Tuesday, December 14, 2010

DeLuca is Pro-Tem

The Delaware Senate went into special session today in order to approve a judicial appointment. In ordinary times this would be a non-event. However, in keeping with the extraordinary times in which we are living, even this day had drama.

The drama swirled around the need for the Senate to "organize" themselves. That is, before doing business they needed to pass rules and elect leadership. If not for the special session leadership would have been elected when the legislature returns January 11th, 2011. The early return forced a battle that has been brewing for weeks.

Senator Katz and Senator Peterson have been attempting to lead a revolt against incumbent President Pro-Tem, Senator DeLuca. Both made impassioned pleas to their colleagues on the floor of senate to vote against DeLuca.

However, their effort fell far short of a revolution.
Voting for DeLuca: Blevins, Bonini, Bushweller, DeLuca, Ennis, Hall-Long, Henry, Marshall, McBride, McDowell, Venables
Voting against DeLuca: Katz, Peterson, Sorenson, Simpson, Lawson
Present but not voting: Booth, Bunting, Connor, Sokola
Absent: Cloutier

DeLuca remains Pro-Tem with 11 favorable votes, 5 against his leadership, 4 not voting, and 1 absent.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Not Helpful

Delaware's "News Journal " featured the glaring Opinion page headline: "Student test results should be a call to arms". The headline and short piece refers to the results of the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA). PISA tests are administered to 15-year-old students in 65 nations and/or education systems (for example, China might receive a ranking, but in their case only Shanghai participated).

President Obama said the results should create a "Sputnik moment" for the country. Chester Finn a top ranking education official in the Reagan Administration added "Pearl Harbor" to the list of comparable national catastrophes.

When ranked by nation the US was 25 out of 34 in mathematics, 17th out of 34 in science and 14th in reading.

If there was a ranking of hyperbolic reaction, the US would have ranked last, with analogies and statements at the Junior High School level.

If we were a thoughtful, introspective nation we would take a deep breath and pause, before doing ANYTHING, before making ANY statements. If we are going to continue to place a great deal of importance on test scores, then the number one lesson we should take away from PISA is that what we are doing is not working. However, it seems that many decision makers will take PISA as the signal to run even faster down the wrong road.

Consider a few facts around the PISA high performer, Finland. Finland does very little testing of students. In fact, the only mandatory Finnish test is at the end of high school, before admission to college. Finland's student population of 7 to 14- year-olds receives far LESS instructional time than other countries. Also, Finland's teachers are almost all unionized.

Consider also that the PISA results were a part of a report that analyzed education systems and had some interesting, but unreported findings: Students from low socio-economic backgrounds (ie poor) will usually score a full grade level behind students from more affluent backgrounds. Private schools do no better than public schools once family economic status is factored in. School systems that must compete with charters and vouchers for students show no advantage in scoring. Schools that have grade promotion requirements (repeat the grade until you score out) actually score lower. Systems in which student tracking and grouping is allowed have lower test scores and higher achievement gaps.

I have thrown a lot of rambling facts around in this post. Let me try to knit them together in some kind of conclusion.

The News Journal and other purveyors of sensational doom about our educational system are not helping matters. In truth, they are contributing to the problem by creating a sense of panic in policy makers. Panic will lead to more of the same, faster: More testing, more high stakes for students and teachers, more class time, more teacher work time, more data, more, more, more.

Again, we need to take a deep breath and start thinking outside of our own box. And we should consider the old axiom of working smarter, not harder.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Newark Education Forum

Tonight, the Greater Newark Network, which usually discusses economic development, hosted a forum on education. While several of the discussion questions were from a business perspective and at least one suggested charter schools as a solution, the format was fair and open to opinions. The moderators did a good job of maintaining neutrality.

The program belonged to the audience which was divided up into small groups to discuss five questions for 15 minutes each. With each question people changed tables so that one discussed each question with a different group of people. Comments were recorded to be placed in a report.

There were two charter school supporters in the room who were zealots. I do not use the word lightly. They reminded me of new converts to a religion who feel like they have to spread the faith, even if at the point of a sword. One of these individuals, a teacher at a prominent charter school was adamant that all their students are chosen by lottery. Having seen the census on the two premier charter schools, I must ask how can anyone believe that by luck of the draw these schools end up with virtually no special education students or students with developmental disabilities?

Delaware must not be a litigious state; otherwise someone would surely sue one of these charters for these so called "lotteries" that miraculously always ended up with the schools getting very bright students without learning disabilities or behavioral problems.

Fortunately, the charter chant did not drown out many other good ideas in the room including using the magnet model and the school within a school model.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Pay Freeze Sends Wrong Message

President Obama announced a two year pay freeze for federal employees. This move would reduce the federal deficit by $60 billion over ten years. However, be careful of numbers when speaking of federal policies because everything is on such a huge scale. For example the $60 billion pales beside the fact that stopping the two wars and allowing the Bush tax cuts to expire would reduce the deficit by $7 trillion over the same amount of time.

Economists and political operatives are characterizing the move by Obama as symbolic, but symbolic of what? Symbolic of a pattern of always asking working people to sacrifice and share the burden, while avoiding the tough battles with the wealthy and powerful?

Make no mistake, federal employees are overwhelmingly working class, just like state employees and educators. Federal employees make 20% less than their private sector colleagues doing comparable jobs. Grade 1, Step 1 on the federal pay schedule is $17,803 per year. That sounds awfully close to Step 1 for a para-professional educator in Delaware who makes $17,228 per year.

Freezing the pay of federal employees will not create one new job. It will not cause one business to rehire one laid off employee. In fact, when coupled with another year of state and local public employee cuts (this sector will lose another 250,000 jobs this year) the impact will be more slowing of an already faltering recovery.

Again, if this is symbolism, it is sending the wrong message. The pay cut enables enemies of public services and public servants to continue to spin a tale about over-paid bureaucrats delivering unneeded and intrusive public services. When in fact public servants educate our kids, catch the bad guys, make water safe to drink and bridges safe to cross, cut the check for your grandmother's Social Security, treat the wounded soldier, take the abused child to safety, and perform a thousand other services necessary to provide the infrastructure for a complex and profitable society.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Challenges As Well As Thanksgiving

Yesterday, the Delaware Department of Education made their budget request. The DOE requested a less than 1% increase (.9%) from last year. Much of this will be used to deal with new teachers needed for increased enrollment. As we have discussed before in this blog, as the economy slows, we have an increase in public services including children who were once in private school returning to public school.

Although the DOE is asking for an increase, the education budget is still lean and mean due to continued low state tax revenues. Last year's unpopular cost shift to local school districts on student transportation is back for consideration. The Joint Finance Committee rejected this cut in the FY 2011 budget.

The federal Education Jobs Fund money that was available for 2011 has been saved by local school districts for use in FY 2012. In Delaware, the funds are worth $27.4 million. The state communicated with districts last year in less than diplomatic terms that they should not use the money for FY 2011 because they would need it in FY 2012. Indeed, this money will in practical terms simply supplant other cuts this coming year.

There is no end in sight for robbing Peter to pay Paul in state budgets. Most economists believe that employment in the US will not fully recover for a decade. That's a long time for always hungry public services to starve for income tax revenue. It's a long time for American workers to go from jobless spell to jobless spell; or from wage and benefit cuts to more of the same. It is a long time for kids to experience the framework of education reform without a foundation of funding for the best in staffing and facilities. It is a generation with a college education in jeopardy. If you wonder why the National Education Association and her affiliates are becoming increasing interested, educated, and activated around fiscal policy and economic justice, this is why. We cannot pretend that we can produce a world class educated population in a safe bubble while the economy continues to crash around us.

Soooooo, Happy Thanksgiving?

Yes, I think so. Ultimately, what will get this country to thinking about a different way of doing things are the values of Thanksgiving: family and community. We are more than taxpayers. We are more than consumers. We are families and communities. All of our systems including economy, government, and education exist for the benefit of families and communities, not the other way around.

So, Happy Thanksgiving!

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Where Have All the Librarians Gone?

Public school librarians seem to be disappearing. Librarians who retire are not always replaced. Librarians are often pulled from their traditional duties to be testing monitors, or sometimes to simply watch (babysit) classes as teachers are involved in activities like collaborative planning time.

Public schools have traditionally implemented one of two models for use of librarians. The older model, probably the one most of remember from our own school days, is the Flexibly Scheduled Model. In this model classes make use of the library as needed with the teacher and librarian working together with the students on a project. Additionally, the librarian responds to walk-in needs of students and teachers. Flexibly Scheduled Models are in decline. The alternative is the Fixed Scheduled Model. This is equivalent to "library as a class". The librarian teaches classes about library science and research in 45 minute blocks throughout the day. Some librarians on this model do as many as 7 of these classes in a day.

In the Flexibly Scheduled scenario librarians act as a resource for every subject and grade level for teacher and student. The librarian maintains the collection of books, technology, and periodicals; as well as running an orderly lending and use system for those materials. Increasingly, librarians are technology experts, training students and teachers in the use of the latest education and research tools. The reprieve from a constant onslaught of classes allows for such duties.

