Thursday, February 25, 2010

It's an Income Problem, Not a Spending Problem

The Mid-Atlantic continues to suffer from extreme weather. The latest victim is the Winter Advocacy Retreat (WAR) of the Delaware State Education Association which was scheduled to run the entire weekend in Rehoboth, but is now canceled because of the pending storm.
It's Income, Not Spending

We need to change the language being used in discussions of our current state fiscal crisis. Too many decision makers in Dover continue to talk about the state's spending problem, or the size of state government, or the efficiency of state government. So what's wrong with that?

First, it's not just "our" crisis. Forty eight states are broke right now. Did all 48 go on a spending spree? Did all 48 grow fat overnight? How about the two states doing okay, what great efficiencies did they employ?

In truth, Delaware and the other states do NOT have a SPENDING problem, they have an income problem. That means their revenues have dipped dangerously low because we are in a severe recession. When a state is in a recession two bad things happen simultaneously. Incomes and profits drop so tax revenue does as well. At the same time the demand for services goes up as more people need unemployment insurance, health care, food assistance, or to send children to public school who were in private school.

The two fortunate states, Wyoming and Montana have natural gas, coal and other forms of "real wealth". The grandfather of economics, Adam Smith, once said that there were only two types of real wealth creation, manufacturing and extraction. I guess Wyoming and Montana have the latter.

Discussions about the size of government may or may not need to take place, but let's not pretend that all this current pain is about Delaware government being too big.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Budget Woes for Local Districts

Local school districts are facing challenges in the proposed Delaware budget. First, districts will be asked to increase the pension contribution for the employees, amounting to 1.7% of educators' salaries. Statewide, this means about a $5 million cost increase. Second, Division 2 money will be reduced by $1.5 million. Division 2 generally refers to funds used for energy costs. Third, districts face a $5 million reduction in minor capital funds. Fourth, the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act is dwindling; down $19 million from where it was last year. Finally, there will be $20 million of cost shifting to local districts for transportation. All of the above totals around $50 million.

WAR is coming. Winter Advocacy Retreat (WAR) is the annual meeting of educator activists from the Delaware State Education Association. The event will be this weekend at Rehoboth. Governor Jack Markel and Delaware Secretary of Education Lilian Lowery will both be guest speakers on Saturday. Topics of discussion will include budget cuts impacting educators, Race To The Top, and this year's elections.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Proposed Legislative Program

Every two years the Delaware State Education Association reviews our Legislative Program and seeks input from the membership. The Program is a short list of priority areas of advocacy around which we may support or oppose legislation, regulation, or policy.

The draft Program features a completely new section titled, "Protect and Nurture Children". This area of advocacy will allow us to speak to the socio-economic concerns of children and their families. This year approximately 26.6% of all children in the United States live in poverty. If a child comes to your classroom hungry, with a toothache, after having slept in the car all night, or with any one of a hundred challenges that come with poverty, their opportunity to learn is diminished. Therefore, just like the National Education Association became involved in the fight for child labor laws one hundred years ago, so too must we challenge the social order around child poverty.

Please examine the draft Legislative Program below. If you have suggestions for additions, edits, or deletions, please email me at Also, there will be an opportunity to participate in a webinar on Monday, March 8th at 6:30PM. We will be sending more communications about that event later.

Delaware State Education Association
2010-2011 Legislative Program

· Improved, Sustained Funding for Public Schools
The adequate and equitable funding of Delaware’s public schools is required to ensure that our children --- regardless of where they live or the personal circumstance of their individual lives --- have educational opportunities that allow each child to reach her or his full potential.

· Improved Pay for Public Education Employees
Compensation must be improved in order to attract and retain high quality public education staff for our schools and state agencies. DSEA’s priorities include a starting salary for professionally certified school staff of $40,000. Additionally, the salaries for instructional and service aides are shamefully low and should begin at least with the federal poverty level for a family of four.

· Strengthened Fringe Benefit Programs
Public education employees have a progressive, historically well-funded package of fringe benefits that help to attract and retain a high quality work force that must be protected, particularly in times of economic stress.

