Delaware Charter Schools Network & State Rep. Michael Ramone Fend Off Charter School Auditing House Bill 53

In the Delaware News Journal today, education reporter Matthew Albright wrote about House Bill 53, which would ensure all Delaware charter schools have their auditor selected by the State Auditor Tom Wagner’s office as opposed to them picking their own.  The sponsor of the legislation, Delaware State Rep. Kim Williams, explained how this came about.  What follows is a response from Kendall Massett with the Delaware Charter Schools Network and Delaware State Rep. Michael Ramone.  I’ve decided to do the famous “John Young red-pen edition” on this article.

In the wake of bombshell allegations that the co-leaders of a charter school made thousands of dollars in personal purchases on school credit cards, some lawmakers want the state auditor’s office to run charter audits to make sure taxpayer money isn’t being misused.

This is a very wise idea.  Dr. Tennell Brewington and Sean Moore got caught.  Are there others that have been more crafty with finances?  We need to know.

Charters are required to have audits done, but now the schools decide who audits them. Rep. Kim Williams, sponsor of House Bill 53, says having the state auditor, who already audits district and vo-tech schools, perform the work is the best way to monitor spending.

That sounds reasonable.  Charters are always screaming about fairness, and this seems more than fair.

Williams said the legislation was spurred by revelations late last year that the co-leaders of Family Foundations Academy, a charter school in New Castle, had used school credit cards to make more than $94,000 in personal purchases for things like car payments, furniture, flowers and fine watches.

Don’t forget the spa treatments Albright!  And the Sixers tickets!

Though the school was aware of the accusations for almost a year, the Department of Education only found out shortly before the school’s charter was up for renewal. Family Foundations fired the two leaders and replaced its board, bringing in the leadership of Eastside Charter School to convince state officials to renew the charter.

This is the part that always cracks me up.  Why would you NOT report this to the DOE in the first place?  These are heads of a charter school, not the mob.  What were they afraid of?  And I’m sorry, the timing on Eastside Charter coming in to save the day has always been a little suspicious to me.  Does anyone think it is a coincidence the members on both boards happen to be the President, Vice-President, Secretary and Treasurer?

“There are lots of charter schools that are operating under the rules and doing a good job, but when these kinds of things happen it gives them all a bad name,” Williams said. “What this is about is making sure that everybody is playing by the same rules.”

Amen Kim!  All schools should play by the same rules.  Charters are no different, but they like to think they can.

The state auditor’s office would not directly audit the schools, but would select the firms that do the audits and set the rules for what the firms should be looking for.

Like a thorough review of their Amex purchase cards, spending that doesn’t quite jive with typical school spending, expenses showing up in the wrong categories, all receipts accounted for…

Charter school advocates say they simply need more clarity on what is expected of them and worry that the bill would limit their flexibility and autonomy if it becomes law.

What flexibility and autonomy?  You can’t hide embezzlement, nor should you be put in a position where you could.  Here’s clarity for you: Don’t steal school money!

“We’re all about transparency and we are fine with having an audit. In fact, it’s required under state law,” said Kendall Massett, executive director of the Delaware Charter Schools Network. “I do not believe that using a pass-through that will raise the cost and take money out of the classroom is the right solution. I think the solution they’re proposing is bigger than the problem that there is.”

Don’t worry Kendall, I’m sure a lot of them can pay the difference through their “after transportation costs slush fund.”  Who are you kidding here? “We’re all about transparency.”  Half the charters in the state don’t have their board minutes current, and the Red Clay charters seem to be making a point of it lately.

Massett argues charters will have to pay a management fee to the state and that the state-negotiated audit contracts will likely cost some schools more.

No more than the traditional school districts have to pay.  And those fees could get in the way of their dues to YOUR organization Kendall!

But Williams says charters will only have to pay more if they aren’t keeping the right records or otherwise not handling their business correctly. For schools that are already doing everything they are supposed to, she says costs will not significantly rise.

I wonder which charters are opposed to this bill?  Surely not the ones who are already doing everything they are supposed to do.

Rep. Michael Ramone says a change is necessary, but handing duties over to the auditor might not be the right one.

“Everybody looks bad if any of our schools aren’t being fiscally responsible,” Ramone said. “However, as a business guy, the approach I think we should take is to give these schools a clear expectation of what is required of their schools as far as their fiscal responsibility and reporting criteria, and I don’t think we’ve provided that yet.”

This coming from the guy who wanted to open up a charter but the application was declined.  I would think all charters should be required to have their financial people be someone with an accounting background.  As a business guy, you know what is crystal clear with bad business practices.  Many people know the difference between right and wrong, they just don’t choose to use common sense when they are breaking the law.

Ramone said the state should establish a specific, detailed list of everything they expect charters to cover with an audit, so charters can be sure they are hiring the right firm to do the right thing.

I think you are missing the point here Rep. Ramone.  If they don’t know what they are doing, then this legislation is absolutely necessary!

“If we clearly establish what they’re supposed to be doing, I believe our schools will do it,” he said.

Yes, that is outstanding logic.  History has taught us that in Delaware!  Here is an old saying: “Those with nothing to hide have nothing to worry about.”

To read  the non-red-penned version, please go here:

http://www.delawareonline.com/story/news/local/2015/04/08/charter-school-audits-scrutiny/25470297/

House Education Committee Minutes from 3/25/15: TFA, DOE, & Special Education Funding

The 3/25 Delaware House Education Committee meeting was a bit more subdued and calmer than previous ones, but it had a lot of activity going on.  Read the minutes from the meeting which discussed Senate Bill 31 and it’s amendment and the sunset period for Teach For America, House Bill 34 and the Delaware DOE’s timing on enforcing regulations, and House Bill 30 which would give basic special education funding for special needs students in Kindergarten to 3rd grade.

Delaware Design-Lab High School Moving Out of Wilmington. Will They Make Their 80% Enrollment?

Another Delaware charter school scheduled to open in August 2015 could be in danger before they even open.  Delaware Design-Lab High School applied for a major modification request to change it’s location from the City of Wilmington to Newark, DE.  Housed in the same area as Delaware Academy of Public Safety and Security, the charter school is struggling to reach it’s enrollment requirement.

As of April 2nd, the school has 119 students enrolled.  It’s charter requires 240 students, and the school had to meet that figure by April 1st.  Based on the above figures, the school is short 73 students.

Apparently, many of the prospective students come from the Bear-Newark area and parents were concerned about a city location.  From the major modification request submitted to the Delaware DOE Charter School Office:

Now since the request was only for a change in location, the request was approved by the Charter School Accountability Committee, as you can see here:

But the major problem appears to be the required enrollment which they did not make by April 1st.  Based on the report, it looks like the Charter School Accountability Committee was okay with the school getting a month extension until May 1st to “recruit another 75-100 students”.

At the State Board of Education meeting on April 16th, Delaware Secretary of Education Mark Murphy and the State Board will reach a decision on Design-Lab High School’s major modification request.  With that being said, I would also expect them to hold the school accountable for its enrollment as of that date.

I did have the pleasure of meeting the Chief Executive Officer of the school, Cristina Alvarez, at the Imagine Delaware forum at the beginning of last month, and I think this school has some great concepts, but I worry about the academic challenges and potential specific interest conflicts.

Understanding the Reason Behind a Parent’s Decision to Opt Their Child Out of Standardized Testing