The Fixed Schedule Model serves two primary needs. First, it teaches students use of the library and technology. However, because the classes are not tied to a project, the knowledge retained from these classes may be limited. Second, the classes free up teacher time for the 1,001 duties that now challenge class time. It should be noted that the Fixed Schedule has another serious weakness. Operating a serious lending program requires time, for supervision of browsing time and for cataloguing the check outs and ins. Libraries with librarians on the Fixed Schedule do not do much lending. They reduce the open library time.

Some observers of the decline of school libraries may not be alarmed. After all, with the Internet, everyone is their own librarian. Also, if kids want to read their parents take them to the public library or to Borders' Books. First, the Internet is a maze of information, some accurate and some inaccurate and much of it hard to find. Furthermore, there is more to technology than the Internet and much of the best of it is being underutilized because there is no one to walk through it with educators and students. Finally, many students do not have access to public libraries or bookstores. Parents may lack the time, money, or will to provide these opportunities.

In education discussions there is often a desire to return to basics. It seems so basic to a child's education to be able to browse endless rows of books and check out an armful. In an earlier post, I referenced the need for self exploration and unstructured time in learning. The library with knowledgeable, helpful librarians seems to fit the bill.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Letting My Mind Romp

I recently had the good fortune to attend a conference where workshops gave good information and new skills. It reminded me, however, of how many conferences I’ve attended where the value was in the networking and flow of ideas that took place on the breaks and at the hotel bar at the end of the day rather than during the actual conference agenda.

All of this in turn had me thinking about education, and by comparison, how much did I learn as part of the curriculum and how much did I learn (really learn) from the non-regimented aspects of school; such as a teacher who told a life anecdote, or during free library time, or even recess?

A few years ago, about this time of a year, a kindergarten teacher told me of a concern. She wanted to have the children trace and color turkey pictures and cut them out. However, she expressed genuine concern that her administrator would witness this activity and discipline her for being off the pacing of the curriculum.

Many children are being denied art time, library time, recess time, gym time, and self-study time all in the pursuit of more structure, more control, more testing, and more accountability. Why? In the hopes that children will perform better in ways that can be quantified (tested).
That is a sad statement about the pursuit of measured performance at the expense of child development. It makes one wonder if the education reformers are even speaking to the cognitive development scientists. Cognitive scientists have told us that children need more time for self exploration and unstructured play time. Please note, unstructured play time does not include sports, enrichment, or music. In unscientific terms, we need to lighten up.

The idea of “lightening up” on our kids is not a popular one nowadays. We have gone back to a “spare the rod, spoil the child” outlook. Much of this is about our own middle class anxiety of the last few decades. We see, hear of, or have experienced the decline of the American middle class. We believe that we can save our children from a life of struggle with a “good” education.

However, there has not been deep thought given to what constitutes a “good” education. Is a good education one that teaches you how to think and gives you a life- long appreciation for learning? Is a good education more like a trades school that gives you skills for the future economy? The perception and direction of country would seem to indicate the latter.

Even in the case of viewing education strictly in the economic utilitarian sense, we do not seem to have given much thought to a “good” education. Currently, we are pushing all kids into STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics). There is nothing well thought out in this pursuit. Today, for every three STEM graduates, there is just one US STEM job available. Even if every Johnny and Mary were capable of being a rocket scientist, we just do not need that many rocket scientists.

Yet, acknowledging these unpleasant realities would require us to move beyond pushing the kids, driving the teachers to madness, and condemning the public schools. We would have to think about systemic change to the economic and social structures of our country, first; and then build an educational system that compliments the new order.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Yesterday's Post

Dear Readers,

My comeback was marred by technical difficulties. The post from yesterday had about half the text missing. I was trying to post from my laptop using an air card and evidently the connection failed in the middle.

I have edited yesterday's post to include the rest of the material.

Thanks again, for your patience.


Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Delaware Way Prevails in Election

The Delaware election season is over. The "Delaware Way" of personal relationships, moderation, and thoughtful deliberation was a sharp contrast to the national trend of "I'm mad as hell, and I'll vote for candidates who are as angry and ill informed as I am".

Hopefully, the Delaware Way will prevail in the next General Assembly which will take office in January. We will need a spirit of cooperation and thoughtfulness in dealing with yet another year of budget difficulties. Much of our fate is in the hands of federal law makers, and that alone should be a red flag. Consider the following crisis situations that need the intervention of the federal government, but will not receive it because the majority of the newly elected do not believe in such intervention.

  • Real growth in Gross Domestic Product has slowed. In order to keep our heads above water we need at least a 3% GDP growth and we will not make that for 2010.
  • We still have around four million homes either in foreclosure or ninety days behind in payments.

  • The European sovereignty crisis (Greece et al) has shaken confidence in the global economy. Corporations will now drag their feet on hiring, again.

  • Most economists believe we could see low employment numbers for at least a decade. Extended unemployment benefits are scheduled to run out for millions of Americans before Christmas. Capitol Hill observers predict lawmakers will extend the benefits for 3 more months to avoid the "Scrooge" accusation, but then will leave the unemployed to their own means.

  • State and local governments will retrench due to both continued low revenues and the new fiscally conservative environment. Economists estimate the public sector will shed another 250,000 jobs.
The Federal Government has the ability to deficit spend in bad times to jump start the economy and to keep the citizens from going hungry and homeless. In good times the Feds should make up the difference by reducing deficit spending and increasing revenues. Since 1980, the Feds have too often gone in the opposite direction: In good times federal decision makers have found some military action in which to spend billions of dollars and have given tax breaks worth billions as well. When the bad times hit, the Federal Government suddenly become fiscally responsible and tells the people to eat cake.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010


Greetings All,
You have not heard from me for so long, that I needed to let you know I did not die, or get censored, or imprisoned, or any thing else other than get hit by election season.

As a Political Director for the Delaware State Education Association, in an election year the entire month of October is time missing out of my life. I will be back after November 2nd with information and analysis.

In the meantime, if you are an educator in Delaware, help us get pro-education candidates elected by volunteering on Election Day. You may call DSEA head quarters at 1 (866) 734-5834 for opportunities.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Vanderbilt Study Confirms the Obvious

I apologize to readers for my infrequent posting of late. It's the crazy season for me because I work in politics.
Last week on September 21st, 2010 Vanderbilt University released the results of a three year experiment with teacher pay for performance. The conclusion is that teacher pay for performance does not raise student test scores. Congratulations to Vanderbilt on a timely and courageous study. However, considering that teacher pay for performance has been attempted off and on for about 100 years, each time without success, maybe a simple review of history would have sufficed.

The pay for performance folks evidently believe that teachers are holding something back, just waiting for that cash bonus to bring out their true effort. Perhaps that's the way it is in the corporate world or in the world of finance. It's not that way in the world of education.

If the "reformers" want to do some economic good for education they should consider the following: We need educators to have good starting salaries and to reach maximum earning potential in 10 years instead of 25 years. These changes to salary schedules will, to use the common expression, attract and retain quality educators. Also, save the benefits of educators. One of the reasons we have managed to keep quality people in spite of the pittiful wages is that health care and pension have been adequate. How is it that we can now talk about financial incentives for educators in one breath, and about cutting their benefits in the next?

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

To Thine Ownself Be True

What more can be said about Delaware's Primary Election night? After all, every national media outlet in the nation has been talking about the O'Donnell victory over Castle in the Republican primary for US Senate.

O'Donnell will get a great deal of media play. She is just the type of entertainment/news that has become the mainstay of what passes for political discourse. Love her or hate her, throughout the campaign she has remained true to her own values and probably will do so even with a camera in her face from now to November 2nd.

Chris Coons, the Democrat for US Senate will pick up his share of attention as well. Coons is now positioned to be the reasonable choice to represent Delaware not only for Democrats, but for moderate Republicans and Independents as well. His candidacy will be viewed by the Democratic National Committee as a hedge against a Republican take over of the Senate...and therein is both the solution and problem.

The Coons Campaign has not lacked for a great candidate with big ideas. It has lacked money. Now will come the opportunity for money and with the money, the consultants. Consultants for Democrats have had one game plan for candidates over the last 30 years; run to the middle. The gist of the idea is that your base has no where to go and you pick up Independents and moderate Republicans. You stand in the middle of the road and hitch a ride from voters all the way to DC.

As someone who has followed American politics since I was eight years old when RFK was running, and who has worked professionally in politics for more than a couple of decades, I would give two points of caution about this strategy. First, candidates always run better when they run true to themselves. If Coons is a progressive, he should run with those ideals, explained in a populist way. Second, given the choice between a real Republican and a faux Republican, Republicans will choose the genuine article; and there is an old joke that Independents are Republicans with an identity crisis.

Please, take my second point above as about 85% jest. Republicans and Democrats in Delaware often cross Party lines when voting because we do not have the same political polarization as most of the nation. Moreover, more people in Delaware choose to be Independents because of this unique practice of politics in the state.

The point is, both candidates should be who they are and let the voters decide on the merits of their positions. Neither O'Donnell or Coons should let someone from DC in a $2,000 suit tell them who to be.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

A Speech to Remember

This weekend there were many tributes to the 9/11 victims and heroes. At the best of these remembrances our own mortality is acknowledged and our own morality is inspired.

