Tag Archives: Christina School District

Budget Me Some of Your Time

By now, everyone knows of the failed second attempt at a referendum by the Christina School District and its supporters.  In the last 6 months we have had many, many more residents beginning to look into the way our public schools are funded.  Even with the referendum failures, one silver lining is the renewed public interest in public school finances.  On a personal note, I am absolutely thrilled that anyone is taking even 5 minutes to look at a financial report for the District because that is 5 minutes more than they were spending on it prior to the referenda.

What I’d like to do going forward is use this blog (and anyone who might share my posts) as a platform to start bringing public school financing, particularly CSD’s, in to the spotlight and transforming it into “the real world”.  Let’s be honest, a 25 page financial report is going make 90% of the people who read it go cross-eyed.  It is chock full of numbers and terms many do not understand and does not really contain the level of description and clarity members of the public want and need to see.  I’d like to begin changing that right now.

Let’s start off by explaining what the Final Budget reports you can find on Christina’s website are not.  They are not low level, highly descriptive, line item lists of what is being spent where and why.  They are not intended to give anyone reading it information on “how much money goes to textbooks?” or “how much money is going to classroom supplies like pencils and paper” or any specific line item expense information.  They are not intended to give anyone reading it an understanding of exactly where the final destinations of all funds are.  They are not, by nature, able to be easily understood by anyone who has not committed some amount of time to learning about the processes that go into creating the document itself.

Then, what ARE the final budgets? The final budget report is intended as a decision making tool to help the Board of Education identify the main sources of revenue for the District, how much revenue is projected to come in, why, and how it will be allocated to the departments/areas within the District and whether the revenue is sufficient to cover all projected costs and if not, what is causing the revenue deficiency.  Its second major purpose is to identify any external or internal factors that will significantly impact the revenue streams or expenses of the District.   A third major purpose is to give the Board of Education an early picture of what District finances will look like at the conclusion of the next fiscal year.  All of this is for the Board’s decision making process about what changes may need to be made to revenue and/or expenses.  The final budget is voted on by the Board of Education as the District’s spending plan for the upcoming fiscal year.  Any expense the District Administration makes that is contained in the budget after receiving final approval from the Board of Education is considered “authorized and appropriate”.

You may be thinking, well where do I go to find out specific information about exactly what the money is being spent on?  Great question.  Stay tuned.


Ask For What You Seek

I was kinda proud of this response I posted to Facebook, so I thought I’d share it here. It relates to the Operating Referendum for Christina School District on May 27th.

A question was asked about where the money goes and why there isn’t an understandable budget for people to see, etc.  This was my response:

I’m a Dad of 2 boys at Keene Elementary, I’m working with our all-volunteer Referendum Committee and for the last year and a half, I have served on the all-volunteer Citizen’s Budget Oversight Committee (CBOC) for the Christina School District and its Board of Education, as of Wednesday I also serve on the new Expense Reduction Committee (ERC) for the District and its Board.   CBOC is a legally required entity charged with ensuring the District is expending its Board approved budget appropriately.

The current State required funding process for all 19 public school districts mandates that an Operating Tax increase of any amount requires a public vote.  This sets *every* District up to hold referenda every 3-5 years to generate additional Operating revenue to pay for rising costs that Districts largely have no  control over.  Costs like energy, water, bus transportation to get students from home to school and school to home, supplies that go into the classrooms (paper, pencils, etc).  The District does have control over another area Operating Tax revenue is spent: portions of staff employment costs like salary, medical, prescription, vision and dental benefits, and the ENTIRE cost for staff and supplies in programs the State does not feel are worth funding on their part: Art, Music, Drama, and Phys Ed instructors, Librarians, School Nurses, textbooks.  83% of the funds generated via the Operating Tax are spent on student service personnel.  The remaining 17% largely goes to supply (including electricity, water, internet, transportation, classroom supplies, etc) needs at the individual school level.