· Charter School Accountability
The growth of charter schools since passage of the original law in 1995 continues without taking into consideration the effects of new charter authorizations on existing local public school districts. With public resources scarce it is more important than ever to regulate the charter market by making the state Department of Education the single authorizing authority with guidelines that avoid duplication of services and mitigate the impact on community schools.

· Protect and Nurture Children
Every educator knows the heartbreak and frustration of children who are too hungry, sick, or traumatized to learn well. The opportunity to learn cannot be divorced from socio-economic realities, and those realities are becoming more challenging. In 2010, more than 26% of all US children will live in poverty. DSEA will be supportive of legislation, policy, and initiatives which promote the welfare of children and the economic stability of their families.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

DSEA Testimony at Joint Finance

Today was public education day at the Joint Finance Committee hearings. Diane Donohue, President of the Delaware State Education Association entered testimony advocating for educators. Diane did a wonderful job, and her testimony was well received. It is reprinted below:

JFC Testimony: EDUCATION – February 17, 2010Diane Donohue, president, Delaware State Education Association

Good afternoon to our Chairs, Senator Cook and Representative Williams, and to the other
members of the Joint Finance Committee.

I am Diane Donohue, an educator in Delaware for 20 years and the president of the Delaware State Education Association, which proudly represents
over 11,000 educators in our state.

As our communities struggle with an economy in recession, it is apparent that the impact of a sluggish economic recovery will continue. Consequently, the state must continue to make difficult choices about the allocation of dwindling resources.

The Delaware State Education Association appreciates the work of the Joint Finance Committee in doing what you can to support the students and educators in Delaware. We thank you and urge you to continue your efforts.

Every difficult decision you make that can preserve a dollar of education funding today, will pay off in large returns in the future.

Investment in public education includes many things such as safe, clean buildings, enough books for every student, day to day supplies, such as paper, and of course, the ever growing need for technology and access to computers for all students.
However, nothing defines the school experience for a child more than educators; and the investment in educators is what I will focus on today.

When DSEA speaks of “educators,” we mean a whole team of professionals who touch the lives of all students each and every day. A student’s day begins with the “Good morning” from the school bus driver; continues with the dedication and expertise of the classroom teacher; helping hands of a paraprofessional; the kindness of cafeteria food service; the tough love of a coach; the guidance of counselors; and continues on with nurses, secretaries, custodians, speech therapists, and more.

It has always been critical to have high-quality people in education positions, but now the eyes of the nation are on our educators and students. The Obama Administration and Secretary of Education Arne Duncan have placed education reform efforts on a fast-paced time frame. The expectations have never been higher and, as a consequence, the profession is becoming much more complicated and stressful.

There is the potential for additional financial resources to help achieve our goals. For example, I believe that Delaware has positioned itself to receive resources from the federal government in the form of School Improvement Grants, and Race To The Top funds. This money will help us with many of the old challenges, as well as create a few new ones.

Even with these additional funds, it is not enough. The base salaries and benefits essential to the attraction and retention of the best educators will have to come from Delaware, not from the Federal Government.

With that in mind, there are several key compensation areas that DSEA would like to have restored as soon as possible:
Number one: The five furlough days cost our members both money and professional development at a time when they can scarcely afford either. Our cut amounted to 2.56% of salary. I’m not telling you anything new by saying that it is challenging and demoralizing to our members, and that the restoration of those days and compensation is a high priority for DSEA. Our biggest fear last year was that the five unpaid furlough days would become institutionalized, in spite of intentions and language to sunset the reduction. Now, here we are in another year with plans to continue the furlough and pay cut.

Number two: In 2007 the Public Education Compensation Committee set goals for the Legislature to raise our Educational Support Salaries out of poverty. That journey was not completed. The 2009 federal poverty level for a family of four is $22,050. The entry level salary for an instructional aide in Delaware is $17,228. One would need 13 years of experience to reach the poverty level. This issue remains important to those members, and it remains important to DSEA.

