The Delaware STEM Academy is up for a decision right now at the Delaware State Board of Education meeting. Director of the Charter School Office Jennifer Nagourney is advising the State Board why the charter was put on formal review: low enrollment and financial viability. Delaware Secretary of Education Dr. Steven Godowsky’s recommendation is to close the school. He believes the school’s board and leadership are committed to student success, he is very concerned about the low enrollment and how it can adapt a strong, rigorous program. He agrees with the Charter School Accountability Committee’s recommendation to close the school and wants the school to surrender their charter.
The State Board gave a motion, which was seconded, to discuss the motion. State Board member Pat Heffernan asked about the numbers. Nagourney said they are currently at 129 enrolled students. Heffernan asked where they had to be. Nagourney advised, to be in compliance with state law, they would need to be at 80% of their approved enrollment of 250 students, which would be 200 students enrolled. They had to be at that number by April 1st of this year.
Assistant Deputy Secretary David Blowman is stating there is considerable financial risk with the current enrollment in being able to adequately provide their academic program to students. Dr. Teri Quinn Gray, the State Board President, is asking how much of the grant money allotted to the school has been used. Blowman indicated he didn’t have a specific answer. I just checked on Delaware Online Checkbook and the school has spent $137,444.67 in principal salaries for the school.
Earlier today, Technical.ly Delaware reported earlier today how Delaware STEM Academy was granted $175,000 for principal salaries through their Delaware Charter School Performance Award last year which the DOE states is allowable by state law but State Rep. John Kowalko expressed disappointment the school used the performance award for leader salaries. With pensions and other benefits, an additional $61,739.89 was used by the school. Included in that figure is $6,866.81 in United States Department of Education wage garnishments.
There is a lot of discuss surrounding how the school would be able to perform if they had their full funding. Blowman is going over different components of the school’s funding. Dr. Gray is asking if they can implement fidelity of the charter with the changes the school proposed after their final CSAC meeting. Blowman said on some components yes, but on others no. He said the school made as many changes as they possibly could but Blowman referred to Godowsky’s recommendation that their proposals were insufficient. Gray asked what the lowest number they could fall to when they self-destruct, so to speak. Donna Johnson said the school stated they would surrender their charter if they fell to 120 students by July 1st.
There was discussion on reduced funding to Innovative Schools in lieu of a partnership with another Delaware charter school, Positive Outcomes. Board member Melendez stated he wants facts and not assumptions. He told Blowman he doesn’t appreciate that. Melendez said it is either black or white. (seems like a bit of tension between the two)
Nagourney gave an opinion that the closure of Delaware Met in December impacted potential enrollment in the school as she heard parents say they did not want the same thing to happen here. With that being said, Nagourney also stressed the board was doing everything they were supposed to be doing in terms of what needed to happen to have an effective opening.
More discussion happened surrounding what will happen with the enrolled students since the school choice window is closed. Donna Johnson indicated they would go back to their local feeder district, which caused board member Melendez to become very concerned. Secretary Godowsky shared that when Delaware Met closed, the charters and districts in New Castle County were very helpful with helping the affected students transition. Melendez felt the State Board and DOE are responsible for these kinds of situation and something needs to happen to make sure this doesn’t happen again.
The Delaware State Board of Education voted 5-1 to revoke the charter school of Delaware STEM Academy. Dr. Teri Quinn Gray was the sole no vote.
Updated, 7:35pm: This article has been updated to change the State Board of Education vote from 6-1 to 5-1. State Board Member Gregory Coverdale was absent.