Kathy McGuiness Got VERY Nervous About A Question During The WDEL Debate!

During the debate on WDEL on August 30th, Delaware State Auditor candidate Kathy McGuiness was bragging about how she is an independent woman and can’t be bought.  So much so, she openly admitted she sat with two polar opposite organizations.  When she was asked which organizations by moderator Alan Loudell, she literally stumbled for six seconds (an eternity in a debate) before she said “the unions and the non-unions.  She proudly says she has talked to “ABC” and unions.  “ABC” is Associated Builders and Contractors, Inc.  ABC is very anti-union and promotes Right To Work.

Jimmy Maravelias, the President of the Delaware AFL-CIO, commented on Facebook about the Hockessin parade tomorrow.  He said he only wants folks to march with the AFL-CIO if they are 100% with the union.  Does the AFL-CIO endorsed McGuiness qualify based on her statement in the debate?  You decide.  My apologies on the video being sideways:

McGuiness was clearly off guard when Allan Loudell asked her “which organizations”.  Message received, loud and clear!

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Regulation 225 Coming Back On January 31st, Better Get There Early!

11,000 Public Comments.  Huge PDF files.  It must be Regulation 225, the very controversial regulation dealing with transgender student discrimination.  Today, Delaware Secretary of Education Dr. Susan Bunting announced the Development team will reconvene on January 31st to discuss what to do with the regulation going forward.

UPDATE: Friday, Jan. 12, 2018 – The Development Team will meet from 6 to 8 p.m., Wednesday, Jan. 31 at the Del-One Conference Center on Delaware Technical Community College’s Terry Campus, 100 Campus Drive in Dover. (Tuesday, Dec. 5, 2017 – Secretary to reconvene Development Team to review public comment on proposed antidiscrimination regulation)

I tried to read all the public comments.  There is not enough time in the day.  I can say those “against” the regulation are much higher than those “for”.  The PDF for Delaware residents in the “for” category is 17 megabytes (mb).  The one for “against” is 136mb.  That is a mammoth pdf file!  There is another huge file for out-of-state residents.  That PDF is 21mb.  They are all against and seem to be put in a format where all you had to do was put your name and where you are from and that you are “against” the regulation.  Yet another file with unknown residency is over 3mb, and a file described as “other” is only half a megabyte.  Most of those were blank emails or asking the Secretary questions about when the vote was.

Last week, I was listening to the Rick Jensen show on WDEL.  It was when they were doing their “Weasel of the Year”.  Of course it went to this controversy with a huge amount of votes.  But during the show, Jensen made it sound like Delaware Governor John Carney had some problems with the wording when it came to parental rights.  Which I find interesting since he never mentions the words “opt out” when it comes to standardized testing or the Smarter Balanced Assessment.  But I digress.

I am predicting a HUGE crowd for this.  Probably why they are using the conference center at Del-Tech.  But with the amount of public comments, they might want to consider renting out the Dover Downs Speedway.

Video Of Disabled Student Getting Beat Up In Caesar Rodney High School Adds To C.R.’s Very Bad Week

On Tuesday, a student with disabilities was beat up very badly in the Caesar Rodney High School cafeteria.  According to WDEL’s Amy Cherry, this was not related to the racial slur associated with the high school mascot that shook the Caesar Rodney community this week.

The boy’s parents contacted their advocate, Diane Eastburn, because of the punishment meted out to their son who was massively beat up.  He was charged by the school with “offensive touching” even though he is not seen on the video punching the other student.  The word “bitch” was thrown around prior to the fight.  The disabled student received two days of in-school suspension but his parents do not feel the punishment should have been given to their child since he wasn’t fighting.  The parents and Eastburn contacted WDEL yesterday.  In fairness, I sent Eastburn to WDEL because I was uncomfortable posting the video with minors on it.  The video is very graphic as described by Cherry:

The student was repeatedly being punched in the back of the head as he used his hands to cover his head. The victim student suffered bumps and bruises to his head and face in the assault.

This has Eastburn wondering what is going on at Caesar Rodney High School since these two unrelated incidents happened in the same week:

“There seems to be an underlying hostility in that building,” alleged Eastburn. “And if they’re having problems they need to address it quickly. To be quite honest, they can’t afford not to.  If they start having fights like this, someone’s going to get hurt or worse.  These are lawsuits waiting to happen if they don’t start dealing with the undercurrent in that building.”

These are questions the district are going to have to look at.  I sincerely hope the disabled child does not have a concussion or any lasting damage done in this brutal assault.  I don’t think any student who is attacked should get a punishment like that, whether they are disabled or not.  If words are said, let the punishment fit that category.  But using a poor choice of words is not the same thing as offensive touching in any world.

Updated, 3:15pm: Caesar Rodney School District Superintendent Dr. Kevin Fitzgerald issued the following statement regarding this incident on the district website-

STATEMENT FROM DR. FITZGERALD REGARDING CRHS CAFETERIA INCIDENT

“Recently a fight that previously took place in the Caesar Rodney High School cafeteria has been posted to the internet.  This situation in no way is related to the recent mascot post. After an investigation by the school administration and the Delaware State Police, disciplinary action was taken and an arrest was made.  Fights of this nature, while rare are unacceptable and are not tolerated in Caesar Rodney. The District will continue to work hard to insure the safety of our students.”

 

 

Wahl v. Brandywine Case Settles! Justice For Joseph & An End To Zero Tolerance In Brandywine!

Over two years later, the Wahl family and Brandywine have settled on a matter involving zero tolerance and due process.  As reported by Amy Cherry with WDEL this morning, Patrick Wahl, father of Joseph Wahl, has reached an agreement with the Brandywine School District.  In January of 2015, Joseph Wahl was suspended for bringing “sharp objects” to school.  While not intentional, the discovery of the objects were ripe with controversy.  Patrick Wahl began a one-man crusade to change the district’s zero tolerance policy.

I’ve been following this story for years now and I am delighted Wahl and Brandywine were able to work this out.  This morning, Patrick Wahl released the following statement:

FINALLY! JUSTICE FOR JOSEPH — AND JUSTICE FOR ALL!

I’m very happy to report that the Brandywine School District and my family have settled our differences. I would like to thank the Brandywine School District for all of the work they’ve done to improve policies and to prevent the situation that occurred with my family from ever happening again. At their heart, these changes recognize that “exclusionary discipline” — out-of-school suspensions and expulsions which deny children their property right to a free education — must not be doled out cavalierly, and should be treated with all the seriousness and due process that denying this property right merits.

I said that Joseph’s suspension would not stand. It fell. I said that policies would be changed. They have been. And I said that Delaware’s “Zero Tolerance” laws which tie the hands of school administrators must go. They’re next.

As a result of Joseph’s case, the District has already created and implemented a new, mandatory training program for administrators regarding student rights, due process, what reasonable suspicion is and what it isn’t, how to conduct searches properly, and what the grievance processes are should a student or parent feel treated unfairly. They have fixed their Defiance Policy, clarifying that students can refuse certain requests without fear of punishment. Students will know why they are being searched and absent an immediate threat, students will be allowed to await their parent before any individualized search of their person or personal possessions.

Whenever a student is suspended from school, he or she will be given a form that is now truly informative, even including the contact information for any police officer who has been notified. No parent need lay awake ever again worrying that his child is under criminal investigation, and without any way to find out the status of that investigation. Steps to appeal the suspension are now spelled out on this very form, as is notification of any right to stay in school during an appeal process.

Even more importantly, the District will issue a position statement opposing “Zero Tolerance” laws and calling for our legislators to give our school administrators the ability to address disciplinary issues on a case by case basis. The District vows to lobby for this discretion. Schools breaking their silence on this issue is exactly what’s needed to get our legislators to reform bad law.

Remember when the Christina School District expelled the third-grader whose grandmother had sent a birthday cake and a knife with which to cut it to the school? The teacher used the knife, then reported the girl to the administration for having brought a dangerous weapon to the school. This mind-boggling case led to Delaware amending a law and giving school districts the ability to consider the circumstances when making expulsion decisions. That same law must now be amended once more, this time to include suspension decisions. It is a very simple change to make.

Out-of-school suspensions for first-time, unintentional offenses are especially harmful to the marginal, at-risk student. How many disciplinary issues would be better handled by an in-school suspension, where the offender can be assigned educational tasks like writing an essay about his behavior, performing some service around the school, and perhaps apologizing in front of an assembly? If there is no investigation as to who started a fight, are we punishing the victim and turning a blind eye to bullying?

