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Posts Tagged ‘Transparent Delaware’

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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A few weeks ago President John Stapleford (yea, that has a nice ring to it) published an article praising Governor Markell for making the decision to ask state employees to contribute a little more to their healthcare plans. He wrote:

“State employee and retiree health care costs have been rising exponentially and are not sustainable. The claims have jumped 20% over the past three fiscal years and the latest Pew Trusts analysis estimates that the State of Delaware has unfunded long term health care liabilities of $5.6 billion.

Data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics shows what the Governor proposes is not onerous. The State pays for almost 91% of the employee’s health care premium. Nationwide, state and local governments pay 87% and the average in the private sector is just 79%.

According to the BLS, the average pay for workers in service-providing industries in Delaware was $51,647 in 2013 while the average pay for Delaware state government employees that year was $53,450. The 2013 BLS occupational wage survey for Delaware shows an average wage of $39,130 for full time workers in protective service occupations while 2013 State of Delaware payroll data shows annual pay for full time workers in the Department of Corrections to be over $46,800.”

After publishing this article, we heard back from state employees, upset by our article. Some unfriended us on Facebook. Others unsubscribed from our e-mail blasts. I even received on particularly upset letter with a five-dollar bill saying the following:

“As a State of Delaware employee, I work hard for my paycheck. I do not have a flashy job and am not in a position where I will ever receive accolades for my wondrous feats. When I retire, no one of acclaim will come to speak at my send-off party, if I’m lucky enough to have my friends pay to have one. I am grateful to have the ability to contribute to a retirement plan that will help supplement the meager social security check that I will receive when I am eligible under the rules of the Federal Social Security Administration….I am a fan of your organization, but would love to see some positive support for the hardworking State Employee.”

This particular letter is upset over our Transparent Delaware website, where we wrote:

“Caesar Rodney requested the State Pension Data as part of our Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) effort and received this response from the State Office of Management and Budget.

“The release of pensioner information is addressed in Delaware Code.  Specifically, 29 Del. C §8308 (d) states as follows:
‘(d) All records maintained by the Board or the Office of Pensions and Investments relating to the pensions or pension eligibility of persons receiving pensions from the State or other post-employment benefits and who are not presently employed by or serving as officers of the State or its political subdivisions shall be confidential.’

Accordingly, your request for state pensioner information as contained in your December 16, 2011 request cannot be fulfilled.”

Many other states now release State Pension information for public use.

Caesar Rodney would have to go to court to secure the release of the Pension data even though the release of that data is forgone because it is taxpayers’ money. ”

We have a large number of supporters who are current and retired state employees, so let’s set the facts straight and respond to our letter writer.

No one at CRI hates state employees. Nor do we assume they are collectively a lazy, undeserving bunch. Delaware needs some number of competent, hardworking state employees, and this letter writer is correct that most of them receive middle class wages and not the six figures much of the leadership gets.

But what this letter writer misses, and what many state employees miss, is that they are receiving their salaries from taxpayers in the private sector. Regardless of where it comes from, if the government provides it, the private sector paid for it in some way. If government were completely honest about spending, we would not need to threat a lawsuit. But we as taxpayers have a right to know what they are giving to others, and while this letter writer may believe his or her pension is too meager to be noticed, the collective pension total of all state employees is very high- just how high, we don’t know.

AS for the complaints that Markell was wrong to ask state employees to contribute more to their healthcare plans, they are not being asked to pay more than anyone in the private sector, nor do we want it taken away in its entirety. But for many people, it’s difficult to see past their own personal lives. Most of those who voted in our poll to say taxpayers should pay more because state employees haven’t received COLA raises since Markell took office are missing the point that their private sector counterparts aren’t doing much better.

The reality is, Delaware spends too much money. Unfunded liabilities are a problem and private sector tax collection from individuals and businesses has declined the last two years, not even counting the casino troubles. This is a big reason why most of the referendums to raise property taxes to pay for the public schools were voted down- it isn’t because people hate teachers or don’t want to see the local public school succeed. In fact, all of us at CRI join the majority who want to see public schools do well because when all schools succeed, all children have the opportunity to succeed to. This success can and should include traditional public schools.

But people are tired of paying money into a system with mediocre to poor results. They are tired of being excluded from the policy-making process, all while told they need to cough up more or else they’ll prove they don’t like teachers, et. al. Why should taxpayers continue giving money to a system which has failed?

If state employees feel disrespected, they should understand the current system is the problem. The way we do business is simply unsustainable and unless changes are made, we really will collapse, and this is not a blog for conspiracy theories or nihilistic predictions. CRI is a government accountability organization, and as long as our state government officials are not held accountable for their actions, then CRI will continue to support policies which reduce the burden on the private sector and hold the government accountable for how they spend our money.

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Just recently CRI began a campaign to keep Transparent Delaware, our government payroll and vendor contract data website, open to the public by asking people to donate towards our goal of $5,000.

https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/help-keep-government-spending-data-open-to-all/x/9753455

Our campaign pitch:

“We operate the website Transparent Delaware, which provides the public with open data on state payroll spending and state vendor payments. Want to know who the highest paid state employees are, by division or year? We have that. Want to see why an employee who was given a $60,000 base salary received $164,000 is overtime and “other” pay? We have that too.

We would like to obtain state pension data but we have been blocked multiple times in our efforts to find out how much the state spend on employee pensions. While we recognize that state workers are human beings too the fact is, it’s our money and we should know how it’s being spent. With extremely few exceptions government spending data should ALWAYS be open to the public.

What we need from you: It costs us about $5,000 a year to keep Transparent Delaware open to the public. All money collected for this campaign go to paying our web developer and host to keep the site up, or else we’ll have to shut it down :(. The exception is if you reach a donation threshold, we will send a small gift of thanks.

Even if we do not meet the $5,000, the more money we receive towards this goal, the more we can pay our web developer to keep the site open. They are great people but they have bills to pay too!”

As many before us have stated, “freedom isn’t free.” Now generally people who use this line are nearly always speaking about military service and the need for people to make some kind of meaningful sacrifice to keep our freedoms alive. But this axiom should apply as well to keeping information about our government available to the public.

We have to pay our web host and site developer, and while they may be awesome people they have bills to pay too. Understandably many people are used to internet content being free or “freemium” and the more successful web pages can place ads on the site to make money, but we are a non-profit and we cannot, and will not, rent our website space over to advertisers. Thus, we need the generous support of people like you to help us reach our goal and keep Delaware state payroll and vendor data available to the public.

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