“Fixing” the funding issue is a very high-priority item and I 100% agree it must be done.  Problem is, all Districts are required to follow State funding requirements.  The broken process is owned by the State of Delaware and any fixing has to come out of Dover with legislation.  For this referendum we are working within the severely complicated and restrictive confines of current public education funding regulations.  Would it be great to just cut things here and there that we all feel provide no value and use that money to fix the looming deficit?  Heck yeah it would.  But we can’t do that.  The only revenue the District has to spend on things that are not required by the State or Federal Gov’ts are the Unrestricted Local Funds generated by Property Taxes.  That is where our shortfall is and we are unable to move other money around to cover it.  For the last 3 years, the District has been using operating cash reserves to compensate for the inadequate operating revenue coming in.  Next year, what remains in reserve will not be enough to cover the operating expenses listed above; it will be short by approximately $9.5 million.  We are at a breaking point where we have to ask the public to raise revenue to keep things going as they are (tried in Feb with Option 1), make spending cuts and ask for a smaller tax increase (happening now, $2 million in cuts ant $0.37 increase) or eliminate the shortfall entirely by cutting operating expenditures by $9.5 million.

For the last 3 years, CBOC in its monthly meetings and reports to the Board of Education has consistently been noting this snowballing budget shortfall and that it is not due to mismanagement of funds, but largely uncontrollable rising costs.  We have indicated, consistently, that without increasing funding reductions an operating referendum will be needed prior to the start of School Year 2015-2016.  The authorization for referendum did not come from the Board until late last year.  February failed, and there is a mandatory 60 day wait until another vote.  Board authorization for this vote came in February, and the absolute last time we could hold a vote and still have it impact the school year starting this fall, is next week.

As far as an understandable budget, with the way public education funding is done in Delaware it’s 99.999% impossible to condense a District budget to the point where it still accurately shows very, very detailed spending (what you are asking for) and isn’t 250 pages long.  However, CBOC exists for this very purpose.  We serve as the ‘translators’ for the ridiculous process Districts have to go through for funding to aid in the general public and Board of Education’s understanding of what is spent where and why.

To that end, I’m offering my service to you and ANY member of the public to help you gain a better understanding of the funding process, why things are done the way they’re done and where the money comes from and goes to.  It took me a good 8-10 months to really grasp why things are the way they are, and I am more than willing to help you and anyone else grasp it like I, and the rest of CBOC has.  I’ll meet for coffee, just to talk, or email/text back and forth.

CBOC’s next meeting, which is and always has been open to the public, is 6:30pm on either Wednesday June 17th or June 24th at Gauger-Cobbs Middle.  Schedule is announced on CSD’s webpage.  If you friend me on Facebook, I talk about it all the time.

ERC’s next meeting is next Thursday, May 28th 6:30pm at Gauger-Cobbs in the Professional Development Room.  Open to the public.  Questions welcome.

Our volunteer committee is running a website that focuses on info surrounding the referendum CSDWeAllWin.org, and a Facebook page: facebook.com/CSDWeAllWin

*ALL* district financial data is and has been available on CSD’s website, including CBOC reports, http://www.christinak12.org/apps/pages/index.jsp?uREC_ID=195038&type=d&termREC_ID=&pREC_ID=393370

brianstephan@gmail.com or 302.419.5276.  If I miss your call or if you text me just let me know who you are in the voicemail or text and I will return your call or messages/emails.


An Impromptu TV Appearance

beinformedSo tonight, my wife and I were asked to appear on Delaware’s Channel 28 with Maurice “Doc” Pritchett and discuss the upcoming referendum in the Christina School District along with retired Glasgow High Principal Bob Anderson and current Leasure Elementary Principal Dr. Diedra Aikens and Bancroft Elementary Principal Harold “Butch” Ingram, Jr.