Case by case does not mean weak! On the contrary, when a punishment does not fit the offense, students learn not about justice but about injustice. Students do not turn in found contraband, because they fear, correctly, that doing so will get them punished. They learn to subvert rules and policies and to have no respect for authority.

How long will Delaware schools be forced to treat plastic knives the same way they treat guns? How long are we going to keep pretending that the Advil a student inadvertently brings to school might as well have been cocaine? What happens when a student from a broken home, already feeling that school may not be the place for him, is told he is not welcome on school grounds or in school activities for a week? How does further alienating him from the school advance his education or that of others? It’s time we end the criminalization of childish mistakes. Zero tolerance policies, too, will fall.

Thank you very much to all of you for your support. Community involvement is essential if our schools are to thrive.

Oh, and one more thing.

I’m 51 years old and starting law school at Widener in the fall!

Hey, Grandma Moses didn’t start painting until she was 78 years old!

#BSDisGreatandGettingBetter

Wahl was not alone in issuing a statement.  The district released the following language concerning the issue:

The District appreciates Joseph Wahl raising awareness of potential imperfections in the Defiance, Search and Seizure, and Due Process provisions in our Student Code of Conduct. While we admit no liability, we have used Joseph’s situation as a learning opportunity and have made substantive changes to the District’s policies, procedures, and practices including changes to our Student Code of Conduct. We have also implemented safeguards to ensure teachers, administrators, and other school employees are properly trained regarding the students’ rights. These revised provisions are available on the District’s Facebook page, website and will be printed in the next printed version of the Student Code of Conduct. Faculty and staff will be receiving training on these revised procedures.”

It looks like Brandywine’s zero tolerance policy will become a thing of the past.  All Delaware school districts should get rid of these obscene policies.  Our General Assembly should do whatever it takes to make them extinct as well.  While no one wants a Columbine situation at our schools, there is such a thing as taking things too far.  Zero tolerance results in situations exactly like what Joseph Wahl went through.

Never underestimate the will and resolve of a parent when something doesn’t feel quite right.  Wahl fought the district, the Brandywine Board of Education, took it to the State Board of Education, had a FOIA complaint ruled in his son’s favor with the Delaware Department of Justice, and filed suit.  Some have said he didn’t have to do this, but look at the results.  He got the district to change a policy.  That is not an easy thing to do, especially when dealing with a discipline issue.  I salute Wahl for his perseverance.

If Wahl does become a lawyer, I can only imagine what opposing attorneys would go through in a courtroom if this case was any indication.

To follow the storyline of Wahl v. Brandywine, please go to the following links.  It looks like all of Wahl’s Youtube videos are no longer viewable.

brandywine-board-violated-foia-according-to-doj-legal-opinion-over-removal-of-student-discipline-record/

holodick-brandywine-name-in-lawsuit-as-father-seeks-justice-for-year-long-nightmare/

patrick-wahl-launches-youtube-video-called-why-im-suing-the-brandywine-school-district-its-not-for-my-kid-its-for-yours/

an-open-letter-to-brandywine-superintendent-dr-mark-holodick/

brandywine-threatens-8-million-in-cuts-if-referendum-doesnt-pass-40-teachers-at-risk-of-losing-jobs/

doc-holodick-gets-superintendent-of-the-year-patrick-wahl-gets-the-ed-parent-warrior-of-the-year-award/

 

Delaware Senator David Sokola Openly Lied To Citizens In His Debate Last Night

Delaware Senator David Sokola openly lied in a debate with his opponent for the 8th Senate District, Republican Meredith Chapman.  WDEL covered the event which included a lot of talk about opt out and districts vs. charters.  When confronted with the question of opt out, WDEL reported the following:

Longtime incumbent state Senator David Sokola does not fully support an opt-out provision.

“If it said opt-out of Smarter Balanced, I’d probably support it,” said Sokola. “But if just said opt-out of the state tests–then I’d have a problem because I think we will be moving to a different assessment within a couple of years anyway.”

As Senator Sokola knows, House Bill 50 in its original incarnation was for all state assessments.  However, prior to the House voting on the bill, State Rep. Sean Matthews added an amendment limiting the legislation to just the Smarter Balanced Assessment.  It overwhelmingly passed the House and went to the Senate Education Committee, chaired by Senator Sokola.  When it was released from that committee, it went to the floor for a full Senate vote.  Sokola added an amendment to the bill to include all district assessments.  The amendment passed but Sokola voted no on House Bill 50.  After another Senator put on an amendment which was taken off by the House, it went back to the Senate for a second vote and Sokola voted no a second time.

David Sokola is a flat-out liar.  Some have attempted to sway me into supporting Sokola because of his track record on other issues, but I see him for what he is.  He is no longer fit to represent the people of his district, much less any child in the State of Delaware.  He can’t even own up to his own decisions and be honest about it.  Vote for Meredith Chapman in the 8th Senate District.  A quarter of a century of this liar is far too long…

Update On The Christina Mold Crisis

Within two days after I broke the story about the Pulaski Kennel Cough, WDEL and The News Journal jumped on the story.  The quid pro quo in Delaware media doesn’t seem to apply for the “mainstream” journalists who pick up news from the bloggers.  I always link to their information, but apparently that fair play doesn’t go both ways, but I digress.

This morning, the Delaware Division of Public Health is performing a walk-through at Pulaski Elementary School.  This will be followed by a 12 noon press conference at Pulaski with Christina Acting Superintendent Bob Andrzejewski, Wilmington 6th District City Councilwoman Sherry Dorsey-Walker, and a representative from the Delaware ’87ers.  The purpose of the press conference will be to discuss the mold issue in the school.

For those who are downplaying this issue, it is VERY serious.  And I am just putting this out there again… NO TEACHER WILL BE IN ANY WAY PENALIZED OR HAVE RAMIFICATIONS FOR TALKING ABOUT THESE ISSUES.  I will expose it more than I just did on the Susan Monday show on WDEL this morning.  Don’t even think I’m kidding!  This doesn’t just apply to Pulaski or Christina, but any Delaware school.  If you wish to remain anonymous, I will protect that right.  My email is kevino3670@yahoo.com if you want to talk or send pictures.  These teachers speaking out about these issues are heroes and deserve whistleblower protection.  They are sticking their necks out to reveal this information and if anyone gets ready to sharpen the axe, think twice…

Big Issues In Indian River: Upcoming Referendum, Pending Audit Inspection, Federal Discrimination Lawsuit, and A Shrinking Budget

indian-river

The Indian River School District has seen better times.  While the embattled district faces an upcoming referendum in November, they must also contend with a huge influx of new students, a discrimination lawsuit, a budget that cannot handle itself, and an audit coming out this month from the Delaware Auditor of Accounts office.  Hopefully the last will answer the question of what their former Chief Financial Officer Patrick Miller was up to.  As I reported last month, sources contacted me under anonymity that Miller somehow absconded with millions of dollars in his time as CFO of the district.

Coastal Point reported on September 23rd that Indian River is not the only school district under review by the state Auditor’s office.  But, as usual, they are not ponying up any details.  I get that, but at the same time it gives them the capability of making things disappear when things get too hot in the kitchen, like the charter school petty cash audit.

“We like doing these things quietly (and make the announcement) when we’re done and we have a report for the public, so there’s not speculation out there,” Wagner said. “People get into wild speculations, and we try to avoid all that.”

On November 22nd, the district will attempt an operating expense referendum, as detailed on their website:

The district is proposing a tax increase of 49 cents per $100 of assessed property value. The measure will raise $7,350,000 in additional local revenue. The average district taxpayer will see an increase of $95.41 in his or her annual property tax bill.

But Coastal Point indicates this may not be the only referendum the school will ask for this school year:

More students means less space for each, so IRSD is working with the Department of Education to potentially build new schools and classrooms. That could possibly mean another referendum in the spring of 2017, for major capital improvement (to build new schools) and current expenses (if more money is needed for continuing costs).

