The Delaware State Board of Education put the Delaware STEM Academy on formal review at their April meeting for low enrollment and financial viability. At their first Charter School Accountability Committee meeting on May 10th, the committee said the school was out of compliance in every single area in their formal review.
The main area of concern which prompted the school to ask for a formal review (yes, they asked because the DOE was about to do it anyways) is due to low enrollment. And it is very low. Their approved charter calls for 250 students. By April 1st prior to the next school year, all Delaware charters must have 80% of their approved enrollment. Delaware STEM Academy needed 200 enrolled students. Applications and pending decisions don’t count. They must be enrolled. As of April 15th, the school had 91 enrolled students. As of May 10th, they had 113. They aren’t even close to 80% with their current 45.2%. And we are approaching the end of May.
In a cover letter sent to the Charter School Office requesting their formal review from 4/15, their Board President, Ted Williams, informs the Delaware DOE they have entered into a contract with Innovative Schools. But in the initial report from the 5/10 meeting, we see something very different:
Ms. Field Rogers asked the school whether it has a final contract with Innovative Schools. Mr. B. Taylor stated that the contract has been approved by the board but it is not yet signed.
While this may be seen as being picky on my part, “entering into a contract” would imply the contract was signed. In the DOE’s eyes, a signed contract could be helpful in determining their decision in the school’s favor. It would show the school has support in place to help put the foundations together by the time the school opens. But implying a month earlier there is a signed contract only to find out there is no signed contract during their CSAC meeting probably wasn’t a wise choice from Delaware STEM Academy.
One part of the below report which I found to be a bit arrogant was this:
Ms. Field Rogers asked the school whether the grant funds would be returned if the school does not open. Mr. B. Taylor agreed that the funds would be returned to the funders. Mr. Williams added the private donations would not be returned.
This probably isn’t the best idea either unless it was explicitly told to those donating money it wouldn’t be returned in the event the school doesn’t open. It may cause others to think twice before donating to charters before they even open.
This is the part I don’t get though. The school wanted 250 students as their approved enrollment for their first year with students in 9th and 10th grade. Here we are, over two years since the school was approved, and the DOE is allowing the school to submit a budget scenario where they have 105 students. Is this even allowable as per Title 14 of Delaware code? It is, if that is what the school applied for.
…and enrollment of no less than 200 students at full enrollment and no less than 100 students during the first 2 years of operation…
The school didn’t submit a modification request to change their enrollment numbers. This charter school was approved back in April of 2014. They already got a one year extension from Mark Murphy. Delaware Design-Lab High School faced this scenario last year, but their enrollment numbers weren’t at the danger levels Delaware STEM Academy is at. You can only use that get-out-of-jail-free card once in Delaware. Here we are over two years later and they still aren’t even close to being ready to open. Granted, between Delaware Met’s closure this year and what I dubbed Wilmingtonitis yesterday with an overabundance of charter schools, it is obvious we are way past the saturation point in Northern New Castle County for charter schools. This is not looking good…