The Charter School Petty Cash Audit You Will Never See

Delaware State Auditor Tom Wagner has a lot of explaining to do.  And possibly Governor Markell as well!

Things are getting a bit clearer now.  On the Kavips blog, Delaware State Representative Kim Williams wrote a comment on Kavips take on the Kathleen Davies situation playing out at the Delaware Auditor of Accounts office.  She wrote about how she contacted the auditor’s office last September regarding some concerns she had with a Delaware charter school’s petty cash activity on Delaware Online Checkbook.  The report was near completion prior to Kathleen Davie’s abrupt “leave of absence”.  Williams even had a comment she approved that would have appeared in the petty cash audit inspection.

Williams emailed Delaware State Auditor Tom Wagner to find out the status of it following Davies’ leave.  Wagner told her he stopped the audit and issued letters to all the charter schools instead.  Really Wagner?  I know which school Williams found on the petty cash situation.  When the Charter School of Wilmington wrote in their board minutes that the auditors were there to review their petty cash accounts, I knew something was up.  So I checked all the charter schools petty cash activity.  Some of them were quite egregious compared to what they are allowed to have in those accounts.  But I figured I would wait to see the report before I wrote about it.  In other board minutes, CSW board members asked where the audit was and they were going to contact the auditor to find out.  I find it very interesting they chose to write about this one particular audit, not once, but twice.

So now we have an elected official voluntarily choosing to cover up information.  This makes the very bizarre action against Davies’ look even more suspicious.  Who knows what other activity is being “stopped” by Tom Wagner.  Lord only knows how much else she found.  We also have the woman who was in charge of the Office of Management and Budget involved in this scandal as well.  Ann Visalli reported to one man, and one man only… Delaware Governor Jack A. Markell.  We have an obvious set-up against Davies with a lot of BIG Delaware power figures involved.  I hope her attorney eats them up!

Hey… Tom Wagner… where is the audit on Delaware Met?  Where is the audit from the tip I submitted about Academy of Dover and Newark Charter School?  What other audits are you cancelling?  Why do you keep ignoring emails from constituents like Jack Wells and myself?  What do you do all day?  Who got you to stop audits showing abuse of taxpayer money?  Is there an Indian River audit taking place given the firing of their CFO?  Mr. Wagner, do you know what else I’m finding?

Hey, Delaware Attorney General Matt Denn… when are you going to announce charges for the charter school employees that were caught?  And that Indian River guy?  Are you waiting for Markell to leave his post?  Or for the statute of limitations to run out on these thieves?  I know the FBI are aware of this because I let them know just in case Delaware didn’t.  That was in April.

If I were writing a mystery novel about this, hypothetically of course, I would have to name suspects in a crime.  Keep in mind this would be a fictional story because no one has been charged with anything (including former charter school employees who were nabbed by the auditor’s office, but I digress).  I would have to look at who opposed Kim Williams’ original charter school audit bills.  That would be Kendall Massett (Director of the Delaware Charter Schools Network), a lot of House Republicans, Senator David Sokola, Donna Johnson (Executive Director of the State Board of Education), Nitin Rao (the business manager of Newark Charter School), and Democrat State Representative (and Chair of the House Education Committee) Earl Jaques.  Oh yeah, Speaker  of the House Pete Schwartzkopf voted no on that one too!  Chuck Taylor with Providence Creek Academy (also the President of the board over at the Delaware Charter Schools Network and a member of the Charter School Accountability Committee at the Delaware DOE) had parents from his school send emails to the House prior to the vote opposing the legislation.  And we can’t forget Ann Visalli!  And some guy named Henry Clampitt who was doing work with Kendall’s group also opposed it at the Senate Education Committee meeting on it last January.  I would have to imagine many other charter school leaders were not happy about the bill either.  This is a big list of whodunit suspects!  Did they act in concert in this imaginary thriller?  Or did someone fly solo?  I can’t wait to write the ending to this mystery!  I imagine all these suspects could feel the noose tightening around them right about now.  In this fictional story of course!

I sure hope someone was able to get their hands on all those letters sent from Tom Wagner concerning the petty cash audits that went out to various charter schools…

The Backfiring of Firing Kathleen Davies

kavips

Delaware is very amateurish when it comes to smearing people.  No one takes smears seriously anymore and the consequences usually fall back on those pushing the smear forward.

Kathleen Davies works for Tom Wagner’s Auditor’s office.  She supports better control of charter school wastefulness and has been behind some of the very scary reports the Auditor of Delaware’s office has recently released, showing the blatant corruption and disregard for all taxpayers dollars, an illness that continues to run rampant throughout Kendall Massett’s charter school conglomeration…

We find she was put on administrative leave and her reports pulled from the website… Kevin has a copy of one (more?) of the pulled reports…

Her being put on administrative leave is very reminiscent of shutting down a casino because one is shocked, shocked, that legalized gambling is going on there…. 

Her alleged violation was “not following required procedure”.  Something we all do at work, usually for our…

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An Apology To Gateway Lab School

Yesterday, I wrote an article about the smear campaign at the Delaware Auditor’s office and Kathleen Davies.  In the article, I mentioned reports she had worked on regarding Delaware charter schools.  I wrote that the reports in 2016 dealt with Providence Creek Academy, EastSide Charter School and Gateway Lab School.  Gateway Lab School was an error on my part, and I apologize to the school for that.  I meant to put Prestige Academy.  Out of all the schools investigated for how they submitted their September 30th student counts, EastSide, Prestige, Family Foundations Academy, and Kuumba were all found to have the most egregious errors in that report.  Gateway was vaguely mentioned over something procedural, but nothing serious at all.  So Gateway was NOT a part of any big wrongdoing or heinous financial fraud.  The article has been corrected to reflect this information.

The Smear Campaign At The Delaware Auditor’s Office & What The News Journal Didn’t Tell You

Revenge is ugly business.  When it takes place at a very high state level and the object of that revenge gets a whole article about it in the state’s biggest newspaper, it is really ugly.

Today, James Fisher and Matthew Albright published an article about the Auditor of Accounts, Kathleen Davies.  The article claims Davies was put on leave over two months ago due to not using the state procurement card for travel expenses.  According to the story, sources who would only be named as “state employees” contacted the Office of Management and Budget, then run by Ann Visalli, in November of 2015.  They alleged Davies spent over $7700 in travel expenses (over four years) and received personal reimbursements instead of using the state p-card.  She did do this.  But was it wrong?  Absolutely not.  I’m not buying any of this.  Let’s take a close look at what else was going on at the time these “sources” (as the News Journal calls them) filed this complaint.

Davies had just come out with a report on many charter schools, not just Delaware College Prep (the only school mentioned in the article).  Kuumba Academy was also named in the report on personal reimbursements as using funds against the accounting policies of the state.  Two other charters did not have any inappropriate use of state funds: Odyssey Charter School and Thomas Edison Charter School.

But there was more going on at that time.  The reports on Family Foundations Academy and Providence Creek Academy had not come out yet.  The September 30th enrollment inspection was just beginning (which was published earlier this Spring and pulled from State Auditor Tom Wagner’s website after Davies was put on leave).  Another Delaware charter school, The Delaware Met, was under formal review.  Hearings and meetings with the Charter School Accountability Committee took place in November and December of 2015.  One of the big questions surrounding Delaware Met was how they were spending their money.  And by default, their operation management company, Innovative Schools, would also be looked at.

There was also an inspection released by Davies on December 7th.  This surrounded an anonymous tip about Delaware Department of Education employees abusing travel expenses.  No wrongdoing was found in the inspection report.  But why would the News Journal not mention such an important part of this timeline in their article as well as the actual inspection?  If this accusation by sources who have now become “whistleblowers” was made to the OMB in November of 2015, this would have been the same time when Davies would have been working on the DOE travel expense report which came out on December 7th.  The timing on this is uncanny!

If it took six months for Davies to be put on leave, what was the OMB doing for six months?  Why did Davies just happen to be put on leave at the same time the DOE was pitching a conniption fit about the September 30th Inspection Report written by Davies?  The report, published by Wagner’s office on May 5th, can be found here.  Why did Wagner pull the report which had absolutely nothing to do with her supposed reasons for being put on leave?  Which other pending audits was Davies working on?  I do know the answer to a couple of these, especially one that I submitted to the auditor’s office.  John Fluharty, the policy analyst from the Auditor of Accounts office, contacted me on March 17th to discuss the tip I sent that office.  I talked to him on March 18th with what I knew.  No follow-up has taken place since then nor has any report been released on my tip.  I find that to be very odd…

And then we have the charter school audit bill crisis.  Delaware State Rep. Kim Williams released three different bills in the first part of the 148th General Assembly.  The first two were stricken in lieu of the third one which passed the Delaware House on June 30th, 2015.  It’s next destination was the Senate Education Committee, chaired by Delaware Senator David Sokola.  Prior to the second part of the 148th G.A. beginning last January, rumors began circulating that Sokola was going to introduce his own charter school audit bill.  With his friends at the Delaware Charter Schools Network, Sokola crafted new legislation which weakened Williams bill considerably.  Williams and Sokola battled publicly on Facebook over the bill, resulting in an eventual compromise a few months later.  They both met with Davies, who supported Williams bill, and the Delaware Charter Schools Network.  The new legislation, House Bill 435, passed both the House and Senate and awaits Governor Markell’s signature.

But the biggest question is this: what did Davies do that was so wrong, that would warrant such a drastic action?  While the guidelines regarding travel expenses published by the News Journal said the state prefers state employees use the p-card, it doesn’t rule out personal reimbursements.  Furthermore, the article states she told employees she was doing this.  If you have something to hide, you don’t tell everyone in the office!!!  The only way she would have been reimbursed for those travel expenses is if someone approved it and saw the receipts.  Who approved the expenses?  More importantly, where is the fire here?

Davies was not put on leave over this.  This is a cover.  The whole thing reeks of corruption at a very high level.  Tom Wagner won’t talk about it because it’s a personnel issue.  So how did the News Journal get the story?  I can tell you this: I was contacted by an employee of the Delaware Department of Education who asked me if I heard about Kathleen Davies.  This was on May 26th, a week after the September 30th report disappeared.  This employee said “word is she had a falling out with Tom Wagner.  And won’t be back.”  Now I hear from sources all the time about different state employees.  But how is that a DOE employee would have intimate knowledge of a situation between Tom Wagner and his second-in-command?  And how in the world would they know Davies wouldn’t be returning?  That would indicate a conversation took place with someone from the State Auditor’s office with either an employee of the Delaware Dept. of Education or an employee of the State Board of Education for that much knowledge to come out for what we are being told is a “personnel issue”.

This is my firm belief: someone was very frightened about an audit inspection Davies was working on.  Something that would make someone or several people look very bad.  This person would have to have the power to be able to pull strings with an elected official to get Davies put on personal leave.  Because this fabricated nonsense about personal reimbursements is absurd.  Other state employees do it.  Even our own Governor was mentioned in an audit report for not following state accounting rules with travel.  Was he put on leave?  Hell no!  Was Tom Wagner put on leave when it was announced he “accidentally” let his own house go into foreclosure?  Nope.

