In a shocking announcement, the Delaware American Civil Liberties Union wants to sue the State of Delaware over education funding. But the announcement was not made by the ACLU but rather a Capital School District Board of Education member at their meeting last evening. Continue reading
The Delaware Department of Education came out with the 2016 September 30th Enrollment Report. This document shows the head count for each school district and charter school in Delaware public schools. As I predicted, special education students rose again this year. To qualify for special education, a student must have an Individualized Education Program (IEP). With the exception of vocational schools, both the traditional school districts and charter schools went up in enrollment statewide. The growth for traditional school districts was anemic at best, with only a .32% increase from last year. Overall state enrollment went up by .9%. Once again, charter schools saw the greatest growth with a rise of 7.8% over last year. No new charter schools opened this year, however many submitted modifications last year to increase enrollments and grades in one case. Other charter schools began new grades this year based on their approved charters. Some districts saw very steady growth but others saw continuing drops. Continue reading
I touched on this last week, but it is essential that the citizens of Delaware not believe the final recommendations of the Senate Joint Resolution #4 Education Funding Improvement Committee. Their report is due to the General Assembly by Thursday, June 30th. In a public meeting, one of the members of EFIC (as it is commonly known as in the halls of power in Delaware) stated the committee could not agree on any of the recommendations brought forth at their final committee. No formal vote was taken on any specific actions.
I learned this by attending the meeting of the Governor’s Advisory Council for Exceptional Citizens (GACEC) last week. GACEC Chair Robert Overmiller was a member of EFIC. Along with all the other DOE special education shenanigans at that meeting, there was also this tidbit culled from my recording of the meeting:
The Senate Joint Resolution 4. We had our meeting yesterday and the reality is they have approved zero motions and zero recommendations for the unit count. Because they spent the whole year trying to convince the committee to throw out unit counts and put in what the DOE and Governor Markell want. And they were totally unsuccessful in convincing the committee to do so. So I don’t know what the report is going to look like when it comes out. At the end of the month it will be turned in to the legislators but they definitely approved zero recommendations and zero anything. Nothing was ever voted on for approval or exception. So that committee produced nothing this year.
That sounds like a very clear statement to me! I expect the Delaware DOE to post the final report any day now. Like the Assessment Inventory Committee final report issued yesterday, I do not expect this report to be a complete record of what really went down at these meetings. I still don’t understand why former State Rep. Darryl Scott is allowed to run committees like this and have a seat on the Southern Regional Education Board when he is not now an elected official, but this is Delaware. If we see a weighted funding formula recommendation for education coming out of this report, it is a lie. This is what happens when a committee is stacked with Markell sympathizers coming out of Rodel and the charter sector.
I wrote a post yesterday about the Christina School District choosing not to rehire librarians that were cut as a result of their 2nd failed referendum last year. Many have gone on the attack against the district and many have jumped to their defense. One clear and obvious thing is Delaware needs to change their antiquated unit-based funding system to some extent. I don’t think anyone is arguing that point. But a lot of accusations were thrown out as a result of my article and I wanted to point out some of them.
During Christina’s 3rd referendum attempt, the situation was dire. As a result of the last two failed referenda, they had to make some major cuts. Teachers, para-professionals, specialists, and yes, including librarians. In several places, whether in writing or spoken word, the district mentioned they wanted to hire back the positions they cut and reduce classroom sizes. This year, there were anywhere between 35-45 kids in some classrooms. That isn’t good for any student, much less some of the high-need populations in the district. One of the members of Christina’s Citizen Budget Oversight Committee, Brian Stephan, also writes for Delaware Liberal.