However, I can not stop noticing that for a few people the slogan, "Remember 9/11" has become what "God bless America" is for the same few. These phrases which should be prayerful and thoughtful are more like pugnacious challenges: "By-god, I'm all-American, I remember 9/11 and I know that God blesses America, but I have my suspicions about you, and what you believe."

On the opposite side of this example Delaware's Lieutenant Governor Matt Denn gave a fantastic speech on September 10th in Georgetown to commemorate Patriots' Day. Nothing more needs to be written by me. I have simply copied his speech below, enjoy and learn:

"Tomorrow, September 11th, is Patriot Day. We have commemorated it every year since 2002, and as President Bush said when he declared the first Patriot Day, it reminds us to “always remember our collective obligation to ensure that justice is done, that freedom prevails, and that the principles upon which our Nation was founded endure.” Some facts about September 11th are self-evident. The heroism of the men and women who died that day was profound, and it will be remembered by my grandchildren and their grandchildren. The lesson it taught us about the need to increase our vigilance in a world where two oceans no longer protect us has also taken hold.

To take only those lessons from September 11th, though, is too easy. We should also strive to be a people, to create a country, of which those who gave their lives on 9/11 would be proud. The drafters of our Constitution began by saying “We the people, in order to form a more perfect union.” They did not use language lightly. When they said “a more perfect union,” they recognized that even the nation they were creating would not be what it ultimately could be. The framers would be proud of the nation we have become.

From a nation that declared black Americans to be 3/5 of a person and denied women the right to vote, we have become a nation that has enshrined in its Constitution the equal treatment of all Americans regardless of race or gender. The framers would think—and more importantly, the men and women who have given their lives to defend this country would think–that a nation where personal differences are not punished is a more perfect union.

So how can we continue to make a more perfect union, to honor the memory of those who gave their lives on September 11th? One way would be to heed the words of past presidents of both parties, and past religious leaders of many denominations, to also become a kinder nation.When President George W. Bush was inaugurated in 2001, he eloquently invoked the Bible when he said “I can pledge our nation to a goal: When we see that wounded traveler on the road to Jericho, we will not pass to the other side.” Exactly a quarter of a century before him, President Jimmy Carter began his own inaugural address by using words of the prophet Micah that are central to the Jewish faith: that we should do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with our God.

In some ways this goal, of a kind and compassionate nation, is harder to achieve, because it can’t be legislated and it can’t easily be measured. But to strive for it would honor Salman Hamdani. Salman Hamdani died on September 11th. He was a police cadet with the NYPD, and a trained emergency medical technician, an American citizen who had immigrated to the U.S. from Pakistan when he was one. When he heard about the attacks on the towers, he rushed there immediately, even though he was off duty. Because he was Muslim and disappeared without a trace on September 11th, he was publicly identified as a suspect in the terrorist attacks. On March 20, 2002, his remains were finally found at Ground Zero, the Mayor of New York and chief of the NYPD eulogized him as a hero at his funeral, and his heroism was recognized by the United States Congress. Striving for a kinder, more compassionate nation would honor Salman Hamdani in deed as well as in word.

To strive for it would honor Father Michayl Judge. Father Judge was the New York Fire Department’s chaplain on September 11th. He had been the chaplain for nine years, and some time during that nine years he had told the Fire Commissioner and other friends that he was a celibate gay man. Father Judge also raced to the towers when he heard of the attacks, and administered late rites to those dying on the scene. He turned down pleas that he leave the area, and instead went back into the north tower to be with his men just before the building collapsed, killing him. His body was carried from the scene by firefighters and laid at the altar of a nearby church, designated by the city as victim number one of the World Trade Tower attack because his body was the first removed. Striving for a kinder, more compassionate nation would honor Father Judge in deed as well as in word.

We can honor the deaths of these patriots, and all the others who perished on September 11th, by continuing the work started over two centuries ago to make this nation a more perfect union. In this more perfect union we will recognize our differences not as a burden to be borne, but as a strength to be cherished. And we will carry forward the tradition of constant progress toward perfection that has allowed America to continue to be a beacon for the world through generations. On this September 11th, let us honor its patriots by rededicating ourselves to making the country they died for, already the finest nation in the world, finer still."

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

How Big was the Spill?

The DSEA-Retired group had their annual picnic today at Pizzadilli Winery in Kent County. About 100 retired educators attended the event. In this population, much discussion continues around the incident in which thousands of retirees had personal information compromised by Delaware's State Benefits Office and their consultant, AON. For a period of four days the gender, dates of birth and social security numbers of 22,000 individuals were posted to an open website.

AON and the state were posting information as part of a Request For Proposal (RFP) for vision care. The Social Security numbers were not supposed to be in the posting.

The DSEA retirees are demanding that the compromised individuals be given a minimum of five years free credit monitoring, and that the State Benefits Office establish a policy that will prohibit this type of vendor mistake from happening again.

There are three critical questions that either the state or AON should be able to answer given available technology: How many "hits" were registered on the infamous website? Who looked at the data? Who downloaded the data? The answer to these questions will tell us the magnitude of the damage and the resources needed for the clean up. It is the equivalent of BP telling the public how much oil was spilled.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Labor Day

The annual Labor Day parade in downtown Wilmington had a big turnout this year, and participants were rewarded with perfect autumn walking weather. Once again, the Delaware State Education Association was in the parade. All attending members and guests received a tee shirt from DSEA with the new "Great Schools, Great Communities" theme. DSEA gave away apples and pencils to those gathered along the parade route.

Elected office holders and candidates often walk with the various union groups. Walking with DSEA this year were Governor Jack Markell, Lt. Governor Matt Denn, US Congress candidate John Carney, and State Representatives John Kowalko, Earl Jaques, and Bryon Short. Also, walking with DSEA was Abe Jones, who is both a DSEA member and a candidate for state representative in House 24.

Two great marching bands kept things moving this year. A special thanks goes out to the Cab Caloway marching band from Red Clay School District, and the Christiania High School marching band from Christina School District.

This Labor Day, remember the "Labor" in the day. Labor Day was originally celebrated on May 1st as International Workers Day. A few of Labor's accomplishments through collective bargaining and political action include: weekends, the eight hour day, child labor laws, public school education, overtime pay, workers compensation (job injury insurance), and the duty free lunch...just to name a few.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

4 in the Zone

The Delaware Department of Education has named the four schools who will be in the Performance Zone next year: Stubs Elementary and Glasgow High in Christina, Howard Vo-Tech in New Castle County Vo-Tech District, and a charter school in Camden called Positive Outcomes.

These schools will be under direction of DOE and will receive extra funds from the Race To The Top grant. The affected districts have 120 days to seek input from teachers and parents and submit a plan to DOE. The schools are expected to choose a plan under the Transformation model that allows the most flexibility with the least disruption to students.

Elections are coming. Tuesday, September 14th is primary election day. If you are a DSEA member, contact your Local leader or UniServ Director for volunteer opportunities.
The Delaware State Education Association will once again march in the annual Labor Day Parade in Wilmington. Join us, and bring your family. We will meet on Monday, September 6th at 9:15AM on 15th and King Street. You will receive one of the cool new Great Schools, Great Communities tee shirts for your effort.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Welcome Back and Welcome Funds

Teachers open the door, but you must enter by yourself. old Chinese proverb
Welcome back hard working educators.

After a great deal of lobbying from educators all over the country, school districts now have a new infusion of federal money to spend on educators. The Education Jobs Fund Program was a response to frightening number educator layoffs across the country. Without intervention schools would be under staffed and the fledgling economic recovery would suffer a setback. Fortunately, Congress acted and most of the laid off educators across the country will be returning to classrooms this autumn.

Delaware school districts will receive almost $27.5 million. The federal money will be passed through the state to local school districts using either a Title 1 funding formula or a school foundation formula. A state may not use more than 2% of the allocation for administrative costs. School districts will receive the money within the next few weeks.

According the United States Department of Education's Initial Guidance for States on the Education Jobs Fund Program: "An LEA (local school district) must use its funds only for compensation and benefits and other expenses, such as support services, necessary to retain existing employees, to recall or rehire former employees, and to hire new employees, in order to provide early childhood, elementary, or secondary educational and related services."

A school district may not use funds for district level administrators, for consultants, or for any contracted-out service.

A school district which has already found a way to rehire laid off employees may save the funds for use no later than September 30, 2012.

US Education Department officials say that there is a great deal of accountability and transparency for school districts on the use of the funds.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Victory Today

Today, the US House of Representatives approved the final version of the education jobs bill by a vote of 247 to 161. Most Republicans voted "no"; however, Delaware's Mike Castle voted "yes". Last week in the US Senate both Senators Kaufman and Carper voted for the bill.

The National Education Association mounted an enormous grassroots lobbying effort to pass the critical funding legislation for both education jobs and FMAP (Medicaid). Thanks to these efforts 161,000 educators who were laid off this spring will now be heading back to work in the autumn.

Delaware will receive almost $28 million that may be applied towards saving the jobs of about 400 educators who received either Reduction In Force or termination of temporary contract in May.