I’ve been going through all district and charter expenses the past few weeks and I can say with certainty that any travel expense amounts incurred by Davies are a drop in the bucket compared to what they spend.  And I seriously questioned one district about an outrageously high amount in one coding area.  No response on that one over two weeks later.  So why target the one person who has the ability to produce reports that can put others in a very bad light over financial abuse?  I believe I just answered my own question.  To pull this off, that takes a serious amount of cunning and guile.  Someone with pull and motivation.  I would have to think Ann Visalli would know that other state employees use personal reimbursements for travel expenses.  I don’t know much about her, except to say she resigned shortly after Davies was put on leave.  The Director of the Office of Management and Budget.  Who resigned before the budget passed.

As for Kathleen Davies, I hope she gets the vindication she deserves from this oh-so-obvious smear campaign against her.  This is a woman who has spent most of her time at the Delaware Auditor of Account’s office finding actual situations of financial abuse and scandal.  Most of them have been against charter schools.  Delaware Military Academy report in 2013.  Academy of Dover, Family Foundations Academy, Kuumba Academy and Delaware College Prep reports in 2015.  Providence Creek Academy, EastSide Charter School and Prestige Academy in 2016.  And potentially more.  But for those reading this smear article on Davies in the News Journal today, they won’t know all of this stuff going on behind the scenes.  So if you read this, please share it so all Delawareans can know that Kathleen Davies is deserving of much more respect than this.  I am positive she has enemies in this state.  Those who expose the truth often do.  Those who do wrong fear exposure more than anything.  So who did Davies frighten so much that they would go to these lengths to remove her and tarnish her good name?

Updated, 6:12pm, 7/31/16: This article has been updated to reflect there was no wrongdoing on the part of Gateway Lab School in any audit report.  This was an error on my end, and I did write an article to apologize to Gateway regarding this.

Family of 3rd Grader Suing The Florida DOE

In Florida, the parents of a 3rd grader are taking the very courageous step to sue their state Department of Education.  Why?  Because in Florida, if you opt your child out of the Florida State Assessment, the student will be retained and have to stay in 3rd grade.  The parents not only find this unfair, but also unconstitutional.  To move forward, they need a $17,000 retainer fee for their attorney.  To date, they have raised an astonishing $12,200 in just 18 days.  But they still have a little bit further to go.  If you are able, please help them at their Go Fund Me account.  Cases like this are how laws change.

If my state (Delaware) did this, you better believe I would be first in line to sue them!  What our states are trying to do in the name of education is anything but.  They sold out our students to corporations and testing companies.  And they wonder why parents revolt!

You Have Until Monday To Submit Public Comment On Damaging Regulations Put Out By Corporate Education Dictator John King

You have until Monday, August 1st to submit public comment on the proposed regulations and rule-making put out by U.S. Secretary of Education John King on May 29th.  After that, no more public comment will be accepted.  You need to go to the Federal Register website, which can be found here.  Read through the regulations.  It is in-depth and monstrous.  But the future of the children of America is at stake here.  If you have been a big fan of the high-stakes testing anti-parental rights shame and label schools, teachers, and students era of education, then sit at home and watch the future of America crumble before your very eyes.  If you want to prevent John King from furthering the bad policies and agendas, first laid out by No Child Left Behind and then magnified a hundred fold under Race To The Top, then please leave public comment.

This was my public comment:

I do not agree with most of these proposed regulations. It is a further attempt to exert federal control over state decisions. Furthermore, many of those in power at the state level have eroded local control to the point of absurdity. It is a parent’s fundamental and constitutional right to opt their child out of the state assessment. Any regulation proposing to punish schools for a parent’s decision is illegal. The ESEA regulations state that all schools must make sure children take the assessment, not that all students MUST participate in the state assessment. That regulation has been perverted over the years to take away parental rights. No state should have to follow regulations formed to serve testing companies and their profits more than the rights of parents, students, teachers, and schools. Education has become a for-profit center at the expense of children and those who truly serve them.

Since the advent of charter schools, the rate of high-stakes associated with testing has increased dramatically. Charter schools have led to more discrimination and segregation of at-risk children while our government has mostly turned a blind eye to these practices while allowing to flourish, multiply, and take away necessary funding from traditional public schools. Too many states have tampered with existing law and regulations so charter schools benefit, whether through artificial n#s leaving out many charter students from accountability rankings, or shifting funding to charter schools without giving those same funds to traditional school districts.

As a result of all of this federal intrusion, students with disabilities have lost. They have lost instruction, time, and accommodations in the name of the almighty state assessment. Common Core IS a curriculum and it has become so embedded into state education structure that getting it out will be a mammoth task. Common Core does not work, will not work, and never has worked.

In states like my own, Delaware, we have a corrupt Governor who has made it his mission to demean teachers and punish schools all in the guise of students becoming “college and career ready”. It is a complete farce and a lie. It is for companies to profit, not students. I will make it my mission in life to overturn every single regulation that this heavily lobbied Department makes under the illusion of “student success” that benefits others over children. I will fight competency-based education through digital personalized learning that sends data out to “research” companies like American Institutes for Research who benefit immensely as the essential creators of the Smarter Balanced Assessment and also serve as the vendor for the very same test in Delaware and others.

We have sold out our children to companies, and these proposed regulations will only further solidify the stranglehold they have on our students, teachers, and schools. Say NO to these regulations and give our children the capability to receive the true education they deserve, not this bastardized corporate version of education. Let’s let students with disabilities get the rights they deserve. Let’s let minority students not be subject to rigor in an attempt to “close the achievement gaps” that were created by corporations with tests designed for the upper-class. Let’s let parents decide (and they already do) if their child should or should not take the state assessment.

How dare this Department try to impose into law, with haste and desperation, the same type of regulatory schemes the Every Student Succeeds Act was supposed to get rid of before the lobbyists twisted the original intent of the law and Congress passed, very quickly I might add, a completely different law in a matter of weeks with little to no room for public comment or oversight. I expect our the United States of America government to immediately halt these regulations and to strip away the power of U.S. Secretary of Education John King so I no longer have to write comments like this in a Federal Register, as well as any future U.S. Secretary of Education.

Thank you.

 

Congressional Letter To FBI, FTC & IRS Raises Questions About Clinton Foundation, Will Hillary Be Able To Escape This? Deal Me Out!

On July 15th, several Republican members of Congress wrote a letter to the Directors of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Federal Trade Commission and the Internal Revenue Service about questions of potential fraud with the Clinton Foundation.  Last night, Hillary Clinton accepted the Democrat nomination for President of the United States.  She gave a stirring speech with more about slamming Donald Trump than what she would actually do as President.  But underneath the surface of that speech lies unanswered questions about the Clinton Foundation and their illegal use of funding based on IRS regulations.

As Americans on the left and right continue to poke and jab at the opposite sides, it is more than obvious that neither candidate is worthy of becoming President.  Both candidates have been subject to numerous investigations that never seem to hold either of them accountable for their actions.  This is, by far, the worst selection of candidates the two major political parties in our country have ever picked.  This is a choice no American should have to face.  I am loathe to pick either of them in November.  The pressure both sides are putting on the other parties hasn’t even reached a fever pitch.  I think both candidate will not help public education.  One is more blatant and arrogant with their public persona while the other smiles but her actions behind the scenes speak in volumes about her pompous boasting.  I fear for the future of America with these two very greedy people at the helm.  They both claim they want to help the average American as they sit in the upper echelon of the 1%.  I cannot, and will not, support either Clinton or Trump.  I am ashamed to be an American facing these two choices.  I will not vote for either of them.  Their actions regarding persons with disabilities, through downright vocal discrimination or behind the scenes corporate actions in regards to the privatization of public education show they are not fit to lead our country’s future.  As I have been telling people, if you can’t do the right thing for children, how can you be expected to lead a country.  Children are the foundation and future of this country.

You can deal me out of voting for either candidate.  I pray America will come to its senses and do the right thing for our country.  No matter who wins, the controversy surrounding both of them will overshadow anything they do.  Both parties will become a lynch mob towards the other from 2017 to 2020.  This is not America.  This is not the country that Hillary Clinton talked about in her speech last night.  It is a very ugly political arena of the very worst America has to offer.  Hillary may have the political experience, but look at the many incidents she has escaped unscathed from.  Donald may have the corporate experience, but he has represented the 1% his entire life.

As a Delawarean, I see my own state divided into three parts: Hillary, Donald, and neither.  I fear Hillary the most because of rumors surrounding our own Governor, Jack Markell, vying for the US Secretary of Education spot under a second President Clinton.  I fear Donald because he is a racist maniac playing on the fear of Americans.  I fear Hillary because she caters to big corporations and has been paid handsomely for those efforts through the Clinton foundation or campaign contributions.  I fear Donald because he will land us into a bad war (if not nuclear) if he continues his rhetoric.  I support neither and there is no other viable choice that could get enough votes so neither of them become President.  What this country needs, right now, is a revolution.  We need to overturn both parties and do something.  I don’t know if that is even possible at this point, but if we want to save America, we really have no choice.  If the only thing we have to fear is fear itself, we need to rise above the fears of the supporters of both candidates and do the right thing for America and openly revolt against the two-party system that is killing our country.

Beneath The Happy Face Of Providence Creek Academy…

ProvidenceCreekAcademy

On a Facebook page called The Unofficial PCA, about Providence Creek Academy, the host put up a post on Monday about a large exodus of teachers from the Kent County charter school.  The post disappeared, but a more watered down version of the question showed up Wednesday night on the page.  As well, students in Kindergarten to 2nd grade took a standardized test that actually caused some parents to pull their children out of the school.  Questions are beginning to mount concerning the “interim” Head of School, Chuck Taylor, who has filled this interim position for a year and nine months.

In terms of the teacher exodus, it was confirmed at PCA’s board meeting on Tuesday that twelve teachers left this year.  The average is three to five.  But the school insisted this is “in the norm” according to the new Facebook post on The Unofficial PCA.

Are Teachers Leaving PCA?

Notes from 7/26 board meeting.

I hadn’t planned to attend last night’s board meeting.  But the day before, I ran into another parent at the store asking if I had heard about the rumors.  People had been saying that a large portion of the teachers were leaving PCA out of frustration with Head of School Chuck Taylor and Principal Audrey Erschen.  My friend didn’t have much details so I canceled my plans and went to the meeting.  I was expecting a huge turnout from parents but there was only one other parent attending (other than the parent board member) and she hadn’t heard the rumors.

I relayed as much of the rumors as I could, without revealing names.  This year, there are about 60 on staff and about a dozen teachers left PCA; some to other positions, some for family, and a couple that were dissatisfied.  In an average year, 3-5 teachers leave PCA but this year is not too far out of the norm and certainly not as severe as the year in which 21 teachers left.  All but two of the teaching positions have been filled.  Ms Erschen assured us that they are in no rush to fill the position and are being very selective.  She is confident that the two positions will be filled well before school starts.

As far as any issues teachers may have had with Mr Taylor or Ms Erschen, they never were clearly defined.  Mr Taylor has been the interim Head of School longer than intended as that the last candidate selected was not able to take the position.  Another candidate is being considered and Mr Taylor is planning to go back to retirement in January.  On the couple of occasions that I have heard someone complaining about Mr Taylor, it usually stemmed from a misunderstanding.  I do not envy Ms Erschen for the balancing act she does every day.  She deals with a whole lot of problems and somebody being dissatisfied is inevitable but she always maintains professional composure.  Every morning, no matter the weather, they are out in front of the school to greet students and talk with parents.  I’ve always found them to be very approachable and the kids (including my daughter) think well of them.

