LIVE from the Red Clay Board of Education Special Meeting on WEIC

(originally posted on delawareliberal.net)

Pinned: 7:08pm:  RCCSD Board Approves the District’s WEIC Plan/Draft/Outline 4-1 with 2 not present.  More details to come once I get home

Final Update:  Apologies for the complete discombobulation of a post, but here you go.  (Apparently I need to brush up on my live-blogging skills).

If you ask me, what I saw Red Clay’s board vote on tonight was accepting a plan with no source of funding that’s going to cost a lot of money, take 7 years minimum to implement, and affect thousands of children and hundreds of educators and support staff keeping them all in uncertainty until 2022.  Keep in mind the State is $130 million short already next year, and Dover has said any financial changes will be “revenue neutral”.  If that is true, ANY cost to get the WEIC plan moving must be offset by a reduction in spending somewhere else in the gov’t. Below are the paraphrased details that I could type up as the meeting went on.  They’re disorganized, but there’s some good information in there.

The Players: CT: Catherine Thompson, Board Member.

KR: Kenny Rivera, RCCSD Board President

TA: Ted Ammann, Assistant Superintendent RCCSD

Jill Floore – RCCSD Chief Financial Officer

How will we know what the funding for WEIC is going to look like?

– Governor’s budget comes out in Jan 2016, that will provide the first look at funding changes.

What about giving the Board of Ed power to adjust operating tax like they do Tuition Tax and Debt Service tax?

– RCCSD plan includes a provision to permit local school boards to adjust operating tax rate without referendum, until a rolling property reassessment takes over.

What’s the rolling property reassessment going to look like?

– 1/3 of the properties in the district’s tax base will be assessed at a time with an undetermined amount of time to complete each phase of the reassessment and this would be a statewide rolling reassessment process managed at the County level.

What about transportation for students who choice to schools outside their feeder patterns after the lines change? By law, students have the right to remain in the program/school they are in until graduation:
– Ted Ammann, Asst. Superintendent for Red Clay: “One of the early points we thought we’d get into an argument with Christina about but we didn’t” was over how to transport choice students.  If the program is in Christina, CSD will handle transport, if in RCCSD, Red Clay handles it.

But then Ted threw in the Sterck School:  “Not unlike how its done with the Sterck School, if a student attends there a Christina bus goes to their development to pick them up.”  While that is true, Sterck School for the Deaf is a statewide program, not a district program. Tuition tax paid in the student’s residential district pays for the student to attend the program.  So if a student who lives in Red Clay goes to Sterck (in Christina), a Christina bus does pick them up but Red Clay’s taxpayers are paying for that.  So no, Mr. Ammann it is not like how it’s done with the Delaware School for the Deaf.

Another point of confusion for me came up when Christina’s special programs in the city were mentioned:

CT: If a student likes the program they’re in, they’ll have the opportunity to stay in the program. So would we see overcrowded schools in RCCSD?

KR: That would be on Christina, example: if the student is in Glasgow, they’d choose to stay in Glasgow. Paid by Christina.  So we might see undercrowding in the first few years.

CT: What about Christina’s Special Ed programs: Pyle Academy, DAP, Douglass?

TA: If we get the buildings, we will only offer programs we decide we want to offer. If Douglass program building comes to RCC, CSD wouldn’t be able to host the program there. RCCSD is in no rush to take buildings, so they may permit CSD to use the building to phase out current students.

Delaware Autism Program (DAP), like the Delaware School for the Deaf is not a Christina program, it’s statewide, meaning that tuition taxes paid in the students resident district pay for attendance.  DAP also isn’t in the city.  Christina only pays for students who live in the Christina School District to attend these programs. Sarah Pyle Academy is also tuition funded. Whichever district the student lives in is the district paying for them to go there.

Ted Ammann also stated that Red Clay, rightly so, will need to do a full assessment of the Christina city buildings to figure out what needs to be done to them to get them up (or down) to Red Clay’s specifications at a cost of 8 cents per square foot. This would also be included in the “Transition Funds” requested by Red Clay to come from the State.