Every activist who made a phone call or sent an email or letter for their colleagues should be proud of their efforts.

Friday, August 6, 2010

The Time IS Right

This week I had the privilege of participating in a Salary Roundtable conference hosted by the National Education Association. The discussion was about raising the salaries of educators, both teachers and support personnel.

Why have a conference about raises when the country is still under the pall of a persistent recession?

First, our educators are given professional expectations, thus it should follow that their compensation is viewed in the light of professionalism. Professionals never devalue their services even in tough economic times. If you have utilized a doctor, lawyer, dentist, accountant, or other professional recently, I truly doubt that individual offered you a steep discount in the fee because "times are hard". Yet, educators have been asked for both salary cuts and benefit reductions in the last two years.

Second, our members are worth every penny they are paid and much more. The value of educators' work product has not diminished because of the recession. In fact, Race To The Top is supposed to be significantly increasing the value of that product.

Third, there is never a "good time" to ask for more in wages. What employer, public or private ever encourages workers to ask for more money? Moreover, the current slow growth economy could last for many more years. Using a real world example; a para-professional in the state of Delaware begins their career at $17,228 per year. It takes them more than a decade of service to reach compensation at the federal poverty line for a family of four. Should we wait for 3 or 4 or 6 years for the economy take off before we do something about this situation? In 2015 should we have a person being paid $17K a year?

Fourth, we have historical precedent for wage increases now. In the 1930s and '40s US workers organized in record numbers and demanded fair compensation...in the heart of the Great Depression.

Finally, the impoverishment of educators does not do a solitary thing to help other impoverished workers or the economy in general. A major ill of the current economic situation is that too much money has accumulated in the hands of the top 1% of the population. People like bankers taking home $100 million a year or hedge fund managers who before the crash made as much as $1 billion in single year. All of this money needs to be shaken out of the top and down to the common people so that they can start spending and living again. There are not many ways to do that. Progressive taxation is one way to do it. Another way is for large groups of workers to begin to demand the wages they deserve. Let it begin with the 3.2 million members of the National Education Association.

Thursday, August 5, 2010


The US Senate just passed a bill giving states $10 billion to save education jobs and providing $16 billion in FMAP (Medicaid) funding. The legislation passed 61 to 39. Both Senator Kaufman and Senator Carper voted for the bill.

The bill must now go to the House. The House is on recess, but Speaker Pelosi is calling her chamber back into session next week just for this legislation. The House will come back next week to decide the fate of the bill. In Delaware, the education funding means $27.4 million to save close to four hundred educator jobs.

Nothing is Ever Dead

The old saying that nothing in life is certain except death and taxes does not apply to the US Congress, where nothing is ever really dead and many powerful interests are not taxed. So, while it is not certain, it does appear that there will be federal money to save education jobs around the country, including Delaware.

This blog has reported before on the importance of giving states relief in two areas: Federal Medical Assistance Percentages (FMAP) and education. Any state budget will have two expenditure areas that are very large, education and health care. Using a loose lay person's explanation, think of education funding being one third of your state's budget, health care being another third of the state's budget, and all the other services and needs competing over the remaining third, and you have a snapshot of the state fiscal picture.

FMAP is Medicaid funding from the federal government. Many times the federal government reimburses states at a two to one or even three to one rate for their spending on the health care of their citizens. Thus, FMAP is critical to not only the health of a state's citizens, but also to the health of the state's budget. Moreover, Medicaid patients make up an important market share of the health care industry.

The combined impact of the severe recession and the rapid push for reform have made federal education funding much more important than in the past. The recession has swelled the ranks of public school enrollment as families previously using private schools can no longer afford them. At the same time, recession means much less tax revenue to pay educators, and thus layoffs. Meanwhile, the education reform juggernaut continues with more demands, but with grant moneys so tightly earmarked that they do not save educator jobs.

The entire summer National Education Association (NEA) and all her affiliates such as DSEA have worked to pass legislation for federal money to save education jobs. There have been many false starts, many failed efforts, but persistence appears to have paid off.

Under the leadership of Senator Harry Reid, the Senate has put together legislation to provide the critical funding for both FMAP and education jobs. A vote on cloture (to eliminate the possibility of filibuster) was held yesterday and passed 61 to 38. Both our Delaware senators took the good vote for cloture.

Our predictions are that the legislation will pass the Senate today. The House is already on recess. However, this legislation is so important to the education, health, and fiscal well being of citizens around the country, that Speaker Pelosi is calling the House back into session next week just to pass the bill.

We will keep you posted.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Ill Wind Out of DC

In Washington, D.C. at the end of last week there were two shameful deeds that happened to educators. The first is the termination of 241 teachers by the Washington, D.C. School District due to low performance as measured by their students' test scores. This number seems to fluctuate in the press ranging from 226 to 250. In any case that's about 6% of the district's 4,300 teachers. An additional 17% of the teaching staff are on notice for possible termination next year.

The district is heavy into the "let's judge teachers by student test scores" and call it "innovative reform" mode. The idea was rolled into a new teacher evaluation system and then rolled out without a pilot or much training for teachers. Anyone familiar with the inner-workings of the education system around the country would say that's typical modus operandi for far too many districts. The difference is that ruthless administrators like Michelle Rhee of D.C. now feel empowered to terminate en masse.

Meanwhile, the US Senate was giving educators another kick. They removed federal funding for education jobs from the Emergency Supplemental Appropriations Act. The House had put funding in the bill to stop massive educator layoffs that are happening around the country. This funding would have included $28 million for Delaware to help more than 400 educators here who received RIF notice or termination of temporary contract this year. However, many Senators did not support the jobs funding, including Senator Tom Carper. Senator Carper did not like the provision that paid for the educator jobs by reducing money for Race To The Top, and the Teacher Incentive Fund. So, the reform programs can roll along with fewer educators to implement them.

Speaking of fewer educators, if the Michelle Rhees of the country get their way and we continue to terminate experienced teachers in large numbers, guess where we will get their replacements? Most probably out of one of the accelerated certification programs. These programs allow "the best and the brightest" graduates to become teachers with just a few weeks of training. These bright lads and lasses will treat your school like a Peace Corp assignment for a couple of years of resume building on their way to the corporate or academic world.

No data supports the idea that "teacher out of a box" produces results, even using the myopic standard of test scores. That does not seem to impede the "reformers" from telling their story.

Let's hope that the ill wind out of DC has shifted for the better this week. The American Federation of Teachers (not the NEA) who represents the teachers in DC are fighting the above mentioned terminations. Proponents of the federal education jobs money are searching for another bill upon which to attach the provision as an amendment.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

$28 Million for Delaware Education Jobs???

It's hard to believe that it's been two weeks since the end of session and two weeks since I've posted on this blog.

Considering we are still in the middle of a deep economic recession Delaware's Joint Finance Committee did a good job of distributing the resources with which they had to work. A number of last year's cuts were either restored or modified.

Delaware, like 48 other states had a budget deficit when the session began. Only natural resource rich Montana and North Dakota seem immune to the recession. Typically in these times revenues fall at the same time people lose jobs and need public services such as unemployment insurance and Medicaid. Additionally, parents who had been able to afford private schools for their children find themselves enrolling their children in the public system.

Delaware had one advantage that other states did not have when it came time to mark up the budget. We have an unique escheat law that allows us to take possession of abandoned property including that of corporations. In short, this stream of revenue ate up about half of our deficit and allowed for some budget relief.

Still, we started this process with more than 400 educators having received either Reduction In Force notifications or the elimination of their temporary contracts. We do not know how many of our colleagues will start work in the autumn. Some districts will receive funding for additional teaching units (remember those private school kids returning to the public schools). Some districts will benefit from the restoration of $21 million of a proposed $24 million cut to public school transportation.

However, these things are hard to calculate, and DSEA does not want to take any chances. That is why DSEA has joined the campaign of the National Education Association to attain federal funding to preserve education jobs. Congress is considering a proposal to put $10 billion into the Emergency Supplemental Appropriations bill for that very purpose. The proposal would provide Delaware with $28 million to save education jobs. The House has approved this plan and it is now before the Senate.

In the Senate, Tom Carper and 12 other fiscally conservative Democrats are reluctant to support the idea. The House offset the eduction jobs money by taking it from the Teacher Incentive Fund, the charter schools program, and the Race To The Top grants. Carper and his colleagues objected.

Other offsets are now under consideration, but regardless of that we need the funding. So called education reform programs are meaningless if educator layoffs result in larger classes and fewer teachers and paras to give students the attention they need.

It is interesting that "fiscal hawks" seem most concerned about the deficit when the spending is on needs of common people: education jobs, Medicaid, and unemployment insurance.

However, the fiscal hawks do not seem to object to spending such as the recent $35 billion in tax breaks to the oil industry, or the fact that we have spent more than $1 Trillion in the Middle East wars, and $1 Trillion on the Bush tax cuts (set to expire next year if Congress has the courage to let them sunset).