Let me point out this simple fact: I like Brian. I think he is a good guy and a very involved parent. I wish more parents were as involved as Brian and his wife in public education (and on a volunteer basis at that). I have no doubt in the world he is very well-versed in school financing. But just as I get my readers stuck in the weeds on issues such as special education or regulations for example, I think that may happen to Brian when he is explaining district financing. Like any television show, there is frequently a “previously on…” before the show starts. The brains of everyday citizens don’t remember everything, so they need a constant refresh. I have to reiterate things on this blog constantly, not only to refresh existing readers, but also for my new readers. I don’t always succeed with this. But I would never complain to my readers that I have to explain it again. That would be an insult to my readers. I believe this happens in education a lot. I see it all the time in parent complaints about educators and administrators. They perceive them as being arrogant, but the reality is they may know more about situations and assume you do to. When they realize you aren’t aware, the communication style is perceived as condescending or arrogant. It may be, or it may not be. There isn’t always an easy answer. But when both parties are equally aware of a situation, and they dance around it with bad communication, that can be very dangerous. But I digress…
I like to refer to education funding as a Rubik’s Cube with 64 sides. It is a beast! God bless any average parent who has a firm grasp on it, because I know I don’t. Charters I’m pretty good at breaking down, but that is not the case with school districts. But I do look at what people write and things they say. That is the anecdotal evidence I look for in most situations.
Back in March, a week before the referendum, Brian wrote:
What’s the District asking for? An additional $0.30 per $100 of assessed property value that would generate an additional $16.2 million per year. What would that do? $4 million would go toward bringing back the teachers and staff we had to cut (yes, including librarians), and reduce our class sizes. $4 million would go toward the operating fund to keep the district functioning at pre-budget cut staffing levels for the next 2 years.
Note the word “and” when talking about restoring the positions cut AND reducing the classroom size in the above statement. On Facebook yesterday, Brian was telling folks the current situation with librarians was spelled out succinctly and clearly, but I could not find anything in writing stating that it was an “or” situation. Currently, defenders of the district are stating it is a building leader’s (principal) choice to either fund a librarian with an earned teaching unit or hire a regular classroom teacher. In the event that a board doesn’t like that decision, they could force a principal to hire the librarian. In effect, this comes down to a gut-wrenching choice of either keeping classroom sizes bigger or having a librarian. Brian alleges this situation plays out in many of our school districts. I have no doubt he is correct about this, but does the average taxpayer know this? I doubt it. This situation wouldn’t have become as intense as it has had this been spelled out during the weeks before the referendum. Had something been put in writing to the effect of “It is our desire to hire back what we lost but we may not be able to get back every single position”, I would have no issue with any of this.
In response to the firestorm that went down on social media yesterday, Brian wrote a response on Delaware Liberal last night. In the comments for this, he writes:
I can say that we described the referendum as restoring what was lost. And there’s a reason I didn’t say “Restoring ALL that was lost” because if I could have said *that*, I would have without a doubt.
This is the heart of the matter, in my opinion. As I wrote in my response to his comment, there isn’t any transparent difference between “restoring what was lost” and “restoring ALL that was lost”. I completely believe that Brian understands the current situation, but it was not clearly pointed out to taxpayers that their vote would mean one or the other. That is why I was upset about what is happening with the district not restoring the librarians. I backed this referendum 100% and fought for the district. Now I feel like I’m eating crow. It’s very easy to come back afterwards and explain this in writing. I called that Monday morning quarterbacking yesterday. I became very confused when things were written on social media and Delaware Liberal yesterday where defenders of the district wrote the funding is there to restore librarians. Many commenters were. But to write things to the effect of “let me explain this again” is not in the best interest of trying to win a point. Most people feel like they are being talked down to. But if that is the flavor of Brian’s writing style, that is his choice.
But here is the million dollar question. If the assumption is that building principals in schools that had librarians cut are not restoring those positions in favor of keeping classroom sizes smaller, will the district take the classroom size waivers next fiscal year? These are waivers the districts request that actually keep classrooms bigger. They are usually granted. Most districts do this, including Christina. But in doing so, should Christina choose to go that route in December, they are actually breaking another referendum campaign promise, that of reducing classroom size. Technically, one could say all districts do it and if they are out of compliance in one school they have to do it based on the populations in the school. But it has also kept classroom sizes at increased levels in many districts and has not made the problem any better. I could not tell you, based on my limited knowledge of this aspect, how to fix that or who exactly controls that aspect.
