Tag Archives: Delaware

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.

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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.

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?

Everyone Out of the (Tax) Pool!

And now for something completely not different:  The New Castle County Tax Pool.  Ahead of the WEIC town hall scheduled for this evening at Cab Calloway, here’s some information on the New Castle County Tax Pool, as it was brought up during the last WEIC town hall (and some errant information was given by WEIC regarding how each district contributes to the pool).

I’ve written and given presentations, blog posts, Facebook posts on public school financing for the last couple of years and I haven’t mentioned the tax pool hardly at all even though it does significantly affect the tax revenue (in a negative way) for both Red Clay and Christina.  So what is it?

Once upon a time, there was only the New Castle County Public School District, one district serving the entire county’s public school students (interesting concept..).  Then, the county was broken up into the 5 main public school districts we know today: Red Clay, Christina, Brandywine, Colonial and VoTech.  For the purposes of the tax pool in this post, VoTech is excluded.  For the 4 other districts, check this out:

At the time of the NCCSD dissolution, its current operating tax was $0.468 per $100 assessed value.  That tax rate still exists today, it is embedded in our current school taxes as part of the operating tax (also called current expense tax).  What does that mean?  Christina’s current operating tax is $1.42 / $100 AV.  That $1.42 is a sum of two tax rates: The NCC Tax Pool rate of $0.468 cents + Christina’s direct operating tax: $0.952 cents / $100 AV.   The operating tax revenue is actually collected in two portions.  For reference:

District NCC Tax Pool Rate District Operating Rate Total Rate
Christina $0.468 $0.952 $1.42
Red Clay (pre-referendum) $0.468 $0.758 $1.226
Colonial $0.468 $0.738 $1.206
Brandywine $0.468 $0.818 $1.286


Rabbit hole alert!  The money collected with the tax pool rate gets put into a big pot.  DDOE uses wizardry to allocate the pool money out to the districts.  Ok, it isn’t really wizardry but the formula is all kinds of jacked up and outdated.    

If you’re feeling adventurous and would like to play along at home:  the “formula” is as follows and is performed for each of the 4 districts:

A) Total Div I Units – Special School Units = Net Div I Units
B) Net Div I Units / Total Net Div I units = Allocation Factor
C) Allocation Factor * Tax Pool Receipts = how much tax revenue is returned/lost for each district from the pool.

A couple of charts and graphs I threw together:

CharterChoicePmnts

In this bar chart separated by School District, the red bars indicate the gross operating tax receipts collected by each district in millions $ (money collected via Operating Tax).  The green bars show the after-effects of the New Castle County Tax Pool. You can see that both Christina and Red Clay are net contributors to the pool (they pay in more than they get out).  Brandywine and Colonial are net beneficiaries (they receive more from the pool than they put in).  The purple bar shows the after effects of the payments each District makes to Charter and Choice schools, illustrating how much general operating revenue remains for running the Districts. Infer from these graphs what you will, but I feel it is beyond doubt that our public school funding mechanisms are woefully obsolete.  

Charter_Pmnts
In fiscal year 2015 (school year 2014-15) the four school districts made payments to charter schools totaling approximately $35,000,000.  50% of that was paid through Christina alone.

WEIC wants to have a conversation about public school funding.  We all need to be part of that conversation because the funding issue extends well beyond the City of Wilmington.

Budget Season: Raise Taxes!, No! Cut Spending, No! Raise Taxes!

giphyThose of you following along with the State’s budget woes understand what has to happen in order for the $80+ million gap to be closed.  Pretty much the same thing that Christina went through, either you raise revenue somehow or you obliterate your spending.  So we have lawmakers scrambling to find money without overtly saying they’re going to raise your taxes (like public school districts are forced to do every 3-5 years).

The latest maneuver is to adjust the realty transfer tax.   It’s currently 3% on all home sales in the State, split evenly between the State and the County or municipality the home is located in.  The new proposal is to make that 2% to the State, 1% to the county/municipality.  Kent and Sussex counties stand to lose the most from that deal as their smaller towns rely more heavily on the 1.5% the transfer tax affords them when a home is sold.  I get that the State needs to find money, but what puzzles me is a quote from State Senator Karen Peterson, D-Stanton.  She said

counties need to take more responsibility for reassessing their properties, claiming that some hadn’t done that for decades. “If they need a kick in the seat of the pants to get moving then let’s do this.

She’s right about the last time assessments were done.  New Castle County did it in 1983, Kent and Sussex in the 70s.  But if I follow correctly, she’s insinuating that counties should rely less on the State for their revenue (via taxes/fees like the transfer tax) and reassessing their properties would address that.

The State is $83 million short right now, presumably because they are not collecting enough taxes to meet their spending needs.  There would be open revolt if the State attempted to directly raise taxes (see Markell’s gas tax, or eliminating the Senior Property Tax Credit).  County reassessments would likely result in increased property taxes in all 3 counties.  Kent and Sussex residents would get hit HARD.  Think of all that new development happening down there.

And then Representative Melanie George Smith, D-Bear:

“We’ve assumed a lot of responsibilities back from the counties without charging them for it and so given that, this is the year we finally need to make those equal,”

Again, the State is $83 million short.  Rep. George Smith is echoing Sen. Peterson.  Both want to essentially pass the State’s budget shortfall onto the Counties which will, in turn, pass them on to their residents.  In theory, the Counties would rely less on State funds and the State would reclaim some of its expenses.  The State is positioning to indirectly raise taxes by having the Counties do the dirty work for them.  They’re afraid to say these words: “We need to raise taxes.” and even more afraid to say who they really need to raise taxes on.  Strike that, not everyone is afraid to say it.  Rep. John Kowalko said it.

Keep kicking that can, Delaware.

http://delawarepublic.org/post/state-lawmakers-grab-bigger-share-realty-transfer-tax