I took a break from the blog world for a month or so. After the end of the legislative session I was pretty much done. Took some time away from it (for the most part), went on vacation with the family, tried not to think about the disaster of a State budget we’re heading into with the coming school year, property reassessment, tax rates, school district consolidation, DDOE meddling with school district finances, or anything else education related. I think I did a pretty good job of suppressing that part of my brain. My wife’s opinion may differ. Anyway, I’m back.
If you follow education in Delaware, you likely did not know the first meeting of the old but new School District Consolidation Task Force took place last evening in Dover. That is primarily because the only notification that seemed to be posted in advance of the meeting was the legally required public notice that went up on the State website 7 days prior to the meeting. Earl Jaques, the primary sponsor of the bill that created this task force and who is now its chairperson is a Representative in the district adjacent to mine. I saw nothing from his office, online, in print, anywhere. Doesn’t mean it wasn’t there, but I keep pretty close tabs on what our legislators are doing in terms of education, even when I’m ‘taking a break from it all’, and I didn’t see or hear a thing about it. Curious. He did admit he’s taking full blame for the lack of advanced notification about the meeting and says he has “a list” of ways to improve that for next time.
When I did find out about it yesterday afternoon, I learned that the start time was 6:30pm. In Dover. My wife, who most assuredly knew I was going to go even before I admitted that I was going to go, told me to go. So I did.
I’ve been thinking more about what I witnessed last night and drummed up some more brain nuggets on the initial meeting.
It began Rep. Jaques directing everyone in the room to introduce themselves and their affiliation (if any) to education in Delaware. I won’t roll call the names on the task force. Just kidding, yes I will:
- Representative Earl Jaques, Chair
- Representative Joe Miro
- Senator David Sokola (absent)
- Senator Brian Pettyjohn
- Susan Bunting, Secretary of Education
- Jon Sheehan, Education Policy Advisor for Governor Carney (former Chief of Staff for NYC Department of Education)
- Heath Chasanov, Superintendent Woodbridge School District
- Dusty Blakey, Superintendent Colonial School District
- Kevin Fitzgerald, Superintendent Caesar Rodney School District
- Mike Jackson, Director of Office of Management and Budget (OMB)
- Jeff Taschner, Delaware State Education Association (DSEA)
- John A. Skrobot, Executive Director, Delaware School Boards Association (and Brandywine School Board Member)
- Robert Overmiller, Governor’s Advisory Council for Exceptional Children
- Terri Hodges, Parent/Guardian Wilmington City School (also Delaware PTA President and appointed by Delaware PTA)
- Nacole Gardner, Parent/Guardian, New Castle County Public School
- Loretta Greig, Parent/Guardian, Kent County Public School
- Lauren Hudson, Parent/Guardian, Sussex County Public School
- Mark Dufendach, Vo-Tech Districts’ Representative (and Superintendent of Polytech School District)
- Hanifa Shabazz, President Wilmington City Council (absent)
- Matthew Meyer, New Castle County Executive
- Michael Petit de Mange, Kent County Administrator
- Gina Jennings, Sussex County Finance Director
Also present: Kendall Massett, John Marinucci, Jill Floore, Fred Sears, Dave Blowman, Dan Shelton, and other faces I did not recognize (since I don’t visit Leg Hall that often) but who were clearly established players in Education & Government Land.
We did not hear the affiliation “parent” more than a half-dozen times. That’s a big problem since parents are directly affected by changes to the education system because, as you might guess, their children experience the changes first-hand when they occur. We don’t even know how the task force members were selected or appointed. They were just…there. That’s also a problem.
Secretary of Education Susan Bunting gave us a somewhat cherry-picked and definitely abridged summary of school district consolidation activity over the course of the last 100 years in Delaware. A statewide district was attempted once in 1919, it was abandoned in less than 3 years in favor of locally controlled schools. New Castle County-wide district was attempted in 1978, and abandoned 3 years later partially in favor of (you guessed it) locally controlled schools. She led off with the stats on the City of Wilmington in terms of student enrollment, districts delivering services, and how fractured the education system in the city is.