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Snapshot of the Session

The 145th Delaware General Assembly has adjourned. The budget, grant-in-aid, and bond bills all passed without amendment or surprises last night. Here’s a quick list of highlights from the educator perspective:
Restoration of 5 furlough days
Bailout of Health Fund Deficit
Short Term Disability elimination period lowers from 60 days to 30 days
$21 million of $24 million cut (Gov’s budget) to public school transportation restored
Step increases for eligible e
NBC & Clusters continue to be paid for those who have them…moratorium on new continues another year
Restoration of overtime pay to hours paid vs hours worked
90 new teaching units funded
$102 million in school construction
School Resource Officer program saved
State’s obligation to new full-day Kindergarten programs (Christina) honored

Thwarted effort to tier health and pension benefits
Killed bill to eliminate Double State Share for new hires
Killed bill to require parental permission for all human sexuality, violence, alcohol and drug content in instruction

In the coming days as you hear our friends in the Delaware media sound off about the big spending state legislature, keep several things in mind. First, the state is a service industry so most of their expense and spending will be on people, the public servants including educators who deliver those services and of course the citizens who receive those services. Every time a fiscal hawk talks about massive cuts to state spending they are talking about taking something away from you and your neighbors. Second, there has not been much actual growth in the state budget. The figure of 6% growth includes replacing the expired stimulus money in the budget. That accounts for 3% of the spending increase by itself. Moreover, states face a double dilemma in times of economic recession; at the same time revenues fall, demand for services goes up as bad economic times force people onto unemployment insurance, Medicaid, and other public services. Third, realize that states do society's tough and expensive jobs: Education, health care, and corrections are three of the most expensive services offered by state government and all have inflationary costs every year.

This blog will go into more details of the session later, after this blogger catches up on sleep.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Tenure for All

I have time for a rant before starting the final day of the Delaware 145th General Assembly. Having just heard another derisive comment about teacher tenure on national TV this morning, I feel it is time yet again for an explanation of teacher tenure. Let's call this one Teacher Tenure for Super Idiots.

All lawmakers, policy makers, and media pundits should have the integrity to do just a little research into what is teacher tenure. It is not the type of process and job security of major universities of old . By the way folks, this is rare even in academia today, as that sector has no more respect for employees than any other.

Teacher "tenure" (the term "tenure" is never actually used in DE Code) for K-12 teachers means nothing more than teachers get due process rights before termination. School districts must document poor performance and failure to show improvement after warning the teacher of the unacceptable performance. The teacher is entitled to a hearing before the terminating school board or a hearing officer appointed by them.

If we have a good teacher evaluation system this should not be a burden in any sense of the word to school districts. Under RTTT we are supposed to have superior teacher evaluation. Policy makers should also know that under the current system teachers with tenure are terminated every year. It is an absolute myth (lie) that it is impossible to terminate "bad" teachers under tenure.

My final point is one to rock the Chamber of Commerce. The idea of due process for termination is not some archaic privilege of education which should be eradicated; rather due process in termination is something which should be extended by law to ALL employees. It is good management practice and it is fair to workers. The concept of a disposable American workforce (employees at will) has done nothing for US quality of life. It is time we give "tenure" to everyone.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Bond Bill

Last night, actually very early this morning, Delaware gave birth to a bouncing baby bond bill at 1:45 a.m. After a full day of legislative action in both chambers, the dedicated bond committee met and worked through the night.

Much like their cousins the Joint Finance Committee, the Bond Committee should be commended on their dedication to restore/preserve essential public services.

Transportation infrastructure consumes most of the committee's time and resources. In addition to big road projects the committee put more money back into the Community Transportation Fund (CTF). The CTF is used to repair neighborhood roads and is directed by state legislators. This fund has steadily dropped in bad times from $300,000 per legislator to $250,000 per legislator to $125,000 per legislator, and finally last night was improved slightly to $175,000 per legislator. Representative Bill Oberle was a vocal champion to make this happen last night.

The CTF is a perfect example of how Delaware media (one paper in particular) consistently misunderstand the workings of government and then proclaim and spread their ignorance. The CTF has been described as a slush fund for legislators. In fact, the projects come right down to your street in pothole and repaving and must be approved by the Department of Transportation. Without the CTF one of two things happen, either your roads fall into severe disrepair or a local entity (county or city) raises your taxes and picks up the repairs. Some prominent decision makers describe state government as "too big"; maybe that's because local governments in Delaware are too small, or in some cases too cheap.

The Bond Committee also bought police car computers for local towns, and dealt with local flood damage; additional examples of communities not being able to provide for their own public service infrastructure.

A special mention should be made of Senator Nancy Cook's successful effort to restore some money to the farmland preservation program. The money, about $2 million will be matched by the federal government. This fund makes long-term leases of arable land and green space to save it from development. While this issue doesn't get much attention it is vitally important as farm land and other green spaces continue to be gobbled up around the nation in poorly regulated development.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

It's Always Something

It's always something, and yesterday it was an annoying something known as Senate Bill 293. Senate Bill 293 would require teachers to give parents 48 hours notice before any instruction involving "human sexuality issues, profanity, sexual acts, violence, drugs and/or alcohol."
The parents, once notified would be allowed to exempt their child from that instruction.

Here is the crazy scenario that plays out with such legislation: Three kids are exempted from an American Literature lesson on "To Kill A Mockingbird", six kids are exempted from health class, two from biology, one from history class, and two more from a class covering "Macbeth". This happens after someone has tracked the daily flow of permission slips and exemptions. Now, you have the exemptions for the week, and who watches these kids and where? Are we going to have extra staff in every school for this mandate?

The group behind this legislation is the Delaware Family Policy Council. Their website, they proudly called SB293 their first piece of legislation. In case you had any doubt on how the DFPC would use this legislation, consider that their website placed parents on "high alert" about a number of books. When you clicked on the book list, a list of 101 books appeared and included "To Kill A Mockingbird", "Catcher In the Rye", the entire "Goosebumps" series as well as all the "Harry Potter" books, "A Wrinkle In Time", "Of Mice and Men", "Captain Underpants", and most appropriately, "Fahrenheit 451", Ray Bradbury's classic story about a time in the future when books are banned and burned. My examples were a quick sampling that caught my eye, but suffice it to say that most of the books in school that challenged your perception of the world, gave you a glimpse into other cultures, or just gave you chuckle are probably on that list.

I will spare you anymore drama. The Delaware State Education Association, the Delaware Association of School Administrators, the American Civil Liberties Union, Delaware Planned Parenthood, and the Delaware Department of Education all testified against the bill in the Senate Education Committee yesterday.

Thankfully, it does not appear that the bill will make it out of committee. However, this group is not going away, and they will be back next year with similar legislation.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Rabbit Out of the Hat

Late Friday night (June 18th) the Joint Finance Committee completed budget mark up. The JFC did good work throughout the long day and night. The State of Delaware continues to stagger under the weight of the recession along with the rest of the country. Fortunately, revenue numbers for Personal Income Tax were a little better than expected this year, and Delaware's unique revenue source "Abandoned Property" (sometimes called 'escheat') was up a lot. Although, a rumored windfall for the June revenue forecast did not happen.

The Joint Finance Committee made good work of the money that was available. A few weeks ago they restored last year's salary cut and bailed out the deficit in the State Employee Health Plan. They funded step increases for eligible educators. Also the JFC funded the stipends for educators receiving NBC and Cluster, but continued the moratorium on new entries into those programs. Additionally, the JFC saved the School Resource Officer program that was on the chopping block. They also restored over-time pay to hours paid versus hours worked, an important issue for some shift workers in the state.

Of Friday, the JFC began the day by funding the state's share of full-day kindergarten for the Christina School District. Next, the JFC chose to restore almost all of the public school transportation funding. The Governor's budget had a recommended cut of $24 million to transportation, but the JFC brought back about $21 million of it. The restoration of this money should give some relief to local school district budgets and reduce the number of laid off educators around the state.

As the day turned into afternoon and then into evening, a great deal of difficult decision making was taking place around education and social service spending programs. The programs had to be placed as budget pass-through or Grant-in-Aid with much less money to be split among them. Late in the evening it was decided that most of the programs would receive another 10% cut to funding.

The JFC took a short break as we approached 11:00 PM on Friday night. When they reconvened, they were ready to address the issue of Short Term Disability. The DSEA and her coalition partners had lobbied the JFC hard all year on this issue. Short Term Disability insurance pays seriously ill employees 75% of salary during their time off. The STD has a waiting period before it begins paying. The original STD before last year's budget cuts had a 20 day elimination period. Employees have to use accumulated sick days until the STD picks up a portion of their pay. Last year this was changed to 60 days, making the program virtually useless especially to education employees who accumulate sick days slowly and who had to settle the elimination requirement within their contract year.

The Joint Finance Committee reduced the 60 day elimination period to 30 days as the final act of budget mark up. The JFC should be commended on their willingness to make this expenditure happen in spite of virtually no flexible money remaining in the budget. The JFC took the funding for in-school health clinics and placed them under the Tobacco Fund. This maneuver released $2.6 million that was used to fund the partial restoration of Short Term Disability.

This rabbit out of the hat trick will save many educator and state employee families from additional hardship during the wage earner's disability. Our thanks to the JFC magicians who thought this one up.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

A Return to Reason

Today the Markell Administration agreed to pull back from plans to file legislation changing the health care and pension for new employees. Instead, the Administration will meet with stakeholder groups (DSEA and other unions) and legislators between the end of session and next January to discuss solutions to rising health care costs. This is the reasoned approach for which we asked.