Taxpayers in the district, especially elderly ones, are not going to like the proposition of two tax increases in less than a year.  In the Coastal Point article, Delaware State Auditor Tom Wagner indicated the investigative audit against Indian River School District will most likely be released to the district first for them to review.  After that it will be released to the public.  Will it come out before the November 22nd referendum?  That could be important for many reasons.  If the audit comes back finding something bad, and it comes out before the referendum, that could cause voters to vote no.  If it comes out after, taxpayers will say they felt cheated.  As well, a post-referendum release could assure a failure of the potential 2nd referendum vote next spring.

The district was very clear about the ramifications of a failed referendum on November 22nd:

If the referendum is not approved by voters, the district could face cuts to school safety, a significant reduction in staff due to an inability to meet payroll, larger class sizes, further discretionary budget cuts, the loss of staff to other school districts and inadequate instructional supplies and materials.

But financial issues are not the only crisis in the district.  There is also the matter of what happened earlier this week.  On Tuesday, October 4th, it was publicly announced the Coalition for Education Reform filed a federal lawsuit against Indian River.  Their allegations claim the district sent a disproportionate number of African-American students to an alternative special education school called the George Washington Carver Academy.  According to Randall Chase with WDEL 101.7FM:

The Coalition for Education Reform claimed that the district is using the George Washington Carver Academy, a special education school, as a “punitive dumping ground” for black students branded as “troublemakers.”  The group says black students are being removed from mainstream schools and sent to Carver in disproportionate numbers on flimsy pretexts and for arbitrary periods of time, while their educational needs are neglected.

As a parent of a special needs child, I can’t even begin to express how much this concerns me.  Shuffling off any students to different schools over discipline issues has become the quick Band-Aid for many Delaware school districts.  And some charter schools either expel the student or counsel them out.  While a federal lawsuit may not play out for a long time, I have to wonder if the district knew this was coming and is beginning to look at this in future budgets should they lose.

It looks like the Christina School District is not the only district in the state facing an avalanche of issues all at once.

 

Did Appo Shoot Itself In The Foot Tuesday Night?

Lastly, to the charge that money was transferred out of the tuition fund, Longfellow said that was true, but said that happens nearly every year and is a legal maneuver.

Additionally, Forsten explained that the money went to funds that help settle costs that aren’t part of the tuition tax budget itself.

Mr. Forsten, could you please tell me what the legal maneuver is that allows Appoquinimink School District to transfer funds out of the tuition fund and how it is legal?

I saw an item on Appoquinimink’s board agenda for last night that said “Tuition Tax Clarification”.  Assuming this was in response to my articles about their tuition tax warrant last month, I figured I would wait until their board audio recording to address this.  But as luck would have it, I didn’t have to wait very long because Kilroy just wrote an article based off WDEL’s article on the subject at their board meeting Tuesday night.  The above quote, taken from the WDEL article, clearly shows that Appoquinimink Superintendent Matt Burrows, Chief Financial Officer Dr. Charles Longfellow, and the Appo Board President Richard Forsten aren’t too familiar with Delaware accounting procedures and policies.

You can’t just take money from revenue collected through a tuition tax warrant and apply it anywhere you want.  That isn’t how it goes.  The law in Delaware is VERY clear about this:

(a) If any pupil is counted in the preschool, intensive or complex unit and attends school in a program operated by a district other than that in which the pupil resides, by an agency of the Department of Education or is in an approved private placement pursuant to § 3124 of this title, the receiving district or the Department of Education shall collect a tuition charge for the nonresident pupil, provided approval for attendance has been granted by the sending district. Such tuition charge shall be paid by the school board of the reorganized school district in which the pupil is a resident from the proceeds of a local tax levied for this specific purpose, except that in the case of a district assigned by the Department with the approval of the State Board of Education to administer a school or program for children with disabilities, or special programs approved by the Department of Education for persons without disabilities such as programs for bilingual students or programs for pregnant students, the district so assigned shall be both the sending and receiving district in regard to that school or program and is authorized to collect tuition charges accordingly.

(b) In determining the tuition to be charged for a pupil counted in the preschool, intensive or complex units or for a person without disabilities attending approved special programs, such as bilingual programs or programs for pregnant students operated by a district other than that in which the student resides or by an agency of the State Department of Education, the receiving district or the State Department of Education shall compute the tuition by adding such receiving district’s share of educational related expenses as allowed by the Department of Education regulations. The sum so obtained shall be divided by the total number of pupils in the special program as of September 30 of the current school year. The resulting figure shall represent the amount of the “tuition charge” per pupil.

(c) In determining the tuition charged to the sending district in the case of private placement for children with disabilities, tuition will be defined as in § 3124 of this title and the sending district will be charged 30 percent of the total tuition cost. The remaining 70 percent will be covered through funding provided by the State Department of Education from the annual appropriation for this purpose.

(d) Section 602(c)-(e) of this title shall apply to this section.

And let’s see what Section 602(c)-(e) states:

(c) The bill for tuition charges shall be verified by the Secretary of Education within 20 days after receipt of such bill. No bill for tuition charges shall be paid until such time as it has been certified by the Secretary of Education as being true and correct.

(d) For each pupil attending a public school of another district as of September 30, the receiving district shall bill the sending district and the sending district shall pay the tuition charges per pupil on or before January 1 of the fiscal year in which the bill is submitted to the sending district for payment. In the case of pupils attending the public schools of the receiving district for less than a full term, the tuition charge shall be prorated by reference to the period of time during which such pupils actually attended the receiving district’s schools, provided that attendance for part of any month shall be counted as a full month of attendance.

(e) Any reorganized school district sending pupils to the schools of another district shall levy and collect a tax to pay any tuition charges to the receiving district, and such tuition shall be collected by local taxation within the sending district according to the provisions of taxation as set forth in Chapter 19 of this title, except that no referendum shall be required. The sending district shall estimate the amount of, determine the rate for and levy the tax upon the estimate at the time that regular tax levies are announced to the appropriate taxing authorities, and the levy shall be adjusted annually to correct errors in the estimate as provided for in subsection (b) of this section.

So the tuition tax that caused the Appo board to issue a tax warrant last month is based on Section 604, and only Section 604.  There are additional areas where these funds can be used though, as per House Bill 1 from the Delaware 146th General Assembly:

House Bill 1, 146th General Assembly:

b. The following provisions shall apply to the Preschool unit:

v. Districts may use tuition to pay for the local share and excess costs of special education and related services.

b. The following provisions shall apply to the Pre-K – 12 Intensive Special Education (“Intensive”) unit:

ix. Districts may use tuition to pay for the local share and excess costs of the program.

b. The following provisions shall apply for the Pre-K-12 Complex Special Education (“Complex”) unit:

ix. Districts may use tuition to pay for the local share and excess costs of the program.

So districts can use tuition tax to pay  for their local share of special education and excess costs for each specific program.  But not for Basic Special Education students, just Preschool Special Education students, Pre-K-12th grade Intensive Special Education students and Pre-K-12th grade Complex Special Education students.

In Appo’s FY2017 preliminary budget, they state exactly what the Tuition Tax increase of $818,000 will be going towards:

FY2017AppoPrelimBudget

I submitted a Freedom of Information Act request to the Appoquinimink School District last month which I promptly received.  I had not gone through it extensively until now.

I can see the out-of-district placements for students with disabilities going to Special Schools or day or residential treatment centers going up by $100,000.  For FY2016, they spent $2,441,295 for these students.  In FY2017, they are projecting it will go up to $2,570,633.  That seems like a modest projection based on the history with these payments.  I have no qualms with those figures whatsoever.  What I do take issue with though is the appropriation section #99970020/99999999 Needs-Based going up from $7,148,711 to $7,863,582 without any justification for that increase.  As well, we can see their projected amounts for FY2018 which will generate another tax warrant next year but maybe 10% less than this year’s based on their projected numbers.  But Appo did supply two other documents in my FOIA request…

In this document, we see a seven year history with students in the category of Pre-K, Intensive, and Complex.  Also included are the teacher units generated from these increases.  Note the Pre-K units are going down each year.  On the flip side, Intensive and Complex special education students are going up which generates more teaching units as well as services related to those students, such as occupational therapists, speech therapists, and so on.

Now the district was kind enough to give a breakdown of how much went to each category for FY2016.  I do appreciate that.  It does give quite a bit of insight into where they think the funds should go.  Now keep in mind Appo dated this document 7/20/16.

