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Archive for the ‘Christina School District’ Category

Today is the fall-out day for Christina School District, after the voting public voted 54-46 to not approve a referendum for a smaller tax increase than the one asked for in February.

With this, the district says they now have a $9.5 million budget shortfall. They say over 100 teachers, paraprofessionals and secretaries face layoffs, with more possible depending on next year’s enrollment. Extracurriculars, maintanance, and textbook purchases are also likely to be delayed or cut.

There is a lot of anger on both sides about this vote. Check out one well-known blogger’s take on the referendum; he is clearly upset that a majority of voters opted not to pay extra for CSD to continue running. Or read the comments section in the News Journal. On the one hand those who supported the referendum are furious that there will be layoffs at the classroom level; on the other hand, those who voted no are unhappy that they are being accused of not caring about kids when some went on record saying they want the district to watch how it spends money and cut all spending until they can cut no more, and then they can ask for a tax increase.

This was actually the position of some of the school board members in Capital School District, when they ran for office (and have, for the most part, kept to their word). Only after all efforts are made to reduce wasteful spending should school boards ask their constituents for a tax increase.

We at CRI have no dog in this fight. We are not allowed to support or oppose a referendum, and this illustrates the need for voters to be informed about the issue before going out to vote.

Here are some facts:

  • Christina SD spent more money in 2013, the latest year Transparent Delaware has data for, on employee payroll. Now Christina Sd has the second-largest public school enrollment (Red Clay is #1), and part of the district encompasses Wilmington. However, Red Clay’s reported payroll was $130.3 million, or $27.6 million less than Christina, for roughly equally-sized districts.
  • Both districts have roughly the same number of non-public school students, and each has a charter school which has been accused of taking only the “best” students. Newark Charter and for Red Clay, Charter School of Wilmington.
  • It’s not a 100% perfect comparison, but the state DOE says Christina SD employed 2,749 people this year, of which 43% were in-classroom teachers. Using roughly $158 million for spending for this year, that’s an average district salary of $57,475.45, which is above the statewide average for both private and public sector employees. Now this is, of course, a somewhat inaccurate picture: the state DOE says a new teacher with a bachelor’s degree and 4 or fewer years of experience makes about $41,000, but at 15 years of services averages at $61,530. Have a Master’s degree? That teacher can start out at just over $47,000 and at 30+ years of service averages just over $77,000 a year. 54% of district staff (included non-teachers) have a Master’s.
  • 60% of the district is made up of Black and Hispanic students, and 41% of students are low-income while 18% are classified as special needs. The good news is, the overall graduation rate is up. The bad news is, the district’s SAT scores are lower than the state average, which is already 50th in the nation (we will soon have ACT data to back up our SAT results).

The district absolutely has a lot of challenges, and it may be time to split the Wilmington section from Christina and build a school district just for Wilmington, so the city’s leaders can focus on helping those kids, or splitting Wilmington into just two districts (Red Clay and Brandywine). But Christina, like virtually every other district in Delaware, is simply not producing results, and clearly the lack of money is not the problem.

For 50+ years, education leaders and union officials say if we just “invested” more in public education, we’d have  these great schools. But they never talk about changing the system, which is the real culprit here. Running a one-size-fits-all classroom setting only encourages proactive parents to pull their kids out and send them to charters or private school. They say they’re forced to take special needs and “problem” kids, but there are schools like Prestige Academy, Reach Academy (soon to close), Tall Oaks Classical School, and Kuumba Academy who will take in students from different backgrounds, not just the “good” kids. For instance, in 2013-2014 Prestige’s student enrollment was roughly 20% who were classified as special needs or requiring an IEP. There are schools who will take students from diverse backgrounds, but the most ardent proponents of public schools will not allow parents the opportunity which can be offered via an Education Savings Account, insisting that all kids go to public school, then complain when they get the kids they won’t allow to leave.

It’s long past time that Delaware, and the rest of the country, take a look at our public school system and implement real changes. The ultimate focus should be on how we as a society can best educate our kids, not who gets the money. As long as who gets the money is the focus of our system, it will be the kids who suffer the most, as ultimately the students will be the ones who will be affected by the fallout from yesterday’s referendum.

For the record, there is no word on how many of the district’s 108 employees (4% of the total) who earn over $100,000 in total salary will suffer pay cuts or job loss.

