District Consolidation Task Forces Passes All Recommendations But There Were No Recommendations For Actual Consolidation Of Districts

Sorry for the long title.  Yes, the Delaware School District Consolidation Task Force did not have any recommendations to actually consolidate any school districts in the state.  But there were a ton of other recommendations that were passed by the task force.  However, State Rep. Earl Jaques (the Task Force Chair) did manage to anger one citizen who came all the way down from Wilmington to give public comment.  Jaques adjourned the meeting without asking if anyone wanted to give public comment even though it was on the agenda.  I did ask Earl if he could readjourn the meeting before everyone left to allow the citizen to speak but he just gave his infamous head roll.  Bad form Earl!

All the recommendations passed (which you can read here) with a few edits to some of them.  I will get those up when they come out.  I voted no on a few of the recommendations.  One that really got my goat concerned professional development days for ALL employees of a district.  I wasn’t opposed to the original wording which said “establish” but it was changed to “support”, as in give the local school board the ability to provide it based on its merits.  I wanted “establish”, and even suggested an addendum covering special education for ALL employees, but I was told by the Committee Chair (Dr. Dusty Blakey, Superintendent of Colonial School District) it would include special education.  I voted no because the addendum took out the word “establish”.

While the actual task force report won’t come out until May 7th, folks may be surprised the majority of the task force voted yes on tax increases to be created by the State which would come as either a Statewide or Countywide tax to cover a projected deficit of $125 million to “reduce class sizes, provide after school programs, wellness centers, additional reading, Math and ELL specialists, early childhood education for 2,3, and 4 year olds and other programs needed to level the playing field for children in those underserved communities.”  While I support many of those items, I voted no because the task force also recommended providing additional funding for English Language Learners and students living in poverty (note it was NOT for low-income students).  Four of us voted no on that.  Another one of those no votes was Senator Dave Sokola.  See Dave, we can agree at times!  By implementing a statewide or countywide tax, that is more money coming out of taxpayer pockets and leaves the legislators off the hook.  It is their job to balance the state budget and I would think there is enough “fluff” in our budget to cover those deficits.  As an example, get rid of the very horrible charter school transportation slush fund.  That did come up as a recommendation but since the legislation creating the task force did not include charter school matters for points of discussion that recommendation was not voted on by the task force.

Transportation was a major issue and created much discussion around it.  There is a tremendous shortage of bus drivers in Delaware and the recommendation passed to look at potential raises for district bus drivers.  Contractors set their own rates based on what the district can pay them.  Anything more would have to come from the contractor.

 

 

 

 

 

Final School District Consolidation Meeting Tonight With Big Votes! All Recommendations Are Here!

Tonight is the final meeting of the Delaware School District Consolidation Task Force.  The meeting will be held at 5pm at Legislative Hall in Dover, in the House Chamber.  This is the big one folks!  All the subcommittees issued recommendations last week and the entire task force will be voting on each one.  That doesn’t mean they are a done deal.  It typically means legislation could be forthcoming to address those recommendations.  All the recommendations from each committee appear below.  Come down (or up) to Dover and check it out!  We will see if this mysterious oddity State Rep. Earl Jaques dropped last month concerning a recommendation to have the State Board of Education get the authorization to have the state takeover “failing” school districts resurfaces.  It wasn’t popular when I reported it and many thought Earl slipped on a banana peel or something.

Academic & Student Needs Sub-Committee Recommendations:

Structure Sub-Committee:

Finance Subcommittee:

Teachers And Staff Subcommittee:

 

Preparing For The New School Year For Students With Disabilities

Michael Connoly, Esq., of McAndrews Law Offices, P.C. just wrote an excellent article every parent of a child with an IEP or 504 plan should read.  As we send our kids back to school, it is important to know everything is in place for the continuation of your child’s special education services.  New teachers or possibly a new school can bring many changes.  Most public schools in Delaware start next Monday, but some started today.

Believe it or not, it’s that time of year again.  Commercials on television of gleeful parents purchasing school supplies abound as we are quickly approaching the end of the summer and beginning of a new school year.  While every parent of a school-aged child is going through their own pre-school-year checklist of supplies and clothes and trying to get in those last few days of sun and fun, there is another entire set of considerations to think about as a parent of a child with a disability.