But back to Christina. To make matters even worse, several sources have informed me that Acting Superintendent Robert Andrzejewski told many students the librarian positions would be restored. These were children who were upset their librarians were no longer there. Perhaps he spoke out of turn in saying this, but the students are probably the most important stakeholders in any education decision. Imagine if a librarian was a student’s favorite teacher. That librarian got cut. The student was very upset. They go home after the Acting Superintendent says the librarians will be back. The student is happy, the parents are hopeful, and the district can count on a yes vote from those parents. Those kind of events can seriously impact referendum results. That is a huge issue and could easily be seen, and justifiably so, as a broken promise.
To truly understand what happened here, we do have to look at Delaware’s unit-based funding system. This is based on the September 30th count for each school in a district or a charter school. The number of students in the school determines how much state funding the district or charter school gets from the state. Schools also get funds from federal dollars and local dollars. What a school can’t pay for from state or federal money, comes out of local dollars which is where taxpayers come in. A district receives x amount of units based on the population of the district. With this, there are all sorts of conditions, especially with special education. Based on a student’s disabilities, the formula changes.
Looking at Christina’s 2015-2016 unit allotment based on their September 30th count, they received the following: based on 15,553 students, they received 1,236.40 units. This does not mean every unit goes towards one teaching position. For example, a CTE teacher counts as half a unit, or .5. Based on the amount of units a district receives, the district determines how many units each building gets based on their student count. Certain units, such as special education, have to go towards those services (or they are supposed to). But a building leader, or principal, does have some discretion for how the funds generated from that unit-count are allocated. They can’t make wild decisions. If a school’s Smarter Balanced scores are low, they can’t hire 50 math teachers and only 3 English/Language Arts teachers. But out of that pool of funds is how decisions are made. The district’s Chief Financial Officer guides the schools with those decisions. If enrollment is down, based on school choice or students moving from the district, a principal may face some difficult decisions. I don’t envy a principal making decisions like this, but I also believe they should look at things like what was told to taxpayers in the latest referendum campaign. Such as the case with Christina now. Unfortunately, Christina loses a lot of students to charters and this has been going on for the past ten plus years.
So then a district is faced with difficult decisions. They could either stay on the road they are on, or make changes. In Christina’s case, they are wisely looking at school climate and discipline as one of the key issues which results in students leaving the district. I have no issue with this as it is the number one complaint I see for Christina. Part of their referendum promises was to take a “deep dive” at the situation, come up with a plan, and make changes. That is completely acceptable in my opinion. But what Christina also didn’t point out was the fact they would hire an outside vendor to help form this “strategic plan” who also happened to also work for the district in the past. To the tune of almost $50,000 without a formal bid process. These are the types of things that need to be spelled out to taxpayers during a referendum attempt.
One of the questions posed on the CSD Paving the Way referendum website concerned school resource officers and if the $1 million the district would use out of the funds generated out of the referendum would go towards bringing those positions back which were cut. It was clearly spelled out that this decision was not going to be immediately made and that an action committee would form to determine how to handle this issue. While it doesn’t look like anyone directly asked if all cut positions, such as librarians, would be restored, that would have been the place it would have most likely appeared. In the absence of that question, many assumed all cut positions would come back. Not to put the entire blame for this on a referendum website or a well-read blog in Delaware, but it is part of the issues. As well, Andrzejewski’s comments to students played a factor. As well, I had grave issues with the district spending $181,200 on what I initially viewed as more assessments for students when a state focus has been to reduce the amount of assessments. I have since been informed this contract would replace two assessments at less of the cost of the other two assessments, which seems to be a prudent move on the district’s part. Furthermore, you can’t just rob Peter to pay Paul. Just because that $181,200 was available for assessments does not necessarily mean you can pay $181,200 in librarians in lieu of those funds. There are different buckets for different aspects of education, as Brian has explained many times to people.
