Choose One: Smaller Classes, Art, Library, Gym, or Music

Filed in Education by on June 15, 2016

Librarian-Gate is happening right now in Christina School District. It’s kind of unfair to target just this one District though, because the other 15 districts have to go through this every year too.

Someone somewhere got it from someone else that District administrators “promised” all librarians would be returning to Christina schools if the March referendum passed (which it did). If that is true, the that district administrator does not know public school finance. Also if true, verbal “because I said so’s” constitute binding agreements now? Come on.

Here’s the deal. No district administration, or Board of Education, or school principal can “guarantee” anything when it comes to what positions will be staffed in our buildings each year. It’s just not possible to do given the way Delaware allocates its education funding. In the March referendum campaign, we said the outcome of a passed referendum would be to restore the funding for lost positions which included librarians, art teachers, gym teachers, music teachers, core teachers, paraprofessionals, and more. And that’s what we have. The funding is there for staffing those positions. The funding is NOT there to staff ALL of them.  Realistically funding has never been there to staff our schools like they should be. Delaware makes it so you have to choose between smaller class sizes or having art, music, phys ed, and library.  (I’m looking at YOU General Assembly people who like giving millions to corporations on a whim).  The busted funding system in Delaware education is not, I repeat NOT the fault of school principals, District leaders, or Boards of Education* (State Board of Education excluded)

This is the part of the presentation at last night’s Board of Education meeting that’s causing the stir:












Librarians are notably absent from bullet point 4 under “Teachers”. We campaigned hard for restoring them along with art, music, phys ed, and reducing class sizes. The fact that they are not included here is disappointing. Their absence is a symptom of a much broader problem that is not exclusive to any one School District or Administration (no matter how much you may wish it to be so). Delaware doesn’t consider art, music, phys ed, and library essential and provides no direct funding to pay for them. In order for our public schools to have them, they have to take the funds from something (or someone) else and pay for them. Often this is accomplished by eliminating a classroom teacher and using that funding to hire a “specialist” teacher. When you do that, though, you increase the number of students in a class because you have one less teacher in a room. If you use a 5th grade teaching position to help fund a librarian, the students that would have been in that 5th grade classroom now have to be divided among the remaining 5th grade rooms. Rinse and repeat for art, music, and phys ed.

But. Librarians can still be hired back. In order to do that, one of the other bullet points would have to change as you would need to take one of the teaching units from your grades and use it for a librarian. Or you could sacrifice one of the other specialist positions (art, music, phys ed) to get a librarian. Or the Board of Education and/or District Administration could mandate principals to hire a librarian in their schools. I want librarians in schools but I don’t want orders from on-high commanding principals on how to staff their buildings. This is the situation our schools face every. single. year. irrespective of a referendum. Why? Because Delaware Code pertaining on ‘earned teaching unit’ funding. The funding system is broken, just like it was before the referendum passed in March. Just like it was when we failed to pass twice in 2015. It’s no different now.

Isn’t it terrible that our State puts schools in such a situation?  Choose One: Smaller class sizes, art, music, phys ed, or library. It is an election year. Let’s put our electoral candidates’ feet to the fire and see if they consider library, art, music, and phys ed essential parts of a child’s education. Then ask them to help pay for it.

Rather than direct that exceptional lamentation at the district-everyone-loves-to-hate’s administration and Board of Education; target your legislators with that frustration. You know, the ones who can actually change the way things work and remove this absurd choice from our principals. That takes gumption though who has time for that when it’s so easy to keep beating dead horses named Christina?


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About the Author ()

A dad, husband, and public education supporter. Small tent progressive/liberal. Christina School District Citizen's Budget Oversight Committee member, who knows a bit about a lot when it comes to the convoluted mess that is education funding in the State of Delaware.

Comments (21)

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  1. John Young says:

    from which you state:

    What’s the District asking for? An additional $0.30 per $100 of assessed property value that would generate an additional $16.2 million per year. What would that do? $4 million would go toward bringing back the teachers and staff we had to cut (yes, including librarians), and reduce our class sizes. $4 million would go toward the operating fund to keep the district functioning at pre-budget cut staffing levels for the next 2 years. $1 million set aside for discipline and school climate changes. $4 million for increased existing operating costs (energy, salaries & benefits, utilities, etc). $2 million to restore classroom supplies and school building budgets. $100k for the surveying and consulting on our buildings and infrastructure to determine what must be done to actually carry out the plans and programs I mentioned in the last paragraph. This referendum will position the District to “Pave the Way” to a transformation of the Christina School District. It starts on March 23 with yes votes for the referendum.