In their projections for FY2017, they based the FY2016 final figure at $9,590,006.  But in this document, it is $9,424,524.26.  That is a difference of $165,481.54.  So they are already way off on their FY2017 budget by having this amount wrong.  This is what they based their tax warrant on, the figure of $9,590,006 for FY2016, and they are basing their FY2017 budgeted projection off that number.  They are already off.  Even in their board meeting Tuesday night, they gave an amount spent as of 6/30/16 on Local Tuition Tax of $9,508,447.03.  This was the part of their board meeting where they approved the monthly budget as of 6/30/16 based on their Citizen Budget Oversight Committee recommendation.  Even they weren’t given the correct amount.  Do I go by a FOIA request, which has to be legal, or their preliminary budget, or the amount their CBOC provided to the board which comes from their CFO?  I’m sticking with the FOIA figure because that has the latest figures, as of 7/20/16.

Now look at the document and where it says “Indirect Cost” for an amount of $276,709.36.  These are funds they transferred out of their tuition tax revenue bucket into another bucket with no explanation of where it went or why.  So adding what they were already off and the “Indirect Cost”, we are up to $442,190.90, which is over half of their tuition tax increase of $818,000 going towards mathematical errors or shifting the money out of the revenue bucket it was supposed to stay in.  You can’t just transfer funds out and call that a legitimate expense.

Which brings us to legal costs.  In FY2017, Appoquinimink spent a total of $171,783.75 in legal costs for the entire district.  But we are expected to believe they spent $124,279.20 out of that figure just for special education legal costs?  Furthermore, should funds spent on legal costs in a special education dispute where a parent is suing the district be counted as legitimate funds to come out of a tax warrant?  Because I can see at least $28,500 going towards that purpose right off the bat.  That means the parents feel the school did not provide a Free Appropriate Public Education for their disabled child.  And if the school is paying those attorneys, that means at the very least there was some type of settlement involved whereby the district paid the opposing attorney as well as their own attorney costs.  As well, we see a payment made to another school covered under legal fees.  This could be a case where a parent sued the district and the district agreed to pay the tuition costs for another school.  That was for $25,575.  So with these VERY questionable legal items Appo feels they can cover under funds generated from a tax warrant, we are looking at another $54,075 in questionable charges in their FY2016 tuition tax expenditures, which brings us up to $496,265.90.    We are now up to over 60% of their $818,000 tax warrant increase.  I won’t even get into the fact they are paying a school nurse under legal fees.  Shall I keep going?

There are legitimate expenses they put on this document.  Teacher salaries and their benefits are okay to have in there.  Related services, which means “Specialists”, according to House Bill 1, does have some caveats:

“(12) Specialists. All related services units are earned at the district or charter school level. Preschool, Basic, Intensive and Complex related services units earned shall be used to support related services needs of students in those units. Districts may use earned units to hire any related services staff necessary or alternatively choose to provide all or part of those services through a contractual arrangement with a public or private agency. When providing services by contract, the dollar value of the contract shall not exceed the authorized salary for a teacher at the Master’s level plus 10 years and employed for a period of 12 months per year as provided for in 14 Del. C. § 1305 of this title, divided by the number of months in the terms of the contract. Partial unit funding is provided based on the dollar value of the unit. Any school district wishing to use funds under the contractual option set forth in this section shall make application to the Department of Education for that use, provided that the State Board may review any objection to the Department decision;”

So, as an example to this, Appo currently has two contracts with Therapy Services of Delaware for three occupational therapists and two physical therapists.  This contract is for FY2017, and I could not find one for FY2016.  But given that they keep projecting up with students who would need these services, it would stand to reason the contract for FY2016 was either similar or less.  But I will operate on the assumption it is similar.  That means, based on the above law, the district can’t pay out more than $60,558.00 for a full-time “specialist” based on the Appo Salary Schedule for a Teacher at the Master’s level plus 10 years.  In the case of Therapy Services, the contracts call for three full-time occupational therapists and two full-time physical therapists.  So they can’t pay more than $302,790.  In FY2016, according to Delaware Online Checkbook, Appo paid Therapy Services $302,442.63.  So it appears they are acutely aware of the laws surrounding these special education services given how very close to the maximum number they could go up to in the contracts.

The reason I brought up a situation where they are doing everything by the book was to illustrate they do know what they are doing.  But for some reason, maybe because of how they are audited by the DOE for certain special education costs, they are able to curtail other things that have a dramatic effect on what they are including in the tuition tax part of their budget.

I could go through more of these, but I believe you get my point.  Appo’s $818,000 tuition tax increase is based on very faulty math, bad accounting procedures, and violations of Delaware state code from their previous fiscal year.  The expenses they are covering under tuition tax don’t hold water with my tests in some areas but in others they do.  Yes, I do own the fact that when I originally wrote about this issues, I seriously questioned where $5 million disappeared to.  But I quickly corrected that a few days later when I found the missing $5 million in related services.  I just didn’t account for the related services amounts in my initial article.  But when I’ve already killed over 60% of your increase of $818,000, and I have barely scratched the surface of your entire tuition tax expenditures for FY2016, I have no doubt that percentage would increase.  So you are NOT justified Appoquinimink School Board of Education, to approve a tuition tax increase costing the Appoquinimink property owners an additional $7.76 per $100 of assessed property values based on this.  As a board, and some have done this in Delaware so they don’t raise the ire of local taxpayers, they can forego or decrease a tuition tax increase based on the projected increase.  But what you can’t do is charge more than what should be the budgeted amount.  Something Longfellow seems to think is the opposite case according to WDEL:

He said, not only is the district justified to increase the tuition tax based on enrollment, Appoquinimink isn’t even increasing the tax to the fullest extent permitted.

Would I expect the Appoquinimink School Board to know these facts?  Not really.  Unless you really do some digging like I have, you won’t just find these things on a piece of paper looking at it.  But should Longfellow and Burrows know these things?  Absolutely.  Let’s not forget, their board approved their FY2017 Preliminary Budget and the tax warrant before they approved a $500 increase for administrators in the district at their July board meeting.  I called that a sleight of hand on Longfellow’s part.  I believe he knew exactly what he was doing.  But the board just skimmed right past that part.

“It was just a case of someone not understanding everything,” Board President Richard Forsten said to WDEL after the meeting.

I will give Forsten that.  I knew something was wrong and I made some incorrect assumptions.  But my gut instinct still told me something was wrong even after I found my error.  And then I found Appoquinimink’s errors.  To be fair, I received the FOIA request two days after I requested it.  But did I get everything I asked for in the FOIA request?

719AppoFOIARequest

For the most part, I did.  But what the FOIA did not cover, and no one has been able to answer, is the breakdown of funds allocated in the categories of related services for intense and basic, as well as allocations for occupational therapists, physical therapists, speech therapists and so on.  By lumping so much of their special education costs into very broad categories of “consultants”, “other professional service” or “medical services” would not give any member of the public the ability to see exactly what is going towards tuition costs.

Furthermore, neither Burrows or Longfellow ever replied to my email requests to discuss these matters after my original article on July 14th.  Not one single email, phone call, or response.  Until their board meeting last night.

Part of the blame for this lies with the state.  We have a Division of Accounting within the Department of Finance.  We have a State Auditor.  We have an Office of Management and Budget.  We have a General Assembly.  They should all be keeping track of these things and providing oversight into not only what our schools are spending money on, but how they are spending money.  When I hear a Board President state transferring over a quarter of a million dollars out of an account earmarked for only certain things related to special education as a “legal maneuver”, that concerns me.

“All the numbers are there and they’re all justified, its just that you have to know what you’re looking for,” said Forsten.

Are they Mr. Forsten?  I beg to differ…

But the biggest concern I have is the extreme lack of oversight from the Delaware Department of Education in these matters.  When it comes to special education funding, especially tuition tax expenditures, they should be looking into these matters.  It isn’t a question of “may”, it is a question of “shall” according to Section 352 of HS1 for House Bill 225, the budget bill for FY2016.  While this mostly concerns out-of-district placements, the last line says it all…

HS1ForHB225Sect352

I’m fairly certain that special education lawsuits should NOT be covered in tuition tax payments.  Nor should Indirect Costs going out of this fund.  And tax warrants should be based on a specific amount based on the prior year spending, not the highest of three amounts (and most likely the most inaccurate amount).  I look forward to their response to this article.  Will I get an email, a phone call, or another special section of their board meeting?  Or none of the above?

