First let me thank the Board, Supt. Daugherty, the administrators, the teachers and parents of Red Clay for all they do for public education and the children of Delaware and for allowing me to speak before you this evening.
I’ve never spoken before this Board since my 25th District is composed entirely of the Christina School District, but tonight I must relay an important message with a great urgency so that you and all the stakeholders in Red Clay might be forewarned regarding an ongoing threat to the autonomy, responsibility, and authority that this district and all school districts in Delaware are currently granted by Delaware law.
I don’t intend to dwell on the difficulties that districts and their managing teams are burdened with, exacerbated in part by the failure of this Administration and Legislature to adequately restore funding cuts that have resulted in the disappearance of many legitimate and helpful programs that give all public school children access to learning opportunities.
I do, however, hope to sound the alert regarding an insidious and misrepresented attempt to wrest the authority and ability of the Board, administrators and teachers to properly educate our children under the guise of unproven education reform contrivances such as the recently announced “priority school within the partnership zone” plan from DOE. Due to a lack of time and the complexity of this proposal and the process used to force it I will not get into a detailed account of how offensive it is for this plan to dishonestly present itself as some type of enhanced funding mechanism available to failing schools (that designation is also debatable) and minority and socio-economically disadvantaged student bodies when almost all of the money will not reach the classroom. It should not be lost on you that this roll out and offering of money is intended, in my opinion, to encourage public pressure be placed on the districts if they dare to reject or even question the validity and effectiveness of this plan.
Perhaps most upsetting to me and hopefully to you as elected representatives of your taxpayers and the children and families in your district is the fact that this unholy deal that DOE and the Administration is offering with this ultimatum, couched as an MOU, will put pennies on the table that will not reach the classrooms or children and will cost the districts and taxpayers dollars to access.
More offensively, there has been an incessant drumbeat of negativity in public and through media manipulation, falsely claiming that the districts are incompetent, educators are failing, and administrators are bereft of ability and traditional public schools are abject failures. This dishonest message is resonating with an unknowing and unaware public and is used as a propaganda tool to demonize public schools and encourage a move to privatization or state takeover. Wait until you try to counter that false propaganda in order to pass your next necessary and legitimate referendum.
Finally, please allow me to summarize. This DOE process of unilaterally crafting a plan with absolutely no stakeholder input or dialogue and then presenting it piecemeal to separate stakeholders, in what can best be described as an isolation booth type atmosphere, is exactly the failure to communicate and be transparent that DOE has foisted upon local districts in the past in their ambition to coerce and intimidate local elected governance into submissiveness, assuring that the myriad of flaws will go unquestioned and unchallenged.
I will be available for any dialogue and discussion outside the confines and time constraints of this public meeting.
You should be aware that in the context of a legal and moral definition of a “Memorandum of Understanding” this contrivance, unilaterally crafted and composed by DOE is not an MOU. It is nothing more than an ultimatum comprised of unproven and false presumptions demanding an unconditional surrender of the authority and responsibilities you are legally vested with. A legitimate MOU is a contractual agreement put in writing which has been discussed and composed by all stakeholders before it is submitted to a demand for signatures. It is a product of compromise, dialogue and clarification of facts and intentions between and including all affected stakeholders.
Until and unless DOE, Secretary Murphy and the Governor are willing to engage in an honest and frank dialogue and negotiation with all the stakeholders, before crafting such a potentially damaging agreement and insisting you sign onto it, I am strongly advising that the Board, the Superintendent, and DSEA reject this proposal out of hand and demand that DOE return next year to engage in a meaningful dialogue with all parties which could result in an effective and legitimate MOU agreement that will benefit and not harm Delaware’s public school system and children.
Please note the one unadulterated reality here. Refusing to sign the MOU may not stop an ill-advised State takeover of these schools but signing the MOU will guarantee that the districts and boards will have no legal recourse or appeal when there is a takeover.
State Representative John A. Kowalko Jr.
25th District Delaware