I received this information from an anonymous commenter named “John Doe”, seen below, but I felt the need to put it in the heart of the article:
Sir, I would please ask that you correct some misinformation included in this blog. It was made clear at the Christina SD Board of Ed. meeting that the district was consolidating, not simply adding, assessments. Yes, a new assessment will be purchased, but it is replacing two existing assessments which together cost the district more money than will be spent on the new assessment next school year. The district is indeed cutting assessments back in a number of sensible ways, and the district will benefit from cost savings as well as savings in instructional time because of these decisions. Teachers and administrators, like carpenters, need good tools to help them do high quality work. For a district the size of Christina SD, the assessment costs the author quoted are very reasonable.
In the past, districts and charters lave gotten themselves in trouble with misappropriated funds in the wrong bucket. For example, last year Capital School District was warned by the State Auditor’s office they can’t use a Superintendent’s discretionary fund to help pay for band field trips. That is just one of countless examples where districts did the wrong thing. Intent plays a big part in that. Was it an honest mistake or done on purpose? In the case of some charter schools in Delaware in the past few years, taking school funds and using them for personal use is a big no-no. But this hasn’t just happened in charters, but also public school districts as well. But charters are held under more scrutiny than traditional school districts so it could be easier to find. But by the same token, some of the charter employees who did abuse these funds had not been involved in public education to the extent others in traditional school districts have and were not as well-versed with the law. This does not excuse their actions. In fact, it makes the problem more acute and laws should reflect this troubling aspect.
As I learn more about district and charter funding, I am also looking towards the future in regards to corporate interference in education. Out of the funds schools do receive, what funds are being wasted on assessment and useless programs? How much is going towards outside vendors who have limited experience in an actual classroom but come out with reports that are utilized by those who support these agendas? Are districts and charters riding the latest wave that has no factual research to back up the effectiveness of these programs, such as personalized learning in a digital environment? Are funds being allocated based on the Smarter Balanced Assessment and how to increase scores while keeping bloated classroom sizes and not addressing the true needs of students? These are the things that matter to me. So when I see librarian positions not being restored (as of now), I have a major beef with that. That is happening right now, in Christina. If I am made aware of similar situations playing out in other districts, I will call them out on it. Which is something, based on this current situation, I am going to be looking for.
Christina has a pocket of folks who do not enjoy any controversy based on decisions made coming out of that pocket, in my opinion. And when they are called out on it, the fingers point to those casting the blame and not addressing the real issue. This has landed me in a tough spot with the district in the past and in the present. If information is not readily transparent, I go by what I do know. And yes, I am opinionated and I am quick to reach judgment based on what I know, or believe I know. I’m not denying this. There are also other factors that play into how I write articles, such as sidebar conversations or issues I am unable to write about to protect others. But those aspects definitely influence my opinion. Do I get everything right? Nope. I’ll be the first to admit that, and when I don’t, I’ll fix it or write a follow-article. But if you come on here and comment that I am wrong without explaining how I’m wrong, that I can’t do anything about. I was accused of starting fires and then saying “I didn’t know” and trying to back out of my original post under that excuse. Sure, that happens. I write based on what information I do know and go from there. Do I always seek clarification from other parties? I don’t. Here’s why: I am not a mainstream journalist. I am a blogger. The journalistic etiquette for mainstream journalism does not apply to bloggers. Do I go for the “shock and awe” at times? Absolutely. And sometimes I just don’t feel like reaching out will serve a purpose. All too often, I get no response, I’m attacked, or I get bad information. That happens more often than not. As well, the person who accused me of this, I have reached out to in the past over certain things but lately I had not been getting much response. Until I posted about this latest librarian thing.
This is one of the reasons I admire and respect Christina board member John Young so much. He is constantly attacked for attacking, or the perception of attacking. John and I are very much alike in that aspect. But it gets people talking and I would say it brings more transparency to issues facing public education. The more people talk about education, the better. We live in a state where a certain group of people tend to make ALL the decisions and that isn’t good for kids. Period. End of story. If I can shock people out of an education awareness slumber, I certainly will. This is how John operates, it is how Kilroy operates, and it is how Kavips operates. It is the heart of Delaware education bloggers mindset, especially those who fight against the insane practices of the Delaware DOE and Governor Markell. Most of the information we post (or used to in John’s case) is not information that is picked up on by the News Journal or other media outlets. I don’t believe John’s goal, or my goal, is to intentionally divide, but to bring light to situations people may not be aware of. But we are attacked for attacking. If we don’t do these things, how the hell are people going to know these things? Could we be more temperate in how we do this? Sure, but would folks listen? I can say I have defended Christina much more than I have “attacked” them, as some have said.
