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.