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The big news in Delaware today (not the awesome magazine, but today today) is that the state Department of Education has issued Christina School District with an ultimatum: close the three “Priority Schools” in the district (Stubbs Elementary, Bancroft Elementary, and Bayard Middle School) by the end of February 2015 or else turn them over to an outside manager. If they don’t comply the state will take them over.

Whereas Red Clay SD countered the state’s takeover plan with one of their own which did not require teachers to reapply for their jobs or for school principals to be fired and replaced with new $160,000 a year principals, Christina SD did not come up with a plan the state finds acceptable. Their school board also voted to reject the turnaround plan. So now the state is flexing its political muscle to get control over these three schools.

If you look at a map of Christina (click this link) you’ll see the district boundaries make no sense.

Christina serves the city of Newark and the suburban area around it, and then a piece of downtown Wilmington about 12 miles from its easternmost edge. Newark and Wilmington are not the same city and each has its own challenges. We at CRI believe there should be changes to how districts are drawn and the City of Wilmington should have its own school district. All three of the schools scheduled for closure or loss to outside managers or the state are in the city limits of Wilmington. Nonetheless, Christina is in charge and must come to a decision soon. What will they do?

If the past is any indicator Christina will fight the state all the way to the last week of February. In 2013 the district initially rejected Delaware’s requirements under Race To The Top but changed a portion of their plan when the state threatened to withhold $2.3 million in RTTT funding from the district unless it complied with federal directives. However, Governor Markell and Secretary Murphy are not exactly pushovers; we expect them to stand their ground on this issue and fully take over the schools at the end of the month if Christina doesn’t counter the Priority Schools plan with one the state finds acceptable. However, in the end the Governor has more power than the district and they know it; they will have to implement some reforms or else those three Wilmington schools will probably be turned into charters or turned over to private “for profit” entities who will (most likely) hire private management to oversee a turnaround effort.

Whatever happens, we will be watching with interest. From our end we have no stake in this battle except to see education in Delaware turn around. Again we repeat: 51st in SAT score performance, 9th in per-student per-year spending, and 4th in per capita administrative budget (number of administrators to students). Without serious education reform the state will continue to see businesses decline to invest here (unless they get goodies from DEDO) because our public education system isn’t “world class” enough to produce enough educated young people needed to take the high-paying jobs which move people out of poverty. Parents with children who have jobs in New Castle County will move over the border to Pennsylvania or send their children to one of Delaware’s private schools (we are #1 in the country for highest ration of children in private schools as a percentage of the total student body).

We are involved in our own education reform efforts. Look for CRI, in the days and weeks ahead, to continue to talk about Education Savings Accounts and why Delaware needs them. or visit http://www.caesarrodney.org and learn about what you can do to Impact Delaware.

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The College Board recently released new SAT data for 2013-2014 and for Delaware it doesn’t look any better than last year. On the positive side Delaware is no longer 51st in SAT scores and 16th out of 16 “High Participation Rate” states and D.C. (70% or greater participation). The state moved to 50th this year and 15th out of 16, surpassing Washington D.C. in both categories.

Total average SAT scores, class of 2013-2014:

Critical reading: 456

writing: 444

math: 459

Total: 1359

For college-bound seniors the numbers improve slightly:

Critical reading: 497

writing: 487

math: 513

Total: 1497

The number best estimated to predict success at the college level is a total score of 1550 for the entire SAT. Delaware scores nearly 190 points below average. 26 out of 51 states and D.C. reach this 1550 threshold. The CATO Institute studied Delaware and factored in the mandatory SAT testing, and even weighted we are still near the bottom. Even when factoring in only high school seniors who attended any college institution this year, the average scores were still below 1550.

Another interesting note: for college-bound seniors, writing scores dropped 10 points from 2006 for both boys and girls, and both boys and girls score 32-34 points lower respectively in reading than in 1972. Math was up 4 points combined since 1972, with girls making slightly bigger gains.

Excluding the writing section, in 1972 the average college-bound high school senior in Delaware earned a 1039 on their SAT’s, while the class of 2014 had a mean of 1010. Meaning, we’ve DROPPED in proficiency, particularly in reading, from the 1970s. Remember, these are seniors who went to college this year. We aren’t counting those who didn’t go.