My intention is not to make things up in order to start a fire. Unless it is one of my “fan fiction” posts, which are easily recognizable (such as Markell, Herdman, Godowsky, Jaques and Sokola going on a midnight horse ride in Dover), I am basing my information on something real. If there is more information along the way, it’s going to come out. If not from me, than in the comments or somewhere else. Without going into a lot of details, there are some VERY strange things that go on behind the scenes with blogging. Eventually, all truths are known or they are buried forever.
Updated, 9:32pm: This article has been updated to reflect the discussion about the assessments the district purchased. I previously wrote these were more assessments, when the reality is they were to replace two other assessments to save instructional time and the district money. While this is certainly a good thing, it does not change my issues with the librarian issue.
Four Delaware charter schools will have to return funds based on 28 students they received funding for from the state based on not meeting specific criteria for those students. Yesterday, Delaware State Auditor Tom Wagner released the final report of a statewide audit on the September 30th Enrollment Counts which determines how many units a school gets for salaries, energy costs and equalization funds. The report does an excellent job of describing how funding in Delaware education actually works without needing an advanced accounting degree to understand. The report showed the biggest problem is inconsistency with the districts and charters on how to submit the data as well as no specific requirements for the school or district unit count coördinator to even attend the training offered by the Delaware Department of Education.
Four charter schools were specifically called out for not having the proper documentation for early Kindergarten entrance students. This is for students who are considered gifted and talented and are not the age of 5 by August 31st, as required by state law. The Auditor of Accounts found 28 students at these four charters should not have been counted in the unit count and the schools should return the funding they received for those students. The charter schools were EastSide (11 students), Family Foundations Academy (12 students), Kuumba Academy (3 students), and Delaware College Prep (2 students). Given the fact that EastSide and FFA are run by the same executive director, Dr. Lamont Browne, and that over 82% of these unlawful unit count claims are occurring at the schools he runs is very troubling. As well, the Board President is the same at both schools: Charles McDowell. FFA already had an audit report released late last year based on the prior school leaders massive fraud and theft of school funds. Kuumba Academy was spotlighted with irregularities based on an inspection report released last year. Red flags came up over unauthorized compensation for the Head of School and a custodian. Delaware College Prep did not have their charter renewed by their authorizer, Red Clay Consolidated School District, and will close at the end of this school year. They were also mentioned in the same audit inspection as Kuumba with unauthorized reimbursements to their Board President.
One thing the report showed, which I was not aware of, was the role special education service providers play in the unit counts. According to the below report, providers such as speech-language pathologists, physical therapists, occupational therapists, school psychologists and other providers are based on the following:
1 unit per 57 Regular Education students in Kindergarten to 3rd grade, Basic Special Education students 4th-12th grade, and Regular Education students 4th-12th grade
1 unit per 5.5 Intensive Special Education students
1 unit per 3 Complex Special Education students
If there is one thing I have heard in Delaware it is how schools are unable to provide these services consistently, especially for basic special education students. This is an even bigger problem with having the unit formula be the same for Kindergarten to 3rd grade basic and regular students. But all students in basic special education from Kindergarten to 12th grade are not given any advantage over regular students in receiving these services. This is a major problem and I would urge any legislator to remedy this problem immediately!
The report also highlighted the role Innovative Schools plays in enrollment counts. The Auditor of Accounts felt Innovative Schools should not be the agency conducting the enrollment counts but the school unit count coördinator. They advised either way the accountability falls on the school leader. Several charters and a scattering of traditional public schools were mentioned in the report in various sections covering details such as training participation for the unit-count system and having a clear policy manual on the process. The full report is below.