Greater transparency and addressing issues before they become rumors would help to put parents at ease.  Board meetings include an “Opportunity to Address the Board” and it is a great opportunity for parents to ask questions and raise concerns.  PCA is considering putting the ‘Head of School’ and ‘Principal’ reports in the webpage ‘news’ in addition to already being in the ‘Board Minutes’.  They are also considering providing staff bios so that parents know more about the staff.

I intend to follow up with any more details that I come across and certainly welcome any input.  Rather than passing along rumors, it’d be helpful to discuss these things in an open format (you can message me if you’d like to remain anonymous).  I requested a list of the teachers that left (elsewise, we could always figure it out through the process of elimination).  Arguing the validity of an individual complaint may not be as useful as keeping an open eye for trends.  PCA isn’t perfect (no school is) and we should all strive to make things better and that depends on parents being involved.

Other items:

-Director of Curriculum Danielle Moore wants to go back to the classroom and work with kids.  She has been replaced by John Epstein who had been working for the Delaware Board of Education.

-‘Special’ classes will no longer be on a six day rotation because the classes were too far apart. So this year, students will have two special classes each trimester with the same amount of time give to each class.

I would not say 12 teachers leaving out of a staff of 60 is “in the norm“.  That is 20% of their staff.  Charter schools do tend to have higher turnover than traditional public schools.  But that is an alarming number, in my opinion.  While it isn’t the exodus of 21 teachers that happened at one time, it should be a matter of concern for other teachers and parents.  My biggest questions would be how seasoned the departing teachers are.  Will their replacements be more experienced or less?  That could have a big impact!

In their latest posted board minutes, for their June 21st board meeting, I found several items that were somewhat odd which have my comments under each one.

Mrs. Erschen reviewed the placement of appropriate employees to be included in the Consolidated Grant FY 2016-2017.

What does “appropriate employees mean?

PCA will be the only charter school involved in a new DPAS study.

Which DPAS study is this?  The only public DPAS study I have seen is the pilot program which will come out of House Bill 399, which changes Component V for teacher evaluations.  Senator David Sokola was really promoting his “pilot program” amendment.  Sokola and Chuck Taylor worked together on the charter school audit bill.  But what makes this very interesting is House Bill 399 didn’t pass until July 1st.  Eleven days after this board meeting on June 21st.  So how could PCA have been picked for this program if this is the DPAS program they are talking about?  And Markell hasn’t even signed the bill yet.  Unless there is some other DPAS program that hasn’t been revealed.

There were some issues with the implementation of the new grading policy for grades K-2. This new policy created some confusion with parents. With help from Mrs. Erschen and Mr. Taylor the concerns were addressed and professional development will be provided to the teachers at the beginning of the school year to ensure that there is consistency among teachers.

What is this new grading policy?  How did it create confusion for parents?  If professional development is needed so teachers can understand a grading system in the next school year, there is something not right about this.  More on this later.

Approval of Employee Bonuses: Lisa Moore made the motion, Chris Craig seconded. All in favor? Motion passed.

PCA consistently gives out “academic excellence” payouts every single month.  But are all teachers getting them?  The average monthly employee bonus is $466.

And from their May 24th Board minutes:

Head of School Search Committee: One candidate was interviewed. Board of Directors are still narrowing candidate pool for more candidate interviews.

Can someone please tell me why the Interim Head of School, who has been in this “interim” status for 21 months, is on the search committee for this new head of school?  How many candidates have interviewed?  It looks to me like Chuck Taylor is using his position on this committee to secure continued employment for himself.  Because this is how I see it.  He left PCA under very vague circumstances in the Spring of 2013.  He wound up at Campus Community School where he became their interim Head of School after Trish Hermance resigned in the Summer of 2013.  In September of 2013, their board voted unanimously to keep him on as the permanent Head of School.  By December, they hired a new Head of School.  Chuck joined their board and six months later, he resigned from their board.  In October of 2014, Chuck came back to PCA during the Audrey Erschen odd relative/employee shenanigans going on at the school.  As the interim Head of School.  A few months later, the Tatnall leader who was supposed to become the new Head of School was poisoned in the Caribbean.  That was over a year and a half ago.  What qualifications does a leader need to become their Head of School?  This looks like a lot of stall tactics by Chuck Taylor.  I don’t buy him wanting to retire.

For a guy who wants to fade into obscurity, he sure does place himself in very important charter school positions.  As well as his “interim” duties at PCA, he also has a slot on the Charter School Accountability Committee (CSAC) at the Delaware DOE and is the President of the board for the Delaware Charter Schools Network.  He was present at the Senate Education Committee for legislation surrounding charter school audits.  While this may not seem to be a big deal, it is important to know that PCA used the same auditor for their annual audit as Family Foundations Academy for many years.  Both PCA and FFA had major investigations from the State Auditor of Accounts that led to findings of severe financial abuse and theft.  During FFA’s charter renewal, Taylor served on CSAC.  When questions arose among the committee about FFA having a bizarre number of fraternity brothers on their board, Taylor actually defended the FFA board even though it was painfully obvious there was a major conflict of interest at play.  During this time, FFA’s leader, Sean Moore, was the Treasurer for the Delaware Charter Schools Network.  Moore embezzled over $100,000 from FFA according to the inspection report that came out last December.  The State Board of Education placed FFA on probation when it became public about the financial fraud.  Moore was terminated by the re-structured board which eventually removed the fraternity brothers.

All K-2 end of year assessments were created and given to the teachers who are working on administering them to the students. After all tests are complete teachers will submit them to so that data can be gathered on the assessments and determine if any changes need to be made for next school year.

PCA created assessments for Kindergarten, 1st Grade, and 2nd year students?  Yes, they did.  Who created these assessments?  And if a child failed these tests, the parents were told the student had to go to summer school for a fee of $350.00.  It didn’t seem to matter what their classroom grades were.  Six different parents of first graders received a letter the second week of June indicating their child had failed the reading assessment part of this assessment.  PCA highly recommended sending these kids to summer school.  This is actually a step up for the school, because the original intention was to keep the kids in the same grade if they did poorly on this self-created assessment.  At least two parents pulled their children out as a result.  Was this the intention?  Let’s see: students do bad on an assessment, school tells parents they want the kids to go to summer school for a rather steep fee (told to parents days before this summer school was supposed to start), and parents pull kids out.  I see it as a way to get rid of low-scoring assessment takers without regard to their actual capabilities.

For the Smarter Balanced Assessment results, PCA did rather well on their scores compared to the state average.  They went from 66% proficiency in English/Language Arts to 74%.  In Math, they went from 43% to 55%.  Those are huge gains which will cause the Delaware DOE to award the charter school the token “reward school” status next fall.  I have to wonder how much of these gains and “growth” are engineered by the school in advance.  For the surrounding districts where PCA draws its student base from, the Smyrna School District went from 59% to 66% proficiency in ELA and 45 to 46% in Math.  Capital went from 48% to 50% in ELA and 32% to 36% in Math.  Campus Community School went from 62% to 60% in ELA and 37% to 40% in Math.

A few years ago, one parent pulled her child out of PCA.  Her child, according to the mom, was brilliant.  This student had some minor attention deficits, but was able to get straight As at the school.  PCA insisted on placing the child into a lower-tiered classroom as a 4th grader.  At that time, there were three levels in classrooms: lower, middle, and high.  I would have to assume this was due to Response to Intervention (RtI) strategies for lower grade students when they attended those grades.  But placement in RtI groups usually isn’t based on actual classroom grades.  It is based on how they do on standardized tests.  For this child, being placed in a lower-tier was not a good thing.  The child did not feel challenged.  Many children who are very smart put in this position will tend to act out.  As a result, the school started putting the “bad behavior” label on the student.  Teachers agreed with the mom that the student should not have been at that level.  By the time the school finally put him into the higher level, it was so late in the school year (and after the 2nd wave of DCAS testing) the mother had already decided her child would not attend the school the next year.  The mother stated that the new school had none of these issues and her child has thrived ever since.

Last weekend, I posted an article about Newark Charter School and what I see as “social engineering” to drive up their test scores.  Many of the most fervent charter school supporters are parents of children who do well on these types of tests.  In my opinion, far too many Delaware charters drive their enrollment based on this flawed idea.  When you compare PCA’s demographics to surrounding districts and their closest competition with an area charter school, we see startling changes.

PROVIDENCE CREEK ACADEMY

PCA15-16demographics

SMYRNA SCHOOL DISTRICT

Smyrna1516Demographics

CAPITAL SCHOOL DISTRICT

Capital1516Demographics

CAMPUS COMMUNITY SCHOOL

CampusCommunity1516Demographics

The students who score the lowest on the state assessment are special education students.  This has always been the case.  By driving out students with special needs, the overall scores on the Smarter Balanced Assessment will automatically go up.  If you have a low population of these students to begin with, which is the case with PCA, it is a guarantee.  Many Delaware charter schools that begin with Kindergarten have screenings with potential applicants.  These screenings, which are meant to show a school where a student is at, can also serve as a way for schools to look for characteristics which could ultimately lead to perceived lower state assessment scores.  I have no doubt this practice takes place at some Delaware charter schools, and I believe PCA does this.  To further muddy the waters of this social engineering practice, PCA came up with some type of assessment for students in K-2 (who do not take the state assessment) to see how they may do on Smarter Balanced, and came up with a way to tick parents off enough they would pull their child out of the school.  Whether by design or unintentional, this is a discriminatory recipe for disaster.  Any school is only as good as the populations it serves.  We know this.  We know the Smarter Balanced Assessment changes constantly and the cut scores change from year to year.  The test is not designed to have a great majority of students showing proficiency.

In a charter school that bases everything on state assessment scores, it can become a pressure cooker for students, parents, and teachers.  This drive to perform on a once-a-year test is everything that is wrong about Delaware education.  And it is becoming clear that this is the environment at PCA.  I have no doubt they have many very positive attributes.  I am sure they do a lot of good things for their students and have a very welcoming community.  But that is the surface.  Underneath is a testing regimen that overshadows everything else.  If you are a smart kid, you will do great.  If you struggle, in any way, there will be issues.  When you look at the school’s Facebook reviews on their page, you see many 5 star designations.  Many of these reviews are from teachers and even the Principal, Audrey Erschen.  Even board members review this school.  When any rating system is purposely stacked toward a certain goal, the perception is deceptive.

While the school appears to be doing better financially, nothing happened with the terminated employee who embezzled large amounts from the school.  The Delaware Attorney General’s office has yet to file charges against this perpetrator.  But that might change.  Earlier in the Spring, state agents were in the school issuing subpoenas for financial records.  Will they find anything more than what already came out from the State Auditor of Account’s inspection released earlier this year?  Time will tell. Providence Creek Academy is the 7th largest charter school in Delaware out of 27 charter schools.  But for their expenditures divided by the number of students, they come in at 26th place.  We know they don’t pay their teachers huge amounts as well compared to surrounding districts.  So where is all their money going?

These are my biggest concerns with this school, and for perspective parents looking at this Delaware charter school, they should be seen as potential red flags.  For those who want to claim I hate charter schools, I don’t.  I think some of our charters do a great job.  I recognize no school is perfect.  But far too many use tactics like this which lead to a type of discrimination, particularly against students with disabilities.  That is intolerable.  But because our state DOE and Governor base everything on test scores on high-stakes tests driven by corporate education reformers, they look the other way.