The Joint Finance Committee will meet on Wednesday for 2 to 3 hours to work on budget mark up. On Thursday, the final revenue forecast for the state will be revealed. On Friday, the Joint Finance Committee will have a very long work day, probably extending well into the evening completing the budget mark up based on the previous day's final financial data. By Monday, there will be a printed budget for legislators to review well in advance of the June 30th end of session.

The remaining items of interest in budget mark up for DSEA include the restoration of the Short Term Disability policy (to 20 days elimination period vs 60 days), a lifting of the moratorium on NBC and/or clusters, and reducing the cuts to local school districts which contribute to the RIF of educators around the state.

Stay Tuned.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Strong Statement Against Benefit Cost Shifting

The end of the Delaware legislative session is in sight. The Joint Finance Committee will meet several days next week in the hopes of completing budget mark up. On Thursday, June 17th there will be new economic numbers from the Delaware Economic and Financial Advisory Council to help them in final decisions about restoration of budget cuts.

Meanwhile the threat to health care and pension for state workers and educators continues. The coalition of public employee unions known as State Workers United for a Better Delaware issued a statement to every member of the legislature on Thursday (6/10) opposing the new tiers of benefits. The Delaware State Education Association, American Federation of State County and Municipal Employees, Delaware State Troopers Association, and the Correction Officers Association of Delaware are the largest member groups of the coalition.

In the interest of transparency we have printed the letter below (the graphics and spacing are different from the actual hard copy document):

June 10, 2010
TO: The Honorable <
>FROM: Lt. Tom Brackin (DSTA, 302-270-1765), chair
Karen Valentine (AFSCME Council 81, 302-354-3500), and Tim Barchak (DSEA 866-734-5834) co-chairs of the Coalition of State Workers United for a Better Delaware

On behalf of the members of our Coalition, we urge you to oppose the Markell plan for tiering of health and pension benefits, and instead, support real dialogue and problem solving. The Administration’s proposed plan does nothing to address health care inflation. The Administration plan is not about health care cost containment, it is about cost shifting to employees. It occurs to us that cost shifting is the place of last resort, not the starting point.

Additionally, we believe that there are three distinct issues that should be considered on their own merits: Rising health care costs, pension (which is both well funded and well managed currently), and OPEB (a liability with which every state in the nation must deal).

This Coalition began the discussion of health care cost containment when we hired Milliman Incorporated as health care and actuarial consultants to examine the State Employee Health Plan and make recommendations. We did this on our own volition without having the health care of our members threatened. We believe this work was incomplete because not all of the data or information our consultants needed was forthcoming.

On June 8th, 2010, in the context of the tiering proposal, we have again worked with our consultants and sent the administration a list of questions, considerations, and data requests. This should not be a burden on the State because we assume the Administration had the information we seek before making their proposal. A proposal of this magnitude should be well thought out with a great deal of research and modeling to support it.

The Coalition continues its willingness to discuss health care cost containment, and work towards solutions, in the Delaware way. Years ago when rising Workers Compensation rates created concerns, all the stakeholders worked together in a thoughtful and deliberate fashion. The result was legislation without opposition that reformed the system. This is the type of undertaking we recommend to deal with health care, pension and OPEB concerns.

The Coalition of State Workers United for a Better Delaware
AFSCME Council #81, AFL-CIO, DSTA, DSEA and DSEA-Retired, Teamsters Local 326, CWOA Local 13101, State Lodge of the FOP, FOP Lodge 3, FOP Lodge 10, FOP Lodge 11, UFCW Local 27, Delaware Attorney General Investigation Assoc., Laborers Local 1029 LiUNA!

Monday, May 31, 2010

More to Consider about Two Tiered Health Care

Governor Markell has portrayed his plan to charge new employees much more for their health care as saving the health plan and as having no impact on current employees.

In regards to saving the health plan, no evidence has been given that this proposal is fixing a specific problem in the plan or filling a cash hole in the plan. This proposal does not seem to have a direct claims to premium need.

Regarding the impact of the proposal on current employees, casting new employees overboard will not save other employees from rate increases. In fact, this proposal could have the opposite effect.

In any insurance plan, "adverse selection" must be avoided. Adverse selection is when some policy around the plan has resulted in more ill people entering the plan than would occur in random selection.

Now consider the radical proposal of this administration moving from the present situation in which basic health care is given at no cost to an employee, to charging new employees as much as 20% of their salary for family coverage. If one is a para-professional new hire making $17,228 a year in salary what will he/she do? In the interest of keeping a roof over the family's head, and doing other things like eating, the para-professional will probably not elect to take the insurance.

In the above scenario the para-professional will not take the insurance unless...unless he/she or someone in the family is already chronically ill. The only way the new plan makes economic sense for low paid employees is if medical expenses from a pre-existing condition warrant this exorbitant type of family expenditure.

Over a period of time the scenario plays out hundreds, and thousands of times until the extreme cost sharing has created adverse selection in the health plan. Guess what happens then. Then, you and I, current health plan members who "will not be affected" are now going to be paying much more for our insurance to correct the resulting imbalance in the plan's expenses.

Solidarity is not only moral, it also makes economic sense.

Budget Mark Up to date

Here in brief is a run down of the two weeks of budget mark up just completed by the Joint Finance Committee. The following items have been voted by the JFC, although the JFC will meet again for more mark up in about two weeks. Also, no budgetary item is fixed until the passage of the budget bill on June 30th:
The five unpaid furlough days will be restored to educators and state workers.
The deficit in the State Employee Health Fund will be made up with General Funds.
Eligible educators will receive Step Increases.
Although no new NBC or Cluster stipends will be paid, those already receiving them will continue to do so.
Overtime compensation will be given based on 40 hours of paid time.
New unit growth will be funded in education.

Several big issues remain to be decided including the restoration of Short Term Disability insurance, funding for math and reading specialists, and various cost shifting to local school districts such as transportation cuts.

Monday, May 24, 2010

No Need for Rush to Change Health Care

The Joint Finance Committee continues on with budget mark up. They have not yet taken up education. DSEA believes that stipends for National Board Certification and Clusters should be restored, particularly in light of Race To The Top and the push for alternative compensation. Shouldn't we honor our existing alternative compensation promises before starting more programs of dubious funding potential? Also, we remain concerned about math and reading specialists. Although many of these teachers have been given other positions, some are among the approximately 380 teachers threatened with RIF around Delaware. Refunding these positions could alleviate some of the financial pressure on local school districts.

Also, JFC has not addressed the issue of Short Term Disability. I believe there is interest on the committee for restoration of the insurance to the former 20 day elimination period. Last year, the Short Term Disability elimination period was changed to 60 days. In other words, if a serious illness strikes, and educator or state employee must have the means (banked sick days?) to make it 60 days without any compensation, before the insurance is activated providing 75% of salary.
In other news today, the Governor communicated to our members via email about establishing a different tier of health care and pension for new hires. Dealing with the latter first, pension should not even be on the table for change. Our pension plan is well funded and well managed. There is no need for new hires to contribute more money.

Health care on the other hand remains a challenge for everyone. Federal legislators allowed themselves to be scared into doing half a job on health care reform, so health care inflation continues to cause problems for working people. However, the solution is not to sell out future generations of educators. Do you want to work next to someone who can't afford health care for their kids, because you didn't want to fight for them?

That's the scenario we will be facing. Consider, for example, the cheapest family plan under the proposed tier is $322.07 per month employee contribution. A new hire para-professional earns $17,228 per year. Obviously, this individual will not be insuring his/her family. Many educators and other state employees qualify for public assistance such as food stamps. I guess we will be able to add Medicaid to the list.

Keep in mind, that after budget mark up ends, we will only have 13 legislative days left. We are asking the Governor not to attempt to make sweeping changes to complex health and pension plans in a needless rush. There is no compelling reason why the summer and autumn can not be used for calling in stakeholder groups and working toward solutions in health care cost containment. To the degree that changes are needed, legislation can be filed in the next General Assembly.
Finally, if you are a resident of the Christina School District, do not forget that tomorrow is the referendum vote. Polls will be open from 10:00AM to 8:00PM. Christina District desperately needs this operating referendum and the odds are against them. Please make an extra effort to get to the polls.

Monday, May 17, 2010

JFC Votes to Restore Pay

The Joint Finance Committee is undertaking Budget Mark Up for the next two weeks while the rest of the legislature is on break.

Today the JFC voted 12 to 0 to restore the five unpaid furlough days to educators and other state employees. For educators this will mean the return of the 188 work days to statute.

Eligible teachers will also receive step increases according to this JFC decision.
Tiering of health and pension benefits is still threatening. Be sure and take advantage of this two week break to contact your state representative or senator at home with the message that it is reckless to attempt to make major health and pension policy within the 13 legislative days remaining in session.

All stakeholders need to be shown the need for such changes ( a hard case to make on pension considering Delaware's is one of the best funded and managed in the nation). All stakeholders need to be involved in a solution. Running legislation imposed by OMB in the final days of session that will impact educators and state employees for generations to come is not a good way of policy making.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Busy Week Ahead

The week that begins Monday, May 10th will certainly be eventful. Here are a few things on my mind.