For those who may not recall, there are approximately 11,500 children in the city of Wilmington enrolled in our public schools that are divided among approximately 20 education agencies (charters, districts, special programs, alternative programs, etc).
She bounced right over to the most recent analysis of consolidation that was done in 2002. The results of which you can find (still) on the DDOE site. Just in case anything happens to that report though: de_houseresolut54
She noted it was “interesting” that this only Kent and Sussex districts had been studied for consolidation. Which would be true if the Wilmington Education Advisory Committee and the Wilmington Education Improvement Committee never existed. But they did. And they wrote the book (literally) on why and how to transform the educational landscape to better our childrens’ educations not only in Wilmington but throughout the entire state. But 2002 was the last time Delaware seriously looked at consolidation… I wonder if anyone at DDOE has even read the WEIC book.
Anyway. The report found, in short, that in 2002 the average enrollment of Delaware school districts was 5,898 students. The national average was 3,210 students. Delaware districts were on average, larger than the national average. And that was 15 years ago. The report also found the optimal district enrollment size range was between 1,500 and 6,000 students, the cost to consolidate Kent and Sussex County districts was an additional ~$7.2 million in the first year, and that was after a projected savings of $1.5 million from the loss of Superintendent and administrative secretarial positions and it drew 3 conclusions:
- Address funding equalization concerns through implementation of the
recommendations made by the state equalization committee.
- Explore ways to centralize specific services, either statewide or countywide
when operational efficiencies can be achieved (i.e. transportation, purchasing,
- Consider consolidation options for districts with fewer than 1,500 students.
Equalization funding is an animal deserving of its own post(s), so I will broach that topic later. There was only 1 district in 2002 with enrollment < 1,500 students. Delmar. This feasibility study essentially recommended against consolidating districts but for consolidating certain specific services (i.e., not all of them).
From there we were informed that the Consolidation Task Force is comprised of 22 voting members which, as I mentioned before, is essentially a “Who’s Who” list of Delaware education folk.
Then the interesting part (I thought). The are 4 sub-committees of the task force of which anyone (yes anyone) can be a part of.
- Structure, Transportation, & Manpower led by Kevin Carson (Director of Administrative Services, Seaford School District) with Representative Jaques
- Finance led by Fred Sears with Mike Jackson
- Academic & Children Needs led by SecEd Bunting and Representative Miro
- Teachers & Staff led by Dusty Blakey with Jeff Taschner
How does one become a part of a task force? Either contact Rep. Jaques and ask, or contact the head of the subcommittee you are interested in (who will then go through Jaques since he chairs the task force). Or. Just show the hell up at a meeting, once we find out when they are. You can’t vote on anything, but you can certainly contribute your thoughts & ideas if you show up. We NEED more parent involvement, hell we need more involvement period.
Yours truly signed up to be on the Finance sub-committee.
More than once we heard that the goal of this task force is to do what is best for our students. The goal isn’t (necessarily) saving money or spending more, or closing schools, or erasing lines on a map, it’s to figure out if re-configuring (geographically) our education system in Delaware will benefit children. While that stated goal may be true, I have a hard time accepting it seeing the dearth of publicity this meeting had and the lack of parent inclusion on the task force itself. Seriously, 137,000 school children, 19,000 staff, $2 billion in funding, 3 parents on the task force. THREE.
Don’t have much more at the moment. The next meetings for the full task force are scheduled as follows with sub-committee meetings (TBD) to be held in between those full task force dates.
- 6:30pm, September 18, Woodbridge High School, Greenwood, DE (caffeine-infused road trip for us northerners)
- 6:30pm, October 16, William Penn High School, New Castle, DE
- 6:30pm, November 16th, Caesar Rodney High School, Camden, DE
- December meeting date, time, and location to be determined
Plenty more coming. Stay tuned and spread the word.