Governor Markell saw it and ran with it.  For the Rodel thing, he stated there group is more for actual education in the classroom as opposed to redistricting and funding our schools.  I then asked why, if there is a charter school moratorium, why are schools like Family Foundations Academy allowed to submit a major modification request to increase enrollment.  He said that was done prior to the law being enacted.  WEIC member Chandra Pitts made a point to reinforce WEIC is not against charter schools, and neither was WEAC.  So yes, this was intentional in some respects, but not overtly planned.

WEIC member Vicki Seifred said she is hearing all the right things, but there is skepticism that this will be the group to fix everything.  She also pointed out that even though WEIC wants more district and charter collaboration, there is a lot of animosity, especially between some of the Wilmington districts and the more “high-performing” charters and this needs to be addressed.  (Editor’s note: I think the upcoming final report coming from the Enrollment Preference Task Force will provide some type of resolution to these types of situations.)

Yvonne Johnson brought up the million-dollar question about funding, and she stated even though she has chaired a referendum and been very involved in education matters for 20+ years, the whole funding issues facing WEIC and the redistricting are new to her.  She asked if members can be brought up to speed on how to explain this at the Town Hall meetings at the four Wilmington school districts going forward.  Red Clay Chief Financial Officer Jill Flores advised she may be able to come up with some type of presentation for this as questions come up.

Basically, the first meeting was introductions, even with members of the public (which I thought gave it a very personal touch: kudos to Tony Allen for this), and going over the basic layout of the whole thing.  The committee chairs will be able to pick their own members on those groups, but of course the WEIC leaders do have some “suggested” members on these groups.  Tony Allen did say he expects every WEIC member to be on one of the committees.

Jackie Kook, a teacher in Christina as well as the Vice-President of the Christina Educators Association, said she is really hoping all this works out for the best of Wilmington students.  A sentiment echoed by State Rep. Kim Williams.

The incoming Secretary of Education, Dr. Steven Sodowsky, was in attendance.  He seemed more personable in two hours than Mark Murphy did in three years!  Tony Allen did mention several times that WEIC does not answer to the DOE or Governor Markell.  While I want to believe this, I don’t trust the DOE or Markell, and for good reason.  We really have no clue about Sodowsky yet, but I’m glad he felt it was necessary to show up here.  He did say he would have probably been involved with this Commission through his work at University of Delaware, but something else came up…

At first I didn’t get why this group has to act so fast with their implementation plan to the State Board of Education.  WEIC has until 12/31/15 to get the State Board their plans, the State Board has until 3/31/16, and then the General Assembly takes the ball with it from there and if they pass a joint resolution, it goes to Governor Markell.  I think this last part is the reason for the tight time-frame.  This will essentially be the last General Assembly Governor Markell deals with.  After 6/30/16, they will be gone until the same time Governor Markell leaves office.  And with upcoming elections, the next General Assembly could look radically different than the one we have now.  Plus, I’m sure Jack Markell will be using this on his resume for the next fifty years…if it works.

Aside from State Rep. Kim Williams, the only other legislators in attendance were the two on WEIC, State Rep. Charles Potter and Senator David Sokola.  Allen wanted to give a shout-out to Williams who attended every single meeting of the Wilmington Education Advisory Committee last fall and winter.

No questions were asked about a Wilmington all-charter school district, and even if Governor Markell may want that, I don’t think it would fly with this group’s make-up.  Yes, there are some very pro-charter folks on it, but there is also a balance with many representing traditional school districts.  Very smart move for whoever came up with this!

Is It A Coincidence WEIC, Rodel’s Student Success 2025 & DOE’s SREO Initiative Are All Taking Place At The SAME Time?