To view past articles on Providence Creek Academy on this blog, please go here.  To view their board minutes, please go here.  The picture of the Providence Creek Academy campus came from a website belonging to Nickle Electrical Properties who renovated the school six years ago.

Delaware DOE Making Changes To Accountability System Without Any Public Notice Or Input

The Delaware Department of Education has tweaked the Delaware School Success Framework for the past four months without any public notice whatsoever unless you happen to look at the document buried on their website.  While some of the changes were based on approved changes by the State Board of Education or the Secretary of Education (such as the change for 11th graders from Smarter Balanced to the SAT), others have not.  Including a whole new metric calculation included in the latest version, released on Monday.  To rephrase this, they added a whole new section!  Now, if memory serves, the State Board of Education had to approve the Delaware School Success Framework.  And under that statement, I would assume the State Board of Education would have to approve any changes to the accountability system.  But here we have the Delaware DOE bypassing that process, with NO public notice, input, or comment.

Tell me, Secretary Godowsky, when does this better working relationship with the DOE start to happen?  When does that transparency get better?  Because I’m not seeing it.  Maybe some district or charter leaders might be seeing this stuff, but they aren’t the only stakeholders in education.  Please get that through your head.  Because, from my vantage point, things are no better under your leadership than they were with Mark Murphy.  Sure, some of the more visible lightning rods of controversy may have left, but that is no excuse to continue the absolutely horrible decisions your predecessor made.  In fact, I would say it is making it worse.  Who is guiding the DOE towards these decisions?  Who is signing off on these changes?  Why is there no discussion from Secretary Godowsky about these changes at State Board of Education meetings?  Where is the documentation that led to the creation of whole new business rule and a new section of the Delaware School Success Framework?  Was there another meeting of the Accountability Framework Working Group without any public notice whatsoever?  Because they are the ones who convened for well over a year and were the “stakeholders” behind this thing originally.  But I forget, you didn’t even follow their final recommendations with regards to the participation rate, so I assume their opinion doesn’t matter anyways.

The changes regarding the proficiency status if 30 students or less pass a “non-standard” state assessment are pretty major!

DSSFChanges#1

DSSFChanges#2

DSSFChanges#3

Proficiency in science or social studies should have no bearing on proficiency in English or Mathematics.  Who does this benefit?  When parents are looking for schools, they could be looking for how students do in English or Math.  By changing the weight on non-related subjects it can skew the results for an entire school!  Even if it winds up benefitting the school, it is a false picture provided on this “school report card”.  I have to ask, who comes up with this nonsense?  I can only come up with one scenario where this would directly benefit public impressions: charter schools.  More under the radar puffing up of charters at traditional school district expense.  When are you going to stop this?  This n# thing that benefits charters in many situations has gotten out of control.  I get that it is meant to dissuade identification of students, but 30?  Come on!  Who is going to identify one student out of a group of 30?  In some Delaware charter schools, a grade could have less than 100 students.  We know this.  It allows charters to be exempt from some of the same accountability schemes traditional school districts are held under the knife for.  It also happens in special education all the time when it comes time for compliance audits or federal state rating systems.

Delaware DOE: You are the Department of Education, not the Department of Delaware Charter Schools.  Grow the hell up!  It’s getting really old!

And here are the complete list of changes as provided at the end of the updated Delaware School Success Framework:

DSSFChanges#4

DSSFChanges#5

This needs to stop in Delaware.  No school that receives public funds should receive ANY special treatment over others.  But that is exactly what our DOE and State Board of Education do time and time again with our charter schools.  They actually allow them to look good in any potential and possible situation.  They do it with smoke and mirrors, behind closed doors, where no one can stop them.  They don’t solicit public feedback or allow anyone to see these “business rules” until they incorporate them.  And we are expected to believe they want public input on the Every Student Succeeds Act?  I have no doubt they already know exactly what they are going to do there.  Any pizza party at Grotto’s in Dover, on August 9th put on by the State Board of Education is just a big dog and pony show.  And don’t believe the lie about “light refreshments” beginning at 5pm.  When I went to one of these, they had whole pizzas.  So come on down or up to Dover and make your opinions known!  And eat lots of pizza!

 

 

Attorney General Legal Opinion On FOIA Complaint Against State Board of Education Needs Some Serious Fact Checks!

Delaware State Representative Kim Williams filed a FOIA complaint against the Delaware State Board of Education last February in regards to their board meeting on February 18th.  This was the infamous and controversial Wilmington Education Improvement Commission redistricting plan vote!  Regarding public seating at State Board meetings, the Attorney General is going by how many people sign in for these meetings.  Frequently, Delaware Department of Education Employees attend these meetings (that are not directors which are assigned their own seats on the sides of the room) and do not sign in.  This can take up a lot of seats.  Not everyone signs in.  I have attended many of these meetings to see several people in the hallway.  It has been addressed in public comment to the State Board of Education on more than one occasion.

 

July 28, 2016

VIA EMAIL AND STATE MAIL

Representative Kim Williams
Legislative Hall
411 Legislative Avenue
Dover, DE 19903
kimberly.williams@state.de.us

 

            Re:    FOIA Complaint Concerning the State Board of Education

 

Dear Representative Williams:

 

The Delaware Department of Justice (“DOJ”) received your letter dated February 25, 2016 requesting our determination, pursuant to the Freedom of Information Act, 29 Del. C. Ch. 100 (“FOIA”), of whether the State Board of Education violated the FOIA open meeting requirements.  We treat your email as a petition for a determination of whether a violation of FOIA has occurred or is about to occur.  29 Del. C. §10005(e).  Our determination is set forth herein.

 

I. FACTUAL BACKGROUND[1]

On February 18, 2016, a State Board of Education (“Board”) meeting was held in the second floor Cabinet Room of the Townsend Building located at 401 Federal Street in Dover. Representative Williams attended the meeting along with other members of the public. During the meeting, the Board entertained a motion to approve the Wilmington Education Improvement Commission (“WEIC”) Plan with an amendment.

 

II. POSITIONS OF THE PARTIES

The Petition alleges that the Board “was aware that many people would be attending th[e] meeting and did not change their meeting location to accommodate all the people.”  As a result, Representative Williams alleges “many people had to stand out in the hallway.”  The Petition also alleges that the Board violated FOIA’s open meeting requirements by conducting conversations off the record and out of the presence of the members of the public who were in attendance:

The State Board during their public discussion on the original motion stopped the discussion and went off the record and out of the room to speak with their attorneys and board members – it was done when they were getting ready to vote.  The State Board of Education, Donna Johnson, Secretary Godowsky, attorneys and others were going into the back room – obviously they were in discussions about the motion …

 

Finally, the Petition alleges that the Board acted improperly by considering the WEIC recommendations with conditions after the motion on the WEIC Plan had been voted down by a vote of 4 to 3.  Specifically, pursuant to Senate Bill 122, the Petition alleges that the Board was required to vote yes or no, and if they voted no, “they [we]re to send the recommendations back to the WEIC Commission with an explanation as to why they voted no.”

 

The Board submitted its response to the Petition on March 9, 2016.  Regarding the allegation that the Board should have moved the meeting location in advance of the meeting, the Board argues that the Board was unaware that the meeting would be as heavily attended as it was.  In fact, the Board noted that WEIC representatives had reached out to the Board and requested that six chairs be reserved in the audience for the meeting. The Board also responded that it has held its meetings in the Cabinet Room for more than forty years. With respect to the allegation that the Board improperly engaged in conversations off record, the Board responded that the President of the Board discussed a procedural question for the Board’s counsel during a break, but that “at no time was a quorum of the board involved in any private or ‘back room’ meeting,” and there was thus no violation of FOIA as a result of conversations among Board members that may have taken place during the break.

 

On March 10, 2016 and March 20, 2016, Representative Williams supplemented her Petition. In the March 10 correspondence, Representative Williams asserted that members of the public have repeatedly complained about the size of the meeting location and the fact that the Board has always met in the Cabinet Room is not a sufficient basis for the meetings to remain in that room.  Additionally, she alleged that any questions that were discussed during the break should have been discussed in public.  In the March 20 correspondence, Representative Williams asserted that “[t]he discussion should have never occurred in the back room, with or without a quorum, behind closed doors.”  She also provided an email from Michael Matthews, who asserted that “[a]ll Board members, Sec. Godowsky and State Board Executive Director Donna Johnson left the room together…”

 

 

III. REQUEST FOR ADDITIONAL INFORMATION

On June 9, 2016, we requested additional information from the Board regarding the size of the Cabinet Room. The same day, the Board responded that, when the room is set up for State Board of Education meetings, there are 57 chairs.  However, for the February meeting, there were about 64 chairs. The Board noted that, for each meeting, there are about 20 reserved chairs.  Based upon this information, including the six chairs specifically reserved for the WEIC at the February 18 meeting, there were about 38 chairs open at the February meeting.

 

The Board also provided a count of attendees at previous meetings based solely upon the individuals who chose to sign in at each meeting, which the Board indicated was its only mechanism for counting attendance.[2] The September 2015 meeting during which WEIC was discussed, had 37 guests sign in. WEIC was also discussed at the October meeting, which had 22 guests. The next time WEIC was discussed during a Board meeting was December, when there were 47 guests. At the January 2016 meeting the WEIC proposal was presented for action and there were 31 guests. Finally, at the February 2016 meeting at issue here, there were 58 individuals who signed in. There were 35 guests who signed in for the final WEIC meeting in March 2016.

 

IV. APPLICABLE LAW

FOIA’s “Declaration of Policy” provides that “citizens shall have the opportunity to observe the performance of public officials and to monitor the decisions that are made ….”[3]

 

“Every meeting of all public bodies shall be open to the public except those closed [for a permitted reason].”[4]  “Public body” includes any subcommittee of a public body that is supported by public funds, spends public funds or is charged with making “reports, investigations or recommendations” to a public body.[5]

 

A public body must vote at a public meeting to move into executive session, and “all voting on public business must take place at a public meeting and the results of the vote made public.”[6]

 

V. DISCUSSION

The Board Violated FOIA by Not Moving or Considering Whether to Move the February 18, 2016 Meeting From the Cabinet Room. 

 

Representative Williams alleges that the Townsend Building Cabinet Room was too small to hold the public interested in the WEIC matter. The Board responded that it could not have anticipated the number of people who attended the meeting, especially because WEIC only requested that six chairs be reserved.

 

When considering whether a public body has violated the open meeting requirement based upon the alleged inadequate size of the venue, we have looked both at what the public body knew at the time of scheduling and how it responded to an unexpected overflow.[7] “‘[T]he governmental unit must balance the public right of access against the burdens that providing additional public access would impose on the governmental unit.’”[8] The standard for any individual meeting is reasonableness under the circumstances.[9]

 

FOIA does not require the public body to predict the exact number of citizens who may attend a public meeting.[10] But, we have stated that “if a public body has reason to know that a large number of citizens is likely to attend a meeting, then FOIA requires the public body to find another, larger place for the meeting.”[11]  A venue that may be reasonable at the time a meeting is noticed may become unreasonable due to an unanticipated overflow at the meeting.[12]  Thus, we have also stated:  “[I]n the event of an overflow, a public body should consider adjourning the meeting to another time at a facility that can accommodate all of the interested citizens.”[13]

 

Viewed from the perspective of what the DOE knew before the meeting, we find this to be a close call.  The WEIC matter was highly-publicized and politically charged.  The Board has been using the Cabinet Room for its meetings for more than 40 years,[14] including for the four previous meetings of the WEIC.  Representative Williams contends that the public has “repeatedly complained” about the inadequate size of the room, but she does not identify to whom such complaints were directed, and there is no evidence that anyone contacted the DOE before the meeting to request that the meeting be moved to a larger venue.  Also, the sign-in sheets reveal that 23% more people signed in at the February 18 meeting than the highest number DOE had seen from the previous meetings.  Perhaps attendance at this meeting was anomalously high.  Unfortunately, the number of people who sign the sign-in sheets reveals little about the actual attendance at any of the prior meetings.

