Academy of Dover In Serious Trouble Over Noel Rodriguez’ P-Card Splurges & The Schools $2 Million Dollar+ Judgment

Academy of Dover was placed on Formal Review by the Delaware State Board of Education last Thursday, April 16th.  According to the Delaware Charter School Accountability Committee, the reasons for the request were in regards to potential financial mismanagement and academic performance.  It was added the school is in the process of ongoing litigation, which they would not reveal in the meeting nor in a group with the media afterwards what this litigation was in regards to.  However, after some digging, I have found out the reason why.

But first, let’s take a look at the transcription from the State Board of Education’s decision last week:

This is not the first time Academy of Dover has made a trip to the State Auditor’s office though, a fact that this board should be aware of.  Back in 2011, the auditor’s office issued a report concerning how Federal funds were applied at the school.  You can read the full report here:

2011 also had the very revealing article on purchase card transactions by school officials, written by Nichole Dobo with the News Journal.  Dobo interviewed several school districts and charter heads, including Noel Rodriguez with Academy of Dover:

“Noel Rodriguez, head of the Academy of Dover Charter School, has used the state credit card for items that were paid for with donations and other private funds, such as more than $272 spent in two trips to a religious merchandise store where he purchased artwork.

He tries to find good deals, and sometimes that’s not always with a state-contracted vendor, he said. For instance, a local computer store has given Rodriguez a better rate than what’s offered under the state account. And he’s picked up rocking chairs for the school library while at the Dutch Wonderland in Pennsylvania, where he spent a total of $168 on two occasions. All spending at the charter school on the super card is for educational purposes, Rodriguez said.

Rodriguez worries additional state interference into how he runs the school will lead to fewer hours he can spend on academics.”

In reviewing the Delaware Online Creditcard Site, I reviewed Academy of Dover’s p-card transactions and there are several suspicious transactions.  While I am not an official auditor, I can say the user of this card certainly ate at restaurants a lot, and they weren’t a one-person meal.  And like Family Foundations Academy a few months back, there are several out of the ordinary “educational purchases” for a charter school.

Rodriguez ruled Academy of Dover with an iron fist according to several sources who wish to remain anonymous for fear of retaliation by the current administration or the Board of the school.  But Rodriguez’ reach has even gone outside the school at times.  Back in 2012, the school fought a lengthy battle with Capital School District over the enrollment of one student.  Apparently the district and Academy of Dover had a few battles with each other over choice decisions.

According to their charter renewal approval in 2012, the Charter School Accountability Committee at the DOE said:

“A review of the Academy of Dover’s history indicates that the school has been placed on formal review followed by probation several times (2003, 2005, and 2008) for issues related to its lease and construction, and economic viability and financial operation concerns.”

“Academy of Dover’s charter was renewed in 2007, but the Secretary and State Board placed 24 conditions on the charter, with the final condition stating that failure to meet any of the conditions would result in immediate placement of the school on formal review to begin the charter revocation process. Since then, the Board has made some significant changes to turn around the school. In 2007, the Board was completely reorganized. In addition, the current school leader, Noël Rodriguez, was hired in July 1, 2008. Mr. Rodriguez has worked diligently to address the conditions placed upon the previous charter renewal. The school has realized improvements in academic, financial, and organizational performance.”

“The school contracts with Innovative Schools for budgeting, monitoring, financial oversight.”

But before they had a charter school management contract with Innovative Schools, they had one with a company called Mosaica.  Apparently, the two parties fell out of sorts with each other back in 2008, and Mosaica sued Academy of Dover.  In 2010, a judgment was awarded against Academy of Dover in the amount of $962,724.68.  As part of the ruling, the arbitrator on the case was the Delaware Chancery Court, and due to this, the garnishee was now the Delaware State Treasurer.  From the below legal opinion, it stipulates “the Plaintiff served the Treasurer with an Attachment Facias Garnishment, directing the Treasurer to satisfy the amount owed by Defendant. The Treasurer moves to dismiss this writ of garnishment.”

