It’s Settled?

Filed in Education by on December 1, 2016

Nutshell: 4-3. Settlement accepted. What remains to be seen is how the best interests of our students are being served by taking the settlement. Once the language is made public, we’ll get a good idea of what each board member believes is in the best interest of our kids.

Detail: At 6:01pm Wednesday evening the Christina School District Board of Education November 30 meeting was gaveled to order. At 6:01:05 pm the Christina School District Board of Education motioned to go into executive session “in the absence of public comment”. At 6:01:10pm, the Christina School District Board of Education adjourned to executive session.

Last evening was no exception to the general rule that each board meeting begins by going into executive session to discuss (but not vote on) agenda items that cannot be discussed openly in public. Things like personnel decisions and legal matters. The latter of those two was on the agenda last night.

A proposed settlement agreement between all parties involved in the lawsuit alleging misappropriation of student funding by the State and Christina School District was presented to the Board of Education for their approval or rejection. For just over an hour last evening, the Board, legal counsel, and senior district administration discussed the settlement agreement.

Around 7:25pm, the Board was gaveled back into public session. Board Member George Evans made a motion to accept the terms of settlement with the stipulation that the language of the settlement not be made public until all parties involved have agreed. Board President Elizabeth Paige put it on the floor and asked for discussion.

Like so many other votes, Board Member John Young offered his opinion on the item at hand. Paraphrasing: this is a rushed decision on an arbitrary timeline, almost like we are being bullied, we have no idea what the long term effects of this will be and have no idea if this is the best thing for all of our students simply because we have had no time to study the settlement language (for that matter, no one in the public has even SEEN the settlement language), and that this is a true disservice to taxpayers in the district and that this will see the “untethering of millions of dollars” from the District over the next several years. (in quotes is verbatim from Mr. Young.)

Board Member Polaski offered rebuttal along the lines of questioning whether this is the right time or venue to take a stand against funding issues in the State and District for our students.

Board President Paige shot back: it’s always the right time to fight for our students.

Board Member George Evans called for the vote.

Board Member Shirley Saffer echoed Mr. Young’s comments.

Like so many other votes, it was 4-3 in favor. Like so many other votes you knew who the 3 dissenters were even before the vote was called: Saffer, Young, Paige.

Settlement accepted.

Here’s what irritates the shit out of me. From what I am told, the language of the settlement was presented to district counsel at 4:00pm yesterday. With a meeting scheduled for 6pm to vote on it. The Board had to reach a decision on this prior to December 1 I am also told. That doesn’t exactly leave a lot of time to discuss the language of the settlement let alone the potential long term implications for the school districts, and the precedent it will set.

No one save for counsel and parties involved have any idea what’s in the settlement language or what it will do other than bring about the ‘untethering of millions of dollars from the District” as Mr. Young alluded to (thank you for that, by the way). We also won’t know anything until the other parties agree to the settlement. I suppose that is typical in settlements.

The largest party to the suit, the taxpaying general public, is forced to place its trust in the 7 elected Board of Education Members and remain completely blind on this matter. And while that may be “just the way it works”, you’ll have to excuse me if I, as a parent, taxpayer, public education and district advocate, vehemently disagree with being kept in the dark on this entirely.

As I said above, no public comment was offered last night. And it seems no public was even aware of the meeting last night, judging by the attendance. Even if there were a packed house and dozens of people ready to give comment, what exactly could they be commenting on? They’d be relegated to “Take the settlement” or “Don’t take the settlement” or the boilerplate “School funding is broken and we need to fix it!” because we KNOW NOTHING ABOUT THE SETTLEMENT.

Megan Pauly from Delaware Public Media asked me how I felt after the vote and I told her the point blank truth: I don’t know how I feel because I have no idea what 4 elected officials just agreed to on behalf of ~21,000 children, their parents and every single property taxpayer in the district. Yes, 21,000. District + all resident children in Charter or choice schools.

Further irritating me is the fact that no matter what this District does, it gets negative press. I’m aware of the irony in me saying that and posting this article. You and I know the connotation “settlement” brings when it’s mentioned in the legal world, but dammit how in the hell do you spin this to something positive? At best it’s neutral.