There are three major education groups going on right now.  We have the Wilmington Education Improvement Commission (WEIC) led by Bank of America executive Tony Allen, the Rodel sponsored Student Success 2025 brought to us by the Vision Coalition, and the Delaware Department of Education’s Statewide Review of Educational Opportunities (SREO).  These are all going on at the same time, and it makes me wonder…

The biggest thing I noticed on WEIC was the glaring fact there was NO representation from DOE or Rodel on the leadership team.  At first glance, I didn’t notice a lot of the major charter players at all.  But they are well-represented on the Vision Student success 2025 gig:  Rodel’s Dr. Paul Herdman, Eastside Charter’s Dr. Lamont Browne, Teach For America’s Laurissa Schutt, H. Raye Jones Avery, well-known charter supporters and business leaders Gary Stockbridge and Ernie Diastasis, Longwood Foundation President There DuPont, Saul-Ewing Charter School Attorney Jim Taylor, Maria Matos, Freire’s Assistant Head of Academics Paul Ramirez, and Rodman Ward III. And from the DOE there is Mark Murphy (not sure on his status now that he “resigned”), Vice-President of the State Board of Education Jorge Melendez, Chief of the Teacher & Leader Effectiveness Unit Chris Ruszkowski, Chief Academic Officer Michael Watson, and State Board of Education Director Donna Johnson.

As for the Statewide Review of Educational Opportunities, their membership consists of, well, not too many people.  The only folks I’ve seen on paper is Executive Director of the State Board of Education Donna Johnson and DOE Chief Policy and External Communications Officer Susan Haberstroh.  The Legislative Hall duo.  These are the only names on this group at this point and we have no idea who the stakeholders are aside from local education agencies and their data that will be collected.  On it’s face, the SREO is merely a data collection initiative, to be collected, collated, and dissected to find “best practices” in our schools.  My issues with this are 1) the vendor is Public Consulting Group, 2) there are always mitigating factors why some schools are “better” than others and trying to copy certain models in other areas of the state may not work, 3) it was a rush announcement by Governor Markell who actually came to a State Board of Education meeting to announce it in March.

All three of these groups have some similar goals for Delaware education.  If you look at the three documents below, it is easy to see the similarities but all the differences:

While certain goals in these three groups are similar, such as funding and best interests for students, some are very different.  But if you add up all the pieces, it equals a combined picture that includes nearly aspect of Delaware education.  I do not believe this is a coincidence.  A year ago, all roads let to the Wilmington Education Advisory Committee.  Now, all roads lead to Governor Markell and Rodel.

I have hypothesized for a year now that Wilmington will become an all-charter school district eventually.  I still believe this is the Governor’s goal.  Last night, at the Red Clay board meeting, serious questions were asked by the board to Dan Rich and Tizzy Lockman with WEIC.  The board questioned where their authority in all of this is.  In the wording of Senate Bill 122, it states the State Board of Education can act without a referendum if the local school board approves a resolution supporting the WEAC recommendations.  Red Clay did this in April.  The law does not specifically name the school districts that can be redrawn.  So who is to say charter schools can’t be considered a school district?  They can, and they could have say in all of this before all is said and done.

The alignment for a total takeover is present, right now.  But there is one huge glitch in the whole plan…funding.  Who pays for any of this?  Red Clay? Christina? The taxpayers (invariably, they always do), the State of Delaware? Corporations?  And there may be one other snafu in this whole process… but I’m not going to let that cat out of the bag!

Sneak Peak: WEIC Presentation At Red Clay Board Tonight & The Devil Inside

You find all sorts of things looking at a school district’s board meeting agenda. Tonight, Chair of the Wilmington Education Improvement Commission and Dan Rich from the Public Policy Institute at the University of Delaware will give a presentation to the Red Clay Consolidated School Board on Red Clay’s role in WEIC. This is the presentation they are giving tonight, and it includes a very key section! See if you can figure out before I write it after the obligatory Scribd document…

Okay, if you read through the whole thing and didn’t just scroll down real quick, you know exactly what section I’m talking about, with nine words bolded for emphasis:

Will the implementation plan recommended by WEIC be limited to redrawing boundaries?
•No. Simply redistricting is of no value without a comprehensive plan for school reform.
•The WEIC plan must include funding, parent and community engagement, and wraparound services.
•The WEIC plan will present a comprehensive package and ask the State Board to approve the entire package.