The most obvious consideration is to make sure that your child’s program for the new school year is set and ready to go on the first day of school.  Is your child’s IEP or 504 Plan up to date and ready to be implemented?  Hopefully, your child’ IEP was updated as necessary at the end of the last school year, but if you are aware of any issues or have any concerns you should be reaching out to your school district in these last weeks of summer for any needed changes.  If your child participated in Extended School Year (“ESY”) services over the summer, consider whether his ESY performance revealed any new areas of need or concern that should be addressed by the IEP before school starts.

Make sure you, and more importantly, your child, are familiar with his or her schedule and curriculum, particularly if either is changing from the previous year.    A new school year often brings a lot of change and can be stressful, and at times anxiety provoking, for any student and especially for a student with special needs.  Ensuring your child is comfortable with his or her schedule and classes may go a long way in easing some of the stress and anxiety that can go along with the new school year.   Similarly, if your child is moving to a new building (for example, going from elementary school to middle school) or an unfamiliar area of his or her current building, an opportunity to tour the school, follow his or her schedule, and meet new teachers before the first day of school can also help reduce any new school year anxiety.

One of the most common beginning-of-the-school-year glitch involves transportation.  Not being picked up by the bus, being late to school, or being picked up by the wrong bus can be a particularly traumatic event for a student with special needs (and his or her parents).  If your child requires special transportation or certain supports while on the bus, you want to confirm with your school district that the necessary arrangements have been made, and that the schools transportation department/service is aware of any accommodations that your child requires.

While it’s not possible to ensure that no beginning-of-the-school-year glitch occur for your child, going through your own child’s pre-school-year check list using the above considerations should hopefully help to keep those glitches to a minimum.

by Michael Connolly, Esq. of McAndrews Law Offices, P.C.

Legislation & True Education Reform That NEEDS To Happen For Schools, the State Board and the DOE In Delaware

I’ve talked about legislation that did pass, and bills that are still pending.  The following are bills that should happen given the current state of education in Delaware.  I strongly encourage our legislators to read this and start thinking about these ideas if you haven’t already.  If we really want meaningful change for students in Delaware, we need to start thinking outside of the very small box we have placed ourselves in with curriculum, assessments, transparency, accountability, discipline and special needs.  These are by no means my only ideas, but ones I feel could best benefit everyone involved in education in a meaningful way.  I welcome comment on these ideas and actual ways to move forward on these if consensus is reached on them.

1) A bill to mandate the Delaware Department of Education places any contract with any outside vendor, regardless of active or non-active status, on their website.  This shall include the original request for proposal, any bidders and their proposed bids within 10 business days after the selection of the contracted vendor, any addendums to the contract, change orders, or extensions, a clear and concise timeline for the contract, and any violations of the contract unless involved in current legal action.  As well, all funds released to such vendor must be fully transparent for each vendor along with the dates of such payment and the services rendered for those funds.  If any contract is in conjunction with another state Department, the Department of Education shall also release the same contract and financial information regardless of the reporting Department for the vendor.

2) A bill to remove the Smarter Balanced Assessment as the state assessment for Delaware.  Any further state assessments developed in the state for the purposes of assessing Delaware students shall not be used for teacher evaluations and shall have no impact on a school’s accountability ratings, annual yearly progress, or the ability for a student’s retention or summer school options.  Any state assessment shall be used for informational purposes only to guide teachers and educators in best practices for instruction of students and further advancement of researched and normed best educational practices.  Any future state assessment must have a 3/4 majority vote in both the Delaware House of Representatives and the Delaware Senate in the event that item #10 on this list does not occur.  Any testing vendor or contract associated with a state assessment must clearly indicate on their request for proposal any method of data collection and disbursement, internet safety protocols, conflicts of interest, scoring system with open and transparent rules and regulations surrounding such system, and ability to collect, collate and disseminate the scores based on the educational material to the State Board of Education and all school districts, charter schools and vocational school districts in a manner which will give reliable, timely (within one month), and purposeful educational direction designed for the ability to help students progress to the next level and to identify key barriers on an individual and local level for any student achievement.  Any accommodation approved by an IEP or 504 team for the purposes of students with disabilities shall be honored as long as it does not prevent the student from actively taking part in such assessment.  Any student who appears to be having undue stress or anxiety while taking such assessment shall immediately be given the ability to stop the assessment and take it at a future time.  No assessment shall be more than three hours long and shall take up more than three school days.  Any section of any such assessment shall be given no longer than one hour increments for each. No elected Governor of Delaware shall issue an Executive Order for any such state assessment, curriculum associated with the state assessment, or state standards for any such assessment.  No local school district, charter, or vocational school district shall provide more than two assessments a school year, longer than two hours, as approved by the State Board of Education and the local school board of education based on the above and below criteria within this act.  This does not include final exams, mid-terms end of unit assessments, teacher created assessments, the SAT, ACT, or classroom quizzes.  None of these assessments shall create situations where a student is exposed to deductive reasoning or opinion based on any religious, racial, civil rights, violent, or current controversial issues that could create any type of belief system or cultural group to be affected, compromised, or in any way cause civil unrest or situations pitting students, parents or educators against each other.