Red Clay also plans to have a 1:1 technology program fully implemented by 2022, when the WEIC transition will be completed.

The idea of creating a Wilmington City “sub-district” of the Red Clay Consolidated District was brought up along with what modifications to Board representation and governance would have to be made as the transition moves forward.

Board President Kenny Rivera believes that the WEIC plan will generate the additional resources needed to move education forward in Delaware.

As I said above, the Board approved a plan with very little detail to it and no clear picture of costs associated with it, on the premises that “the State will give us the money” and it’ll be figured out by July 2016.

Merv Daughtery, Red Clay’s Superintendent said if July 2016 gets here and there’s no funding, then there’s no plan.

——————————————

5:43pm – Support resources for Low-Income and ELL: Jill Floore, CFO – multiple models have been discussed but there are no final details.

ELL: One specific weight for weighted funding?  Or sliding scale depending on English proficiency?

Committee unanimously endorsed property reassessment. Long discussion on equalization funding formula, frozen since 2009.

In 2015 dollars, less per pupil state funding than in 2008.  Extra time programming, SROs, ELL ‘discretionary funds’ were the most frequently cut.

5:39pm

Revised WEIC Timeline:

Approval Phase – First half 2016
Planning Phase – July 2016-June2017
Transition Phase – July 2017 – 6/18
Implementation Phase – 7/18 – 6/22

—————————————–

Red Clay’s Board of Education has called a special session public meeting this evening.  The lone topic on the agenda is WEIC.

This will be my attempt at live blogging the meeting, start to finish. You can check out the agenda and related documents from Red Clay’s BoardDocs site: http://www.boarddocs.com/de/rccsd/Board.nsf/Public

Meeting is scheduled to begin at 5:30pm.

Nobody Wins In A Zero Sum Game

Written for DelawareLiberal.net:

If you have been following anything related to funding public schools in Delaware, you probably know that the system is severely broken and there are major changes being talked about. The Wilmington Education Improvement Commission is talking about needs-based funding (or weighted-student funding) and reallocation of the existing money in the system. Others are talking about changes to the equalization funding formula that’s been frozen for about 20 years. Some are talking about property reassessment. So who’s right? The short answer is: everyone, partially.
Reallocating the money already generated for public schools is a zero-sum game. It isn’t a long term solution and I’m not really sure that it’s a viable short-term solution. Although it’s better than doing nothing I suppose.

Delaware has a hybridized general ed/needs-based funding system already embedded into the current unit count system. See the following chart:

The first 3 columns are the general ed categories. For every 12.8 pre-k students in a school, that school earns 1 teaching unit from the State which amounts to approximately 55-70% of the funding for a teacher’s salary and benefits. For every 16.2 K-3 students, you get a teaching unit. Same deal for every 20 grade 4-12 students. By the way, I’ve yet to figure out how you get two-tenths of a kindergarten student.

The 3 categories on the right: Basic, Intensive, and Complex are the needs-based system. If a student’s level of need is categorized as one of those three, there is significant portion of additional funding that goes to that student. 8.4 students with “basic” level of additional needs gets them 1 basic special ed teaching unit. There are different criteria to meet to categorize a student as one of the three levels of need, but it is a needs based system. By no means is this system adequate to meet the needs of Delaware’s schoolchildren, but it is a framework to expand upon.  

As the educational landscape of our schools has changed over the last few decades it’s become clear to many that at least two additional categories of needs-based funding are needed: one weighted on the level of poverty and one weighted on the prevalence of English language learners in the school. I can only speak for the Christina School District since I deal with their finances on a regular basis, but ELL is one of the fastest growing expenses in the district and Christina currently serves some of the poorest children in the state. Make no mistake, our teachers that work with our highest needs students go all out and give everything they have and more to give these children the absolute best education possible, but they need help. 
Adding more categories of need requires more money to fund them. If we’re talking reallocation, that means taking money from something else in the education system and putting it towards the new categories. I’m not sure how our kids and teachers come out winning in that scenario. If we’re talking bringing in additional revenue, then given the current financial situation in the State we have to be talking about adding tax brackets. It’s an election year, which politician is going to take one for the team and start talking about raising taxes?