The State of Delaware fought this ruling, but on April 7th, their claim was denied.  The argument for the defense was a ruling from 1900 that was reversed in later court decisions in Delaware. This forces the State Treasurer’s office to make sure this debt is satisfied as the garnishee of an entity that provides a state service, a public school.

This raises many questions about the role of the Delaware Department of Education’s role in this.  In front of the State Board of Education and separately in front of members of the media, Nagourney, the Executive Director of the Charter School Office, failed to mention the scope of this litigation.  Because of the interest accrued since the 2010 ruling, the judgment is now over $2 million dollars.

Last summer, an anonymous person or group started a Facebook page called AcademyofDover Charter.  They also had a Twitter account called Academy of Dover, but they were forced to change the name, so it is now called Not Academy of Dover.  On their Facebook page, they posted several items which could only come from someone with very close contact to the school.  I went through and copied some of the key posts, but I cannot verify the validity of some of these posts.

Will Academy of Dover be shut down?  They certainly have many obstacles in their path, the top of which is a $2 million dollar judgment that is accruing interest by the day and the State Treasurer’s office is now on the hook for this as well.

For the second time this fiscal year, a Delaware charter has been placed under formal review for financial mismanagement.  With Family Foundations Academy, the DOE stated they just found out about the school’s financial issues right before the decision on their charter renewal.  With Academy of Dover, the DOE knew about the issues for at least seven months.  Why did it take them so long to hold the school accountable for these issues?  If Innovative Schools was overseeing the school’s finances, why did they do nothing about it for all this time?  And what about the DOE representation on the Citizens Budget Oversight Committee?  Delaware State Code, Title 14, Chapter 736 specifically states “4.2 The Committee shall have at least five (5) members with representation from educators and parents of students in the school and representation from the Department of Education.”  If the school has never had this committee, and the DOE never issued a certificate in regards to training for its members, then what in the world does the Charter School Office do all day?  And more important, why does nobody in a position of power do anything about it?

The fact that the DOE knew about financial issues for seven months and took no action until the time of a court ruling is suspect to me.  But even more frightening is this question: are there other charter schools being investigated the State Auditor’s office other than the two we already know about?

14 thoughts on “Academy of Dover In Serious Trouble Over Noel Rodriguez’ P-Card Splurges & The Schools $2 Million Dollar+ Judgment

  1. Once again we see the failure of charter schools… Anytime you throw money at anyone, with no accountability, you cannot be surprised how some of it gets spent….

    Public schools put every dollar to good use… If Public schools ever were to pay Dutch Wonderland, it would be because students went there as a reward for being good class-A citizens…

    I still shake my head at those sitting dinosaurs huffing on the House Educational Committee who still buy into the charter concept when evidence shows that it is a corrupt den of thieves who only want free money and care less about kids.

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  2. Just a point of clarification on process. Use of the P card does not allocate the expenditure to any particular source of funds. This is done on a a transaction by transaction basis, depending on the codes used when entering the data into the state system. All funds, including private donations, grants, etc are supposed to go into the state account and therefore be paid through the state system. My point is that just because the p card was used, you cannot assume it was state funds. It’s also not untrue that “state vendors” aren’t necessarily the most cost-efficient sources of equipment and materials, particularly when a single charter is not purchasing at the volume that a district would. FTR, I am not defending this person or situation so please do not jump on me for sharing info.

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  3. I respect what you wrote J. However, this school has a charter management organization, Innovative Schools, that provides similar services for several charters. I don’t know this for sure, but I would assume the charters under their umbrella would qualify for a discount.
    The main transactions that jumped out at me were numerous restaurants and a flower purchase on Valentine’s Day in 2014. I didn’t go through them like I did with Family Foundations Academy. But until Academy of Dover gives reasons for those types of charges, and I’m sure I could find more if I wanted to, than this mystery lingers in the eyes of the public. It has been confirmed something large was found in the school’s independent audit which caused the auditor to contact the state. I have heard from many folks Rodriguez was let go by the board, and publicly it was announced he “resigned”. I have seen this happen at other schools. One I literally watched happen over a 24 hour period. I contacted the school last fall, and they denied the allegation. However, usually when someone validly resigns, a letter is sent out to the parents indicating the reasons. When it happens in a vacuum, it is usually the other way around.
    I will admit I do not know enough about the audit process to say if a $962,000 judgment would warrant an independent auditor to submit the audit to the state, especially since the state was well aware of the judgment given the State Treasurer was the garnishee of the debt.