On Tuesday, May 11th, School Board races will be held across the state. This blog recommends: Eric Anderson for Christina; Martin Wilson and Catherine Thompson for Red Clay; Melodie Spotts for Colonial; Rodney Layfield for Indian River; Julie Johnson for Appoquinimink; and Chevis Anderson for Capital.

The Delaware Office of Management and Budget is floating an idea around Legislative Hall for another tier of health and pension benefits for newly hired educators and state workers. DSEA has opposed this idea since it was first mentioned in Governor Markell's State of the State Address.

First, the pension plan is both well funded and managed. Pension, even in these difficult times is not financially distressed. There is no reason for fixing what is not broken.

Second, DSEA has been a strong advocate for good management and transparency in all matters connected with the State Employees Benefit Committee. DSEA commissioned an actuarial report on the Plan which suggested a number of reforms and best practices. Consistent with the organization's prudent approach to everything connected with the Health Plan is our opposition to attempting to legislate change this year. After next week, the legislature is out for two weeks while the Joint Finance Committee works on the budget. Which would give the legislature about 12 working days to do major health care policy work affecting thousands of future educators and state workers and their families. This would be irresponsible.

Finally, this push for tiered benefits is in part a response to the Other Post Employment Benefits (OPEB). OPEB is the health care offered to educators and state employees who retiree before being eligible for Medicare. A few years ago states had to begin showing financial accounting for their future OPEB liability. Because health care in the US is so out of control and often has double digit inflation yearly, the OPEB liability for all states is enormous. For Delaware, the liability is currently projected at $5.6 billion. Delaware has established a trust for the liability and has been putting in millions. It's not enough, but it is more than most states have accomplished. Yet, in the end health care is going to take a federal fix. The US Congress needs to go back to work and complete the work started with the recent passage of insurance reforms. In the meantime, Delaware needs to stay the course and see how issues play out with more reform measures before pushing the destruct button on health care for retirees.

Speaking of the federal health insurance reform, the legislation included a provision encouraging employers to provide pre-Medicare health care to early retirees. The federal government could reimburse up to 80% of the cost of this health care under certain conditions. Delaware needs to take advantage of the federal reinsurance program.
A bill will soon be moving in the Delaware legislature to change teacher due process in termination language in the state code. The change will bring the statute in alignment with regulatory change that has already happened around Race To The Top.

The language change addresses the need for teachers with less than three years in the state or less than two years in a district to have two of three years with a "Satisfactory" rating in the Student Achievement component of the evaluation, before being given due process in termination. The slang for due process in teacher termination is called, "tenure"; although, as this blog has discussed before, the term is misleading.

Currently, Student Achievement is component five of the DPASII. It is possible now to be on an Individual Improvement Plan for component five, fail to show improvement, and not be given due process. So, in substance there is nothing alarming in the bill. However, the work between the Delaware Department of Education and the Delaware State Education Association to determine the definition of Student Achievement under RTTT will be important.

Budget Mark Up will begin the week of May 17th. Now that the restoration of the furlough days with pay is looking promising, DSEA is pushing for other needed money for our members. DSEA is very concerned about the elimination of the Math and Reading Specialists from the budget. There are 210 of those positions around the state, and we want all of our members to have a job in the Fall. DSEA advocates restoring Short Term Disability. DSEA would like to see our members made whole by restoring National Board Certification and Cluster stipends.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Blog On the Run

Necessity is moving this blog from well thought out essays to quick updates. Things have really been rocking and rolling at DSEA. Our course we are in the heart of the legislative session and working on recovering lost ground from last year, but we also are dealing with School Improvement Grants, and Race To The Top, and school board races across the state.

On Friday, a training conference on RTTT for DSEA teacher leaders was held in Dover. DSEA was assisted by a consultant from Wellstone Action in presenting the training. We want our teacher leaders to be prepared to make RTTT a positive experience for students and educators.

On Saturday, the DSEA Education Support Professionals had a conference. In addition to skills training, they received a political update and were visited by Attorney General Beau Biden, and state representatives Earl Jaques and John Kowalko. John Kowalko is the DSEA Legislative Friend of Education for 2010. Biden spoke extensively about school bullying and efforts to curb this social ill. Jaques and Kowalko spoke about their work on the House Education Committee as well as efforts to protect educator compensation and benefits.

If you are a DSEA member read your mail and answer your phone this week as information about school board races will be coming to you.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

School Discipline Bill Passes House

Sorry readers for the length between recent posts. At DSEA we have been in a fury of activities including our Representative Assembly, events around RTTT, the weekly march of the legislature, and some spirited school board races.

Today in the House an interesting debate took place around House Bill 347, sponsored by Representative Mike Barbieri. The bill was one of the initiatives to come from the School Discipline Task Force which was comprised of legislators, educators, administrators, law enforcement, and even the judiciary.

Under current Delaware law, school administrators must report certain misdemeanors to the police and initiate prosecution for any student age 9 or older. This law combined with school districts' "no tolerance" discipline codes has led to some abuses. There have been cases in Delaware of children finding themselves in a great deal of trouble for innocently bringing to school such items as cake knives for class parties or miniature Swiss army knives. In fact, Delaware has never made national news for a small child getting away with a school crime, but we have made national news for a small child being threatened with placement in an alternative school for bringing his tiny pocket knife to school.

HB 347 raised the mandatory police reporting age to 12. However, school administrators would have to report incidents to the superintendent, who in turn would have to report to the Delaware Department of Education.

Notice that the bill changed the mandatory reporting of those below age 12. Administrators would be allowed to use their discretion. For serious offenses a child below the age of 12 could have the police called on him/her. Moreover, nothing in the bill would stop an individual educator from calling the police if he/she were assaulted by a student under 12. Also, any parent could call the police and file a report on a child under 12 if they chose.

The intent of the bill was to give schools more flexibility in dealing with the offenses of children. After all, in the vast majority of cases educators, not policeman, should be dealing with the misbehavior of children. Again, nothing would stop an administrator or educator from calling the police on a younger child; but at their professional discretion, not by mandate.

The old saying is that the road to hell is paved with good intentions. For supporters of the bill, it seemed like hell at various times today. A few articulate opponents of the bill attempted to change the story for this bill from one of a technical change for discipline flexibility, to a "soft on discipline" or "send the wrong message" piece of legislation. That rhetoric then had the effect of causing a great deal of over-thinking and second guessing.

Courageous and reasonable words from Majority Leader Pete Schwartzkopf, a former State Trooper, helped get things back on track for the bill. At least enough for the sponsor to push ahead with a roll call vote that netted him a victory of 22 yes, 9 no, 8 not voting.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Broad Superintendents Academy

I just had to do a quick post about a topic of some concern to me. I was minding my own business commuting to work this morning when I heard the underwriting pitch for an NPR segment. The underwriter was the Broad Foundation Superintendents Academy. The purpose of the program is to train CEOs and other senior level executives from the business world to be school superintendents.


Why not train social workers, or nurses, or policemen, or librarians to be school superintendents? At least those professions are care giving, service oriented professions.

In the best of times making CEOs into superintendents would be suspect, but these are not the best of times. American big business has been plagued with incompetence, corruption, greed, and lack of vision in recent years. Our economy continues to struggle because of this legacy.

I have never understood why making a lot of money as a business executive should entitle one to run our schools, our charities, our city councils, our foundations, our government commissions, etc. Why is plutocracy a preferred form of governance for society?

Well, that's my rant of the morning. Thanks, for your patience.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Keep Our Educators Working

Last year the relief of the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act (ARRA) had hardly settled in before we began hearing about the "funding cliff". The funding cliff is a sharp decline in ARRA money after the first year. Most states, including Delaware, used about 60% of the money in the first year.

Economic recovery in terms of putting people back to work is coming slowly. With ARRA money running out, one of the first groups of workers to fall off the infamous cliff will be educators. Today, about 300,000 education jobs are being supported by ARRA. Many states have already announced layoffs for thousands of educators: California 23,000 positions; Illinois 20,000 educators; Colorado reductions expected to hit 20% of staff in some districts; Michigan will have thousands of layoffs and more than 100 districts insolvent; New Jersey will see layoffs in more than 90% of their districts. These are a few examples chosen from flipping through a list that is loaded with casualties.

Here in Delaware, math and reading specialists are no longer funded in the budget. There are more than 200 of these educators in the state. Also, some districts who are having difficulty dealing with cost shifts to local districts in the budget, may resort to layoffs.

Senator Tom Harkin of Iowa has an answer to these scary predictions. He has filed F3206, the Keep Our Educators Working Act. The purpose of the act is to give the economy another hand up until it is able to walk on its own. He proposes doing this by saving educator jobs with a $29 billion piece of legislation that would bring $64 million to Delaware.

In the Great Depression of the 1930s, it took several federal stimulus programs over a course of years to get the economy producing jobs again.

If you believe this Act is a worthwhile cause, please call our Delaware senators and ask them to co-sponsor with Senator Harkin.