As Tony Allen is fond of saying, the devil is in the details, and that is one hell of a detail.  I wasn’t aware the State Board had the authority to approve the entire package.  I thought they only had authority for the actual redistricting.  Where is the General Assembly’s role in this?  And this commission will go on for six years?  Does this mean they can go to the State Board whenever they want to implement changes without legislative approval?  That is a HUGE mistake.  ENORMOUS! GIGANTIC!  The State Board should not have that much authority.  They are unelected and appointed by the Governor.  They never vote against his wishes.  This is the devil in all of this.  Here is the exact wording from the Governor Markell signed House Bill 148:

(g) The WEIC shall work with and across all governmental agencies, educational entities, and private and nonprofit institutions to promote and support the implementation of all recommended changes from the Wilmington Education Advisory Committee (WEAC). The WEIC will oversee the redistricting of school districts as set forth in this Chapter.   The WEIC also will also monitor the progress of implementation and recommend policies and actions to the Governor and General Assembly to facilitate progress and to promote the continuous improvement of public education on dimensions addressed by the WEAC recommendations. In addition, the WEIC will develop a transition plan, including a timeline, for the provision of necessary services to schools and students affected by the implementation of the changes recommended by WEAC. WEIC shall also develop a resource plan regarding transitional resources to effectively implement school district realignment. Both the transition plan and resource plan must be submitted first to the State Board of Education and then to the General Assembly and the Governor for final approval.   Both are due for submission and related action by December 31, 2015.

This is a very slippery slope to start off on.  If I were the Red Clay board I would clarify this very important omission in their presentation TONIGHT!

Red Clay Interpreter’s Very Bigoted & Racist Comments Shock Delaware

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After Governor Markell signed Senate Bill 122 and House Bill 148 at the Hockessin Colored School last Tuesday, the Delaware News Journal quickly got a story up on Delawareonline.  On their Facebook page, comments started pouring in, including the above discriminatory and racist comment.  Word has it she is an interpreter for the Red Clay Consolidated School District.  I believe there is a petition going for her to be fired immediately.

This kind of talk should become illegal in our country.  What is wrong with people?  The comment disappeared, but luckily a source got a picture of the very controversial comments….

A Day Like No Other And Why Governor Markell Should Not Be Trusted

Seven weeks ago, the Democrats in the Delaware House of Representatives were in caucus discussing the Wilmington education bill which would allow the Wilmington Education Improvement Commission to draft up plans which would in turn authorize the State Board of Education to redraw district lines.  After that, as the plan goes, the schools in the city of Wilmington that belong to the Christina School District would convert over to Red Clay Consolidated School District.  But something went awry.

I have heard this story, from both sides, and the truth is most likely somewhere in the middle.  I will not name legislators in this story, but Senate Bill 122 almost died that day.  Two problems arose during their caucus.  One was the issue with Brandywine.  Did they not want to be a part of the redistricting or were they not included in it on purpose.  Of note is the fact that Brandywine School District has no charter schools in their district.  The second, and even bigger problem, was something Governor Markell may or may not have said.  I am inclined to believe he did say it based on history surrounding what was said.

A discussion came up with the Governor surrounding a traditional high school in Wilmington, which there is none of right now belonging to any district within the city limits.  When asked where high school students will go after the redistricting, Markell was overheard to say they would go to the Community Education Building.  This is the property donated by Bank of America and the Longwood Foundation to run charter schools.  There are currently two charters in the building with another set to open later this month, Great Oaks.

When this came up in caucus, the whole group of representatives charged into Governor Markell’s office in Legislative Hall to demand the truth.  Imagine, if you will, multiple elected officials bursting into a Governor’s office to find out if a rumor was true.  This would never happen on a Federal level, but this is Delaware.  Tony Allen, the Bank of America executive, chair of the Wilmington Education Advisory Committee and the just announced chair of the Wilmington Education Improvement Commission, who was with Markell in his office, said if this was true he would pull out of the whole initiative.  Markell denied ever saying anything of the sort and after the legislators calmed down and came out of caucus, they assembled in their legislative session and passed Senate Bill 122 with a vote of 36 Yes, 3 Not Voting, and 2 Absent.  The bill had already passed the Senate on 6/11/15.