I honestly didn’t know what to expect.  I’m not an “on camera” kind of person.  I feel I do my best work when I’m behind the scenes.  Regardless, there I sat in front of the cameras discussing the need for the additional $0.37 come May 27th.  It really went better than I could have thought.  It was real, not scripted, very candid talk about why the referendum is needed, and how it’s going to impact our children.  The sense sitting in that room was that everyone really cares deeply about every single child that walks through a Christina School District building’s doors.  We weren’t there talking about individuals, we were talking about the Christina community.  That everyone’s involved, everyone is impacted by how well our public schools are doing.

Our kids need a balanced education in a competitive learning environment, to make that a possibility our schools need a consistent source of funding from our community.  That’s what this is about.  Our students, our children.

In the end, it is my hope that we all successfully conveyed the message that we need the YES! vote on May 27th.  Turns out I didn’t really need to be as nervous as I was.

Big Hero Six(teen)

What started out as a typical meeting of 5 CBOC members quickly swelled to a very crowded 16 person meeting.  In the year and a half I’ve served on CBOC, this was the first time we’ve had more than 6 people in the room for a meeting, the first time we’ve had more than one teacher (3 this time!), parents, several retired persons who have grown children that went through the district and want to help make things better, two professors, and a parent who has children in the Charter system and an aunt who wants to see CSD get better because her niece is in the district.  All crammed into a room that was too small with a 52 page financial report and dozens of questions.

We had questions about what our taxes do for the district, how charters get funded, how much we’re spending (or not spending, as is the case) on purchasing new supplies for common core curricula, State of Delaware negotiated pizza contracts, how teachers are simply overwhelmed by the amount of testing and data entry they are required to do and how the district “suddenly” developed a $9 million budget shortfall (Hint: it wasn’t sudden) and exactly what our property taxes fund and do not fund.

Most importantly, we talked about buckets of money.  Yes, I said buckets.  When you have a 52 page financial report in front of you with hundreds of line items under dozens of categories, the best way to make sense of it is to imagine that each bucket has a category label on it.  And the monies that go into each bucket can only be taken out and spent on whatever the label on the bucket says.  That’s how it works in public school financial operations.  I can explain it way more in depth, but you should really come out to our April Citizen’s Budget Oversight Committee meeting to learn more!

The bottom line is, we have interest now.  320% more interest if my memory is serving me up the correct number of guests we had last Wednesday.

There’s a steep uphill climb that we are about to embark on.  The climb begins this Thursday at 6:00pm when the referendum steering committee has its first meeting.  Word is, I have an “in” with one of the co-chairs of the committee. Looking forward to getting to work!

3 Months Later

Hey, where did those last 3 months go?  Let’s see, what’s transpired since my last post.  Red Clay and Christina went out for referendums in February.  Red Clay’s passed, Christina’s was mauled by a bear.  Red Clay did a FANTASTIC job of marketing, advertising and selling their referendum to their residents, students and staff.  Christina…did not.  Red Clay celebrated on Feb 24th.  Christina did not. Christina inked a deal with DDoE to retain control of their three “priority” schools through 2015-16 keeping all staff and leadership but adding assistant principals to each school who will *not* report to the principal they work under.  Instead they will report directly to DDoE.  Can’t see that causing any problems.  Plans to redistrict Christina out of Wilmington are moving forward but they still hinge on the General Assembly to rewrite the laws.  If that does happen, Red Clay gets 3 new inner-city schools from Christina.  Get your popcorn, I’m sure this is far from done.