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    • Not justifying the restaurant charges. Those should raise red flags, absolutely. Just wanted to clarify that use of the card itself does not necessarily mean that state or local funds were used specifically. Also, schools who utilize Innovative Schools for various services do not fall under any “umbrella”. Schools may work together to try to find ways to band together at times for ‘purchasing power’ but it’s not always possible.

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  4. First the state needs to pass a law regarding this type of judgment. The state DOE ruled that the school would be closed if the management was not changed because Mosica was failing badly. They did but Mosica demanded to paid anyway for the out years of the contract even though they failed to provide adequate services and were terminated by mandate for DOE. The ruling to give them money was outrageous because it was based on employees paid by them not passing on in a timely enough fashion the decision to opt out of the contract. Therefore it was automatically renewed, they claimed. Those type of clauses need to be illegal. Next the interest should not be above the same as normal judgments. How do you more than double in 5 years? Is their not a 12% limit?

    The state rightfully terminated the contract, they should pay the cost or at least freeze any interest. A company should not be allowed to get away with manipulating the system to automatically renew a contract then get paid for years of not working.

    As for credit card mismanagement, it is a nonissue. It happens all over state government and the private sector. We did not shut down the treasurers office or the military because one employee mischarges a few thousand dollars. The items in 2011 were legitimate. The recent items may not have been a person was relived of duty. That is how you handle that. Anything else is a political witch hunt.

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    • Thanks for the backstory on Mosaica Dave. I was not aware of that part of the story. Just to clarify, at the end of your comment, you wrote “The recent items may not have been a person was reli(e)ved of duty.” Was someone at Academy of Dover relieved of their duty based on p-card transactions to your knowledge?

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  5. Sorry that sentence got mangled. I am at a full computer now. Yes, it is believed that was the reason for the principal’s untimely departure. I am sure the issue is under executive session rules so we won’t have the full story one way or the other, but I have heard from reliable sources that it had a lot to do with it along with warning about another issue that I will not discuss in a public forum so not to get both of us sued. I have protection on my blog not yours.

    He was a control freak. That may have been his tragic flaw. He had many great qualities and helped save the school. There are a lot of great things one can say about Noel Rodriguez. He is smart, hard working,organized and cares about kids. I always wondered if he could keep his need for control and admiration in proper perspective. The great aspect to a charter school is that it doesn’t take 2 years to remove someone who goes off the rails. If the board believes there is a problem they can act. They are not bound by crippling union rules.

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  6. “With Academy of Dover, the DOE knew about the issues for at least seven months. Why did it take them so long to hold the school accountable for these issues?”

    It says in the SBE meeting transcript that the DOE’s Charter School Office wanted to take action and initiate formal review right away, but they were waiting on the auditor’s office to finish its review.

    Maybe the bigger question is, why is the auditor’s office taking so damn long to do its job?

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    • That’s a good question Tim. I have heard from many people that Delaware State Auditor Tom Wagner’s office is understaffed, so perhaps that could be an issue. I didn’t see in the transcript, and I would know since I transcribed it, that the DOE wanted to put them on formal review right away. They could have done this at any time. They did with Family Foundations Academy. So there is some type of disconnect here, in my opinion. It could be a coincidence that they did not seek formal review until the court ruled a few weeks ago against the state’s claim about not being a guarantee on the judgment. But somehow I doubt that…

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    • And what about the DOE representation on the Citizens Budget Oversight Committee? Delaware State Code, Title 14, Chapter 736 specifically states “4.2 The Committee shall have at least five (5) members with representation from educators and parents of students in the school and representation from the Department of Education.”

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  7. Pingback: Academy of Dover Is Not A 501c3 Corporation As Stated In Their Charter, DOE Needs To Revoke Their Charter Now – Exceptional Delaware

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