3) The Delaware Department of Education and the State Auditor of Accounts will create a Comptroller General to oversee the financial flow of education funds coming in and out of all Delaware school districts, charter schools and vocational.  This comptroller shall report on a monthly basis to the State Board of Education on the financial viability of all the above as well as any red flags that come up during their constant review and monitoring of all state, local, and federal funds.  Any funds received by charter schools in the form of grants or donations, whether individual, group or foundation, shall be shown on the Comptroller General website as well as each charter school’s website.  The charter school website must show where the funds are allocated, the purpose, and the progress of those funds being spent.

4) An act to remove the provision regarding the State Board of Education.  Previously, the Governor appointed members to the State Board of Education.  All seven members of the State Board of Education shall be elected by the general populace during the general election occurring each Election Day in the state.  No member shall serve longer than a 3 year term, and term limits are set at two terms.  No member who previously sat on the Governor-appointed State Board of Education shall be able to announce candidacy for the State Board of Education.  The Executive Director of the State Board of Education shall be appointed by the General Assembly with a 3/4 majority vote in both the House and the Senate.  The make-up of the State Board of Education shall consist of the following: Three members from Newcastle County, two members from Kent County, and two members from Sussex County.  Three members shall be parents not affiliated with any state organization, department, group, commission or task force.  No legislators shall be a member.  Two members must be educators or former educators.  One member must be an administrator or former administrator.  One member must be either a special education educator or have sufficient special education background to represent the population of students with disabilities.  No member shall be on the board of any current school district, charter, or vocational technical district.  No member shall be employed or sit on the board of any past or present Department of Education contracted vendor.  This act removes the Cabinet position of Secretary of Education and any reports created through this duly-elected State Board of Education must be sent to the Governor within 3 business days.

5) All school districts, charter schools, and vocational districts must have on their website the following: the number of Individualized Education Programs (IEP) the school currently administers, to be updated by the 5th day of each calendar month; the number of applied for IEPs and the number of accepted IEPs, the number of administrative complaints filed with the Department of Education against the school in terms of special education, the number of mediations through the Department of Education, the number of Due Process Hearings and their decisions with redacted identifiable student information, the number of special education lawsuits the school has or had, and the financial awards, including any applicable attorney fees or other amounts of each resolution if applicable; no hearing officer of any Due Process Hearing or Administrative complaint shall serve on any other state Department, group, commission, council, or division.  The newly selected Due Process Hearing Council shall consist of five members, to be appointed by the duly-elected State Board of Education, and shall have the following qualifications: two parents of a child with a current IEP or last had an IEP within the past five years, one special education teacher currently employed by the State of Delaware, one member with a license to practice psychology, and one member with a license to practice psychiatry.

6) This act is to clarify that all schools must report any incidents of bullying, offensive touching, or fighting through the E-School or any such future designated system within two calendar days.  All perpetrator and victim reports must be filled out.  Any incident with a perpetrator or victim on this system shall be communicated with the parent or legal guardian of the student within 3 business days and signed by the parent or legal guardian.  All such reports shall be given to the parent or legal guardian of a student along with their marking period or trimester report cards.  Any proven failure to follow this act more than 3 times over any rolling three month period shall results in a filing by the State Board of Education to the Delaware Attorney General’s office to conduct an immediate investigation of the school or district, which shall have public notice of such filing both on the school or district website along with the most circulated newspaper in each county, to determine if the school is considered a persistently dangerous school and if determined, the school shall notify all parents of this designation within 5 business days of this decision.