Equalization funding. Once upon a time, the equalization funding formula was created to help the school districts with smaller tax bases (Sussex County) stay competitive with the wealthier districts (New Castle County) in the state by providing additional units of funding tied to the relative size of the tax base. Fast forward a few decades and when it became apparent that the tax base was growing in Kent and Sussex Counties the formula, designed to be fluid and dynamic, was modified, modified again, and then frozen. The result is a complete mess of funding that follows no discernible pattern. Some districts with large tax bases get significantly more funding than a district with a smaller tax base. Some districts earn equalization funding that has no apparent relationship to its tax base (Appoquinimink). Equalization funding is jacked up and it needs to be completely redone.
And then property reassessment, the political hand grenade. Want to scare the crap out of our State politicians running for election/re-election next year? Ask them what they think about statewide property reassessment. 

It is true that New Castle County has not had a property reassessment since 1983 and Sussex hasn’t had one since 1974. It’s also true that reassessment would be damned expensive to do but over time, would help out our school districts. The property taxes you pay now in New Castle County are based on what your land and dwelling would have been worth in 1983. In Sussex, imagine that $2.9 million ocean front property in Fenwick sitting there, its owners paying taxes on what it would have been worth in 1974. That needs to change. 

Even after everything I’ve just written, there’s still way, WAY more that needs to be changed when it comes to funding schools in Delaware (having Charter schools funded by a line item on your property taxes like VoTechs, creating new tax brackets on incomes over $60k/yr, and more). Those will be a topic for a future post though. I’m sure this riveting foray into the public school system funding world has you all on the edge of your seats wanting more. I don’t want to scare you all with the level of insanity that our school districts have to deal with when it comes to funding, though. At least not yet.

Opposite Day

In a surprise move, I was invited to become a contributor to DelawareLiberal.net.  I suppose on occasion I write good stuff and people take notice.  So I was humbled in addition to surprised, happily accepted and chose to pen my inaugural post about everyone’s favorite award-winning hypocritical Republ-ocrat: Kim Davis.

<originally posted to DelawareLiberal.net>

I thought long and hard about what topic to make my inaugural post on DL about. There were so many choices. Trump, Cruz, education, anything Delaware like the new Financial Review Committee that Markell created, the Pope. I started an education post and then thought to myself, there will be plenty of time for that, I should write about something that’s a hot topic right now and that won’t be around forever, a 15 minutes of fame type subject. I’ve got it! KIM DAVIS. Yes, she’s still “relevant” and her 15 minute BBC (Bigoted Bible-toting Christian) segment is not quite up yet.

She received an award, yes an award, at the Value Voters Summit (how fitting) that was put on by the Family Research Council. We all know the rule about organizations in the US that have the words “Family”, “Values”, or “Liberty” in them right? This isn’t all too shocking if you know the history of FRC and the “Values” voters. This group of people usually does something absurd whenever they get together but I think giving an award to a woman who openly and flagrantly violated the US Constitution even in the wake of the SCOTUS decision is and used her elected public office to force religious tenet on American citizens in the name of her lord is a new low, even for FRC. Though I wasn’t sure could get lower than receiving a Huckabee endorsement.

Anyway, after she received the “Cost of Discipleship” award in her acceptance speech she said she felt very undeserving, likely because she is. Predictably she went on to thank her Lord and Savior because without Him, none of what’s happened to her would have been possible. I think she was being too hard on herself. This absolutely could have been possible without her Jesus being involved. Violating the equal protection clause solely because she doesn’t like gay people could have found her in contempt of court, landed her in jail, and still on the stage at the Values Voter Summit getting an award for her “courage”.

She ended her speech by saying that throughout her life’s challenges Jesus showed up at just the right time, his timing is always perfect. I went to 12 years of Catholic school growing up. I said “her” Jesus in the previous paragraph because the Jesus I learned about would have been flipping tables left and right in her office while she was denying marriage licenses which makes me think that even though she believes Jesus showed up knocking on her door several times throughout her life, she never opened the door. That’s kind of like me saying I’ve been to Massachusetts because I drove straight through it on my way to Maine.

