While most think the financial responsibility training is a good requirement, some believe it doesn't go far enough.

Many happy with mandatory school board finance training bill

Jarek RutzHeadlines, Education

While most think the financial responsibility training is a good requirement, some believe it doesn't go far enough.

While most think the financial responsibility training is a good requirement, some believe it doesn’t go far enough.

School board members, who are in large part responsible for the spending decisions of millions of dollars from school districts, could soon be required to undergo financial training.

House Bill 312, sponsored by Rep. Kim Williams, D-Marshallton and chair of the House Education Committee, which requires school board members to undergo training in financial responsibility. 

Legislators in the Senate Education Committee meeting Wednesday liked the bill, and so did those affected.

Don Patton, president of the Christina School District Board of Education and former member of the Wilmington Learning Collaborative’s governing council, said he appreciates the intent of the bill and believes it is a good starting point. 

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Patton, and other board presidents, would be tasked with informing each new member of the board of the training obligation. 

A school board president must also send a letter by Jan. 15 of every year to any school board member who has not fulfilled the training obligation by Jan. 1 following that member’s election or appointment.

Patton has been a big proponent of training school board members, and he thinks the bill actually doesn’t go far enough. 

“My ask would be taking HB 312 wider and deeper,” he said. 

One of the most expensive financial costs to taxpayers is education, he said, and the state wants and needs its children to receive high quality instruction in a wholesome, safe and secure learning environment. 

“We need to maintain great teachers and support staff,” he said, “yet we elect well-intentioned individuals to lead school boards, with very little training or a comprehensive understanding of the responsibilities required.”

During Wednesday’s hearing, it was pointed out that all 23 charter schools in the state already require their board members to undergo financial responsibility training. 

Kendall Massett, executive director of the Delaware Charter Schools Network, said the organization supports the legislation.

“We know that the number one reason that schools fail is for lack of governance at the board level, and that can show in many ways, including financially,” she said. 

She noted that the 271 charter board members are held accountable for completing this training.

Unrelated to the bill, she also said that all charter boards are required to have at least one current teacher at a charter, as well as at least one parent of a student attending a charter.

There’s been a lot of discussion in education circles, which is reflected in groups like the Wilmington Learning Collaborative and Redding Consortium, about making sure educators and parents have a seat at the decision-making table. 

Patton said he would like mandatory training in selecting the right governance model that will ensure:

  • Student outcomes are the major focus of all school districts.
  • Policies that ensure districts are held accountable when students are not performing at an acceptable level no matter who the leaders are.
  • Annual evaluations of all district employees including superintendents.

RELATED: Many Del. districts don’t evaluate superintendents annually

Patton pushed Christina’s board in 2022 to adopt a new model to evaluate Superintendent Dan Shelton.

RELATED: Christina board looking for new model to evaluate superintendent

Jocelyn Stewart, interim executive director at First State Educate, a state education advocacy group, said the organization applauds the state’s investment in professional development for local school board members. 

“Leading a school district requires significant expertise, and these trainings can empower board members to make informed decisions that impact millions of dollars and, most importantly, the education of our children,” she said.

Districts and schools should be accountable for ensuring the following four pillars are measured and evaluated annually, Patton said: leadership at the district and schools level; high quality instruction and professional development; school climate ensuring aspects like safety, anti-bullying and cleanliness; and all the internal systems that create students/staff success

The required training will be administered by the Delaware School Boards Association.

The association’s executive director, David Tull, is happy with the legislation.

Stewart said that First State Educate is developing new initiatives to further support board members through ongoing training and creating professional learning communities.

One of Patton’s peers on Christina’s board, Naveed Baqir, is also happy with including financial training, but thinks this isn’t enough.

“While this is a step in the right direction, it falls short of adequately preparing board members for their multifaceted roles,” he said. 

Although financial responsibility is crucial, he said board members also need training in policy development, educational best practices and legal matters to effectively evaluate and develop policies that drive school improvement. 

The current state of affairs in our schools demands a more comprehensive approach, he said. 

“We are facing significant challenges in our schools, extending far beyond financial matters,” he said. “The quality of education is alarmingly low, with subpar performance evident in middle and high schools. Moreover, the prevalence of discipline issues, including regular physical fights resulting in students being hospitalized or worse, is deeply concerning.”

And those challenges lead to financial problems, he said.

“The cost of addressing fights and their aftermath, including medical expenses and potential legal fees, places a heavy burden on school budgets and detracts resources from educational programs,” he said.

There is no fiscal note on the bill, and the Department of Education provides it for free.

“While I support this bill, I urge the Delaware legislature to consider additional training requirements to ensure that school board members are fully prepared to fulfill their duties and serve the best interests of our students, communities, and state,” Baqir said.

Passing this bill is just the beginning, he said, and more action is needed to ensure the success of public schools and the future of Delaware’s youth.

“We know better, we have to do better, starting now,” Patton said.  “Our kids’ lives depend on it, and so do ours.”

There were two other bills in the committee.

Salary scale

House Bill 252, sponsored by Williams, D-Marshallton and chair of the House Education Committee, mandates that a Delaware licensed and certified teacher who has completed a year-long teacher residency program will be paid at salary step 2 for the year following completion of the program.

Currently, even if teachers go through the residency program, they are paid at step 1 of the salary scale. 

The teachers who go through the residency program have to commit to teaching in a qualifying Delaware school in order to earn the additional step. 

There is a fiscal note attached to the bill explaining the state cost, as well as the local cost to school districts:

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The average difference between salary step 1 and salary step 2 is approximately $413 state share and $177 local share. Other employment costs are included at a rate of 32.94%, and overall costs are assumed to increase at an annual rate of 2%.

There’s an estimated 81 teachers currently in a year-long residency program – some employed by districts that already start their teachers at step 2 following completion of the year-long residency program. 

The bill states that 75 teachers would benefit from this change.

This legislation is expected to increase enrollment in residencies as well. 

Child care

House Bill 309, sponsored by Williams, creates a small change to child care licenses.

It would update the definition of child care facility to reflect the move of the Office of Child Care Licensing from the Department of Services for Children, Youth & Their Families to the Department of Education.

There is no fiscal impact on the state if the bill becomes law.

Senate committees do not take a public vote on bills.

Rather, they sign the back of the bill and the outcome is posted on the General Assembly website, typically a couple hours after the hearing concludes.

If the bills are released by committee, they will all move on to the full Senate for consideration.

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