 

But, we must also consider what information DOE had at the beginning of the meeting, when it could have made some reasonable accommodation for an unanticipated overflow.  The exact size of the overflow is not clear.  Representative Williams says that “many” people were made to stand in the hallway.  We have no information from DOE respecting the size of the overflow at the meeting, except for the information we can glean from the sign-in sheet, which, again, reveals little about actual attendance.  What is clear, however, is the absence in the record of any facts suggesting that the DOE considered or attempted to respond to the overflow or to make reasonable accommodations to facilitate citizens’ attendance at the meeting.[15]

 

On the whole, we must conclude that the DOE has not met its burden to prove that it satisfied its obligations under FOIA in connection with the February 18 meeting.

 

The Board Did Not Violate FOIA When the President of the Board Consulted With the Board’s Counsel. 

 

Representative Williams states that the Board took a break during the February meeting in the middle of discussing the WEIC motion. This exchange was not recorded, but counsel for the Board confirms that the Board President and counsel for the Board engaged in a discussion about the vote. Counsel also states that three other Board members approached counsel with questions, each separately. Counsel for the Board states that at no time was there a quorum of Board members discussing public business during a break.

 

A public meeting is defined as “the formal or informal gathering of a quorum of the members of any public body for the purpose of discussing or taking action on public business….”[16] Moreover, “conversations with each other or with staff do not need to be public unless they include a quorum of the members.”[17] Indeed, “absent some evidence that the members knowingly avoid public monitoring of the deliberations of the quorum, there is no basis on which to find that FOIA has been violated.”[18]

 

Here, there is no evidence that a quorum of members discussed the vote with the Board’s counsel.  As such, we find no FOIA violation in connection with Board members’ individual discussions with the Board’s counsel.

 

The Substantive Validity of the Board’s WEIC Vote is Outside the Scope of FOIA.

 

Representative Williams raises concerns regarding the substantive validity of the Board’s vote on the WEIC matter.  The substantive validity of the Board’s vote is a matter outside the scope of FOIA and, as a result, is not addressed here.[19]

 

VI. CONCLUSION

We conclude that the Board violated FOIA when it failed to consider the adequacy of the venue upon learning of an overflow of attendees.  However, we decline to find that the Board’s actions at the February 2016 meeting should be invalidated. To invalidate the numerous actions taken at the February meeting would have “draconian consequences.”[20] Additionally, invalidation of the SBE’s approval of the WEIC plan is moot given that the General Assembly sent the redistricting plan back to the WEIC for further consideration and development. We suggest that the Board consider the adequacy of the Cabinet Room as a venue when scheduling future meetings or when thereafter confronted with unanticipated interest.

 

This decision is directed solely to the parties identified herein.  It is based on the facts relevant to this matter.  It does not constitute precedent and should not be cited as such by future parties.

 

Very truly yours,

/s/ Danielle Gibbs

Danielle Gibbs
Chief Deputy Attorney General
cc:       Patricia A. Davis, Deputy Attorney General (via email)

 

[1]           The Factual Background Section of this Opinion refers to your communications as made by “Representative Williams” for ease of future reference by third parties.

[2]              There is no evidence in the record that the DOE asks all attendees to sign-in at meetings.

[3]           29 Del. C. § 10001.

[4]           29 Del. C. § 10004(a).

[5]           29 Del. C. § 10002(c).

[6]           29 Del. C. § 10004(c).

[7]           Del. Op. Att’y Gen. 98-IB12 (Nov. 10, 1998).

[8]           Del. Op. Att’y Gen. 02-IB09 (Apr. 4, 2002) (quoting Del. Op. Att’y Gen. 96-IB23 (June 20, 1996)).

[9]           Del. Op. Att’y Gen. 98-IB12 (Nov. 10, 1998).

[10]         Id.

[11]         Del. Op. Att’y Gen. 02-IB09 (Apr. 4, 2002).

[12]            Del. Op. Att’y Gen. 98-IB12 (Nov. 10, 1998).

[13]         Del. Op. Att’y Gen. 02-IB09 (Apr. 4, 2002).

[14]            This historical fact is not relevant to whether the venue for any particular meeting is reasonable under the circumstances.  But, it suggests that if someone was aware that a large number of people would attend the meeting, that person might have informed the DOE in advance.  Cf. id.

[15]         Indeed, the DOE’s response that the Cabinet Room has been used for forty years suggests that it has not adopted a practice of considering the adequacy of its standard venue in connection with each public meeting.  Cf. Del. Op. Att’y Gen. 96-IB23 (June 20, 1996) (noting public body’s history of selecting meeting space based upon anticipated or actual attendance); Del. Op. Att’y Gen. 14-IB03 (June 16, 2014) (public body did not violate FOIA, despite turning attendees away from meeting, where it had forgone its regular meeting venue and noticed meeting for a significantly larger venue); Del. Op. Att’y Gen. 98-IB12 (Nov. 10, 1998) (public body responded reasonably to unanticipated attendance by moving to larger space to discuss one issue that generated great interest).

[16]         29 Del. C. § 10002(g).

[17]         Del. Op. Att’y Gen. 10-IB12 (2010).  See also Del. Op. Att’y Gen. 16-IB05 (2016).

[18]         Del. Op. Att’y Gen. 10-IB12 (2010).

[19]         See Del. Op. Att’y Gen. 16-IB05 (2016); Del. Op. Att’y Gen. 15-IB06 (2015).

 

[20]         See Levy v. Bd. of Educ. of Cape Henlopen Sch. Dist., 1990 WL 154147, at *8 (Del. Ch. Oct. 1, 1990).

 

If an entire board leaves a room after casting a vote, says they need to convene with council, come back and change their vote, against the spirit of the legislation that charged them with taking a very particular vote, what more evidence do you need?  They all left the room together!  Come on Delaware Attorney General Office!  Would it kill you to actually side with right on this one?  It may be out of your scope to decide if the board acted appropriately in regards to Senate Bill 122, but isn’t that your purpose?  To look at former Attorney General opinions, that did not have the scope of this decision, is not sufficient in my opinion.  And the whole part about “draconian consequences” is bogus, once again, in my opinion.  The State Board and DOE will always say and do anything to cover their ass.  They are masters at this practice.  And they get away with a lot because of it.  The premise of FOIA is good, but what comes out of it, more often than not, takes the side of the state entity that has the complaint lodged against them.  The main thrust of Rep. Williams complaint was the State Board of Education violated FOIA by meeting as a quorum outside of the public setting.  Instead we get this long litany of how many chairs were in the room and who signed up as an attendee!

Yes, we are all in agreement: this State Board of Education needs to change the location of their meetings!  At the Collette Center up Route 8, the DOE has two huge conference rooms with a partition that can be taken out to make it an even bigger conference room.  This location can fit hundreds of people.  Make it happen State Board!  And I’m pretty sure that the air conditioning unit in this newer building is better (after last week’s sticky, sweaty, humid board meeting at the Townsend Building).  Tradition should not get in the way of public access.  We all know there are some State Board meetings where attendance is slim, but that is not the norm.  Especially with all the crazy decisions regarding charters, accountability, teachers, and schools at these meetings.  Here is another novel idea: Live Stream your meetings!  The General Assembly does it when the full House and Senate are voting on bills.  Why can’t you?

I do know one thing.  I have a couple FOIA complaints out there myself.  This explains why I haven’t heard anything on them yet!

WEIC Needs To Make Sure Current Education Funding Is Legit First & A Message For Candidates

As I plow head-first into Delaware education funding, I am finding inconsistencies galore!  Now that the Wilmington Education Improvement Commission has “officially” voted to suspend the timeline based on the Delaware General Assembly crafting legislation which essentially kicks the can for just another year, they have also been charged with taking another look at the fiscal impact.  The News Journal came out with an article on this today.  My advice to WEIC: make sure the education funding we already have is being used properly before you dive into weighted funding formulas for Delaware at-risk students.

Dan Rich, the policy advisor for WEIC from the University of Delaware, had this to say about weighted funding:

“That’s a key piece,” Rich said. “The top priority for funding is not for redistricting, per se, but for providing funding for the kids at greatest risk.”

It is a key piece of a puzzle that has thousands of pieces and no one has made sure the pieces fit together.  Some districts and charters are not spending money wisely, or even ethically.  We all know this, but in Delaware we have become a “hear nothing, do nothing” state.  With the simple art of just not listening and ignoring the people of the state, our leaders in Government look the other way.  They don’t want to deal with the corruption and fraud, and not just in education.

But according to Rich, he wants to bring outside organizations into this convoluted mess in our schools.  Saranac Hale Spencer from the News Journal wrote:

While the commission examines the fiscal impact of the plan in the coming months, it will also be working on other things, Rich said, explaining that it has begun mapping out the kinds of educational services offered by Wilmington institutions. A number of organizations offer resources to students and schools, but they aren’t necessarily in communication with each other.

It will also be looking to other communities to see how they have connected those assets to support schools and, in a similar project, it will be looking at the various state and local policies that affect poor families and children to see how they align and how they are funded.

Let me be crystal clear: I am all for better schools.  I think every student deserves a chance at success, even the most at-risk students.  But when the system is already broken, through federal, state and district mandates, and a funding system that has no checks and balances already, why the hell would we try something new and unproven (for Delaware)?  If we can’t control education funding now with proper oversight and audits of our districts and charters, why would we add to the existing mess?  We can’t guarantee funding is going to the right places now.  And some (many in power) want to add more funding to that?

This is the biggest problem in Delaware.  Everyone always has a solution to move forward, but they leave the old wreckage behind and try to cover it up.  It’s still there, rotting under the surface.  If the foundation is rotten, nothing anyone says or does will fix anything.  We all know this, but nothing changes.  Until we take the current system apart and find the cracks in the foundations and fix them, no new funding mechanism is going to change anything.  I know what it means if this happened.  It takes courage for this to happen.  It takes courage for enough of us to step up and demand this from our state.  Sending emails with everyone and their mother cc’ed on it doesn’t work.  We know this.  We need to take this to the next level.  Some of us are taking those next steps.  But if you are reading this, comment.  Come up with ideas.  Beyond the “request a meeting and talk about it behind closed doors when nothing ever gets accomplished”.  Beyond the next task force that will come up empty-handed.  We need to start asking the big questions, but more importantly, the right questions.  This is not a teacher issue.  This is not a student issue.  These are administration issues.  Financial issues.  That go way beyond a miscoding here and there.  We can pretend this isn’t really going on, but it is.  Our state knows about it.  The DOE knows a lot of this.  And our State Auditor most certainly knows about it.  It isn’t just a district or a charter thing.  It is all of it.  It is time to rip the Band-Aides off the rotting flesh and expose.  Who is in?