Yesterday, Governor Jack Markell signed Senate Bill 122 into law, along with House Bill 148, which creates WEIC.  The glaring elephant in the room with all of this comes down to funding.  I would find it very hard to believe a Governor as on top of things as Jack Markell would not see the funding just plain doesn’t exist for this redistricting of Wilmington schools.  The projected deficit of $160-170 million next year will not allow for this to happen.  If it did, funds would need to be taken from many other demanded services in our state.  The DOE can’t even afford to keep to their promised allocated amount with Red Clay’s three priority schools.  Which is seriously ticking off Red Clay.  Their board president, Kenny Rivera, will be one of the vice-chairs on WEIC, so he will be very close to any discussion at the planning and meetings for all of this.

So if the funding doesn’t exist for this on a state level, where would the millions upon millions of dollars to make this happen come from?  It would be quite logical for corporations to “donate” funds for this.  It would also be logical for them to want their own stipulations for this as well, such as making the schools in Wilmington a charter district.

None of this exists in Senate Bill 122.  To prevent a referendum, the affected school districts would have to agree to the transfer of property to the receiving district and their boards would have to pass a resolution in support of this.  The trick will be in the timing.  Say WEIC makes their plans, and all the schools in Christina go to Red Clay.  The State Board does the redistricting, and it happens as written.  This is the crucial moment: funding.  WEIC is required to determine this in their report.  The State Board has until March 31st next year to complete this or their authority goes away.  Shortly after the General Assembly returns in January, Governor Markell will release the FY2017 proposed budget.  If WEIC completes their report prior to this, Markell will have to plan the budget around that.  Otherwise the legislators will have to see where these puzzle pieces would fit into a picture that may not allow this to happen.

Why would Tony Allen, a very high-functioning and brilliant executive at Bank of America, one of the largest financial institutions in the world, agree to chair not one but two committees when issues of funding would be paramount to the whole thing?  I can’t help but remember the Christina Board of Education meeting at the Sarah Pyle Academy last September.  Nnamdi Chukwuocha, the 1st District Council Member for the Wilmington City Council and also the chair of their Education Committee, spoke during public comment about funding for Wilmington Schools.

We talk so much about the quality and what is happening at some of our charter schools.  We often mention East Side Charter School, but one thing that’s not ever mentioned about East Side Charter School is the relationship that they have with Barclay’s Bank, and Barclay’s Bank supporting that initiative.  You want to do something for me, do something for my children in the City of Wilmington, I want all these institutions, let’s take JP Morgan Chase, let’s take DuPont, take Bank One, all of these banks, and let each one of them adopt one of these six schools and then let’s talk about this initiative. To me that’s what we need, we need these priority schools to be supported.

If I were a betting man, I would guess this is already in play and has been for years.

And So It Begins…Markell Signs Bills To Allow For Redistricting Of Wilmington Schools & Creation of WEIC

Let the games begin!  Delaware Governor Jack Markell signed Senate Bill 122 and House Bill 148 into law today at the Hockessin Colored School.  Joined by city and state leaders, these articles of legislation will allow for the creation of the Wilmington Education Improvement Commission (WEIC) and the redistricting of Wilmington district lines by the State Board of Education.  Any plans the State Board comes up with will be subject to approval by the 148th General Assembly.

Delawareonline, in an article written by their education reporter Matthew Albright, published the news and a video earlier today.  Albright said WEIC will be chaired by Tony Allen, the Bank of America executive who also chaired the Wilmington Education Advisory Committee (WEAC), and will have assistant chairs consisting of Kenny Rivera, the President of the Red Clay Consolidated School District Board of Education and Elizabeth Lockman, a parent advocate who also served on WEAC.

The plan will move the City of Wilmington schools out of the Christina School District into the hands of Red Clay Consolidated School District.  Some, including myself, have wondered if there are ulterior motives at play from Governor Markell, city leaders, some state legislators, the Delaware Department of Education, and the State Board of Education.  I’ve always hypothesized there is a secret plan to increase the number of charters in Wilmington or make it an all-charter district.

The bottom line is it will come down to funding.  The state of Delaware is already projected to have a $160-$170 million dollar deficit in next year’s budget.  So where will the money come from for this redistricting?  I can picture corporations wanting to donate funds, or non-profits like Rodel or the Longwood Foundation.  They will have stipulations for these funds, which could change the overall plan for the redistricting.  Yes, it needs legislative approval, but what if there is already a consensus among our state legislators?  This is conspiracy theory at it’s maximum for a state like Delaware, and I pray I’m wrong.  But if the DOE is already reneging on the promised priority school amount for Red Clay, how can the state assure adequate and proper funding for this endeavor?