She was compared to MLK, President Lincoln (he was a Republican you know!), and Rosa Parks because she pursued justice at great personal cost. Justice. It’s like Opposite Day every day for these guys. The justice of discriminating against her fellow Americans because she doesn’t like something about them. How noble.

Kim Davis. Your 2015 Values Voter Summit “Cost of Discipleship” Award Winner.

By the way, I’m Brian. I consider myself a progressive and I’m a brand new contributor to Delaware Liberal. Nice to meet you all.

Accuracy Matters

I wrote up a short email to the Wilmington Education Improvement Commission (WEIC) tonight after learning that a member of the commission has, again, stated inaccurate information regarding the New Castle County Tax Pool and its distribution to the 4 districts that participate in it.  I do know that more than one correction attempt has been made but the inaccuracy persists.

I know WEIC has a seemingly impossible task to accomplish and I know there’s a nearly incomprehensible amount of information out there about finances and funding alone, but when you give out inaccurate information and accurate information is offered back to you, own it and acknowledge it.  The tax pool might not seem like a major bullet point when it comes to the funding portion of WEIC but it matters.  If you’re wondering, the inaccurate statement was along the lines of Red Clay paying money to Christina, Brandywine, and Colonial through the tax pool.  Essentially, Red Clay is the only “giver” in the pool, everyone else is a “taker”.  There was a time when that was accurate but that was more than 5 years ago.  Since then BOTH Red Clay and Christina contribute more to the pool than they get back.  BOTH.  Whether you personally believe that or not, numbers don’t lie.

In the context of explaining to Red Clay residents that WEIC is charged with implementing a plan to merge all Wilmington schools into the district that does not adversely affect Red Clay tax payers, saying that Red Clay pays money to everyone else in the pool (suggesting an existing adverse relationship between the pool recipients and Red Clay taxpayers), that’s a big snafu carrying a big negative connotation. And it needs to stop yesterday.  The email I sent is below:

Tax_Pool_Specifics

To the Members of the Wilmington Education Improvement Committee;

It was brought to my attention that a member of the Commission has again publicly disseminated incorrect information regarding the distribution of tax receipts from the New Castle County Tax District (AKA- the tax pool) to the 4 participating public school districts in the county.

The comment was to the effect of, Red Clay Consolidated School District pays money to the other three districts, Brandywine, Christina, and Colonial, through the tax pool.  At one time, this was an accurate statement.  For the last several years however, Red Clay and Christina have paid out more to the pool than they received back.  The change occurred when needs-based funding was piloted in the Brandywine School District resulting in Christina and Red Clay both becoming net contributors (paying more money in than they receive back) and Brandywine and Colonial becoming net beneficiaries (receiving more out of the pool than they contribute).

Please reference the attached image detailing the tax pool collection and distribution for fiscal year 2015.  Note that Christina and Red Clay both are allocated less from the pool than they contribute (indicated in the far right column).

I understand WEIC is tasked with an incredibly complex task and an incredibly short time period to accomplish it and that errors will be made in the presentation of information but I urge the commission to acknowledge errant information and abstain from disseminating it further.  Funding is one of several hot-button topics, and I feel it is crucial to utilize accurate information whenever possible.  Please feel free to contact me with questions, concerns or comments.  Thank you for your time.

Sincerely,

Brian Stephan
Parent, Keene Elementary 1st Grader & Gauger-Cobbs Middle 6th Grader
Christina School District Citizen’s Budget Oversight Committee
brianstephan@gmail.com

Come Together, Right Now

maxresdefaultI like what if scenarios.  Like, what if we instituted needs-based funding exclusively in the state for education?  Or what if we implemented a rolling property reassessment statewide as properties are sold or transferred?  Or what if we consolidated some of the public school districts in Delaware?  Wait a second.