In the meantime, John Carney weighed in on the whole WEIC thing with what amounts to his usual hum-drum responses with absolutely no backbone behind anything.

His likely successor, U.S. Rep. John Carney, who is running on the Democratic ticket for governor, hasn’t committed to keeping that money in the budget.

He said in a prepared statement, “I am, however, committed to doing whatever is necessary to give every child the quality education they deserve, particularly those facing the kinds of obstacles WEIC is most concerned about.”

I’m sorry Mr. Carney, but at this point in the game, you should be coming up with ideas of your own and not relying on others to come up with them.  You are running for Governor!  Not the school student council.

So with that being said, I am offering an invitation to all the candidates running for Governor, Lieutenant Governor, and Congress.  I am inviting you all to an education forum on The Green, in front of Legislative Hall.  There will be no admission for the public.  Please commit a few hours for this.  I’ll do the legwork and get the people there.  We need to hear from all of you about what your plans are for education in our state.  My email address is kevino3670@yahoo.com.  Let’s all coordinate a date so ALL of you can make it, before the primary.  And let’s do this soon.  Let’s also do this before school starts.  Do your homework, formulate your positions.  And know that we are going to ask the tough questions without any easy answers.  You won’t know what they are beforehand.  Education is too important to have your staff come up with the answers for you.  If you want to lead, then know what you are leading.  If any of you email me and say “I can’t make it but I would love to sit down with you and discuss education with you”, then in my mind you aren’t willing to go that extra step for the people of this state.

So if the following candidates could email me with five possible dates, in the early evening, between now and August 19th.  Yes, time is short.  It is less than two months before the primaries.  And less than four months until the General Election.  But I want to hear from ALL of you.  The people do as well.  And Mr. Carney, please do not ignore this.  As the front-runner for Governor, you are who I want to hear from the most.  We need to know you won’t be a rubber stamp for Jack Markell’s very damaging policies.  We also don’t want you thinking this is going to be an easy ride for you.  And Jack Markell, I would respectfully ask you to please stay out of this.  You had your time.  It’s ending.  It is time for new and better ideas.

John Carney

Colin Bonini

Lacey Lafferty

Sean Goward

Lisa Blunt Rochester

Mike Miller

Bryan Townsend

Elias Weir

Hans Reigle

Scott Gesty

Sherry Dorsey-Walker

Brad Eaby

Greg Fuller

Bethany Hall-Long

Kathleen McGuiness

Ciro Poppiti

La Mar Gunn

I can tell you right now, weekends and Mondays are out.  This could be your chance to truly leave a mark on this election.  Your audience will want to hear what you are going to do, not what you have done.  Yes, your many accomplishments are important.  But we need a change for the future.  This is your chance to shine.  Not in front of a group of wealthy people who can afford an expensive plate.  This is you getting real, with real people.  This debate is not sponsored by anyone.  It is a grassroots gathering, outside.  No microphones.  Just people talking.  I encourage as many Delaware residents who can make it to attend.

I won’t assume all of you read this article, so I will be emailing you and contacting all of you tomorrow.

 

Delaware Education Funding: Teacher Salaries For District & Charters By Student

Teacher Salaries.  This is the bulk of the costs in education.  As it should be.  Teachers are the lifeblood of a child’s education.  The funding for teachers should always be the highest cost for any school, whether it is in a district school or a charter school.  With that being said, below are what our districts and charter schools pay for teachers.  But as with the article on overall spending, it is all in relation to how many students a district or charter has.  There are several opinions that can be drawn from these pictures, but as with all these articles, the percentage of high-needs students can play a huge factor, especially when it comes to special education.  But we can see, based on the numbers, that having too many new teachers may save money in the short-term but it doesn’t bode well for students.

With this article, we have the first charter schools to suffer from what I call BAP: Bad Accounting Practices.  Delaware Military Academy and Delaware College Prep are not included in this because it would be impossible to figure out their teacher salaries.  For the sole reason that they put ALL their salaries under a code of “General Salaries”.  There is no breakdown of teacher, principal, head of school, secretaries, and so forth.  I know their authorizer, Red Clay, has approached them about this with absolutely no change whatsoever.  And Del. Military Academy already had a run-in with the State Auditor a few years back over personal spending.  Del. College Prep had their charter revoked by the Red Clay board and closed at the end of June.

Before you react to the first picture, I would like to remind everyone that the number of students in each district is the biggest factor in all of this.  Some district and charter accounting gurus may look at these and think I have all my numbers wrong.  If they are looking at just the state code that falls under teacher salaries, most of them would be right.  But for the purposes of this article and to get a true understanding of how teachers are paid overall in our districts and charters, I added the following together to come up with the teacher salaries: teacher salaries, academic excellence (essentially a bonus for some teachers), what are known as Extra Pay for Extra Responsibility categories (Sports, Extra-Curricular, and Misc.), Visiting Teachers, and the three Related Services for special education that only about half the districts use for special education teachers (Basic, Intensive, and Complex).  There is absolutely no way to determine how many teachers are tenured or have more experience at each district or charter.  But these are straight-out salaries and do not include benefits or pensions.  That will come soon, but there is a specific reason why I am not including this with the regular salaries.  As well, based on this information, there is no way to calculate how many teachers are in each district or charter.

FY2016DistrictTeacherSalaries

For the most part, district teacher salaries fall in line with how many students are in each district, with only some slight variances between a few districts, and nothing that put them more than one spot ahead or below another district.  Christina cut a lot of teachers after their referenda from FY2015 failed.  So their numbers could be higher next year since their referendum did pass this year and they restored most of the teaching positions.  Not every district has “academic excellence” bonus money they give to teachers.  A lot of these funds come from grants based on AP and advanced classes.  Districts that did not give any funds to teachers for “academic excellence” are Caesar Rodney, Colonial, Indian River, Laurel, Seaford, Woodbridge and Sussex Tech.  Brandywine and Appoquinimink led the pack with these bonuses, with $3.1 and $2.6 million given to teachers in each district.  Christina only had $784 in academic excellence, which leads me to believe something was either miscoded or carried over from the prior year.

FY2016CharterTeacherSalaries

With almost twice the amount of students as Odyssey, it would stand to reason that Newark Charter School would be number one on this graph.  We do see more variances among the charters for teacher spending than exists for the districts.  Charter school teachers in Delaware are not part of teacher unions so collective bargaining does not play a role in their salary negotiations.  What concerns me the most are Freire and Great Oaks which I will go into more detail a bit later.  All of the charter schools that just opened a little less than a year ago came in last for teacher salaries.  Newer charters tend to get less experienced teachers who are new to the profession.  This can cause severe growing pains for new charters.  In fact, out of the seven charters that opened in the past few years, all are in the bottom half when it comes to teacher salaries.

FY2016DistrictTeacherSalariesPerStudent

This is where the pictures change drastically.  New Castle County Vo-Tech takes the number one spot.  Followed by a district in Sussex County.  The top two districts for teacher spending overall, Red Clay and Christina, come in 6th and 8th on this based on the teacher salaries divided by the number of students in the district.  Once again, there is a very direct correlation between how vo-techs are funded and how much they are able to spend.  By not relying on referenda and worrying about local funding, they experience much more freedom than traditional school districts.  It must be nice to be a line item on the state budget!

FY2016CharterTeacherSalariesPerStudent

With charters, we see a vast amount of difference between teacher salaries divided by the number of students in each school.  For schools that have been around for a long time, like Thomas Edison, Academy of Dover, and Family Foundations, they have very low teacher salaries per student.  Especially since they serve some high-need populations.  Either they are paying too little in teacher salaries, there is high turnover, or a combination of both.  On the flip side, how Prestige Academy has the highest teacher salary per student amount in the state, at $6,544 baffles me.  My guess, which will come up in future articles, is they are putting other salaries in with teacher salaries.  Another BAP at play.  Freire, at $1573 a student, and Great Oaks, at an incredibly low $1175 a student, is almost unbelievable.  Either they are miscoding salaries or they do not have enough certified teachers.  Are they utilizing programs like Teach For America and Relay Graduate School too much?  Those programs have very high turnover compared to regular teachers.  These are also high schools, which makes me worried about the post-graduate outcomes of these students.  And no, I don’t mean based on Smarter Balanced Assessment scores.  Not many charters give “academic excellence” funds to teachers.  Only Newark Charter School and Campus Community do this in larger amounts, while Positive Outcomes and Kuumba do this in very low amounts.

teachersalarystudentpercentages

In this last graph, I took the teacher salaries divided by the student count for each charter or district and then divided that by the total per student count.  Sadly, the percentage of cost per student going towards teacher salaries appears to be 7% for Great Oaks.  I would say any charter or district below 25% is not good.  If at least a quarter of spending in schools isn’t going towards teachers, there are most likely some issues.  By the same token, if the amount is too high, like with the four charters at the top, something probably isn’t being coded right in the state accounting system.

Once again, I will reiterate that these amounts are based on expenditures by particular accounting codes during FY2016 for Delaware school districts and charter schools as reported by the state.  This information is put into the Delaware accounting system by each district or charter school.  In certain situations, I can only surmise what might be going on.  They are supposed to follow certain codes, but none of them do it by the book.  And with little or no oversight by our state, they get away with it.  I believe in local control, but there are certain things, in the name of transparency and best practices, that dictate a uniformity, and education spending is at the top of that list!

Delaware Education Funding: Which Schools Get The Most Per Student?

Are students in Delaware getting the most bang for their buck?  How much do districts and charters spend each year?  Per student?  In Delaware, education funding is one of the most complex things to understand when it comes to who gets what and what for.  Divvied up between three main sources: federal, state, and local funding, school districts spend a lot of money to educate students.  But is everything on the up and up?  For charter schools, who don’t have the added number of buildings and staff to contend with, do they really do “more with less“?  The answers may surprise you!

Now that Fiscal Year 2016 is in the history books, I was able to find what the average cost per student is for each Delaware traditional school district and charter school.  There are a few caveats to these pictures though.  The below figures are based on what each district and charter spent as expenditures in  FY2016,  based off information provided by the State of Delaware, regardless of the revenue source.  The number of students enrolled is based on figures as of September 30th, 2015.  While that may not seem important, it plays a huge role in Delaware education funding.  When Delaware Met closed last January, all those students went to surrounding districts or charters, adding to those district and charter expenditures.  A lot of the money Del Met received was already spent so the districts didn’t necessarily receive the full “cost” for each student.  While that is an extreme situation, things like students who receive an IEP after September 30th will always add to an increase in local funding while the state does not give any more funding for those types of things.  This is just the first part of a series of articles I am working on concerning what districts and charters pay for.  This introductory article is, however, the baseline of all that comes out after.

FY2016SpendingPerDistrict

Christina is tops and Delmar is on the bottom.  Note that this does not include the special programs under Christina.  This graph tends to run parallel with the number of students in a district with a few exceptions.  For the purposes of Red Clay, I took out the number of students that attend the charter schools they are an authorizer of.  The reason for this is because each of those three charters pay their expenditures separately through the Delaware accounting system.  As well, costs associated with the New Castle County Data Center, run by Red Clay and Colonial, are not factored in here because that entity is separate in Delaware accounting.