Christina’s Board of Education passed a resolution submitted by Board Member Paige last night (5-2) protecting students from “retaliation” if their parents opt them out of State assessments.  Colonial’s Board followed suit, too.  From Exceptional Delaware:

“If this board can’t stand for parents, what the hell can it stand for?” -John Young
After fiery debate by board member George Evans, the Christina Board of Education passed a parent opt out resolution by a vote of 5-2.  The no votes came from President Fred Polaski and eternal board member George Evans.  The amended resolution was scaled back to focus on parental right to opt out of the standardized assessment, which in Delaware is the Smarter Balanced Assessment.
Christina School District Board of Education Resolution on Parent Opt-Out of Standardized Testing
Be it resolved that the Christina School District Board of Education will support a parent’s decision to opt their child(ren) out of standardized state testing without any repercussions from the ChristinaSchool District; and, therefore,
Be it further resolved that the Christina School District Board of Education will support the Superintendent to provide direction to all affected schools to provide meaningful, educational activities to replace testing time for those students who will not be participating in standardized testing.

Christina’s Board of Ed also approved May 27th as the next try for an operating referendum and let me tell you the proverbial mud is already being slung on social media by residents of the district who appear to be less than informed about how a public school district operates and is financed.  During “Referendum: Part I” in February, I spent a LOT of time on social media trying to share information about this very subject.  Some welcomed that effort.  Others did…not.   I’m at it again though, with Part II.  I refuse to sit down and shut up because people don’t know what they’re talking about.  I’m not a teacher but I’m gonna play one for this referendum.

Other news about the referendum: CSD is asking for volunteers to be part of committees that will be formed to work on the referendum process.  If you are interested and want to volunteer some time, from CSD’s Facebook post:

The Christina School District seeks volunteers to serve on a Referendum Committee for the District’s Operating Referendum scheduled for Wednesday, May 27. The Operating Referendum seeks funding to support increased costs and to help the District address an anticipated $9 million budget deficit.
All are welcome to serve on the Referendum Committee, and there are no requirements for serving other than an interest in contributing to a successful campaign. Interested individuals are asked to send an email with name, address, phone number, and email address to: info@christina.k12.de.us, or to call 302-552-2610. Information may also be faxed to 302-429-5857 or mailed to Christina School District Referendum Committee, C/O Public Information Office, 600 North Lombard Street, Wilmington, DE 19801.
Please send information by March 23 in order to receive all future notifications. A Kick-Off meeting of the Referendum Committee is tentatively scheduled for Thursday, March 26 at 6:00 p.m. at the Eden Support Services Center in Bear.

I’m in.  Are you?

Next CBOC meeting is March 18.  6:30pm at Gauger-Cobbs Middle in the professional library.  I can say we’ll have some new attendees for this one.  It’ll be good to (finally) see some new faces!

What’s The Priority?

In the ongoing battle between Governor Markell and his Secretary of Education Mark Murphy with the Christina and Red Clay Consolidated School Districts over the 6 “priority schools”, an Op Ed surfaced on delawareonline.com last weekend written by Secretary Murphy.  The synopsis is that he and the Department of Education know exactly what’s needed to turn around the 6 ‘priority’ schools without sharing very many details other than the provision of throwing $6 million at the schools over 4 years (with $160,000k/year earmarked for new principals at each school) to help pay for whatever they have in mind.

Without going through the entire Op Ed, let me just say this.  The Christina community, administration and Board of Education have been working tirelessly to create plans for all 3 of our “priority” schools.  Emphasis on Christina community (which includes parents, teachers, building leaders, citizens, etc).  The plan isn’t done yet, but it’s closer now than it was 2 months ago.  All we’re hearing out of Dover is barking about meeting the arbitrary January 7 deadline to have the final plan submitted for review.  There haven’t been any constructive contributions from DOE, the Secretary or the Governor all of whom have been repeatedly asked to participate in the development of the plans for Stubbs, Bancroft and Bayard.  If you say you want to help then decline each opportunity to do so, are you sure you actually want to help?

In other news, last night Red Clay’s Board voted 6-1 to approve DOE’s MOU before actually having a plan for their “priority” schools in place, and before actually engaging their residents, teachers, parents, or anyone else.  That seems backwards to me.  Contrast with what Christina is doing before accepting the MOU:  bringing parents, teachers, principals, district administration, citizens and the Board of Education together to develop plans for each school, and really focusing on finalizing the plan and then submitting it to DOE for review and future collaborative efforts.  Plans are coming together, but Dover is hammering on the January 7th deadline for having the plans submitted.  The CSD Board of Education is of the opinion that we should take our time to make sure we prepare absolute best of the best for these school turnaround plan and if that means we go past January 7th, so be it.  The kids deserve it.