Senator Tom Carper: (202) 224-2441

Senator Ted Kaufman (202) 224-5042

Saturday, April 17, 2010

DSEA Representative Assembly

The Delaware State Education Association held their Representative Assembly this weekend in Dover. More than 135 delegates from Locals throughout the state met to participate in the governance of the organization, as well as to receive and give input on timely education issues. Delegates are comprised of working educators such as teachers, para-professionals, food service workers, secretaries, custodians, nurses, and bus drivers.

An involved discussion of Race To The Top was built into Saturday's program. The organization is devoting a lot resources to position Delaware educators to make RTTT a positive experience; not just to survive under the program, but to thrive with RTTT.

Additionally, there were discussions about educator health care and the need to resist tiering of health benefits for the good of the profession. This issue refers to the idea of giving future educators a different level of benefits than current employees. The tiering of benefits makes the recruitment and retention of educators difficult, it damages morale, weakens the union, and diminishes the profession. Also, the organization reiterated our legislative priority of having a seat on the State Employees Benefit Committee, the governing body of the state employee health plan.

The delegates were informed that ideas are being put forward to change teacher tenure. Frustration was expressed about the myth of tenure among the public and some lawmakers. Tenure is not a guarantee of a teaching job for life. Some tenured teachers are terminated every year. Tenure simply provides due process in termination proceedings, nothing more. Educators, and for that matter all employees, should be terminated for just cause. Furthermore, if administrators are doing their jobs of evaluating teachers, then there is no need for a change in the tenure law.

Delegates returned to their homes late Saturday afternoon. By Monday, they will be sharing ideas with their colleagues.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Legislature on Break. DSEA RA Approaches

I hope everyone had a wonderful Spring Break. As it happens, the Delaware General Assembly is still on break, returning Tuesday, April 20th. That means there will not be any legislative news for a few days, but we will find other things about which to talk. So, keep checking the blog and thanks for reading.

The Delaware State Education Association's Representative Assembly will be held this Friday and Saturday at Dover Downs. We are a democratic organization, and this assembly is one of the vehicles that allow rank and file members to have a voice in the governance of DSEA.

Monday, March 29, 2010

RTTT, SEBC and other Acronyms

It's old news by now, but still worth repeating: Delaware won a Race To The Top grant for $100 million. Delaware and Tennessee were the only two winners in Phase I of the RTTT competitive grant competition. Now it's a race to make Race To The Top work for kids and educators.

The State Employment Benefits Committee met today. Two issues were dealt with. First, the $37.5 million deficit in the health fund will be filled by using reserve money from the fund. If general revenue fund money is available, the Joint Finance Committee may still entertain increasing the general fund contribution so that less health plan reserve money will be used. Second, the SEBC raised rates for the health plan by about 10%. (We do not yet have the rate increase data sheet in our possession.). However, employees will not pay this increase next year. The Governor requested in his budget that employees be held harmless from rate increases for FY 2011.

The Delaware State Education Association entered testimony today at SEBC. We have posted the testimony below. As you will see, we are still very concerned about any plans to create a different level of benefits for new hired educators.

Good afternoon Madame Chair and Members of the Committee.

My name is Tim Barchak, with the Delaware State Education Association.

We appreciate the thoughtful discussions that are taking place regarding the State Employee Health Plan.

We support the efforts of this committee to request additional funding from the Legislature, as well as to cover the employee portion of the premium increase, to get this plan through another tough year.

With the Spring Break of the Legislature beginning at the end of this week, we thought this would be the appropriate time to enter testimony on possible legislative recommendations by this committee.
If this committee is considering recommendations regarding reduced health benefits for new employees, we have the following comments:
· We do not believe legislation of this magnitude should be rushed into. We advise against legislation for this session. There will be only about 25 legislative work days left when we return from Spring Break. We do not see how stakeholders groups can be assembled and ideas pursued in that amount of time. We need a thorough review of all options.
· A plan should not create a permanent underclass of employees who have reduced health care for the duration of their careers. Additionally, some experiences with multi-tiering of benefits have resulted in unfavorable health plans for all members.
· Any consideration of benefit comparisons should keep in mind total compensation packages, for while some neighbors may have slightly less generous health plans, they may additionally have much more generous wage schedules.
· Finally, with any change in benefits we must keep in mind that education is becoming increasingly competitive with higher and higher expectations. If we drive our benefit package too low with already moderate wages, we will have difficulty recruiting the best young educators.

Thank you for your time and consideration this afternoon.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Thoughts on ESEA Competitive Grants

The Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) is ready for reauthorization, although Congress will probably not take ESEA up until next year. The Obama Administration has issued their "Blueprint" which sets forth the policy that they hope will be reflected in the ESEA. As some of you may have heard, both the National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers have voiced complaints. The education organizations believe that the Blueprint is too heavily focused on standardized tests, continuing the legacy of No Child Left Behind.

Additionally, the NEA and AFT are concerned about the policy shift away from formula driven funding towards competitive grants. Considering the chaotic chase for RTTT and SIG funds, the education world does not favor introducing this same model for the essential ESEA money. The Administration seems oblivious to the issue of capacity in an already stressed system.

This Administration is introducing the idea of competitive grants in many sectors of government. They are giving credence to the stereotype of government's "one size fits all" mentality.

In some areas, one may desire to have winners and losers, and the withholding of money can actually affect a desired outcome. Let us use transportation as an example. If the Secretary of Transportation wants to encourage investment in public transportation and discourage urban sprawl then the Secretary can design grant guidelines that promote public transportation. Continuing the analogy, look at St. Louis, Missouri. The metro-plex of St. Louis is now spread over 5 counties. An area almost twice as large as the entire state of Delaware. Under our scenario, if St. Louis hands in a grant application that plans for building more roads deeper into suburban areas, they will not win a grant. If St. Louis does not win a grant, they will not build the roads and ipso facto the policy of reducing urban sprawl has been carried out.

Now by comparison, the Secretary of Education wants persistently low performing schools to achieve standards and perform up to potential. If the same competitive grant is laid on top of
this situation, what happens? A school district which has a number of under performing schools and competes for ESEA, may very well not win that grant. After all, if the district had great innovative ideas on how to turn the situation around, they would be not be in the situation to begin with. Under the competitive grant scenario this district will not receive ESEA funds. Not receiving those funds continues the downward spiral. There is no aberrant behavior that will stop because of the denial of money. In fact, the struggling district will struggle even more.

Education does not need a dose of Social Darwinism. Education needs resources, understanding, and a way forward that is not all about quantifying the unquantifiable, such as learning and the value of kids and teachers.
Congratulations to Mary Pinkston, the Delaware Teacher of the Year. Mary gave an articulate speech with strong ideas today before the Delaware House of Representatives. Mary teaches mathematics at Brandywine High School. She has dedicated 17 years of excellent service to the children of Brandywine School District.

Monday, March 22, 2010

We Have a Health Care Law

Health care reform passed the US House last night. The legislation is a significant step forward in health insurance coverage and insurance reform. Coverage issues are initially addressed by an expansion of Medicaid, not only in the number of people eligible but also in the quality of services. The quality will be improved by increasing doctor reimbursement rates to the same level as Medicare. States will receive increased federal funding to cover the Medicaid changes.

Insurers will no longer be allowed to exclude children with pre-existing conditions. Adults with pre-existing conditions will be given immediate access to a high risk pool. Insurers will not be able to drop people who become sick. Lifetime plan limits are eliminated.

Rate setting reform will stop the use of such things as health status and sex from being used to establish premium rates.

The infamous "donut hole" in senior drug coverage is eliminated.

Small businesses will receive tax credits to purchase insurance coverage for employees.

Dependent children may continue on their parents' plan until age 26.

Insurers with excessively high administrative expenditures will be forced to give rebates to customers. Customers will have an appeals process to contest plan changes or decisions.

All of this is pretty positive stuff, but now a cautionary note. This bill contains an insurance mandate; basically, one way or another by private insurance or Medicaid or Medicare, you have to be covered. That is not bad or unprecedented by itself. Most of us are right now under an insurance mandate. If you drive a car, your state forces you to buy insurance. Also, this bill has various tax credits for those unable to afford the coverage.

The problem with the mandate is that it will do nothing to curtail health care inflation. The mandate may help with insurance inflation because the market will be huge and many new insurers may enter the expanded market. However, the costs of medical procedures, hospital stays, pharmaceuticals, etc will go unchecked and may in fact be fed by the new money in the market.

If, as promised by Senate Majority Leader, Harry Reed, that a vote on a public option is coming within a year, then all may be well. A public option is a health insurance plan operated non-profit by the government. The plan is much cheaper than the private plans from which insurance companies extract huge profits. More importantly, a public option enables the government to leverage down health costs. If the public option is hugely popular and millions of people become a part of that plan, along with Medicaid and Medicare, then the federal government can begin to set limits on providers. The government could, for example, tell hospital chains "we will no longer pay $1,500 a day for a hospital stay, we will only pay $1,000 a day. If you don't like it, we will take our 50% of the market somewhere else." That's the way a public option helps control the staggering health care inflation that has now driven health care spending to the level of 18% of our Gross Domestic Product.