“As I have said many times, the only way this all works is if Red Clay has a seat at the table as decisions are being made, is properly funded for taking on greater responsibility and is given a reasonable timetable that we all agree to,” Allen said.

What will be important for Red Clay is to make sure they have a seat at the table and they are not what’s on the table!

Governor Markell has less than a year and a half left in his term as Delaware Governor, and he will want to leave his “legacy” on Delaware.  The question looms over what that legacy will be, and if it will be for the people of Delaware or corporate interests and the privatization of our schools.  I like Tony Allen, and I want to think he is being true to his word on all of this, but there is just way too much that hasn’t been planned or answered in regards to this.  The Wilmington Education Improvement Commission will hopefully provide many of those answers.

Based on the video Delawareonline provided, in attendance were the following: Governor Markell, Tony Allen, WEAC Vice Chair Dan Rich, State Rep. Charles Potter, State Rep. Earl Jaques, State Senator Margaret Rose Henry, Kenny Rivera, Elizabeth Lockman, Kendall Massett (Executive Director of the Delaware Charter Schools Network), Karen Eller (Christina School District teacher and WEAC member), Delaware PTA Vice-President for Advocacy Yvonne Johnson, State Board of Education member Gregory Coverdale, Red Clay Consolidated Superintendent Merv Daugherty, WEAC member and legislative aide Meghan Wallace, legislative aide Mark Rucci, and many others.  If anyone wants to add names that I missed or don’t know, feel free to comment or email me.

Governor Markell To Sign House Bill 148 And Senate Bill 122 On August 4th, Let The Redistricting Begin…

On August 4th, Delaware Governor Jack Markell will sign two bills to improve education in the City of Wilmington.  House Bill 148 creates the Wilmington Education Improvement Commission while Senate Bill 122 allows the State Board of Education to redraw district lines to allow for City of Wilmington schools to shift to Red Clay Consolidated School District away from the Christina School District.

The signing will occur at Hockessin Colored School #107C, 4266 Millcreek Rd. in Hockessin, DE.  I will fully admit when I heard the name of this location my eyes bulged open while my brain was feverishly wondering why they wouldn’t do the signing in the city proper.  On the Facebook page, Solutions for Wilmington Schools, Wilmington Education Advisory Committee chair Tony Allen provided a link to a USA Today article on the historic location.

The “colored” schools in Delaware, as they were called, were created by Pierre DuPont in the 1920s.  The Hockessin Color School #107C became the heart of a pitched legal battle regarding integration into the much better School #29, which only white people were allowed at.  The legal cases involved with this situation became a part of the landmark Brown v. Board of Education in 1954, and is considered an historic landmark in Delaware.

Many fear the redistricting of Wilmington schools under two school districts, Red Clay Consolidated and Brandywine is a smokescreen to create an all-charter Wilmington school district.  At this time, Delaware is projected to have a $160 million deficit for FY2017 and the Delaware Department of Education is going back on the original promised amount for Red Clay’s three priority schools.  The legislation, which looks great on the surface, could face numerous obstacles in the implementation.

Citizens of Wilmington have desired a reduction in school districts for decades, ever since the Secretary of State created the current four district control of Wilmington schools.  While I can easily see the need for this reduction, the thorn in the foot is the charter schools in Wilmington.  Not that all of them are bad, but they have taken away so much local and state funding away from the cash-poor school districts and created even more segregation in the city.

I will be writing a considerable amount about the history of segregation in Delaware education history in an upcoming article and how this led to the creation of Delaware charter schools.

Exclusive: Red Clay & Delaware DOE Letters You Have To See To Believe! Must Read!!!!!

Red Clay Consolidated School District sent a letter to Governor Markell on 5/14/15 concerning the lack of funding provided to the district from the Delaware Department of Education for the priority schools.  The DOE responded on 5/25/15.  There is obviously a severe lack of communication on the DOE’s end.  They have violated the MOU and school plans they publicly agreed to on February 4th.  I think the mention of the Wilmington Education Advisory Committee in Red Clay’s letter was a stroke of genius, and also sheds some light on why Senator Sokola and Rep. Jaques put such a rush on House Bill 148 and Senate Bill 122.  The funding issues in the next year are going to be a very hot issue, and Red Clay is absolutely right!  Read the letters and judge for yourself!