    No matter how you slice this, this makes CSD look bad…not the people pointing it out, those actually choosing to create and enforce the lie. The same folks that invested and lost in the recent electoral efforts I might add. I may not disagree with you as much as you think on certain issues, but this vilifying of those willing to point out the absolutely outrageous, disconnected message to the reality of the decision making is not the way to go, IMO, because the facts will get in the way here. We are moving from a school district to a district that has some schools…because if you don’t have a library or librarian, you are not a school in my book.

    I hope the public rises up. Time will tell.

  2. Brian, what you are stating may very well be facts, but I think the issue here was an illusion concerning this scenario. It wasn’t spelled out in writing, to the best of my knowledge, that this was a pick one or the other kind of deal. A referendum is basically a wish list for a district. People vote on that wish list. If they aren’t told the different options, in writing, they aren’t going to know all this stuff. Assuming they do is the height of arrogance. That is not being honest with the taxpayers. When the Acting Superintendent is telling students the librarians would be restored, and then he comes back at a board meeting months later stating they won’t, there is an issue there. Instead of focusing on “exceptional” bloggers, I would tackle that one…

  3. Brian says:

    John, please re-read the quote you posted:

    “$4 million would go toward bringing back the teachers and staff we had to cut (yes, including librarians), and reduce our class sizes.”

    I dislike that we’re doing semantics here, but that isn’t a lie. The money is there to use. On librarians too, if so chosen. It does not say “All positions will be restored and staffed”. It says, $4 million goes toward bringing back positions we cut.

    We have not submitted a budget for next year yet. Should the Board wish, they could make alterations to the proposed budget when they receive it and allocate funding exclusively for librarians.

    I sincerely hope that you were not under the belief that with a passed referendum we would be able to fill every single position we wanted to fill throughout the district?

    I’ll sit and watch as Board members vilify other Board members, district leaders, and others, and then have the audacity to point the finger at everyone else for making the District look bad.

  4. Brian says:

    As I said already, multiple times; librarians can still be hired. I laid out the methods with which that could be accomplished.

    We also described the absurd methods with which schools have to choose who to hire and for what. Repeatedly. In fact, going as far back as 2013 when I joined the Budget Oversight Committee. I’ve written about it before, too. If you’re going to tell me that we haven’t gone all out through 2 campaigns trying to explain the crap our schools go through in trying to staff positions, then I’ve lost a tremendous amount of respect for you.

    You had an opportunity here to direct attention to the inadequacy of teaching position funding at the State level. You chose to take a shot at 1 of 16 school districts instead and missed all targets except your personal ones. Your prerogative.

    I won’t defend the Acting Superintendent saying librarians would “definitely” be back if that is what’s being claimed. It’s not a Superintendent’s position alone to make that promise. 4 votes from the Board on a budget change funding all librarians is what would take to make it happen along with explaining the consequences of mandating the staffing of unfunded positions. If the Board would like to Direct the district to make that happen or have CBOC inquire about it, they could have very well done that and I don’t believe they did.

  5. I have to say Brian, the way I read what you wrote in March doesn’t paint a picture with missing colors. It states certain facts which now, in the light of the announcement made last night, most folks thought would be restored. They simply aren’t. Once again, to assume taxpayers would know this is not fair. To say the funding is there, but there has to be a “Sophie’s Choice”, wasn’t displayed too accurately during the weeks and months prior to the referendum. You wrote about Christina being a “dead horse”. You said that, not anyone else. Who is vilifying the district? There is a big difference between asking questions and vilifying. Yes, I think the belief was the referendum would restore ALL the cut positions. But, by my own memory, the district has spent nearly $250,000 on more assessments and a contract with a vendor who used to work for the district who is using the SAME methodology and framework for this behavior/climate strategic plan he used in Capital. Should taxpayers and board members be questioning this logic? Absolutely!

  6. Brian says:

    Quite honestly, the taxpayers should direct their questions at the Board as a whole as they approve all spending. I don’t really have control over how you interpret what I write, so I don’t have a comment on that. I also can’t really do anything about what information you may or may not have missed. But I can say that we described the referendum as restoring what was lost. And there’s a reason I didn’t say “Restoring ALL that was lost” because if I could have said *that*, I would have without a doubt.

    In any case, as I said in each comment and this post, and all the comments I left on Facebook, librarians are still hire-able. Should the decision to hire them be made at the Board, building, or District administrative level. Ultimately the Board has control over the budget and spending. 4 votes is what they need.