After adjournment last night, John Young said something that I’m keeping fresh in my mind until I can get my mitts on the settlement language: he said he felt that each board member voted the way they did because they truly believed their vote was in the best interest of all students in the district.

John and I don’t agree on a lot but in this instance, I do agree with him. I also agree with the opinion he shared prior to voting. I agree even less often with Board Member Saffer, but last night I agreed with her too.

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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 (4)

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  1. From what I understand, all 15 of the charter boards have to vote on the settlement by the end of the day today. They too are responsible for the outcome of this settlement proposal. I am VERY curious what this settlement entails. I have to wonder if this was the desired outcome of the charters to begin with. In most lawsuits, parties ask for more than they think they will get. I’m not digging what I view as a “shakedown” from these 15 charter schools. And we all know who got this party started.

  2. Eve Buckley says:

    I have a question about equity and representation in this case. As a Christina taxpayer (and parent), the allocation of my contributions to education are being contested in court among several public institutions, all of which draw from the same tax pool (local and state funding streams). My interests are represented by the seven-member elected board. They are elected by any interested district resident, including resident families that send their children to charter schools. So structurally, the district board represents all area residents, since everyone (with or without children in a district, charter, or private school) can vote for them and for their local funding stream. In practice, the board generally privileges the interests of families involved with district schools, since the board sees its primary obligation as being to those schools and thus to those students. But it also recognizes a significant obligation to all local taxpayers. (There are occasions–not here, lately–where someone is elected to a school board with the intention of bringing the schools down–that is, they represent taxpayer interests over the interests of district schools and students.)

    Down the street I could have a neighbor who also votes in the district board elections, because she’s entitled to do that. Say she has three children who attend two different charter schools (not uncommon, for a range of reasons such as specialized programs and enrollment hurdles). Those schools have boards which represent their interests in this suit (narrower interests, since these are smaller public entities with no direct link to particular homeowners’ addresses–though they do depend on public funds). Significantly, those boards are not elected by the taxpaying public; they may be appointed in some fashion or elected by families with children enrolled in the school (each one must have established rules governing this). So they quite clearly represent the interests of enrolled families above anyone else, and they are also parties to this suit.

    This means that when terms are negotiated, etc., I have one representative body advocating for me (and my husband, and our three children in the district): the elected CSD board. My fictitious neighbor with the three kids in two charters is also represented by the CSD board (which has to take broad taxpayer interests into consideration, since that is the source of their funding support and electoral base). In addition, her children’s interests are represented by the two unelected boards of the two public charter schools that they choose to attend.

    Isn’t the outcome of any negotiation, in this dynamic, going to yield–every time–results more advantageous to her family than to mine, based on our different levels of representation? What kind of taxpayer equity is this? More importantly–b/c I think district families need to start thinking creatively and aggressively about pursuing our own interests in court–does it violate any principle of taxpayer equity? It clearly does not align with the most basic principles of democratic governance.

  3. Eve Buckley says:

    last question in the post above should have read: does it violate any LEGALLY established principle of taxpayer equity, in DE? that’s the relevant issue at this point

  4. Eve Buckley says:

    In the Newark area, where the majority of this settlement money is at issue (b/c of our one behemoth charter which stands to gain $1 million, perhaps less under the settlement) the residents who have representation on BOTH sides of this negotiation are predominately white and middle class (Newark Charters is 8% low-income, 15% black & Hispanic combined). The Newark-area district families, represented on only ONE side of this negotiation about allocation of resources among public institutions, are low-income, black and Latino by a much higher proportion (40% low-income, 60% black and Hispanic combined, if we use the three suburban middle schools as a quick proxy for suburban CSD–though full CSD data, is arguably relevant, since all CSD residents contribute to the tax pool that funds NCS, even if they “radius” effectively blocks their access). Also NCS is 6% spec needs to CSD’s 18%.

    It seems to me that a legal settlement regarding distribution of public funds reached through a structure that provides additional representation (and representation on both sides!) for direct beneficiaries of institutions serving1/3 the spec ed population, 1/4 the black and/or Hispanic population and 1/5 the low-income population of the institutions whose primary beneficiaries are represented by only one party to the negotiation, has violated the equal protection clause of the 14th amendment and possibly other equal-rights protections as well (such as title VI–I wouldn’t know). I look forward to getting input from ACLU and NAACP counsel on this over the weekend.