Education General Assembly

Additional Thoughts on Consolidation Task Force Meeting

During introductions, 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.

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 shared some initial takeaways last night in a post you can find here. Kevin Ohlandt also shared some important information in his post here.

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:

  1. Representative Earl Jaques, Chair
  2. Representative Joe Miro
  3. Senator David Sokola (absent)
  4. Senator Brian Pettyjohn
  5. Susan Bunting, Secretary of Education
  6. Jon Sheehan, Education Policy Advisor for Governor Carney (former Chief of Staff for NYC Department of Education)
  7. Heath Chasanov, Superintendent Woodbridge School District
  8. Dusty Blakey, Superintendent Colonial School District
  9. Kevin Fitzgerald, Superintendent Caesar Rodney School District
  10. Mike Jackson, Director of Office of Management and Budget (OMB)
  11. Jeff Taschner, Delaware State Education Association (DSEA)
  12. John A. Skrobot, Executive Director, Delaware School Boards Association (and Brandywine School Board Member)
  13. Robert Overmiller, Governor’s Advisory Council for Exceptional Children
  14. Terri Hodges, Parent/Guardian Wilmington City School (also Delaware PTA President and appointed by Delaware PTA)
  15. Nacole Gardner, Parent/Guardian, New Castle County Public School
  16. Loretta Greig, Parent/Guardian, Kent County Public School
  17. Lauren Hudson, Parent/Guardian, Sussex County Public School
  18. Mark Dufendach, Vo-Tech Districts’ Representative (and Superintendent of Polytech School District)
  19. Hanifa Shabazz, President Wilmington City Council (absent)
  20. Matthew Meyer, New Castle County Executive
  21. Michael Petit de Mange, Kent County Administrator
  22. 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:

  1. Address funding equalization concerns through implementation of the
    recommendations made by the state equalization committee.
  2. Explore ways to centralize specific services, either statewide or countywide
    when operational efficiencies can be achieved (i.e. transportation, purchasing,
    professional development).
  3. 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.

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.

A dad, husband, and public education supporter. Serving on Christina School District's Citizens' Budget Oversight Committee since 2013. Co-chair of Christina's 2016 Referendum Committee. Often found lurking at Christina's Board of Ed meetings, furiously Tweeting and wielding my +15 Memes of Comedic Relief melee weapon to try and explain what's going on. I have to make it fun, or you'll just cry. Trying to be knowledgable about all things public education in Delaware; finances, operations, laws and spread understandable information to everyone. If you see me, say hi.

11 comments on “Additional Thoughts on Consolidation Task Force Meeting

  1. Excellent blogging, Brian!

    It’s frustrating that consolidation has taken front and center, especially since it won’t really save money and does nothing to address the educational needs of children. Then again, I don’t think consolidation is about educating children. I think it’s a lazy talking point, used as a way to deny schools funding or to vote “no” on a referendum. A classic “waste, fraud and abuse” argument put forth, as usual, without specific details of claimed waste, fraud and abuse. That doesn’t mean there aren’t problems, but if your answer to our education issues is consolidation… go to the back of the class!

    No one there read the WEIC book, or if they did they ignored it because it didn’t say what they wanted to hear. And that’s a shame. Everything they need is in there. The truth is, if you want to know what a committee’s conclusion will be simply look at who’s on the committee.

  2. @ Pandora “especially since it won’t really save money and does nothing to address the educational needs of children.”

    That attitude is said without information………apparently you have already made up your mind, sad!

    • cassandram

      There’s plenty of information and much of it discussed here. What’s true is that you’ve failed to consider any of it, because you’ve made up your mind, quite utterly without any understanding of the facts on the ground. SAD!

    • My opinion on consolidation has changed over time (Thanks to Brian!). If you’ve actually read any of Brian’s posts you’ll see the cost breakdowns. That. Is. Information.

      However, since you’re big on information, perhaps you can supply some? 🙂

  3. mikem2784

    Some of the conclusions of the study do seem to defy common sense, particularly in certain areas. I’m thinking particularly about Western Sussex, where a 15 minute drive in either direction from one district office will take you to another. There are also real problems with the referendum system, where the poorest districts have to ask people who truly can’t afford more to pay more while more prosperous districts thrive, pass referendums regularly, and have shiny new schools to show for it, bringing in more residents, students, etc. and increase their state portion based on numbers.
    I get the issue with teacher pay and the formula for administration staffing, but I can’t help but think that such a formula could be changed. I’ve never met an educator who identified one of the key problems as too few administrators.

  4. I agree that consolidation is a red herring from the savings standpoint, but using the “average district” size as an argument is misleading. If you have a district of 99,000 and another of 1,000, the average is 50,000 — but 99% of the students attend just one of the districts. I haven’t looked this up, but I’m willing to bet a large sum of money that most of the students in the country attend much larger school districts, but the average is pulled down by all the rural areas of the country in which you have to miles in any direction to pull in more than 1,000 kids.

  5. If the Philadelphia Catholic School system can do it, then so can others. When we are paying 70% of our county taxes, to the schools something has to be done. You want a referendum, then say how you have reduced costs, not programs that your going to cut! They always go that way. Ask for more, get a vote. Then if it doesn’t get approved, do it again. They should have to wait a year!!

    • Brian Stephan

      Anono,

      So you’re advocating for the privatization of the education system in Delaware? Ok. Just so we’re clear on that.

      “You want a referendum, then say how you have reduced costs, not programs that your going to cut!”

      Read that again slowly please and recognize that programs cost money, so when they list programs and staff they’re cutting they ARE telling you how they’re going to reduce costs.

      You know how I know you’ve never read a thing I have posted and all you do is try to pick fights based on what you believe to be ‘true’? “They should have to wait a year”. Districts can only go for referendum 2 times in any 12 month period. That’s been said by me and others on here and over on Del Lib for years.

      Can’t reason a person out of a position they didn’t reason themselves into in the first place. It’s been fun Anono, but I’m done with you.

  6. Brian,
    1. The Catholic school in Philadelphia system does not have multiple “Districts” with Multiple Administrators in that district, THAT is what I’m saying.
    2. When ever I have seen the multiple mailers; I’m in Christina, but I get mailers from Red Clay (talk about wasting money). They talk about the teachers that are going to loose their jobs, not how they have cut costs, thru attrition or redoing contracts or consolidating contracts.

    And, sorry to say. The private schools have done MORE with Less!! They don’t all have Turf fields or big stadiums. Look at Middletown High School or Cape Henlopen. I’ve paid taxes, so why do I have to pay to use a public schools stadium, I’ve already paid for it.

    • What exactly do you want to use stadiums for? Running the track? Welp, you can do that. I can only speak to the high schools my kids attended, but the public was able to access the track and even *gasp* sit/hang out on the bleachers!

      And one of the ways the Diocese cut costs in Delaware was to close schools – far too many of which educated the poorest children (You know, the schools Jesus would teach at). Is that your plan? Close schools? Tell us how that would work?

      Here’s what I know, Anono. You do not understand the funding formula for public schools and if you want to change that formula then consolidation won’t accomplish that goal. And the idea that costs don’t go up is ridiculous unless you’re claiming that your cable/electric/water bill are the same as they were seven years ago.

      And the reason why you receive RCCD mailers while living in Christina is the magical way bulk mail works combined with how district lines are drawn. However, if you think it would be easier (and cheaper!) to address each flyer individually then have at it.

  7. mikem2784

    Private schools can also do “more” with less because they can pick and choose their clientele. Public schools must serve everyone who walks through their door.

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