FY2016SpendingPerCharter

Like the traditional school districts, this tends to fall in line with the number of students.  Two very big exceptions are Gateway Lab School and Positive Outcomes.  Both of these charters predominantly serve special education students.  Newark Charter School is the biggest charter school in the state, thus they spend the most.

FY2016#ofstudentsdistrict

Once again, as noted above, Christina technically has more students when you don’t account for  the three charters in Red Clay.  Note the number of students in Cape Henlopen and the vo-tech schools.  This plays a big role in understanding the below pictures.

FY2016#ofstudentscharter

Many of these charters tend to be the older charters in the state with a few exceptions.  Note the very last charter school on this list: Positive Outcomes.

costperstudentdistrictfy2016

This is where things change rapidly.  Just being the biggest district does not mean you spend the most per student.  That designation goes to Cape Henlopen School District.  A lot of that comes from their local funding.  Citizens in Cape Henlopen rarely say no to a referendum.  The citizens of this area don’t seem to mind paying more for the education of students.  I was actually surprised in the Appoquinimink numbers.  The fourth largest district seems to pay second to the least amount per student.  Note how most of the vo-techs spend per student.  Taking the 2nd, 3rd, and 5th place out of the 19 school districts, they are the only ones that are not funded in the same way.  For vo-techs, there no referenda.  All of their funding, aside from federal funding, comes from line items in the budget.  There appears to be a greater benefit for this funding method for the students at these schools.  For districts like Red Clay, Christina, and Capital, they have some of the highest number of low-income students in the state.  Capital’s low-income population is at 51%.  That aspect alone gives these districts additional federal Title I funding.

costperstudentchartersFY2016

Positive Outcomes spends the most per student even though they have the least amount of students.  Like Gateway, the bulk of their population is students with IEPs, so this drives up the costs associated with that population way up!  Charter School of Wilmington comes in last, but they also get a few perks the other charters don’t.  They share their school with Cab Calloway School of the Arts in Red Clay.  They have a very sweet rent payment to Red Clay.  As well, a lot of the services they share with Cab students don’t cost extra for CSW as they would in other charters.  CSW has the lowest amount of low-income students and students with disabilities in their student population by a very big margin compared to the rest of the state.  So in some respects, they should have the lowest per-student funding.  Great Oaks, which just opened this year, has a very high cost per student compared to their peers.  I have to wonder how much unused space they are renting out in the Community Education Building in downtown Wilmington.  Delaware College Prep, which closed their doors on June 30th, won’t be on this list next year.  Many charters received modifications this year for an increase or decrease in their enrollments, so expect a lot of these numbers to change in a year.

FY2016Combined

To answer the boast of Kendall Massett with the Delaware Charter Schools Network of “charters do more with less” is not an easy thing to do.  Judging by the above graph, we can’t say that for every charter school.  As well, we don’t even know how much goes towards each of the many coded allocations of expenditures for Delaware schools.  It can be done, but the average citizen is not going to do that.  We can say with certainty there is absolutely no consistent way schools pay their expenses.  Yes, there is a guide all districts and charters are expected to follow, but very few, if any, do it by the book.  To try to fix this and properly code each transaction into it’s correct coding group can be done.  It would take years to do for each fiscal year.  Furthermore, there are a plethora of different factors that affects the funding a district or charter gets: how much experience teachers have, the populations of high-needs students (students with disabilities, low-income status, English Language learners, etc.), even down to their transportation funding.  The bigger the district, the more administration they have.  This plays a big factor into expenditures.  But there is also, what I view, as wasteful spending.  Things that don’t really make sense given the context of what education should be about compared to what far too many power-hungry adults think it should be.

What these graphs do not tell us is how much money is being spent per student in different categories.  That is what happens next with this series.  For example, even a category like Student Body Activities can vary widely by charter or district.

I would like to thank a gentleman named Jack Wells for the inspiration behind this article as well as the rest of this series.  This would have never come about, under any circumstances, had it not been for the work he has conducted for years.  Jack is a Red Clay citizen with no children in the district.  But he is very concerned about making sure Red Clay and all Delaware students are getting what our citizens pay for: a good education.  For those who know Jack, he is like a dog without a bone.  He will keep digging and digging until he finds out what is really going on.  No FOIA is immune to Jack, and he will find that last unturned stone.  I am honored to be a part of Jack’s email group where he digs into a lot of this stuff.  Jack Wells and I talk a lot on the side.  Transparency and accountability in our schools are very important to Jack and I.  Not the accountability that comes from high-stakes tests, but financial accountability.  We may not agree on every facet of education funding, but I do know we both believe our state needs to do a hell of a lot more about holding districts and charters under the microscope for how they spend money.

Our State Auditor, Thomas Wagner, seems to have vanished and doesn’t want to answer the questions coming from Jack and I over the past month.  Many are wondering why this is for an elected official who still has more than two years in his term.  What will it take for him to adequately oversee education spending in our state?  There is far too much silence coming from that State Department, and it has me worried about what is going on behind the scenes.  Some people might be panicking.  That’s okay.  Panic away!  If you are doing something wrong, you have cause to be concerned.

Eventually, if I’m still alive, I would like to do the same thing for each school in each district.  But that involves a lot more research than I now have time for!

Delaware Horror Story Part 3

As David reached out his hand, the woman said, “No David.  You mustn’t.  You must never harm your grandfather.”  David knew what a father was but what made someone grand as a father?  The elderly man had bright blue eyes and white hair.  David had blue eyes as well.  But the lines on the old man’s face were deep, as if each year left a mark on the man.  The woman was young.  She had long red hair and deep green eyes.  She didn’t speak the same language as the man did at first, but he sensed some of it in her normal language.

“David, my name is Astrid.  And this is your grandfather, Jacob,” the woman said.  It was dark outside.  The streets were not normal.  Instead of being flat, they had round rocks.  David looked down at them, questioning why.  “These are cobblestones David,” Jacob said.  “From a time long before you and I.  We are in a country called Sweden.  And now we are in their city called Stockholm.  And this is one of the oldest parts of the city still standing.  We are in Gamla Stan, which means Old Town in our language.”

David looked at Jacob with a puzzled look.  He still didn’t comprehend this “grandfather” thing.  Jacob pulled out a picture of his father, when he was 14 years old.  “This is my son, William.  He is your father.  That makes me your grandfather.”  Jacob understood.  This old man was his father’s father.

The earliest memory David had been one of the magic place.  It was like a place with constant evolution.  One minute it would be snowing and the next it would be bright and sunny and warm.  This is where David lived most days.  He was comfortable there and it filled him with happiness.  The adventures he had in this place were beyond the imagining.  This was David’s home.  He didn’t like it when he dreamed of the real world.  He was in this real world dream now.  There were always questions and nothing made sense.

David heard of this man Jacob.  When he dreamed of the real world, he would hear his mom and dad talking about him.  His mother would tell his father he needed to let it go and they had to concentrate on David.  He remembered one time when his mother told him, “David, one day you will need to wake up.  You will have to become one with the world and survive.”  When David got to the mountain, he dreamed about the real world the whole time.  He wasn’t able to be home, in the land where nothing stayed the same.  To dream was to survive.

“Astrid,” said Jacob. “David looks very confused.  He needs to eat.  We need to take him down to the bistro before the roll call begins.  He may look normal now, but if anyone sees the number on him, they will know.  We didn’t do all of this just to lose him now.”

Astrid reached out her hand to David.  David trusted her for some reason.  She seemed familiar to him but he couldn’t place it.  He touched her fingers as they curled around his.  David looked up at her.  An empty stare with no emotion.  He wanted to tell her how he felt.  That she was okay to him.  But he couldn’t.  Not unless he was home.  When he dreamed of this place, he could never talk.  Just watch.  And listen.  And absorb.  And react.  He felt trapped, like the Beast of Leaftear at home when the creature was defeated in the Battle of Leaftear Ending.  The Beast threatened them all.  He wanted to take over the city of Leaftear and kill them all.  David saved the day when he beat the Beast at a game of Kaleidoscope.  The Leaftearians knew they didn’t have the physical strength to beat The Beast so they relied on their greatest hero in a game of wits.  Afterwards, the Beast sat in his cage for all time and never made a sound.  It ate food, it breathed, and it would even snore at night sometimes, but no words ever came out of his mouth.  That was how David felt when he dreamed of the real world.

****************

William woke up to a loud pounding on his door.  “MEF #313056, you have ten minutes to get dressed and shower.  Breakfast at 0500.”  William grabbed the towel and uniform and made his way to the showers.  They smelled like ancient mildew but the water coming out of the showers felt like hot on a warm summer day.  He got dressed and went to the Convening Room on the sub-levels.  The Colonel gave the daily orders to the MEF.  William received his: “Disinfectant Recognition”.  Inside the packet was a list of instructions for the duty.  William felt his stomach turn inside out.  He remembered this technique from an old television show he watched on something called YouTube.  Some show called Breaking Bad.  The body would be placed in a barrel with acid.  It removed any trace of identity from the victim.  The 12 families called this “extra assurance”.  Not that any parent of one of the Specials could ever claim the body or sue the MEF.  Most of them didn’t even know about the Mountain.

William didn’t know if he could go through with this.  He had to find David in here, or find out if…  the thought was too much for William to handle.  At times like this, William’s self-instinct took over with a fight or flight mechanism.  To escape the impending feeling of a loss too terrible to cope with, William would count to 32.  He came this far and he knew if he couldn’t find the location of his son here he never would.  One of the guards came into the room and whispered to the Colonel.  William couldn’t hear it, but he heard the letters AU at the end of it.  The Colonel shouted “That is impossible.  What do you mean he is gone?  That doesn’t happen.  Not here.  Find him.  NOW!”

“We have a new problem,” claimed the Colonel.  “One of the Specials is missing.  An autistic boy, 12 years old, blonde hair, blue eyes.  #112877AU.  He disappeared two days ago.  There will be no disposal today.  All non-molding staff are to actively search for this boy and find him.  The first person to find him will get an extra hour for lunch or dinner.  The first daughter of the Markell family is coming to the Mountain later today and we are ruined if word gets out we can’t account for one of them.”

****************

Jax sipped the water very slowly.  At 103 years old, she knew she didn’t have much time left.  She had to make sure they understood.  There wasn’t much time left before the purging videos came out.  She carefully placed agents into the Mountain to show the world what was happening there.  Even though the people couldn’t see them, the word would spread.  Fifty-five percent of the population, either dead or on a timetable for execution.  She looked out the window to see what used to be Legislative Hall.  Spread out over the entirety of the Green, it was home to the Markell family of Delaware.  One of the Twelve.  The rulers of the world.  She missed her friends, those who fought so gallantly to prevent this.  She remembered the dying breath of the unions when President Markell signed the order.  By that point, the unions were just minions of the Twelve anyways.  She had been kicked out years before it was official.  During the Red Clay-Christina riot, she watched as the Markell guards beat her friends into submission.  She did not escape unscathed.  A bullet tore into her left kneecap with such velocity it would never be the same again.