7) This act is to clarify the process of “manifestation determination” as dictated by Delaware state code and Federal law.  Any student on an IEP or Section 504 plan has clear and concise rights in regards to discipline.  In the event of multiple suspensions, currently 10, but with this act changed to 5, the IEP or 504 team must convene within five business days to determine if the actions associated with the suspension or expulsion were a manifestation of the student’s disabilities.  If it is determined by the team to be such, the school psychologist must do a functional behavioral analysis of the student within ten business days, report the findings to the team, and a behavioral intervention plan must be developed to assist the student with coping mechanisms, best proven practices associated with that particular disability to prevent such behaviors, and appropriate steps to educate students and all school staff in regards to the student’s disability as approved by the parent or legal guardian.  This act shall also apply if a student spends more than 30 hours out of the instructional classroom due to any discipline incident.  In the event the parent or legal guardian cannot be notified within 15 business days for any part of this process, one member of the duly-elected State Board of Education or the Due Process Hearing Council shall be appointed to represent the parent or legal guardian after all efforts to contact the parent have been exhausted within a 10 day period of time.

8) Any incident of an educator, school staff member, contracted vendor, or adult on school property or school function, seen by witnesses, whether student or adult, or viewed on school surveillance equipment, or reported by a parent after the fact in both writing and verbally, physically assaulting a student in retaliation or with malicious intent, including the following: punching, kicking, scratching, pulling hair, spitting on, biting, head butting, twisting any part of the student’s body with intent to cause discomfort, pushing to the extent the student falls down or falls into a surface to cause any type of mark on the student’s body, struck with a foreign object, or seen to actively notice and not react in  a timely manner while other students engage in such activity against a student, shall result in the school administrator, or designated appointee, district superintendent, or designated appointee determining of the local law enforcement shall be contacted and an emergency convening of the local board of education within three business days with a quorum present to determine the nature of the incident and if any result of the action was through legal seclusion and restraint mechanisms as allowed by state law, and what the next appropriate steps shall be.  This information must be reported to the State Board of Education and the Attorney General’s office within 24 hours.  If either body determines the local board did not act in the student’s best interest, such adult will be terminated without pay or pension if employed by the state, or banned from the school property or any school function if not.  Collective bargaining rights, if applicable, shall be suspended during this investigation.  The local educators association, if applicable, must be notified of any such investigation within 24 hours and both the agency and the educator must be notified of the exact details of the allegation.  In the event of any such action where the school is legally bound to contact law enforcement under state code and regulation, any decision determined by the state court system shall supersede any decision by the local board or state board of education.

9) This act shall remove Title 14, paragraph 508, section 347 of state code, the provision that charter schools shall keep any excess transportation funds over the contracted bid with any school bus company.  In the event a charter school or school district owns the school buses, they must report on a monthly basis on their website, to the State Board of Education, and the Comptroller General all receipts for fuel, tolls, bus driver wages, repairs, estimates for repairs, and any maintenance receipts or costs for such buses.

10) Any Federal mandated curriculum, assessment, waiver, or regulation designed to give any type of educational direction to any school, student, or educator must be approved with a 3/4 vote by the following coalition of representatives: The State Board of Education, the President of the Delaware State Educators Association and each local president of the local educators associations based on a majority vote by each member of such local organization, three members of each school district board of education, one member from each charter school board of education, one member of each vocational school district, the President of the Delaware Association of School Administrators based on a majority vote by that body, the President of the Delaware Parent Teacher Organization based on a majority vote of that membership, and five Delaware State Representatives, three of which must be on the House Education Committee, three Delaware State Senators, two of which must be on the Senate Education Committee, and a State Board of Education appointed “50 Parent Council” consisting of the following: 22 parents from Newcastle County, 15 parents from Kent County, and 13 parents from Sussex County, all of which must have children currently enrolled in Delaware public schools with at least four years left in school, and not a member of any of the other organizations listed on this act.  This body must then approve any such Federal education designation with a 3/4 majority vote.  Any Federal funding linked to such curriculum, assessment, direction or regulation, shall be a means to give punitive action to any school, student or educator, nor shall a rule, threat or veiled threat of the removal or reduction of any mandated Federal funding give rise to intimidate, bully or coerce any type of public school establishment or state governing body into accepting these actions on a Federal level.