And the DOE’s response, received 5/25/15 by Red Clay.  I can only imagine the call between either the Governor or his office to Secretary Mark Murphy after he received Red Clay’s letter!

It sounds like the DOE bit off way more than they can chew with the priority schools.  The Priority School FOIAs I posted on here show the very clear lack of understanding on the newly hired  Penny Schwinn’s part, and it is obvious she hasn’t learned much since then.  Unless this is all part of a bigger plan, which I have strongly suggested before.

The DOE’s process with the priority schools has clearly been to create chaos and stir up anger.  This has been proven time and time again.  They would only do this unless they know what the result will be.  And it isn’t progress.  It is their insane attempt to stir the flames so they get their desired outcome: all Wilmington city schools becoming charter schools!

The following press release from 2/4/15 from Alison May with the DOE shows a very positive vibe on the priority schools in Red Clay moving forward:

Red Clay Priority Schools to move forward with school plans

Red Clay Consolidated School District’s three Priority Schools will provide new student supports, add Saturday and afterschool enrichment activities for students and families, and ensure greater parental involvement under plans that are moving forward after the Delaware Department of Education today approved the district to move onto the next steps in transforming these schools. In September, Gov. Jack Markell and Secretary of Education Mark Murphy announced significant resources and support for the state’s six lowest-performing district schools, providing the opportunity for substantial changes in their approach to improve their students’ academic performance. These Priority Schools, all located within the City of Wilmington and split evenly between the Christina and Red Clay school districts, are eligible to share about $6 million to implement locally-developed, state-approved plans. The funding comes from several sources including federal School Improvement Grant and remaining Race to the Top resources. Over the following four months, Red Clay leaders worked with educators, families and community members to develop school plans tailored to meet the unique needs of the students in Highlands Elementary, Shortlidge Academy, and Warner Elementary. The plans are in line with a Memorandum of Understanding agreed to by the district and DDOE. Red Clay’s school board approved individual school plans on January 27, and after review by Delaware Department of Education staff and national experts, the schools will continue to work with the community, district, and state to finalize plans for the 2015-16 school year. In the coming days, the department will provide feedback to Red Clay about ways to continue to strengthen all three plans during that process so that final plans can be approved in the spring. “We know that many of the children in these communities face unique challenges that require more support and resources. Thanks to Red Clay’s leadership and collaboration with its school communities, Highlands, Shortlidge, and Warner now will have the plans and resources to better meet students’ needs,” Murphy said.  Red Clay Deputy Superintendent Hugh Broomall said his district is ready to move forward. “We’re excited about the opportunity,” he said. “The work is hard, but we’re ready to engage in the process.” Highlights of the School Plans All Schools: Parents will notice better coordinated referrals to community services for families and supports for teachers to improve behavior management in the classroom.Schools will implement the use of iPads and laptops for students and teachers to improve technology literacy for students, with support to help teachers integrate this technology into their lessons.Each school will host a leadership team, which will include a parent and community member, to help inform the decision-making of the school leader. The team’s responsibilities will include: organizing correspondence to the school community on developments in academic and social-emotional programming, improving academic growth and reviewing academic goals, monitoring progress on the implementation of the school’s plan toward its goals, reviewing achievements of teachers, and revisiting ongoing supports to ensure their success.The district is implementing a new math curriculum in all three schools.Shortlidge and Warner Elementary Schools The district will reconfigure grades at two of the schools, with Shortlidge becoming a PK-3 grade campus and Warner becoming 4-5 grade campus.Schools will offer Saturday Library as a time set aside for students and families to study a particular topic and for families to read with their children.Schools will offer increased after school enrichment activities that are academic in focus but have character-building components that teach students skills such as sportsmanship and self-esteem. For example, Reading Basketball would offer students reading remediation with basketball games as a reward for participating.Highlands Elementary School Highlands will foster opportunities for parent-led activities for families at the school, such as family fitness night and a science expo.Reading and math activities at Highlands will ensure parents have the tools needed to support their students to be successful in core content areas.And Saturday activities at Highlands for students and families will increase tech literacy of students and provide parents with life skills workshops.   