Number three: The moratorium on National Board Certification and Cluster professional development stipends must be lifted. This moratorium sends a very conflicting message to educators who are told by the Federal Government, ‘Improve yourself professionally and you will be compensated.’

Number four: Weakening of the Short Term Disability program has created a hole in the safety net for educator families. This policy carries the potential for real tragedy. No one, let alone someone already battling serious illness, can go sixty days without pay.

Finally, we have a new concern added to last year’s list; that of a proposed two-tiered health and pension plan. We do not have any details on what this plan might look like other than a different level of benefits for newly-hired educators. We need details as soon as possible. In order to make constructive policy recommendations in this area, we need to know what types of health and pension benefits are being considered for new-hires.

Our initial reaction is, “Find the money someplace else.” Reducing benefits to a two-tiered system does nothing to attract the best educators to Delaware, especially when our wages are already lower than our neighboring states.

If there is no other way – none - then at least let us sit down and work with you to develop something that reduces costs, but does limited harm for a limited amount of time. Every employee needs to eventually be made whole, in other words, stay with the profession for a given amount of time and become fully vested just like their colleagues.

We may be able to help you figure out how to make a bad situation a little better, but we will have to be brought into the discussion soon.

These are big issues, big challenges.
I’m glad that you all stepped forward to be on the JFC. Everyone wants to be on the JFC when there is money to spend, but to do it in times like these shows commitment to public service which our members understand and applaud.
Thank you.

Monday, February 15, 2010

A Short PSA from Your Blogger

Now, a short intermission for a public service announcement:

Tomorrow the Joint Finance Committee will resume hearings. It appears that last week's hearings, canceled due to the blizzard, will be made up at the end of the scheduled hearings. If this is so, and we stay on the remaining schedule, then the public education hearing will be on Wednesday. The Delaware State Education Association will get 5 minutes of testimony time. DSEA state president, Diane Donohue will deliver the testimony for the organization that represents over 11,000 educators in the state. This blog will post the DSEA testimony on Wednesday.

You may resume watching the Olympics, or worrying about the first day back at school. Thank you.

Thursday, February 11, 2010


The School Improvement Grant (SIG) program has been significantly increased with American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) funds. SIG dollars for Delaware will amount to over $10 million for up to three years of activity, although the majority of the funds need to be expended in the first year to implement plans.

SIG is for "persistently low-achieving" Title 1 and Title 1 eligible schools who will be implementing one of the 4 interventions outlined in Race To The Top. Those interventions are closing, closing and reopening as a charter, "Turn Around" which involves replacing 50% of current staff, and "Transformation" which involves an aggressive plan to change the school.

Schools in Delaware will most probably choose the Transformation model, and well they should. Closing is simply a shell game in which you must absorb the student body into other buildings with all the expense and dislocation. Closing and reopening as a charter does not solve anything. When charters deal with populations without being allowed to "cream" students, they do not necessarily perform better than community public schools. Turn Around is an obvious "blame the staff" model or at least, "blame half the staff" model. Finally, Transformation will allow for educators and their administrations to implement change that works.

SIG could mean cash worth $50,000 to $2 million for a single school. Tier 1 schools (probably 5 in the beginning) are likely to be doubly challenged and blessed. Tier 1 SIG recipients will probably also be Partnership Zone schools under the Race To The Top grant. Those combined grant dollars could mean an astounding $3 million for a school.

SIG money is flexible. It does not all have to be spent on yet another curriculum or pedagogy method or professional development model. SIG money can actually be spent on the health and well being of children. For example, schools could offer before and after care; before and after meals; a dental clinic; or literacy instruction for parents. These are just a few examples of what an innovative district could do with SIG, because SIG recognizes some of the socio-economic challenges that are inherent in persistently low-achieving schools.

Educators are in for quite a ride of change over the next couple of years. At least there will be significant money available for many of the innovations.