Appoquinimink Gouges Taxpayers For Special Education Tuition Payments But $5 Million Is Unaccounted For

The Appoquinimink School District Board of Education approved an action item on Tuesday night to cover “rising special education costs” in the district, according to an article by Amy Cherry and Yossi Goldstein with WDEL.  To say the reasoning for this tax hike, which will cost the average Middletown resident on average of $65 a year, is misleading at best, would be an understatement.  According to the Appoquinimink Director of Finance, Dr. Charles Longfellow:

“Tuition, which is for special education students, is an (estimated) $815,000 increase (for 2017),” explained Longfellow.

That is the basis for their case.  But in Delaware, special education funding comes from three sources: the feds, the state, and local funding.  Is this $815,000 increase just the local increase or overall?  For “tuition”, which is based on special education students choicing out of the district to another district to attend a special school, like the Delaware Autism Program or the Delaware School for the Deaf, the sending district has to pay the other district that portion of funds.  As well, it could also be to cover funds for students sent to alternative schools within the district, but since Appoquinimink has no alternative schools, this is a moot point.  In a sense, it is the customary tuition, but the districts pay each other.  Students in Appo don’t tend to choice out at the higher rates other districts have to deal with.  But students with disabilities in Appo do tend to choice out more than students with disabilities in other districts, as detailed by the Statewide Review of Education Opportunities report commissioned by the Delaware State Board of Education last year:

SWDChoiceBarExplanation

Appo’s biggest student population drain is MOT Charter School.  Since the Delaware Department of Education hasn’t published these reports since 2014, it is very difficult to tell just how many students choice in or out of Appo.  However, in looking at choice students historically, Appo tends not to bleed out as many students as other surrounding districts.  Even more misleading is the fact that, aside from basic special education funding for students in Kindergarten to 3rd grade, the special education funding from the state is based on the number of special education units in the district.  If you have more special education students, you would get more state funds.  However, and where tuition funds come into play, when the school cannot provide the special education services to the student based on the individual special education allotment of funding for that student, the state doesn’t pay more.  And if the student attends a special school in another district, this is where the tuition costs are created.

But Appo seems to justify this tax hike on their district website:

At the beginning of each new fiscal year, school districts must review their financial obligations and establish school tax rates to be collected on their behalf by New Castle County. A system of checks and balances is in place to ensure fiscal responsibility. This includes a review by the volunteers who serve on the District’s Financial Advisory Committee and approval of the Board of Education. Current and historical tax rate information is available in our budget documents accessible via the links to the right.

It’s funny they bring up the District Financial Advisory Committee, because when you click on that section of their district website, you see no reports or a list of the members of this committee, just a log-in for these special members.  Delaware law states each public body must show how the committee representation is made up.  While actual minutes or committee members are not required to be listed on a district or charter website, most districts and charters do show this information to support a level of transparency.  But not Appo.  They don’t even show meeting times, agendas, or minutes for their version of a Citizens Budget Oversight Committee.

But even if the district had a massive influx of special education students choicing in or out of their district after the official September 30th count (which determines special education funding from the state for each district), we should see that reflected in their final budget approved by the board on 2/23/16, right?  Not so.  Their tuition tax did increase by $90,000 from last summer until February of this year.  However, only 30,000 of that was for special schools out of the district.  Furthermore, on page 12 of the budget, it states they transferred $276,000 out of the tuition pool to another bucket of funding.  As well, it was projected the tuition fund would be at $8,407,661 in the initial budget, but due to the transfer and an unidentifiable increase in “Instruction and Operations” to the tune of $425,630.00, it left the district $702,039 in the hole.  But it gets more interesting on page 15 when it shows projected revenue of $8,503,168 for the year coming from property taxes.  But there is no viable proof anywhere that justifies a $720,000 increase for this in FY2017.  At least not in special education.  Upon careful review of this budget, they actually overestimated their initial special education costs by over $100,000.00 for the receipt of federal IDEA-B funds, which means they must have had a decrease in students with disabilities, not an increase.

To make matters worse, I checked to see how much Appo spent on special education in FY2016.  Since none of our districts or charters are consistent with how they code education funding in many areas, it took some time to find Appo’s portions.  According to Delaware Online Checkbook, Appo spent over $1.8 million dollars in FY2016 to cover related services for special education in the district.  That is what they spent under the categories for basic, intensive, and complex.  But those covered special education salaries.  When you look at their tuition payments, I’m not seeing $8,503,168 or anything close to that number.

AppoTuitionPmtsFY2016Instate

AppoTuitionPmtsFY2016OutStateorPrv

I looked in every possible category to see if it these tuition payments could somehow be miscoded and I found absolutely nothing going towards other school districts.  In the above pictures, I also included funds going to Delaware and out of state residential treatment centers.  So at a maximum, Appo spent a little over $3 million in tuition payments for FY2016.  Perhaps they haven’t paid some of the bills for this?  I checked the prior year, and we are looking at a little bit less in FY2015:

AppoTuitionPmtsFY2015InState

AppoTuitionPmtsFY2015OutState

So where did over $5 million in funds allocated in their budget for tuition payments go?  This is a question only Appo can answer, and I expect we will find out after this article comes out.  Keep in mind, this is budgeted funds, so it isn’t missing like someone stole it.  They spent it somewhere else when tuition funds are specifically earmarked to cover special education costs.  The only other areas where a district board can approve a tax warrant is for reading and/or math specialists and minor capital improvements.  In FY2016, Appo spent about $983,000 on reading and math specialists.  To be on the safe side, I reviewed a few other districts budgets and what they have allocated for tuition.  For the most part, those districts matched their budgeted amount and what appears on Delaware Online Checkbook.

According to the Delaware DOE school profile site, in FY2015, the feds provided 2% of the district’s overall funding, 67% came from the state, and 30% from local taxes with an average district cost per student of $11,226.00.  If you compare this to the average for the rest of the state, the feds provide 10% of funds, the state  pays 59% and local funds make up the remaining 31%.  So why does Appo receive such a small amount of federal funds?  Most of that has to do with Title I allocations, which go towards schools with high concentrations of low-income students.  For Appoquinimink, their low-income population represents 14.7% of the students in the district.  For the state, this average is 36%.  As well, the state average for students with disabilities is 14.4% while Appo has a lower number at 11.8%.  To break this down even further, the most expensive category of special education is students in a complex status.  These are students who need one-on-one support at all times and many related services which are very costly.  Appoquinimink has a very low number of this special education population compared to other districts in New Castle and Kent County.  The two closest districts in terms of student populations, Brandywine and Indian River, have much higher populations of complex special education students.  Appo is at 58% of Brandywine’s total complex population while they are at 36% of Indian River’s number.  Even against Colonial, who has 1,000 less students in their overall population, Appo comes at 37% of their complex special education population.  We know the district isn’t losing special education students to MOT Charter School because they only have 4 complex students with disabilities and only 69 special education students overall.  What does that tell us?  Either there aren’t that many complex special education students in Appoquinimink or their parents send these students to private schools.  The Middletown/Odessa area is growing at an incredible fast rate, however, it is also one of the more affluent areas of the state.

“That’s why the state and feds protect the right to get this money without going to referendum–they prescribe the services, how to identify them, what needs to be offered,” said Appoquinmink Public Information Officer Lilian Miles.

Of course they protect the right.  It allows them to pay less of the allocations they should be paying for special education.  But the district doesn’t seem to care, because one way or another they will get this money.  They don’t care if they have to gouge the taxpayer.  Perhaps those are harsh words, but in light of the biggest fabrication coming from Miles is this absolute lie:

Miles said the population of special education students has doubled over the past five years in Appoquinmink, though it remains a very small percentage of the district’s student body. The growth is representative of what’s happening all across the Middletown area.

Wow, the special education population doubled?  That is a massive increase Ms. Miles.  However, your statement doesn’t hold water.  In checking on the Delaware September 30th Enrollment unit count reports, I found Appoquinimink had the following special education populations from FY2011 to FY 2016:

FY2011: 839

FY2012: 963

FY2013: 976

FY2014: 1,038

FY2015: 1,125

FY2016: 1,268

Even using Common Core math, it is easy to determine that 839+839=1,678.  Being that the difference between 839 and 1,268 is 429, I would hardly call that a “doubling”.  Unless they are counting the students with disabilities who either graduated or turned 21 over the past five years and are no longer a part of the district population in those numbers, than yeah, I could believe that statement.  But it would be a statement built on false pretenses.  Granted, the district’s population of complex special education students did double from 43 to 87 students but would that be enough to cover $8 million dollars in tuition costs?  Not even closeWhat astonishes me even more is either their board was oblivious to this outright lie or they really didn’t care.