11) All state employees associated with any type of disbursement of educational funds, or employed to receive any such funds, with approval by the Comptroller General and the local board of education shall, in the event of the issuance of a state purchase card, list on the school or district website any and all receipts for such purchases, the reason for the purchase, and the exact description of the purchase designed for and approved under norms and regulations as determined by the Comptroller General and the State Board of Education to best serve the education of students in Delaware.

12) All school district and charter school board meetings must be digitally recorded and live-streamed from their websites.  Minutes from non-executive sessions of board meetings must be posted on the school website within two business days if any action items were voted on or discussed to give parents and citizens the ability to view these items.  All recordings must be placed on the school website within three business days of such board meeting.  All boards must have a clear and concise agenda listed one week prior to any board meeting along with a description of any action items.  All school board meetings must take place at either the district office or a school within the district.  No board meeting shall take place at any location outside of these two designated areas, including any retreats which shall also be open to the public with the above rules and regulations.  This will also include the State Board of Education.

13) The convening of a task force to determine how the Department of Education in Delaware effectively guides and determines best education policies for students in Delaware. No member of this task force shall be any past or present employee of the Department, or any contracted vendor employee currently or in the past receiving any funds from the Department.  This task force must consist of the Governor, three members of the duly-elected State Board of Education, the Comptroller General, the President of the Delaware State Educators Association, the President of the Delaware Parent Teacher Association, the President of the Delaware Association of School Administrators, three board members from each traditional school district, one member from each charter school and vocational district, 5 parents from Newcastle county, 3 parents from Kent County and 3 parents from Sussex County, two special needs advocates, two parents of special needs students, two members from any minority-based Civil Rights group, and nine State Representatives (three of which must be on the House Education Committee) and five State Senators (two of which must be on the Senate Education Committee).  This task force shall look at all best practices, rules, regulations, salaries, reporting structure, and communications within the Department and vote with 3/4 majority on proposed legislation to be reported to the Governor, publicly shown, and brought before the General Assembly within 30 days of the report or the first day of the assemblage of that body if after 30 days.

The Delaware Charter School Tranportation Slush Fund Fully Revealed In State Code & Epilogue Language

Delaware State Code allows for charter schools in the state to keep any excess transportation costs for “educational purposes”.  No clarification is given for what those educational purposes are or what sections of the school budget they need to be allocated to.  As a result, Delaware charters have “kept” an estimated $1.35 million dollars, a luxury traditional public school districts do not have.  Certain commenters over on Kilroy’s Delaware claim this isn’t true, and even went so far as to post the full Title 14 Delaware code § 508 of the state code, which doesn’t indicate the slush fund.

“ § 508 Responsibility for student transportation.

The charter school may request to have the school district where the charter school is located transport students residing in that district to and from the charter school on the same basis offered to other students attending schools operated by the district, or to receive from the State a payment equal to 70% of the average cost per student of transportation within the vocational district in which the charter school is located and become responsible for the transportation of those students to and from the charter school. In the case of students not residing in the district where the charter school is located, the parents of such students shall be responsible for transporting the child without reimbursement to and from a point on a regular bus route of the charter school. In lieu of the payment from the State specified above, if a charter school utilizes a contractor for student transportation the charter school shall publicly bid the routes, and the State shall reimburse the charter school for the actual bid costs only if lower than the payment specified above. Notwithstanding the foregoing, a student at a charter school shall receive such transportation assistance as is made available to students pursuant to a public school choice program established by this Code provided that such student otherwise meets the eligibility requirements for such assistance. In the event a charter school chooses to transport students itself, it shall do so in accordance with all public school transportation safety regulations. Local school districts and charter schools shall cooperate to ensure that the implementation of this chapter does not result in inefficient use of state appropriations for public school transportation and the State Board shall exercise its authority to approve bus routes so as to avoid such waste.”

However, what the rocket scientist over on Kilroy’s Delaware failed to do, most likely deliberately as to show people he is right and everyone else arguing against him is wrong, is put in the part from the Fiscal budget which clearly indicates, in Section 347 of House Bill 225.  Even more hysterical, this commenter damn well knows about this, but blogger honor demands I not out the clown.