What I’m getting out of this as a resident of the Christina School District with 2 kids currently in the district and as someone who serves on Christina’s CBOC is DOE, Governor Markell and Secretary Murphy want you to agree to their nonspecific terms before they’re willing to engage and participate.  Should we all be working together?  Yes.  If you agree to someone’s ultimatum before getting to work, are you really working together?  I don’t typically sign a contract until I know exactly what’s written in it and I’m not sure why Dover is asking our district to do just that.

So what is DOE’s priority here?  Working with the districts and communities to do what’s best for these kids?  Or just getting the districts to agree and go along with what they have in mind?

Just One Question

shutterstock_27866770What do you want your public schools to be?

We know public school student achievement isn’t what it should be or could be in Delaware.  We know about the rising influence of charter schools.  But what do we know about making changes to our public schools to improve student achievement?  What should we emphasize?  What should we keep, what should we remove, what should we start doing?  What do you want your public schools to be?

Tonight was the first public workshop for the Christina School District on the subject of an operating referendum (a special election held to approve tax increases to bring in more funding for the schools),  Expect to hear more about it at the upcoming Board of Education public meeting on November 18th.  There was great discussion from members of the District administration, Board of Education, and the Citizens Budget Oversight Committee.  In brief we know the following:


  • In order for our schools to see any increase in funding for the next school year (2015-2016), the special election must be held prior to July 1, 2015.  Doing so allows the county to adjust the tax rates to collect the funding.
  • Holding the election early in the year (no later than March) allows for a “mulligan” if it does not pass.  90 days must pass between special elections.  If the election were held in February, and it failed, another election would be able to be held in May or June (prior to the July 1 deadline to see more funding for the 2015-2016 school year)
  • February or March 2015 would be the best bet for when to hold the special election.


  • Our schools need more money.  But what will be done with the money?  We were able to generate a “wishlist” of priorities for our children and their schools, not only to keep the students we have but to recruit new students to Christina.

One thing that was missing from tonight’s meeting?  You.  Your voice.  Your thoughts.  As a taxpayer, your voice counts just as much as anyone else’s and tonight, your voice was missing.  Our public schools can’t be their best without support from the public.  We need your help and your input.  Attend the next Board of Education meeting on November 18th. Attend the next referendum workshop (date: TBD)!  Contact your Board of Education members, sharing your thoughts and ideas (remember: the Board of Education drives our schools and the district where we want them to go!). Talk with your school leaders and teachers, talk with other parents!  It starts with communication and engagement. So I’m asking:

What do you want your public schools to be?

#justonequestion #publiceducation

Day 1: Kindergarten, Day 2: 5th Grade

Today marks the first day of kindergarten for our youngest son, Finn.  I couldn’t tell you where the last 5 years have gone.  It’s funny, as the kids made their way upstairs to get ready for bed tonight, I told my wife that the last thing I see in the house before I walk out the door to go to work in the morning is a picture of me holding Finn when he was just hours old and I’m now realizing that the tiny bundle of humanity in my arms in that photo is now walking up the steps into a big yellow school bus and going to school.  I was told becoming a parent causes time accelerate exponentially, and that’s no lie.  5 years.  Today also marked the second day of 5th grade for our oldest son, Brae.  I cannot seem to figure out where that time went either, but what really boggles my mind is that in 3 short years, he’ll be ready to head off to high school.  Time.  Exponentially increasing.

