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?