Exceptional Delaware posted about an analysis directed by the General Assembly and done by the Secretary of Education on the feasibility of merging all Kent districts together and all Sussex districts together.  I’ll save you having to read the DDOE report and give you the TL;DR (too long; didn’t read):  At the time of the report, it was projected that merging the districts would create additional costs for the state and counties, not reduce them.  For what it’s worth the report also said that Delaware’s education funding model was “sound” and only needed “marginal adjustments” mostly in the equalization category.  The report was from 2001 and- hey, who put that salt-lick sized grain of salt here?

Fast forward 14-ish years and let’s look at this from a district demographics perspective.  I’ll pick on Sussex County because in the contest for Longest Period of Time Without Property Reassessment, Sussex wins (1974). (which has nothing really to do with this post but, why not?)

Currently there are 7 public school districts serving the county’s ~28,500 district students, Milford, Cape Henlopen, Indian River, Delmar, Laurel, Seaford and Woodbridge.  (And you thought New Castle county’s 5 districts were silly).

Let’s check out student populations:

2014-15 data from DDOE
2014-15 data from DDOE

Now let’s check out geographic locations:

Sussex_District_lines

You might see where I’m going with this already.  I’m not sure of the reasoning behind creating entire districts that serve less than 3,000 students each.  But, what if we consolidated not all but *some* of the Sussex districts in an effort to create as few equitably populated districts as possible?

Indian River is the largest district in student population, so maybe let’s use it as our template. If we merged Milford and Cape Henlopen in to an East Sussex County School District, it would serve 9,272 students.  If we merged Woodbridge, Seaford, Laurel and Delmar school districts into a West Sussex County School District it would serve 9,437 students.

Now instead of 7 districts, there are 3 and all would serve between 9,000-10,000 students.  Equitable size in terms of number of students.  But we all know just adding total number of students together doesn’t really give any useful information. Maybe if we look at the demographic makeup of the new districts after merging them we’d glean something more useful.  So let’s do that using 2014-15 school year data.

sussex_reconfig

Indian River still takes the lead in student population, ELL, and Special Ed students and the two new consolidated districts are not all that different from one another in terms of demographic makeup.  We know managing school districts that size is feasible (see: the rest of Delaware) so, where can we go from here?

The Oxymoron At The State Board of Education Retreat Today

” The DOE is working with journalists (no one asked me, and I had already received embargoed information at a public meeting) to write articles on how to educate parents on “how to read reports and grade spreads”. Because parents don’t know how to do that. I don’t think parents are confused about the data. *They will be confused why Johnny is doing awesome with grades but he tanked the SBAC. And no one will be able to present this to them in a way they will clearly understand..”*

Homerun right there.

Exceptional Delaware 2017

The hardest part about writing this article was coming up with the title.  There were so many things I could have named it.  Such as “It could have been worse, it could have been rocket ships.”  Or “Vermont and Connecticut are really going to hate Delaware soon.”  Or “We gotta grow them.”  Or “Is it still an embargo if they reveal it at a public meeting?”  In any event, I attended part of the State Board of Education retreat today.  I arrived at 1:30pm, and I was the ONLY member of the public there.  I received some stares.  All but two members of the State Board of Education were present.  Those that were there were President Dr. Teri Quinn Gray, Vice-President Jorge Melendez, Gregory Coverdale, Pat Heffernan, and Nina Bunting.

When I got there, head of the Teacher/Leader Effectiveness Unit Christopher Ruszkowski was giving a presentation on, what else, teacher effectiveness. …

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Frustration among our Delaware teachers, read what one Delaware teacher has to say

DelawareFirstState

A  Delaware teacher wrote to me. I asked for permission to share the email and the teacher agreed to me posting the email.
I write to you today because I am seeking your support for the students of xxxxx School District.  I am a teacher at xxxxx.  I have dedicated the last 18 years of my life to the students who go to xxxxx. I have relationships with generations of families, love teaching those “tough” kids and have great successes everyday in my classroom.
The testing cycles in xxxxx have begun and I feel that the administration has again let us down. There is so much testing on my calendar it will be extremely difficult to teach all the standards I am required to teach, let alone get kids who are behind, caught up.  Something MUST be done to stop all of this insane testing!
Let me assure you that…

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