Delaware became an island unto itself during the Great Icescape Melt of 2042.  The Markell family built the polymer walls stopping the waters from taking over.  It was too late for Southern Sussex County.  The wall stood south of Milford with nothing but a liquid graveyard to the south of it.  That was the last time she saw her friend, the blogger.  He went down there to find someone, but no one ever saw him after that.  But he left very careful instructions for her.  About what to do if anything ever happened to William, his grandson.  It was Jax who supplied William with the knowledge of what came before.  The device was a treasure trove that explained everything.  All the information the people in power conveniently laughed at and ignored until it was too late.  She missed the resistance.  They came so close.  It would have stopped everything that came to pass.  They let him in thinking he had changed, that he was no longer brainwashed by the Markells.  They were wrong.  Trusting Earl was the worst mistake Jax ever made…

Part 1

Part 2

Editor’s note: I began this story last fall.  It became very dark, very quickly.  Faster than I could take.  As the Every Student Succeeds Act became a reality, I saw this potential future unfolding right in front of me.  A system designed to offer so much promise to the unsuspecting, but laced with poison.  Right now, regulations coming from ESSA are being discussed by politicians, policy-makers, educators, and corporate education reformers throughout the country.  For those who have followed this blog, some of the names in here are very familiar.  But the reality is that every single state has those who opposed what is happening to public education.  This is a story of the last heroes of Delaware in a potential future.  It is meant to be a warning sign of grossly exaggerated proportions.  One hundred years ago, someone could have written a similar story of a whole group of European Jews who were summarily executed just for their faith.  Many would have laughed and ridiculed such a notion.  Not in our time… history is filled with such apathy towards itself.  It is merely a cycle of cascading events with a rise and fall, over and over again.  It is also filled with those who try to fight the future and prevent the same cycle from repeating itself.

$22 Million In Back Property Taxes For New Castle County

What would you do with an extra $22 million dollars?  I would ask the public school children of New Castle County because right now they are short $22 million bucks.  The below picture shows the massive delinquency status of Delaware property taxes for New Castle County.  Aside from a bill that passed that says you won’t get your tax refund if you owe back taxes, what is being done to collect on this debt?  If you own a home, you have to pay taxes.  Like it or not, it comes with owning a home.  Or a business.  I’m talking to you golf course in Appoquinimink!  One question I have (cause I don’t have the time to look it up) is who gets the interest an penalties?  Do the school districts get them or just the county?

NCCountyDelqTaxes

Nina Lou Bunting Is The New Vice-President Of The Delaware State Board of Education

At last week’s Delaware State Board of Education meeting, the board unanimously voted their newest member, Nina Lou Bunting, as the Vice-President.

Bunting was a teacher for four decades and served on the Indian River Board of Education for thirteen years.  She resigned prior to her Governor Markell appointed position on the State Board of Education last year.  Out of all the State Board of Education appointees, I find Bunting to be the most experienced when it comes to what really goes on in the classroom.  As an advocate for special needs children, she also served on the Governor’s Advisory Council for Exceptional Citizens.

In an article from the Sussex Post last year when Bunting resigned from the Indian River Board, she listed these are her priorities:

As a state board of education member Ms. Bunting’s prioritized list includes: preparing students to be career-ready; increased focus/emphasis on children with special needs; more training so all teachers can work with all students including those with special needs; and more citizenship education, particularly civics.

The current President of the State Board of Education, Dr. Teri Quinn Gray, was appointed as President of the State Board by Governor Markell.  Only the Governor can pick the President under current Delaware state code.

Newark Charter School Continues Their Discriminatory Social Engineering Enrollment Practices

This school is a piece of work!  Remember last winter when I wrote about how a six-year old girl with disabilities was denied admission in Newark Charter School’s lottery?  In less than 24 hours, parents, legislators, and other citizens swarmed their Head of School, Greg Meece, with emails and phone calls and we got the school to bend and let her in the lottery.  Ultimately, she didn’t make it into the school, but it was still a victory for the parents because she got the right to participate in it.  The reason she wasn’t let in was because the board had changed their admissions policy last fall.  They wouldn’t let anyone who would be above the age of five by a certain date even apply.  For this girl, who has developmental disabilities, she just wasn’t quite ready the year before to enter Kindergarten.  The board got rid of their policy at their May board meeting, but they did introduce a new one: students applying for Kindergarten can only apply once.

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Here is the issue with that.  For students like the girl who had to get people to rally to get her into the lottery, parents of pre-schoolers with a disability don’t always know if their child will be ready for Kindergarten until the spring, when they have a conference with the pre-school.  This is common practice.  If a parent of a child with disabilities may not be aware of this or thinks their child is ready, and they apply to Newark Charter School, they can’t apply again the next year based on this latest discrimination stunt by the wunderbars at Newark Charter School.  This way they can keep those developmental disability kids out of their school.

The board also changed their admissions policy where it relates to “students of employees” at their June 21st board meeting.  Any newly hired employee’s kid gets preference over the rest of the general public kids in the lottery.  I have to wonder what this school’s definition of an employee.  I wonder how much cafeteria staff they hire so they can get certain kids into the school!

Of course, the Delaware Dept. of Education will say this is legal and their board can pick those kind of enrollment preferences (without any needed recommendations or training on discrimination from the DOE).  Our state legislators, most of them, won’t bat an eye.  Especially the guy who might as well be a paid employee of the school for all the cheerleading he does for them!  I’m talking to you Mr. Former Member of the NCS Board now a Senator!  A few of them will complain about it, but in the end, our charter friendly state will rally behind Kendall Massett and her merry band of lobbyists.  And our brilliant Governor Jack would say “I’m sorry, I couldn’t hear you.  I was too busy salivating over Newark Charter School’s Smarter Balanced scores.”  Social engineering got those scores Jack, nothing else!  Discrimination is alive and well in Delaware!  Can you imagine what would happen if a school district tried these kind of tricks?  They would have the Office of Civil Rights all over them.  But charter schools… just look the other way.  They have autonomy!

I hope you are all enjoying your summer.  Cherries are really yummy.  I would pick them, but it appears Newark Charter School has the monopoly on that!  Lobster bucket my buttocks!  To get the full scoop on Greg Meece and Newark Charter School’s history, take a look at this!  In the meantime, if you want to develop a new charter school and get the exact mix of students so you can do great on crappy high-stakes standardized tests, just follow the special recipe below:

Vaya Con Dios Vo-Tech Vicki?

At last month’s New Castle County V0-Tech’s Board of Education meeting, Superintendent Vicki Gehrt wanted to get the ball rolling early on her contract renewal.  Her contract isn’t up for another six months, but apparently she felt the need to bring it up now.  The board wasn’t too keen on that.  Details are scarce, but it wound up with the non-elected board going in and out of executive session throughout the night.  As Gehrt and friends stayed in one room with Gehrt visibly upset.  Scuttlebutt has it that the board is not too enamored with Gehrt, especially after the Amy Joyner-Francis death at Howard High School of Technology as well as other issues.

Ultimately, the board decided to table any talk of Gehrt’s Superintendent renewal until it is actually up for renewal.  But they do have a board meeting tomorrow night.  Will Vo-Tech Vicki bring it up again?  Will there be more drama with unannounced adventures in executive session?  And will the board meeting be heard for all to hear?  Last month, the board was prepping for the House Bill 61 all school boards must record bill which goes into effect in a couple of months.  But no recording was put up on the website.  This is definitely a to be continued story…

From The Vault: John Carney On Education

In 2008, the Delaware State Education Association conducted a debate with the three gubernatorial candidates: Jack Markell, Mike Protack, and John Carney.  They filmed the entire event.  At the time, Carney was the Lieutenant Governor, Markell was the State Treasurer, and Protack was (and still is) a pilot.  Will Carney take the same stances he did in this debate?  We all know Markell didn’t.  A lot has changed in eight years…

 

The Test Made For White Kids, Not Black Kids

I get it now.  A few months ago I was discussing parent opt out with an African-American friend of mine.  He explained to me that African-American students don’t do well on standardized tests because they’re written for white kids.  I disagreed with him.  I couldn’t grasp what was right before my eyes.

The Smarter Balanced Assessment was made for white kids.  Civil rights groups, usually backed by the Gates Foundation and other corporate education reformers, claim high-stakes standardized tests are important.  They say they need to understand where African-American students rank compared to their peers.  This only perpetuates the myth that these tests are necessary.  These groups vehemently opposed parents opting out of these tests because they claimed it would only continue pathways to discrimination.  Instead, the reality is staring them right in the face.  Standardized tests do show achievement gaps.  But not because they offer any solutions on how to close those gaps, but because they were written for a specific audience.

These tests fail to understand different minorities or cultures.  They were created from a white culture perspective.  They ask students to push themselves based on standards that don’t address poverty, low-income, special needs, violent environments, discrimination, segregation, or equity.  Even for white students, many who also deal with issues of low-income in our country, don’t perform well on these tests unless they are from more affluent areas.

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Charter Schools were supposed to be the savior of education.  They were supposed to offer unique new ways of educating students and be models of innovation.  Instead, at least in Delaware, they have served as incubators of discrimination, segregation, and racism.  We can’t ignore this fact any longer.  We have to address this as a state, head-on.

DESchoolDistrAfrAmerVsSBACProf2016

In all likelihood, our charters are merely copying what happens in our regular districts.  We see that African-Americans in our traditional school districts do not fare any better on these tests.  Charter schools and districts with higher populations of white students do better on standardized tests.  This fact hasn’t escaped those who create these tests.  They know this.  Our politicians and education leaders know this as well.  This story isn’t new, nor is it shocking.  They have known this ever since standardized tests came about.  But we expect African-Americans to perform the same as their white peers.  If they don’t, our governments will label and shame the schools and teachers that administer these tests.  Why?  What is the point?

Education improvement programs make lots of money.  If a school isn’t converted into a charter under the accountability schemes brought to you by Education Inc., you better believe some company out there stands to make a tidy profit off “fixing” the “problem”.  In Delaware alone, a company called Mass Insight was paid $2.5 million dollars to help out six “priority schools”.  All inner-city schools with, you guessed it, very high populations of African-American students.

Delaware Governor Jack Markell said the Smarter Balanced Assessment is the best test Delaware ever made.  If that is true, then it shows Delaware to be a very racist state because we allow this to continue.  Our Department of Education can throw out statistics and graphs until we are blue in the face, but the true facts are above, and in the article I did on low-income populations and Smarter Balanced proficiency.  I have no doubt students will gradually do better on these tests.  But not enough to give them the education they deserve.  Not enough for African-Americans to catch up to their Caucasian peers.  This isn’t defeat.  This isn’t accepting a status quo.  This is reality.  A test solely designed for one pre-dominant culture under the assumption that other sub-groups will catch-up is always destined for eventual failure.  Do we call that now?  Or do our policy-makers only look at the cost of the test and not the cost to the children of their state?

For parents of African-American students: How many pictures that show the same thing do you need to see?  Why are you continuing to let your children take a test that forces them to work harder to live to a different ideal and culture?  I’ve seen some of you point out that your children have predominantly white teachers.  If our schools and teachers are judged on a test that is written for white kids, and a white teacher is teaching a majority of African-American kids in a classroom, what do you think the results are going to show?  This test serves a dual purpose: to keep African-Americans down and to push those unionized white teachers out of public education.  If you want more African-American teachers in the future, how will today’s African-American youth even feel inspired to go into education when they are constantly told they are failures based on these tests?  These same tests that will eventually break down and morph into end of chapter tests, taken by students multiple times throughout the year.  This is not about helping students to become “college and career ready”.  It is an elaborate and long-term tracking system.  Think about it, and opt out until those in power change these pictures.  Look at those in your community who want this.  Follow the money.  Who are they speaking for?  Corporations or children?