Section 347. (a) Notwithstanding 14 Del. C. § 508 or any regulation to the contrary, a charter school may negotiate a contract (multi-year, if desired) for contractor payment for school transportation up to the maximum rate specified which is currently 70 percent of the average cost per student of transportation within the vocational district in which the charter school is located or the charter school may publicly bid the transportation routes.  If the actual negotiated or bid costs are lower then the maximum rate specified above, the charter school may keep the difference for educational purposes.  If the charter school includes a fuel adjustment contract provision, the charter school shall be responsible for increased payments to the contractor or it may keep funds taken back from the contractor.

I wrote an article on this back in January, which clearly showed exactly how much each of the following charter schools were able to keep in FY14 based on this transportation slush fund buried at the near end of the state budget:

Academy of Dover: $56,788

Campus Community: $148,578

Charter School of Wilmington: $63,755

DE Academy of Public Safety & Security: $13,894

DE College Prep Academy: $17,750

DE Military Academy: $21,877

East Side Charter: $31,451

Family Foundations: $384,769

Kuumba Academy: $64,352

Las Americas Aspiras: $103,958

MOT Charter School: $23,126

Moyer Academy: $22,596

Newark Charter: $227,827

Odyssey: $150,607

Reach Academy: $25,647

Providence Creek Academy and Sussex Academy use their own buses, Thomas Edison broke even, Positive Outcomes uses Caesar Rodney School District buses, and Gateway and Prestige Academy each lost over $20,000 on this deal.

So collectively these 15 charters made $1,357,002.00, for average of $90,466.80 a school.  The amounts for Odyssey, Newark Charter School, Family Foundations, Campus Community and Las Americas Aspiras are all well over $100,000.  With no mandated allocation of funds except for the very vague “educational purposes” and no oversight of how they use these funds, who knows where they are going.  In the case of Family Foundations Academy, where the two school leaders embezzled over $90,000 in personal spending, and Academy of Dover where one principal spent over $127,000 in personal purchases, how is it even possible to trust how the schools are spending these funds.  Where is the accountability for these funds?

One Delaware legislator has said enough is enough, and he is requesting lawmakers to make an amendment to get rid of this:

Dear all,

Note HB225—- page 231, Section 347 lines 25-26. This is the language that is consistently inserted over the last 6-7 budgets that conflicts with the Title 14 section 508 mandate to return unused (for transportation) taxpayer money by Charter Schools. The amendment I am filing removes this onerous disregard for taxpayer money from the budget and I hope each and every one of you will support it to restore accountability and specificity of allocation to our spending of those taxpayer dollars. It is our responsibility to ensure that this practice ceases.

Respectfully

John Kowalko

I’m sure the rowdy bunch over at Kilroy’s will say I am doing my master’s bidding since they seem to think Kowalko owns me, which is so far removed from the truth it’s not even funny.  There are numerous issues I disagree with Kowalko on, but when it comes to education we align.

As Rep. Kim Williams House Bill 186 (charter school post-audit with the State Auditor) is supposed to get a vote on Tuesday  June 30th, and hopefully Rep. Debbie Hudson’s House Bill 61 (mandatory school board recordings) is put to a vote, and rules are suspended for each, along with Kowalko’s proposed amendment to the budget, we can start to see some legislative oversight and transparency over Delaware charter schools.  It all depends on how quick the Delaware Charter Schools Network and Kendall Massett can get their people down to Legislative Hall on Tuesday…

 

New Location For Freire Charter School Upsets Local Wilmington Neighborhood

Freire Charter School, scheduled to open in the 2015-2016 academic year is already causing huge problems for the neighborhood it will be housed in.  According to one area resident, this small neighborhood of 220 will be faced with an initial 224 students being transported to the school via DART or walking to the school.  The school was previously going to be located at 920 French St. in Wilmington, but was moved to 201 W. 14th Street.

Nothing was done about what kind of impact this could have on this neighborhood, or even covered in their modification request with the Delaware Department of Education, as evidenced by their official request here:

Click to access Freire%20–%20Delaware%20DOE%20Charter%20Modification%20Application.pdf

118 of the citizens of this neighborhood have signed a petition opposing this plan until they see a documented transportation and parking plan.  Meanwhile, the school is continuing to recruit students to start in August.  Current estimates by the school are to have 560 students by the 2018-2019 year.