Alison May
alison.may@doe.k12.de.us
(302) 735-4000

They sure did sell the Red Clay plans for the priority schools as awesome!  So what happened between then and now?  Only the DOE can adequately answer that.  In the meantime, Red Clay and their students will suffer due to the mind games the DOE and Governor Markell’s office continue to play with the students of Delaware…

Senate Bill 122 Passes, Allows State Board of Education To Redraw District Lines For Wilmington, House Bill 148 Should Pass Next Week, Creating Wilmington Education Improvement Commission

For legislation introduced last week, these two sure flew through the Delaware House and Senate. I know this is a dream of many in Wilmington, and most especially Tony Allen. So congrats Tony!  Senate Bill 122 passed with a 36 Yes, 3 Not Voting and 2 Absent.  House Bill 148 passed the Senate today but an amendment was added which will kick it back to the House.  Tonight, Allen issued a statement on the passage of Senate Bill 122 and the eventual passage of House Bill 148:

The Wilmington Education Advisory Committee was created last fall out of an executive order issued by Governor Jack Markell. At the same time, the priority schools announcement was just made weeks before, and Wilmington education was a very hot topic. The Committee met for a few months and issued their report in March which gave recommendations to have all Wilmington schools convert to Red Clay Consolidated and Brandywine School Districts. This meant Christina would hand over their schools which they agreed to as a sort of impasse on the priority schools in their district. The WEAC recommendations prevented the priority school deadlines from falling into the DOE and Markell’s hands. It was a moment of conversation that is continuing to this day. I eagerly await what happens next with these two bills. I have no doubt Markell will sign both of them as soon as possible.

Happy Birthday Exceptional Delaware!!!!

My little blog is now one!  This year flew by fast.  I still remember that Friday night, creating this monster.  The name Exceptional Delaware just popped up in my head.  And the main picture on this has raised questions from a few folks.  What is it?  Why do you have it?  It’s from Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring.  I chose it to show how so many different folks can come together for a common goal.  And that’s what we all should be doing.  Parents, teachers, and schools should all be joining forces to eviscerate and destroy the corporate education reform scams going on in our schools.

In the past year, I’ve made many new friends and I feel very blessed for that.  I couldn’t have done most of this if it weren’t for them.  As my readership continues to grow, I often forget I have new readers, so I want to start doing recaps about what’s happened, where we are at now, and where we could be doing and where we should be going.

The enemies of public education think they are winning and they can just get stuff past us.  Sure, we might pitch a fit, but we can’t stop them.  Right? WRONG!  As more of us join forces and fight this money-making debacle that is killing schools and morale, we are finding out more and more everyday.

For all of Governor Markell and Arne Duncan’s false threats, we are still here.  We are still fighting the fight.  Some of us have won battles only to get our gut punched shortly after.  And so it goes.  But we have something the bad guys don’t: transparency, honesty, and a great deal of resolve.

In my eyes, special education will be what gives the final kick in the ass to the corporate raiders.  I’ve always sensed this.  It has certainly given me the motivation to do what I do.  Because nothing pisses a parent off more than watching their kid not get something they are entitled to.  Parents of special needs parents have their bad days, but do something to our kid, and we are on it like white on rice.  We are all wising up to the games being played in that arena, and we will do what we have to do.

A year ago, Legislative Hall had the Smarter Balanced bill as the huge education bill on the homestretch.  Sadly, it passed.  This year there are two kinds of education bills that will have immense implications: the opt-out bill, House Bill 50, and Senate Bill 122, which would give the UNELECTED State Board of Education the power to change district lines.  SB 122, as written now, may give the General Assembly authority over this.  The key word is may.  A lot of games are playing out with both these bills.  One has drawn out for over four months while the other has already passed the Senate in a matter of days.

All will eventually be revealed with all of this, and I will do my best to find the missing pieces of the puzzle.  But I can say this… a picture is forming and the missing pieces are becoming easier to find.  In any event, Happy Birthday Exceptional Delaware.  Here’s to another crazy year!