The only real way we can move forward is to agree that only a robust range of education options for children will allow children to learn as best they can. A one-size-fits-all public school model does little to understand that some students do better in bigger classrooms, others smaller. Some students may do better with the parent as a teacher and for others cyber school may be a better choice. Even among charter and magnet schools there are diverse options, such as the First State Military Academy set to open in Clayton later this year, which is a Junior ROTC program charter school for which some students will benefit from more than others who enter. For some kids and parents issues like safety, school hours, or programs will determine the best options.

The point is we want a system which allows parents or the children’s legal guardians to choose the place best suited for the kids. There is absolutely no reason a child’s fate should be determined by their zip code or that a child should attend a school which either a) is not serving them properly, or b) is not suited to the child’s best method of learning, simply to appease those whose primary interest is keeping the system as-is.

It’s time we made education options available for all children. Visit our website www.caesarrodney.org and sign up for our e-mail newsletters. See what you can do today to make tomorrow’s education a better experience for all children.

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As CRI continues efforts to expand and bring the efforts for economic and personal freedom to all Delawareans we recognize the thoughts from our former Director of the Center for Education Excellence, Jim Hosley.

In question are two articles which appeared in the News Journal this week: One on the news about the ‘priority schools’ announcement from the state and one on Moyer Academy’s closing at the end of the 2014-2015 school year. Here are Jim’s observations and thoughts:

  • Agree the six Wilmington schools are not performing.  Where has the Markell Administration been? These schools have had the same level of under-performance since the start of his administration. People on the street in neighborhoods have been saying the system isn’t working and they’ve lost six years with Markell’s deaf ear.
  • What has Markell been doing: launched a major statewide program that has not improved results statewide; created a foreign language program with specific attention to Chinese to make DE a world education leader (in fact he allocated over $2 million dollars to that program – great help for these 6 schools!); secured $119 million for Race to the Top (RTTT) and $49 million for early education but nothing for problem schools; dropped funding for start up funds for more charter schools; and teachers complain there is no consistency and more stress in classroom precipitated by programs imposed from above the school level.
  • Markell is in fact pointing the finger at teachers. No doubt there are problem teachers as in any business and schools need to be able to hire and fire in order to find and retain the right teachers – a system-wide problem. However when there is system-wide failure there is a systemic problem. A problem in a state with a large DOE that has grown under his administration.
  • The Administration continues to look to spending when in fact the question isn’t how much but where education monies are spent. It is time to look at all spending outside the classroom, focus on reducing those that do not prepare students, and re-direct savings to appropriate spending including targeted programs to overcome social issues that contribute to an environment that does not encourage learning and participation.
  • Why should the state establish salary objectives for education leaders? Because they are buying support and they like spending. I have no trouble with paying more but in the context of our current spending then the solution is to understand effectiveness and redirect reductions to contributors. DOE has to be a focus and review because it has been in charge, is bloated and is ineffective. Question: Why do we need a DOE department that employs about 150 more people by population than the average state?
  • It was nice to see the sense of urgency . . . but using as justification that 2000 more students will more likely go to jail than get a job is simply a nice touch given everyone already knows the issue. Urgency should have been from day one of the Markell administration. A tenure that has contributed to the problem with cumulative results of than more than 12,000 students  have already failed to street and drugs — where has the Administration’s urgency been.

What we need.

  • All schools serve the public good so any solution must be local and include using public, private, faith-based, blended school and homeschool opportunities.
  • Parents equipped with ESA’s do not have to wait for another elaborate scheme that will probably results in same failed results of other governments plans; and don’t have to wait for a Vision 2025! They can send their children to schools that deliver today (and they have capacity to accommodate more and given monies available will quickly grow more public and private because the monopoly is not in charge) the math skills, reading skills, functional literacy, and solid work habits to allow their children to grow up and find a good job. We do see this in all charter schools in Wilmington yet the DOE closed one and is closing another that serve the most underserved. How about closing underperforming traditional public schools.
  • Parents able to decide the effectiveness of schools and teachers by directing the funds set aside in savings accounts will make all schools more accountable. In many ways private schools are more responsive, more accountable and more open to direct participation. Choice provides a chance to  improve public schools that will have to focus effectiveness and budgets on what parents value, that will overcome hierarchical organizations that impose rules and regulations, and that increase more in-school and at-home participation that has been limited by the need to comply with elaborate state, federal and union rules and behaviors.

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