  7. Sorry Brian, I don’t see much difference between “restoring what was lost” and “restoring ALL that was lost”. If my house burns down, and I had insurance to replace what was lost, and they came back and said “we didn’t say everything”, even though what was lost was spelled out prior to the fire, I think I would have a pretty good case there. I didn’t start this fire though. I wrote about it based on comments made by Bob A at the board meeting last night.

  8. Brian says:

    I’ll say this and then I’m done for the night:

    This is, and has always been a zero sum game. All districts do this. There is no district in the state that has perfect class sizes, and all the ‘non-core’ positions filled without sacrificing something or someone else to achieve that.

    Librarians, art teachers, music teachers, gym teachers, should be in all schools. And there should never have to be a choice made between a classroom teacher and a ‘specialist’ teacher. But the reality in Delaware is, you choose either or. And that has been talked about before, and it will be talked about again.

    I’m not happy that my 7th grader may not have band in his school. I am happy that my 2nd grader will not have 34 children in his 2nd grade class. I am also happy that we have 19 paraprofessionals back.

    I’m not happy that we don’t have everything we want; but “Have everything we want” wasn’t on the table in March. We got a lot back. Over the next few years we’re working to change things so we don’t force our principals to make these decisions any more.

  9. My issue is with the words “and” and “or”. In your article in March, you wrote “would go toward bringing back the teachers and staff we had to cut (yes, including librarians), and reduce our class sizes”. There wasn’t any OR in that sentence whatsoever. I didn’t see anything in writing stating this either. Sorry, I live in Dover. I don’t have time to travel to Christina for their referendum meetings. So I go by what is written. And I backed Christina 100% on this referendum based on what I saw in writing. Now, they are going back on those words which is why this upsets me. I’m not “picking” on Christina. If I saw other districts doing this I would pounce on them as well. Sure, they may rehire this staff at a later date, but not now. Or they may not. But to base this article on picking and choosing is disingenuous to what you yourself wrote just three months ago. It is also disingenuous to those who also believed this, which judging by the comments all over Facebook today, is a lot of people.

  10. puck says:

    Now is not the time to get all sanctimonious about a zero-sum game. The time to do that was before the referendum, not after. I am not in Christina and wasn’t involved in the referendum, but I know Christina was under tremendous pressure to say anything to get it passed. Apparently that’s what residents believe happened.

  11. Mike Matthews says:

    I’m gonna have to agree that this sounds disingenuous. While this information on school funding is always helpful and the public needs to know more about this, this isn’t the issue people are talking about.

    People are talking about how the district made promises and statements (“Librarians will be brought back”) likely in order to get votes and then flipped the script once the money came in and is now using the “unit count” argument to detract from people who are airing a serious concern. We aren’t arguing with the unit count or the screwed up way that the state funds schools. I think we are arguing that it APPEARS the district pandered to get votes and now isn’t going to fulfill a promise. If they have to “force” principals’ hands to get librarians, that’s not for me to decide. Maybe they shouldn’t have made promises they knew they weren’t going to keep.

  12. Brian says:

    I’ll say it again, building principals had decided to use the allocated units to directly support class size reduction. Which is there decision on how best to support their students.

    It should be no surprise why it is difficult to find people involve themselves with public education activism. Because there are people who have a narrative and or agenda to push regardless of the outcome.

    I’m actually really disappointed in just about everyone on this post. In an opportunity to show serious improvement in class size reduction, restoring most specialist teaching positions because of bringing 19 paras back, people focus on what hasn’t been done.

    I honestly thought better of many of you. That’ll learn me.

  13. Brian says:

    And puck, I’ve been zero sum gaming since well before the March vote. I didn’t do it “just now”.

  14. mediawatch says:

    Yes, the state is doing a poor job of adequately funding our schools. (This week’s evasion with the WEIC plan is but the latest example.)
    However, in this instance, I’ve got to lay the blame at the hands of the Christina admin/board and those who advised it on what to ask for the referendum. I know a bit about school finance (though hardly as much as Brian) and it seems to me that if the district knows now how much it would cost to bring back all those positions, it should have known that figure three months ago. If it would have meant adding a nickel to the tax increase request, that should have been done.
    And maybe there are other ways of resolving the issue. It might make the logistics more complex but, instead of having a librarian at one building and a PE teacher at another, maybe each of them split time between two buildings. Not the ideal, and perhaps a little cumbersome, but possibly something to consider.