Monday, February 8, 2010

The Weather Outside is Frightful

Well, Delaware has one massive snow storm down, and another to go. Weather forecasters are predicting that we will be hit again on Tuesday night. This blog is mainly about politics and policy, and so yes, there is a political angle to this snow talk.

First, the Joint Finance Committee is trying to be conscientious in working on the budget, but the weather cancelled today's hearings, and the outlook for the rest of the week is dubious given the forecast.

Second, the Delaware Department of Education is already tight on scheduling meetings and activities around the various federal reform agendas, and the weather eats up limited days.

Third, these storms stress the state budget. For example, when the Delaware Department of Transportation deals with an eight inch snow it might cost as much as $4 million.

Finally, there's nothing like a major blizzard to make people rethink the value of public services. Public servants worked diligently to keep roads clear, but ultimately fought a losing battle against snowfall amounts that ranged from 20-30 inches. As stated before, snow removal is expensive, but how much more expensive is it to have commerce shut down in most of the state for a couple of days? If we currently spend $4 million on 8 inches of snow, what if we spent $8 million and did it twice as quickly? Those are the questions that need to be asked, instead of assuming that shrinking government is always the best choice. We live in a complex society that takes a sophisticated and comprehensive public infrastructure to keep it all functioning. It is truly possible to be "penny wise and pound foolish", to use the old British saying.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

More JFC and Standards Board Tomorrow

The Joint Finance Committee (JFC) hearings continue to roll along. Various areas of the budget each get their day of testimony and review. Public education's day will be February 17th, and DSEA President, Diane Donohue will give a statement at that hearing. DSEA, like other organizations invited to testify, will be given five minutes to state their case.

Tomorrow, the Delaware Professional Standards Board will meet. There has been some discussion among two or three members of this board about changing the requirements for public school nurses. Currently, public school nurses must have a Bachelor of Science in Nursing as an undergraduate along with their RN. The discussion was about eliminating that requirement, reducing the standards to the pre-2003 level. The BSN provides nurses with a solid foundation in community health issues and leadership skills. The majority of DSEA public school nurses are against the discussed change; thus, DSEA has sent a letter to the Board in opposition to lowering the standards. Also, DSEA will enter testimony at tomorrow's meeting.
Higher education funding will be on the JFC agenda tomorrow. Representatives from both University of Delaware and Delaware State University will give testimony.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Deep Diving

I remember the example our sociology professor gave us as though the class took place yesterday. For the rest of my life I have looked closely at statistics and studies, and always believed in the "deep dive" behind numbers.

Did you know that sexual assaults rise with the sale of ice cream? It is true. This is the example the professor gave us youngsters. The correlation probably has something to do with ice cream selling more in the summer, and more people being on the streets at night, thus more vulnerable to predators, etc.

The point is, just because events correspond in timing, don't assume one causes the other, always deep dive.

Now, go forward quite a few years from my college days into the days of the presidency of George W. Bush. By the time he was into his second term, an interesting statistic had emerged. The ever present discriminatory gap in pay between men and women had actually narrowed. Was George Bush a fierce advocate for "equal work equal pay"? Hardly. A deep dive on this phenomenon revealed that the gap narrowed not because women were making more, but that men had lost ground and were making less.

Now, fast forward to the present day. Many decision makers in Delaware are claiming that state employees' health benefits are quite rich when compared to the private sector. Of course it follows that state employees should have their health benefits reduced. My old sociology professor would have raised an eyebrow.

Has anyone thought about the fact that private sector workers have seen 30 years of real wages dropping against rising GDP, 30 years of their jobs being exported and their unions busted, and 30 years of benefit losses and give backs.

Public employees are not necessarily living like kings with the benefits of kings, but more and more private sector workers are living like peasants.

Today was the first day of hearings for the Joint Finance Committee (JFC). The JFC will meet for the next 5 weeks while the rest of the legislature is in recess.

Jim Testerman of DSEA Retired testified today during the hearing on pensions. Jim's testimony advocated for retirees, but he also spoke passionately for the preservation of benefits for current and future employees. Jim Testerman understands solidarity.