The federal government issues special education funds to states through IDEA. The state issues them based on the federal funds available, as well as their own share of state funds. In Delaware, this is the unit-count process. Under federal law, they are beholden to use the laws in IDEA to issue these funds. But now the Delaware Department of Education is looking at Smarter Balanced Assessment results in funding to local education agencies (schools). The Exceptional Children Resources Group is looking to do this based on no state or federal laws. Once again, the Delaware DOE, even under the leadership of Dr. Steven Godowsky, is creating their own rules and accountability scare tactics.
Could the DOE find more ways to screw over students with disabilities? This is obviously tied to opt-out. After high school juniors, the highest population of opt-outs was students with disabilities in Delaware. By tying funding to SBAC performance, the DOE is trying to test schools and parents. I can’t say I’m surprised. When Acting US Secretary of Education John King is holding onto state assessments as “excellence in education” and views opt-out as unacceptable, the Markell flavored Delaware DOE is sure to follow suit. When is this going to end? When will we stop relying on high-stakes tests to determine students and schools worthiness? This changes nothing. Continue to opt your child out of the Smarter Balanced Assessment Delaware parents. The testing window starts Wednesday. Opt-out and refuse the test now!
It turns out the Delaware State Auditor’s office is investigating the September 30th Enrollment Counts at certain charter schools in Delaware. Which ones? How about ALL OF THEM!!! Schools were notified in November that the Auditor of Accounts would be coming for a visit. They started going to the charters the past couple months. How do I know this? A few charters actually told me. But my question would be this: why would the auditor’s office announce they were coming ahead of time? Isn’t the point of an audit investigation that it takes you by surprise?
“September 30th Procedures.” The above picture came from Positive Outcomes board minutes from November. All schools in Delaware are required to submit their enrollment counts on September 30th of each school year. This determines the unit-based funding for special education children in Delaware. If ALL the charters under investigation by the auditor, is this for their special education counts or their TOTAL counts? This could be a VERY interesting report when it comes out! I went to the state auditor’s website, and I saw NO reports from the last three fiscal years on any type of September 30th count investigation.
Newark Charter School already had their audit done. I have to wonder why all of them are being investigated. I know Delaware Met’s numbers were in some flux for a while there. But ALL of them? I would have to imagine if ANY charter school in Delaware is reporting false numbers that would have a huge impact on their funding. As well, it is the law. But if they are fudging around with special education numbers…that’s federal as well! IDEA-B funding comes from federal coffers, and you DON’T want the feds coming after you for that kind of fraud!
At 1:30pm tomorrow, the Delaware Met will appear before the Charter School Accountability Committee to answer questions surrounding their Formal Review. At the October Delaware State Board of Education meeting, the board unanimously agreed to placing the brand new charter school on formal review two months after they opened. The school wrote a response to the allegations surrounding the Formal Review.
The school has also submitted many documents, which can be found here. But I thought a peak at the financial information they submitted to the DOE is warranted for this article. These documents confirm their current enrollment at 218 students.
Also in these documents are charts showing which traditional school districts their students are coming from along with their estimated unit counts for funding from Delaware:
Last week, Wilmington Mayor Williams and the police went to the school to address matters as well. An advocate well known in Wilmington by the name of CEO Hope attended as well. This will be a very interesting meeting tomorrow as a formal review this early in a charter school’s history is unprecedented. Note to attendees: there is no public comment at these meetings. That will occur on November 16th, and this is listed on this blog’s Education Meetings and Events page:
11/16: Delaware Met Formal Review Public Hearing, 5pm, Carvel State Office Bldg., Auditorium, 820 N. French St., 2nd Floor, Wilmington
The final recommendation by the Charter School Accountability Committee will not happen until their 11/30 meeting. After that, Secretary of Education Dr. Steven Godowsky will submit his final decision to the State Board of Education at their December 17th meeting where the board will vote for final action.
Tonight, the Wilmington Education Improvement Commission will hold their first meeting to try to determine how funding can occur for the redistricting of City of Wilmington schools into Red Clay Consolidated School District. This has been the number one question on the minds of Delawareans since this initiative was first announced. The agenda was sent to me last evening, and it is the same one on the Delaware Public Meeting Calendar. This should be a very interesting meeting. If anyone attends, please send me some notes on it! Thanks in advance!