  15. pandora says:

    Wait… are people saying that this is something new? That Christina made promises before the referendum that didn’t completely materialize? If that’s the complaint then we need to call out every school district.

    When it comes to referendums, the threats if it doesn’t pass are the closest to the truth. Things will get cut. The promises of smaller class sizes, textbooks, art teachers, etc. have never, and I mean never, completely happened. If referendum promises were kept at your school then you’re probably at an affluent school, because I can tell you, with complete certainty, that high poverty schools lost programs and teachers/staff after every successful referendum.

    This problem isn’t unique to Christina. The way we fund our schools is nuts. That’s the problem.

    The first step is to get rid of teaching units. Basing funding on a head count rather than need is unfair. We’ve had this discussion when it comes to non-diverse charter schools pulling the easiest and “brightest” students out of public schools. We point out that doing this skews public schools demographics and results in the loss of accelerated programs. And yet, you won’t find this indisputable fact listed on referendum literature – even tho the opening of a new charter, or the expansion of an existing charter, will impact the referendum promises made – that the money voted on will be less and promises will be broken.

    So yeah, this is a statewide issue. It’s time we started addressing it as such. Focusing on one school district won’t solve the problem. I’m really not sure why we’re doing that.

  16. It seems like a reasonable plan.

  17. Pandora, I have no problem getting rid of our antiquated school funding system and finding a way to fund charters that don’t impact a traditional school district. We have to get something better. I think we can all agree on that. I believe the issue here, and that’s what it is on my end, is that we are being told the rehiring of librarians is a “Sophie’s Choice” for school principals NOW after an announcement was made at a board meeting that the librarians cut were not coming back. Had they pointed this out while they were seeking votes for the referendum I would be quiet as a church mouse. But they didn’t, on more than one occasion. It may have been spoken, but I saw nothing in writing indicating this. Furthermore, it was pointed out, in writing, that it was both that would happen: rehire positions that were cut AND reduce classroom sizes. On this very blog. That is the true issue here, the fact that things were said without a clear understanding conveyed to the stakeholders of the referendum.

  18. pandora says:

    And I think the true issue here is that this happens in every district. That’s the problem. I’m fine with calling this behavior out, but the argument needs to be expanded. Focusing solely on Christina won’t result in change to this behavior. It isolates it and does nothing to inform the public.

    That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t point out what Christina said. We should. What we shouldn’t do is pretend what Christina did is unique. It’s not.

    High poverty school parents are pretty well versed in teaching units and loss of programs. They’ve lived this for years. Hopefully, things like losing librarians will result in the rest of the population cluing in. See? That could be a silver lining.

    • I agree 100% Pandora. But I can say, if Brandywine or Cape Henlopen doesn’t follow through with their referendum promises, or a perception of a broken promise, I will write about it. Christina is unique in that, 1) I see more social media comments about it, 2) news travels much faster with Christina than other districts, and 3) they have been the focus of a lot of what is wrong with Delaware education (a lot of which I do NOT agree with). Chances are very good my own district, Capital, will be facing a referendum in the next year. I will be watching them like a hawk to make sure they deliver. It is my opinion that if referendums are so wildly unpopular and too much rides on them, change needs to happen. But by the same token, while we have them, districts need to make sure they are conveying all possible scenarios to taxpayers or concerned citizens to avoid situations like this. Districts, or individuals volunteering for the district, can not assume people know things about district financing, even if they talked about it in person or in writing at one point. When people are looking at what is going to happen with a referendum, they are going to look at current information in most likelihood, not what went down before.

  19. anonymous says:

    First and foremost, Delaware’s state funding system was progressive in its day for equalizing funding per student. It has since become clear that children in poverty don’t need equal, they need extra. So Delaware must again choose the progressive course — set funding levels so schools with lots of poor kids get more money, and not just for purely educational aid.

    That said, Christina’s budget problems are largely of its own making. By failing to take control of the chartering process within its district, its successive boards ceded control, or lack thereof, to the state DOE.

    Red Clay is badly flawed in other ways, but at least it took control of the chartering process — for its own ends, yes, but it allowed the RC board to maintain control of that money. Had Christina done the same, the district would have kept the funds for all those students. Argue with how it divvied up the money and the students, but RC didn’t go broke.

    Given the Newark area’s long history of antagonism toward busing, which predates the creation of the Christina district, I can’t help but think they finally did their jobs poorly enough to get what they wanted in the first place.