If a tax warrant weren’t approved, Miles said funds to cover special education would have to come from the general operating budget.  “You don’t want to short the 90 percent by taking money from their pot–you just have to work to get it right,” said Miles. “It’s raising taxes for the services you are required to provide for this special population.”

So, Ms. Miles, if those funds won’t come out of the general operating budget based on revenue from what I view as a fraudulent tax increase based a board’s suspension of disbelief over special education populations within the very district they oversee, what are you using those funds in the general operating budget for?  And furthermore, say nothing happens as a result of this article which happens in Delaware way too much for my liking, and we have already caught you in a major lie concerning the most vulnerable of children, how do we know those funds would even go towards special education?  Especially since nine districts put basic special education funding all in one bucket to the state, as opposed to allocating those funds towards buckets like occupational therapists, speech therapists, physical therapy, and whatnot.  And only Appo and Capital put funds going towards complex and intense special education students in these lumped groups, thus making it impossible to find out how much these two districts are paying for certain types of services.  But at least you aren’t Brandywine who seems to throw it all in one bucket for basic to regular special education students, assuming they have NO intense or complex special education students.

But according to the special education section of Appo’s website, at least they are fully aware of which bucket these funds should go in:

The most common types of special education services are: Reader or interpreter; Assistive technology; Speech therapy; Occupational therapy; Life-skills training; Personal counseling or therapy; Transportation assistance; Physical therapy; Hearing-loss therapy or audiology; Job counseling or training.

I would strongly suggest the Appoquinimink Board of Education reconvene in an emergency session to rescind their vote cast Tuesday night and actually review this situation for what it is.  How dare this district and board use special needs children in their quest for more money, and to add insult to injury, charging every property tax paying citizen in the district to get that money.  I looked on the boarddocs section of their website, and most traditional school district boards provide documents to go along with items like this.  Not so with Appoquinimink.  So there is no way for the public to see this huge increase needed for special education funding based on an already missing $5 million dollars for this purpose.  Anyone involved in this should resign now or face charges for fraud.  Furthermore, any tax warrants for New Castle County have to be approved by county council.  I would strongly recommend this council not even entertain this farce.

Did you vote in the Brandywine Referendum yet?

The Brandywine School District is having their second attempt at a referendum today.  To say both sides have come out swinging for the fences would be an understatement.  Politicians like Delaware Governor Jack Markell, Senator Tom Carper, and State Reps Bryon Short and Sean Matthews have all come out in support for the referendum.  Brandywine father Patrick Wahl appeared on the Rick Jensen show yesterday along with referendum leader James Hanby.  Wahl is claiming the district gave out absentee ballots to an assisted living home along with a host of other issues about the referendum.  The Delaware Dept. of Education came out with a letter yesterday indicating it erred with the number of administrators that show on the DOE website.  Teachers in and out of the district are urging citizens to get out and vote.  Brian Stephan wrote a post on Delaware Liberal yesterday addressing many of Wahl’s allegations.

GodowskyHolodick

We will know tonight if this attempt passed or failed.  It is getting very hard to keep track of what is truth and what is not, from both sides of the issue.  As of 12:55pm today, the New Castle County Dept. of Elections verified 2,085 people have voted already in 18 out of the 22 polling stations.  I’m not taking sides on this one folks.  There is too much mass confusion surrounding this one.  Most likely, the truth is somewhere in the middle in certain areas.  The important thing is to get out there and vote if you live in Brandywine.

Brandywine Threatens $8 Million In Cuts If Referendum Doesn’t Pass, 40 Teachers At Risk Of Losing Jobs

Yossi Goldstein with WDEL broke the news this morning concerning the Brandywine School District’s cuts they will have to make if their second referendum attempt this year does not pass on May 17th.  The district did not include the new turf costs in this referendum attempt.  Dr. Mark Holodick, the Brandywine Superintendent, laid down the potential areas where costs would occur at their board meeting last night.  While the below doomsday scenario doesn’t give exact amounts for each area or how definitive the cuts would be, he did estimate 40 teacher positions would be cut resulting in larger classroom sizes.

Brandywine is part of the BRInC Consortium which is a collection of several Delaware school districts who share a blended learning program, combining digital learning and actual instruction.  The report did mention the district’s “Instructional Technology Plan initiative”.  There was no mention of pending legal costs for the lawsuit filed by Patrick Wahl against the district which has received a great deal of media attention the past couple months.

Last month, both the Christina and Cape Henlopen School Districts passed their referendums, but Brandywine did not.

WDEL’s Weasel Of The Year: The Department of Education led by Donna Johnson and Dr. Teri Quinn Gray!!!

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The Rick Jensen Show on WDEL just announced their Weasel of the Year for 2015, and by a very wide margin, the Delaware Department of Education led by Executive Director Donna Johnson and State Board of Education President Dr. Teri Quinn Gray took the award!  Other nominees were Bloom Energy, Paul Ryan, Governor Markell, and more.  But the DOE won by 27 votes.  Congratulations to the DOE, Donna Johnson, and Dr. Gray!  You certainly worked very hard all year long to get this prestigious honor!

Once Rick gets the podcast of this on the WDEL website I will definitely put it up on here!

Knowing the power structure down at the Townsend Building down in Dover, I have no doubt Donna Johnson will be very irate at being called the leader of the Delaware DOE.  I let Rick know this on the air as well, but I also said they are essentially the same thing.  Maybe not in the formal Delaware State Code, but you know what I’m saying.  The best part?  Even though Governor Markell didn’t win, this is reflective of him because he appointed all of the key personnel at the Delaware DOE.  So this is a double victory in my book!

WEIC Public Hearing At Brandywine Springs Brings A Different Crowd

The Wilmington Education Improvement Commission held their fourth public hearing concerning the draft plan for the redistricting of Wilmington schools last night at Brandywine Elementary School.  Shana O’Malley with WDEL wrote about the WEIC draft concerns earlier today.

Something’s broken in the school system and no amount of money is going to fix that.

Many attendees expressed concern with the funding for this initiative in Wilmington Schools and how it will not only affect citizens in the Red Clay Consolidated School District, but the entire state.

“If it’s socioeconomic, something going on in the house, that belongs to social services,” said one parent. “The school district is not in the business of taking care of the mental health aspects of these kids, providing for them. Where are the parents at?”

With the Every Student Succeeds Act, there is a section on “Community Schools” where many of these services would be provided.  It is a very fine line in my opinion.  There is a huge difference between the population at Brandywine Springs Elementary and Warner Elementary.  One is out in the suburbs and the other is in the middle of the city.  Is it fair for a more affluent population to protest funding for the low-income populations?  This is the age-old question.  It also gets into the whole school choice issue in Delaware as well, especially up in Wilmington.  Some folks would love nothing more than “government schooling”, the public school system, to go away.  This crowd favors school vouchers to have funding diverted to private schools.  But then on the other end of the spectrum, we have students in Wilmington, usually African-American, who don’t have a complete family unit and live in neighborhoods filled with crime and drug use.  These are two completely different worlds, however, the first world inadvertently helped create the second world through “white flight”.

The speaker asked where the parents are at.  They could both be working.  It could be a single-parent home.  A parent could be in prison or deceased.  But chances are, a parent in Hockessin makes a lot more money than the parent of a child at these Wilmington schools.  If parents are unable to set up mental health services for children, when does the city, county or state need to step in?  It comes down to the haves and the have-nots.  The haves want to keep what they have but the have-nots see what the haves have and want that but are unable to get it themselves.  But here is the key issue: these are children who didn’t write the script here.  This is the world they were born into.  Should inner-city students be denied the things folks in the suburbs take for granted?  This became very evident at Skyline Middle School in Red Clay this fall.  Due to a change in feeder patterns, Skyline took in many students who are considered disadvantaged.  As a result, school bullying increased causing parent outcry at their past couple board meetings.