Yesterday we had the 1 hour kindergarten orientation for him and being in that classroom with him, listening to his teacher, observing the classroom and the school overall makes me even more committed to doing what I can for the district to help it continue to operate and serve our kids.  Finn’s teacher almost immediately mentioned something about a $25 activity fee that parents are responsible for.  She was defensive at first, explaining that mentioning the fee almost always raises some eyebrows, but as she explained to me what that fee covered I came to understand the need for it.  It basically comes down to teachers and schools not having the funding they need to operate in top form.  We paid the fee before we left orientation but it left me thinking, $25 x 20 kids = $500.  That isn’t a whole lot of money for a classroom.  Imagine if the operating budget was increased to give teachers an extra $500 per year for their classroom expenses. How much good do you think that would do?  Hopefully over the next couple of years we’ll be able to find out what increasing the operating budget will do for our Christina School District Schools.

Anyway, I wanted to say that I’m proud of our boys.  On to another year of school.  I should get back to working on my time decelerator.

August 20, 2014 CBOC Meeting

So, I decided to start up a blog about my involvement with the Christina School District’s financial operations.  As you can tell from the “Who Am I?” section of my blog, I serve on the District’s Citizen’s Budget Oversight Committee (CBOC) and I wanted to create a way to get my experience with CBOC out there in the public without writing status update after status update after status update on Facebook.  So I went back to blogging.  It’s been a number of years since I’ve blogged, so bear with me as I get back into the swing of it.  Without further ado:


Meeting to review the month of July financials for the CSD took place Wednesday August 20, 2014.

This was a pretty easy meeting as far as the financials go.  End of FY2014 and the very beginning of FY2015 left not much to be reviewed in terms of monies in and out of the districts coffers.  Instead, we had a much more interesting discussion about the future financial health of the school district.  Specifically, the very significant need to raise revenues.  The district will need to go out for a capital referendum and an operating referendum in the near future.  In simpler terms, the district needs to raise taxes to pay for building improvements (capital) and to continue to pay the increasing cost of operations (staffing, teachers, transportation).  To do that, a public vote on raising the school taxes must be held.  We’re not even in the pre-planning stages yet to be honest.  The Board of Education has not even formally voted on whether to go out for a referendum or not.  Personally, I’m expecting them to approve it but I just don’t know when.  As with any policy making body, they take their sweet time.  During the last board meeting there was at least some discussion among the present board members and the district Superintendent that a referendum was needed.  All they mentioned was the operating referendum.  The truth of the matter is, the district sorely needs to upgrade its buildings.  Money for paying people to work in the district and money to pay for building upkeep comes from two different “pots” so to speak.  You can’t use operating money to pay for buildings and you can’t use capital money to pay for operations.  So to improve both you have to get taxpayer approval on a “Capital Referendum” and a separate yet equally important “Operating Referendum”.  But we can’t even begin talking about either one until the board decides to vote them.  As any parent of a CSD child will know, the buildings in the district need some help.  For that, we need a capital referendum to pass.

The feeling among CBOC is that during the next School Board meeting (scheduled for September 9th) the board will vote to officially begin the planning process for the referendum.  Like all public elections, this will involve a massive campaign that will touch everyone in the district.  Teachers, administrators, parents, students, everyone.  The first step (depending on which of the referendums the Board approves, hopefully both!)will be scheduling public workshops to get as many people involved in the planning process as possible.  Let’s not put the cart before the horse though.  The board MUST vote on whether to go out for referendums or not.  They’ve been dragging their heels somewhat over the last few months on this issue, but the financial position of the district was made abundantly clear to them at the last meeting.  CSD, in its current state, will not be able to survive without increased revenues.  I’m hoping the board will act on the 9th.

This will be an incredibly delicate and complex project but I’m very excited to be part of it.  I want to be involved as much as I can from the very early planning stages to the education of the general public about what we’re doing and why we need to do it.  I don’t want to say it will be fun, because our schools are in dire need of funds, but I’m anticipating enjoying each part of this process.  Provided the Board does what they need to next month.