Tag Archives: schools

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.


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!

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.