These are the modern issues of the day.  We have come a long way since the first half of the 20th century when blacks were separated from whites.  We are, and should be, past that.  But economic levers still dictate these kinds of situations from happening in many cities in America.  For any issues like WEIC to work, it is going to take a lot of listening, convincing, and patience.  It will take compromise, from all sides of the issues.  But the big problem here is the timing.  Some of the people behind WEIC are afraid that if the moment passes it will be lost for a generation.  So in a sense, it is being rushed.  During an election year, and even during a gubernatorial election year.  If it comes down to the rich wanting separation and the poor wanting equity, with the dwindling middle class straddling both sides of the issues, we will get nowhere.  And in all of this, are those with disabilities.  Students from low-income, a minority and a disability.  If we keep these children “out” of the public school system in our affluent areas, is that not a form of triple segregation?  We can’t just rely on the status quo in Delaware.  These are deep concerns that affect the viability of our state.  Compared to many other states, we are woefully behind not only in education but also moving away from the past.  In this “me” versus “society as a whole”, I personally choose society.  Because if society isn’t right, I don’t feel I can be in my head knowing I’m not contributing to society.  I know, we all pay taxes.  Some pay more, some pay less.  Nothing in life is free.  We pay for products that constantly go up in price, but complain when taxes go up.  Why?

15 Who Made An Impact In 2015: State Rep. Earl Jaques

I have to be honest here.  Until 2014, I had never heard of Earl Jaques.  That all changed in 2015, and everyone knew who he was then!  Earl started the year as the Chair of the Delaware House Education Committee.  He took over the slot from former State Rep. Darryl Scott who chose not to run again in 2014.  Many assumed the position would be held by State Rep. Kim Williams since she was the Vice-Chair since 2012.  Before the General Assembly even convened in 2015, State Rep. Pete Schwartzkopf booted Kowalko off the education committee.  State Rep. Kim Williams remained as the Vice-Chair.  Why Jaques was assigned the Chair position was baffling, but it soon became apparent.

Jaques role as Chair of the Education Committee defined his year in the 148th General Assembly.  He went head-to-toe with the Department of Education over Race To The Top.  An epic battle played out on the House floor between Kowalko and Jaques over House Bill 50, the opt-out legislation.  Jaques allied himself with Governor Markell over opt-out, which led to Jaques very unfortunate comments about opt-out which appeared in Delaware media.  Referring to those who opt-out as “failures”, many parents of children with disabilities jumped on Jaques’ comments and slammed him for it.  He told a group of Christina teachers that House Bill 50 would never pass.  He helped create very controversial legislation with Senator David Sokola in the form of Senate Joint Resolution #2, the assessment inventory bill that was meant to be a cure for opt-out.  He fought a charter school audit bill created by Kim Williams which led to more angst in the House due to Jaques not releasing the bill from committee to give it a full House vote.

By the time House Bill 50 came up for its first House vote, Jaques and two other lone wolves were the only nay votes for the legislation and it passed 36-3.  It still passed overwhelmingly by the time the Senate added amendments to the legislation causing it to bounce back to the House for a vote.  Jaques still voted no.

Even after the General Assembly went into recess for the recess for the rest of the year, Jaques still caused some controversy.  He was overheard talking negatively about parents at a State Board pizza party in early October.  At the end of October, Kowalko sent out an email to tons of people about the falling NAEP scores.  Jaques tried to hush Kowalko up by telling him not to use the state email system and his facts were biased.  This caused many people to defend Kowalko, including radio-show host Rick Jensen with WDEL.

Jaques will continue as Chair of the House Education Committee in 2016, even though most folks don’t take him seriously at all.  They understand he will do whatever Governor Markell instructs him to do.  As well, the Delaware DOE seems to know exactly how to maneuver Jaques with controversial legislation.  There is SO much more I could say about Earl Jaques, but for those who want to know more, just write Earl Jaques in my search bar and all can be found on here!

Are Brandywine’s Mark Holodick & The News Journal Singing A New Song On Smarter Balanced & Opt-Out?

The Superintendents of the Wilmington schools, Red Clay, Christina, Colonial and Brandywine, held an education forum for WDEL last night.  Discussing the issues of Wilmington education, the subject of the state assessment came up.  What was very interesting was Brandywine Superintendent Dr. Mark Holodick’s response to this issue.  He told WDEL’s Shana O’Malley:

Brandywine superintendent Dr. Mark Holodick added that they’re starting to see pushback from those who are frustrated and unhappy with state standardized testing.

“The length of the state assessment, how often it’s being given, combined with this era of high stakes accountability for both educators and school ratings and rankings, I think it has reached a tipping point,” he said.

I gave Holodick a lot of heat earlier in the year for his views on opt-out procedures.  He seemed to think only he could decide who takes the test and who doesn’t.  Opt-out isn’t about someone giving permission.  It’s about honoring a parent’s right and not giving any grief about it.  Even Acting Christina Superintendent Bob Andrzejewski jumped on the issue.

“For example, the state test that we give, I think cost us about $6 million,” said Dr. Robert Andrzejewski, acting superintendent for the Christina School District. “What if we decided to go back to a system where we test grades three, five, eight and ten like we used to and maybe cut the testing cost in half. There are other priorities like that.”

Or how about we just get rid of the Smarter Balanced and high-stakes testing environment altogether Bob A?  That would solve that problem!

Even the News Journal Editorial staff jumped on this issue this morning.

If that’s the case, why can’t Delaware take a proactive stance and focus not on a child’s scores, but on the child herself? If the state is so concerned with schools trying to game the system, then the system is broken and our energy should be spent on fixing it, not simply policing it.

The devil is in the details with that one.  If it means personalized learning where one students gets ahead faster and another stays behind, no thanks!  And how much will it cost to fix it?  We all know fixing anything in education in Delaware means the DOE sends tons of money to outside companies to “fix” what they don’t understand.  And if it’s all tied to the Delaware School Success Framework, the DOE’s latest and not greatest accountability nightmare, it still doesn’t matter.  We will see what kind of people the Delaware State Board of Education really are when they vote on Regulation 103 which makes this insane school report card legal.  Even the News Journal seems to agree on that one:

Though Gov. Jack Markell vetoed opt-out legislation this summer, it’s safe to assume Smarter Balance will not see 100 percent student participation this school year. And if the General Assembly overrides Markell’s veto when it returns to session, then the entire scorecard concept is out the window.

House Bill 50 is all about parental rights in terms of how they want their child to be educated.  It is nothing more than that.  Something the News Journal is finally coming around to by giving it their full support:

In the meantime, parents, more than anybody else, deserve to have a say in how their kids are educated. Let’s honor that right.

It would have really helped if they came out with that opinion eight months ago!  Why the sudden shift in thinking on the Smarter Balanced Assessment?  I think it is becoming more apparent than ever that Governor Markell is indeed a lame-duck at this point and everyone is sick to death of hearing about his education reform ideas.  Everyone is starting to look towards the future and essentially undoing a lot of what Jack wrought on the First State.  Folks are sick and tired of the accountability behemoth the DOE has become and they want it to stop.  Their stupid score card penalties are not required, and I have not heard anyone say “Oh, that’s a great idea!”  The DOE is a hot mess, and if they want to play the accountability game, that starts with them!  In the meantime, keep opting your kid out of the Smarter Balanced Assessment and educate other parents of their rights!

Meanwhile, as all the adults keep tinkering around with education, it is the students who suffer the most.  As Dr. Holodick told WDEL:

“I think we have an opportune time to ask some really hard questions about what we have created regarding the educational landscape in Delaware,” added Holodick.

We are ALWAYS asking the really hard questions Mark.  The time to stop asking and start doing has to begin now before this generation of students loses it all to the high-stakes testing proficiency machine.

WDEL’s Rick Jensen Slams Rep. Earl Jaques Over First Amendment Rights & Attempts To Suppress Rep. John Kowalko

Rick Jensen of WDEL fame replied to the stunning attempt by Rep. Earl Jaques to silence Rep. John Kowalko from an email chain yesterday and put Jaques in his rightful place on the issue:

Earl Jacques,

The viewpoints of any State Representative or State Senator on public policy are absolutely permitted (and encouraged) for public dissemination via official email.

What should outrage every journalist and supporter of the First Amendment is Earl Jacques trying to suppress the comments of a Rep who disagrees with him.

Kowalko does, indeed base his opinions on facts, Mr. Jacques.

As many people on this list you made public know, Mr. Jacques, I may not agree with many of them on many issues, but I have never tried to suppress their professional opinions as you are attempting with Mr. Kowalko.  In fact, I invite the contrast and debate for our many thousands of listeners to decide for themselves which policies to support and which to work against.

Are you going to try to suppress everyone on this email list when they disagree with you about some policy, Mr. Jacques?

Rick Jensen

Talk Show Host / Syndicated Columnist

WDEL AM&FM / Cagle Syndicate

2727 Shipley Rd.

Wilmington, DE  19810

(302) 478-2700 x170

Rick@WDEL.Com

@TheJensenShow

Updated, 12:16pm:  And it gets even more heated! Because Earl responded to Rick Jensen!

From: Jaques, Jr, Earl (LegHall) [mailto:Earl.Jaques@state.de.us]
Sent: Thursday, October 29, 2015 11:32 AM
To: Jensen, Rick <rjensen@dbcmedia.com>
Subject: Re: Reflections on NAEP score declines and who’s/what’s responsible

First Rick, my name is spelled JAQUES – no “c”.  No I’m not in anyway trying to suppress his opinion.  He has every right to his opinion as do you and I.  But I just don’t think that the state email system is the best place for this type of comments.  Maybe a better place would be a “Letter to the Editor” or a posting on a blog.  Finally, you are making the assumption that I disagree with Rep Kowalko.  But no where in my email do I state that as the reason for him not posting on the state email system.  I just don’t believe that the state email system is the place for his bias opinion and rants!

And Jensen quickly shot a retort to Jaques!

From: “Jensen, Rick” <rjensen@dbcmedia.com>

Sent: Thursday, October 29, 2015 12:06 PM
Subject:
RE: Reflections on NAEP score declines and who’s/what’s responsible

Earl “Jaques not Jacques,”

If you’re so concerned about lawmakers sharing their “bias opinion and rants” with fellow stakeholders on state.de.us email, then why are you ranting your “bias opinion” to me on state email?

Every opinion has bias. Bias per ideology, bias per research, bias per studies, etc.  The problem is your declaring a State Rep has no business communicating his or her opinion on policy to fellow stakeholders via state email.

Would you please forward to this email address of all of your state.de.us emails to see if, perhaps, you have followed your own prescription?

Feel free to omit those emails that pertain to personal and sensitive information from and about constituents.

Respectfully,

Rick Jensen

Dr. Godowsky And His Baptism Of Fire Today With Opt-Out, WEIC, and The Delaware Met

The new Acting Secretary of Education in Delaware, Dr. Steven Godowsky, had a baptism of fire today.  Appearing at both the New Castle County School Boards breakfast and the State Board of Education meeting today, Godowsky was quoted by WDEL’s Amy Cherry at the school board breakfast as saying:

“It’s not a final decision, but it looks like from all levels of the department…that harsh sanctions will not carry the day,” he said. “There will be minimum sanctions that are required.”

Those minimum sanctions will include schools having to report to the Delaware Department of Education about the students opting out and what their prior scores were, and most likely, how they plan to address opt-out.  As well, they will not meet Reward status even if they qualify for it if their participation rates fall below 95%.  There is a lot of gray area about the word “required” based on Federal “guidance” which is not Congressionally approved or existing regulation.  Schools are required to have students participate in the state standardized assessment, but nowhere does it factor in parent opt-out.  That situation is out of their control.

Godowsky talked at both the breakfast and the State Board of Education meeting about more communication coming out of the DOE.  I think all of this is good, but I will be cautiously optimistic.  Dr. Godowsky came up to me before the State Board meeting started, said hi, and shook my hand.  That is something Mark Murphy never did.  There were times at State Board meetings where I would have brief staring contests with Murphy and he would quickly look away or straighten out his glasses.  I do believe the DOE needs to be much more transparent about things, but that doesn’t change policies coming out of their halls.  There is a very fine line between what is law with federal mandate, what is guidance, and what is interpretation.  I will continue to let folks know what those are as situations arise.

For Godowsky, the State Board of Education meeting was filled with tension during the Wilmington Education Improvement Commission (WEIC) presentation. A contentious back and forth between State Board members and the WEIC presenters, Dan Rich and Joe Pika, in regards to the plan made this the most interesting part of the meeting.  Later on, Godowsky’s first major decision was whether or not to place The Delaware Met up for formal review.  He recommended it to the State Board and they unanimously voted yes, but not without a great deal of discussion surrounding the details around the consideration.  It seemed like the DOE and Godowsky knew a lot more about what is going on with the school but were unable to give details because an official investigation could not be done because they were not on formal review yet.

I advised, in public comment, that I truly hope Dr. Godowsky acts in the best interest of students and not politics.  While his official confirmation will not happen until October 28th in a special session of the Delaware Senate, it seems as though he is making good first steps.  There is still a great deal to be done, but I do see some light shining into some cracks.  But his job will be to listen to everyone involved, not just the policy makers.  I think he is much more personable than Mark Murphy was, and he has much more experience.  His true test will be in the ESEA flexibility waiver, which will come up next month at the State Board of Education meeting.  He has gone on record stating that the harsh opt-out penalties most likely will not occur.  I hope he lives up to this, but at the end of the day we all know this is Governor Markell’s decision.

I still have very grave concerns with things coming out of the DOE.  My biggest priority is special education.  I am slowly learning what the true problems are, and I plan to keep on addressing them.  I still loathe the Smarter Balanced Assessment and Common Core, and I will not give up exposing the machinations behind those messes.  There are many inequalities between Delaware charter schools and traditional school districts I don’t agree with, and that will be a continuous topic of discussion.  There are things going on in traditional school districts that are beginning to surface which could result in further widening between students in need and their peers.  A growing issue with myself and others, not just in Delaware but on a national level, is the amount of data outside companies are legally allowed to have about students.  I firmly believe many companies are using legal loopholes to share student data for unknown purposes, and that should scare the hell out of any parent.  The legislators will be back in a few months, and the opt-out bill will still be a big thing with me.  I will say I do like seeing more transparency coming from the Department though and I truly hope this trend continues.  I don’t trust Governor Markell, and I don’t think what he wants for education is in the best interest of students and teachers.  I don’t believe the Rodel Foundation of Delaware and I will ever see eye to eye.

The WEIC conversation continues, and as revealed this week, major issues are coming up with this redistricting effort.  One of my biggest contentions with the whole thing is policy that will happen for Wilmington that will affect the entire state.  I agree change needs to happen, but there needs to be some Kent County and Sussex County representation for all of this.  I have communicated this, as well as a need for more special education discussion, to the WEIC leadership.  It is certainly a bold and innovative idea, but there are so many things to be sorted out with this, and the timeframe as put forth in the law is very narrow.  I have always had a theory about the endgame of all this, but now I wonder if it will even go through.  I would highly recommend to the WEIC leadership not to leave anyone out of crucial conversation and not to come up with ideas that could cause any of the players to feel isolated or left out.  No one likes being told what will happen, especially to students, and I think Colonial’s recent decision is testimony to this.

While all of this is going on, all eyes will be on Dr. Godowsky as the newest leader of a very unpopular Department who many in the state feel as though they can do whatever they want because they are Governor Markell’s baby.  While Godowsky did say in the WDEL interview that DOE will feel the pinch of next year’s budget deficit, I feel as though they have been living high on the hog and they need a huge trimming.  Welcome to the DOE Dr. Godowsky!

Weasel Of The Week: Governor Jack Alan “Veto” Markell…But Who Are The Offspring?

Every week, Rick Jensen on WDEL has a Weasel of the Week.  This week, in honor of his veto of House Bill 50, Governor Markell was the chosen one.  But who are the offspring weasels?  Find out here, for a limited time in this awesome podcast!

SBAC: Test, Label, and Punish

After the President of the Delaware State Board of Education, Dr. Teri Quinn Gray, was quoted in different media sources about House Bill 50 and opt-out,  former blogger and current teacher and President of the Red Clay Educators Association Mike Matthews shot out an email to Dr. Gray and several others in response to Gray’s comments.  With Mike’s permission, I present his email:

To
  • Gray Teri
CC
  • Johnson Donna R
  • Murphy Mark
  • Markell Jack
  • Frederika.Jenner@dsea.org
  • Sokola David
  • Townsend Bryan
  • Jaques, Jr Earl
  • Williams Kimberly
  • Matthews Sean
  • jyd1988@gmail.com
  • kevino3670@yahoo.com
  • Kowalko John
  • KOOK JACKIE
  • KEMPSKI MICHAEL S

Dr. Gray: